December 15, 2008         HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS         Vol. XLVI   No. 50


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit Strangers.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Today we welcome the following members' statements: the hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte–Springdale, the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave, the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's East, the hon. the Member for the District of Humber Valley, the hon. the Member for the District of Ferryland, and the hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride.

The hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte–Springdale.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is with a heavy heart that I rise in this hon. House today. Yet at the same time, it is my distinct honour to pay tribute and to honour a very brave, courageous, unassuming solider, who at the tender age of twenty-one years, gave his life for freedom and democracy. In serving others, in giving to others, Private Justin Peter Jones, son of Anthony and Rowena Jones, hailing from Baie Verte, Newfoundland and Labrador, paid the ultimate sacrifice.

On Saturday, December 13, 2008, along with two other Canadian soldiers, Private Justin Jones, while on a routine mission, gave his life to ensure the safety and security of others. While the Town of Baie Verte is numb today with the devastating loss, it is also proud of the contribution that Private Justin Jones not only made to his beloved Canada and to the Afghanistan mission but, also to his community.

Jonesy, as he was fondly known as by his friends, was a young solider with the heart of a giver. He gave to the youth of Baie Verte; he gave to his volunteer fire department; he gave to the sea cadets. He gave to his school. He gave to his church. Ultimately, he gave his life. To his parents, to his family, to his community and to his Province, we offer our sincere regrets and pledge our prayers and support.

Hon. colleagues, while this is a paralyzing time for the Jones' family of Baie Verte, and the Verge family of Beachside, and while it is a sad moment in our collective lives, let us recognize and applaud the efforts of Justin Jones, and forever remember and honour the imprint he had made upon all of us.

Please join me in saluting Private Justin Peter Jones.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, retired registered nurse Ada Simms of Clarke's Beach was recently presented with the Centennial Award by the Canadian Nurses Association.

The Centennial Awards were presented to honour exceptional registered nurses who made a positive impact on nursing and on the lives and health of Canadians.

Ms Simms retired in 1993 after a long list of accomplishments over her distinguished forty-year career.

She was one of the first nurses in the Province to complete a postgraduate diploma, received her bachelor of nursing degree from McGill University in 1959, her Master of Health Services Administration from the University of Alberta, and since her retirement, her Master of Theological Studies from Queen's Theological College in 2003.

Ms Simms has served on various committees and associations within her profession. In 1999, her services to the public were recognized by the Governor General of Canada, when she was named Serving Sister of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Truly a pioneer in an era when it was known as a man's world.

Humbled by being selected by her colleagues, her quote was "I'm sure there are many more worthier than I."

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in extending congratulations to Ms Ada Simms for her many contributions to the profession of nursing.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of St. John's East.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BUCKINGHAM: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to recognize the accomplishments of Ms Becky Power, a resident of St. John's East.

Becky is a competitive sailor who is currently training with the Canadian National Sailing Team out of Vancouver. She attends the University of British Columbia, which provides her the opportunity to, if you will pardon the pun, hone her craft under the tutelage of the coach of the National Sailing Team, herself a two-time Olympic champion. Becky currently races the Laser Radial, which is an Olympic class craft.

Becky's long-term plan includes representing the Province at the upcoming 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island, and then to compete for a spot on the National Sailing Team, ultimately to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games and beyond. Her prospects for making the national team heightened significantly recently when she won the gold medal at the annual Pumpkin Bowl Regatta hosted by the West Vancouver Yacht Club in October. This event included a very strong field of forty-five sailors, a number of whom are currently on the National Sailing Team.

Becky sails out of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, where she augments her training by performing with the club's High Performance Racing Team. Her training regime will also see her go to regattas in Florida in February and California in March.

Mr. Speaker, I have known Becky's mother for many years, and it has been very interesting to get the occasionally update and watch as a hobby, an activity of a young girl, has turned into the possibility of membership on the National Team and participation in the Olympics - quite a journey.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all the members in this hon. House to join me in congratulating Becky Power of St. John's East on her regatta win, and to wish her well in her pursuit of excellence in the Canada Games and beyond.

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 rise in this hon. House today to recognize Patti Bouzanne, a volunteer from my district. Patti Bouzanne is no ordinary volunteer. Not too many people can legitimately claim to have retired from their profession because they wanted to devote more time to volunteering.

Patti is involved in a wide array of worthwhile endeavours in the Deer Lake area, but Bouzanne, a retired teacher, is probably best known as the head of Xavier Junior High's Kids Eat Smart program, which she started in 1991. They serve over 100 meals a day now to ensure that every student has an opportunity to get a healthy meal during the school day.

Bouzanne is also a member of the Catholic Women's League, secretary for the Deer Lake Food Bank, a layperson with her church, a member of the CWL bereavement committee, a member of the Vera Perlin Association, a community convener, a part of the Deer Lake Public Library Board, a member of the white ribbon campaign against pornography, and a thirty-one year member of the Guiding movement.

Bouzanne is making sure children learn the benefits of healthy eating. Everything prepared at school is healthy, and this gives students a chance to learn the benefits of healthy eating first-hand.

Her years of volunteering have helped create one of the most successful breakfast and lunch programs in the region. Bouzanne is a great example of how passion and dedication can bring about positive changes.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of hon. House to join me in extending special recognition to Patti Bouzanne for our outstanding dedication to the Kids Eat Smart Program and her many volunteer contributions to her community.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate Master Corporal Jeffrey Walsh, a constituent of mine from the Town of Bay Bulls, on having been mentioned in Dispatches by Governor General, hon. Michelle Jean, on June 26, 2008. On December 2, 2008, the Canadian Forces Chief of Defence Staff officially honoured Master Corporal Walsh at the Canadian Forces Base in Valcartier, Quebec. Master Corporal Walsh's parents, Kevin and Edwina, were present for this presentation.

The Mention in Dispatches is a national honour created to recognize members of the Canadian Forces on active service for valiant conduct, devotion to duty, and bringing honour to the Canadian Forces and to Canada. Recipients are entitled to wear a bronze oak leaf on the appropriate campaign or service medal ribbon.

On June 4, 2008, Taliban insurgents ambushed and surrounded a partnered Canadian and Afghan Company of Soldiers, bringing intense and deadly fire to bear from three sides for over ninety minutes. With Afghan National Army unable to reinforce the entrapped company, Master Corporal Walsh joined with three Canadians to form an extraction force that moved without cover through open fields and enabled the withdrawal of the Company. His decisive action, courage and unwavering resolve under fire saved Canadian and Afghan lives.

Master Corporal Jeffrey Walsh has served in Afghanistan on two assignments: first for six months, and returning in October of this year from serving an eight-month assignment. I would like to recognize the tremendous contribution he has made and is making on behalf of our country. None of us can truly understand the environment that our Canadian Forces work in, but yet we do know that without people like Master Corporal Walsh and his comrades we could not continue to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy every day.

Newfoundland and Labrador contributes, on a per capita basis, more people to the Canadian Forces than any other region of this country. We are a proud people that have never shied away from our duty to protect our fellow man.


I ask all hon. members to join with me in congratulating Master Corporal Jeffrey Walsh on being recognized for his outstanding service to our country and wish him Godspeed in all future assignments.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, last Thursday, December 11, 2008, I was invited to attend a presentation at St. Kevin's High School in Goulds where a group of students and their teacher co-ordinator, Mrs. Barbara O'Keefe, presented a cheque for $7,094.15 to the Children's Wish Foundation. This money was generated from a fundraiser done the previous Friday night at the school. Students from St. Kevin's took part in a Wake-A-Thon. The $7,094.15 was raised as a result of these students getting sponsorship from interested people. One student, Holly Lee, a magnificent young lady and a Wish Child herself, raised $5,094.15 on her own.

Mr. Speaker, anyone who is awake, alert, or conscious in this Province has heard about the Children's Wish Foundation and the great work this organization does for children who have been stricken with medical conditions that jeopardize their lives. Now, because of the efforts of these caring young students at St. Kevin's High School, their teachers and parent supervisors, the Children's Wish Foundation is able to grant the special Christmas wish of a seventeen-year-old young man in Gander who wants his room equipped with electronics that will make his life more enjoyable.

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to announce that, due to the efforts of these students at St. Kevin's and the generosity of their sponsors, the $7,094.15 raised allows the Children's Wish Foundation the resources needed to entirely provide this wish. St. Kevin's has decided to make this an annual event.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members of this House to join me in offering thanks to these students at St. Kevin's High School for such a great act of human kindness.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

 

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House to inform hon. colleagues of the work Aboriginal women are doing to tackle the problem of suicide in their communities. Aboriginal women from across the island portion of the Province participated in a suicide intervention workshop that took place in Stephenville on November 29 and November 30 of this year.

The suicide intervention training workshop was the final in a series that was part of the Breaking Barriers, Building Strong Minds initiative. Developed by the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network, an organization which represents Aboriginal women on the island part of the Province, some fifty-three women from eighteen communities across the island took part in one or more of the workshops.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report to you that thirty-six women completed all the training, including the suicide prevention training. Many of the women attending these sessions now have the tools to recognize the risk factors for suicide and, as well, when called upon, they are able to intervene.

Mr. Speaker, suicide, particularly among young people, is a serious issue for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but has proven to be especially troubling in Aboriginal communities, where suicide rates for those communities have been traditionally higher than the provincial average. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, through the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, was proud to provide financial support for this important initiative. In Budget 2008, $100,000 was supplied to provide grants to Aboriginal governments and organizations to address suicide and detrimental life issues among Aboriginal young people throughout our Province.

Mr. Speaker, this suicide intervention training is providing Aboriginal women with the skills to recognize the warning signs of suicide and to take the necessary steps to help prevent a tragedy. Aboriginal women have always played a vital leadership role and continue to demonstrate a strong commitment to improve the circumstances and well-being of their communities.

I ask my hon. colleagues of this House to applaud the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network, the organizers of these workshops, and most importantly, the Aboriginal women who had the courage to take their newly acquired skills back to their communities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

We, too, want to congratulate the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network for the work they are doing in our Province in being able to train to identify the suicide within their communities and to intervene where necessary. But, Mr. Speaker, realistically, this is a huge problem in Newfoundland and Labrador. If you look at the statistics, in the past year, in 2007, there were fifty-one suicides in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is only down three suicides from 2005. If you look at where the numbers are escalating, you look at Western Newfoundland, Central Newfoundland and Eastern Newfoundland; we are seeing an increase today in the number of suicides in those particular regions.

What I would like to do is encourage the minister and her government to do more. There is a huge gap when it comes to mental health services in this Province that will take more than a few workshops to fix. I think we learned that over the weekend when we seen the child mental health unit at the Janeway closed down. We saw children in our Province shackled and taken into adult mental health facilities after dark on a Saturday night. Is this the way that we should be providing for mental health services in our society, for our children in particular? We should not be providing that service for any person in the Province. We should be able to provide proper counselling, proper training, proper accommodations, and proper treatment. Mr. Speaker –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude her response.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know that what this statement speaks to today is a small piece of intervention that needs to happen across our communities, not just in Aboriginal communities but in all communities in this Province. The stats I just gave you shows an increase in suicide rates in areas of this Province that are not normally made up of Aboriginal populations, but yet we are seeing the rates grow.

So I would like for you to at least consider making a commitment –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS JONES: – not only in that program, but to more importantly look at the services that are (inaudible) to the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

I do thank the minister for the advanced copy of her statement, and as she says in her statement and has been echoed by the Leader of the Official Opposition, this is a very serious issue.

I am very happy to see that the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network has carried on these workshops. I am, obviously, glad that the government department has been supporting the work that the network is doing, but I will repeat some of what my colleague has just said because the issue is so serious.

We need much more than people just trained on the level of the community that we are talking about here, that has to happen, and more of it has to happen. We also have to have more social workers, more therapists, more physicians and psychiatrists to deal with both youth and adults when it comes to recognizing suicide before it happens, or the potential for suicide, so that we have much more done in prevention. I think this is one of our biggest weaknesses. We do not have enough preventative work going on so that we do not even have to get into suicide intervention. I encourage this government to think very seriously about the preventative needs that have to be put in place.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to inform this hon. House of the important steps the provincial government is taking to develop a Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy for Newfoundland and Labrador. Government is working in partnership with youth, the public, and other key stakeholders throughout the Province. We are committed to this exciting new initiative, which is a critical step towards ensuring all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, especially our youth, are prepared to take advantage of the significant opportunities that lie ahead and benefit from the Province's growing prosperity.

The development of the Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy will help to position Newfoundland and Labrador as a Province of choice for young adults to live and work, including those living in the Province, Canada and other areas of the world. The strategy will help ensure the Province retains and attracts a diverse, educated and engaged population of young adults and families it needs to secure a sustainable and prosperous future.

Government recognizes that the success of the strategy must reflect the values, priorities and perspectives of young adults from the Province. We have established a diverse, nineteen-member Youth Advisory Panel and had the Canadian Policy Research Networks undertake an extensive youth engagement process to help us achieve these objectives. They met with 484 youth from across the Province and in Ontario and Alberta this fall in a series of thirteen deliberative dialogue sessions. This culminated with a highly successful Provincial Youth Summit on November 14 and 15 where approximately 140 of these youth came together to share their views and recommendations on youth retention and attraction with key stakeholders in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Government also recognizes that the success of the Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy depends on the ideas and contributions of all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as partners in the government, business, labour, education, not-for-profit and community sectors throughout the Province. We recently launched a new Web site focused on the strategy to help achieve this goal. The Web site provides background information and an opportunity for all members of the public to submit their views and recommendations throughout the month of December.

Our departmental staff will be analyzing all feedback we receive. This information will play an important role in supporting the strategy development. The final stage will be developed and released after this process is complete and we receive final recommendations from the CPRN.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for a copy of her statement and to say that we in the Official Opposition have to say and agree that this is a good initiative, Mr. Speaker.

One of the important things, I believe, is that government is working in partnership with all the stakeholders, whether it is youth or the public. That is what has to be done in order for any strategy to be successful, is listen to the views of all stakeholders, and I have to say, this is very important because it is for the youth of our Province.

I can assure you, and I am sure all hon. colleagues here in the hon. House know that our youth want to live here in the Province. They want to stay here and work in our Province. It was only recently, I think, a publication came out called The Troubadour. It is done by journalism students in the Stephenville area and there was some very interesting stories there, explaining why they want to stay here and why they do not want to move outside of our Province. We all know that the provincial summit that was held recently was very successful, like the minister said, with 140some-odd young people from around the Province coming together.

I can assure you that youth retention is very, very important. We want to wish the Youth Advisory Panel every success in the future working with government to see that we do retain and have a good future for our young people right here in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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 advanced copy of her statement.

There is no doubt that the consultations that are going on with young people and other stakeholders in the Province around youth retention is a very good initiative and I am really glad to see it happening. I do know that some of the stakeholders have some very good suggestions to make and will take active part in this process and hopefully bring it to a good conclusion.

One of the issues I know that is big for students, and this is certainly something that the Canadian Federation of Students is concerned about, is the interest rate that students have to pay on their student loans. High student loans is one of the reasons that some young people leave the Province after graduating from our post-secondary institutions. It would only cost this government $8 million annually if students did not have to pay the provincial portion of the interest rate on the student loans.

I certainly hope that the minister and those involved in this process will think about that recommendation from the Canadian Federation of Students and perhaps I, myself, will put my suggestion on the Web site supporting them.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers?

Oral Questions.

Oral Questions

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

Mr. Speaker, back on November 25, I asked the minister questions in this House about services available to mentally ill youth in our Province at the Janeway, and he answered by saying there was an array of services there. Well, the minister would be aware that the ward did shut down on Saturday and the children were moved to the Waterford Hospital in St. John's. The parents and the administration at the Janeway are telling the parents that they are not sure when their children will be moved back to the Janeway and when care will be provided under the children's health facility.

I ask the minister today: Can he give us some indication first of all when these children are going to be moved back into the Janeway hospital and their care be provided for there?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This past weekend, very unfortunately, we had two young children who had to be moved from the psychiatric unit at the Janeway to the Waterford Hospital. It is a very unfortunate event that came about as a result of nursing staff phoning in sick for the Saturday evening shift.

The other unfortunate thing about this, Mr. Speaker, is, firstly, these children find themselves in the situation that they are in and the circumstance that they are in and feeling as desperate as they feel, and for the families. I have had an opportunity to meet with the two mothers involved a couple of weeks back and we will be meeting again on Wednesday coming. It is unfortunate that these children find themselves in this circumstance and it was very unfortunate the manner in which they had to be moved this weekend, and were moved this weekend, in a police car with shackles on them. That is a very unfortunate event that should never have happened, and I want to acknowledge that here today in the House. When young children find themselves in that desperate situation, it is our hope as a Province that we are going to be able to respond and provide the services that they need.

The question with respect to the Janeway itself, Mr. Speaker, I have been advised by officials at Eastern Health, as recent as a half hour ago, that they are now working on the continued treatment of these two young children and also trying to deal with the staffing issues to allow that unit at the Janeway to reopen.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I am glad the minister acknowledges today that that is unacceptable treatment. These children are emotionally ill. They are not criminals in our society, nor should they be treated as such. Minister, it is quite obvious that the nursing shortage is trickling down to have a significant impact on health care services in this Province.

Are you telling me today that there is no call-in list at the Janeway Hospital for children on the ward that suffer from mental illness or no backup nursing staff to be called in, in a case where someone gets sick?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This past weekend there was a very unusual event at the Janeway, this particular unit itself. In three of the four nurses who work on that unit in the evenings, three of them were not available on Friday evening. Then on Saturday evening, the Eastern Health received a call on Saturday morning from all four of the nurses who were due to work that evening and they were not able to come into work due to illness. It is an unusual occurrence. The issue about having staff to call in, there are staff in relief in that area. There is a complement of staff because there are rotations of individuals through twenty-hour hours a day, seven days a week. That was a very unusual event to find that number of people with that specialized training.

One of the things we need to be very careful of, is this is a very specialized unit. The people who work there have specialized training. So it is not a matter of having a nurse come in and be a part of that unit. This person needs to have some very specialized training. Given the circumstance of the two young children who are in that unit, just putting a body in there for the sake of having a nurse was not appropriate. The safety of the children was the first thing in the minds of the physicians who were treating these people. It was their clinical assessment that it was in their best interest as children, and their safety would be better served if they were moved to the Waterford because there was not an adequate staff there to be able to provide the supports that would be necessary at the Janeway.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

From what I understand, the children were committed under the Mental Health Act in order to be transported to the Waterford Hospital, which, in essence, meant that the parents had no longer any parental right or decision-making power over their child.

I ask the minister: Why was that the case, and why was it necessary in this instance?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: This is a very delicate position, Mr. Speaker. I find myself in a very precarious position because we are in the public Legislature, in a televised discussion. The member opposite is raising questions around the treatment of two children at the Janeway this weekend. I appreciate and understand this, and I appreciate and understand the challenges that the family is trying to deal with. I am sensitive also to some privacy issues here, so talking about the clinical judgements and the assessments that would have been done by the psychiatrists and other treating clinicians on that weekend would have made that call and that determination in the best interests and the safety of the children.

To debate what kind of considerations the clinicians may have given during that discussion, it would be inappropriate to do that in the public domain because it is difficult to do it without betraying the trust and the confidence of these two children and their families.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are not asking the minister to betray anyone's confidences here, or to get into privacy information, but this is a serious problem in this Province and we can no longer brush it under the rug. It needs to be dealt with publicly, openly, and fixed.

My next question, Minister, is: Now that these children are committed under the Mental Health Act, and their parents do not have the parental responsibility that they do, it seems that their visiting rights are also being limited at the Waterford Hospital. Normally, at the Janeway, they would have the opportunity to visit and spend an extraordinary amount of time with the children as permitted throughout the day. At the Waterford, they are restricted to visiting hours. I ask if there is a way that can be changed, at least until they are moved back into the Janeway Hospital.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: If the member opposite is suggesting something that she has factual knowledge of, I am not really certain what the protocol would be around visiting hours. I would, however, comment, as a parent myself, that I would expect and would want to be a part of my child's treatment. If, in fact, having these children at the Waterford changes the parents' access to that, then that is something I will have some discussion with Eastern Health in and around.

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

MS JONES: I certainly appreciate that; because these parents were informed just before I came to the Legislature, by Eastern Health, that they were sticking to a certain visiting policy in a certain time frame and they were not prepared to be flexible.

Mr. Speaker, three weeks ago the minister committed to reviewing the 2003 Youth Mental Health Services Report that had been in the department for five years without any action.

I ask the minister today: Now that your department and your officials have had an opportunity to complete this review, what actions will you be taking to effectively address this issue in the short term and also in the long term?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, in response to a question along those lines a couple of weeks ago, I had indicated to members opposite that I had instructed officials to do a review and evaluation of that report, to look at the current-day data and circumstance and what the best practices would be today. On Wednesday morning of this week, I can report, Mr. Speaker, I will be meeting with those same officials and I will be review their recommendations and the analysis they have done, and any new information they can bring to bear as we look at what we are going to do in the long-term interest of children and their families who are living with mental illness in this Province.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not claim to be any expert, because I am not - I have very limited knowledge of this issue – but last weekend I did visit a youth mental health treatment facility in Ontario, and it was a facility that was providing for treatment not just for youth in that area but for youth in different parts of Canada, and I did have an opportunity to speak to some children who were in that program, and the people who run the program.

I would like to ask the minister today: As a short-term measure, something that we can do immediately, is it possible to put in place some kind of program and service to allow for some of these youth to be able to attend a treatment facility there and have the parental and family supports accompany it, so that they can participate in a program like that until we have something more permanent?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, the option of having children go out of the Province has always been available. That is something that you have raised in this House many times, and suggesting that we should do it ourselves here, because we have been doing it out of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, that option has always been there. If she is raising it with respect to the two children in question here now, I understand from this morning's conversation that the people who are providing treatment and services to these two children today are looking at their options, which might include some out-of-Province treatment as a short-term measure, but I say, Mr. Speaker, that option is something we have always been doing.

What we are now looking at and will be talking a bit further on, on Wednesday, is whether that option would be available and whether or not we, as a Province, should move towards establishing that kind of program within our own Province rather than continue to have it available outside; but, as a short-term measure, we will continue to do as we have always done and make those services available to the children who need them outside of the Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Obviously we want to see a treatment facility in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we have never made any bones about that, but right now we are in a desperate situation. Two of those youth were scheduled to go out of the Province for treatment and it went off the rails over the last couple of weeks. Right now there is nothing in place to treat these young people, other than to keep them confined to the Waterford Hospital in St. John's. That is unacceptable.

I ask today, Minister, in light of this: Can you at least call together the team of experts in this Province to look at these particular cases and see if something can be done immediately, in the short term, to address the problem so that at least it is not continuing to escalate at the level that it is now?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, clearly the level of service and the range of service and the kind of services that these two children need, I will leave that to clinical people who are better able to make that judgement. As a government, as a Department of Health and Community Services and as a minister, my commitment on behalf of government is that those services will be made available if the clinicians deem that it is appropriate that is the kind of treatment they need. That is consistent with what we have done in the past. We always want to make sure - and this is to be said for many services, sometimes we find ourselves as a Province not having a level of service that people may need. Whenever that has happened, we have made available to those people in the Province those services in some other jurisdiction.

We will continue to make that kind of commitment for any program and service that we cannot provide here ourselves.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next questions are for the Minister of Finance.

I am aware that he did meet with some of the skilled trades people over lunch on the steps and has agreed to meet with them on Friday. Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to meet with this group last week, and it is quite obvious that they are employees with Eastern Health who feel that their wages are significantly less compared to their counterparts in other public sector organizations such as Memorial University and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

I ask the minister: Why are these employees being paid less for equal work and equal services than those in other government agencies?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, I did have a meeting earlier today with the individuals, the trades workers, and had a discussion with them, heard their concerns, and agreed to meet with them on Friday, at which time we will have further discussions; however, Mr. Speaker, I must emphasize that what we have here is a 20 per cent wage offer that is currently on the table, which compounds to 21.5 per cent. I think I would be remiss if I did not state that, that offer was already accepted by the Association of Allied Health Professionals on Friday, CUPE group homes, and today by the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association – over 6,000 teachers who today have reached a tentative agreement.

So I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that what we have done here, we are being fair to our workers and, in fairness to this particular group, I will meet with them on Friday and hear their discussions, but we are doing everything we can and, again, I will emphasize that this wage offer, this wage package, is more than generous.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, this is not an issue about voting to accept a wage offer that government has on the table. It is an issue about having people employed within government services doing the same job with the same qualifications but yet being paid at different levels.

Mr. Speaker, we raised this issue in the House of Assembly last spring and, after some negotiation between the group and government, this group was told that their union should put it on the top of the list for collective bargaining. It was on the top of the list. It then got removed to deal with all the other issues.

I ask the government today: Why did it not get addressed before the collective bargaining process was complete?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Although I know that Ms Furlong does not need me to pick up for her, the insinuation seems to be made by the Leader of the Opposition that the President of NAPE is not doing her job. That is really, truly, an unfortunate allegation being made.

As for these workers, Mr. Speaker, what we have is a situation where they are represented by a union. There is a bargaining unit within that union. Discussions have been ongoing. I do not know every detail, Mr. Speaker, of every bargaining unit, what has gone on. I do know, however, that one of the complaints being made by this group of workers is that they are not paid in comparison – I think their sign said fair market value or fair market treatment – and we have situations where I understand workers at Memorial University and also at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro are making more money. Well, those are separate employers, Mr. Speaker; they are separate. They set their rates and they deal with them. The union is there and are looking after these workers' interests and, as I have indicated, I will meet with them on Friday and we will take it from there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Government likes to talk about pattern bargaining, and prides itself on paying people right across the board the same wage for the same work and so on.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify first of all with the minister that it is not my insinuation that the union is not doing their job. It is obviously his assumption.

Let me ask him this: Are you prepared to do a fair market analysis for all the skilled tradespeople at Eastern Health comparing them with the university and with the Hydro to ensure that they are all being paid at the same levels for the same work and the same service?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, first, in relation to the comment that government likes to talk about pattern bargaining, what we are talking about is a fair and generous wage offer in economic times where prudent, fiscal management demands that we look after the finances of this Province. What we are doing, Mr. Speaker, is we are being fair to our employees, our public sector employees. We are offering them a wage package that is unprecedented in this country right now.

What I have indicated, Mr. Speaker, despite the union representation here of the Leader of the Opposition, I have indicated to these workers that I will meet with them, I will hear their concerns and we will take it from there on Friday.

Now, I do not know what else I can say, Mr. Speaker. I have said it three times. These people today, these gentlemen on the steps, I do not know if there were any ladies there, they were very polite and co-operative and I gave them my assurance that I would meet with them and hear from them, and I will do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Public provincial employees working in the Sheriff's Office, the provincial court, Crown prosecutions, the Legal Aid Commission and the probation office downtown are expected to park in private accommodations and parking garages. They have been notified, Mr. Speaker, that their fees will increase by $600 this year. We know that the minister and the Minister of Justice have received correspondence from these workers.

We are asking today if they are prepared to consider implementing a parking rate for those employees that would be on par with that of which every other public sector employee pays?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the situation that exists with the downtown parking. I am aware of a lot of the people who work in provincial court and the difficulties that they are having. Some of these employees, Mr. Speaker, make considerably less money, but if she is talking about Crown prosecutors and legal aid lawyers who are making $100,000 a year, than I certainly do not have the same sympathy I have for them as we do for individuals who are working in the offices.

Again, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the bargaining of the Leader of the Opposition today, but these people have unions. NAPE is at the table with us as we speak. Ms Furlong has been certainly very firm in putting forward her position for it, as has Mr. Blundon. I am not aware if that issue is at the bargaining table, but it is something we are aware of, Mr. Speaker. My colleague, the Minister of Justice, might know the numbers, but I think there were hundreds of employees downtown in this situation, and it is not simply a matter that we have a half dozen employees, there are hundreds of employees in this situation.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to remind the minister that judges who are in the $100,000 salary bracket do get free parking, Mr. Speaker.

Many of these employees - and the minister will know if he has read his correspondence - are at the bottom of the scale in the public service. They are at clerk positions, they are probation officers and they do not even escalate to a very high salary, I say to the minister, but, Mr. Speaker, they are in a different bracket than all other public servants and that is the reason we raise the issue today.

We would like to ask that some consideration be given, that if all other members of the public service are going to pay a regular parking permit fee than why not those employees that have to be housed outside of Confederation Building?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let me be clear on one point, and I think I may be able to speak for the Premier on this one. The judges would not be getting their free parking if it was left to me. I have no sympathy for individuals who are making as much money as judges are making downtown getting free parking. First, let's be clear on that.

The second point, Mr. Speaker, is that there is a situation where there are hundreds of employees who are looking for parking. If you chose to work downtown, if your job is downtown, then it is unfortunate that there are costs that come with that.

Mr. Speaker, I know a lot of these people who are working in that provincial court situation, in the Sheriff's Office and Supreme Court, and if there was a way to assist them in this situation, we certainly would, but again, Mr. Speaker, there is a union that represents these people. This union can bring this matter forward to the bargaining table. I am not sure if that matter has been brought forward, but as for the employees who are making the salaries of Crown prosecutors, legal aid lawyers or judges, I certainly do not have any sympathy in that circumstance for them paying their own parking.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This past summer a tender was let for the removal of 30,000 tons of PCB contaminated soil from the New Harbour landfill.

Can the minister inform this House how many tons of contaminated soil has been actually removed since that tender was let, and to where has it been transported?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I do believe there has been 20,000 tons that have been removed, and it has been shipped to the treatment facility in Sunnyside.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise the hon. minister that since that tender was let, and this was only released about a week-and-a-half ago, there has been 120,000 tons removed from that site and it is still incomplete, I say to the minister. I would say that he had better follow up on his work on what is happening there.

Mr. Speaker, in July of this year a meeting was held on the site which took place with officials from government, Mr. Williams and other interested parties, and the hon. Member for Bellevue was invited but he had another function on. This meeting took place on the site and the individuals were promised a meeting with the residents of the area.

I ask the minister: When will your department hold a public meeting and explain to the people of those communities how your department can assure their health and safety concerns are taken care of?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, there is one thing that people need to be very clear on here, is that from the outset there were a number of concerns that were raised about the New Harbour dump. There has been ongoing testing that has gone on at that particular site.

Second to that, Mr. Speaker, the officials recently met with the committee. They looked at further testing that needed to be done there. The consultants have been engaged and there is going to be further testing done, and it has been committed to the people that if there are contaminants found there that need to be shipped out, they will be shipped out, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On February 18, 2008, in a notice of commencement of an environmental assessment, Transport Canada proposed to remediate two areas of contaminant soil at the Stephenville Airport. In a response to a question on December 8, the minister stated that the site at Barachois Brook was an approved soil treatment facility. In a second question I asked him, he wanted to make it very clear to the residents of that area that this site does not accept toxic or contaminated material. I have to say to the minister, the material that is being taken there has petroleum contaminants, PCBs and solvents.

Why was this contaminant soil sent to another site for remediation if it was not considered to be a toxic material in the beginning?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, in speaking with officials from the department, the soil that was transported to Barachois Brook was not of a toxic nature where it had to be treated differently than it would be at the other ten or twelve like facilities in the Province. This group made an application for this treatment facility. They met all standards as were outlined by the Department of Environment and Conservation, and as such, Mr. Speaker, have met all the standards as laid out.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I am not saying that the site that was approved did not go through all the procedures. My question was not answered and I cannot understand, for the life of me - and the residents of Barachois Brook cannot understand – if the material was not contaminated soil, why was it sent to a remediation site in their area and posed health problems that they believe, to them?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, I cannot act on what the people of the area believe. What we have here is a facility, a treatment facility that made application to government. They met all standards and, as such, I cannot say anything beyond that. The material that came there was treated, carried to a facility and treated, and then disposed of in a landfill site. Any more than that, Mr. Speaker, I cannot say. They met all standards.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

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

He has already spoken earlier in Question Period with regard to the unfortunate incident at the Janeway Hospital over the weekend, and he has recognized that it was unfortunate and hopefully would never happen again, but I would like to know from the minister: Is there a protocol in place for youth patient transfers? He has recognized that the way in which the transfer happened was not acceptable. Is there a protocol in place and, if so, what is it?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: There are two aspects to this, I say, Mr. Speaker. Once an individual has been committed under the Mental Health Act then there is a protocol that is arranged between the health authorities and either the RNC or the RCMP for that transport. At other times, if they are not committed under that particular piece of legislation, the protocol would be by way of an ambulance transfer or some other means of escorting the patient to another facility; but, once committed, the protocol would rest between the health authority and one of the police forces.

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

MS MICHAEL: I want to get this clear. It is the understanding of the minister that there is no difference in protocol for adults and children, that it is the same protocol?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The distinction, I say, Mr. Speaker, is made whether or not the individual is being committed under the Mental Health Act. That is the distinguishing characteristic.

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. I wanted to be clear on that because then I have a concern that, because of - and if I am wrong he can say so, but I think he has already confirmed this – because of an emergency situation due to lack of adequate human health resources these children had to be put under the Mental Health Act, which is supposed to be there to preserve their rights.

In this situation, would the minister tell me: Does he think that a lack of human health resources this weekend actually took away the rights of these patients?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, psychiatrists in this Province, other health practitioners, will take this particular decision very seriously, I suspect.

Any time anyone is committed under that act, Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite would know herself, any time that would happen it is not done lightly. It is after very serious consideration for the safety of the individual involved, and it is with that that those clinicians make that determination.

Trying to connect the events of this weekend, and having these two children committed under that act, to the issue of some human resource issues as being a natural occurrence, I think that is a bit of a stretch, Mr. Speaker. This is far too serious an issue, and far too serious a decision, and far too complex a decision; these clinicians would have to give consideration to multiple factors in making that determination.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would not want any member of this House, or any of the public, to suggest that these decisions are made frivolously, considering only human resource issues. This is a very complex issue, and there are very complex considerations when someone makes that determination and a psychiatrist makes that determination to have the person committed.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Oral Questions has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Tabling of Documents

MR. SPEAKER: In compliance with the Public Tender Act, I herewith table the Public Tender Act Exceptions for the months of May, June, July, August, September and October 2008.

Further tabling of documents.

Notices of Motion.

Notices of Motion

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune.

MS PERRY: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Member for Topsail, that:

WHEREAS twenty-two women in Newfoundland and Labrador have been murdered by their intimate partners since 1986; and

WHEREAS the prevalence and severity of violence against women by their partners continues to increase in Newfoundland and Labrador; and

WHEREAS the provincial government has taken special measures to decrease the prevalence and severity of violence against women through its 2006-2012 violence prevention initiative action plan; and

WHEREAS the special measures the government is undertaking include the development of a public awareness campaign to prevent male violence against women which is to be implemented in 2009, the development of a family violence treatment court program which includes the development of new treatment programs for offenders beginning in 2009 and the continued partnership with the ten regional violence prevention coordinating committees and other provincial partners;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Assembly affirms its support for the goals and actions of the violence prevention initiative and calls upon all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to take action to prevent violence against women and spread the message that violence against women is absolutely unacceptable.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Notices of Motion?

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

Petitions.

Petitions

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition on behalf of the Long Island Causeway committee. This is a group of people, not just in Long Island but from all around that particular area, who have been lobbying government and, in particular, their member and the Minister of Transportation and Works to have a causeway built to Long Island.

Mr. Speaker, there was a commitment made under a previous Administration that a causeway would be built to Long Island connecting it with the Pelly's Island area. Most people that would not be familiar with this area should understand that on Long Island there is no school and all the children are ferried everyday and then put on a bus and bussed over a gravel road to Pelly's Island which is where they go to school. So for people on Long Island, having a causeway was probably a dream they had for many years and was very excited back in 2001and 2002 when they learned that one could be built there at a cost, I think it was, of somewhere around $20 million.

Mr. Speaker, when this current Administration took office in 2003 one of their first pieces of business was to cancel the Long Island Causeway. Not necessarily put it on hold, not to rethink it, but to absolutely cancel it.

Mr. Speaker, it took them from 2003 right up until 2008, nearly five years to decide what would be the transportation mode for the people in Long Island. Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day, what they announced was that there would be a new ferry for the people of Long Island and Little Bay Islands. People might say: Well, a new ferry, that is a good thing; they are going to get a new ferry going to Long Island. In reality, the ferry will be shared with Little Bay Islands, which means that both communities will have a downgrading of their service. In fact, after twenty-five years, this is the worst service that will ever be seen in Long Island as a result of this Administration's decisions.

Mr. Speaker, these decisions were not made in consultation with the people of Long Island. In fact, they were not even made in consultation with their own MHA, who had been lobbying to have the causeway built for the people in that community. His voice was not even heard inside the caucus and inside of the government opposite, as I am sure is the case for many other MHAs. If they only were to step forward on some of these issues and actually tell the real story, I am sure we would find out that there are many others over there whose voices are going in the wilderness and not being heard.

This particular ferry is not being done for the people of Long Island. In fact, if it was, the minister would have at least given and shown them the respect and courtesy and decency of going to Long Island to announce the ferry, but, in fact, they announced it in Marystown as a big industrial project for the people of the Burin Peninsula, to date, which we have yet to see any work started on the two ferries down there. The e-mails that I am getting from people in Marystown and from the Burin Peninsula area are telling me that there is no activity ongoing around these ferries whatsoever. What was supposed to be a good news announcement to increase industry –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. the Leader of the Opposition that her time for presenting a petition has long expired.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have dozens of these petitions for Long Island, so I will present more tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

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

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

It is a pleasure to stand today and present another petition on behalf of the residents of Conception Bay North with regards to a long-term care facility. The petition I have today is signed by residents from Perry's Cove, South River, Blackhead, Upper Island Cove, Victoria, Harbour Grace.

Mr. Speaker, the long-term care facility that I reference is a 210 bed facility that was on the books some time ago, included in that was a three-bungalow dementia facility with ten beds each. It was only this weekend, I know of families who have called me, who have family members now who are occupying beds at Carbonear General Hospital because the facilities out there cannot take them and they cannot even get them into other facilities here in St. John's. So it is becoming a crucial problem. It is not only the age of the two facilities that are there now, which have served the residents for many, many years, but the numbers of beds that are available is another issue.

Mr. Speaker, this is not about something, standing and fighting for a road or a bit of water and sewer in your own district, this is on behalf of all the people in that immediate area, and where the facility is built is immaterial. It served the purpose of the people in that area, from the town that it is in now and the Town of Carbonear. We will leave that to the professionals and the consultants when the time comes, where it will be built.

It is not only an issue for half-a-dozen people. There are 40,000 to 50,000 residents who would avail of the services in this area when the new facility is built. We appreciate the fact that government is doing those facilities in other communities around the Province, but we are asking that they reconsider the long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area, and hopefully this year we will hear something on that facility, too, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition on behalf of the public service employees who work with the provincial court, the probation office, the Crown attorney's office, special prosecutions, victim services, fines administration, and the Sheriff's Office.

Mr. Speaker, these are the same employees that I asked questions about in Question Period. The Minister of Finance liked to leave the impression that these are a bunch of employees who are at the higher end of the salary bracket of the public service and therefore, why should we be subsidizing their particular parking?

Well, it is not necessarily as the minister indicates. First of all, there are two things here. Many of these employees are some of the lowest paid civil servants in the Province. I know this because I have met with a number of them. I know what their salaries are. In fact, I know that some of these public servants do not earn enough to actually live in their own homes but actually live in publicly funded housing in the Province. Mr. Speaker, these things I do know. So, that does not sound like, to me, public servants who are making a whole load of cash and therefore should have no problem with paying for their parking down at Atlantic Place.

Mr. Speaker, these particular employees are in all different salary brackets, but the reality is this, they are still public servants. Every other public servant in this Province who works in public office has subsidized parking through parking permits which are provided and for which they pay an annual fee to access that particular permit to park in that particular area.

Well, those who work downtown with the public service are being asked now to pay $145 per month for their parking, which is an extra $50 per month over what they would have paid last year. That is an extra $600 a year that they are being asked now to pay for parking.

Mr. Speaker, it would be different if everybody in the public service had to pay whatever the going rate is, wherever they are, to park, but that is not the case, and this is a group of workers that do not fit into the same mould as all the other public servants.

Mr. Speaker, in the conversations that we have had with them – for example, with probation officers in particular - when they leave and go out for appointments and they come back, oftentimes they cannot even find parking spots. As a result of it, they are asking their clients to come to see them where they work, so that they do not have to be parked somewhere on the street downtown, trying to find a place to park to get back to their office.

It is impacting the services that these people provide. If that was not the case, these probation officers would be going out and seeing their clients as opposed to their clients having to come to them, so it is impacting the service.

Mr. Speaker, even those who are right across the road at the Supreme Court have subsidized parking or permit parking at a reasonable rate, if not free, being offered through federal or provincial governments.

It is this particular group that is impacted. I raise it in the House on their behalf only because I think the minister should give it some consideration and look at whether there can be some other parking permit or some other subsidy worked out on behalf of those employees.

Thank you.

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 move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Natural Resources, Motion 4, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 o'clock p.m. today, being Monday, December 15, 2008.

Mr. Speaker, I also move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Natural Resources, Motion 5, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 10:00 o'clock p.m. today, being Monday, December 15, 2008.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House do not adjourn at 5:30 o'clock p.m. today, Monday, December 15, 2008.

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

Motion carried.

MR. SPEAKER: It is also moved, according to Standing Order 11, that the House do not adjourn at 10:00 o'clock p.m. today, Monday, December 15, 2008.

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, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Government Services, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act. (Bill 66)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Government Services shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act, Bill 66, and that this bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 66, 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 Government Services to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act," carried. (Bill 66)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act. (Bill 66)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 66 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 66 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, seconded by the hon. Minister of Government Services, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Engineering And Geoscience. (Bill 73)

I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is properly moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Government Services shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Engineering And Geoscience, Bill 73, 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 Government Services to introduce a bill, "An Act Respecting The Practice Of Engineering And Geoscience," carried. (Bill 73)

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Engineering And Geoscience. (Bill 73)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 73 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 73 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, from the Order Paper, Second Reading of Bills, Order 26, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2. (Bill 52)

MR. SPEAKER: We will continue with second reading of An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2. (Bill 52)

The hon. the Member for the District of Signal Hill–Quidi Vidi adjourned debate on Thursday past.

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

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

I am very pleased to be able to continue speaking on Bill 52, on amending the Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2. The point I had gotten to in my discussion was probably the main point that I am going to be making.

At the end of Thursday afternoon I started to talk about the Student Financial Assistance Act, section 16. In the Student Financial Assistance Act, section 16, this act gives the Lieutenant-Governor in Council the power to set lower interest rates for debts owed to the Crown, or the corporation as a result of the Crown, or the corporation fulfilling the obligations of a borrower under a student loan agreement. So, the act allows the Lieutenant-Governor in Council to lower interest rates, and for me it begs the question - the Lieutenant-Governor in Council has the right at any time to bring in amendments as well to a bill, just like they are doing here today, bringing in something which is asking us to put a new piece in the bill, and the new piece in the bill is an amendment that is recognizing the members of the reserve force who carry student loans.

I notice that the amendment is very wide open. It gives a lot of power to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, because the amendment says - it relates to section (e) of the act, and section (e) of the act, which is an important section, says that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may set lower interest rates, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may also make regulations with regard to lowering interest rates, and now what the act will say is that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may make regulations respecting the circumstances in which no interest is payable by members of the reserve force in respect of their student loans. So, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council will even determine what the circumstances might be where no interest is payable; they also will be given the power of making regulations respecting the circumstances in which no fees may be charged to members of the reserve force on their student loans; and, finally, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may make regulations respecting the circumstances in which no amount on account of principle or interest is required to be paid by members of the reserve force in respect of their student loans. So the amendment is wide open, benefiting members of the reserve force.

I did say on Thursday, and I will reiterate, that I have no problem with recognizing reserve force and I will be voting for the bill, but it is really interesting how the government recognizes the power that it has to bring in an amendment that allows them to make even more decisions with regard to interest rates than the ones that are already in the bill. The government recognizes the power that it has to do whatever it wants in terms of bringing in amendments to this bill.

That is why I have to ask the government to think about – and I would like an explanation from the minister – why it won't go the whole way, and look at the unfair and unjust requirement that we have, that students should pay an interest rate on their student loans. Education is a right, and what we are doing is charging a fee to students in order to be educated, an extra fee based on money. An interest rate is a fee on money. I have real problems with the fact that we don't recognize the usury nature of what we are doing in charging an interest rate on a student loan, students who are trying to get an education so that they can get a well paying job and stay in this Province.

The Canadian Federation of Students has taken time to tally what it would mean if the provincial part of the interest rate on student loans was no longer paid and they have come up with some significant figures.

I will give an example, first, of an individual. If there were a student loan where the provincial part was approximately $19,000, if that was the provincial part of the loan, the loan itself being about $47,600, students paying the provincial interest would repay $23,694. In other words, they would pay an extra 4,500 just in interest on the provincial part of the loan. If we forgave the provincial part of the interest rate, students in this Province would have approximately $4,500 less to pay on their loans. Now, that is based on a pretty modest loan of $47,000. We know students who have loans up in the range of $100,000. Having no interest to pay would really help them.

The Canadian Federation of Students has calculated - and they are very careful about the calculations they do, and if we go online to the Federation's website we find a calculator there of student loans that they run continually and we get really startling information about the student loans in this country.

What they have calculated is that if this Province were to stop the interest rate on the provincial part of the loan and students no longer had to pay 4.75 per cent of the student loan, all it would cost this Province annually is $8 million. I say all because $8 million is not a lot of money, but imagine what it would do for our students if they had that much less - if every month, for example, they did not have another $200 that they had to take out of their pocket and give to somebody; that they did not have to take the $200 out of their pocket, and that is a bare minimum. Many students have to pay more than that on a monthly basis with regard to the provincial part of the loan.

So imagine if they had $200 that they could keep in their pocket. This would be amazing! Yet, this government just continues to act as if this is a tremendously heavy thing to be asking. Eight million dollars as an investment in our youth, $8 million as an investment in our young people who have become educated at university and college, $8 million to help them get on their feet, to stand more soundly on their feet financially. I think it is really a modest thing that the Canadian Federation of Students is requesting.

I know that this government has taken steps to help students. Our fixed tuition rate that we have had now for a number of years is a wonderful way to go, and I would be the first person to say that. I would love to see no tuition fee at all; they have done it in other countries, but this would be a step towards helping our young people even more by removing the provincial part of the interest rate on the student loans.

What I am asking this government to do, Mr. Speaker, is recognize not just the needs of one group of people, not just the needs of the people who are in the reserve force. It is wonderful that they have thought of them and they have thought about trying to give them a help and trying to think about the times in which maybe it would be good for them not to have to pay interest, but I would like to suggest that for all of our young people who are in debt because of their education, something which they should not have to be, that we recognize all of them, not just one group. Let's not pit one group against another, let's see the need of all of our young people in this Province.

While I will obviously vote for this bill, I look forward to the day when I stand in this House and vote on a bill that says that this government wants, not just to remove the interest rate temporarily, not just to lower that interest rate a little bit, but to actually bring an amendment that would say: yes, we want to lower the interest rate, but we want to lower it to zero when it comes to the provincial part of the student debt.

I am very pleased that I had an opportunity to speak to this bill, Mr. Speaker. I would hope that when the minister speaks perhaps she would be able to give us an idea of whether or not this government is willing to consider further the proposal of the Canadian Federation of Students, and a proposal that I certainly support, and that is that we totally remove the provincial part of the interest that students have to pay on their loan.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

If the hon. the Minister of Education and Government House Leader speaks now she will close the debate on Bill 52, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to address some concerns that we have heard during this debate, some questions regarding this particular bill. At first I would like to address the comments and the questions and concerns put forth by the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. She has expressed the desire that we have heard from the Canadian Federation of Students regarding having no interest on the student loans.

Mr. Speaker, I am unable today to speak to what may or may not happen as we go through the budget process within government, but what I can say is this government does have a very strong record of supporting students and being able to see what we can do to reduce student debt. As acknowledged by the hon. member as well, the fact that we have had a tuition freeze now since 2003 at our public post-secondary institutions.

Further to that, Mr. Speaker, we also decreased the interest rates on student loans from prime plus 2.5 per cent to prime. We also brought back something that students had – I think up until the mid-1990s – which were the up-front needs based grants, where now a student who applies for a student loan and is eligible for the provincial portion, which is $140 a week maximum provincial portion, that anything that is awarded in that loan over $70 a week would be in a grant. For a student who is on a maximum student loan who would be eligible for $140 a week, the first $70 would be a loan and the second $70 would be a grant, and that is certainly very welcomed by the students as well.

To address some of the concerns that came up, there were questions around the two-year period and what we meant by that. Mr. Speaker, that relates to a student who was a reservist who was injured in duty. Certainly, for two years following their return, if they have been injured, there would be no interest or payments required on the student loan.

The time of service, the time that a student would be a reservist and would be away from school, would be a period of time dictated by that period of deployment, but when they come back there would be a period of six months that they would have for whatever reasons they may need, and depending on the time of year, before they would be required to be back in school.

The definition of a student requires somebody to be a full-time student. Each of our post-secondary institutions certainly defined what full-time studies mean, and we certainly follow the definition of a full-time student.

It was also asked what was meant by designated service. That is a term from the Department of National Defence, which defines deployment of their reservists. We certainly would follow what they look at as designated services by that definition to indicate that a reservist is in active duty.

What we are talking about here is the suspension of payment and interest for the time that they are actually in that designated service and up to a period of six months when they return or two years if there had been an injury.

We did not consult in this particular incident with the Canadian Federation of Students or local student groups for the simple reason at this time that this is federal legislation and we are basically mirroring the federal legislation to bring both provincial and federal legislation together to ensure that if a person is a full-time student and they go into a designated service as a reservist that the rules that apply to their particular student loan would be the same from the federal part of their loan, the federal portion, as the provincial portion as well.

So this legislation that we are bringing forward is not unique; it is basically bringing in line the provincial regulations, the rules around the provincial portion of the loan, that have already been in place by the federal government.

The last comment that I would like to make is that there were also questions regarding the cost. Based on our numbers, and of course obviously numbers change based on the number of reservists, but just based on our numbers right now, this initiative, and although it gives great recognition to the work of reservists, we also acknowledge that there are not a lot of full-time students who are called away to service as a reservist and the cost, at this point, will probably be around or less than $1,000.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I think that I have addressed the concerns and the questions that were brought forth from my hon. colleagues here in the House of Assembly to debate this issue, and with that, Mr. Speaker, I conclude debate.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 52 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 Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2. (Bill 52)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 52 has now been read a second time.

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 52)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 28, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act. (Bill 62)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 62, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Mineral Act." (Bill 62)

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

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as part of government's continued commitment to maintaining a strong and productive minerals industry we are today introducing changes to the Mineral Act to improve its efficiency and competitiveness.

These changes, Mr. Speaker, are largely of a housekeeping nature but are important to maintaining the effectiveness of the Mineral Act as the Province's main vehicle for administering the land tenure system for mineral exploration and mining activity.

When I attend mining-related events and conferences, I am told over and over again that Newfoundland and Labrador is the best Province in this country in which to do this kind of work.

We provide incentives for exploration, our regulatory process is efficient, and our on-line information system is award-winning, and we have a stable, attractive business environment.

It is our goal to maintain this reputation, and to that end we are continually evaluating our programs and regulations to ensure that we are on the leading edge of mineral exploration and development.

The amended Mineral Act will be more effective in the management of mineral lands and will provide more active mineral exploration and development. Changes are being made to tighten the conditions for issuance of mining leases so that these are only issued in areas where a mineral resource has been identified, and not as a means of simply extending ownership of mineral lands.

These changes bring us into closer alignment with the mining lease requirements of other jurisdictions in Canada.

The lease amendments will also restrict a mining lease to the minimum amount of ground needed to cover a mineral resource, and will ensure that a person wishing to transfer a mining lease must be in full compliance with the conditions of the lease before doing so.

The amendments also provide for the removal of ground staking as a means of obtaining mineral exploration licenses. Ground staking has been replaced for some time by the more modern and efficient system of map staking. Map staking is the basis for a leading edge myriad system for real time online claim staking. The elimination of these ground staking provisions will also remove redundant regulatory material and contribute to our government's program of red tape reduction.

The amendments also give the Minister of Natural Resources increased discretion as to whether or not to waive the obligation for a company to enter production within five years of being issued a mining lease. This increases the minister's ability to cancel a mining lease if there is little chance of commercial production.

A further amendment will repeal the requirement for the mineral claims recorder to provide an annual report to the Legislature on mineral licenses and leases. This is an unnecessary requirement due to the fact that all information in the report is now publicly available on the Department of Natural Resources website and can be viewed at any time by anyone.

Finally, the amendments provide for clarification that structures that remain on a mine site after closure must be removed within twelve months or become the property of government with no obligation for compensation.

The proposed amendments to the Mineral Act will be of significant value to the mineral and mining industry. It will improve their effectiveness and efficiency at doing business in our Province.

By making these amendments, Mr. Speaker, we are able to demonstrate our strong commitment to this industry. With industry and government working together we will be able to ensure the long-term successful development of our mineral resources.

These legislative changes will ensure that our mineral resources will be managed and developed in a way that will ultimately benefit the people of the Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words with respect to Bill 62, amendments to the Mineral Act.

Of course mining has been, for some years, a very important piece of our economic well-being, whether we talk about the days of old when we had Bell Island still ongoing, and Buchans in the old days, and the Baie Verte mines are very, very productive, and Labrador City, of course, and Wabush we have had for quite some time. The people are all aware of that.

In my own neighbourhood we were fortunate enough that we had Hope Brook Gold back in the days in the 1990s. We knew from the beginning there were no false hopes or whatever that it was going to last generations or decades. We knew from the time it was announced. In fact, I was in Corner Brook in the Glenmill Inn back in 1989 when then Premier Peckford announced that Hope Brook would, in fact, be a mine. It had been discovered for some years and passed around between several different companies until finally they decided it was a go, the price of gold had escalated to a point where it was justifiable, and they proceeded. They said from day one, the maximum life on this mine, unless we find some other resources, is going to be ten years.

Sure enough, albeit there are still some minor quantities of minerals there, not only gold but some other minerals as well, the site was effectively mined out at the end of the ten-year term and they left.

Unfortunately, of course, they left us with a big, big problem. I think it turned out to be about a $16 million problem. That was, in the course of doing their mining, the tailings pond, for example, in a couple of incidents while they were actually mining, we had the tailings pond - very obnoxious substances, environmentally-harmful substances - that were supposed to have been retained within a certain area actually got loose and got into what we call the Couteau Bay area, and killed thousands and thousands of salmon. A very destructive thing - and the company ended up going to court; the company ended up being fined over it - but even bigger in terms of an ecological or environmental disaster was the site in which they left the mine. That was because again - the minister talks about housekeeping, and we do housekeep from time to time as we have to, but there are also times when things occur which we realize and make us realize that not only was there some housekeeping; there were some major things that over the years we had not contemplated.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, no doubt, and 1960s, the environmental issues were not on the front burner. Everybody was euphoric because we had these jobs and we were taking out these mines and it created employment in your communities, but here was a case where it cost the government of the day, in the 1990s, the late 1990s when Hope Brook shut down, about $16 million. I think first when it started they thought $7 million or $8 million would do it. By the end of the day it was about $16 million. In fact, the government of the day, in recognition of the fact that they had to pay it out - they did that - but also the government of the day said, we cannot have this any more. So I think it was put on the books, and that is one of the questions in terms of the minister that I will tie in with section 16 amendments that are in this bill today.

It was my understanding that the law was amended so that any company coming into the Province today who are issued mining rights and actually start a mine, that they must post a bond. I am just curious that – my memory is failing me, I guess, with age, but I am just curious - I know the bonding provisions were put in, but I am wondering if we have had any other incidents since 1999, or 2000 actually, I believe, the amendments were brought in, where any mining venture in the Province has failed and the bonding was not in place, and how the bonding is actually put in place. For example, is it an insurance type of policy whereby I start up, you give me the licence contingent upon me showing you that I have my bonding, and regardless of what happens to my venture – I might go out of business for whatever reason: takeovers or bankruptcies or whatever – that my government is still protected because the bond is still in place?

Maybe some details around that piece, and I specifically ask it because, under clause 16, and maybe for the sake of brevity we can get right to section 16 – section 16 talks about the right of government, if your mining interest is terminated, to give the person a time limit, twelve months, to get any of their chattels or their structures out of the mine site. Then it goes on to say that no compensation is payable by government, so if you have a mining company and you shut down, and after twelve months you still have a bunch of equipment sitting around in there, you have some physical structures or whatever, after twelve months government automatically will own those properties. It says government will not have to pay any compensation for those assets.

It says, where the minister incurs any expense in actually rehabilitating the surface of the land demised under section 33 or subject to a mining lease under section 31 where a lessee fails to do so as required by the terms of his lease, so my question relates to the fact that I thought we had already covered that off; that, if a person had caused any environmental damage or did not restore the site to the condition in which they found it, that is where the bonding would already click in. So I am wondering: Have we, in fact, found a situation where our bonding did not go far enough - maybe it only addressed environmental concerns - and the fact that we might have to restore the surface to a certain condition is not considered to be an environmental issue?

I am just wondering if the minister might be able to clarify that for us. We would agree, of course, that many of the sections in this Bill 62 are strictly housekeeping, even the old terminology that is here, for example, the ground staking. I mean, that is a term from years and years ago where the prospectors would go out and if you wanted to stake out a piece of land that you were going to explore you actually had to physically put in your stakes. You had to stake it out, you had to use your compass and say where it was, and you had to come back in to government and you had to write all that down, somebody had to acknowledge where it was on a map, surveyors, and then actually issue you a permit based on where you had put your stakes.

Now, you can image that was fraught with a little bit of danger sometimes; because, depending on how healthy and physical I was, I might be able to stake out some pretty big parcels of land in this great Province of ours, including the Big Land itself. That got to be worrisome and questionable about how the sizes were, number one, which was one of the points the minister is addressing - you cannot simply go out any more and take a big slice of property that you want; there are going to be limitations put onto the size of the parcels that you might want - and, I understand, the number of parcels that you might want, so you just cannot get somebody who is very energetic go out and start driving in pegs all over the place and have about forty or fifty of these lots tied up, which does not do anything for our competitive system. You are not going to get three or four companies that might want to go in if a single prospector has tied up forty or fifty chunks of this property for himself.

Nowadays, of course, this is all done on-line with your GPS and everything else, and the technology in the state that it is in. If you want to know who has what pieces of this Province staked out for mining purposes, you can go right on-line and figure it out. I believe you even renew your permits on-line now. You have to do certain things every year to keep your permits validated, but it is all very much technologically based right now as opposed to being ground staked.

The minister talks about making our mining industry competitive, and that is why we have to know who has what land staked out here in our Province, how many parcels of land, and where are they located. So it is a case of knowing who is involved and where they are.

Unfortunately, of course, we find ourselves in this economic situation now where there has been a downturn. I understand, from talking to some friends of mine who were actually involved in the mining industry - in fact, a neighbour of mine just up the street is a world-class explorer. He has been all over the world. He is a geologist, and that is what he does. He has his own little company. This year he could be working for someone in South Africa, next year he is working for someone in Newfoundland, next year he is in Switzerland. He is very well versed, in fact, very reputable in the mining industry for his ability to find deposits. He lives in little old Port aux Basques, up the street. It just goes to show again the types of skill levels that we have here in this Province.

It is clear, from talking to some people in the industry, that our exploration, like most other companies today, is going to get hit by the economic downturn we have.

Now, the Province had a substantial – I know even back in the days of the Tobin Administration and the Grimes Administration, they put a fair bit of money into an explorers program so that we could encourage exploration, and I do recall having seen – I know in 2003-2004, this current Administration chopped severely that exploration programming, but I know over the years it has been put back, the explorers thing, since that time, but that is how it happened. Again, it was done under the grounds that we did not have the money to do it in 2003-2004 and we had to get our ship in order, and so on, but I understand, and I have seen the Ministerial Statements in the last number of years where money into the exploration program has, in fact, been put back by the government.

I do not know the exact details now, what is there today, but it is pretty obvious that unless these explorers – and we have a lot of junior explorers – a lot of this stuff, exploration, is not done in our Province by companies, major, major companies who have a big pile of money.

The prospectors program itself, once you go out and the person is lucky enough or fortunate enough to strike some kind of deposit, fine, then the junior prospectors usually turn it over to some junior players in the industry who then go out and raise - sometimes it is millions of dollars, to try to make a mine out of the find.

So, it is a process. If you do not have the encouragement to the junior explorers to start with, you never get the exploration. If you do not get the exploration, you do not get the discoveries. If you do not get the discoveries, you do not get the actual junior players coming in and starting to develop these mines, and then you do not end up with your Voisey's Bays of the world – and of course, that is how that started. That did not start with this company, Vale Inco, down there with X numbers of jobs and talking about hydromets and everything else being built that cost billions and billions of dollars. That all started with junior players in the industry, way back when. It usually takes years and years to do, and I would think these junior players are probably going to be pinched a little bit, like a lot of other people in our society these days, because of the downturn.

Companies, for example, who cannot proceed with some of their major projects have to scale back, put things on hold, sometimes suspend and sometimes cancel them because of the economic circumstance. We have seen some of that in our own Province where it comes to Lab City or Wabush and so on. Hopefully that will be turned around. Hopefully the economy will be turned around. We know it is going to be in a slowdown situation for, they are predicting, at least the next year, or year-and-a-half, and hopefully things will start to rebound, but I guess the explorers will be impacted likewise, because if the big companies themselves cannot do their major projects then I am assuming that everybody at the end of the day will feel the pinch, and some of the pinch will come to these junior explorers.

Again, if the companies are not going to stand by and help contribute to the junior exploration program that is where we, of course, need government to be sure that they are vigilant in keeping the program in existence so that it can happen; because, if we stop the exploration now due to you had to be more frugal for a couple of years, these people could be gone elsewhere. We might not be able to attract them back here. So I think it is crucial that, even though there are tough economic times, there are certain things you still have to continue with because down the road in the long term that is when these things will be brought to fruition. It is not in 2009 and 2010, probably, that the exploration is going to be worthy to this Province. It is going to be what is found in 2009 and 2010 that hopefully one of these major players are back to restore the economic circumstances, that they are going to be able to do the mine sites and do the further development that is required. Hopefully we will not see any downturn then.

So we would certainly agree this is a legitimate red book exercise or red tape reduction exercise, especially when start talking about ground staking and licences. That is gone out, as they say, that is part of the dark ages now, given our technological advances that we have made. My only real, real concern was the exploration piece, that we do not somehow fall behind the ball on that piece to the explorers with our program and encouragement incentives that we have for them, and also the issue on number sixteen: Where do we fit here with the bonding piece and did we miss something, probably, when we brought in the earlier bonding situation for governments? Because it appears here that it says, any expense required in rehabilitation of the surface becomes a debt to the Crown. That was what I had thought, at least, that the earlier law that we amended remedied, that it was not only an environmental damage that the bonding would clean up but that the bonding would also look at the resurfacing and putting it, restoring it to its original condition.

So my question was, or is, I guess: If we already had it covered off by bonding, why do we need it here?

I look forward to the minister's explanation, actually, so she can clarify where exactly we are headed with this piece.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I would conclude my comments on Bill 62.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

If she speaks now she will close debate.

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the remarks of the hon. Opposition House Leader. This is an important, significant, industry here in the Province and we pride ourselves on being leading edge.

With regard to his comments about remediation and restoration of mine sites once that activity is completed, since we brought the amendments in, in the late 1990s or 2000-2001, Mr. Speaker, there has only been one mine in the Province, the bauxite mine on the Avalon Peninsula, where we have had to use the legislation that we have in place, and requirements in place to remediate that mine site.

In terms of his questions around what kind of mechanism is available, do we use, to ensure the bonding piece or the remediation piece, Mr. Speaker, normally it is a letter of credit but it can also be a cash deposit that is held in trust over the life of the mine and it then comes into play once that mining activity is complete.

In terms of taking control of structures, we have some old mines in this Province that did not have remediation agreements. For example, one mine comes to mind readily and that is the Baie Verte mines, the old Rambler Mines, where we did not have remediation plans in place and there was not a mechanism to take control of the existing structures that were on that site. There may be other abandoned mines in the Province that do not have remediation plans, do not have the assurances or the cash or credit available to remediate those sites, so in those circumstances, Mr. Speaker, in these amendments, we made allowances for us to go in and take control of properties that might be on those sites, to take them down, to remediate to make the place safe or to use revenues that are earned from those in the remediation piece. There are several of those kinds of old mines in the Province that do not have remediation plans where we need to have the ability to go in and take control of the site.

This is a good piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker. It cleans up some of the issues around the act. It takes out some of the red tape and again contributes to us being a lean and efficient operation where mining permitting is concerned.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK (MacKenzie): A bill, "An Act To Amend The Mineral Act," Bill 62.

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House? Now? Tomorrow?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Mineral Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 62)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 29, Second Reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2, Bill 65.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2". (Bill 65)

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

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the forest sector in this Province is just coming out the other side of a significant change in global markets for forest products that required an evolution in our industry. It wasn't without casualties, Mr. Speaker. The Abitibi Mill in Stephenville did not survive, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper idled one of its machines, and last week Abitibi Bowater made the decision to close their mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

The people who work in the forestry industry in this Province have faced uncertainty for a very long time. The impact of a reduction in a significant industry such as paper making on the people and businesses in these communities is tremendous. These workers and their families have been under extreme strain.

Only five years ago, Mr. Speaker, eleven integrated sawmills were operating in the Province employing people and supplying the pulp and paper companies with chips. Only four of these mills operated this year.

The downturn in the forest industry worldwide has meant a rethinking of the way we do things. We must respond to changing global markets and find new markets. Government just released a comprehensive review of the forest sector in the Province which identified opportunities to diversify into other lines of business. We have responded with a $14 million forest industry diversification program announced in April to identify and develop specific new products and market opportunities.

This legislative change will enable the Minister of Natural Resources to take into consideration when issuing a permit whether the permittee has harvested the timber they were permitted to harvest and whether the permittee has the means to harvest or process the timber allocated through the permit. This will allow us to have the flexibility to issue cutting permits that could support the competitiveness of the sawmill sector and provide timber for emerging forest sector opportunities, both significant rural employers.

This amendment will ensure persons or companies who are using timber for the greatest good have optimal access to that timber. This amendment addresses a serious problem in our management capabilities by ensuring that there is no right of renewal. Also, this amendment clarifies that a permit is not assignable, transferable or subject to sale.

It is critical that the Province make forest resource decisions based on ensuring sustainable forest sector opportunities exist in rural communities for the greatest benefit of all. The intent of timber permits is not to provide a source of financial benefit for those who no longer harvest or process timber. That is not the best use of our natural resource. Cutting permits are typically of a twelve-month duration and are issued at the discretion of the minister. Unless otherwise stated, all cutting permits expire on December 31, following the date of the permit's issuance.

The current act provides limited ministerial discretion to refuse the issuance of a permit, including where a permittee is in default of the terms and conditions of a cutting permit previously issued. This entitlement to a permit, Mr. Speaker, year after year, has resulted in a variety of undesirable practices in the industry and most people in Newfoundland and Labrador refer to the people who engage in this kind of activity as slipper skippers. Slipper skippers are individuals who obtain cutting permits despite having no capacity or ability to either harvest or process the timber that is the subject of that permit.

These individuals sell the right to cut the timber on their permits to other individuals or corporations. This results in increased wood cost to a processor and the increased cost consequently impacts the competitiveness of our industry in the global marketplace. In effect, they obtain income from the forest while compromising the competitiveness of our forest industry. The amendment includes a clear statement that no right of renewal exists with respect to cutting permits. It is stated that no legal action may be taken and no compensation will be given with respect to such historical rights or rights of renewal.

It is true that section 27(3) of the act states that a cutting permit is not transferable or assignable to another person, but we have been advised that this sections prohibition may be limited to a transfer or assignment of the legal title to the permit.

Mr. Speaker, in order to prohibit such situations as are seen with slipper skippers, it is crucial that this section be amended to explicitly state that neither the legal title nor the beneficial interest may be transferred or reassigned.

The amendment proposes that the minister may take into consideration whether or not the fibre allocation on the permit is being used, or whether the permit holder has the capacity to harvest or process the wood when a request is made for a commercial cutting permit. This is consistent with the public policy goals in the Newfoundland and Labrador Sustainable Forest Management Strategy 2003. These goals include supporting forest sector employment, supporting existing forest sector industries, supporting emerging forest sector industries and achieving the maximum economic benefit from the sustainable exploration of the forest resource.

Mr. Speaker, it is likely that there will be some resistance from the forest industry, such as from individuals who have refrained from harvesting allocated timber for benefit in future years. However, in order to have a forest industry that is efficient, effective and competitive, it is critical that these practices cease and that permits be allocated to individuals or companies who will actually engage in the harvesting or processing of timber allocations on an annual basis. It is important to note that this amendment will only deal with commercial harvesting of the forest resource and will have no impact on domestic cutting. Those who harvest for their own personal use will not be affected.

Mr. Speaker, my officials have done a thorough analysis of this amendment and it is clear that the amendment will be of assistance to integrated sawmillers who currently have to pay individuals for the benefit of harvesting or processing timber allocated under cutting permits that would otherwise be unavailable except at a significant cost to those sawmillers.

This legislative change is very much in keeping with this government's approach to resource development. We have to ensure that all our natural resources are developed in a timely manner and to the ultimate benefit of the people of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, I feel that this amendment is a step in the right direction towards supporting one of the crucial industries in our rural communities and ensuring the long-term sustainable development of our resource.

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 to Bill 65. First of all, I thank the minister for her explanation and also for making her officials available at noon to do a briefing with me and the Leader of the NDP and some of our staff.

Mr. Speaker, we certainly understand why government is bringing forward these amendments in the Forestry Act. There are a couple of major reasons that are centered around this, probably dealing with the transfer of Abitibi's timber rights. I am sure that would probably equal into the equation as we go along. Also, we all are aware of the issues that were around the transfer of Canada Bay Lumber permits on the Northern Peninsula in Roddickton, permits which today are being held in receivership, as I understand, by Deloitte & Touche. I am not really sure if those particular allocations are being harvested right now or not –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: Oh, they are being harvested.

Mr. Speaker, if they are, I guess it would have to be done under this legislation probably by Deloitte & Touche themselves as opposed to contracting out the service.

I am certainly aware of what the amendment means, simply because I have a district where forestry has been a very prominent industry. Over the current course of a few years, we have had times when there has been a lot of competition for AAC, or Annual Allowable Cut of wood in that particular area. Then we have times when there is no competition simply because the industry is not moving or advancing in a direction that allows for the marketable sale of wood product.

What I can say is that I am familiar with a number of cases in the Province where annual allowable supplies of wood were issued to permit holders in which those permit holders did not harvest the wood themselves. I am aware of cases where that has happened. In fact, some of these permit holders no longer operate sawmilling operations or have any other use for the utilization of that wood. Therefore, what they have done is they have contracted out that service to someone else to cut the timber supply for them and, in return, they get a royalty on that wood supply.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with that, although I know that there is activity going on in my own district as well around this particular issue. I do not agree with it, simply because the people who access these permits for $21 are accessing the right to use a resource that belongs to the people of the Province. Therefore, unless they are going to be using that particular resource to earn their own living or to supply their own business, I do not think that it should be a situation where they can get it for $21 and flip it to the highest bidder and the only thing they have to do is to sign a piece of paper. So, I certainly see the rationale behind this, because there needs to be a level of fairness in the system for all people. I think that if people are going to access those permits and they do not want to lose them, then the obligation is on them to work the plots of land and to cut the wood themselves. There is no reason why they cannot do that, because if they were not knowledgeable foresters and participants in the industry in the first place, chances are they would not have ever had a permit.

So, Mr. Speaker, we also understand that in cases like Canada Bay Lumber, situations like this become a little bit more blurrier in terms of wood supply and access to wood. Of course, without having proper legislation in place people can actually use, or I am sure have tried or even used in the past, this wood supply as collateral against mortgages, against loans, to be able to access credit for their business and their operation. It is not a commodity that can be used in that particular way, but we have all seen in the Province cases where sawmill operators have been dependent upon these permit holders to resource their operations. These permit holders have sometimes raised the cost of the pulpwood to share in the enterprise, and this has led to an artificial pricing regime within the Province. So you do not always get the true picture of the cost because of these particular permit holders contracting out.

I know of cases like this on the Northern Peninsula in particular, where there was some trouble back a few years ago by loggers and others who were trying to sell their wood supply and it was being held by permit holders who were, one, contracting out. Therefore, in order for a company, a sawmill company or a pulp company, to access that wood, they were actually paying a tariff or a fee, like a royalty fee to the individual who held the permit. That is wrong and that should not have been happening. As a result of it, it artificially jacked up the cost of things like lumber, for example, if it was going into a sawmill, or the cost of producing pulpwood in the Province and so on.

Mr. Speaker, while there are some stipulations right now under section 27, that a cutting permit is not transferable to another person but that a person who is issued a permit can also record the name of a person who helps with the cutting of the wood in the permit. This does not give the government the leeway to show that the holder of the permit does not actually have the means to process the permit in itself, demanding the two new stipulations of (inaudible). Really, what that is saying is that I can go in and get a permit. If I am going to be cutting for your sawmill operation, you can put your name on my permit as a person who is going to utilize that wood.

In the case of Chimney Bay Lumber or Canada Bay Lumber, it is all the one company whose names have evolved under different corporate sectors, different shareholders over the years, but this was a case where the department, I am aware, had a great deal of difficulty in retrieving the access to the cutting permits. In fact, when the government had taken it to court, it lost due to the ambiguity in the legislation which, really, the minister had no control or at least did not have complete control over issuing the permits.

When Canada Bay Lumber or Chimney Bay Lumber started to fall and those particular allocations of wood and the permits for that wood was available then the Province could not get it back. They had trouble getting it back and they had to take it to the courts. When they took it to the courts they actually lost the case. I am sure the minister could speak to this in tremendous detail, but they actually lost the case because the legislation did not give government the security that it needed to be able to gain access to those permits of wood.

Mr. Speaker, that is why a lot of those permits today, those very permits and allocations of wood on the Northern Peninsula that was owned by Chimney Bay, is now in the hands of receivers. It is the receivership now that determines who accesses that particular wood supply and who is able to harvest it and so on. I think they have done some agreements with local people in the area.

There was one confusion that we seen in the legislation - and maybe the minister can clarify this - that was under section 19 of the Forestry Act. I know it is not included in any of the amendments, but what it says is that: ensures that the holder of the Crown timber licence, or party to a timber sale agreement shall not use the licence as a security for a debt, or otherwise transfer the licence or agreement without the permission of the minister. Without that approval the transaction is void.

Mr. Speaker, I know that the new legislation would ensure that the cutting permits are more closely tied to the Crown timber licence, but at the same time I do not necessarily understand why section 19 does not provide the protection that the minister is now looking for under the amendments in section 27 of the act. Maybe she could answer that for me when she gets up.

I do know, Mr. Speaker, that one of the issues around the timber licence for Chimney Bay was that they had not paid their royalties, and because they had entered into an agreement with the provincial government that they would pay out all their back taxes and they would pay off their loans to the Department of Industry, they would do all of this in a timetable and on a scale and then they would be able to continue with their operations in the Province. One of the other pieces to this was with regard to their timber licence. None of these things were necessarily connected to their timber licence but the royalties were. What the royalties are is the stumpage that you pay. So anytime you go into the woods and you cut ten cubic metres of wood and you bring it out, there is a royalty that you pay to the people of the Province, through the government, for having accessed that resource. This company – and I forget exactly how much it was, but it must have been probably about $7,000, I think, at the time in royalties that were outstanding. They did not pay those royalties and therefore they were not able to access their timber licences.

Mr. Speaker, we think that the changes will be good on a couple of accounts. I guess, first of all, it will probably give government a stronger case at least in the courts when it goes to look at revoking permits from companies, such as what they tried to do with Chimney Bay Lumber. So it will give them some strength when it comes to being able to take back the resource of the people of the Province. The other thing that it will probably do is it will help them in their bid, I guess, to retain the timber rights being held by Abititi. I just don't mean Abitibi in Grand Falls-Windsor, but Abitibi in Stephenville as well.

They did have certain rights to timber resources. Some of them were renegotiated when their agreement expired back in the early 2000s. I am not sure of the exact date, but I remember when the agreement was renewed. I know that when the timber rights agreement was renewed for the Grand Falls-Windsor operation that a lot of their timber rights were tied to the production levels in the mill, so if the mill didn't produce then the company could no longer retain the rights to that particular block of wood or that wood supply.

That was only one block, and from what I understand Grand Falls-Windsor Abitibi had held maybe three or four different blocks of timber rights and each one of those would have expired at a different time or would have had different conditions attached to it.

I am sure that not all of them were tied to production. I would say that only the latter ones that were renegotiated were. I would say that the others would have been negotiated, probably when the mill started in the early 1990s, so they probably were 100 year old agreements.

The other piece, Mr. Speaker, is with regard to Abitibi Stephenville. Again, this was a company that had held permits for wood supply in the Province, and they would have had the right to be able to harvest on that particular block of land for a period of time, abiding by the rules and regulations.

In order for government to really be able to take back some of these permits and be able to do it with or without a court challenge they need to have some strengthened legislation which gives the minister more powers and more control over that. Because the problem in the court case with Canada Bay Lumber was that the minister did not have the powers that were necessary to be able to revoke those particular permits.

Mr. Speaker, it is no doubt a piece of legislation that will help in both of those situations, but it will also help sawmillers in the Province and others who depend upon the fibre for the production of their operations.

As I said, Mr. Speaker, we have seen cases where some sawmill operators have been totally dependent upon buying their wood from these permit holders, because they couldn't get a permit themselves to operate their particular mill that they might have had.

Mr. Speaker, a perfect example of that was Jamestown Lumber - no, not Jamestown Lumber, Sexton Lumber down in Bloomfield. I think, Mr. Speaker, they were looking for well over 100,000 cubic metres of wood just to run their sawmilling operation down in Bloomfield. I do not know exactly what the situation is today, but I know going back not too long ago, probably in the last year, that they wanted a tremendous amount of wood they did not have permits for, and they had to go out and buy this wood from other permit holders, and in most cases, I would say, cut the wood themselves. Although the permit was in Joe Blow's name, Joe Blow was doing nothing only paying his $21, picking up the permit, and collecting the royalty cheque once the wood had been cut by someone else and used by someone else.

When you have very lucrative operations, like we have seen in Bloomfield, Mr. Speaker, that have been long-time lumber producers in this Province and have been involved in the forest sector for a long time, these individuals are having to pay more for their production because they are having to buy this wood through permits. Whereas if they could access the wood directly as a $21 permit from the government, pay the royalty on what they cut to the Crown, to the people of the Province, then that would cut down on their own production costs and they would be able to produce lumber at a much cheaper rate, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as well, it gives an opportunity for those entrepreneurs in the Province who want to expand their sawmilling operations and their capabilities.

I know of an example down in Cottle's Island, where there is a producer, a lumber producer, prefab housing contractor, Mr. Speaker, who has been in operation for a long time in the Province, who invested in a pelletization plant. I certainly have not been down there since they put this in, but I have heard about it from people in the industry. This individual now is producing pellets, and, of course, it is going to be up to the government to keep par with that particular industry, because it is going to be on government's shoulders now to start converting government buildings and schools and hospitals into a cleaner energy source, a cheaper energy source, in which they can use pelletized wood product. If they are able to do that, Mr. Speaker, throughout the public buildings in the Province, that will create a market demand for pelletization of wood in the Province.

Now, I understand that the Philpotts in Cottle's Island are producing only a small amount of pellets, but it is simply because they do not have the local market to be able to tap into. I am sure if the market was expanded, we would see them producing much more.

Mr. Speaker, what this will now do is give entrepreneurs like those in Cottle's Island, like those in Bloomfield, an opportunity to be able to access the required amount of AAC that they will need in order to run their operations effectively, or it will force those that currently hold the permit to actively get engaged in the industry and start cutting the wood that they have and start doing something with it. Whether they cut it themselves and sell it to an operator, that is perfectly acceptable, but to contract it out to someone else to cut and you just hold it in your name and collect the royalty is unacceptable. I think it would be unacceptable to most people in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, there are two criteria under these amendments that the minister will look at when it comes to permits. As you know right now, any person who holds just a cutting permit in the Province for domestic purposes or for commercial purposes, the Act already says that after two years if you do not cut that particular allocation then in year three the Crown can revoke your permit. I have known of many cases where that has happened, where the Crown and the minister using their authority, would have revoked that particular permit because they did not cut wood in the last two or three years.

Mr. Speaker, this is a little different because what this is saying is two things; one, that you have to cut your availability under your permit in the previous year. That is one of the discretions that the minister can look at, if she looks at someone and says: okay, you did not contract it out. This does not mean contracting out. You have to cut it yourself as the permit holder. If you did that, you met the first requirement. The second requirement is that the minister has the ability to look and see where this wood is being processed to ensure that the person who is cutting also has somewhere to process that particular wood. Those are basically the two criteria.

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no doubt that the forest industry, while we streamline the legislation and while we put the proper language around what permits mean and how you can access them and what you do with them when you get them, the reality is that forest activity in the Province has slowed in many places.

I know of several mills across the Province that have shut down, and some of them are still harvesting wood. Jamestown Lumber, that I mentioned earlier, used to have a large sawmilling operation which is no longer in operation but they are still harvesting their annual amount of wood that they are permitted to harvest.

I know in my own district there was an operator with a sawmill that employed twenty-eight or twenty-nine individuals that is closed up today; and still doing a small amount of harvesting but does not really have the market. What is happening, Mr. Speaker, is that as the pulp mills in the Province start closing there is really no where to be selling the by-product from those particular permit holders.

Even though you have a sawmill, if you have restricted amounts of permits or access to wood it is really hard to get enough saw logs to keep your mill going. If you have enough wood supply you cannot cut all of this particular wood if you have nowhere to sell the by-product which has always been the pulp wood for us. We have always been able to sell that pulp wood in Stephenville or Corner Brook or Grand Falls. Of course, that is a market that has practically been drying up in the Province.

I am happy to say that I understand Kruger is very stable, very much modernized in its operations and expects that they will not have any difficulty in this shifting market, Mr. Speaker, that we are seeing in the economy. In other mills it has had an impact. I mean, we have seen Stephenville close. People will say, you know, Stephenville was not impacted, that the town received monies to cover its back taxes from the government. A lot of people went off to Alberta and found jobs, made more money, bought better homes back in Stephenville and so on. Mr. Speaker, I have relatives out there and I spend time out there and I can certainly attest to the fact that I have seen lots of new homes going up, lots of new vehicles on the road, but, Mr. Speaker, it did have impact, maybe not directly in that community in the same way. Maybe, if the government was not subsidizing the town on its taxes and so on, it might have been felt more, but the reality is that it did impact a lot of people in this Province; people who were working in the forest industry who were supplying the fibre for that mill and that operation who ended up out of a job, who had to close down their small sawmills and lay off the twelve or twenty people who they employed in their communities. They have not recovered from this and I know that. They have not recovered from this. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was only in the last couple of days that officials from the minister's own office met with some of the regions in the Province that are still suffering from this particular setback in Stephenville.

I do not create any illusions in my mind that the closing of the Grand Falls–Windsor mill is not going to have an impact, because it will have an impact, whether that impact comes in the form of drops in taxes and remittances to towns like Botwood and Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls, or whether it comes in the amount of job losses in the community and the income that is taken out, or it comes in the loss of all the communities around. I know that most of the foresters and loggers who work for Abitibi Grand Falls–Windsor probably do not live in Grand Falls–Windsor. In fact, Mr. Speaker, they live in all of the outlying outport areas, from Gander Bay to Bay Verte to Springdale to King's Point, to probably down as far as Terra Nova district, Mr. Speaker, in all those communities, from Gambo to Glenwood, all around that area. So it is not just the impact on Grand Falls–Windsor; this will have an entire impact on all of Central Newfoundland.

Mr. Speaker, I know that when Abitibi Stephenville closed, the people who lost their jobs in the logging and forest industry were the people who were probably the lowest-paid to start with, in the business. They were getting the lowest salaries. They had no severance packages. They had no pension plans. They had no security. The day the mill stopped buying was the day that their cheques stopped coming. They no longer had a job to go to.

Mr. Speaker, what is so fearful in all of this is that the same is going to happen again for a lot of these small communities in Central Newfoundland, many of those communities where today these loggers and foresters have spent a lifetime in the woods. They have spent a lifetime working for the company, cutting wood, shipping it off, loading trucks, debarking it, doing whatever it took to make a living for their families and to be able to live in the communities that they were in.

Well, it is those same people today, Mr. Speaker, who were probably at the bottom of the salary scale with Abitibi Price Grand Falls–Windsor, and they are the same individuals who do not have the protection of severance pay and of pension plans.

Mr. Speaker, I know from just the limited time that I have spent in some of these communities, and some of the foresters and loggers that I have talked to, these are not necessarily young people. They are not old, either, but they have had twenty-five and thirty-five years of working in their lifetime. They are not at a point where they want to go back to school, at fifty-five or fifty-seven or fifty-nine years old, and look at retraining for something. That is not where their headspace is. That is not what is going to be satisfactory for them. I think there have to be other options. These are a group of people who cannot be overshadowed by the massive layoff and closure of the mill operation, and the direct employees of the mill operation, or of the impacts on the larger town here such as Grand Falls-Windsor. In fact, they need to be on an equal footing. They need to be given the same considerations, the same courtesies and the same offsets to rebuild as Grand Falls-Windsor will be given. That was a mistake that was made in Stephenville.

I know that because my district was one of the areas that was impacted, where I had numbers of people who lost their jobs because they were foresters and loggers when that mill closed. There was never $1 that went in to either one of those communities, not $1 that ever went to either one of those workers who were displaced from the logging industry, who had cut for the mill in Stephenville for years and years and years and sent their pulpwood out. They ended up, at the end of the day, getting nothing. While all the task force were put in place, while the towns in Stephenville received the money to offset their taxes, while committees were set up and funded to the tune of, I think - the skills trade adjustment committee or whatever - over $1 million, while all of these programs went directly into that community, all of those loggers and foresters who depended upon Abitibi Stephenville never saw a cent. They never saw a cent. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the majority of them ended up moving out of the Province in the case of my own district. They ended up moving to Alberta. They left with nothing. They left with nothing, because that is what they were left with the day the mill closed and the day they were told that there was no market for their wood and there was no need of them going back in the woods. Whether they were harvester operators, truck drivers, it did not matter, they were left with nothing.

I hope that does not happen in the case of Grand Falls-Windsor. I honestly hope that does not happen. I hope that the families who have worked for Abitibi Grand Falls, those families that worked as loggers and foresters, will not be left like the ones who served Abitibi in Stephenville, with nothing. I hope that at the end of the day they will not have to go with their hat in hand to Western Canada or somewhere else to try to find work, because there are a lot of them and they are spread out over a lot of different communities. It does not mean that there cannot be supports for all of those that are impacted and for those regions that are impacted, and not just the direct communities.

Mr. Speaker, last week we raised an issue in the House of Assembly with the possibility of Abititi ending up in a bankruptcy position. I guess we raised that for a very good reason. Abititi, of course, has a number of customers. One of their customers, which is the Tribune newspaper in the United States, actually contributes to 8 per cent of the business of the Abititi corporation. That particular company went bankrupt. When that company went bankrupt, that means that between now and the end of March that is 8 per cent more of the business that Abititi has lost, their market value, their market area has lost. So, we have good reason to be concerned. This is the same company that back in March was in New York City on Wall Street trying to raise money to pay off the bonding companies to be able to save their operations. That is how fragile this particular company is.

We raise this issue in the House of Assembly because we wanted government to give to us an explanation. First of all, if Abititi Grand Falls ends up in a bankruptcy position come January or February, before the mill closes in March at least, what does that mean to the employees, the unionized employees of that company? We have still not gotten that answer from government. I do not know if they did not know the answer, but maybe by now they have had a chance to find the answer and to look at the collective agreements that exist between the union and the company to determine whether or not there is protection there for the severance pay and the pension benefits of the unionized employees at the Abitibi Grand Falls mill in Stephenville if the company files for bankruptcy.

We still do not have the answer to that, but what we do know is this. We do know that this is a company that is very volatile. Even though they are saying we are going to close down the mill in Grand Falls come the end of March, we also know that there is a possibility of a bankruptcy position for this company before the end of March. If that were to happen we all need to have an understanding of what that means, what that impact is going to be. Please God, it will not happen. Hopefully, they will continue to operate until they close down in March, which means that the employees who are unionized and have severance packages, collective agreements, a pension plan, it will all be honoured.

This is a company who less than a year ago, as I said, was trying to raise money in New York to pay off its debt and keep its head above water. It is the same company that today is closing down a mill because it cannot afford to operate it any longer. It is the same company that has just lost 8 per cent of its business in the marketplace this past month, and all the analysts were saying - in fact, in one of the papers I read from Chicago the analysts were saying in that paper that the bankruptcy position of the Tribune was putting Abitibi Price in a very vulnerable position. In fact, they were forecasting that you could actually see this company go into a bankruptcy position early in the New Year.

That is what analysts nationally are saying in North America that are following this issue and follow companies like this everyday. So it is important to understand that if this is to happen, what protections are there for these workers? That was the reason we raised it with government and we have not gotten an answer. What I would suggest and have suggested in the interviews that I did, is that government needs to look at the legalities here, and if there is to be some form of court actions taken to protect the assets in order to protect the severance and the pension plans of these workers, than government will have to do that. I do not think they can leave it to the responsibility of a group of people or to someone else. I think they need to take the lead. On behalf of those individuals I think government needs to take the lead and do whatever is necessary to protect the assets of the company so that if there is a position of bankruptcy than at least they can go and look for something on behalf of these workers when it comes to their severance and their pensions.

In fact, when I said that in one interview a reporter looked at me and said: Are you suggesting that government should pay all their severance pay and all their pension plans? That is not what I am suggesting at all. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I know that that is somewhat unrealistic for government to do because it sets a precedent, a precedent that could not ever be continued in every industry sector in the Province if that was to happen. Whenever you set decisions like this or precedents like that you have to be prepared to carry forward, no matter what happens tomorrow or the next day in terms of being able to treat all people fairly.

I think there is more that government could be doing here to afford for some protections for the people. They should be looking at it, and maybe at some point they will give us an indication if they actually are. At least now we have put it on their radar screen. At least now we have asked, and we are encouraging them to do what is necessary for the protection of these individuals and unionized employees if there is a bankruptcy position. Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, they will do that.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the impact on that region is going to be tremendous. I don't want to be negative because I think there are going to be a lot of positive things as well. One thing I have learned is that out of everything bad also comes something good, and I think we have all seen that. I am sure there will be good things that will happen in the Grand Falls-Windsor area. I think that you will see people putting more ideas to work, they will put more innovation to work, and I think they will work hard to ensure that there is alternative industry in that town and that jobs are being provided for in the best way possible.

Mr. Speaker, those things don't always happen because you want them to happen. They have to happen because there are partners and there are relationships and there is investment and there is commitment and there is real involvement by all people, and that includes the government.

Mr. Speaker, we will certainly be watching to see what happens in that part of the forestry sector in that particular area.

As I said before, in the Stephenville area I think the real impact has been outside of the immediate town as well. It has affected a lot of regions and a lot of communities around the Province that went unnoticed. I hope that doesn't happen in this particular case.

Mr. Speaker, whenever we have setbacks like this it always comes at a price to government. It is not about whether you want to do it or not, it is about what you have to do.

I remember when the Stephenville mill closed down, one of the things that was on the table was a $10 million outstanding debt on power that had to be paid off by Abitibi because the debt and the amount that was owing was split between all the industrial sector companies in the Province. Abitibi was paying their portion, Mr. Speaker, and when they closed up in Stephenville the portion they had left to pay was $10 million. At the time government stepped in and paid the $10 million as opposed to dumping that expenditure into the laps of the other industrial sector companies in the Province, companies such as Kruger and Abitibi Grand Falls and so on, which as we know would have certainly affected the bottom line of those corporations.

Now, I am not aware if there was a similar agreement involving Grand Falls-Windsor. I am not aware, Mr. Speaker, if there is an outstanding industrial debt that has to be paid, that government might have to incur. If I recall correctly, I thought the agreement was supposed to end in 2007, at the end of the year, and that all people would have paid by the end of 2007 and that particular balance would have been cleared from the books.

I am not sure if that was the case, or if there was some carry-over into 2008 or 2009. Maybe when the minister speaks she can clarify that for me, and let me know if there will be any debt left as an industrial customer that will have to be paid or that the Province will have to look at in terms of subsidizing.

No doubt, Mr. Speaker, there will be lots of questions around the forestry sector before this is all complete. In fact, only recently the government released publicly their forestry study or review that they had done for the Province of Newfoundland, and they did one for the region of Labrador, Mr. Speaker, back probably about three years ago. If fact, that particular forestry study, while it did make some suitable recommendations, has never seen the light of day. None of it was ever enacted or carried out. In fact, the entire industry has been at a stalemate up there; but, no doubt, there was a study done. There was a report on best practices, new market opportunities for the Labrador forest industry. While we are into year four now since that study has been on the shelves of the department of forestry, we certainly have not seen anything in it enacted.

In fact, last week leaders in my district did get together. I was not able to be there because I was in the House of Assembly, but they did together to again dust off this report, and again to look at some of those recommendations and to see if they could get the ear of the department after four years and enough interest there for them to start looking at some of these recommendations.

Now, a similar report was done on the Island of Newfoundland on wood utilization and industry potential, Mr. Speaker, for wood and fibre, and that study was in the department for about a year. Although they made a commitment that they would release all reports and studies within thirty days, that one was in the department for about a year. They actually released it last week and, in fact, Mr. Speaker, there is nothing new or innovative in terms of new opportunities in the wood industry.

There is some discussion, I guess, around potential wood operations. One of it, obviously, is the pelletization of wood, in which we are seeing already private sector individuals investing their own money in the Province in getting that industry started. We already have pellet plants producing pellets in the Province. Mr. Speaker, there were no new innovative uses for wood fibre in the Province that developed as a part of that study.

I have had a chance to look at the study, and it makes a number of recommendations. I guess some of them are somewhat interesting in terms of how you can bring together the wood supply, and to be able to utilize the wood supply for the production. Of course, a lot of this is definitely around the fact that there has to be a market for the product, but most of it is around the pelletization. There has to be a market for that. Right now, I am just learning that even from the small pellet operations that are in the Province that are operating, like in Cottle's Island, there isn't really a market yet in Newfoundland and Labrador. If you look at what a lot of other areas have done in other countries, especially countries in the U.K., especially Norway in particular, I think Sweden, where they have converted to pelletization of wood in almost all of their public operations, I think that has to be a next step in Newfoundland and Labrador.


I was told by one individual that just one government building in operation here in the Province is burning about $350,000 in electricity every year for heat in that particular building when they could be using pelletized wood and probably have the cost to about half. While it may cost somewhere around $200,000 or $250,000 to convert that facility into wood pelletization, it would really pay for itself in a couple of years.

There is that kind of rationalization that has to occur around these particular projects. That means that, when you look at the bigger pieces that government is operating, bigger facilities and buildings that they are heating in the Province, and what it is costing to do that, that needs to be the first step.

I know that they will look at it and say there is an infrastructure cost and there is going to be this amount of money, or that amount of money, but you are looking at a cleaner form of energy in some cases but you are also looking at being able to create a market for an industry that can work well in the Province, and that will create jobs for people in the Province.

We just want to say that this is something that we would be in favour of. We would definitely be in favour of government making investments to convert some of our public buildings, some of our public schools and hospitals, to pelletization operations of wood.

Mr. Speaker, just to get back to the bill at hand, which deals with the permitting of wood in the forestry sector, of course these are basically changes in the legislation that will allow for government to have more control over how wood permits are being used. As of today there are a number of people in the Province, at least a dozen of those people, I think, was what the officials told us this morning, that actually hold wood cutting permits for commercial wood allocations but they do not cut the wood themselves; they contract that out to someone else. So they pay $21 for their licence, they sign on the bottom line, they contract it to someone else to do all the work, and they collect the royalty on it.

That should not be happening because, as I said in my opening comments, it is a resource that is owned by the people of the Province. It is there for the privilege of people to access it to operate their businesses or to run their own operations and to create jobs in the Province. It is not there for people to utilize as a transaction piece whereby they can access this, sell it, flip it, put no effort into it, not work the land, and still collect the royalty on it.

We certainly do not have any problems with the amendments that are being introduced here, and we would be supporting the position that the government has taken. I think they are necessary changes in order for government to mitigate the access to timber and timber rights that are now being held by Abitibi, and we definitely know that it is going to be necessary in order for them to access the transfer of permits that are occupied by Canada Bay Lumber back to the Province. As I said, that was a court case in which the government lost the case based on the fact that the legislation was weak. This will be an opportunity for them to be able to strengthen the act and obviously have a stronger position either in the courts or outside the courts when it comes to making decisions on these permits, who could access them, and how you treat them once they are in your possession.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill 65, An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No.2.

I, too, want to thank the minister for the opportunity to be briefed on this bill noontime today by her officials. It was particularly important for me because this was a bit of a new issue for me. It was something I heard about but did not have a lot of details on, so the briefing today was very, very helpful.

I think the very good thing about this bill is that it is based on a desire for good management of the resource. I think there are other things that are involved in the bill, other reasons for its being put into place. I am glad of that, but I think overall it is about good management. That if we are going to have people who are permitted to use the land which belongs to all of us, to use that land for cutting and harvesting and processing of the forestry product, trees that are on our land, then the people who are given the permit - and I know this is something that has been debated in law. I think the people who are given the permit are being given a privilege, and it is important for them to always remember that the land they are using is not their land. It is the land that belongs to everybody in the Province and they have to be accountable for that land. To hold permits and to hold land indefinitely while that land can be used by somebody else or whether it can or not, for one person or a group of persons to hold a piece of land, not using it or using it in a way from which they are benefiting is something that is not acceptable if they are not using it themselves. So, this bill is an important bill. I will be voting for this bill, obviously.

One of the things I would like to comment on, and it will be the main focus of what I want to talk about, is something that the minister said when she was speaking to the bill. She talked about the fact that the Department of Natural Resources and the government wants to develop our natural resources in a timely manner and to the benefit of the people of the Province, and that that is what this bill is about. I agree with her, that this bill does speak to developing natural resources in a timely manner and certainly to the benefit of the people of the Province, not to the benefit of one or two individuals.

She also talked about the need for that development to be done in a sustainable way, building to the future. That is what I would like to talk about today, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that government has a major responsibility with regard to the management of our natural resources, and in this case with regard to the management of our forests. It is government's responsibility to make sure that our natural resources and our forests are being used in a way that those forests will continue to be around as long as there are people on this land to use them; that the forests that we cut down are replenished; that those forests – and we know that that can happen in all cases, that forests are renewable but they do not renew themselves totally on their own. They can, obviously forests do that, but if we intervene in the life of a forest and completely cut down all trees and do what is called clear-cutting, which happens in our Province to quite a degree, then we as the people who do that are weakening the potential of the land to renew itself into a new forest when we completely clear cut. That is a reality.

One of the things that we need to look at is how serious are we concerned about renewing our forests and making sure that the forest, sometimes for the sake of just having a forest or the forest so that they can continue to be used, for example, in forestry industry, in all aspects of forestry industry, whether it is pulp and paper, whether it is construction, no matter what it is, then if we are going to make sure that those forests continue on, we have to become much more aggressive as a Province with regard to the reseeding that must go on after there has been cutting. If we do not increase our silviculture we are going to be losing more and more of our forests and they are not going to be there, new forests are not going to be there when we need them.

The development of our silviculture at the same rate that we are cutting down forests is extremely important. We do know, from the National Forestry Database, that we have not been keeping pace with what is going on in our Province. The latest figures from the national forestry database, for example, show us that in 2006 we cut down 17,265 hectares of forest. That was the product that we produced. This is from, in most cases, clear cutting; not all but a lot of it is clear cutting. Then we reseeded. We planted in 2006, but we only planted 5,319 hectares. In 2006 alone we had a difference of 11,946 hectares between the hectares that we cut down and those that we planted or reseeded. So, we have a problem.

I do not know what the current figures are because the latest ones we can get are for 2006. I do notice that this year our government did put out a couple of releases this summer in which they talked about the silviculture program. Some of it had to do with the silviculture partnerships that are going on between government and industry involved in forestry and pulp and paper. In particular they were talking about Corner Brook Pulp and Paper in one of the press releases. Then in another press release in August of 2008, the government gave us information on a silviculture program that was reforesting two sites in Seal Bay and Badger Burn. In both cases, what is being described is very positive.

In the case of the silviculture that went on in partnership between Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and the company Anderson & Yates and the government, it was a wonderful venture. We had students involved, and it is important to get students involved in silviculture. This was a student tree planting program with twenty-seven students employed over the summer. That is really good and hopefully a lot of those students are going to be students who are going to go on in silviculture or in forestry or in the many industries that are involved. Hopefully, one would see them wanting to go on in silviculture. It is a very good venture.

The same way with the silviculture program that was taking place in Seal Bay and Badger Burn; once again, you had tree seedlings that were being planted. We do not have the number of students named here, and whether or not it was students I do not know, but ten people were employed for seven weeks in that area and 153 hectares of land had seedlings planted. Now, 153 hectares of land in that area is pretty small when you look at the fact that in 2006 we had a difference of almost 12,000 hectares between land that was cut and land that was planted.

In the news release, the one with regard to the silviculture involving Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, we do not have the figures of how much land was replanted. If the minister had those figures today I would really like to hear them. Do we have an up to date figure for how much land was cut in 2007 and in 2008 and how much land was replanted? They may not be out in the national registry yet, in the national database, but the department may have those figures, and if the minister has them I would be delighted to hear what those figures are. We have to improve tremendously in order to ensure that we do have a sustainable industry here.

In order to be true to what the minister was saying when she spoke, if the government really does want sustainable development and government really does want this industry to continue and to keep renewing itself and to be there for everybody, for the people of this Province, then we have got to speed up our silviculture program. While I do believe that obviously companies have to be involved in that, especially companies who are the ones who are using the resource, companies that are doing the cutting, these companies certainly have to be involved in the replanting, but government is the one that really has to push this one. Government is the one that has to be the engine behind what is going on.

Government is the one that has to make sure, not only that the companies are doing it, but government also has to look at how many permits it is allowing out there for clear-cutting and what are the demands for the replanting. Government is in charge of those guidelines, government is in charge of those regulations.

When we look at a bill like this, this bill is important. The permits they are talking about, some are small, some are large, the lands that are covered. This is only one part. This bill that we are discussing and that we will pass today, that it is important that we pass, is only one part of what needs to be done if we really want to manage our forests. It is only one part of government's responsibility. Government is the one who sets the regulations for the permits, and government is the one who allows clear-cutting, and government is the one who sets the regulations with regard to the speed with which replanting is done.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS MICHAEL: I just heard one of my colleagues across the way sigh. I hope she is not sighing at what I have just said, because it is very important what I am talking about. I don't think she did; she just got a start when I said that. I think my colleague was in another world for a short moment. That happens to me, too - I understand it – but back into this world -

AN HON. MEMBER: Back at the ranch.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, back at the ranch, we have had good things happen here. A twenty-year provincial forestry management plan is mandated by legislation, in addition to a regular timber analysis, and it is good that we have that, but we always have to check and see: Where are we with regard to plans?

In 2003 the management plan was changed to a forest ecosystem management plan, which was really good because that shows that we are starting to change our mentality and we are not just talking about cutting down; we are also talking about sustainable forest management and putting a strategy in place. That is something that happened, and that is something that is very, very important.

Many people welcomed government's plan. Many people were happy that government was moving away just from timber management to a true forest ecosystem-based management where we are looking at more than just getting rid of timber, where we are looking at everything that is happening in the environment where the timber is being cut.

Because one of the realities is that when we clear-cut - and clear-cut is a big issue - when we clear-cut we really change the environment in a big way, and in doing the clear-cutting it is not always – well, it is not just that it is not always, it is not guaranteed that you are going to get the ecosystem back the way that it was, because the clear-cutting destroys a lot. It just does not destroy the trees. The ecosystem may not replenish itself as it was before the clear-cutting, so it is extremely important to look at how we are doing the clear-cutting.

The most important thing is that we make sure that the annual allowable cut is under control. That is something that is in government's hands, and that is something that government is trying to be careful about - there is no doubt about that – but we have a lot of catch-up to do, as I have pointed out already. We are still cutting more quickly than we are replanting, and if we lose every year, as we did in 2006, if we are losing ground every year, then catching up is going to be a very, very difficult thing to do.

I would like to hear from the minister with regard to whether or not we have improved the speed in 2007-2008 of replanting as it relates to the cutting. I would like very, very much to hear from her about that. Are we reforesting to the same degree as harvesting? At the moment, I do not think that we are. Certainly, we know that we have not been logging sustainably. We are cutting too fast in the logging industry, because of the fact that we have technology now that allows us to cut more quickly than we regenerate. Regeneration is very labour-intensive. I have never done tree planting myself. I do have members of my family who, when they were younger, when they were students in university, out in B.C. in particular, did do tree planting. I understand it is a pretty arduous task; it is very, very difficult. Maybe that is why you find a lot of it is done in the summer by students.

The tree planting that is going to last, that is going to help us regenerate, is very, very labour-intensive. That is probably one of the reasons why regeneration is happening more slowly than the cutting, but we have to get it under control because, if we do not, we are not going to have sustainable industry. The important thing there is not just that the industry itself is not sustainable, whether we are talking about logging, pulp and paper, and any of the industries that need the fibre. That is not the only issue. It is also what is happening to our environment, what is happening to our air, if we do not keep trees growing. Because, every time we cut down trees we affect what is happening to the air that we breathe. The environmental needs are just as important for our health as are the economic needs of keeping the industries going.

I think that is all I want to say, Mr. Speaker, to point out that it is good to have a bill that is talking about good management. I do encourage the minister, in the role that she is in, to look very, very seriously at the issues around the sustainably of the industry, and to look at silviculture and how we can increase silviculture, which will bring more employment, especially in the summers, which will be good for students and others, and that we see that it happens not just for seven weeks – when I see something like, it happened in a certain area for seven weeks, I sort of look at it and say, hmm, was that a make-work project? I do not mind silvaculture being a make-work project, because we need trees replanted, but I would rather think that we could have replanting happening for a much longer time than seven weeks.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to hearing the minister's response to some of the things I have said, and to voting for the bill.

Thank you.

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I would like to stand at this time on a point of order.

Today, during questioning, when I asked questions to my hon. colleague, the Acting Minister of Environment and Conservation, I noted that there was a tender called for the New Harbour area for 30,000 tons, the tender was, and I went on to say that there was an additional 120,000 tons.

It was 120,000 pounds that came out, which was double to what was on the tender, but I just want to make that clarification and apologize to the House and to the minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order, but the clarification is accepted.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, when I speak now, I will be speaking on behalf of the hon. Minister of Natural Resources, so I will be closing the debate at this part of the bill.

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. member speaks she will close debate.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly want to speak for the hon. Minister of Natural Resources regarding this bill this afternoon, and thank the hon. members in this House who had input and contribution into the debate this afternoon.

I am also aware that the members opposite who spoke on this bill this afternoon did have the benefit of having a meeting to brief them regarding the contents of this bill, with the officials at Natural Resources.

There are a couple of points, Mr. Speaker, that I would like to make, and that is in relation to section 19, which applies only to new licences that are issued. At this point in time there have been no new licences issued under section 19. Therefore, people were able to use licences under this section as security on a loan, but it really does not apply because no new licences have been issued under that section.

There were also some comments made about Abitibi in Stephenville, and the licences that they held while they operated over there. The licences to Abitibi Stephenville were actually issued under the former Linerboard Act and they were twenty-year leases with five-year renewal. Mr. Speaker, all those licences have expired at this time. So if there are some questions as to who held those licences or where they are today.

With that, Mr. Speaker, certainly this bill, as all bills, will be also referred to Committee. If there are other questions or clarifications that are needed, we will certainly address them at that time, but at this time I close this part of the debate.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 65 be now read a second time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2. (Bill 65)

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

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No 2," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 65)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 31, second reading of a bill, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council. (Bill 70)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 70, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council." (Bill 70)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It gives me great pleasure today to rise and speak to Bill 70, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council. I will be speaking for maybe ten or fifteen minutes just by way of some introductory comments on that bill.

Mr. Speaker, as a government we believe that knowledge is a universal concept. It is something that knows no boundaries. Knowledge is something that we believe can be created anywhere and it has the potential to benefit a wide range of industries. Dating back to the early days of our mandate, we committed to an agenda that supported knowledge that contributes to sustainable development in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The catalysts for economic growth are the Province's universities, colleges, research institutions and private enterprises. They have the knowledge, they have the ideas, and they have the products.

In jurisdictions across Canada and around the world it is well acknowledged that innovation is central to economic prosperity. It lays the foundation for long-term economic benefits. In our Province, for example, it can bring us closer to developing our oil and gas resources that were previously out of reach or not feasible. By improving our understanding of these resources, we can identify new and better ways of developing them. From an agriculture perspective, innovation enables better farming. It enables improved crops and enhanced livestock production systems. From a fishing and aquaculture perspective, it leads to a more efficient utilization of traditional species and better utilizes raw materials resulting in a stronger more diversified industry. In a nutshell, innovation allows traditional industries to improve and strengthen their operations and their competitiveness.

Our Province is home to world leaders in genetics. Just recently, Dr. Terry-Lynn Young and her team of researchers, for example, have located the single gene mutation responsible for sudden heart failure. Those patients identified as having this gene can now have a defibrillator implanted in their heart to prevent heart failure. This has world-wide implications and will help save many, many lives. It is not just the gene work that has been done but now they have been able, as I understand it, to sell a test where people across the world can be tested for this. It has been sold, I understand, to a company in the United States that will now start to market that test.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians also live adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, a natural laboratory. There are a great many opportunities for research and development with respect to ocean going vehicles, aquaculture and the fishery. We are also home to world leaders in ocean technology. The ocean technology industry in our Province today is valued at $250 million and by 2015, seven short years away, we hope to grow it to a $1 billion industry, increasing from $250 million a year to $1 billion a year.

Examples of industry leaders include our Virtual Marine Technology, or VMT as it is better known, that has taken its technology and turned it into a product with international demand. It is a simulator that allows trainees to practice in marine conditions that are too dangerous for live boat exercises, such as launching in harsh seas, reacting to equipment faults and performing in reduced visibility. It is impressive technology, Mr. Speaker.

Another company, ICAN, is developing electronic charting displaying communication systems that are being utilized by navies, coast guards, ocean scientists and professional mariners the world over. As you can see from these examples, there are tremendous opportunities for our Province.

By increasing our collective investments and increasing research and development activity, private and public sector enterprises have tremendous opportunities to gain from. Our government is a committed partner in enhancing research within higher education, within research institutions and within private sector enterprises. We have introduced programs designed to provide the necessary capital to initiate and expand the Province's research and development capacity.

The guiding principles for our approach to stimulating innovation in the Province were outlined in Innovation Newfoundland and Labrador: a Blueprint for Prosperity. We have also committed more than $30 million to research at the College of the North Atlantic and Memorial University through the Industrial Research and Innovation Fund. This fund helps provide the resources to develop, attract, and retain world-class scientists. It has also helped to leverage more than $110 million from non-provincial sources. So we invested $30 million, Mr. Speaker, and we are able to capitalize through our research on another $110 million outside of the Province.

Our government has also invested $15 million in a trans-gulf fibre optic network which significantly enhanced the Province's broadband capacity. It offers great benefits for advanced computing required for large scale R&D projects in the Province. Our government's commitment to knowledge based industries was intensified in our recent budget with approximately $65 million being budgeted to key areas. We have also made an initial investment of over $4 million in support of ocean technology development. We truly have made significant strides and accomplishments over a very short period of time. However, the volume of research and development taking place in our Province still lags behind that of other jurisdictions.

A 2004 Stats Canada report found that Newfoundland and Labrador is in the bottom third of R&D spending in the county, with $173 million being spent in our Province. That works out to 0.9 per cent of the Province's gross domestic product, less than 1 per cent, Mr. Speaker. It is no fluke that the largest spenders on R&D are also the most robust economies in the world. On average, Canada spends approximately 2 per cent of their GDP on R&D. Most industrialized nations aspire for expenditures in the 2.5 per cent range, with the highest performers spending between 3 per cent and 4 per cent on R&D. To be at the forefront of the technology movement and provide Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with every opportunity to compete and succeed, we have to improve our investments, 0.9 per cent is not good enough. By doing so, we can spur new opportunities for people in all regions of our Province.

That is why, Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to bring forth legislation that will lead to the creation of a new research and development crown corporation that will expand the amount of R&D taking place in our Province. It is our government's intention to create the Newfoundland and Labrador Research and Development Council, which was first announced in April 2007. It was initially established as an interim structure under the Executive Council. In the period since, staff have been hired, some of whom are in the gallery today, Mr. Speaker, and it has closely examined how other provinces and such jurisdictions across the globe, such as Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom, support research and development activity in their countries.

Perhaps its most valuable exercise has been its collaboration and discussions with government, educational institutions and research facilities from all regions of the Province, to help shape the Council's structure and focus. It has closely studied the models used in these jurisdictions for their successes and their failures. The net result has been a comprehensive organization that is leading edge and incorporates the best practices of all other models.

It is most similar, Mr. Speaker, to councils in Alberta and Saskatchewan, both of which have had many great successes. The development of the tar sands in Alberta was facilitated by work done by the Alberta Research Council while the Saskatchewan Research Council is a world leader in multiphase pipeline transportation technology that is applied by the mining and petroleum industries across Canada. Each of these success stories is built on a solid foundation similar to that which we are presenting today with our legislation.

These research councils, Mr. Speaker, did not start as major industry players. In most cases they started as small granting councils that achieved their objectives through directed research grants. Primarily they provided funds for projects designed to achieve maximum benefits from their provinces' natural resources. They evolved over time as industry grew and ultimately their provincial economies also grew.

This is what we envision for the Newfoundland and Labrador Research and Development Council.

In late November, the Government of Saskatchewan introduced the Innovation Saskatchewan Act, which will create improved links between the research, development and commercialization stages of idea and technology from Saskatchewan's innovation sector.

Then there is the case of Finland, Mr. Speaker. Just a few decades ago, the economy was very similar to that of our Province. It had an abundance of natural resources that were exported for the benefit of others, particularly the former Soviet Union. However, today Finland is a world leader in research and development. For example, it has made strategic investments designed at creating an environment conducive for R&D growth, in particular the burgeoning telecommunications sector. These investments help foster the growth of a relatively large telecommunications carrier. By relatively large, Mr. Speaker, I mean a company that has more than 112,000 employees in 120 countries. That company, Mr. Speaker, is Nokia Corporation.

We have looked extensively at the finished examples, as well as examples in other leading countries and provinces as we develop this foundation for our own R&D council. Based on this framework we intend to use the Newfoundland and Labrador Research and Development Council as the government's primary instrument to strengthen the focus, the quantity, the quality and the relevance of the R&D that happens in our Province.

I am sure there will be those who will ask, why do we need to establish the council as a Crown Corporation. The reason is, that as a part of a government department such an entity would be limited in its flexibility to operate in a commercial environment and would likely be less attractive to industry partners. Departments also have a number of business lines, while this Crown Corporation will have a singular focus, Mr. Speaker; that focus being research and development activities.


Industry partners require complete confidence that their commercially sensitive information is going to be protected and the council's primary purpose is to strengthen the R&D in the Province. It will do this, Mr. Speaker, by partnering with industry, with academia and with government to deliver very specific outcomes. Much of this work will involve commercially sensitive information, the release of which could jeopardize the competitive position of the council or of its partners.

Furthermore, it is conceivable that the council will be involved in the generation of valuable intellectual property. Without such safeguards for commercially sensitive information we will be wasting our investment in the council. Commercially sensitive information includes scientific or technical information such as trade secrets, industrial secrets, technological processes, technical solutions, manufacturing processes, operating processes and logistics methods.

The council will also operate in an open, transparent and competitive procurement process that is wholly consistent with the spirit of the Public Tender Act but provides the necessary flexibility to participate as a partner on R&D projects. The Public Tender Act is designed to ensure that procurement is conducted in an open and competitive environment while maintaining equal opportunities for suppliers to compete for government business.

The proposed structure, Mr. Speaker, is accountable to the public through the regular reporting of procurement activities, financial statements and planning, and reporting requirements pursuant to the Transparency and Accountability Act.

Governments and firms around the world are focusing considerable attention on becoming innovative and encouraging innovation in an effort to remain competitive in the global marketplace, and also to support economic growth.

During these times of economic uncertainty, emphasis on research and development is even more important, to ensure that our economies are strong enough to weather such crises as we currently face.

As we move forward, we are very excited about the opportunity to work with industry and our partners at Memorial University, the Fisheries and Marine Institute, and the College of the North Atlantic. Each institution presents an excellent environment for research, and we will continue to support their research projects.

With our new structure, we will be able to build capacity of initiatives reflecting provincial priorities that build on existing academic priorities and possibly foster new initiatives.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the tools and the solid foundation for sustained economic growth. We have a strong education system, we have world-class R&D capabilities, and we have an ever-expanding business network. Over the past five years, we have initiated a series of programs, investments and legislation to build upon these pillars to charter a course for continued prosperity.

Through this legislation, Mr. Speaker, we are ensuring the necessary infrastructure and resources, so that the best-in-class products can be developed and our economy can continue to diversify and to mature.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to further debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words with regards to Bill 70.

Our comments will not be prolonged. I think we actually had the bill delivered to our office this morning, for debate this afternoon, which is unusual, but again that ties into your timelines as to what research capabilities you have and then the time limits in which you have to do it.

In fact, we did scramble, I do believe it was the Forestry Act, already, after we got to have a briefing done today. Notwithstanding that, we would certainly like to have legislation in a more timely fashion to permit proper research.

This bill, in and of itself, upon our reading of it, is not rocket science. We understand, and anybody who has been in the House in the last three or four years certainly understands, from the budgets, I do believe of 2007 and 2008, there were references made by the ministers – the Minister of Finance in the Budget Speech, as well as the Premier in comments that were put out in press releases - as to the intention of creating a Newfoundland and Labrador Research and Development Council.

Again, it is one of these pieces of legislation which, we agree, we do need. We agree with the parameters for which and the reasons for which it is being created, and fully understand that we may well be back here on a go-forward basis to make some further changes to it. It is like anything: you put it in, you hope that it is perfect but you usually find out down the road that circumstances changed, that it is not, and some pieces you left out so you might have to come back and tinker with it. That is all part of the learning process and the legislative process.

We would certainly support this initiative. I believe the first research council in the country, or one of the first, was probably back in 1947 with Tommy Douglas, so it goes to show the kind of foresight that gentleman had. Not only was he the first, the Premier of Saskatchewan, to bring in a provincial research and development council but he also, of course, was the father, as we know it, of health care in our country as we understand it. It showed that gentleman just did not have one arrow in his quiver; he had quite a few. He was responsible for quite a few initiatives.

Here we are, some sixty years later, getting around to actually creating our own research and development council that has existed in Saskatchewan since 1947. I guess, in tune to what is needed and just how good they are – the minister alluded to the one in Alberta which has existed for some time, as well, and my colleague, the Leader of the NDP, pointed out and I would certainly concur with her - that albeit they are good things to have, good motivators and whatever, the people in Alberta, I guess, did not do everything proper either; because, albeit they had a research and development council for the purposes of their tar sands, that was done in an environment - or should I say did not have a lot of environmental research and development pieces as a part of it - and those are some of the things they are going to have to face on a go-forward basis, I would suggest, in their province.

We would certainly be supportive of it. It is good to have a provincial strategy. We have a lot of industries here and, as the minister said, I do not know if we had it all under one roof before. We had the Marine Institute doing so much. We had private industry who was into a lot of research and development. When I was the Minister of Industry and Trade myself, I remember on one occasion attending a function in Vancouver where a Newfoundland company, Lotek, was not only nominated but won an award for their advances in research and development which became worldwide products.

There are dozens and dozens of other companies in this Province which have done so since, but it is nice to have it all co-ordinated under one council so that everybody in the Province, no matter if you are a public sector player or you are a private sector player, at least you know what the rules are, you know what can be done, and what strategies are in existence to put your company and also the Province on a good solid foundation on a go-forward basis.

Player or you are a private sector player. At least you know what the rules are, you know what can be done, what strategies are in existence to put your company and also the Province on a good, solid foundation on a go-forward basis. We certainly have a lot of companies, for example, that are involved in information technologies. The more research and development that you do – we have some very good ones - who is to say that in the course of the future we will not have our own RIMs, which became world class and probably the world leaders when it comes to information technologies and so on.

Just a couple of things I would put out to the minister, and he referred to the fact that research and development right now, I believe he said, was 0.9 per cent of our GDP and that is unacceptable. I am just wondering if, in the course of concluding second reading or maybe even in the Committee stage, I am just curious as to how we compare with other provinces in terms of those percentages. How far back do we lag behind the rest of Canada, the rest of the provinces, and certainly the country as a whole, what the percentages might be, because I think that would be indicative of just how far we do have to go. It would be nice to have that information if it were made available.

We will be speaking in favour of this particular piece of legislation and, as I say, it certainly is a good move and we will be monitoring things as time goes on, of course, to see just how successful they are. We know that Memorial and Marine Institute are world-class institutions right now and I do not know, for example, and I am not sure if I am reading this exactly how it is going to fair out by having a crown agency who deals specifically with research and development. How does that impact, or does it impact at all, what is currently happening in these institutions? They have a lot of people who make donations and contribute to their research and development. How is this going to be intertwined with what is already happening in our institutions now on a go-forward basis? Because over the years, without any government involvement, Memorial, as I understand it, have been quite active in their own right in terms of attracting research and development dollars and having graduate students and so on who work on many of these projects.

I am just wondering how the interplay will be, now that we have taken it to a point where we are going to have a provincial strategy. I realize MUN is part of our strategy - a big, big, player, no doubt - but maybe if the minister could educate us a bit with regard to that interplay between the two, it would be very helpful as well.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I am glad to take some time, a few moments, to speak to Bill 70.

I, too, have to mention the fact that we only got this bill this morning and, with our very limited resources, it has taken quite intense work to try to get answers to questions to do some comparison to actually look at the Saskatchewan act, on which this bill seems to be very, very closely modeled. It has taken our one researcher a fair bit of time today just looking at this one bill.

It is our responsibility, in the opposition, to take a bill and to study it. It is not a matter of not trusting government. We know many times that sometimes there is something that the drafters of the bill do not see and, in the Opposition speaking to it, you discover it and things get improved. Even with our accountability and transparency act of the House of Assembly we, ourselves, had to go through that and see things that we had let pass last spring and improved and changed. We have not voted on it yet, but certainly in second reading we have indicated that we like the changes that we are suggesting, so there is always the potential for something being - just having even small things that are not totally accurate, that there could be anomalies or whatever.

I have to say that we have done the best we could today, getting this bill this morning and checking out things. Right up until a minute ago I am getting responses from my staff on some questions that I had, so I can just respond from this place of trying hard to make sure that we have gone over this and looked at it and made sure that, to the best we can, it looks like it is a good bill. That is the reality.

Having done that, and having read it - at least two of us have read it in our office – and, as I said, we have looked at the Saskatchewan bill, we did some questioning and learned that Saskatchewan and Alberta, as the minister said, were two of the models that were looked at. We did, at least, get the Saskatchewan one and do some comparison. This was not produced in a vacuum.

It is extremely important that we have a research and development council; there is absolutely no doubt about that. If we are serious about moving ahead in this Province then having research and development, and having a place, while it will not be playing a co-ordination role, having a place that is a provincial Crown corporation where other research bodies in the Province can go just for discussions and communication - because we do have research bodies attached to the university and at the Marine Institute, and we are doing quite a bit in the area of research and development, there is no doubt about that. There are small companies out there who are making tremendous advances. There are larger companies who are, as well, especially with regard to our marine resources, research and development in the whole area of marine industry, which is so important for us as a Province, and as that relates to the offshore oil and gas as well.

The potential for what can happen is limitless, really. With a research and development council, I think we can give some direction to how research and development is happening in the Province.

I understand that having the council as a Crown Corporation seems to be the way to go for reasons, I think, that were outlined by the minister. It certainly seems to be the way that is successful, has been successful in other places, and that does seem to be what would be recommended by anybody who has been involved in looking at research and development councils.

I think it is important, too, to have a council, because of the fact that there are people out there in our society – some of them are individuals on their own, some are in small businesses with other people – who are constantly doing research and development, who are coming up with good ideas, and they have no place to go. They do not have a place to go in the Province to get, sometimes, some financial help to help them continue with their idea. In actual fact, I have had people come to me, since I have been in my role as leader of my party and sitting here in this House, I have had people coming to me saying, we do not know where to go. We are trying to go somewhere in government and we do not get anywhere. I really like the idea that by having a research and development council in place that is a Crown Corporation, that stands on its own – albeit, accountable to government, from whom it will be getting quite a number of funds, I would imagine, along with other monies that they will generate - by having a council, I think we can depoliticize the process of people and companies and organizations with ideas. We can depoliticize their search for funds to help them in doing research and development. I think that is very important.

I did have questions, myself. Because of my thought, it is good to depoliticize that process, I had questions about the fact that both the CEO and the chairperson and the vice-chair are all appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. From the brief study that we were able to do today, it seems that is the situation in other cases that we have looked at. I have to trust that with a board of directors that is a broader-based board of directors we would see that this would be an open and transparent process and to be as depoliticized as possible. I think it is really important that, while on one level I can understand government saying, well, we hope that the goals of the research that is going on meets our goals, at the same time with research and development, especially the research part, you have to be open for ideas that may bring us somewhere that we are not even thinking about when the idea first starts. People have to be able to explore with their ideas.

A council will have quite a bit of responsibility, especially when it looks at funding efforts of individuals or organizations or businesses, in funding them as they explore, because they are going to want to be accountable for the money that they are giving out. At the same time you have to be able to give money to help an idea generate and to help that idea grow. It is a fine line that a council has to walk when it comes to doing this kind of thing.

The minister mentioned a couple of the research councils in the country and the Opposition House Leader was good enough to raise an issue and acknowledge that I had, sort of, let a quip to him, so I am going to pursue the thought a bit further. It had to do with when the minister mentioned the Alberta Research Council and its role in the tar sands. I did not know that, and it makes sense that they were.

It seems to me that something like the research and development council has to be guided by principles. Obviously they do not do development, so they may have helped fund ideas that led to people, oil companies in particular, I guess, developing ideas that led to the development of the tar sands. It certainly was not the research council that did the research and did the development. At the same time, I think it would be important for a research council to hold people accountable, people who get funding from the research council, hold them accountable for principles such as environmental standards. Because we do know now, and a lot of people knew long before now, that we have some serious problems with the tar sands; the speed of the development, for example, and the fact that the protection of the environment was not a major point to be studied and to be looked at.

I think it is extremely important that we make sure that all research and development that goes on in this Province is based on good environmental principles and that there is a bringing of environmental concerns into all aspects of our government, but particularly into the research and development council. I think it is extremely important, because if that had been a factor in the Tar Sands, if they could do the technology to do the development of the Tar Sands, they could have done better technology with regard to having safer environmental standards around the Tar Sands. I think that is something that we should inform the research and development council that we are going to be putting in place here in this Province.

I think these are the major points that I wanted to make, Mr. Speaker. I obviously will be voting for this. I do think it is needed. I think it is extremely important, as I have said. I guess, like with anything else, like with any piece of legislation, while you try in the beginning to have something as good as possible it is always a work in motion. If we find out that today we pass something that does not work well down the road it can be changed.

I do have to say, it was disturbing to get this bill on the morning of the day we were having second reading and not have had time to really look at it in the depth that I would have liked to have done. However, in principle I agree with it. It looks good on the surface and let's hope it works.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development. If he speaks now, he will close debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members opposite for their comments and we will have an opportunity in Committee to engage in more debate back and forth across the House.

I just want to comment on a couple of points that were raised.

Point number one that the Opposition House Leader brought up, in terms of comparing our investments in R&D as a Province to other provincial jurisdictions: I do not have that information right here with me. I will certainly provide it. I can say, though, that as a Province I indicated we are at 0.9 per cent of our GDP and that typically Canada, as a country, is around 2 per cent. I will endeavour to get the detail that the member requested and provide that to him at an appropriate time.

In terms of the investments that we make as a Province, Mr. Speaker: we invest right now, as a Province, about $64 million in science-related activities, and about $9 million of that is actual research and development that we are doing in this Province. It is proposed with the establishment of the Newfoundland and Labrador Research and Development Council that we will invest another $5 million per year over the next three years into a fund that they would manage. So we are making some significant contributions in trying to increase the amount of capacity that we have for our research and development, and that $5 million a year over the next three years will certainly go a long ways towards that.

It was asked about the relationship that the council would have on the College of the North Atlantic and Memorial University in terms of the work that they currently do. As has been pointed out, and very accurately pointed out, there are obviously research and development activities happening at the university and the College of the North Atlantic right now and the work of the council would be seen to be complimentary to these, not in any way competitive or to take away from what is happening, but to be complementary and supportive.

As I understand it, as a layperson, Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not a scientist myself, but as I understand it, a lot of the work that is being done is very much individually generated work. It is what people at the university or the college have as their own personal interest and then they will sort of take that as a research project. We would like to, with the council, to be able to sort of bring together collective masses that would be able to sort of focus in a more cohesive way in trying to do work that we, as a Province, felt was important for the Province and maybe feed upon and feed into some of the research that is being done by the individual researchers.

I just want to make it clear, it is certainly not meant to be competitive. It is meant to be complementary. We will be, as I said, investing $5 million more per year into a fund which would help keep the funds flowing for those researchers.

In terms of the point that the hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi made in terms of the environmental sensitivity and some of the issues that have occurred up in the tar sands. Obviously, we would be very sensitive to that. We have a Minister of Environment and Conservation, we have environmental laws in this Province, we have environmental impact studies that would have to go through the normal process, so all of that will be taken into consideration. I am sure as new technologies and new processes and new information becomes available, this would very much be a part of the council's work on a go-forward basis.

This is what we believe is the best package we could put together based upon the consultations that were done. I mentioned that there were many consultations held across the Province. The council met with a variety of sector organizations. They met with agriculture, mining, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, manufacturing, energy groups, ocean technology groups. There was a lot of consultation done to get feedback from the groups here in our Province, and then we went outside the Province to look at how these things functioned in other jurisdictions, in other provinces and in other countries.

So we have tried to put together the best possible legislation that we can. I suspect we will be back or someone will be back in this House at some point in the future making modifications and changes to it. I am sure it is not going to be a document that will be stagnant. I am sure it is a document that will be a work in process and over time changes will have to be made to it, but right now we are trying to establish a centre. We are trying to establish a council. We are trying to establish a focal point and we are trying to generate some focused research and put some money into that research for the economic benefit of this Province. That is what this bill is about, and I thank the members opposite for their comments. I appreciate the comments that they made, and when we engage in committee work I am sure we will have more to say on it.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council. (Bill 70)

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

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 70)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 30, second reading of bill, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants. (Bill 69)

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants." (Bill 69)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Fisheries, that Bill 69, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants be now read a second time.

Mr. Speaker, I am very, very pleased to get up in the House of Assembly today and speak in regards to this bill. I know I have actually tabled a number of bills in regards to self-governing bodies in this House of Assembly before and this, in turn, as well is in keeping with the White Paper in regards to establishing these types of professions and enabling them to be able to self-govern themselves.

I think this is a good piece of work and with good directive by the White Paper itself. The public interest is protected through this legislation, set out in the criteria required the Association of Chartered Accountants to file annual reports, establish and improve disciplinary process and appoint lay people to the board. All these kinds of things are certainly enshrined in regards to the act itself and also protects the public and also lays the values of accountability and transparency in regards to the act.

The new structure also provides for a clean separation of the regulatory part of the profession to protect the public interests and-or the consumer of these services, and the members' interests as well. In regards to that, where people cannot understand, or as a separation of the (inaudible) responsibilities for licensing and disciplinary responsibilities, through the creation of two separate governing bodies with separate mandates and responsibilities, public representation on each of the governing bodies. In other words, a person from the public would sit on their particular board, whichever body it may be.

Also, a graduated disciplinary process, including provisions for the settlement of complaints without engaging the form of complaint authorization and disciplinary process, which includes mediation where all parties consent to such a settlement. Also, there is a clear separation between the self-regulated occupants, complaint authorization committee and the disciplinary panel itself.

So this, Mr. Speaker, certainly takes into account the protection of the public. The public interest is taken into account as well, but it also provides for, certainly, accountability and transparency. It is in keeping with other professions that we brought in legislation, and we tabled and are now enacted and enables the actual profession itself, to self-govern, which is, I think, very important from a professional point of view. Especially in today's world.

It also, Mr. Speaker, gives the accountants the option of operating in a corporate form, or limited liability partnership. Again, the consumer protection will not be negatively impacted in this regard. Other professions, such as lawyers, physicians, dentists, already have the ability to incorporate, and certainly, this is important in regards to the profession itself, being able to incorporate, because they can avail of certain things that they cannot avail themselves of if they are not self-governing and they are under the regulations of the Department of Government Services. So this is actually a benefit to the profession itself, but as well, it is also keeping in mind that it does not infringe on any of the public's interest, too, as well.

The department also conducted an extensive consultation process with the provincial association of Chartered Accountants. This was an extensive process, because, certainly, we are not in the mindset of kind of jamming legislation, or demanding that a profession would become a self-regulatory body. We went through the process to make sure that we communicated to them what we wanted to do, what needed to be done, and what we saw as the advantages for them and also the advantages for the general public at large as well.

As well, through that consultation process, we took into account anything that they would bring to the table that might be unique to their particular profession, too, as well. Through that process I think we have come to this point now where we are able - I am able, as the minister responsible - to table this legislation in the House of Assembly and that they can self-govern.

Mr. Speaker, the White Paper itself goes back many, many years in regard to that piece of work that was done, that looked at the actual opportunity to have professions act on their own regard and self-govern, but then as well it took into account how the actual structure of the profession itself in regard to how they conducted their affairs would be taken into account. I remember that myself, as a pharmacist, in the past, we were one of the first professions that became a self-governing body. There were actually some reservations or some concerns regarding extra costs to the actual members themselves, and there will be. There will be an extra cost in regard to the professional fees they will pay to a certain degree, but it is certainly worth it in the long run because people, I found, in regard to our own profession, were actually pleased. Anybody that was having a closer look at our profession saw that we were more accountable to the public of Newfoundland and Labrador after we became a self-governing body and separated the regulatory side of the profession to the advocacy side as well; because sometimes when you have the one body doing all the same work there can be a conflict of interest in regard to what you are trying to do as compared to the public's interest and their protection at large.

It is a pleasure for me to be up in the House in regard to this one in particular because I think this one here, over the last year or so, took them probably more time than the other professions because there were some unique aspects to the Chartered Accountants and the way they govern themselves and do their work, not only here in Newfoundland and Labrador but also across Canada, and also when they are dealing with the national bodies.

When we discussed it on many occasions in my boardroom, along with myself at times, and my officials, they certainly saw that the negatives in regard to the way they had to transact their work on a national level with the national governing bodies, it was well worth it in the long run to deal with that, which is no problem for them to deal with, but in the meantime it was better for them to deal with that at this point in time and go forward with their own governing body. Because certainly before I was elected back in 2003, and I ran in 1999, I heard loud and clear from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and various professions that: Listen, if you ever get elected, try to take into account that government is regulating us to death.

I used to hear that at times and certainly I see these pieces of legislation, I have had a number of them in the House, on the floor of the House this session, in regard to this, and I see this as a positive step forward in regard to regulating people of Newfoundland and Labrador and professions to death, as they termed it at that particular time.

Now they are self-governing. They control their own destiny. They have their own set of regulations. I oversee it, as the Minister Responsible for Government Services at this particular time, but more importantly they self-regulate, they control their own destiny in regard to the way they conduct their services to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I mentioned this, and I have to communicate this to the public of Newfoundland and Labrador, even though they are self-regulating, the Department of Government Services is still responsible for their profession and the act that governs them in regard to being a self-governing body. I also have the power and will appoint to the board somebody from the public who will be there in the public's interest, to make sure that everything is accountable and transparent, and as we move forward with this legislation today I certainly look forward at this point in time to probably conclude my remarks in regard to this piece of legislation. I again look forward to any remarks that my colleagues on the other side of the House would have in regard to this. I always do.

Anyway Mr. Speaker, I think I have covered it all. Let me read my notes.

AN HON. MEMBER: And then some.

MR. O'BRIEN: And then some.

Did I mention to the hon. Member for Terra Nova that we had conducted extensive consultations with the Chartered Accountants, especially?

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I conclude my remarks and I look forward to any comments that my hon. members across the House will have.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The House stands in recess until 7:00 o'clock tonight.


December 15, 2008         HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS      Vol. XLVI    No. 50A


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

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

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

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

It is a pleasure to be able to stand and make a few comments with regard to Bill 69, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants.

Just before we recessed earlier this afternoon the minister went through the bill and, I must say, took us through stage by stage what is in this bill. Mr. Speaker, I have to say that we are in total agreement with this bill because we know that the chartered accountants themselves had input into this piece of legislation and what we are doing here is, I guess, similar to what happened with various doctors, lawyers and so on; it is an act respecting the chartered accountants.

The minister did say that his department would still have some input into it. We know there are three people who are appointed. I think, if anything should happen, one of the people that the minister appoints, with the two on the panel, would take care of any issues that need to be resolved.

The bill, Mr. Speaker, just goes through the formation of the association, the objectives, outlines their meetings, their quorums and their bylaws and so on. Also, I think one of the key components is the complaints and disciplinary panel that is listed here. I think that is very important, to know that a group of individuals, professionals, such as the general accountants, know that is in their legislation and that if anything should go wrong, as the minister said, I think the general public can feel very confident that things are looked after and everything will be as it should be.

Mr. Speaker, as I said, the legislation is a major piece of legislation for the professionals, the certified general accountants. I think it was only this past weekend, in the weekend edition of The Telegram, that Richard Power, the Chair of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Newfoundland and Labrador – I will just read his quote, if I am permitted to do that, Mr. Speaker, or try to adlib it, and he was referring to the act that was coming before the House - said: This act will allow incorporation of professional accountants in this Province for the first time and allow them to have limited liability partnership.

So, with regard to us in the Opposition, and myself, when you hear the chair of the organization looking forward to this legislation coming forward, and in full agreement, it would belittle me to stand here and condemn what they have agreed with, with the government.

Mr. Speaker, having said that, I will just say that we will be supporting Bill 69. I understand there are a couple of other bills that may be coming forward today and tomorrow very similar to this, so what is being said about one is almost identical to the other.

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.

This is pretty straightforward but I thought I would put my words on the record with regard to Bill 69, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants.

For the sake of the public who may be watching, I think what the government has come up with over the past couple of years in doing these types of bills is sort of a template for the professional associations. When you read them, all the headings are basically the same, et cetera. We will be doing another one tonight before we are finished, so the template has certainly proven itself. Then changes get made according to the professional group and details that may have to get changed, but the templates are straightforward. It is quite a legal document and it certainly has been tested now with other of the professional groups, so obviously I will be passing this bill along with others in the House tonight.

I thank the minister for making sure that his department is taking care of the professional groups under his ministry.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

If he speaks now he will close the rebate on Bill 69 in second reading.

The hon. the Minister of Government Services.

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, I just have a few words in regard to comments of my hon. colleagues across the House. I certainly appreciate their comments, and I certainly appreciate their support on his very important piece of legislation for chartered accountants. I think they see it exactly the way I see it, as it was referenced by my hon. colleague the chair of that particular association as well.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I close debate on second reading and then I will have further comments, I think, in regard to Committee stage maybe.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 69 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 Respecting Chartered Accountants. (Bill 69)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 69 has now been read a second time.

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole on tomorrow. (Bill 69)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 27, second reading of a bill, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province. (Bill 60)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 60, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province. (Bill 60)

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, that Bill 60, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province, be now read a second time.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to stand in this hon. House this evening and bring in Bill 60. I am going to give a little introduction to the bill. It is actually the updating of the language and modernizing the framework of this bill, and it was rewritten to reflect how Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador and 300 fire departments would do business, and to promote effective fire protection throughout the Province.

Just to give you an overview of the act, Mr. Speaker, this act will provide the means for the provincial fire services to improve on fire protection reporting and departmental administration. This legislation provides the framework for this to happen. It is important that the legislation is comprehensive and effective.

I know, as I look around this hon. House this evening, a lot of us have that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach when we hear about a tragic fire, whether it be a house burning down or a building.

I want to talk a little bit about the volunteers. We owe a great deal to our volunteers. There are over 6,000 volunteers of men and women in the fire department. They are very brave men and women. They are always there in times of a crisis. When we are running out, they are the people that we find running in.

In 2007 the Fire and Emergency Services agency did a line-by-line review of the Fire Prevention Act, and in that they addressed codes, regulations and the fire department administration. Fire prevention is only one part of fire protection. In the review, we saw there were many gaps. For these reasons, it was clear that the act needed a clear, modern, comprehensive approach.

I just want to point out to you section 35.(1) of the act, the City of St. John's, and that was to carve out the duties and the responsibility of the provincial fire commissioner to the St. John's Regional Fire Department within their operating areas. This section will provide more autonomy to the city. It allows the fire commissioner to focus on an area that needed more attention. The city expressed a keen desire to take over these responsibilities. No other major city has requested a similar provision. St. John's has the capability and the capacity, and the government agrees with this request and change.

I want to talk a little bit about the reporting and the recording. Yearly reporting on the current act is hard to maintain, and the fire commissioner was legislated to submit a yearly report but was unable to do so because there was no provision there saying that the fire department had to report fire loss to the fire commissioner so he could not meet the requirement. This act will be stating that the fire departments will have to report fire loss to the fire commissioners. This is one of the reasons that the Auditor General pointed this out in his report about the fire commissioner. There is a new way of operating and it will provide a better account to the people reporting fires to the fire commissioner.

I want to talk a little about fire deaths. In 2002-2007 there were fourteen tragic fire deaths: eleven males, three females, and one child. This year there have been twelve fire-related deaths. It is horrific to have so many fire-related deaths in such a short period of time.

It is important that we have the information to present a strong fire prevention message. This will be possible through stronger reporting from the local fire departments. Fire prevention and public education is very important. We need to be talking about fires and we need to save lives.

I just want to highlight the rights of entry. This is a significant policy change. The Fire Prevention Act speaks to it but it is buried and it is hard to find. The current act is silent on warrants. It is appropriate to review the rights of entry and to provide clarification.

I also want to talk a little about the reporting structure of the fire commissioner. In the current act the fire commissioner reports directly to the minister. In the new act it will change and this relationship is to better reflect other government departments. The fire commissioner will report directly to the CEO of the Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador, and this Mr. Speaker, is no different that any other government department. It will bring this office in line with other government departments.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say the Fire Protection Services Act is reorganized and restructured for clarity, modernization, and to make it more readable and more user-friendly.

These are just some of the changes that I have outlined and I am welcoming debate from my colleagues across the floor.

Thank you very much, 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 contribute to the debate on this particular bill.

Obviously, we see this as a very important piece of legislation that has been implemented in the House of Assembly. Fire Protection Services affect all of us in Newfoundland and Labrador and it is in our best interest to ensure that they are legislated appropriately, that they follow proper policy and guidelines, and that there is broad leniency given to the fire commissioner in order for him to carry out his responsibilities and duties within the Province.

Mr. Speaker, every MHA in the House of Assembly is quite familiar with the fire services in their own districts and many of us, I am sure, come to this place to represent fire brigades and fire teams that are volunteer in nature. I know for my district in particular, I think every single fire department is a volunteer department. Certainly, without those people being there to give their time and their expertise and be prepared to do the appropriate training to ensure the safety of the community in a time of emergency and in a time of fire, we would not be able to fund those kinds of services in many small towns around the Province.

First of all, on this particular piece of legislation, I want to acknowledge the work that they do and congratulate them for the work that they do because oftentimes they put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others.

Mr. Speaker, not just the volunteer sector but they are a very important component and probably reach into more communities than those that are paid in the firefighting profession. Nevertheless, they are all professionals, they all need to have proper training and appropriate training within the Province, and they need to be appropriately funded.

I guess this has been an issue that has been raised by firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador for quite some time. It was the ability to be able to access a grant to a fire brigade so they would have at least some operating cost. With the recent changes in the Municipalities Act on cost-shared agreements, it is giving a lot of towns in this Province the ability to access revenue that they could not in the past for their fire brigades and fire teams under what is a 90-10 cost-shared agreement. That seems to work for a lot of municipalities. I know many that have applied and were successful under the program. I am sure this year there will be an overwhelming amount of applications coming in to purchase new fire equipment, new fire trucks, whatever is needed to be able to operate. In some cases it may even be a new building. In other cases it is training facilities in certain areas of the Province so that they can provide better training to their firefighters. Nevertheless, it will be a long list. The reason for that is because the need has become very great for volunteer and other fire brigades and fire departments across the Province.

Mr. Speaker, in local service districts I am not sure how they access the funding under this particular program but I do know that there are a number of local service districts that provide for their own fire safety and emergency planning issues as well. I know that many of them do not have a tax budget whereby they can contribute to any kind of a cost-shared program for firefighting equipment.

I think that government should look at a basic package for volunteer fire departments, especially those that are local service districts, where they would have a basic package of fire equipment that would be in the community. I have run into situations in the last number of years where there have been small towns, even local service districts, that did not even have a pump and a hose in the community if a fire was to break out.

I think there should be basic packages that would be provided, especially to local service districts, or at least some access under the program for those particular small towns that do not have the money to cost-share in this particular agreement. I am sure it would not use up a huge chunk of the budget, but there could be a piece carved out of it for them under the fire commissioner's office.

Mr. Speaker, this particular act deals with more than the volunteers that work in the field, but no doubt they are the front line people, and the firefighters in our Province that are paid and employed to do this on a daily basis. They are the frontline people. They are the ones that are going to be there to respond in a time of emergency, and in many cases they are the ones within their own communities that meet with their municipalities, that meet with the leadership in the community, and iron out a good emergency preparedness plan and ensure that there is good fire protection services. They take their time to do all of that, and that needs to be acknowledged.

The fire commissioner's office is the office for fire protection services in this Province. He is, in my mind, the ultimate individual who not only deals with every fire department and every fire brigade and every small organization that is out there providing this service but he is also the individual that takes on the huge responsibility of ensuring that our schools are inspected and up to code, that our hospitals are inspected and up to code, that all of our public buildings are safe for the people who need to use them. They are also the same people who do a lot of the promotional work within the schools and with the community in terms of talking about fire services and fire-related services.

The fire commissioner's office currently, today, has five protection officers that are out around the Province, outside the St. John's area. They have three of those on the West Coast of Newfoundland, they have one in Central Newfoundland, and they have one in Clarenville, but there is no fire protection officer in Labrador. That has been an issue for me, and it continues to be. I have raised it with government, and I have raised it with the fire commissioner, because I think that there should be a protection officer based in the Labrador region as well. I do not think it is good enough to say: Okay, we will put three on the West Coast, we will put one in Central and one in Clarenville, but the resources are not there to put one in Labrador. I would hope that government would take another look at that.

It seems whenever government departments are providing for services in this Province that Labrador is always the one that is left at the very end. They either do not get the position at all or it takes several years before you can actually get a position allocated to that area, and I do not think it is good enough. I say that, and if I were able to speak outside of the realms of this bill I could probably name at least two or three different cases in government departments right now where there are vacancies in Labrador for certain positions, higher level and important positions, but yet they are being provided for everywhere else in the Province.


Mr. Speaker, I am hoping that Labrador will have a fire protection officer that will be hired and positioned there through the fire commissioner's office, but obviously that can only be done if government is prepared to commit the funds to ensure that it is done. Again, I would say if you are prepared to commit the funds for every other area of the Province then you should be prepared to commit them for Labrador as well.

I guess, Mr. Speaker, the other significant thing in this particular act is the fact that the City of St. John's will now discharge their own duties and take on their own responsibilities for fire protection services for the people of the St. John's area. I do not have a problem with that, Mr. Speaker, at all. If this is something that they want to take on as a municipality, and they feel they have the ability to be able to take that on and set it up as their own division, I am sure it will not be a whole lot different than how they are operating now in terms of their front-line service. I would think that this is more of an administrative piece for the City of St. John's in which they would streamline their own operations on an in-house basis as opposed to seeing it affect public service in any way.

Mr. Speaker, keeping in mind that the public services and the fire protection services that are currently being provided in the St. John's area will be maintained at least at the levels that they are today - if they can be improved upon we are certainly all for that, but given the fact that they will be maintained and we will not see any drastic downgrading of services from a front-line perspective - we would certainly have no problem with that.

Mr. Speaker, fire protection services in the Province, as I said, is very important, and we found that out last year. If you remember back early in the spring, I think it was, when the government made a decision to close down twenty personal care homes, I think it was, in the Province, or twenty-two personal care homes, they shut them down because they had not complied with the sprinkler systems within their residency as per the legislation.

Mr. Speaker, we firmly believe that sprinkler systems in personal care homes are a necessity. In fact, we supported it in the House of Assembly when it was being done. The fact that a lot of these personal care homes did not comply, for one reason or another, and I will not get into all the specifics because they are many that had many different stories, but the mere fact that government took a heavy hand in saying to them: You must comply or we are going to close you down - in fact, Mr. Speaker, with their heavy hand they caused a tremendous amount of disruption in the lives of a lot of seniors in some of these personal care homes around the Province. Some of them thought they were going to be evicted because they had not paid for their board or their rent, or something like this, and it was not the case at all, but it was very difficult for them to grasp that government may be taking you out of this facility and closing it down and putting you somewhere else simply because your home and your residence has not complied with the sprinkler system regulations.

Mr. Speaker, that could have carried a lot of weight and not been seen as a heavy hand at all if government themselves had been complying with their own regulations, but what happened in the days that followed, as we started to dig into the issue, we suddenly realized that this government had not complied with their own regulations. They had not installed sprinkler systems in all of the hospitals in the Province and they had not gone through the vigorous inspection process and met the vigorous criteria that they outlined for everyone else. That was when we also realized that the facility report on the Waterford Hospital was being made public. It was during that report that we realized that the Waterford Hospital had some significant fire safety issues that needed to be addressed and we soon went on to find out, Mr. Speaker, that there were eleven facilities in the Eastern Health region alone that had been assessed and a number of them had fire safety issues. Mr. Speaker, some of those were: the Waterford Hospital, the Bell Island hospital and the Carbonear Hospital. They were just three of the main ones that were in the St. John's area that had fire safety issues.

While government was saying to personal care homes that we are going to close you down if you do not meet this criteria, at the same time they had, within their own inventory, a number of public buildings and institutions that were not meeting the criteria. The report that was tabled in February certainly made that known, the facilities report.


Mr. Speaker, it was after the probing into this that the minister at the time decided that government would finally do an investigation into all of the health care facilities in the Province. This was after every single day we had raised, in the House of Assembly, issues of another facility in the Province that had fire safety issues. Finally, they agreed to do the investigation. When they did, they found out that, out of the seventy-one health facilities within our Province, twenty-two of them were not fully sprinkled - had sprinkler systems in them. Of the twenty-two, Mr. Speaker, twelve of them were community health clinics that did not have sprinkler systems in them. Of course, they said that because they did not have patients overnight on a regular basis it was not required.

Mr. Speaker, there were a number of things that were found in this investigation. Not only were there things found with regard to fire safety issues in the Waterford Hospital but there were some major fire safety issues in the Labrador City hospital. At the time, government said: Oh no, that is okay, we are going to build a new hospital in Labrador City.

Still, today, Mr. Speaker, there is nothing happening with that hospital in Labrador City. There is no construction happening. As I said the other day, we have a million dollar hole in the ground because government went in there, in their haste, and started drilling and started construction of the hospital, with frost in the ground, and all of the rest of it, in the middle of a by-election. As a result of it, a year later and $1 million pumped into it, they started to realize that they might have some problems here, and they had to shut the entire site down for another full year.

While all of this is transpiring within government, Mr. Speaker, there is a hospital in Labrador City that was basically identified by the fire commissioner as having some very serious fire safety and life safety issues - to the point, Mr. Speaker, that they had to put human guards on twenty-four hours around the clock in Labrador West to monitor what was happening in that hospital, and to check all the systems that were there, to ensure that the patients who were being hospitalized in Labrador City-Wabush would at least be hospitalized in a fire-safe environment. There were guards posted twenty-four hours a day, circling the hospital, checking all the systems and making sure that this was done.

The other major piece was in Corner Brook where there were no sprinklers as well. Again, in Corner Brook there had to be a number of things implemented by the fire commissioner's office again having people there on watch, on standby, seeing what was going on, some renovation work that had to be done, and some other things that had to be changed.

In St. Anthony there was a problem. Government did move to correct the problem in St. Anthony and they went out to tender probably within a month or two after to try and have that work done, and I think it has been completed since then.

In Goose Bay there were no sprinklers in the facility that was there, or in Bell Island, in Whitbourne, in Flower's Cove and in Forteau. I know for a fact that Forteau has been done since then; they did go to tender and put a sprinkler system in there.

Mr. Speaker, this was a very serious situation to discover in the Province. It probably would not have been discovered if the minister did not go out and issue the ultimatum to the personal care homes. Maybe we would not have done the digging to find out that many of our health care facilities in the Province were not complying with the regulations at all.

Mr. Speaker, there was an investigation done and there was some action taken. There are still some today which have not been corrected and probably will not be corrected in the future because government says they are replacing facilities in Labrador West and in Flower's Cove. We will have to wait and see what happens during those situations.

Mr. Speaker, it was during this time that the fire commissioner was taking a lead on this file, as he should as the fire commissioner of the Province. He was out speaking on the inspections that had been done, what the findings were. Then, all of a sudden, the fire commissioner obviously was given too much clout - as was assumed by the government members- and they decided they were going to rein him in.

I remember it very well when the Minister of Municipal Affairs of the day stood up and said: I speak for this department, and the fire commissioner will no longer be speaking on issues related to fire protection and emergency services in the Province.

Yet, the fire commissioner was the right one to speak. He was the one with the knowledge, with the information. He was the one who was being paid every single day to be on the job to ensure the safety of the people of this Province. Mr. Speaker, he was the right one to stand and speak on behalf of those issues, but the government members opposite felt that he was getting a little bit too much clout, a little bit too much air time, and they decided: We are going to shut down the fire commissioner in the Province. He can sit in his office now and listen to what we are going to say. We will do all of the media scrums.

Then we found out, Mr. Speaker, that government did not have the answers. They did not have the technical information. It was the fire commissioner who was needed to provide that technical information, but the fire commissioner is no longer allowed to go before the microphone and give that information. He has to feed it to the minister and whatever members of Cabinet, I guess, want to hear it, first, privately, in a room, and then they will go out and communicate it to the rest of the public.

It really does not make any sense to me. We are talking about fire protection services. We are talking about the safety of people in the Province. Does it really matter, Mr. Speaker, that the fire commissioner would be the person to take the lead and be the individual who provides the technical information and the briefing on all of this? I certainly do not think it would infringe any way upon any ministerial responsibility on that side of the House of Assembly. I honestly do not. It is the way it has been for a long time.

The individual was a very competent commissioner, a very competent fire commissioner - and still is today - and was certainly looking out for the best interests of the people of the Province. Government certainly felt there was too much disclosure of information here and that they were going to shut this down, one way or the other, and the way to shut it down was to take the fire commissioner out of the media, take him away from the microphones, Mr. Speaker, and that way they can control the message, they can control the information, they can control what they want to have out there in the interest of the public. To me, that is wrong and it was unnecessary. It did not need to happen.

Mr. Speaker, in the days subsequent to that, we started looking into the schools in the Province as well. In fact, I remember calling the fire commissioner. I guess I had to wait for him to get authorization from the minister before he could actually meet with me. Then, when we did sit down and finally meet, it was to talk about schools in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, I suddenly realized how school inspections were done. I did not know before. I always thought that inspections in school for fire safety issues were done by a fire protection officer, one of the five we have in the Province, or by someone who was certified to do those inspections on behalf of the Fire Commissioner's Office.

Well, let me tell you what I found out. I found out that it was the principal in the school or the custodian, whether that was the janitor or someone else, that often carried out the routine check list for fire inspections in schools. That it was not done by a commissioner within the Fire Commissioner's Office at all. It was not done by one of the five fire protection officers that are out there around the Province. In lots of cases, Mr. Speaker, it was not done by even a volunteer member of a fire brigade because in lots of cases they were not available in the communities to do it.

So, we suddenly started to find out that our schools in the Province do not have a regulatory process of inspections for a fire inspection and safety. Everyday, Mr. Speaker, we hammered the Minister of Education and the Minister of Municipal Affairs to put in place a proper process for the inspection of schools, and do you know something? It is still not done. It is still not done, and you know why, Mr. Speaker. They scrambled when the issue was raised in the House of Assembly, they scrambled. The principals had memos circulating in their schools the next day - I probably still have copies of them up in my office - talking about getting your checklist in.

Let me tell you how the checklist worked. This was the checklist, and I still have that, too. I do not have it here with me tonight, but on the checklist it was to check things like fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire exits; all those things within the school, which is fine. There is nothing the matter with that. Then each day someone would go around and they would check it off and they would sign the sheet and they would pass it into the principal's office. There is nothing wrong with that, but what happens when that was not being done? Because there were schools where that was not being done, and I know that. I had those very schools tell me themselves that they were three and four months; they had to do three and four months of these sheets. These sheets because of the memo that came out from the school board offices to the principals saying - right after it came up in the House of Assembly it was. If I had the Hansard here I would know the date. It was right after it came up in the House of Assembly the memos went out from the school boards to the principals saying to get all your checklists done, get them all sent in. Because remember now, these lists were supposed to go to different individuals, and a lot of them did not get there.

The other thing is, Mr. Speaker, the inspections that the government says – when they say the inspections are being done. These inspections, in most cases, were being carried out by individuals in volunteer fire departments who would go and do them, either if they were asked to do them or some of them probably took it upon themselves having been in the position of a fire chief or on the fire department for an extended period of time, might have walked in and just did it automatically because it was part of what they do as a volunteer every year, but there were some that were not done. Some that did not get done because there was no one to do them. Mr. Speaker, it is a very ad hoc system for fire inspections that we have in our schools in this Province. There is absolutely nothing wrong with government putting in place a process to ensure that every single year proper inspections are being carried out for fire and life safety issues, and that it is being done by individuals who are trained and accredited to carry out those kinds of inspections. After all, we have thousands and thousands of our children sitting in these schools every single day. What better thing to have than the piece of mind of knowing that the school that they are in has been inspected, has been certified by a proper fire inspector, and that they have passed all the things that needed to be passed?

Let's get to the other issue. What happens when they do their checklist in the morning or during the week – whenever it is they do it – and they find out that there is a problem in one of these schools? What happens when they do their checklist and the lights are gone, or the alarms are not working, or the extinguishers are outdated, or the corridors are blocked up, or the exits are not accessible? What happens in a case like that? Who is responsible then to ensure that it is done and it is done immediately? Who do you report to?

Well, we know it is reported because if there is a problem it is marked on the list, but what happens to the list? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the things that were not working when the fire inspection was done in that school is going to be fixed tomorrow and that it is going to be working when the next list is done? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that that happens? We have never clearly defined that. We have never clearly defined whose responsibility that actually is.

Now, I think they have a process now where some of these reports go to the school boards. So maybe it is going to be the school board's responsibility now to ensure that when a fire inspection was just done in a school in Lark Harbour, somewhere, Mr. Speaker, that that inspection that identified some flaws are going to be fixed within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Maybe that is going to be the school board's responsibility, but we certainly do not know that to be the policy. This is the reason we have been asking to ensure that there is a proper policy in place, and that people can have assurances that their children are going to school every day in a government facility, a government public educational institution knowing that it has been inspected and certified and that everything there meets the fire and life safety issues with regard to their children. There is nothing wrong with government doing that, and it is not going to require a great deal of financial resources. What it will require is an effort, I say to the minister, an effort on your part and an effort on the part of your government to ensure that there is an inspection training program in place so that people are identified in each area of the Province to do those inspections and that they are carried out in a timely manner, whatever is required, whether that be annually, semi-annually, every quarter. I have no idea what would be appropriate. I am sure the fire commissioner would be able to give you a much better idea.

Mr. Speaker, that is the kind of thing that should be done and should be put in place. Instead of everyday standing up and defending the fact that there is a checklist done and that someone has been in there and they have looked at this or they have looked at that. That is not a regulatory process, and it should be a regulatory process.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, we filed under Freedom of Information to obtain copies of the reports and recommendations that resulted from school inspections in the Province and the date that those inspections were done. Very simple! If there was actually a real inspection out there on one form submitted to the department with all the information on it, it would be really easy to access, but we filed under Freedom of Information asking for the reports from the inspections and any recommendations they included and the date they were done. Very simple, not a difficult request at all. But guess what we got back? We got back from the government, Mr. Speaker - what we got back was this. In order to access this information it will cost $825. That is what they were asking us to pay, as an Opposition, to access information to determine if fire inspections had been carried out in all of the schools. We asked for it to be tabled in the House of Assembly. It never got tabled. We asked in Question Period to give us a list of the schools, Mr. Speaker, to stand up and name them if you want, read them off, we will give you Question Period to read them off, the schools that had inspections in this Province and what the recommendations were around them.

We never did get the information, so we were forced to go through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain it. The act that is supposed to guarantee the openness and accountability of government, the same act that they put through the House of Assembly last week that is going to tighten up the information even more that you will not be able to get it. It is going to tighten up the control mechanism again so that less information will actually flow. Anyway, Mr. Speaker, in order for us to access that information government wants $825. Now I think that is absolutely unreasonable. This is public information. It is our children who are in those schools every single day. It should be public information.

You talked about a while back, actually put out press releases on putting restaurants online so that people could go on and see what restaurants were rated at and which ones had passed their inspections and that you could eat at and be content. This is the government that was going to go and do that, put those inspections for restaurants online, but at the same time will not give any information on fire and life safety inspections in schools. What is wrong with that? Is there something missing here that I am not seeing? Because there is obviously something desperately wrong with a government who thinks that this is a priority and we should run and do it immediately. I have no problem with that. People should know, if they can, where they are eating and whether the restaurant passed inspection with the government or not. Good information if you can access it, but it is also good information to access whether the school that you are putting your child in has been inspected and has met all the inspection criteria and that there is no fire and life safety issues in that school, but we do not have that in this Province. I think for a government that wants to be open and accountable, this might be a good first step. Be open with the information in our public educational institutions. Show accountability to the people who send their children to those facilities by giving them that information.

So, Mr. Speaker, I think there is more that government could do on that front. There is a lot more they could do but they are not prepared to go there and I have no idea why. Maybe it is because some of these schools do not meet the proper fire inspection and life safety issues. Maybe that is the reason, I have no idea. I would not want to speculate that that was the case at all, but certainly if they have information that shows they are meeting the criteria and the inspections have been done then they should be putting it out there to the public. I just think that the inspections have not been done and there has been no thorough fire and life safety inspections in these schools other than that of which the minister stood on her feet and talked about last year, back last May in the spring session of the House. I do not think there is anything more that they have which documents anything with regard to these schools.

Maybe, Mr. Speaker, they are afraid that it is going to open up a Pandora's Box like it did with air quality in our schools, where all of a sudden a year goes by, schools close in June and every year in September we have a case where we have several schools in this Province with air quality problems that after three months government could not find and could not address. That is only because proper inspections were not being carried out. It is one thing to say we will do this and we will go in and we will check this and we will check that, but if there is a way to do full inspections on air quality and fire safety and life safety issues in our schools then it should be done.

Mr. Speaker, the information should be available to the public. People should not have to go through Freedom of Information and we should not have to be in the House of Assembly everyday asking questions of the government to ensure that there is proper life safety issues in our schools and that the proper inspections were carried out. I do not think that is acceptable and there is a better way that it could be done.

Mr. Speaker, it is not just in our schools as well, because we also raised questions around the College of the North Atlantic. This was more around air quality, but at the same time when we did make the request for information, again we were tagged with another price tag, another bill. Every single time that we have asked for information under Freedom of Information that has to do with fire inspections or has to do with life safety issues or has to do with air quality, we get the same response back from government and that is that you can have it if you are prepared to pay for it.

Mr. Speaker, the members opposite know full well that in our office, as an Opposition, we cannot afford to pay for all that information, and they know that. That is why the price tags are often there because a lot of this information could be given out very easily if it at all exists and if it does not exist, well then maybe we should be told that it does not exist. As it is right now, I think it is unfair and unreasonable that every time we ask for information regarding public safety issues that we should have to pay to access it. Anything to do with public safety, whether it is fire safety or whether it is other issues, should be freely accessible to the public. That is what openness is all about. That is what being open to the public is all about. You might forget that, but those were the first couple of words you used in your slogan when you were talking about coming into government; openness and accountability. It seems it has gotten lost somewhere along the way when it comes to some of these public safety issues and disclosing that particular information.

Mr. Speaker, this particular Act, while it does provide for fire protection services in the Province, certainly does not change the way that inspections are being done right now for public institutions and facilities. Keeping in mind that the only reason the investigations were done of the hospitals in this Province was because it reached the floor of the Legislature, and because the facilities report that was completed on Eastern Health institutions showed that there were problems and fire safety issues with some hospitals in the Province, it was only after that and after the probing here in the House of Assembly that the government and the minister decided to carry out that investigation. What we found afterwards, Mr. Speaker, is that there were a number of other hospitals in the Province, twenty-two, in fact, that had other issues that were identified of a fire and life safety nature as well. How do we know if we do not go through the appropriate process?

In fact, back in the last session of the House, as we were closing the House of Assembly, I did write to the Fire Commissioner with a list of schools that had come to my attention from people calling into my office, and they felt these particular schools should be inspected. We did pass that along to the Fire Commissioner's Office. We did not receive a report from him yet, but I am sure we should be getting one very soon, because I think it was supposed to be by the end of the year. We will have to wait and see if all of these schools actually got inspected at all, and if they did, what were the findings and what were the recommendations, if any, around them?

That should not have to be the process. It should not have to be a process whereby some member of the House of Assembly waits for someone to call up to say, I think that this school should be inspected by the Fire Commissioner or by the Fire Commissioner's Office. I think there should be a regulatory process, and this Act omits to address that, Mr. Speaker. That is unfortunate, because I think it is an issue that people in the Province would like to see addressed as part of their fire protection services in the Province. I think that they would like to see that done in a fashion where the information is made public to them and they can access it; and I do not think it is an unfair request of government this day and age. I mean, it could be very easily done.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on at great length with regard to this bill, because I have run into so many issues with regard to fire protection services. I talked tonight about our hospitals and I talked about our schools, and I am not going to get into any other pieces with regard to that, other than to say that the fact that government has omitted to address the problems with regard to inspections, under this particular Act, shows me that they have not taken many of these issues seriously.

You would think they would have learned from the experiences that happened within the health-care sector in this Province, and what was identified from that investigation, and you would think that they would have used the first opportunity, when they brought in an act, to address it in the legislation, but that did not happen.

Mr. Speaker, having said that, I will not take away from the significance of some information that is included in this bill, and that is the rights that have been given to the Fire Commissioner. Although he is not allowed to talk publicly, although his messaging is to be controlled by the government, Mr. Speaker, outside of that, the Fire Commissioner does have the responsibility to ensure the proper fire protection services in the Province, in terms of dealing with fire departments and fire brigades, in terms of ensuring that there are appropriate training programs available, and that they have appropriate equipment. Also, Mr. Speaker, it is his job to do a lot of the promotional and educational work around fire safety in our communities, to deal with municipal leaders, and so on.

Mr. Speaker, most importantly, it is their office, through the Fire Commissioner's office and Emergency Measures, that takes control in the times of a crisis in this Province. We have seen it happen on a number of occasions: the flood in Badger – I recall the Fire Commissioner being one of the lead individuals in that particular situation; the flood in Daniel's Harbour, Mr. Speaker, in which Emergency Measures was dispatched, and the Fire Commissioner's office, to deal with those particular issues; and fires that have occurred here in downtown, St. John's, especially in an apartment building just last year, in which we saw the Fire Commissioner taking some lead on that particular issue.

Mr. Speaker, while he is not allowed to talk and give technical briefings publicly in the media, or anything of that sort, only because government wants to control the messaging that comes out of the department, outside of that he has the ability to exercise his powers to carry out all of the other attributes within the legislation.

Mr. Speaker, when I started earlier, I talked about the protection officers who have been established around the Province, and the fact that there were five. I want to reiterate that, because as you know the Fire Commissioner's Office is based here in St. John's. They have a staff of people that operate out of here and I have dealt with them on many occasions on a number of different issues related to my district and to other municipalities in the Province. Mr. Speaker, outside of that they do have fire protection officers who are based in various regions around the Province. I spoke to it earlier and indicated that three of those individuals were based on the West Coast of Newfoundland, one in Central Newfoundland and one in Clarenville, but there isn't one in Labrador. Maybe when the minister gets up to speak she can tell me why there is no fire protection officer based in Labrador, if there is going to be one based there, and when it will happen, because I simply do not see any rational for not having a position based there; I really do not. I think it is unfortunate that you saw fit to put these officers all around the Province - obviously, you believe that their mandate is very important and that they make a valuable contribution to the Fire Commissioner's Office in the role that they play and the duties that they exercise, but obviously you do not think that those same duties and that same commitment is needed in Labrador. I do not know why that is, because I think it is one of the areas where we should definitely have more presence and not less.

Mr. Speaker, I certainly support the work that the Fire Commissioner's Office does in this Province and I know it is not an easy job most days. I know that simply from dealing with communities like my own where there are volunteer fire departments and where I see people who give a lot of their time and a lot of their energy to the service of fire protection in their communities. Quite often they do so with not a lot of reward, because not only do they have to provide for the protection of the people in the community as part of the obligation of the work that they take on, but in many cases they find themselves out there fundraising all the time to buy equipment that they need, to buy trucks that they need, or to get people out to different courses and so on. Their responsibility does not just end with fire protection. There are a lot of other things that they have to do to lead up to that.

I have seen fire departments and fire brigades in this Province, Mr. Speaker, start in communities with nothing, but they built themselves up because they have been committed individuals. They have stuck it out for the long haul, they have raised the money that they have needed, and they have cost-shared with government to get a lot of this infrastructure. I do not know if the minister has an increase in her budget this year for fire protection services, but I can certainly assume that the number of applications coming in this year is far greater than they would have been any other year, simply because of the cost-shared agreement that the government would have in place on the 90/10 funding. I could see a lot of municipalities finally taking advantage of that to buy new fire equipment, fire trucks and so on for their communities that they need. In my case, Mr. Speaker, it might be a fire snowmobile that they need in their community to respond to fires during the winter months in communities where there are no roads or where roads are not cleared.

Mr. Speaker, yes, I say to the Member for Gander, we have fire response snowmobiles in a lot of communities in Labrador only because that is the only way to get to a house fire sometimes, in the middle of the winter in particular. They have to have all of the equipment that they need and things ready. For the information of the member, because I know he has been listening attentively, Mr. Speaker, to all of this, oftentimes they have komitak. They keep their pumps, their hoses, and all of the equipment that they need to respond quickly in an emergency, in a fire, on a komitak, and they keep it connected to a snowmobile so that all they have to do is go in and drive it out.

The Member for Torngat Mountains is nodding her head because she knows exactly what I am talking about. From the North Coast, she would have seen this done many times as I have.

It is not always about big trucks. Sometimes it is about small trucks and even snowmobiles, Mr. Speaker, whatever it takes to be able to respond to a fire in the case of an emergency. A lot of the local service districts, I know, do not have the revenue to access even the basic fire equipment. One of the things, I say to the Member for Gander, that you might want to look at - I know you probably do not have a lot of local service districts in your area, but in the Central area I am sure there is a number of them. What they find is that because they do not have a tax base they cannot necessarily contribute to the cost-shared programs. If government were to look at even an emergency package for local service districts, or those that do not have revenues and do not have any kind of equipment in their town to respond to an emergency - I know that there are a few that do not. I do not think it is a lot. I must say, I do not think it is a lot of local service districts that are in that situation. Most of them have partnership agreements with neighbouring towns and things like that, but there are some in more isolated or off-road places that do not have the equipment. Sometimes, having just the basic equipment there to know that if Uncle Ted's house catches on fire or something like that you can go out and you can respond to it and you have the equipment available - I am sure that it is something you will raise with your colleagues and maybe it is something that government might be able to do to help out those particular towns and ensure that they are able to respond appropriately as well.

Mr. Speaker, that concludes my comments with regard to this particular bill. While I would have liked to have seen it go further with regard to inspections, we certainly will be supporting the legislation that is there right now and that is being proposed by the department.

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 am happy to get to speak to Bill 60, the bill which covers fire protection services, the Fire Protection Services Act.

I was very pleased that we were able - when I say we, I mean my colleague, the Member for Port de Grave, and myself – were able to receive a briefing from the division covering emergency and fire services, both on the sister act to this one that we are dealing with today, the one dealing with emergency services, and now the Fire Protection Services Act. These acts sort of go together. The briefing we received over a week ago was excellent because it gave us a very good idea of the legislation that we were going to be dealing with here in the House.

Fire is obviously one of the most important things that we deal with in our community because it is something that when it happens can be so devastating. You get not only loss of property but loss of lives as well. It becomes very disturbing for people in communities if they do not think that they are protected against fire. When people call in the time of an emergency with a fire and they call the emergency number, 911, if they are lucky enough in this Province to have 911, or if they call another emergency number that they are able to call, they have a great expectation that people who are coming to help them are, in actual fact, going to be able to do that, that they are going to be able to help them.

One of the important things that came out for me in the briefing that we went through with regard to Bill 60 was the relationship of the municipalities and local service areas to the provincial government. You do not get this connection with everything that goes on in a province, but when it comes to something like fire protection there is a very close relationship between the municipalities and the provincial government; because, in actual fact, it is the municipalities who are responsible for inspections and it is the municipalities who relate to the fire services in the municipality or in the local region, and it is the responsibility of the municipalities to make sure that inspections happen.

Now, the role of the provincial government is just as important because it is the role of the provincial government, through the minister, to make sure that standards for the protection of everybody in the community are put in place. The minister is also responsible to make sure that the municipalities adopt codes or standards that are recognized by the ministry, and the ministry can adopt codes or standards that they see in other jurisdictions, and it is up to the ministry to make sure that every municipality, every region in the Province, has codes that either meet or are better than the codes that the provincial government thinks is necessary in the Province.

The Province and the municipalities have to work very, very closely together and this is something, I think, that is extremely important. One cannot say that it does not have to do something because it is the other one's responsibility, because ultimately both levels are responsible for the fire protection in our Province.

Now, when we went through the act - or the bill, rather - with the officials from Fire and Emergency Services, they made it quite clear to us that the role of the municipality is a key role and that role is played generally through the fire department, whether it is volunteer or not, and that is who is responsible for making sure that everything that is going on in a community with regard to fire and emergency services and fire protection is going on well-regulated, that it is happening under the watchful eye of the municipality, and that the municipality makes sure that everything that is going on fits within the guidelines of the Province. However, departments do have to ensure that guidelines and procedures are adhered to. For example, with the Department of Education, the Department of Education is responsible for ensuring that guidelines and procedures with regard to fire are adhered to under the school boards, and that all schools are protected. The Department of Education does that in consultation with the fire chief.

It is a complicated system. It is not one group's responsibility. It is multiple responsibilities, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the provincial government and of the minister responsible to make sure that everything is co-ordinated. So everything does ultimately come to the provincial government; hence, the importance of the acts that the provincial government puts in place.

I am not going to repeat everything, or go over grounds that were covered by the former speaker, the Leader of the Official Opposition. I am going to look at a couple of things that I am concerned about. One in particular, as a matter of fact, and I have raised it before in the House, I would like to talk to it again tonight because I think we cannot talk about fire protection services without talking about people having access to an emergency number. Once again, I am talking the opportunity to speak to the 911 issue.

We were very disappointed in my office, and I was very disappointed, when, in 2006, the Auditor General highlighted concerns over the lack of 911 service in the Province, throughout the whole Province, and there was a response from the fire commissioner, who is also called the Director of Newfoundland and Labrador Emergency Measures Organization - he plays both roles – and the response from the fire commissioner was that most of the public residing in our Province are familiar with the emergency services within their geographic area; they recognize the travel distances required to access the services and, most important, they know the various telephone numbers to contact the required services.

I was really disturbed to read that; disturbed because, number one, it showed to me, which I thought was very serious, that the fire commissioner and the Director of Emergency Measures Organization makes assumptions that do not really hold up to scrutiny. For example, fire emergencies do not necessarily always happen in a home where you have a phone number up on a refrigerator or up on a notice board in case you cannot remember it. As a matter of fact, if I did not know 911, except for dialing 0, I would not know what else to do if there were a fire emergency, and I am willing to bet that in places where people do not have 911 it is not easy, off the top of their head, to come up with an emergency number to call if there is a fire. So it was rather disturbing to see that response from the fire commissioner to the concern raised by the Auditor General.

The other thing is that children are conditioned by television and everywhere they go in this Province, whether they have 911 in their area or not – and this is true for adults, too - everybody has 911 in their brain, and 911 is the number that people expect to call and get emergency services, and here we are talking about fire, which is a particular emergency.

Now, I do know that Municipal Affairs, in November, have come out with an Expression of Interest with regard to Enhanced 911, and when this announcement was made I did acknowledge here in the House, and I acknowledged to the minister, that I was very pleased that Municipal Affairs was putting out this call asking for an Expression of Interest.

There are two things about this that I am pleased about. One, we are talking about Enhanced 911. Enhanced 911, as was explained by the minister, is a system that automatically identifies the precise location of an emergency call, and can identify helpful address-specific information.

Now, this is particularly important in this Province because we do have areas in rural Newfoundland in particular where you may not have roads and may not have road numbers. This has always been one of the reasons given for saying we cannot have 911 in Newfoundland and Labrador. Now, I know other places, rural areas in Atlantic Canada, where you cannot easily find road numbers or street numbers either, and yet they seem to have 911 in the other three Atlantic Provinces; however, it is an excuse that has been used here. As a matter of fact, I have heard the excuse given here in this very House since I have been sitting here - it is not a long time, two years, but I have heard that excuse given - and to me it is not acceptable, but I am glad to see that Municipal Affairs has put out a call for Expression of Interest with regard to Enhanced 911 so that we are not just looking at the system we have, but we have this new system which is now possible because of the new technology that we have today.

I would imagine – I do not know, but I would imagine - GPS would be involved in this. That is a technology that would be able to pinpoint precise locations, so I suspect that is part of what this is about.

It is very interesting to note that the government has to do this, because the last time there was a projection undertaken with regard to looking at the possibility of 911 throughout the Province it happened in 1996, which is twelve years ago, and obviously the projection that was done then certainly does not hold water now, number one, because of the technological advances, so that we have a totally different scene now than we did twelve years ago.

Let's hope that this time when a projection is done, when the government finds out who is interested - and they, I presume, would have to do a tender call, et cetera - that when they do this that we will get immediate action after we get the study done. I have no doubt, and I don't think I am being naive here but I really do not have any doubt, that the study is going to show we can have 911 throughout the Province. As I said, with today's technology that makes it more so and because I know of places where 911 exists with similar realities that we have here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I will be really interested in knowing in the New Year what comes of this call for proposals or Expression of Interest. I note that the deadline for submissions is December 19 so we certainly will not hear anything - I would imagine we certainly will not hear anything - before the end of the year, since December 19 is only two weeks before the end of the year. I hope it will be early in the winter when we start hearing from the minister what is happening with regard to what is going to be done about studying the Enhanced 911 program for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Why do I talk about this here? I talk about it because there is no sense in our having a first-class fire emergency service or a fire protection service - and we hopefully are trying for that – if, at the same time, we do not have 911 access for everybody in the Province, because if they are going to benefit from the fire protection services that exist in the Province then they are going to need to be able to access that. Of course, the easiest way for them to access is through 911, there is absolutely no doubt about that, and I think it is important that we realize it.

I know that the minister seems to have a commitment to this and she is leaving her options open, obviously, in the statement that was put out on November 25. There is a realization or a statement that we have to study to see if this is possible. I believe it will be possible, and I really encourage the minister to stay committed to the 911 service.

I know one of the issues that will come up along the way as this is discussed will be cost, but I think we have to realize that here we are talking about people's lives so cost should not be a factor. That is one of the issues that I think the minister will have to think about: We have to realize that we can't not have this service because of cost.

There are ways of getting some cost recovery that could work if the government wanted to look at that, and I am sure they will be looking at doing those kinds of things. I know in the other Atlantic Provinces they do collect some recovery costs through money that is levied on phone bills, and that could be one way of doing it, but I am sure there are other ways in which that could be done as well.

We, the NDP, have been calling on the government, both when the Liberals were in the House as well as now the Progressive Conservatives, to establish a 911 system for the Province. I was sorry that – well, I guess we could not put it in the legislation at the moment because we do not have it covered throughout the Province, but even in the briefing it was not something that was brought up, in the briefing that we received from the officials, so I thought it was very important that we bring it up here tonight so that this issue does not go away, that this issue remains alive.

Those are the main points that I wanted to make Mr. Speaker, so I think I will leave it at that. Thank you very much.

I would like to hear, actually, from the minister: Does she have an expected timeline with regard to the study around the Enhanced 911?

Thank you very much.

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

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

It is a pleasure to be able to stand and have a few words with reference to Bill 60, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services in the Province. We know today, originally that used to be known as the Fire Prevention Services.

Only recently we went through Bill 60, and I stated at that time that Bill 59 and Bill 60, the two bills, are really linked together in many ways, because when it comes to emergency services we know that the people who operate our fire departments play a very key role there as well. Really, what we are doing with this piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, is cleaning up an act, I guess, back to 1991.

We also know that fire services and local fire departments, it is not only fighting fires that they get involved in, Mr. Speaker. We know that they are involved in many accidents that happen on our highways. I can speak for my area, the Bay Roberts area. In Port de Grave, for instance, there are many long liners, I guess, in the vicinity of $50 or $60 million worth of fishing boats there. It takes special training for the different types of fires that the fire department would encounter if an incident should happen there. We know, Mr. Speaker, they get heavily involved. I know in my area, when we had the flood last August, how they became involved there. They are not only fighting fires anymore.

We also learned, through this piece of legislation, that the fire protection we are talking about is not only with fires, it is in reference to explosions, transportation of hazardous emissions, and so on. Mr. Speaker, also in the area that I represent, in Bay Roberts, there is a tremendous international trade of various boats coming in there, whether it is offloading salt or offloading various fish products, and they have to have special training when it comes to incidents like that.

We hear fairly often in our Province - and only recently, I guess, there were a couple of incidents. We saw an article in the paper - and I am sure my hon. colleague for Humber Valley is familiar with it - where the fire department out there was looking for a piece of equipment. We know that everyone cannot get what they are looking for at any given time, but they had major concerns that probably a certain area of their town could not be serviced properly. They had major concerns then with the highways – quite a distance from their town.

It is very important that all fire departments receive the equipment. They are not looking for this equipment just for the sake that they want something in their building. They have a service to provide. Only recently we saw in the papers, from here in Paradise, calling for, I think, a fire station. They felt that the timeframe could not be met. We know all of this cannot happen overnight, Mr. Speaker.

In the area that I represent - and I am going to overlap, I guess, a little to my hon. colleagues on both ends of my district - we are very fortunate. We have a fire department in Brigus, Cupids, Bay Roberts, Spaniard's Bay, Upper Island Cove, Harbour Grace, Carbonear, Victoria and Salmon Cove. There is quite a bit of fire protection in our area. I am going to tell you, the volunteers we have there are male and female. As a matter of fact, in the Town of Harbour Grace the fire chief is a female and does a tremendous job, let me assure you.

I want to join my hon. colleague from Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi with regards to the 911 issue that she brought up, and also to thank the minister and her staff for the briefing that they gave us last week on both Bill 59 and Bill 60. When it comes to 911, I know in the Trinity-Bay de Verde area the Joint Mayors, and in the Conception Bay North area the Joint Councils, during their last regular meeting that was one of the issues that they brought forward, the 911 issue. In some areas they are having major problems and hopefully government will look at this issue and before long we will hear something from that.

Just to touch on a few issues with regards to the bill itself: I know the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the five protection officers and noted that, as we speak, there is not a fire protection officer for Labrador. Hopefully that will resolve itself. Hopefully before long we will have someone with regards to that.

Another issue that is noted in the legislation is what was referred to, I think, as a local assistant. We know that the local fire chief or a member of the RNC or the RCMP work together with the volunteer fire departments, but the Fire Commissioner can delegate duties to those individuals. I think that is a very important piece, knowing that a fire chief in any given town will be acting on behalf of the Fire Commissioner in many instances.

Another key component that I saw in the legislation is the power of entry where it permits warrantless entries during emergency after fires, and also to adjacent lands. I have seen this happen over the last number of years, whether it be a fire, a flood, or what have you. Those people come to an area and lots of times they do not have a warrant to go into a building, they do not have permission that they can go on someone else's land, but it is very important that they did go to those areas because they probably could work at the fire or take care of the flooding problems that much easier and do a better job with it.

I think the minister also noted that the fire chiefs are to report to the Fire Commissioner. We know how crucial it is now to abide by the rules of the Auditor General, and I believe that they should be reporting to the Fire Commissioner so that there is a record kept of everything that went on, whether it is the damage cost or what have you.

Also in the legislation, it gives the power to strengthen provisions for fire fighting training. I believe that is a very key component to this piece of legislation, Bill 60. I know full well that in our immediate area we have, I think they call it, the smoke tower, the smoke house. It is a three story facility, it is a regional facility, and it is built in the Municipality of Bay Roberts. It is where the firemen from the various fire departments in Trinity Bay and Conception Bay go to train. It is a very modern facility. As a matter of fact, the gentleman who came over and gave us the briefing told me that he was there only recently. The structure is designed in such a way that the first floor is a replica of a fishing boat. Because they have so many fishing boats in the area, if a fire should take place they know exactly where to go and how the layout of the boat is, so that when those individuals go to fight a fire on a boat they know the layout and possibly where some of the men are, if they should be trapped there.

It is, like I said, a three-story structure. The two top stories resemble a two-story house, and all the furnishing, the fridge, the stove, the whole bit, are there for training. I am going to tell you, the day that I visited there, when they closed the large steel doors to the windows it was totally black. There was no smoke in there. I am going to tell you when it was totally black you came to a realization of what those volunteer firefighters do when they enter those structures.

The Leader of the Opposition brought up about the Fire Commissioner's office and whether he could speak out now like he used to. I used to like it when the Fire Commissioner and the previous Fire Commissioner, Mr. Cardoulis - people listened when they spoke out, when there was an emergency, whether it be a fire or flood or what have you.

When this smoke house was built - and I guess I was a bit taken back and all the firefighters in that immediate area were taken back - all the politicians, the minister, were all invited to this official opening. Just before it started, we had a call from the Fire Commissioner saying: I am on my way back from Clarenville, I would love to be there, I helped to get the money to build this place, but I have been advised that if I come there I cannot speak or I cannot wear my uniform. Now, we were all taken back by that, to know that the Fire Commissioner going to a facility that he fought for to be a facility for training, to know that the powers that be within a department told him that he could go but he could not take part in the festivities.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned all the fire departments in our area, and I know that we have a new fire department now that will soon be up and running. Only recently there was a sod-turning ceremony. I think it is called the Bay de Grave fire department which will take in Cupids, Makinsons, South River, Clarke's Beach and North River. That particular facility is going to be a new facility. As far as I know, they have the funding to build this new fire hall, and with regards to a fire truck as well. I know that is a very important piece of equipment for that immediate area, and should strengthen the fire-fighting capabilities that we have there now.

There are some major buildings there now, hotels and motels that are being erected, the Bay Arena, the stadium in Harbour Grace, and we have the three schools in one particular community, the high school and that. So you have to have a strong, trained fire-fighting component to look after those issues.

In this piece of legislation it also outlines the duties of the Fire Commissioner. My hope is that his duties will be on par, but at least have the responsibility and the knowledge and wherewithal where he can speak out. I mean, he is not speaking out against the government. This gentleman has been there through various political administrations, but he always speaks out on behalf of the individuals and what he is fighting for.

Another issue that came about, and I know we brought it up, was about the carbon dioxide alarm systems, the alarms at the Seal Cove campus back some time ago. It was pleasing to note that - as a matter of fact on December 10 - the department, in their wisdom, was not long putting out a press release advising people that they should have those alarms. The government does listen when issues are brought forward, and that is good to know.

Also, the minister put out a release only recently, as we approach this time of the year, the Christmas season, with so many lights and everything on the go. Her statement said: this is one of the most important times of the year to be fire conscious, because this year alone, 2008, there have been twelve fire fatalities. The holiday season, they figure, is an opportunity where we should look into our smoke alarm systems and work along with our fire departments. Those people do not want to be out during this festive season having to fight fires, and I think that we should be there to support them.

Another issue that is in this piece of legislation is that the Fire Commissioner's duties and responsibilities under the Act shall be exercised by the Fire Chief of the St. John's Regional Fire Department. This is another important section of this legislation, because it relieves the Fire Commissioner of duties with regard to not having to worry about, in the St. John's and the Avalon region, the regional fire departments. It gives him more time that he can look after the concerns throughout the Province. I believe Corner Brook can also fall under this, but as of right now, it is only in the City of St. John's and the regional area.

I know the Leader of the Official Opposition mentioned inspections of schools and personal care homes. We learned, through the briefing, that the personal care homes, I believe through the Department of Health and Community Services, do have to have an annual inspection. It is a responsibility that it has to be done, and similarly should be done with regards to the schools through the Department of Education and the various boards. We also learned that it is the town's authority. The town has the authority to do all fire inspections. I did not realize that before, but we have learned through this process that it is a known fact.

Mr. Speaker, having said that, like I said before we are supporting this bill, Bill 60, Fire Protection Services. It is a good piece of legislation and I can assure you that the sections in it supporting our various fire departments, not only in fire fighting but all the other issues that I raised here this evening, I believe are good for all concerned. I am sure there will be changes as we go along but at least now we have An Act Respecting the Fire Protection Services in this Province.

I want to thank the minister once again, and her department, in briefing us. Mr. Speaker, with that I will take my place.

Thank you, very much.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes this evening, as well, to address this present legislation, the Fire Protection Act.

There were certainly some issues and some questions regarding the schools, and I feel it is necessary to be able to speak to this legislation this evening to be able to address concerns to ensure that if there are parents of school-aged children or parents out there who have children who are preschoolers and will be attending school - I think it is necessary to take a few minutes and explain about fire safety in our schools, why it is important, and what systems we have in place to ensure that our schools are safe.

Mr. Speaker, school boards are responsible for the operations of our schools, and it is kind of funny, as we go through this debate this evening, that there was criticism levelled at the minister or the former Minister of Municipal Affairs on the understanding that the Fire Commissioner does not speak for the department, in that the minister takes the lead and speaks for the Fire Commissioner. In the same vein as saying that, Mr. Speaker, when members opposite felt that the Fire Commissioner should be the one taking the lead and should be the one who has the public voice in this, it is interesting to note that the school boards are actually the bodies that look after the operations of our schools. When it is convenient it is like the Minister of Education is responsible to speak to the operations of the schools and the fire safety. That is alright, Mr. Speaker, here in the House of Assembly, and certainly talking to the public I do not mind doing it, but it certainly highlighted somewhat of a double standard, I felt, throughout the debate this evening.

Each school has a daily inspection done. There are workers in each school who go through and check certain safety procedures in the school to ensure that the doorways are not blocked and there are not things piled under stairwells and that everything is in good working order in case there is an emergency or a fire in that school. I felt, at certain points, that sometimes that work was probably demeaned here in the debate this evening. Although sometimes it is very routine work that is done by the workers out there, it is actually very valuable work that they do and they do on a daily basis.

Mr. Speaker, those daily report forms go in to the school board. They go to the principal, and on a monthly basis they are sent in to the school board and they certainly then have the opportunity to address any deficits. It is not only that they would wait for these monthly reports to come in, there is certainly a willingness on the school boards that if there are any issues related to fire safety that are brought to their attention, that we act on those as quickly as possible.

There is also an inspection system that happens at the district level and at the fire department level. Some communities in Newfoundland and Labrador do have a paid fire department that go in and do regular inspections of the schools during the school year. In other communities there is a volunteer fire department and they would do the inspections if they felt they were qualified to do them and there may be some communities that would not have qualified inspectors to go in and do these inspections of the schools.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think for a minute that any person who is associated with the fire department, whether male or female in Newfoundland or Labrador, would do a fire inspection of a school if they did not have the necessary qualifications to do it or felt they were able to do it. I know we certainly depend on these volunteers, and I would not want to demean them in anyway either and say that we do not value the work that they do because we certainly do. I would think that anyone who would take it on themselves to do an inspection of a school would certainly be qualified to do that type of work.

In addition to that, Mr. Speaker - so we do have the daily reports that are done and they are submitted to the school board on a monthly basis. We do have inspections of the school by the fire departments in areas where that can happen. In addition to that, all schools have fire alarms, they have emergency lighting and they have fire extinguishers. This equipment and this mandatory infrastructure, the alarms, the lighting and the extinguishers, these are inspected annually. Certainly, we want to make sure that they are up to the building codes and the fire codes. This work is done by contractors who are licensed by the Province who go in and do this particular type of work. So on an annual basis, that work is done as well.

Also in our schools, Mr. Speaker, there are occupational health and safety committees, and they do receive training on how to perform inspections as well. So there are certainly many processes in our schools, from the daily inspections to the annual inspections, to the fire departments going in and doing the inspections.

There was some insinuation here today as well that maybe the staff at the school level do not do their daily inspections. It is certainly my information, Mr. Speaker, that as of last month 278 schools or 99.6 per cent of the schools in the Province do have the daily inspections done and submitted, as they should submit those. So that work is certainly being done, Mr. Speaker.

In addition to that, there were also some comments about the schools and the air quality. Wondering why we do not do fire inspections, and is it because we are not prepared to look at the results, we are trying to hide something? I can, Mr. Speaker, that one thing that is extremely important is the health and safety of the students in our schools. We have not been in the business of trying to hide the condition of our schools. When we do have serious issues we do go in and make sure the work is done, and the children, the students, are certainly able to go to a safe place while that work is being done. Unfortunately, that is disruptive for the students but it is a necessary part of making sure that the work is identified and the work is completed.

The other thing is, as we look at work that we do in schools, air quality is a very important issue, as is the structure of the building, and part of that is fire and life safety issues. So, when we determine from the money that we have, with regards to repairs or maintenance in the schools, one of the top priorities is fire and life safety issues and measures, whether that is electrical inspections or electrical upgrades or what have you. Based on the information we have there, that certainly goes in to make sure that that work receives the appropriate priority that we need in order to work at our schools.

We have had probably the highest budget ever, $88 million to do schools, in capital for repairs and maintenance and new buildings. That is a significant investment, Mr. Speaker, and there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done on our schools but we are committed to getting that work done. We have done hundreds of projects related to air quality and then fire and life safety, and we will continue to work on that vein.

So, Mr. Speaker, I certainly feel that the bill we are debating here tonight is extremely worthwhile. I just want to provide assurances to parents who are watching this evening, about our commitment to the buildings and the safety of our buildings and to the schools and what we do to ensure the safety of these schools. Mr. Speaker, as we move ahead and we continue with the work in our schools, life safety and fire protection issues will certainly be something that will be paramount, and those are the points I wanted to make here this evening.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my comments.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: If the minister speaks now she will close debate.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just wanted to address some of the Opposition's concerns that they raised here this evening, one being the LSDs. I just want to tell the Speaker and the House that the LSDs can apply in the same manner and in the same application as the municipalities do, and they have the same cost ratio available to them. I would also like to tell the member opposite that I will take her comments into consideration about the fire protection in Labrador.

With regards to the sprinkler systems, the government listened. We investigated when we were made aware of this issue. Just last week alone, Mr. Speaker, the fire commissioner told me that he was quite satisfied with the progress that is being made with this concern.

The comments came from the members over opposite me talking about the fire commissioner is not allowed to speak. I guess to use the term that the fire commissioner was muzzled. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, Mr. Speaker. The minister speaks for the department. The policy of this government is that ministers speak for the departments that they represent. I have no problem with going to the fire commissioner and looking for any advice, particularly technical advice. I certainly value the information that he puts forward to me. On that note, I just want to assure that there is no one being muzzled by this government.

Also, another concern that was raised by members opposite was the 911. In the new year we are going to look at developing a terms of reference for this proposal. We asked for an expression of interest in November. I plan on reviewing that in the new year and it will determine if we are going to be seeking public proposals. I am going to have a lot more to say about the 911 in the new year. This government is committed. We know the importance of 911. In Nova Scotia they took over twenty years to develop it. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that we will not take twenty years, but this government believes in doing things right. We will be looking at this very closely in the new year.

I want to say that the issues that the Opposition have raised here this evening are very valid. We are making, or we have completed progress on each and every issue that was raised here this evening. I will not go over the school inspections because my hon. colleague certainly presented that very well and cleared up any misconceptions there.

I will say that this new act, we will have a strengthened training regime for the Province. The City of St. John's will garner more operational authority with this new provision. We have invested $1.7 million for three years to support acquisition of firefighting equipment and strengthen the fire services throughout the Province.

Mr. Speaker, this government believes strongly in empowering our local communities with the ability to protect our citizens and with the greater operational and regulatory autonomy. I am not going to go on much longer because I think everything has been covered very well in this bill but I will say it is a very important bill and I am delighted with making those comments to close the debate, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province. (Bill 60)

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

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 60)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 32, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2. (Bill 71)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 71, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2." (Bill 71)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I did not think you would forget me that fast, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I move seconded by the hon. Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development that Bill 71, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2 be now read a second time.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to propose amendments to the Rooms Act. As most people in the House would know, The Rooms is a Crown corporation initially created in 2002 under the Corporations Act to govern the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Provincial Archives of the Province, and the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Rooms was confirmed as a statutory corporation under the passage of The Rooms Act in May of 2005. A board of directors is responsible for ensuring that The Rooms, Provincial Museum Archives and Art Galleries Division conserve, exhibit and present the artifacts, the archival records and the artwork of Newfoundland and Labrador on a world-class level. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt about it, we have a world-class facility in The Rooms. I would go so far to say that the physical structure is all inspiring. Many people who come to the Province and take a look at it and enter into it find it in that way and it has allowed us to preserve, display and exhibit our history and culture in the Province.

Today I am speaking to propose amendments to The Rooms Act which will allow the board to establish, incorporate, and apply to register a charitable foundation for fundraising purposes. We will also take care of some minor housekeeping duties. As for the registration of a charitable foundation, this practice is consistent across the country and many large corporations have gone into establishing a foundation. Examples that I can use are the National Arts Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum, the Royal BC Museum, BC Achieves, and the National Gallery of Canada.

The proposed foundations in terms of some that exist in the Province would be, such as the Janeway Foundation. We know the work that the foundation of the Janeway does and the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation. These are two foundations that exist in the Province that are known, I am willing to bet, by a majority of people across this Province, and people give to them rather generously.

Mr. Speaker, as part of the 2008-2011 strategic plan for The Rooms, The Rooms identified that they wanted to establish a permanent endowment fund as one of its priorities. The Rooms identified a number of projects that they would like to undertake, an exhibit at The Rooms to plot out and showcase our social history here. As well, a part of that could be some of the work that they would do around the other museums that are across the Province: the Loggers' Life Provincial Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor; the Mary March in Grand Falls-Windsor; the Seamen's Provincial Museum in Grand Bank; and the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River.

I am certain that anybody in this House who has travelled to these museums would have to say that they are spectacular in the work that they do. I had the privilege last year of going to the one in Labrador for the first time, and the view, just from looking out over Lake Melville, is just breathtaking. Then, to see some of the work that they have showcased in that museum speaks volumes to the outreach that The Rooms is doing across the Province.

In February 2008 The Rooms commissioned a study to determine whether the private sector would contribute significant funds to The Rooms for identified capital projects, and the study determined that the potential is there to secure significant funds from the private sector and recommended that the foundation be established.

Mr. Speaker, establishing a separate foundation is beneficial for two main reasons. First, it sends a clear message to the community that The Rooms Corporation is not just a government facility, but it is a key charitable organization that they can contribute to. There are many, many people in the Province who have a keen interest in maintaining the culture and the heritage of our Province and they would be certain to give. Then, second, the establishment of the separate foundation will enable The Rooms to separate gifts made to new projects and initiatives from its operating fund.

Mr. Speaker, this amendment is designed to enable The Rooms to access greater private sector support and capital development opportunities for The Rooms and its regional museums. It would create private sector support for the building of an endowment fund to maintain these assets in the future.

Another important one is that, having then set up this foundation and having money, we know that once you have a purse of money you are able to leverage, and hopefully what would transpire from this is that The Rooms then would be able to leverage more funds from the federal government and add to the work that they are doing there.

Mr. Speaker, if the proposed foundation is to be registered as a charity under the Income Tax Act it has to be incorporated. Currently, the Board of Directors at The Rooms Corporation does not have the authority to establish a corporation. The proposed change to the Rooms Act will give the board that authority.

Mr. Speaker, while amending the Rooms Act to facilitate the establishment of a separate corporation and foundation, it is recommended that we take a look at some housekeeping amendments that need to take place.

I heard somebody opposite talking today about some of the changes that come in some of these bills just related to names, for example, that we put the appropriate name on the provincial archivist section - likewise, the museum and so on.

These amendments relate to fact that The Rooms is now fully operational. As you know, the Rooms Act was proclaimed prior to the opening of the facility, and these amendments are largely a matter of ensuring consistency across the act, the bylaws of the corporation and the relevance to current operations.

Most changes are minor in nature, such as properly referring to the current names, as I alluded to, as now it becomes The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery. Similar changes are going to be made for the museum and the archives.

Other proposed amendments relate to governance, such as specifying the departmental representative on the board be from the executive level, and second to that is allowing the chair to appoint the vice-chair, the secretary and the treasurer, instead of having the board elect, and allowing the chair input into the appointment of an interim CEO.

Mr. Speaker, with that, I look forward to the debate and I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words on Bill 71.

This is the second Rooms Act that we have seen in this sitting of the House, since we have been here a few short weeks. We had the Rooms and now we have the Rooms 2. It looks like a repeat of a movie. I do not know why it could not all fit in the one, but I guess there is some reason why we could not fit it under one. Probably it was not ready in time. In Rooms 1 they went with what they had ready, and in Rooms 2 they are now trying to get in what they were not ready for but they managed to get ready in the last week or two.

I say to the minister as well, he uses the term housekeeping. We have heard that from this government with virtually every piece of legislation that has come in this sitting, a bit of housekeeping. I say to the minister, I think some of the things that we have had here are a bit more than housekeeping. As my poor father would have called it, we have a real soogee job on the go here. I asked my colleagues if they knew what that meant and they said no, they did not, so it must be an East Coast term. That meant when you are really going to wash the decks down. When you are really going to do a good wash out, clean it and get rid of some of the stuff that you do not need any more, they used to call it a soogee job. We have a bit more than housecleaning here in some of these.

First of all, a little bit on the history of The Rooms. It is very important, besides housekeeping, where it came from, of course. I do believe it was a Premier Tobin who made the, I believe, momentous decision to actually build The Rooms. Back in about 2001-2002 the decision was made to build The Rooms. Of course, the planning started from there, the engineering. There were all kinds of things that had to be done to get the physical structures in place. We lost the old Fort Townshend piece of the RNC, they had to make some land acquisitions and so on, and the reason was quite obvious. We all have pride in our culture, and what was happening to a lot of our artifacts and our cultural pieces, they were getting lost, quite frankly. Our museum needed room to expand. Our museum needed better facilities to display and show off what we did have by way of art works and artifacts. We simply did not have the room to do it where we were in the old museum.

In fact, when it came to a lot of the records, you talk about archives, I remember when we were in government and we actually had a case where water leaks – they were seriously threatened by having a lot of the paper artifacts and archives of our Province destroyed simply because we could not house them in a place that was water free, water tight. So that was another reason to have it.

I guess – I don't guess - I know the feelings of Premier Tobin at the time were: Look, if we are going to do it, we might as well do it right. Let's get it properly designed. Let's have something that, at the end of the day, is not just a square box that is big enough and has the physical space that it can contain our museum, contain our archives, and put it all in one room and just have it as a warehouse. Let's have some kind of structure that we can be proud of and make it, itself, a proud piece of infrastructure that we have and it will, in turn, over the years, itself become a piece of our history. Of course, the competition for the name and the design, I do believe it was Christopher Pratt who actually designed the place.

That was where it came from and, like most things that you do, you get a piece of legislation around governance of that facility and we find ourselves over time that we need to change the governance structure; we need to add pieces. Some things we had did not work; some things that we have work, so we will keep them. The stuff that does not work, we will get rid of it and try something new.

In this case here we are dealing with new officers being added. We are dealing with new structural pieces, particularly the charitable donation piece, and that is pretty common. A lot of people make donations to charitable organizations, to museums, especially wealthy people who want to make their mark and show their contribution to their community and to their society. We do not have, I understand, the charitable donation piece in place so that it makes it – I don't know if easy is the right word – efficacious for people to be able to do that properly. A lot of times, if you are allowed to do it, taking the income tax laws into consideration, of course, it prompts people to do things in a more generous way sometimes than if they just had to do it without the benefits attached. It is pretty commonplace to have these charitable structures around museums and archives.

We have been fortunate, as well, since we built it. To my knowledge, we have not had too many incidents where, number one, the property could physically be destroyed, and we certainly have not had too many embarrassing situations. I remember one in particular. I am not sure if the minister recalls it. It was about the Mushrow Astrolabe back in the late 1980s, and it went on for twelve years. That was a case where a diver, a scuba diver, found an Astrolabe on the West Coast of the Province in a town called Isle aux Morts, off Isle aux Morts. It actually was manufactured in 1628, and it was in mint condition. Apparently, there were only three that were ever found in North America and this one was the oldest one. There was another one found that they suspected belonged to Champlain; it was found up in the St. Lawrence River area. This one was in 1628 and it was in very good condition. This guy was so proud that he found it. He was a milkman, by the way. He had a milk delivery business in the Town of Port aux Basques and scuba dived in his spare time. He was so proud when he found it that he told everybody, including the CBC. The CBC came into his home and did an interview, and I remember watching it. He was there with his wife, in his living room, and he was so proud. He displayed the artifact that he had found.

The next day, he got a knock on his door. Two guys came into his house in plain clothes and had a chat with him. They said: We saw your story last night and would like to have a talk with you. You must be some proud.

He hauled out his Astrolabe, of course. He kept it under his rocking chair in his room, in his house. He did not really know what it was, but figured it was valuable or historic. Anyway, when he brought it out and showed it to them they flashed their badges. They were two members of the RCMP. They confiscated the Astrolabe, threatened to lay charges against him for having found it, would never, ever, let him see it again, and brought it off in here to St. John's and put it in the museum, documented what it was and did their research, and said: Thank you very much. Now, go away or we will charge you if you utter one more word about any of this.

That is the kind of treatment that somebody who found a very significant piece, or a very significant artifact, that is the kind of treatment we used to have for some of these people back then.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: No, actually, it was under a PC Administration back first when it happened, I say to the minister -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: - but, I say to the minister, it was a Liberal Administration who changed it, and I will get to that piece.

The essence of it was, it was not political and it did not matter what the political Administration was. It was how different bodies treated – like, people who were in charge of the artifacts of the day misread this gentleman. He had no intention of selling this thing. He was so proud of it. His only wish, by the way, that he wanted, he said: If you are ever going to do anything with it, I would just like some recognition that you acknowledge I was the person who found it. I would like you to acknowledge where you found it, and is it possible that occasionally you might be able to bring it back to the museum out here so that our local people can see it in the summertime, particularly when our tourist trade is at best? The government said: No way. No way, and if you say anything else we are going to charge you.

Anyway, I had the good fortune, about a couple of years later, after this had gone down – and you can imagine how this gentleman felt now, of course, being treated this way by the authorities and the provincial authorities and the archives people – he came into my office one day and said he had a little secret. He said: You know that astrolabe that they found and took away from me? I said, yes. He said, I have another one. He said, I have another one. As a matter of fact, I found it about a hundred feet from the first one. It is in better condition than the first one, and it is older than the first one but, guess what? I am not going on CBC with it.

Do you know, he had an emissary go to the officials again and say: Look, I am not making any statements of who got what or whatever – and I will not say who the parties were involved – but actually told the museum people, look, if you make sure, number one, that you will not charge anybody, and you make sure that you give public recognition of who found such and such and what, I can deliver to you another astrolabe, in better condition than the first one you have.

Well, of course, the first thing that happened was the threats were made: If you don't tell us, we are going to charge you, because now you are withholding historic documents.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it took twelve years - twelve years - to finally get an agreement whereby the Mushrow Astrolabe were acknowledged and recognized, and a special presentation was made in Isle aux Morts, where he found it, in a school where the kids were. People from archives and museums were there. Mr. Mushrow was duly recognized. The Minister of Tourism and Culture went out and acknowledged it and said, thank you very much.

They did the right thing. They made amends and they said: Look, put that behind us because you have a very historic piece of information that we are very proud to have, and we thank you very much for finding it.

That was one of the things, I think, that was pretty embarrassing on us in terms of how we treat people sometimes. I am sure there are other people who knew the treatment that Mr. Mushrow received, who probably have things in their possession but who are not turning it over for fear of that type of treatment.

In his case, he feels forever grateful now that he has been properly acknowledged. In fact, his other wish, that it would be called after him, was acknowledged. His third piece of that, that it come back to the Town of Port aux Basques and that area each summer, that happens and has been going on now for six or seven years. It is a great piece for our museum. It is a centrepiece. In fact, if you go to the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques any time and you ever look out in front of the town hall you will see a silver replica of the Mushrow astrolabe in front of the town hall. He has gotten his just due and his equitable treatment finally. That was one case.

Of course, we had another case last spring, and it comes under this. I have to ask the minister a particular question here when we get to clause 13 of the bill because that relates directly to an embarrassing situation we had in this Province last spring, and that was with the destruction of certain documents in this Province. We all know that the NTV and CBC news was filled on a nightly basis where some documents somehow were determined to be no longer of any value and sent off to a shredder. Somebody was going to put them through a shredder and some guy who was really on the ball said: just a minute now, maybe I could make a buck out of this. He took them and I believe he sold them to an historian or somebody here for $500. Well, as they say, the proverbial you know what broke loose. All of a sudden the person who bought them was going to be charged and was charged. The person who sold them was going to be charged. In the meantime, the Province did not seem to care too much about it. They did not have any value, they said. Anyway, they took them over to a few archivists in the university and I think they said the price range was $250,000 that you could sell those documents for.

I say to the minister: We may be back here from time to time doing housecleaning when it comes to some of the clauses here in terms of who is going to sit on boards, what the reporting structure is going to be, the fact that we are going to have a charitable donation and that we are very proud of what we have, but we have had a couple of glitches.

I will certainly be voting in favour of this piece of legislation, because I do believe that what you are doing here is closing some of those unfortunate things that have happened.

Back to my question on clause 13: It says, "…would amend the Act to add a requirement for the approval of the board of directors and the minister before an historic artifact or natural history specimen could be moved or destroyed." I am just wondering if that new amendment will include documentation such as I just referred to, which was set to be destroyed last year. Does that fall under the definition of an artefact? Does that fall under a historic, because it says natural historic specimen? I am just wondering: Would you consider such documentation to fall under that definition? If it does not fall there, is it covered off somewhere where it would be covered, because history specimen to me would not necessarily include papers? I think more of something along the line of some kind of a specimen as opposed to a document. Likewise on the historic artefact piece, I do not think they would fit there. I would take an artefact to be something like the astrolabe thing which would be an artefact to me.

I did not see it in the Rooms 1 that we did, and that, in fact, is what I thought was going to be a piece of Rooms 2. I am just curious: if we still left that loophole there that we still have a situation potentially where documentation - we talked about management of information by The Rooms and so on which tied into the Management of Information Act, because we did those two companion pieces, and here we are now with another piece. I still do not see where it goes far enough to include documentation, historic documents. Somebody should decide what documents are historic. Somebody should decide if there is anything going to be destroyed, what is being destroyed or if it even should be destroyed. What is the point of having The Rooms if we are going to save all of these things?

For example, in the case of that documentation, I mean it is used by historians to piece history together. You take, for example, court records, I mean we have court records going back to 1832, I do believe, in the Province. All of a sudden are these things protected? Do these all end up in The Rooms? What assurance can the minister give us that they will indeed be protected?

Mr. Speaker, those are the only comments I would make. I think this "housecleaning piece" goes some way in improving The Rooms legislation, but I still think that we need some answers as to that definitive piece about documentation and how it is held and whether it is going to be destroyed or not.

Thank you.

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

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

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to Bill 71, amendment to The Rooms Act No. 2.

My comments will be fairly brief, I think, but there are a couple of points I do want to make.

I have gone through the clauses and did some research into the reasons for some of the changes that are being suggested. As has been said, I will not beat the word "housekeeping" to death, but a lot of it is housekeeping. The renaming of the archives, the art gallery and the museum, of course, has to be done to bring it up to what the names of these locations are now, and so a number of the name changes happened throughout the Act.

I found it interesting to see that we were asked to make an amendment that will allow us to have a foundation for charitable purposes. I have to say, the thought struck me when I read that, well I hope it is going to be more effective than the foundation that was set up for Memorial University that we struck down last week, repealed, because it was no longer needed. In actual fact, a whole piece of legislation was put in place that was never, ever used. I hope that the intent of the foundation here really is a strong intent and that maybe steps are already being taken in terms of what a foundation would look like. I think it is important to have a foundation to do fundraising for various things.

According to the minister, there has been some study done and it indicates that people would be ready to make donations to The Rooms. The thing is that most provincial art galleries and museums do have foundations where people can make donations to their art galleries, et cetera, and it makes sense for this to happen.

I find it difficult to stand tonight and to talk about The Rooms and to talk about the three entities that are in The Rooms without acknowledging the fact – something we all know – that there was a lot of controversy over The Rooms on different levels. One controversy was about the three different parts being united under one roof. Another part of the controversy was where the building that size was located. I mean, there was a lot of controversy.

I was concerned about all of them, but the one that we had a lot of controversy about, and then it seemed to disappear, was the fact that when the excavation began in order to prepare for the digging to actually get the building built, those doing the excavation, of course, knew that Fort Townshend was located in that area and so there was careful excavation done to find out if, in fact, the fort was there and could be found; and as we all know, the walls of the fort were uncovered. Now, not all of the walls were uncovered, only parts of the walls were uncovered.

I do not know how many in the House took advantage of it, but I remember, myself, going and having the archaeologists who were working on it describe it to me and explain it to me, and saw the pristine state of those walls of the fort. I have to say, that as a person who was born in St. John's, in particular, so as a citizen of the Province, I still feel the fact that that fort is there and nothing was done about it. One of the things that was promised at the time was that there would be a way to do the construction so that the walls of the fort that had been unearthed would be able to be seen and be visited.

I have to ask the minister to tell us in this House today, if that is still part of a plan for The Rooms. I asked somebody the other day, have you heard anything about the walls of Fort Townshend? Are we ever going to be able to see them again? We were told, oh, do not worry – now, I know it was not this administration who said this, but you inherited the Rooms. I remember hearing it said, do not worry, we recognize this is important, and it is impossible to move the plans where it is going to go, but we will be sure to at least preserve those walls so people can at least see the walls.

It is so sad, in my book, that this all happened the way it happened. I am not saying that The Rooms should not have been built, but I still feel the fact, and I know an awful lot of people out there still are critical of what was done. I think it needs to be said and it needs to be acknowledged. It has not gone away. Even if we do get a chance, and I can someday go down in the building and see the walls of Fort Townshend, I would probably get angrier, instead of being satisfied that I can see the walls.

I did go this summer. I did a holiday in Nova Scotia, and I went to the wonderful fort in Nova Scotia that not many people get to go to. A tremendous experience! A dream child of Prime Minister Diefenbaker, actually, who realized the need to do this. It was such a part of the history of the Acadians and such a part of the history of Nova Scotia that had been forgotten.

Here we had an opportunity to rebuild something right in our midst, here in St. John's. We could have had two things that tourists could have gone to, the fort itself and the Rooms.

I am not going to get into the whole argument again of should we have the three things under one roof, but when I read that now a restriction would be removed – clause 6 of the bill will amend section 18 of the Act so that the chief executive officer no longer has to get the approval of the board to appoint a director for a division – the way it is put is so casual, but a division here means the Provincial Museum, the Provincial Archives, and the Provincial Art Gallery. That is what the division means. Each one of those is a specialty area, and the director of one of those areas has a key position.

I still am of the belief – and I know that probably everybody will say, oh, let it go, it is in the past – but I am still of the belief that each one is such an important specialty area that each one should have its own CEO and its own board of directors.

I have gotten all of that out, gotten all that off my chest. I felt I could not stand up and speak to this without saying all of that tonight, but I will vote for the bill. It is there now, the Rooms, I mean, and the amendments that are here are necessary for the good running of the building and the programs that we have in that building.

I would like to say that, for me there is a distinction between the beauty of the building - and who can deny going into that room and just having the whole of The Narrows and the Harbour and the Southside Hills laid out in front of you. I am never going to deny that, but will we someday find, or are we already finding - I do not know - that having these three very distinct things under the one roof and being managed all together, was that the way to go? Who knows! We have it and this bill is necessary. I will, obviously, vote for this bill, but I would like to hear from the minister with regard to the plans with regard to the walls of Fort Townshend that had been unearthed by archaeologists.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: If the minister speaks now he will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would certainly like to respond to some of the comments and questions that have been posed.

First and foremost, there are a number of housekeeping amendments here. I think it was the Opposition House Leader who even made the comment today that said that these bills will come in – and I think the word that he used was, tinkered. That there will be things that will come in, they were new when they were introduced, and that as the years go by we have to tinker with some of these to address certain issues that need to be dealt with in terms of different acts and agendas that we are bringing forward.

The Opposition House Leader spoke about the astrolabe. I remember that CBC report quite clearly, as I think most people in the Province would have been. It was not just a national incident and a national find, it was of significant international – it was an international finding and of historical importance. I think one of the things that this pertains to and speaks to the work of this foundation, is that it is the outreach work that needs to be carried on.

We have our museums now, two in Grand Falls, one in Grand Bank, and one in Labrador. I know that The Rooms are continuously seeking ways that they can do some outreach work. In this particular case, this is an example and hopefully we will see more as we go along. I do not want to diminish what happened to the probate records that were being talked about but I think if there is one thing that has become crystal clear in terms of these records, is that the management of these records now are – we are certainly more able than ever to handle these records with some of the specialists that we have at The Rooms. The ‘conservatists' that are there – not the Conservatives, Mr. Speaker, the ‘conservatists'. There is a difference.

Secondly, is that the conditions – I mean there are certain climatic conditions, if I can put it that way. There has to be a certain room temperature in which we store certain of these artifacts. These artifacts that came forward to these archivists were damaged, damp, mouldy. Now, should they have ended up there? We still have these records. We have them in storage. They are in freezers being contained, and as of this date, we have not decided what will finally happen to them.

The Opposition House Leader asked about the natural historic specimens. Well, these speak to such things as the giant squid that were found, some of the fossils that we have around the Province, and these things cannot be just displayed anywhere at any time. These have to be very specific in how we handle these.

There is one thing about it I suppose right now, is that these records, these historic records have to go through a much more stringent procedure. Under The Rooms Act, now they go through the archivists, then they go through the CEO and the board of directors, and then the minister has final sign-off on them. We continue to make sure that we treat our records with respect and that we do the utmost to showcase them to the people of the Province.

The Leader of the NDP spoke about Fort Townshend, and not too long ago I had the privilege of going down in the basement of The Rooms to see the walls of Fort Townshend that have been excavated there, and will continue. At this particular point it is not open for general viewing because, again, it is a very sensitive thing, but I would agree with her, and I would certainly hope that in the future the residents of the Province would be able to go and see that. I feel as strongly as she does about our artifacts that we have.

I often tell this story, Mr. Speaker. My sister lived in Jerseyside, and she lived by this field. I could look out from the deck of her house and see the people excavating out around that field, and not to disturb anything, but sometimes during the fall I would sneak over and see what they were actually digging at there, because there is something about finding these historic places that tell you about the history of what makes us a people and a place, and there is nothing more that we should do than to preserve those and give the opportunity to the people of the Province to see them.

I remember my first visit to Fort Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, and the very first statement on one of their brochures is that the people of Fort Louisbourg resettled from Plaisance, Placentia. That tells you that maybe, just maybe, forts such as the one that has been discovered in Placentia, we really have not done justice to it. The fact that these have not been excavated and that we have not made the tourist attraction out of them that we possibly could. It is something that we definitely need to push, and preservation of Fort Townshend is a significant part of this historic City of St. John's, and indeed, the Province.

One of the things I just wanted to point out was the Opposition House Leader mentioned that Christopher Pratt did that design. It was not. It was his brother, by the way. They must have something with painting and art and design work going on, because it was his brother Philip who designed it.

I would like to address, just for a minute or two, the appointment of the directors that was mentioned by the Leader of the NDP, and if it seems to be a casual statement in this, it certainly is not. The one thing that has to happen here – this is not, and it cannot be as flippant as that the CEO is going to go in and he is just going to appoint the director and what not. These people, in their hiring, have to follow the policies and procedures of the Public Service Commission. They have to do the usual, the screening, the calls and so on and so forth, and the interviews. So it is not just simply a case that the CEO can go in there and appoint a director and that is it. It is not. There is a stringent exercise that has to be under way.

So, Mr. Speaker, with that, I close second reading.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2. (Bill 71)

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

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

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 71)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, Order 33, second reading of a bill, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants. (Bill 72)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 72, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants." (Bill 72)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I am very happy to get up in the House tonight in regards to this important piece of legislation in regards to Bill 72, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants.

Certainly, it is in keeping again with the White Paper. We just had some remarks prior to the break at 5:30 in regards to the Act Respecting Chartered Accountants. This one here is much the same, in keeping with the principles of the White Paper on the regulations of occupations in allowing them to self-regulate themselves but also keeping in mind transparency and accountability to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Public interest is protected through this legislation set out by the criteria and will require the Association of Certified Management Accountants to file annual reports, establish and improve the security process. Also, the minister will have the ability to appoint laypeople to their board, which in turn gives accountability to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The new structure will also provide a clean separation of the regulation of this profession to protect the public interest, and the members' interest too, as well. All self-regulating occupations in the Province will eventually have similar governance structures and discipline processes in place for the regulation of their members, and there are a number of professions now that are self-regulating. Some of them include the pharmacists, the pharmacy association, which at one point in time in my past profession I was a part of.

Also, we have other occupations, such as the ones that we just did here this evening in regards to chartered accountants. I think it is very important that these professions be able to self-regulate because, for the simple reason, it enables them to control their destiny and also to provide a better service to the public of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This act also addresses the issue in regards to giving the certified management accountants the option to operate under a corporate forum or a limited liability partnership, which enables them to avail of certain advantages, I guess, in regards to running their particular organization under a corporation instead of being regulated by my department. As I said before, other professions, such as lawyers, physicians and dentists, already have the ability to incorporate.

We also went through an extensive consultation process with the certified management accountants. They actually had no problem with the legislation; clearly understood what we were trying to do in regards to the profession itself. They supported that, but in turn, they brought some things to the table that we took into consideration in regards to drafting this piece of legislation.

So, in all, Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a good piece of legislation. It is in keeping with the White Paper in regards to the regulations surrounding self-regulating occupations, and certainly enabling them to control their own destiny and self-regulate and carry on their profession and to the best interest of the public of Newfoundland and Labrador.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will end my remarks here, and I certainly welcome any comments by my hon. colleagues across the House. I suspect that they will be supporting this piece of legislation, as they have several other pieces of legislation, but I still welcome their remarks in the House, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to take a few minutes with regards to Bill 72, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants. As the hon. minister just said, this is just a follow through, similar to what we did this afternoon, Bill 69, the chartered accountants act.

Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation just goes through the objects of the association, how they are governed, and it also – an important part there, I think it is on page 20 of the bill, where it says the guilty plea. It outlines the factors if a respondent pleads guilty, what action can be taken. This legislation not only governs the CGAs but it goes on to, I guess, build confidence in the general public, knowing that there is an act that they are governed by and it is a self-regulatory situation, like the minister just stated.

One of the things I want to note, when we were doing a little bit of research we got a copy of the CGAs Newfoundland and Labrador annual report. It was interesting to note that they play a major part in our Province when it comes to student enrolment and student employment throughout the year.

I know in 2007-2008, there were 156 students that the CGAs had hired on that year, and forty-six of them were new students. It was also good to learn that eleven students this year who have graduated are now members of the association. I guess it just goes to show that they play a particular part when it comes to employment for our students, who are not only in training to become accountants but in other business fields as well. They also play a major role with regards to various scholarships throughout our Province, not only at Memorial University but also at the four campuses of the College of the North Atlantic, when it comes to business management accounting.

So, Mr. Speaker, like the minister said, this bill is a follow through that has been carried out for the various professions in our Province. We have no problem in supporting this piece of legislation, and I think there is possibly another piece of legislation coming forward in the next few days similar to this one.

Having said that, we support this piece of legislation and congratulate the government on bringing this bill forward at this time.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

Just to take a moment to say that: yes, of course, I support Bill 72 and will be voting for it. It is extremely important that professional groups in our society themselves have the ability to regulate and set standards for who they are as a group of people. It seems to be an essential part of a democracy that we do that kind of thing, but it is also important, the recognition that for them to have authority as they do that they need to be recognized by the governance of the society as well. For us, that is our provincial government.

While the group of certified general accountants will now be able to self-regulate, they also have the power of legislation that also makes them accountable for what they are doing, and that is what protects the public. It is not just the knowledge that they are together as a group, but they are together as a group accountable to the government. That is what gives the public the sense of security that when they deal with certified general accountants they have something that they can rely on to make sure that the service they get or they receive from certified general accountants is done professionally.

Having said that, I just thank the minister once again for making sure that all of these groups are becoming certified and that their certification is grounded in legislation for the protection of the public.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: If the minister speaks now he will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Government Services.

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I certainly would love to close debate. I have nothing further to add in regard to this Bill 72.

Certainly, I welcome the comments and the support from my colleagues across the House. This is a very important piece of legislation with regard to allowing these occupations and professionals to self-regulate and control their own destiny.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I close debate.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants. (Bill 72)

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

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

Today? Tomorrow?

MS BURKE: Now, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

On motion, a bill, "An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave. (Bill 72)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Natural Resources, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bills 52, 60, 62, 65, 69, 70, 71 and 72.

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 bills.


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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘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 (T. Osborne): The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, we would like to call Bill 52, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 52, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2." (Bill 52)

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: Clause 2.

CHAIR: Shall clause 2 carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clause 2 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 Student Financial Assistance Act No. 2. (Bill 52)

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 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: Mr. Chair, we will call Bill 60, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 60, An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province.

A bill, "An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province." (Bill 60)

CLERK: Clause 1.

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I certainly wanted to speak to this bill in Committee. There are several things that we raised this evening with regard to the fire protection act, and one of those critical pieces was the fact that there is not any regulatory process in place in the Province for the inspection of schools - fire inspections and safety inspection in schools.

I cannot press the argument enough for government to adopt some kind of regulatory regime to put in place so that the schools in this Province - we do not have to go through it on an ad hoc basis, we do not have to deal with just regular forms being filled out by custodians within the school system, or we do not have to count on the fact that there may be a fire brigade or a fire department in some region where that school is, and someone might be available to go in the school and do a check. It should be a regulatory piece that is put in place in the Province that has proper policies and proper regulations, and the reason I say that is simply because of what happened this year within the hospitals.

When we pressed government to do an investigation into fire safety issues in the hospitals in the Province, there were seventy-one health care facilities that were checked. Twenty-two of those facilities came up with fire safety issues, in which government had to make corrections. We do not have any public system right now in this Province whereby we can access the information on fire inspections in schools. We have tried to do it in the House of Assembly, through questioning of the minister and asking her to table the information. They have refused to do it. We have tried to do it through Freedom of Information, and I talked about that earlier this evening, and when we asked for the information we were told that we would have to pay over $800 to access that information as an Opposition.

Well, I have some huge problems with that because this is a public issue and it is of concern to the people in the Province, and I really do not accept the answers that the minister feels confident that things are running and that they are all right and they are acceptable. Show me the information. Show the people of this Province the fire inspections that have been done in the schools, and where these schools have been certified, that passed the inspection and meet all the safety criteria and safety recommendations. Only then will I say that I am satisfied, and there are many others like me.

I am not bringing this issue to the House of Assembly because one day we woke up and decided it was a good issue to deal with. We bring it here because it is a concern that has been raised to us by people in the Province. I said earlier, there were a number of those people who called and specifically asked that their schools would have inspections done. We forwarded a list of those schools to the fire commissioner's office. We asked them to look into the schools and to do a proper inspection. To date, I do not know if that was completed or if it was not. I do not know what jurisdiction he even had, to be able to go out and do that, because there is no particular law, but I understood in my conversation with him that if I had made the request specifically on behalf of these individuals that the inspections would be carried out.

Mr. Chairman, this is an important issue and I think that government needs to deal with it. It is not good enough for them to say, we are satisfied. Why not show those inspection reports to everyone else? Why not show the fact that if every school in this Province is inspected and meets all the fire and life safety issues and regulations and is not in any violation and there is not a problem, why isn't the minister and her government prepared to release that to the public? Why isn't it accessible to the public?

This is the same government, as I said earlier, the same government that was going to put inspections of restaurants on-line so the public could go in and view them and know which restaurants in the Province had proper inspections and passed them. Yet, they refuse to give you any information on schools where thousands of children in this Province go every single day. Yet, they refuse to give us proper inspection reports to tell us if they were even inspected at all.

That is not acceptable, it is not good enough, and it is certainly not the actions of a government who claims to be open and accountable. There is no openness about this, and they are not being accountable in a public way to the people of the Province because they are not releasing the information.

Mr. Chairman, we have tried every way that we can to access this information through the democratic processes that are available to us, which is here in this Legislature and which is through the Freedom of Information. So far, this government has not been forthcoming with any of that information.

I would have liked to have seen in this bill today some mechanism by which schools in this Province would have had mandatory inspections carried out in a regulatory way, that was made public, and that people could see what the actual fire safety recommendations were or if the certification was provided.

The other piece to this is on the recommendations themselves. If there are any fire safety issues identified in a school, that need to be corrected, there is no mechanism, from what we understand, to ensure that those recommendations are followed up on and that those corrections are made. We were not clear in the last session of the House. We did not get clear answers from the minister in terms of whether these recommendations were corrected in a timely fashion, if there are even any regulations around them. For all I know, when a custodian does a report in the school at the end of the week and identifies that there is a fire safety issue, and puts it on the sheet that it was an issue, I am not even aware if there is a time frame on which those issues have to be addressed. For all I know, they could never get addressed; they could just sit there for two months, six months, and not be dealt with.

These are the things that we are asking government to be more precise about. If there are recommendations that are being made, who is responsible to ensure that those corrections are made in the school, that those repairs are made, those systems are fixed, whatever it is? Whose responsibility is that, and what accountability do they have to do it within a certain time frame?

In the absence of proper regulations, and in the absence of any kind of policies around this, and any public disclosure, it is very difficult to know what the situation is; but, Mr. Chairman, we will keep pushing and we will keep asking that this be done, because we see it as a significantly important issue, a very serious issue for the people in this Province who put their children in our public schools every single day, that they should at least have the knowledge of knowing that inspections are done, they are carried out in a regulatory way, that schools are certified and there are no fire and life safety issues. They should not just have to take the word of the minister, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, to build on some comments that I had made earlier as we were debating this particular act, I want to also reiterate, I guess, some of the information that I had relayed to make sure that parents feel comfortable regarding the safety of our schools and how we go about ensuring the safety on a day-to-day basis in our schools.

Mr. Chair, daily inspections are done because, when we have buildings that house sometimes hundreds, or in some cases 1,000, children or students in this Province, daily inspections are absolutely necessary. This is not something that they do once a week or once a month, but this is something that we certainly do on a daily basis.

In particular, the schools, and what we do in schools, just to – although we are speaking to this now, and I guess we will have to consider it related to this particular legislation, it is not covered by this particular legislation. The Minister of Municipal Affairs certainly did a magnificent job as she described this legislation, and what is actually covered, but I certainly feel that it is necessary to address some of the concerns that we are looking at here this evening.

One thing I want to make sure that, in particular, parents understand, is that information on their particular school is available and it is certainly accessible. When we hear the Leader of the Opposition talk about looking for information under the access to information and the price that is put to being able to obtain that information, that is attached to the volume and the amount of information that has been requested, and there is a predetermined formula that was set regarding the expenditure it takes in order to prepare that information. There are hours of work that need to be done, and the reports have to be photocopied, reviewed, and distributed. That is a predetermined amount. That is not just an amount we arbitrarily put to that type of information. Certainly, there are people in each department who work as people who look at the access to information and determine that amount of money. I just want to make sure that people understand where that amount comes from.

Parents are certainly welcome to talk to their school boards or, even at a more local level, to engage with their school council or with their principal. I would encourage any parents who have concerns about the safety of their schools to talk to their school principal, to understand what it is that is done on a daily basis in that school, to understand when there are fire inspections done, when they do fire drills in a particular school, to determine if there is an Occupational Health and Safety committee in that school, and the issues that they meet about and discuss, because those minutes would be available as well, to have a look at whether it is emergency lighting in the school, the fire alarm system, the fire extinguishers, to see that they are inspected annually and that it is recorded. Mr. Chair, that is all important to parents if they have students in a particular school.

I would encourage anybody who has a particular question about a school to engage with that school community. I would think that wherever you have a group of professional teachers and you also have parents who work well together, fire safety is something that would be of paramount concern. I would think, as you have parents in the schools and you have teachers in the schools, that they assist with these daily inspections from the staff that do that type of work, and they certainly work with their health and safety committees at the school, as well, to ensure that safety is paramount.

Mr. Chair, we often hear of certain times of the year when students do fire drills, and it is certainly reinforced with the students, as well, that fire safety is extremely important in all our schools. Again, I encourage parents, that if they have concerns about any particular school to talk to the principal, do a walk-through of the school, find out what is on the daily inspection sheets, find out when the inspections have been done, when the annual inspection has been done, when the fire drills are being done at the school, and if there are any reports highlighting life and safety issues or fire safety issues. Because they certainly become a priority for the board when they do the maintenance in the schools, and that is not something that we readily recognize and say that we are not going to actually work on that.

Mr. Chair, I want to be sure that parents do not feel a sense of fear or panic, having heard the debate here this evening, because it is an open system that we have here and schools would be, I am sure, more than willing to discuss concerns with parents or to have it discussed at their school council meetings. I would also encourage schools, if they feel they have any particular concerns regarding fire safety, to make sure that they report it to the appropriate board personnel as well so that work can be noted and it can be scheduled to be done.

The other thing I want to comment on, Mr. Chair, is the fact that the boards are responsible for this work. The boards operate the schools and they are the ones who are held accountable to ensure that the work is done. Mr. Chair, in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador we know that the boards are certainly governed by an elected board of school trustees. This elected board oversees the work and the operations of the school board, and the school boards are tasked with the day to day operations including fire safety in our schools. I would think that the people who volunteer in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, who put themselves out there, who run for election, and who serve on this board in this capacity - because it is certainly a very significant piece of volunteer work that we have out there, and I would think the individuals who volunteer and take on this role are extremely dedicated and committed to the work they do. I think that they would certainly take very seriously the work that needs to be done in the schools. They would oversee that and they would certainly understand the accountability. I would not want to downplay, certainly, the role that they play in our schools because I see it as extremely important.

With that, Mr. Chair, I think I have clarified the issues regarding the schools and certainly feel that parents need to feel empowered to be able to talk to the individual schools about anything they have a concern about. I would hope that we have a very open dialogue and communication between our parents and the principal or staff in the school and make sure they share information. Any concerns that are noted certainly need to be addressed through the principal and through the school board.

Mr. Chairman, like I said, I am sure the school board would take this very seriously and act upon any concerns.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I just cannot believe that this minister will not accept the fact that it is her responsibility, as the Minister of Education in this Province, to ensure that inspections are not only done in schools, are not only carried out in a regulatory manner, but they are also made available to the public. To stand here tonight and tell the parents in this Province that, if you have concerns about your school to pick up the phone and give your principal a call, what kind of a public system is this that you are operating? These are the schools in our Province. These are public facilities. They are public facilities where we send our children each and every day. This is not just me asking for this.

Let me read to you the articles, the people in the Province, Mr. Chairman, of which I have several cases here who have called upon the minister and your government to do something about this issue.

Mr. Chairman, first of all, the Federation of School Councils is calling upon the Province, calling on government to increase resources to allow for better fire inspections at public buildings. The article says they are joining a growing chorus of people in the Province who are asking for that. This interview here again says, the federation is concerned with the lack of resources by volunteer fire departments to provide inspections on public buildings including schools in the Province. The very point that I have been trying to make tonight, when the minister stands and says everything is fine, everything is okay, everything is being looked after, is, the reality is that even the fire departments themselves are saying that they do not always have the expertise or the availability of people.

In fact, Mr. Chair, there were a number of fire chiefs in districts of members opposite that contacted my office and told me that the proper process was not in place and that many of them were not trained to be going into these schools to do proper fire inspections. These people do not mind admitting this because they know that there is a deficiency in this system; just like the Federation of School Councils are out there saying to the minister that they are concerned with the lack of resources that many of these volunteer fire departments have to be doing inspections in their schools; just like they are out there saying that they have concern that government needs to increase the resources to allow for better fire inspections in public buildings.

Mr. Chair, even the Fire Commissioner himself, before he was stifled by the government, before he was told, you can no longer talk at length about fire safety issues in this Province, and he was muzzled, right before that happened, this is what he said. Commissioner Fred Hollett said: the Province needs a better system for identifying what work needs to be done to ensure the Province's health facilities, schools and other buildings are safe. This is the top person in the Province who deals with fire safety and life safety issues who is saying to you, Minister, and to your government, that more needs to be done, that the process is not what it should be, that it needs more. Why are you not listening to the fire departments and fire brigades that are telling you this? Why are you not listening to the Fire Commissioner? Why are you not listening to the school councils in the Province who have raised this as an issue as well?

I think the fact that you stand and tell parents today in this Province that if they have a concern to call their school principal is totally unacceptable. In fact, the minister is not taking full accountability for the position that she holds in this Province as the Minister of Education to ensure that regulatory issues like this, when they are brought forward by the public, they should be addressed. They should not be brushed under the rug. They should not be avoided and they should not be explained away with petty little answers. It is not acceptable. It is a serious issue and it affects a lot of children in this Province and a lot of schools.

Maybe I would not be as convicted in standing here in this debate tonight and speaking about this only for what we have seen with hospitals in this Province. When they stood for days and said there was no problem with the hospitals either, until finally they caved in to have an investigation done. When they did, they found out there was twenty-two of those facilities in the hands of the government that were not up to the proper fire safety code that it needed to be.

So, Mr. Chair, I do not accept the pat answers. I do not accept the fact that picking up the phone tomorrow, if you are a parent, and making a call is an acceptable practice for fire safety regulations in our schools. I do not think it is at all and I do not think it should be acceptable for any parent in this Province. I certainly know it is not acceptable for the Federation of Student Councils because they have already been in the media saying what they think. It is obviously not acceptable for the fire commissioner. He is not allowed to speak any more publicly right now, but when he could he certainly expressed it as an opinion and he certainly had issue with it. So, Mr. Chair, we certainly have a number of issues with it and we will continue to raise it.

The other issue that I wanted to raise coming out of this particular bill, that did not get addressed I understand when the minister stood, and that is why there are no fire protection officers based in Labrador. I understand that there are five protection officers in the Province that are set-up through the Fire Commissioner's Office and the fire commissioner is based in St. John's. These other positions, three of them are on the West Coast of Newfoundland, one is in Clarenville and one is in Central Newfoundland, but there is no position in Labrador. I do not know why that is and I would like to get an explanation for it while we are here in Committee. I would also like to know when they are going to put in place a protection officer for the Labrador region, because if there is money enough in the coffers of government to find positions to go in every other area of the Province, then there should be enough to find a position to go in Labrador. One region is no different than the other. Obviously, these fire protection officers have a valid role to play when it comes to providing for fire safety issues in the Province and carrying out the role and the mandate of the Fire Commissioner's Office. So if the role of a fire protection officer is so critical that they have to be based everywhere else in the Province, why are they not being based in Labrador? I would like to get an explanation for that, and I will sit down while I give the minister an opportunity to respond.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for her question, but I did address this earlier in my remarks. I said that I would certainly take her comments very seriously and look at it when I am doing our budget. I will have more to say on that after the budget process.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I have not been involved thus far in second reading and discussions regarding this matter but as I was listening intently to what the Government House Leader had to say and the Official Leader of the Opposition and the minister, I thank you for your comments.

There are just a couple of things that came to mind. Again, since we are expected to vote on this act as MHAs here, I would like to have some understanding as to exactly what we are voting for or voting against. As I was looking through and I came in particular to the administration of it and of fire and safety in the Province, I noticed that there is a person now being inserted in the system that I never ever heard of before. I am wondering if the minister could turn her attention to that little detail, and that is called a CEO. Now in the definition section, because I always thought the way that the world worked when it came to fire protection and everything related to it in the Province, training and whatever, that the ultimate be all to end all rested with the Fire Marshall, but it is quite obvious that is not the case any more and it is not going to be the case when we pass this law.

It says the CEO is going to be someone appointed, according to the definition section. It says the CEO means the Chief Executive Officer appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council to administer the agency. When you look at section 3(2) it says: "The fire commissioner shall carry out the duties assigned to him or her under this Act and shall act under the direction of the CEO."

I am just curious as to, why the change in structure here? I always thought that the fire commissioner was the top dog, shall we say, and I always thought that the fire commissioner was the person with whom all the fire chiefs in the Province dealt with, and if he had any issues he was the guy in terms of fire, he was the guy when it came to emergency measures, and he would communicate directly with the minister's office. If my memory serves me correctly, when we had a couple of very bad environmental weather situations in this Province that is exactly how it operated.

I remember the Buchans one, for example. Mr. Hollett, who was the fire commissioner, was front and centre every day on the TV informing the public as to what was happening on a provincial basis, telling the people of that area the extent of the problem, possible options to solve the problem, and so on, the timelines that might be involved. It was the fire chief who was the face of government when it came to explaining these things. The only other person that he reported to, to my knowledge, was not a CEO; it was the minister. Yet, in this new set-up we are going to have a CEO which is in between the fire marshal and the government.

MS JONES: That is not right, is it?

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Well, that is what it says according to my reading of it. Maybe I am wrong, but I am looking at section 2.(b) and it says: CEO means the chief executive officer appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council to administer the agency.

Now, that is the definition of a CEO. Then, when you look in subsection 3, as I say: The fire commissioner shall carry out the duties assigned to him or her under this act and shall act under the direction of the CEO.

So, let's not anybody fool ourselves in this Province any more. It is not a case of the former Minister of Municipal Affairs muzzling the fire commissioner, which he did. There is no question; there is nobody in this Province going to deny that. We had a case here where the Minister of Municipal Affairs went out in the lobby of this building, outside of this House of Assembly, and said: The fire commissioner does not speak for government any more. I shall speak for government, as Municipal Affairs.

We turned around in three successive Question Periods in this House and asked him a bunch of questions and he did not know the details. He said: That is technical information. I will have to go back and find out.

That was the whole point that was made: Why are you muzzling the fire commissioner if you yourself, as a minister, do not know you are talking about, and you cannot respond to public concerns up front, and you always have to be running back to somebody to tell you what the answer is?

Now, they got around that, folks. We are taking about openness and disclosure again, and transparency. Let's not kid ourselves in the future about the fire commissioner and what rights he has or does not have. He is going to take his direction from the CEO. He is not going to act any more based solely upon his expertise. He is going to be told what he can do. Who is telling him? A CEO. Who is the CEO? He is none other than a new position, from what I can understand, being appointed by government, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, under this act.

Now, maybe there is some other explanation for this. Maybe the minister can tell us: Am I correct? Am I on the right path here, that there is going to be another position created here called the CEO? Because that is certainly my reading of this act. Has the CEO been selected yet? Do we know who that person is? Is that person in the system as we speak? Because we have had questions from the Leader of the Opposition tonight to the Government House Leader talking about disclosure of reports in regards to schools and the investigations that are done. Well, that is all for naught. Both the Minister of Education and the Leader of the Opposition need not worry about it because under the act, according to what I am saying here, that is going to be decided by a CEO anyway. The CEO is going to tell the fire commissioner what he can and cannot do.

That was my concern. I realize I had ten minutes, but that was my look at it and I just want to know if we are on the right path when it comes to voting, because I have no problem with a restructuring of the services in the Province. I have no problem that we definitively, once and for all, say what a fire commissioner is supposed to do. I have no problems about who the fire commissioner reports to - that is not the issue - but if this is a roundabout way to get around this issue of having the fire commissioner be able to speak openly when there is an issue, I think there is a concern because it ties in again with openness, as I say. That is my concern.

I say to the minister, I look at clause 4.(d) and it talks about what the fire commissioner can do. In clause 4.(2)(d) it says, "advise the minister…" - he can do that, the fire commissioner can - "…municipalities and industry with respect to establishing fire departments and the requirements for organizing and equipping those fire departments, for training firefighting personnel and evaluating their firefighting capabilities and those other fire protection requirements which may be necessary."

He talks in (e) about, "disseminate information and advice respecting fire prevention, fire protection and fire safety that the minister considers advisable."

Now, under (d) and (e) it is made quite clear again that the fire commissioner has no tongue. You have silenced the fire commissioner.

MS JONES: And no power.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: He has absolutely no power. He is told by the act what he can do, and then someone else tells him when he can do it. It is made quite clear here that, no matter how grave the situation is in our Province, and we might look to a professional person, the fire commissioner, for advice and guidance, we cannot get it. The question I raise is quite simple: Why not? Why not?

It is like the questions that the Leader of the Opposition asked about the school reports. If we are so concerned about school safety, and we are so concerned with making sure that our structures are proper, and we are so concerned that all the reports are being done and the facilities are being kept in proper order, why are we so shy about telling the public and the parents, once the reports are done, what they said? I do not understand that.

The people out there in the public are not stupid. If I had a child who is attending school in some community in this Province and somebody tells me that a report was done on the standards of that school vis-à-vis fire and inspection safety, I think I have a right to know.

Who should the Minister of Municipal Affairs be to say that I cannot know what the standard is of the building that my child goes to school in? Seriously - and I am sure there is nobody on that side of the House believes that.

You might say, well, maybe it is not in the best interest to know because if we get that out that is going to mean we have to close the school down, it might mean we have to invest some money to fix the school or fix the problem. If that is the only justification, that is not proper justification for denying the parents of students in this Province the right to know what the standard is of the facility that their student is in. That is not proper. You can try to sugar-coat it, you can try to colour it as many ways as you want, that will not fly. It will fly in here and it will pass in here –

CHAIR: Order, please!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, back in 2007 we formed the Fire Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador as an agency. Under that structure we had to have a CEO, who is Mr. Mike Samson. Nobody muzzled the fire commissioner. The fact of the matter is that this government's policy is that the minister in charge of the department will speak for the department. This fire commissioner is an official who is working with the Fire Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador. I have no problem consulting him for any technical information that I may need as a minister. I have had conservations with the fire commissioner just this past week on issues that pertain to the department.

The other part I would like to stress to my hon. colleagues here is that this government has invested more in schools since we have come into office in 2003 –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: More children have been displaced because of the lack of their infrastructure, not paying attention to the schools.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: I assure the parents in Newfoundland and Labrador tonight that we are working, and our fire departments are working, in conjunction with our school boards and our school employees and our principals. As my hon. colleague said earlier tonight, we do not want this fear mongering here. Their children are safe, and we will continue to work.

This legislation tonight is to modernize the act, to have a comprehensive approach and to reflect how Fire and Emergency Services–Newfoundland and Labrador and over 300 fire departments that we have in this Province do business.

On that note, Mr. Chairman, I will close.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I appreciate the minister at least confirming that I am correct in what I am saying. You are reorganizing, okay, but we never had, and I do believe we do not have, legislatively in this Province, a legislative legal structure, as we speak, which says – I believe the individual whose name you used was Mr. Samson – that Mr. Samson is officially, legally, legislatively, the boss of the fire commissioner. I do not think we have that. We might have put him into a position. We might have created a position that talked about emergency measures, and he was going to be the top official, bureaucrat, at emergency measures, but what we have here now is a restructuring where we are taking everything and we are meshing it together under one law and we are now saying legislatively that Mr. Samson will be the boss of the fire commissioner. I do not think we had that structure. That is why we are doing this bill.

No offence to Mr. Sampson. By the way, there is nobody suggesting here that fire departments do not do their jobs – none. In fact, we have a lot of fire departments in this Province. I have five or six in my own district. We are not fortunate enough or big enough to have paid firemen, but they are good and they work hard and they are volunteers.

Let nobody doubt what we think of our volunteer firemen in my district. I cannot speak for the other areas, but I know them. Most of them are good friends of mine, actually, so there is nobody here questioning what their abilities are, and there is nobody going to misunderstand what we think of them as volunteers in our communities. I have always said, in fact, they are the top shelf when it comes to a volunteer because you cannot get anybody who is a better volunteer - a volunteer - who is prepared to put their life on the line for somebody. That is pretty good. You cannot get much better than that. So that is where I come from when I talk about volunteers.

The other piece is - I come back again - we are putting in place here an administrative structure, I do believe, which officially, without doubt, from here on in, on a go-forward basis as this government says, tells the fire commissioner: Keep your mouth shut and only say what the CEO, our appointee, tells you to say.

Now, with all due respect, I think if somebody is going to advise the public and advise councils and advise fire departments about what standards should be, and discuss that with them and tell them what it is about, we should leave it to the experts.

Now, with all due respect to Mr. Samson, he was the former Deputy Minister of Fisheries. I do not know what his area of expertise is in emergency services, I do not know what his expertise is in fire standards, but he is certainly no better than the fire commissioner. Why are we - what is the legitimate reason to tell the expert that you cannot go out and advise and talk to the people about it? There is only one reason that I can come up with.

MS JONES: To muzzle him.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: To muzzle him.

It says there, direct, no questions about it, that he shall take his directions from the CEO, and in section 2 it says the CEO shall be appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

As I say, you can colour it whichever way you want, shade it however you like, try to sell it however you want, but you still have a pig in a poke at the end of the day because the bottom line here is to muzzle the fire commissioner. That is exactly what this is about.

Now, I have no problem with many pieces of this in terms of an organizational structure. I agree with the part that says the fire commissioner should instruct the fire departments around this Province into life safety issues, fire issues, fire codes, alterations being made to premises, and what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. I have no problem with any of that; but, no, on top of all that, this government, in their secretive manner - secretive manner - in their desire to keep the wool over your eyes, to only put out in the public domain what they want out there with their spin on it, have legitimately now, they are going to legitimize the fact that they can muzzle the fire commissioner.

Sometimes in a piece of legislation it is to the point where, as good as you might feel about the ninety-nine clauses in this bill, there is one there that just makes it totally unacceptable, folks, because it makes you think – like, we have all the rest of the stuff. We know the fire commissioner has all of these skills that are in here. We know that he has been doing his job. In fact, he did his job so well in some of these incidents of emergencies last year that the government muzzled him, would not let him give technical briefings.

We had an example here where the media - the minister said if you have any questions ask me. He went to a briefing and the minister said: Just a minute now, I will go in the back room with the fire marshal, fire commissioner, and he will tell me all of the reasons what you are asking and stuff, and I will come out and tell you. Now, how foolish is that? Do you think you are fooling anybody in this Province when you do that? That is not fooling anybody. That is not being open. That is not upfront.

Now, what you have done here, minister, I say, is you have legitimized that by discreetly putting in the definition of a CEO in clause 2.(b). Lo and behold, in clause 3.(2) you just gently slip it in there, that he takes his orders from the CEO. Yes, folks, we will just put two and two together. The CEO is hired by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. You can say that and cut that any ten ways from now until next Sunday but you are coming up with the same answer, folks. You have stuck the muzzle on the fire commissioner.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, we are here tonight openly debating this bill. There is nothing secretive about it. I do not know which way the hon. member wants it. He stood up in this House and said he was delighted that we gave him a technical briefing last week on these orders that we got, these bills, before the House. The person who gave him the technical briefing was Mike Samson and his officials. Then he tells me tonight: Now, that is not acceptable. Well, Mr. Chairman, there is nobody trying to muzzle the fire commissioner. I tell you that he is reporting to an agency, which is reporting to me.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: I am the minister who is responsible here for preparedness and emergency and I will speak for this government.

Mr. Chairman, this bill we are bringing here tonight is to give more empowerment to our local fire departments to work with our fire and emergency services, and nothing more than that. We are committed to fire and emergency services in this Province. We are committed to working with the volunteers and the fire department.

Mr. Chairman, I do not want to belabour this bill any longer, but I will tell the hon. members over there that we are not muzzling any fire commissioner.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

To paraphrase Shakespeare: She doth protest too much. For the record, folks, this member was not at the briefing that the CEO did.

MS WHALEN: (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Well, I say to the minister, we have a little issue. If you want to go down that road about resources and who can get what done in time for the House, that is a different issue. We can talk about that kettle of fish any time you wish, but number one, whether his name is Mr. Samson or we are talking about Hercules, the bottom line was, this individual was not at the briefing and it has nothing to do with the person who fills the role of CEO. That is not the point. There is no mention in clause 2.(b) of who the individual is.

MS JONES: We would not have known only –

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: That is foolhardy. The individual is going to change over time. Mr. Samson might not be with us tomorrow. It is going to be some other Mr. Samson. It is the principle I am getting at. The bottom line is that the CEO is appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. I do not care if it is Mr. Samson or Mr. Hercules. The bottom line is you have still muzzled the fire commissioner because you have made him directly responsible to the Cabinet of this Province. Folks, I am glad this is televised because it gives an opportunity for the people out there to see just how –

MS JONES: Small.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: The spin that gets put onto some pieces of legislation. We came in here in the spring and we tripped up the former Minister of Municipal Affairs. Tripped him up. He went out to the media and tried to give an explanation on something and he did not know the answers, and the fire commissioner tried to help him out, and the fire commissioner said something, obviously, that displeased government, displeased them. So the next thing we know –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: The next thing we know, there are rules. The fire commissioner, thou shalt not speak. Thou shalt not speak was the order that came down. I can go get the press clippings. Anybody here knows, CBC, NTV –

MS JONES: I might have them.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: All found the clippings. The fire commissioner from here on in, zip it, do not talk to anyone. It is not permitted. Lo and behold, what did he do? We come in here, folks, and we talked about this House opening and guess what? We had all these pieces of legislation and stuff and we keep hearing the word housekeeping and we are doing a bit of housecleaning and so on here. All of a sudden we got one substantive act here. This is probably the only one of two that we got with full new pieces of legislation in this sitting. The rest I believe were repeals and little tinkering as I call it, here to there, that you need from time to time. Tucked away in this very, very impressive actually, impressive piece of legislation when it comes to an organizational point of view and saying who can do what, but what is tucked away is the little berry in number three, and that is the bad berry. As they say, sometimes there is a rotten apple in the barrel? Well, folks, that is the rotten apple in this barrel.

MR. O'BRIEN: Sit down.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: I say to the minister from Gander, this member will sit down when he is going to sit down.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: And the Member for Gander will not be telling this member ever to sit down. If he has something to say, he should be man enough to get on his own feet to have a chat, but I will tell you, this member here for Burgeo & LaPoile does not take directions from him or anybody else in this House except for the Chair. That is all.

Now back to the point again. Could the minister please stand up and tell us, just so that you can help everybody in this Province understand and certainly this member here understand: Can you tell us why then you have set up this instruction method? Maybe that can help us. Can you tell us why we have changed what we always had to what we are now going towards? Maybe that could be helpful because we definitely have a different set up.

We had the Director of Emergency Services who dealt with if something happened, someone to coordinate that and so on, if there is an issue in Badger with ice problems or a flood like we had out in Stephenville, for example. We always had that person - because what happened, in fact, was the fire commissioner was not the person who should have been doing that anyway. What used to happen was, because we never had such a person, it always fell to the fire commissioner. That is the truth of it. The fire commissioner fell into dealing with emergency measures because we did not have anyone else.

When Buchans happened we did not have a Mr. Samson or a CEO. We did not have a position when it came to Stephenville. So that is why we created this position, and government then figured out that we have somebody who is responsible for fire services. We have an individual and a group who is responsible for emergency measures when things happen. So what are we going to do? We are going to combine it and reorganize it and that is why we are here with this bill, no problem, but you have accomplished at the same time as that, you are trying to organize and make this in a useable, workable fashion, what you have done, whether you intended it or not, is you have muzzled the fire commissioner.

The question still remains now as it remained last spring - which the other former minister could not answer, by the way. The former minister could not answer. The question was quite simple. Why can the fire commissioner not speak and tell the facts, particularly when it comes to technical issues? Why can the fire commissioner not do that? I am sure if you want to look at the personalities of today, and no disrespect to Mr. Samson, I know the gentleman, like him quite well, had dealings with him, but he certainly does not have the technical expertise of the fire commissioner, folks. He does not have it. That is not being negative towards the person. It is like me trying to be an accountant; I do not know anything about it. I would not dare try to be an accountant. I am not an accountant. Do not ask me for accounting advice. So why would you ask somebody for some advice if he is not trained in that area? Why wouldn't you just go to the person who has the training and why would you make that expert in the training subject to someone who knows nothing about it, or does not have the same skills that he has?

Thank you.

CHAIR: Order, please!

Before I recognize the Minister of Municipal Affairs, I would say that it has been brought to the attention of the table and the Chair that under the rules of order and decorum that it has been discouraged for members to have their backs turned to the House. I would ask for the respect of members. I would ask for the co-operation of all members of the House.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: I guess, Mr. Chairman, just to quote Shakespeare: Much to do about nothing.

The Fire and Emergency Services Agency was formed in 2007. Just to remind the hon. member that we had put a change in place. In 2007, we established the Fire and Emergency Services - Newfoundland and Labrador and we have a structure under that category II agency.

I would also like to say to the member that he should have gone to the briefing because he would have learned that Mr. Samson works with a team. We all work together collectively as a team in this government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: There is no doubt – and I am not underestimating the fire commissioner. He has great expertise, he is a great official, if he was not he would not be in the job he is in today, but we will have dialogue with the fire commissioner. When I see fit that I need to have information I will talk to him, but his reporting structure is to the CEO. This bill is to be a more comprehensive approach, user-friendly and improve working with the fire departments and the Fire and Emergency Services Agency. This is exactly what this bill is about, nothing else.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

MS WHALEN: In answer to the question tonight, this bill is put here on the floor very openly for debate and I thank the hon. members for their questions. I will try to answer any questions that they might want to ask but, again, I have to go back and say that you need to go to briefings, you need to know that there is a collective team that works together in this government and there are changes that will take place from time to time to improve our services where the need be.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Chairman, it is quite obvious that this is not something new. Obviously, the CEO has been in place for some time. Obviously, there has been an expectation of the fire commissioner to respond to that CEO and take direction from that CEO. I would like to know from the minister when that individual was put in place? At what point was the fire commissioner told that you now take direction from the CEO and you do not deal directly with us as a department or with me as the minister or you are no longer the chief individual in this Province for fire safety issues? When did that occur? At what time did that transition occur?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, there is no definitive date. This has been worked out over a period of time.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Chairman, what the minister is saying is that in the absence of any legislation that would govern this, in the absence of any prototype, I suppose, in terms of how the structure of the fire commissioner's office would work, government just arbitrarily appointed a CEO at some point during the last year and said to the fire commissioner, you now answer to this individual. You take your directions from that individual.

According to the act, what it says here under section 8, Part II, page 9: The minister may, upon the recommendation of the CEO – not the fire commissioner – prescribe by regulation those standards necessary for fire protection and may adopt by reference, with or without changes, codes or standards of another jurisdiction or of Canada. Then it goes on to say in section (3): The fire commissioner shall enforce all the codes that are adopted under this section.

What that tells me is that the fire commissioner does not have any power here. When it comes to setting standards and regulations and codes, their job under the legislation is entirely to carry out those standards that have been regulated and those codes that have been regulated directly by the minister upon the recommendations of the CEO.

Mr. Chairman, that tells me that the role of the fire commissioner in this Province has changed immensely, because normally it would have been the fire commissioner who would have made the recommendation for any changes that were required in codes and in standards, in inspections or in certifications as it related to fire safety in the Province.

As I understand from this legislation, and the minister can feel free to clarify this, is that from this legislation they will no longer be engaged, that will not be a part of their responsibility, but, in fact, it will now be the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that government puts in place the proper standards, regulations and codes, and that it will be up to the fire commissioner to carry those out and to regulate them.

I ask the minister if that is the differentiation in terms of the roles that they will play.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, in the act we have outlined the fire commissioner, what his duties are. I will just read them for the members across the House.

Clause 4.(1), "The fire commissioner shall investigate the cause, origin, extent and circumstances of fires in the province.

"(2) The fire commissioner may require that plans and specifications for the construction, alteration or repair of a structure be submitted to him or her to determine whether proper provision has been made in the plans and specifications

"(a) to prevent fire or the spread of fire;

"(b) to provide for fire escapes and other exit facilities in the event of fire or the alarm of fire; and

"(c) to provide for adequate fire alarm, fire detection, fire suppression and fire and life safety features.

"(3) The fire commissioner, shall, under the direction of the CEO…" - and it goes on to outline the duties.


Mr. Chairman, the codes that are outlined in this act, St. John's can enforce their codes. It has to be up to the standard of the minister. In all cases, I think, from what I can understand, there is an adoption of the standard building codes since sometimes there would be a double duplication. Right now, St. John's can carry out their enforcement of their codes under this legislation.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The roles are very clear. It is no clearer than it is in Part I of the bill, section 3.(2), which says, "The fire commissioner shall carry out the duties assigned to him or her under this Act and shall act under the direction of the CEO."

Mr. Chairman, that says it all because it will be the CEO who reports to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, who reports to the Cabinet, whom the Cabinet has the ultimatum to hire and fire whenever they want to, it will be that individual who will now control fire safety services and issues in this Province, not the fire commissioner.

Last year it was the fire commissioner, in April, who made statements in the media in this Province as they related to hospitals and the fire safety issues of hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was that fire commissioner who made public comments in the media last spring with regard to the inspections in schools that the government disagreed with and did not want to hear. It was subsequently because of those remarks that the fire commissioner in this Province was muzzled. All this act is doing tonight is legislating in a way so that he is obligated and obliged as the fire commissioner in this Province; under law, he will now take his direction from a CEO. He will not be the independent commissioner who has always served this Province when it came to fire safety and life issues.

Mr. Chairman, this is only being done because the government did not like what happened in the spring of 2008 in this Legislature and outside. They did not like the fact that the fire commissioner was being questioned in the public and was giving the information honestly and factually in the public as to what was happening with fire safety issues in this Province. The government did not like the responses. They did not like the answers. They did not like having the commissioner talk and, in essence, they muzzled him. They shut him down and now, Mr. Chairman, they are bringing in legislation in the House of Assembly to ensure that he reports to a CEO and is no longer an independent commissioner in this Province.

Now, how small can you get as a government? How small can you get as a government when it comes to stifling anyone out there that you cannot control the messages of? This is what it is coming down to. This is what it is coming down to, because everyone knows that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, which is the Cabinet, can appoint and, Mr. Chairman, un-appoint at any time that they want. We know exactly what is happening here.

Mr. Chairman, it is unfortunate that we did not pick up on this earlier because I can tell you that in my mind there are a lot of people out there in the public who do not understand what government is trying to do here, and the mere fact that it has been done for months, where the powers of the fire commissioner in this Province have been withdrawn and they have been given to a CEO to act in the capacity and to make all decisions and recommendations as to what goes to the minister when it comes to fire standards and fire codes in this Province. The minister must know that the right person to be doing that is the fire commissioner himself, not a CEO who has been hired from an administrative – Mr. Chairman, most CEOs are administrative and they are not necessarily dealing with specific conduct and codes and standards, as would be the case in this particular situation.

Mr. Chairman, this very much is a way to stifle the fire commissioner for the comments and the remarks that were made in a very honest way as a part of him doing his job and carrying out his responsibility in the Province.

Mr. Chairman, it says in the act, "The fire commissioner shall, where directed by the CEO, co-ordinate fire protection and other operations and activities in emergency situations…."

According to this legislation, the fire commissioner now no longer has the autonomy that he would have had in the case of an emergency to go out there and directly organize his response team to respond to any critical emergency in the Province. In fact, it says in the legislation that he must now take direction from the CEO when it comes to co-ordinating fire protection and other operations and activities in any emergency situation.

So, don't say that you are not taking away the powers of the fire commissioner because that is exactly what you are doing. That is exactly what you are doing. For years in this Province, whenever there was a disaster –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: What is her district?

AN HON. MEMBER: Virginia Waters.

MS JONES: The Member for Virginia Waters, Mr. Chairman, can stand on her feet in the House and give all of the speeches she wants. She has been mumbling from her armchair there the whole night. She sat there the whole night mumbling and grumbling, Mr. Chairman, but she can stand on her feet and talk to this legislation any time she wants.

Mr. Chairman, to get back to something much more serious than the mumbling from the armchairs: Under section 5 in this act it specifically says, "The fire commissioner shall, where directed by the CEO, co-ordinate fire protection and other operations and activities in emergency situations.…"

For years in this Province it has been the job of the fire commissioner. The fire commissioner was always considered to be the expert when it came to fire protection and response in emergencies. When there were floods, when there were fires, when there were other natural disasters in this Province, it was the fire commissioner himself, Mr. Chairman, the very same commissioner who occupies the chair today, it was that commissioner who organized response teams in this Province, who conducted response teams, who went out there and was on the ground responding to these emergencies.

Right here in this act it takes away his power to be able to do that. From now on, he will do it at the direction of a CEO, Mr. Chairman. That is the problem with this legislation. It is not just the fact that you are going to muzzle him, and silence him from being the lead individual to speak to these issues, but you are also taking away the powers that were entrusted to him as the lead person in the Province to ensure fire protection and emergency services. That is wrong and that is unacceptable. This individual is hired to do that job because of the expertise that they bring to the job, because of the expertise they have in fire safety and emergency issues in this Province, and now to turn around and say to him that you will no longer have the autonomy to respond in an emergency but rather you will have to take the direction of a CEO. That is unacceptable, Minister. How do you explain that?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, the CEO for fire and emergency measures, I would like to say that he has to look at a broad picture here. The fire commissioner has not lost any of his powers, as the Opposition would like the general public out there viewing this tonight to believe. The only thing that has changed about the fire commissioner is his role in reporting. He works with an agency, with Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador. Under that agency there is a CEO that is the manager. The fire commissioner is the technical official there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Like any other official, there is a reporting structure in all the departments. That is no different, Mr. Chairman. So, this belief that they are trying to portray here tonight, the perception that the fire commissioner has lost his powers, that is very misleading and there is really, in my mind, devaluing the fire commissioner's role because he is a very valuable member in this organization and we rely on him greatly for the technical advice that he provides very admirably for departments.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I was late getting into this discussion, and here I am now, so I have a couple of questions. With regard to the two pieces of legislation, you have to look at the two pieces of legislation together. I cannot say that this was presented or was not presented in our briefing. I cannot say that. I have no memory of its being presented.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS MICHAEL: Excuse me. None of that nonsense; I don't.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS MICHAEL: Yes, I mean it. I get fed up with you crowd sometimes. I have no memory of it, so no big deal was made of it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS MICHAEL: May I be heard, Mr. Chair, please?

CHAIR: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: No big deal was made of it.

Now, I am listening to what the minister is saying, and the logic of what the minister is saying is that if you are going to have a full structural plan you would have a CEO and you would have your director of emergency services and you would have your fire commissioner. That is not what we have. You would have it, except in the Emergency Services Act you start off with that - it says that you have an agency and you have a CEO appointed - so that looks the same as Bill 60; however, the thing that is in Bill 59 that is not in Bill 60 is that in the absence of the CEO the director may exercise the power. All of a sudden, those two positions become one. So there is not a parallel structure there. If you had a parallel structure, what you are saying, Minister, would make sense to me where you had both the director of emergency services and the fire commissioner reporting to a CEO for the agency, but that is not what you have. Everything that you are saying, Minister, is not holding water because you do not have that parallel structure.

I did not see a problem until I actually just now sat down and really looked at that. I was trusting in the full briefing we were given, because of being one person, because of having one researcher at the moment, every single word of this was not read, but it is not a parallel structure. So what you are saying, Minister, does not hold water. Try to explain to me why the clause that makes the director able to be the CEO, why is that clause in Bill 59? We have to speak to Bill 59 as we speak to Bill 60.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It is quite obvious that the minister has been given her orders to sit in her seat and not get up and answer any more questions here tonight, obviously, because the Leader of the NDP has just posed a very legitimate question with regard to a section of this legislation.

MS BURKE: A point of order, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIR: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, on a point of order, I would like to clarify that I did not give any orders to the Minister of Municipal Affairs whether she can or cannot speak. I think the Minister of Municipal Affairs is doing an exemplary job this evening to defend the legislation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: I do not think the Minister of Municipal Affairs heard the point I was making, the question I was asking. I need to do it again. Did you hear what I asked? No. So, may I repeat that?

I am trying to get a clarification, Minister, with regard to the relationship between Bill 59 and Bill 60. You explained a structural plan. To me, the structural plan would be there is a CEO and you would have the Director of Emergency Services and you have the Fire Commissioner. Now, you have two clauses in both acts that make it look that way, until in Bill 59 where Bill 59 allows the Director to be in place of the CEO. You do not say the Fire Commissioner can be in place of the CEO, so why would the Director of Emergency Services be able to replace the CEO in the absence of the CEO? If both of them were relating to a CEO I would understand the structure, but with what is here in Bill 59 which allows a Director to replace the CEO, then the structure falls apart for me, and I would like an explanation on that.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Point of order, Mr. Chair.

The rules of debate at Committee stage indicate that any member can speak for ten minutes and can speak as often as they want as long as there is an intervening speaker. At this point, when I made the first point of order regarding the fact that I had given no orders, I had not given any instructions to the Minister of Municipal Affairs to speak or not to speak, the Leader of the

Opposition was using her ten minutes to speak. Certainly, with all due respect to the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, the minister can speak at any time during this debate to clarify the questions and to speak to the concerns that are being raised. That is why we are in Committee this evening, and we will certainly address the issues as they are being raised.

I think that the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi stood up and intervened when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking. Everyone will have an opportunity to debate and I think we certainly need to follow the rules that are set out in our Standing Orders.

CHAIR: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader; are you speaking to the point of order?

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Just to the point of order, Mr. Chair.

I would concur with the comments that the Government House Leader just made. I have no problem whatsoever. I think, however, at this stage it is a bit – I do not know what the proper word would be - complaining after the horse is out of the barn, to say that. The Leader of the NDP, I cannot speak for her but I saw what happened. The Government House Leader made a point of order about what she did or did not say to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I do not even know if there was a ruling on it other than to say there was no point of order, at which point in time the Leader of the NDP stood and asked permission; could she repeat because the Minister of Municipal Affairs had not heard it.

Now, if we want to get into the strict technicalities of who speaks when and where that is fine, but I just think the Government House Leader here is playing footsie with the rules because they are probably upset because we are pointing out something to the minister that they disagree with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

CHAIR: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

CHAIR: Order, please!

The Chair has asked for order. I am asking all members of the House to respect the Chair. I have asked for order on a number of occasions.

The Chair has heard comments from both the Government House Leader and the Opposition House Leader. The Chair has recognized the various speakers as they stood. Each time a speaker stands the clock is reset for ten minutes. Each time a speaker stands they will be recognized. As long as there is an intervening speaker, each speaker will have ten minutes to speak.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chair, I just want to respond to my hon. member across the way for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi; to the question she asked.

No two people can be CEO. The CEO is Mr. Samson and the Director of Fire Services is our Fire Commissioner. That is the structure of the agency.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of the District of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

MS MICHAEL: In Bill 59, section 3 (3) it says, "The agency shall be administered by a CEO appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council." Then subsection (4) says, "In the absence of the CEO, the director - which means the Director of Emergency Services - "may exercise the powers of the CEO." So, subsection (3) and subsection (4) imply two different people, but when you allow subsection (4) to happen you change the structure. That is my point. The structure is CEO, director and fire commissioner. That is according to subsection (3). If, for some reason a CEO is not around, it says, oh, then the director can become the CEO. You are changing the structure. That subsection (4) changes the whole structure, Minister.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chair, the director does not become the CEO. He only exercises the powers of the CEO.

AN HON. MEMBER: In the absence of the CEO.

MS WHALEN: If, for some reason, the CEO got sick or had an accident or had some misfortune, then he would exercise the power of the CEO.

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

MS MICHAEL: Well, I need further clarification, Mr. Chair.

Right now we have the director acting as the CEO. Is that correct?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: We have the director acting in the absence of a CEO, but right now the CEO is present there, so he is the Director of Fire Services. The Director of Fire Services is the Fire Commissioner, but in the event that we have the CEO not available, sick, or like I said earlier had a misfortunate accident or something, then he would exercise the powers that the CEO has.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Do we, at the moment, Mr. Chair, have a CEO who is not acting as CEO and a director who is acting as the CEO? We just have one person. Is that – oh, right, so let me keep going then.

Now I have another question. When is the CEO going to be appointed?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chair, in my earlier remarks I had said we formed the Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador agency in 2007. When that was formed, we appointed a CEO, who is now presently in that position. As I said earlier, that is Mr. Mike Samson. As the Director of Fire Services, that is the Fire Commissioner who is Mr. Hollett.

Thank you.

CHAIR: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the member for the District of Signal Hill–Quidi Vidi.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Samson is the CEO, but he is also the Director of Emergency Services.

I will wait until the ministers can hear me.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS MICHAEL: Well, there is no sense in my talking because she is speaking. The last time, when another minister was speaking to her, she did not hear my question, so I will stand up for ten minutes.

CHAIR: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: I will stand up and wait until I can get this straightened out. I am not talking until I can speak to the minister.

CHAIR: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: Thank you.

Minister, I am really confused. I am really serious, I am confused, because if Mr. Samson was appointed CEO, is he also the director? If he is also the director, then I come back with my question. He is not acting in the absence of a CEO, because you are telling me he was appointed CEO and he is also the Director of Emergency Services. That is what it seems to me you are saying.

CHAIR: Order please!

Before I recognize the Minister of Municipal Affairs, I will remind all members that their comments are to be directed to the Chair.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I will say it again. I do not mean to confuse the member opposite me. I can only repeat it over and over again. She can ask me the same question fifteen different ways if she likes, but the CEO of the Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador agency is Mr. Mike Samson. The Fire Commissioner is the Director of Fire and Emergency Services. This act tonight is simply to, through the comprehensive approach, make it user friendly. Through this new act we will have a strengthened training regime for the Province.

I went through all of this earlier, Mr. Chairman, but the fact of the matter is that we are working with our fire departments and Fire and Emergency Services–Newfoundland and Labrador to improve the fire departments and to do business with over 300 fire departments in this Province, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

What it seems to me is that subsection 3(3) of Bill 59 says, "The agency shall be administered by a CEO appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council," and 3(4) says, "In the absence of the CEO, the director - meaning the Director of Emergency Services – "may exercise the powers of the CEO." They have now been collapsed into one person. There is only one person playing those two roles, so the CEO, one of them is a shadow.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS MICHAEL: No, Mr. Chair, I am not joking. I am not doing this to be stubborn. The thing is, it names two different positions and one would assume that when it says, Mr. Chair, in the absence of the CEO, that that is not a permanent thing, that maybe for some reason temporarily there is an absence and in that absence the director plays the role of the CEO.

What I am now being told is that the director playing the role of the CEO is a permanent situation, and the commissioner. That is why I asked. Mr. Chair, I am wanting to know: When are there going to be two people in those two roles? That is my question. When is there going to be a person who is the CEO separate from a person who is the director? That is my question.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chair, I will try to endeavour to speak as clearly and as plainly and as English as I can.

There are two people in the agency right now. Mr. Mike Samson is the CEO. He is the manager of Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador. That is the first position. The second is Mr. Hollett, the Fire Commissioner, who is the Direct of Fire Emergency Services. Now to me, one and one make two. I cannot make it any clearer, Mr. Chair, for my hon. member across the way. I just said, I can answer that question fifteen different times. I do not understand how she is reading the act but I can assure her that right now on our payroll are two individuals who have two different responsibilities. One is the CEO and one is a director.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Chair, this must be interpretation, but I have the two acts now.

One act talks about, one, the agency shall be administered by a CEO appointed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council. That is one position. Two, in the absence of the CEO, and I am thinking that would be a temporary thing, the director may exercise- so you have the director and that is the Director of Emergency Services, according to the definition, and in Bill 60 the third person is the Fire Commissioner. They are the three people. The Director of Emergency Services, the Fire Commissioner and a CEO at the top of the agency, that is what I see when I put the two bills together.

That is why I say it to the minister, Mr. Chair, when it says in subsection (4), "In the absence of the CEO the director may exercise the powers…" I am asking: is that absence a permanent absence or is it a temporary absence? There are three positions talked about. There are two positions in Bill 59 and there is one position in Bill 60. That is what I am trying to get clear. That is three, it is not two.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, the fire commissioner is the acting director right now, let me clarify that. The former position of the director will be filled in the near future - if that makes it clearer.

CHAIR: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Finally, we get the correct answer out of the minister. What the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi has been asking all night has been absolutely correct. If you look at the two pieces of legislation –

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: (Inaudible) came in on her Blackberry.

MS JONES: Well, it came in on her Blackberry, did it? Well, I am glad it came in on her Blackberry, but on my desk were the two bills.

Under Bill 59, on page 4, what the Leader of the NDP was asking was exactly right. It defined two separate positions under emergency measures. Under Bill 60, it also defined that the fire commissioner was just that, the fire commissioner, not the Director of Fire and Emergency Services for the Province. So when the minister stood earlier tonight and asked my colleague or suggested that my colleague should have gone to a briefing, maybe she should have gone to the briefing herself and would have better understood the legislation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS JONES: Don't whine, no need to whine. We have been nearly a half-an-hour now trying to get clarification on these two clauses in a bill when it was there written as plain as the nose on your face, but yet we were getting a different response from government than was contained in your legislation. So do not whine when I tell you to go and do the briefing.

Notwithstanding that, the Leader of the NDP asks a very legitimate question, and that is: Who will fill those positions and what will be their qualifications? The position of Director of Emergency Services is obviously a position that is not filled. If the CEO that is there today will be demoted into the position of director then who will fill the CEO position and what qualifications are expected of those individuals, because that is not clearly outlined?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, we have human resource people who do the hiring in competitions here in the government. The minister does not directly get involved with the hiring. We will have qualified people. These are very specialized jobs and we will go and seek the best for this agency.

I would like to just talk a little bit on – I had a lot of questions posed at me this evening on this bill. I would like to say directly to the bill and what the bill is actually about. This new act is to put in a training regime to work with our 300 fire departments, our volunteers, the men and women out there who give so willingly of their time, the men and women who come out in crisis situations. When most of us are running out, they are running into those fires. So we really value them and this government is committed to putting tools in place for them to do their jobs.

The one thing here that the City of St. John's wanted was more autonomy. They had the capability and the capacity to do that, and the government agreed with that change and that request. Under this new provision they will have that autonomy.

We have invested in the fire department agency $1.7 million for three-year support, an acquisition of firefighting equipment and strengthen the fire service throughout the Province.

Mr. Chairman, fire departments are very, very valuable to their communities. They are an infrastructure in the community. This year alone we have received over forty applications for new fire equipment. Just to tell you the needs there, when we changed that ratio of 90-10, that was very welcomed, that funding was, by the municipalities because it helped them to actually make applications and seek the infrastructure that they needed for their communities. We are very, very pleased to be able to have that ratio of 90-10.

Shaping legislation to meet the future is very challenging and current principles are very important. I think you will find that in this act, Mr. Chairman.

The hon. member there talked about Labrador and she wanted to know about the fire protection there. I told her earlier this evening that I will certainly give that great consideration when we are reviewing that, when we are doing our budget process. I thank her for bringing those concerns to me.

Also, she wanted to know about LSDs, if they were able to qualify for the infrastructure ratio of 90-10. They can, yes. LSDs can use the same application as the municipalities do. So they can avail of that infrastructure, Mr. Chairman.

Also, this act will be more, like I said earlier, user friendly. We were very glad that we brought this act in the House. I think it has a comprehensive approach to it.

She also talked about the sprinkler systems. This is an ongoing piece of work. There are twenty-two homes that she talked about, the personal care homes. I have been informed by the fire commissioner that those homes have gotten their sprinkler systems, with the exception of one, which they are now working with. They are doing some renovations and they will be installing a sprinkler system in that.

All of the issues that the Opposition has brought up here tonight are very valid. We certainly have addressed, I would say, all of them; the issues that they have raised, their concerns.

When it was brought to our attention about the sprinkler systems, we sent out our fire department people and they did investigations and they actually went in and put the proper protocols in place. So we are very conscious of that. With the aid of our fire commissioner, I might add, too, he told me last week that he was very, very pleased with the progress that is being made with the fire commission. The commissioner was delighted with the progress that is being made.

One of the things that we have here - I think one of the things that we talked a lot about this evening was the powers of the fire commissioner. Somehow or other the perception was left that his powers has changed, that he is muzzled. Nothing could be further from the truth, Mr. Chairman. The fire commissioner's duties have not changed any. The only thing that has changed for our fire commissioner is the reporting structure and that is no different than any other government department. Actually, it is bringing it inline with more government departments.

I think one of the things we talked a lot about is fire, and one of the things that concerns me is that we have had fourteen tragic deaths since 2002-2007; eleven males, three females and one child. That is horrific when you look at that kind of event. I think we all get this sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we hear of a tragic fire, especially a loss of life. I mean, there is nothing that can give you much more apprehension than that anxiety that we experience from this type of thing. Going back to our volunteers again, they are the people that are there. They are the first on the scene when something like that happens.

Just to go back to 9-11, the terrorists attacks that the United States experienced. We had some impacts in our Province. When the planes flew in here, we accommodated them. There were firemen out there who answered the call from all over the nation. Even in Canada, there were firepersons who answered the call when that attack came. So we value the firefighters, the fire people who work there in our everyday lives with our communities to make sure that we are safe and we are protected. I guess you can gather that I am very passionate about it, but we are a team. In this government we are team leaders. We all work collectively together to bring about change for the greater good for our people.

My hon. colleague talked tonight about fire inspections in the schools. We are very, very conscious of our children in the schools. They are our very precious cargo; I would refer to them as that. Our most precious asset is our children. None of us sitting in this House would ever want to see anything happen to our children. We have a great dedication of volunteers out there who do inspections, and the fire department. Everybody concerned is concerned for the safety of a child.

Mr. Chairman, the Fire Protection Services Act retains many of the themes contained in the current legislation but it is reorganized and it is restructured with clear, modern legislative language, making it more readable and more user-friendly. I have worked closely with the CEO of the Fire and Emergency Services - Newfoundland and Labrador agency in the past couple of weeks with briefings and they were kind enough to go over to the Opposition chambers and give them a brief, to give them an insight into this act and to try to clarify some of the questions that they might have. I was pleased when I heard the hon. members say that they were delighted with the briefings because we do try to accommodate our hon. friends in the Opposition when they would like to get technical briefings.

The other thing that we want to talk about is we deemed it important that the Fire Protection Services Act contain a provision for the minister to exempt the municipality from the adoption of provincial codes by giving that authority to the municipality. This will work as long as the minister feels that the codes that the municipality will adopt will meet or exceed the provincial adoption of codes and the municipality assumes all enforcement responsibility associated with the codes. So that has been addressed in this act, too, Mr. Chairman.

As for the government, we feel this provision allows for clarity concerning the application of codes and seeks to reduce the conflict in practice concerning the adoption and the application of codes between a municipality and the Province. So, Mr. Chairman, again, this is a very important item that is itemized out in our legislation this evening as well and it is something that the St. John's Regional Fire Department has been asking for at a keen interest. So that has been a significant change as well in this legislation.

Mr. Chairman, the Fire Protection Services Act changes the way that fires are recorded and reported. In actual fact, there was no provision in the old act to have fires reported to the fire department. That caused the fire commissioner great concern. In fact, it was written up by the Auditor General because he was not complying with that provision in the legislation. I would tell you that now this new act will have a provision there where all fire departments will have to report the loss to the fire commissioner. That is a good change as well.

That is a clear benefit in this provision. I would like to say that –

CHAIR: Order, please!

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

MS WHALEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I am sure that I will get more questions as the night progresses.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I do have another point to raise with the minister in a question. So she will get a chance to finish what she was saying because she can stand and answer this question as well.

When we had the briefing last week with the officials from the agency, it was pointed out to us that the new act no longer has the requirement for an annual fire loss report. The explanation that was given was that reports are now demanded under the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act and that the director did not see the need for the two reports, and this was discussed and it was deliberate, that it seemed to be a duplication.

After having that briefing, I had a meeting with the Citizens' Representative. It was a meeting where he wanted to present to me - and I guess he must have done it with the Official Opposition as well, and maybe even with members of the government side of the House, I do not know. He wanted to present his – I think he is calling it, I do not have it in front of me, it is in my office, but I think it is his narrative report which he makes under his act. I asked him about it. Actually, he started to talk about it first. He explained that he found that the report that gets made under the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act is a pretty dry report that does not sort of give the human face and the bones of what it is that he does as the Citizens' Representative. He has decided that he will continue making this other report, and he thinks that it is very important that he do that. I have to say, the information that he had in that report the other day was different information than one will find in the report under the accountability act.

I guess I am asking the minister to explain her understanding of the report that will now come from the fire commissioner under the accountability act. Will that report have the same substance in it as the report that used to be made under the Emergency Services Act? It is not the fire commissioner's act that I am talking about; it is the Emergency Services Act.

That is my question: Does she still expect the act from the fire commissioner to have the same substance as the act that the report always had, because the Citizens' Representative really felt that his report under the accountability act does not give the same substance.

I would like to know what the minister thinks of that.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Actually, Mr. Chairman, I would hope that we would have a better substance, because right now the fire departments have to report their fire loss to the fire commissioner, so we should get a better substance. This fire protection act will provide our provincial fire services with means to improve on investigations, incident reporting and the fire department administration. In fact, the answer to my hon. colleague's question is: Yes, there should be better substance now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Again, a few comments with regard to this bill.

I must say, I think the minister is being very gracious, by the way. I applaud her for that, because we had a situation here where the Leader of the NDP raised a very valid question based upon reading of Bill 59 and Bill 60; one dealing with emergencies, one dealing with fire protection.

It is very clear, if you look at Bill 59, dealing with emergency, that there are two people. It says, in the Definitions section, there is a CEO, which means chief executive officer, appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council - and I will come back to that because I have a question for the minister in that regard - to administer the agency. It goes down into (f) and it says there shall be a director, and director means the Director of Emergency Services. I will come back to that again. Then, when you look at Bill 60, which deals with the fire piece, it says again there is a third person called a fire commissioner, and it says who he is.

Now, we started out with the Leader of the NDP asking: Do we have two people, three people? What do we have? We were just looking for a simple explanation, and we were told that there are two people.

Now, we know there are two people - one is named Mr. Samson and one is named Mr. Hollett - but there are three positions, and that was not being made clear. Despite the questions from the Leader of the NDP, that was not being made clear. We were being told that there are two people, but the question was not about the two people. The question was: How many positions were there? That has now been made clear.

Some comments were made when I said that the minister found the correct information, or read it or whatever during the course of the debate, and changed course and said that - and understood the question and responded. I think that was very gracious of her. We do not always see that, folks. I think, by the way, she might have been thrown off. There were a lot of cheerleaders and so on, and everybody whispering in her ear about this or that, but the bottom line was that she was gracious enough that she did correct the situation, which brings me to my question.

Now that we know there are three positions - and if I did not understand the minister correctly, by all means, please correct me - I understand that the individual, Mr. Hollett, currently fills the Director of Emergency Services position and he is also the fire commissioner, but his role as Director of Emergency Services is an acting position. I also believe I understood the minister to say that the CEO position is filled through the public service.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: That is right, but I though I had heard it the other way. I just wanted to clarify that, so that there is no doubt, the CEO is filled by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, that it is not a public service position; that is going to be a Cabinet appointment right there.

Can the minister tell us anything with regard to the criteria for the director? We know from this legislation in Bill 60 that we are dealing with what the fire commissioner does, and we know that the individual in question is very talented, very trained, very educated when it comes to fire protection services.

I checked with the persons over in the Opposition who had a briefing on these two bills, and now that it is becoming more and more clear: What are the criteria, what are the educational standards, what are the expectations, and what are the duties of the director?

I went through Bill 59 and I went through Bill 60 and nowhere do I see what his description is, what he does. We have him there. I was just wondering if the minister can educate us any as to what that individual might be doing.

The next question I would have for the minister as well is her comment - and I guess this is where I take exception or disagree with the minister – when she said: We are not doing anything in terms of taking away or muzzling the fire commissioner. Her words were: We are changing the reporting structure. Those were her words.

With all due respect, Minister, that is exactly what you have done by changing the reporting structure, is muzzle the commissioner, because –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Let me explain here. That is exactly what you have done in Bill 60 when you have said – before, the fire commissioner of this Province, folks, going back to perpetuity, could say what he needed or wanted to say about fire protection in this Province. He could say it publicly. He did not have to be prompted. He did not go anywhere to get instructions or say what he could say. He was not limited in what he thought was in the public interest. He was an open spokesperson when it came to fire safety issues in this Province.

If you look now in Bill 60, section 3.(2) very clearly says, "The fire commissioner shall carry out the duties assigned to him or her under this Act and shall act under the direction of the CEO."

That is a big change, and that is the point we are trying to make. Nobody was disagreeing with your reorganization of the emergency services piece. Nobody was disagreeing with your organization of the fire services. The point being made by the Opposition is that by changing the reporting structure, whether you intended it or did not intend it, the consequence of it is that you have muzzled the fire commissioner. No longer will we have a fire commissioner who makes these decisions and can do these public announcements or whatever. He does everything now at the express direction of the CEO, and that is the whole point. When people look at things, they say: Is that person speaking his or her own mind, or are they taking directions from anybody? That is the question that comes to mind. How open is it, and how transparent is it?

When somebody is appointed by Cabinet, the thing is that he is obviously – he or she – is not a person who was selected from the public service like, I understand, the director will be. He is not selected by the public service, where there are certain standards that would apply to him or her as a bureaucrat, a public servant. This CEO is going to be taking their orders directly from the eleventh floor.

That is what is happening here, folks. Now, we can like it or lump it but we cannot duck what it is. The Opposition is in no position to change it. That is why we have a government. Government has forty-four bodies that are going to dictate that is what is going to happen, folks. We are not kidding ourselves that is what is going to happen. We know that the fire marshal, fire commissioner, is going to be muzzled. Nobody over here is suggesting that he is not going to be. We know he is going to be. He is going to be because you have the votes to do it, but that does not make it right. That does not make it right any more than it is right not to put out reports that are done on school facilities when it comes to their safety standards. It is not right, but you have the authority to do it.

That is the only point that is being made over here. Yet, people get up in arms when you ask questions: Is this what this means? Is that what that means? The minute you ask these questions it is: Oh, you are being nasty; you are being low. You get shouted down. You are not supposed to ask any of this.

Well, folks, guess what? That is what our role is. We are in Opposition. We are not supposed to sit over here and take everything that is passed out to us as legislation to be the gospel. We are not supposed to take it hook, line and sinker without asking any questions. Hopefully, there should be some suggestions that you could make to strengthen it. That is the whole point of having the debate.

Yet, this government takes the approach that the minute you raise a question you are trying to be obstructionist in some way, simply because you ask a question. I would think the members of the government over there should be doing the same thing. You don't suck everything down hook, line and sinker and believe it just because it is written on paper. It is not a case of believing. It is a case of understanding. If you do not understand something you have an obligation to stand up and ask it.

I have never heard a member of this government who is not in Cabinet, or in Cabinet, simply raise and ask a question. Maybe you get them all answered. Maybe you get your briefings. We have to ask for them. Maybe you folks in government get them all, and you get all the questions answered. I do not know. Maybe you do, and you do not have to ask them in here, but maybe from time to time your constituents might like to know that you asked some questions. Just because you people do not want to, or choose not to ask those questions, that does not mean we should not do it. We have another thirty-three clauses to go. I understand we are on clause 1. If it takes us another three or four days to get there, we will do it.

Anyway, at this point I will sit down. My time is up.

Thank you.

CHAIR (Collins): The hon. Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, the question that the hon. member asked about the criteria set out for the position of director, we are preparing an ad and then the criteria will be outlined in that ad. Hopefully, that will be posted in the new year and the people we will be looking for will have the expertise that we need to fill that position.

Tonight, I think we are just losing sight of what we are doing. We are debating legislation on autonomy for reporting structures, user-friendly, and the Fire and Emergency Services–Newfoundland and Labrador agency working with over 300 fire departments, so there are some good points, some significant policy changes here.

Going back to the fire commissioner again, I cannot emphasise enough that it is only a reporting structure for the fire commissioner. He is no different than any other official that works within the department. We all have structures that we have set out, but at the end of the day the minister is ultimately responsible for that department and the reporting from that department. The minister is the chief spokesperson for the department but, having said that, Mr. Chairman, we will be going to our technical people when we need advice. They are the people who have the expertise and I am sure, as in the past, they have relayed very good technical information to the ministers in various departments.

Having said that, I think I have answered the question for my hon. member across the way: that this ad that is he looking for will be advertised in the new year.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Chairman, I have listened with some interest tonight as there has been a debate around Bill 60, with reference to Bill 59 as we have been talking about Bill 60, and I have been listening with some interest because there has been, I think, a lot of politics being played around this bill. I think the minister has been very clear as to the bills themselves, and we have mixed the debate around Bill 59 and Bill 60.

We just heard the Opposition House Leader get up and spend some time talking about the muzzled role for the new fire commissioner. Mr. Chairman, I think it is important for everybody in this House to understand, and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to understand, very clearly that there is no muzzling taking place here.

For those who are following, in Part I of this bill there is a section here, section 4, that talks about the duties and responsibilities of the fire commissioner, and it lays out very clearly the duties of the fire commissioner. I think it is important, and people like myself, for example, in the Department of Health and Community Services, are able to speak with some authority and make some comparisons to the fire commissioner to many other roles.


The fire commissioner acts independent. The fire commissioner is recruited for their body of knowledge and expertise. They provide inspections for fire sights, they inspect plans, and they provide reports upon investigations into fires. They are able to provide direction to fire departments. They are able to provide information in the investigation of the cause of fires. They are just like the health inspectors.

What the member opposite is talking about is as ludicrous as saying that the people who go out tomorrow and inspect restaurants in this Province, because they report to someone in government, are now somehow going to be muzzled. He believes that he is speaking to a piece of legislation and that he is trying to criticize government for being inadequate in some fashion, but what he is really doing is attacking the character, the integrity and the independence of the existing fire commissioner.

He stood a moment ago and mentioned the individual by name and talked about the great job that he has done. He stood a few moments ago and, for all intents and purposes, insulted the man. What he is saying is, we know you are the fire commissioner, but we know that your are not going to act independently, we know you are going to compromise your integrity, we know you are going to compromise the honesty that you have built up here, compromise the reputation that you have, because you are going to take direction from someone else in government. How ludicrous is that?

Throughout government we have Occupational Health and Safety inspectors in Government Services, we have public health inspectors, the people who inspect the electrical systems, the people who inspect our restaurants, and the people who inspect school buses. We have a range of people in regulatory positions whose sole responsibility is to protect the public interest. We hire those individuals because of their talent, their skills, and because they are good at what they do. They understand it, they have the technical knowledge, and they are professional in the manner in which they conduct themselves. It is not because of who they report to, it is the knowledge they have, the insights they have, and the ability they have to carry out the roles which they have been hired for. They do it with integrity, they do it with respect for the people they work for, they do it with respect for the people they serve, and to protect the health and safety of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Every single one of them, I say, Mr. Speaker –

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: On a point of order, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader, on a point of order.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: There is such a thing in here besides decorum, and it is not to cast aspersions upon another member.

The Minister of Health made a statement, and I quote, that I said that the fire commissioner would compromise his integrity. I said no such words; none whatsoever. In fact, this has nothing to do with the integrity of the individual. I only talked about what the impact was on that individual, if he is being told what he can discuss and what he can do by this new position called a CEO under this new regime. Never – never! - did I suggest that Mr. Hollett, or anyone else who works in this public service, would compromise their integrity because they were told to do something.

You do what you are told. That is part of your duties as a professional, too, and the fact that you do what you are told does not compromise that individual's authority, and does not compromise their integrity.

My point is directed at the person who tells that individual that they have to do something. We feel that being told not to say something that is not in the public interest does not impact upon that person's professionalism, it impacts upon the government's credibility; not the individual.

MR. CHAIR: Order, please!

I will take the point of order under advisement and make a ruling later on.

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. WISEMAN: I think if you check Hansard, Mr. Chair, you will find that I did not accuse the member opposite of saying that. What I suggested was his comments were tantamount to suggesting that would happen. That is exactly what I said, Mr. Chair.

I do appreciate his standing here and making the point, though, because he has reinforced the point that I just made. He has very clearly reinforced the point that I have made, and I thank him for that. What he said is, Mr. Hollett, or others in that capacity, would not be compromised, and he is right, they would not be. They are professional in the way in which they do their jobs, they take their jobs seriously, and in their capacity, in the roles that they have, they will not be compromised.

Like I was saying, Mr. Chair, before I got interrupted, we have public health inspectors who do that same thing. We have many people who work in regulatory positions who do this type of work every single day.

I stood in this House not too long ago, during this session, and talked about a report. The Premier announced last year a task force on adverse health events. I stood in this House and commented on the release of that report and recommendations to government. Throughout our health authorities, every single person who works in a health authority in this Province will have a responsibility, irregardless of who they report to, irregardless of their position description, irregardless of what their role may be, they have a responsibility in legislation to report any incident that happens in their organization that they become aware of. There is a mechanism in place for them to complete that incident report and to file the information so it can be appropriately investigated.

It has nothing to do with who they report to. They are in no way muzzled, I say, Mr. Chair, because of where they sit within the organization. In that particular piece of regulation that we will bring in, the individuals who will make reports and report on some of these adverse events may be five or six layers down in an organization, I say, Mr. Chair. They may not be the CEO. They may not be the vice-president. They may not be a regional director. They may not be a department manager. They may not be a unit supervisor. They may be down five or six levels. The responsibility to carry out your role and your responsibility with integrity, responsibility to the people that you serve, and in the interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, does not change because of who you report to and who you do not report to.

I say, Mr. Chair, there is nothing in this legislation, nothing in this bill at all, that takes away from the independence of the fire commissioner, nor does it at all take away from the significance of that role, nor does it take away any protection, any element of protection at all, for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, whether it is Mr. Hollett, his successor, or successors ten, fifteen years down the road. Mr. Chair, not one single printed piece of paper in this bill, not one word, not one sentence, takes away from the professionalism, the integrity and the independence of judgement, the independence of action, and the protection of the public safety. No where at all is it written in this bill that it takes away in any fashion from that.

To stand in this House this evening and try to suggest that the minister would introduce a bill in this House that would somehow or other weaken the role or compromise the ability of a fire commissioner, someone who has such a significant role in the protection of public health and safety in this Province, nothing could be further from the truth, Mr. Chair.

This government, this minister, any of us on this side of the House, have nothing but the genuine best interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in our minds when we introduce a piece of legislation like this, that is intended to strengthen the mechanisms and the structures that are currently in place now to ensure that, in the event of a disaster, in the event of some emergency in this Province, we have the processes and the mechanisms in place to ensure the life and safety of the people of this Province, and to ensure that the individuals who we recruit to fill the three significant roles being addressed here tonight are capable, qualified, competent individuals with great integrity, I say, Mr. Chair.

With that said, I appreciate the opportunity to have these few words, and hopefully I have shed some light on the issues being raised by the members opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I say to the minister, you did not shed any light on this bill for me; absolutely none. In fact, I just listened to some of the arguments that you made and it was just a lot of political argumentation, Mr. Chair, and points, but absolutely nothing that clarified any of the clauses within the bill.

Let me say this before I get into the next section of the act that I want to deal with. First of all, I just cannot believe that I see members standing here this evening and comparing the fire commissioner to an inspector who would work across any department in the government system; not that inspectors are not valued and have a valuable role to play within government, because they do, and I know that. I know a lot of those inspectors. I have dealt with them right in the fish sector to the environmental sector.

Mr. Chair, the fire commissioner is not an inspector. The fire commissioner in this Province has always been held in a position of much higher authority, in a position where they were looked upon to be accountable to the people, to ensure that fire safety and life safety issues in all public institutions all across the Province were being adhered to, but also to be readily available and prepared to respond to all emergencies within this Province no matter what the nature of them, to also be there to organize – and the minister quoted it earlier – well over 300 fire departments, mostly volunteer fire departments across this Province, to ensure that proper training programs are in place for those who need the training as firefighters and in emergency preparedness in the Province, to carry out their responsibilities at a municipal level. All of these things are part of the job of the fire commissioner.

In addition to that, Mr. Chair, the fire commissioner was always the lead person to speak on fire related and fire protection issues in the Province, and was up until the spring of 2008 when the then Minister of Municipal Affairs on that side of the House of Assembly took away the authority and the power of the fire commissioner to speak freely and openly on all of these issues.

He is not an inspector like the Minister of Health alluded to in making the comparison to inspectors across the Province and across government departments. He is the fire commissioner. He is held in a position of much greater authority and has a greater level of accountability to the public. In addition to that, he has legislation enacted which explains explicitly his duties and responsibilities, and they go far beyond inspections.

Now inspections are one part of it. In fact, it was the fire commissioner in April of last year who spoke out publicly in the media, right before he was muzzled by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, indicating that inspections in the Province needed to be done more thoroughly in our school system. In fact, he felt they were inadequate and that there needed to be put in place a regulatory program for inspections. This was the fire commissioner, the same individual whom the Minister of Health refers to as an inspector. This was the fire commissioner who, in speaking about public inspections, outlined that this was a concern for him. It is a small part of the job that he does but a very important part of that job. As I said, the job entails many other responsibilities.

Under the current legislation, the scope, the nature, and the powers vested by the fire commissioner will change. They will change, as the fire commissioner will no longer act alone in conjunction with the department and the minister, but rather will answer to a CEO. That is the issue that we have been trying to make and that is the issue that the Minister of Health decided that he would engage in, in the debate this evening. We have certainly made our point with regard to that and I think that we have made our point very clearly, that is does take away the powers that were normally vested in the office of the fire commissioner of this Province, and, in fact, Mr. Chair, reduces the fire commissioner to a director level position within the government service and the public service.

The fire commissioner was never, ever viewed as an inspector and never, ever viewed as a director at the equivalent level of directors in other departments. The fire commissioner was always viewed, Mr. Chair, to have vested more powers, more responsibilities and a great level of accountability for the office that he held, and that certainly has changed and will change with this act.

The other point that I want to make, Mr. Chair, moving on - I know we are still on clause 1, but I think I will take the opportunity to move to a couple of other clauses here now.

First of all, under section 2 of the act, Mr. Chair, right after clause 1 - I guess it would be clause 2 - when it indicates the definitions: In this act it says, under (n), "local assistant" means (i) a fire chief or other person in a fire department appointed under section 6, ..."

Mr. Chairman, we go to section 6 of the act and it talks about the local assistants, and I just defined what they were. The local assistants are those people who are appointed as fire chiefs and so on, or the head of a fire department. It says here in section 6.(2) "… the appointment of a person as a local assistant or special assistant under the authority of the previous Act shall cease, unless that person is appointed as a local assistant under the authority of this Act."

I would like to ask the minister: How does this impact those well over 300 fire departments in the Province that today already have fire chiefs appointed under the new act? How does that now impact them with these new clauses that are coming in? Will they automatically just be reappointed or will the selection of that be left to the fire commissioner's office, or will there be another process by which they are appointed? How will this be viewed? Because, according to this, on the coming into force of this particular piece of legislation, currently every fire chief out there in all of these 300 and some odd fire departments in the Province will no longer cease to come under the previous act and they will have to be reappointed. That is what it is saying in the new legislation.

I would like to ask the minister if she can clarify that for me, and if she can provide some explanation as to how all of these fire chiefs in all of these departments will be impacted and how that legislation will come into play.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I will have to try and get that information for the member later this evening. I do not have that available right now.

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I just want to stand briefly with regard to the bill that we are debating in Committee stage.

I want to state for the record that when I spoke on this bill today I came to various sections within the bill and I said that I was in total agreement with a lot of the sections within the bill and had no problem voting for it, but I guess when you get debate back and forth across this hon. House from time to time, and different clauses are picked apart and looked into in more detail, I guess you have different feelings about some portions of it.

I was not planning on getting up, but after I heard the Minister of Health and Community Services I said I have to get up for a few minutes because he went into, I guess, his comments about how the fire commissioner provides direction to the fire departments.

There was no one on this side who had anything negative to say against the fire departments, and I can assure you that each and every fire department that I have ever been involved with, not as a firefighter but working on their behalf, they have had nothing but the greatest praise for the fire commissioner.

He mentioned about the independence of the fire commissioner, and that is what I want to get into, Mr. Chair. As we know, the fire departments that we all represent do a tremendous job and both bills, Bill 59 and Bill 60, like we said earlier, both of them are very similar because the firefighters of this Province take part in not only fire protection, fire prevention, but also the emergency services level. I guess where I want to go, because we hear so much back and forth, is whether this legislation muzzles the fire commissioner or not. I just want to touch on an issue that I mentioned this afternoon. I do not know if anyone heard me when I said it or not, but it was prior to this legislation coming before the hon. House. It goes back to a training facility that was built, a regional training facility in the town, the municipality, of Bay Roberts. That facility is, I guess, a prize to each and every firefighter out there. It is a training facility where they can go from time to time and they take in the fire departments from Trinity-Bay de Verde and the Conception Bay North area.

When that facility was constructed, it was through the good graces of the former Minister of Municipal Affairs. Funding became available and this structure was built, an excellent structure. It came to the point they were very proud of it, to the point where they had opening ceremonies and the families of three former fire chiefs, who were deceased, Mr. Wood , Mr. Laing, and Mr. North , the facility, they put the three names together and they named the facility in honour of them. Each and every MHA for that particular area, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the fire commissioner, they were all invited to this event.

The story I am telling you was told to me by the fire chief from Bay Roberts. It is not words that I am coming up with; it is what I was told. Anyway, the ceremony was all planned. The families came, the fire departments, civic people, municipal leaders right throughout, they came to this facility for the opening ceremonies. As it got closer, the responses came back that hardly anyone could attend. On the day that the ceremony was to take place, the fire commissioner, in my understanding, was on his way back from Clarenville when they received an e-mail or a message from him saying: I would love to be able to be there with the firefighters because I fought for them to get this facility, I was a part of it, but I have been told that if I go there, if I attend this function, I cannot wear my uniform and I cannot even bring greetings.

I cannot say if it was the minister or what official within the department sent that message through to him, but I have to say, if that is not muzzling somebody before the legislation even came into effect, I do not know what muzzling is. Mr. Chair, those are the facts. Those are the facts, and if anyone wants to verify it, they can contact the fire chief in Bay Roberts. The same gentleman is there today that was there at that time.

I think that is unfortunate. I think that is unfortunate. Honourable members now back and forth are looking at the possibilities of what is in the legislation where the fire commissioner will have to bow down to the CEO, and I think that is unfortunate because the fire commissioner, our present fire commissioner and the former fire commissioner, were individuals who spoke out. They did not speak out against governments; I don't care what political stripe was in power. They spoke out on the issues, the concerns of the people and what they thought should be done to correct issues, whether it is in schools or hospitals or wherever, whether it was floods. They did speak out on behalf of the people and I have to say, Mr. Chair, I believe that the fire commissioner was muzzled long before this piece of legislation came to this hon. House, and it is unfortunate now that we believe, with the rules and regulations that are in place, it sure seems to cement what I firmly believe, because that did happen, Mr. Chair.

With that, I will just take my place. What I said today when I spoke about the duties of the fire commissioner, I made it very clear then that I was hoping that the rules that were put in place would not affect the fire commissioner from acting the way that he has in the past, but apparently that is what we see unfolding, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much.

CHAIR (Collins): The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I just want to comment again.

I have to go back because my hon. colleague across the way is leaving the impression that the fire commissioner has lost all of his powers, he does not have a voice, and I guess he is devaluing the fire commissioner. That is the way I am taking it right now.

Just to talk about the role of the fire commissioner, the role of the fire commissioner is to advise the minister, the municipalities and industry, with respect to establishing fire departments and the requirements for organizing and equipping these fire departments for trained firefighting personnel and evaluating their firefighting capabilities. That is a very, very important role, Mr. Chairman, with regard to the fire commissioner. To say here in this hon. House that the fire commissioner is muzzled is nothing further from the truth and is as insulting as it can get.

This legislation tonight that we are debating, and we are actually debating about updating the language from the current act, or modernizing it, we are actually making a more comprehensive approach and now it is being rewritten to reflect how Fire Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador and 300 fire departments do business in this Province, and to promote effective fire protection throughout the Province.

Mr. Chairman, I have to take exception to the fact that my hon. colleagues over there keep harping on this, that the fire commissioner is muzzled.

I am going back to the general public again to talk about the overview of this act, because I want to make it quite clear that the act provides the means for the provincial fire services to improve on fire protection, reporting and departmental administration. The legislation provides the framework for this to happen, Mr. Chairman, and it is important that the legislation is comprehensive and effective.

I cannot state enough here tonight that this act is user-friendly and it is much more beneficial, I guess, to Fire Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador and the agency. The agency is working in conjunction with all of the fire departments to advise them on their fire and emergency measures and disaster plans.

When this agency was formed in 2007 they took a line-by-line review of the act. They addressed codes, they addressed regulations, the fire department administration. These were the number of things. In the act, Mr. Chairman, they also found some gaps in the old act in that review. For that reason, it was clear that the act needed a more clear, modern, comprehensive approach. Mr. Chairman, this act does just that.

When you look at the new act now, and we talk about the duties, the City of St. John's Regional Fire Department wanted a change, and they have more autonomy now. The provision is there for that, and they have the key ability and the capacity to do that. There is no other municipality that has applied for that provision under the act, but the City of St. John's had a very keen desire and an interest to have this put in the new act .

The other thing that is clearly outlined in this act, Mr. Chairman, is the recording and the reporting of fires. Under the old act there was no provision there to actually put in a report to the fire commissioner and, because of that, the fire commissioner was written up by the AG because he did not have all of the information pertaining to all the fire loss in the Province. Under the new act the fire departments will now be required to report their fire loss to the fire commissioner, so they will meet that requirement.

As my hon. colleague said tonight, she wondered about substance because he did have a report and she thought the substance was very good. Well, we are expecting the substance to be even better, with the new reporting in that act, Mr. Chairman.

The other thing that I don't like to talk about, but I think it is the only way to actually acknowledge it, is fire deaths. We need to send a strong message of prevention of fires. Just in the past, from 2002-2007, we had fourteen tragic deaths by fire: eleven males, three females, and one child. That is horrific, Mr. Chairman, to have this number of deaths, and just from January to November of this year we have had twelve related fire deaths, just this year alone.

So, we need to talk about saving lives. We need to put emphasis on public education, and this will happen, Mr. Chairman. The fire department personnel will be going out and talking to schools.

One of the programs is a really good program, Learn Not to Burn. I experienced that before I came to this House, actually; because, being a mayor, I had them come in and do an education with the children on Municipal Awareness Day. The children found that very interesting, with the fire personnel and a demonstration model to tell them how to escape a burning house. They were very, very interested in that, so that is a very worthwhile program as well, Mr. Chairman.

We have had a significant change, a right of entry. In the fire prevention act it speaks to it, but it is buried. It is hard to find. Currently, the old act was silent on warrants but now there is a provision in this new act for warrants. It was appropriate to review the rights of entry and to provide a clarification.

We talked a lot tonight about the reporting structure because in the current act the fire commissioner reported directly to the minister. In the new act, he will have to report now to the CEO of the Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador. That is a change. We have, as my colleague said earlier tonight, three positions there. We have the CEO, the director and we have a fire commissioner. I am sorry if I did not make it clear enough tonight about the three positions, but I did clarify it.

I would like to say that this new position added will be advertised in the new year and we will outline the criteria for there. We will be expecting to get the expertise that we are looking for and the best personnel that we can get for the department. After all, Mr. Chairman, it is a team effort throughout, not only the fire department, through all of government who work together collectively as a team. Having said that, I can only see the fire departments and the Fire and Emergency Services - Newfoundland and Labrador having a very good working relationship.

Mr. Chairman, this act has been reorganized and has been restructured. I would think now under this new act we will find it friendlier, more user-friendly and that we will see the outcome - the changes that are outlined in this act are very, very good changes. It will reflect the current practice and the terminology with fire protection services in the Province.

Part I in the act talks about administration. The fire commissioner administered the act under direction of the CEO. We go on to talk about allowing the fire commissioner to delegate duties in writing to local assistants; recognizing the role of the fire services in emergency services response; include a provision to link the fire commissioner's duties to the ESA to perform emergency response and coordination. That alone is the administration in Part I.

In Part II we have the Adoption and Enforcement of Codes and Standards. It provides for the minister to prescribe by regulation standards for the fire protection and to adopt such codes or standards from another jurisdiction. It allows the minister, by regulation, to exempt a municipality from the application of adopted codes by delegating the authority to the municipality and codes must meet or beat provincial codes and be enforced by the exempted municipality. So that is just what happens in Part II of the act, just a bit of a description of it.

Powers of Entry, Part III - in section three where it permits entries without warrants and entries authorized by warrants depending on the circumstances. It goes on to speak to the entries during emergency fires or after fires for investigation purposes. Entry on adjacent lands and entry for the purpose of assisting fire and life safety -

CHAIR: Order, please!

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

MS WHALEN: By leave, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIR: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

CHAIR: By leave.

MS WHALEN: Should entry be denied provisions are included to obtain warrants; allows for the fire commissioner to call for assistance when entering lands or premises for immediate threat to life or investigations and for entry on adjacent lands for emergency purposes. At the request of an owner or an occupant, a person who enters lands or premises under Part III must identify themselves and explain the purpose. So that just outlines the power of entry, Mr. Chairman.

In Part IV, Orders of the Fire Commissioner following an inspection under Part III includes provisions for various orders from the fire commissioner. An example includes closure orders, capability orders, and closure for over capacity, fire lane orders, no smoking for fire protection orders, gas pump orders, and orders to discontinue the service of electricity. Ministerial review of orders is included, filing ministerial review appeals to the court permitted. So that just goes on to talk a little bit about the act and what the different descriptions are in the act from Part I, II, and III.

Mr. Chairman, I think I have taken all of my time, and I thank the hon. members for giving me leave. So on that, I will conclude.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Chairman, the last time I stood I thought it was going to be my last time for the night but I guess this is my first time for this morning.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to go back to the minister on the comment that she made. I want to make it very clear that when I stood on this piece of legislation today I was nothing only complementary to what was in the legislation. The only question I asked was about where there is no fire protection officer for the Coast of Labrador. I also picked up on the point of 911, that was brought forward by the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

I only want to make one other comment, and this will be my last comment let me assure you. I hope the minister -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Unless, of course.

MR. BUTLER: Unless! I just want to repeat for the minister because she got up and said that what I had said was very insulting, and I take that to heart because what I said was a true story.

When a fire commissioner is invited to a function and is told that he is not allowed to attend in his capacity as fire commissioner, don't wear your uniform and don't get up and say anything. That to me is muzzled at its best, and that is where I was coming from. Not to insult anybody, but I have to say it again, that is the facts. It was reported to me by the fire chief of Bay Roberts on the day that this ceremony was to take place and the fire commissioner wanted to be there because he was a part of it from day one, helped to get the funding for the building of that training facility. Mr. Chairman, that is where I am coming from. Whether you call it muzzled or whatever, but I think it is. That is the only comment I want to make.

I say to the minister again, if that is insulting, it is not intended to be insulting to anybody. That is not my style, but I have to say that is what happened to our fire commissioner in his capacity. He e-mailed our fire chief and said: I had word that I can attend but I can't come in my official capacity with uniform or bring greetings to you people today.

With that, Mr. Chair, I will take my place.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I just want to respond to my colleague. She asked me a question under section 6 of the local assistants, and this does not talk about removing the fire chiefs. It speaks about the fire commissioner appointing someone in the local area to help him carry out his work. He can appoint a local fire chief or someone else on the fire department and he may appoint an RNC or RCMP officer. It is about making fire safety better. That was the question she asked me earlier about local assistants.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I guess my questions then would be - now that the minister has found the response to the section I was questioning under local assistants, maybe she can give me some clarity as to what local assistants are in terms of the role that the fire commissioner carries out because I am not aware that there are local assistants already in our system that we have. This looks like it would be a new addition. If there are local assistants already in the system, do they operate under a different name? Because I am not quite aware of what their job would be, if they are someone different than what the fire chief would be in an area because what it says here, "Duties of local assistants. 7. Where directed by the fire commissioner, a local assistant shall (a) assist the fire commissioner in carrying out his or her duties under this Act; and (b) investigate and report to the fire commissioner the cause, origin, extent and circumstance of every fire occurring within the territorial jurisdiction of the local assistant." Also it says report "(i) where fatalities or injuries have occurred to a person, or (ii) in which property has been destroyed or damaged."

I am not sure, I am not clear from the minister about these local assistants because to me it sounds like the fire departments, the fire brigades and the fire chiefs. It sounds like it is those individuals, but I am understanding from the minister now that that in not the case, that these are different people who are appointed by the Fire Commissioner's Office. So I am going to need some greater clarity around this because it is confusing. What you are saying and what it says in the act is very different.

CHAIR (T. Osborne): The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, the definition in the act of local assistants is the same as in the old act. It is the same in the new act, there is no difference there.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Are they referring to the fire departments and fire brigades, minister? Is that who they are referring to?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: It actually speaks about the fire commissioner appointing someone in the local area to help him carry out his duties, like promotions or the promotion of fire safety, that sort of thing.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Chairman, I just want a clear answer. Is it the fire chiefs that they are referring to with the local fire departments or is this another position? Is it one in the same or two different things?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, they can be chiefs, firefighters, RNC or the RCMP; any of those people that he wants to appoint to carry out his work.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Again, I will ask. From the legislation I know that they can be a fire chief, an RNC officer, or an RCMP officer, but I have to ask: Is the local assistant different from the fire chief that operates the local fire department? Because as it is right now, if there was a fire to take place in Mary's Harbour, for example, where I live, I know that the fire chief would be the first person, and his team, on the job. I know that that fire chief would complete all the reports as it related to that fire and submit them to the Fire Commissioner's Office, but under this legislation it says that this will be the duty of local assistants. I want to know if they are one in the same or two different people, individuals or groups. I do not know, but I am getting the impression from the minister that they are two different people, but in the act it kind of reads to me that it would be one in the same.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, yes, they can be the same but they are essentially classified as an assistant to the fire commissioner. So the answer is yes, they can be.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I do not know, I just get more confused every time that there is an answer provided.

Mr. Chairman, the only thing I really want to know is that at the end of the day will the local assistants that files the reports on fires, files the reports on accidents that they respond to, are they the fire chiefs who operate the local fire departments in the communities or are they different people that are appointed by the fire commissioner? Very simple, very quick! I do not want to hear that they could be RNC or RCMP. That is only in the act to ensure that those particular individuals own legislation do not override what is in this act. If you know the answer, why don't you get up and give it to me?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, they can carry out the fire commissioner's role if they are appointed local assistants. That is the answer to her question.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Finally, Mr. Chairman. You know, I do not stand up here and ask all of these questions on the different sections of the act because I already know all the answers. There are members over there shouting from their armchairs again the responses. If they know the answers, in the essence of time and the hour, stand up in your seat and give it to us. Don't have me stand up four or five times asking the same question while everybody is nodding from their armchair and claims to know the answer. It is very frustrating. This is serious business. This legislation is going to be enacted in law. It is going to determine how fire brigades, departments and the fire commissioner's office operate in this Province on a go-forward basis. There is no need of playing games. If you know the answer, stand up and give the answer. Don't sit there and nod and wink and toss in your armchair.

Mr. Chairman, finally, after five attempts again, we are getting somewhere. Finally, what the minister is saying is that these fire departments in the local area, that the fire chiefs can be appointed as local assistants by the fire commissioner's office. In doing so, then they would be the persons who are responsible for filing the reports in the cases of fires or accidents, as opposed to who would be the fire chief in that community at that particular time, because it does not necessarily mean that the fire chiefs will be appointed, although there might be an active volunteer fire brigade; that is what I am understanding from her. The fire commissioner could choose to appoint someone else to act in that capacity, and all we are asking is clarification to understand that is the case, because right now it is my understanding that it is the fire departments that do this work and not necessarily someone else who is appointed. I understand that in this clause under section 6 there would be the opportunity for the fire commissioner to appoint someone other than the fire chief in a local region to carry out that responsibility.

That brings be back to my original question of about an hour ago in which I asked - under section 6, when this act comes into force, any persons who are acting right now in the capacity as local assistants or special assistants under the authority of the previous act shall cease. My question to the minister at that time was: How is the transfer going to be done? Will they automatically be reappointed or will the commissioner's office select other individuals to fill those positions? As a result of this, what will be the transition?

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I know it is now 12:20 in the morning and I find that there is a constant barrage of questions back and forth the floor, but I do believe that the hon. member may require a briefing. If she would like, I will arrange to have my officials sit with her tomorrow and get her all of the answers that right now, at this late hour in the night, we cannot seem to get back and forth the floor here, so I am offering my hon. colleague across the floor a briefing tomorrow by my officials, to answer some of these questions that she has outlined over and over again this evening.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I had several questions, as well, geared around clause 6, but, given the minister's comments, if the intention is for the Government House Leader to remove it from Committee at this point until we get the briefing that is fine by us, too, or I can ask the questions that I had so that you have them for the briefers in preparation for tomorrow, whatever way you want to do it.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, at this time I think that if we are going to ask for a briefing tomorrow, for the record, I guess, if there are questions that need to be asked, we can certainly make sure that they are documented here this evening, that the minister has the questions, understands what needs to be presented, and once the members opposite have certainly indicated that they have asked all the questions, there is no further information required, we can certainly close debate in Committee on this particular bill and move to another one.

I certainly would not want to shut down the debate or make sure that their questions that they need prepared for tomorrow have not been addressed.

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Just for clarification again, I have no problems in saying what my questions are. I have them prepared and I want to state them so that the minister can have the people in her department give me the answer. I just am not clear on where the Government House Leader is coming from again. If I give the questions, are you suggesting, then, that – because we can continue debate all night if you want on this but we are not going to close the debate in Committee until we get the answers. That is not fair either. The question is not just to get a briefing. If we have a briefing - and the minister has an obligation in Committee to give the responses. It is not a case of saying pose our questions. With all due respect, it is not a case of saying pose our questions, we will get a briefing for you tomorrow, and let's close off Committee.

The purpose of Committee in details is to ask the questions. We are asking the questions. If the minister wants to have a break or whatever to get the answers, we have no problem with that. We will attend the briefing in the morning. We will state our questions here now and we will dispose of this bill tomorrow afternoon in Committee in quick order. That is all we are suggesting here, if that is what they want to do, but we are not prepared to close off debate on it just because we are going to get a briefing.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, just for clarification, what I would like to do in Committee is, as long as there are questions that need to be answered, that have not been answered here this evening, that may be answered in the briefing tomorrow, I want to make sure that the Opposition have ample time to make sure that their questions are asked, they are recorded in Hansard. We will then move to another bill this evening, because we have other bills that we are going to move through Committee this evening, and that, if there is a briefing tomorrow and they attend the briefing, we will return to this matter. We will not close it off as in close debate. We will certainly make sure they have the opportunity to put any questions they have, that they felt have not been answered or that could be answered in the briefing tomorrow. They can all be a matter of record tonight. The officials who will provide the briefing tomorrow will certainly know what they need to address.

I certainly would not want to have Municipal Affairs provide a briefing that was not thorough, that was not answering the questions, so I think we certainly, out of all due respect, will make sure that the questions - the Opposition can continue to go through the clauses to indicate what questions they have. They will be recorded. The briefing will address it, and we will come back; we will continue this in Committee. We will not end it so that we come out this evening that the next step is third reading. I certainly respect the fact that before we close it off in Committee these issues have to be addressed, so we will continue with this one until I feel, or the Opposition indicates, they have no further questions on this particular bill and then we will make sure that we move to another one.

We will return to this matter so that we can conclude it so that they can still - despite the briefing, I agree that they will still have the opportunity to bring their questions to the floor of the House. This is where they need to be answered. The briefing will probably assist in some of the questions they have here this evening, but it does not negate the fact that we will come back to Committee, we will continue the debate, and we will continue it until I feel, as Government House Leader, that every opportunity is given for the Opposition to have their issues addressed, to have them as a matter of record and have the answers.

We certainly do not want to move this through in any manner that would look like we do not want to provide the answers, we do not want to have an open debate, so the questions can continue to be posed this evening. Anything that the minister is going to answer this evening, we will certainly have time to do that. Other matters that will be referred to the briefing can happen. We will then move on to another bill but we will return to Committee to make sure that it is still open, transparent debate here in the Legislature before we then close Committee and certainly move to third reading.

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Maybe, with all due respect, too, if we had understood each other, that we were going to be in Committee tonight, it would have made a difference to the level of preparation that the Opposition is bringing to this debate. Put that on the record. We want to talk about what the arrangements were, Mr. Chairman. First of all, let's talk about what was agreed upon, if you want to go down that road. We were not to be here in Committee tonight on any of these, for the record.

There are questions that the Minister of Municipal Affairs was already asked earlier tonight about what the role of the Director of Emergency Services was going to be. The reason I asked that question, and this ties in with the briefing again – and, with all due respect, your answer was not very comprehensive and that is something that I think should be addressed in the briefing - when we got into asking these questions about the different positions of CEO, director and fire commissioner, we finally figured out there were three people, and who was currently filling this role, and what your intentions were later.

Maybe we could address that, too, because nowhere in Bill 60 that we are debating is there reference to Director of Emergency Services. That is what got confusing when the question was asked. We had a briefing on Bill 59; we had a briefing on Bill 60. When we stood up here tonight to talk about Bill 60 there was no reference in this Bill 60 to the director. That is what was causing the questions to come from the Leader of the NDP and ourselves saying: What is the tie-in between these two acts and the director? That is all. It was a simple question and we just asked for some clarification. We would like to have that as part of the briefing as well. That is why the question, as well, if you look at this section again - and you talk about time constraints folks. You get all of this legislation thrown on you, and we only have four people over here trying to prepare for some kind of informed debate on these things and get this underway. There are times when we just do not have the resources and the abilities to get every single section of different acts gone through - that is the point we are trying to make - but that does not take away from the fact that we need to do it.

Under Bill 60 again, when we talk about Part I, we talk about the administration part. We dealt with section 3 about the fire commissioner. We have gone through section 4, which outlines duties and responsibilities of the fire commissioner; that is quite a lengthy one. Then, in section 5 we talked about emergency response and co-ordination, and now the Leader of the Opposition started on this section 6, asking questions about the local assistants. Again, it is not coming clear as to who they are. The definition, again, sounds complicated when you look at it and that is why I am asking the question because it is complicated, I guess. In the Definitions section 2.(n)(i) it says local assistant means, "(i) a fire chief or other person in a fire department appointed under section 6, or (ii) a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

When you read section 6 it talks about an assistant, singular. It does not talk about assistants. It talks about one, whereas the definition seems to indicate that you could have several. All we are asking is: Are there going to be several local assistants?

The other thing is, if you go down in section 6.(3), when they talk about it being an RCMP or an RNC officer, it says, "Every officer and every member of (a) the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary; and (b) the Royal Canadian Mounted Police except where the fire commissioner otherwise directs, in writing, shall..." - and that is mandatory - "…be a local assistant…."

That is fine. In other words, if you are in Burgeo and you are a member of the RCMP, and there are six of you there, according to my reading of this section it says automatically, because you are a member of the RCMP, you shall be a local assistant. That is my reading of it. That is pretty plain, on the surface. So, if we have six RCMP officers in the detachment in Burgeo they are all, under section 6.(3), local assistants.

Now, I do not think that was the intent of this legislation, to have every RCMP officer in a particular detachment be a local assistant, which raised the question – which is where we are coming from, through the Leader of the Opposition's questions - how is this going to be done? How many are we going to have?

We know what we are looking at. We are looking at somebody, it seems, other than the fire chief, who is going to be the man on the ground for the fire commissioner. That seems to be what the intent is, and it seems to be that it is going to be one or the other; it is going to be the fire chief or it is going to be someone else. That is what the Definitions section says, but when you read subsection (3) that is not how it comes out, folks. It looks like we could have every member in a community be a local assistant, because it says shall. It does not say maybe. It does not say a police officer may be a local assistant. It says he shall be a local assistant.

That is what raises the problem: how you get them, how many do you have, and is that right? That does not seem to make sense. Why would you have four members in Burgeo, in the RCMP, all be local assistants? If we are talking about reorganization and streamlining and co-ordination, we are getting the opposite of what we wanted.

What we are doing here is, we are fragmenting.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: I say to the Minister of Health, it is not a case of – this is the purpose of Committee. The purpose of Committee is that, if something is not clear, we try to clarify it. That is what we are trying to do here.

Now, to further complicate the matter – I say to the minister, just follow through now on what I am saying. Just revert again to section 6.(1). Let's go back to section 6.(1) again. It says, "The fire commissioner may…"- it is not mandatory; he may do it or he may not do it - "…in writing, for the term specified in the appointment, appoint the fire chief of a fire department of a municipality or another person in that fire department as a local assistant."

Now, that complicates it again. We have the fire chief, or he can have someone else in that fire department as his local assistant; but, in addition to that, he shall - every police officer shall - be a local assistant. Now, you cannot get rid of that. That is the law. You cannot get rid of that once we create it, and all we are asking for here, and this is the tenor of the questioning to the minister, is just clarify it for us.

If it said may, under the RCMP and the police section, we would say, well, that is fine too, because what he is saying is that, even though an RNC or an RCMP is not a member of a police department, he could be appointed as the local assistant. I have no problem with that. All I am saying is, by putting the word shall in there to make it mandatory, he has automatically designated all of these local assistants, and that is not the intent, I would not think.

He wants to be able to say, I can use – he is saying, I can use the fire chief, I can use someone else in the department or, under subsection (3) he is saying if there is a police officer there and I want that police officer to be the assistant then I can have that person, too. Unfortunately, he is saying shall.

I say to the minister, I read (2)(b), "…the appointment of a person as a local assistant or special assistant under the authority of the previous Act shall cease, unless that person is appointed as a local assistant under the authority of this Act."

That does not change what I am saying. What is happening under this act, Mr. Chairman, is that all police officers in every community shall be local assistants.

That is a legitimate question, Minister. That is the purpose of the briefing tomorrow. If it is a legal issue, all we are saying is just clarify it, but right now it says –

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MS WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I just want to go back to the question that my hon. colleague posed there, and that is indeed the intent. All RCMP around the Province would be local assistants for different purposes. The fire commissioner cannot be in all communities every day.

If, for argument's sake, two fires broke out, then the fire commissioner can appoint two local assistants. So, indeed, what he is referring to is right; the intent is that all RCMP around the Province would be local assistants.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman

I just have a couple of more issues that I want to put on the record for the briefing tomorrow, and they are pertaining to the latter sections, and section 28 in particular, in Part V of the act. That section again is related to section 6 which we are debating now, and it is the part of the premise as to the reason I raise the piece around legal assistants, because I sense there is somewhat of an overlap and that was the reason for the clarity between what the role of the fire departments was and what the role of the legal assistants was, and their reporting mechanism that they were obliged to participate in. I guess that was the reason that I am providing all of these questions and seeking clarification, so tomorrow in the briefing I will be looking for some clarification in terms of how section 28 will work, and what responsibilities will be of the fire departments and the fire chiefs in cases where there are legal assistants as appointed and allowed for under section 6.

So, the briefing I need is pertaining mostly to those two sections but also I would like to get some clarification on previous sections that I raised tonight with regard to the autonomy of the fire commissioner and their responsibility and accountability to the CEO.

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

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

I am interested in the latter part – well, all of it but the latter part in particular - that the Leader of the Official Opposition just mentioned. That is, I do want further clarification on the role and responsibilities of the fire commissioner, and the relationship with the CEO. I would also like, because the first briefing did it this way, tomorrow I would like to bring in Bill 59 and look at the triangle, as it were: CEO, Director of Emergency Services and the fire commissioner, and try to get clarification on that whole set of relationships.

A bill, "An Act Respecting Fire Protection Services In The Province." ( Bill 60)

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, because we anticipate we will come back to Committee following some more information on this particular bill, I would like to leave that bill and call Bill 62, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 62, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Mineral Act." (Bill 62)

CLERK: Clause 1.

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: Carried.

On motion, clause 1 carried.

CLERK: Clauses 2 to 19 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 to 19 inclusive carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 19 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 Mineral 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 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: Mr. Chair, I would like to call Bill 65, An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 65, An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Forestry Act No. 2." (Bill 65)

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: 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 Forestry Act No. 2.

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 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: Mr. Chair, I would like to call a bill, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants, Bill 69.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 69, An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants.

A bill, "An Act Respecting Chartered Accountants." (Bill 69)

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 49 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 to 49 inclusive carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 49 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 Respecting Chartered Accountants.

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 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: Mr. Chair, I would like to call a bill, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council, Bill 70.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 70, An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council.

A bill, "An Act To Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council." (Bill 70)

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 28 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 to 28 inclusive carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 28 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 Establish The Newfoundland And Labrador Research And Development Council.

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 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: Mr. Chair, I would like to call the bill, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2. (Bill 71)

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 71, An Act To Amend The Rooms Act No. 2.

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 18 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 to 18 inclusive 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 Rooms Act No. 2.

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 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: Mr. Chair, I would like to call the bill, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants. (Bill 72)

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 72, An Act Respecting Certified General Accountants.

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 49 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 to 49 inclusive carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 49 inclusive 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 Respecting Certified General Accountants.

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 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: Mr. Chair, I move that the Committee rise and report Bills 52, 62, 65, 69, 70, 71 and 72 and report progress on Bill 60 and ask leave to sit again.

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise and report Bills 52, 62, 65, 70, 69, 71 and 72 and report progress on Bill 60.

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 Deputy Speaker.

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report Bills 52, 62, 65, 70, 69, 71 and 72 without amendment. Further, they have asked me to report progress on Bill 60.

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 Bills 52, 62, 65, 69, 70, 71, 72 and progress on Bill 60, passed without amendment.

When shall this report be received?

MS BURKE: Now.

MR. SPEAKER: Now. When shall the said bills be read a third time?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, report received and adopted, bills ordered read a third time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. the Minister of Natural Resources, that the House do now adjourn.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow being Tuesday.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m.