April 11, 2011                             HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS           Vol. XLVI  No. 13


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Today, the Chair would like to welcome twenty-five members of the retired and semi-retired professional business people's group who are part of a group known as the Probus Club. The group is accompanied by chartered members Ms Dorothy Rockwood, Ms Judy Dale and the club co-ordinator Mr. Doug Wells.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: The following members' statements will be heard: the hon. the Member for the District of Ferryland; the hon. the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North; the hon. the Member for the District of Labrador West.

The hon. the Member for the District of Ferryland.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to recognize an outstanding young person from my district, Raylene Mackey of the Goulds. Raylene recently participated in the Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador Pageant where she placed in the top ten and was awarded Miss Teen Friendship.

Raylene is fourteen years old, a Grade 9 student at St. Kevin's Junior High. She excels in academics and is an honour student with a ninety-six average. She is involved in singing, performing, song writing, plays several instruments, public speaking and is involved in sports. Raylene has won various awards at singing competitions with the Kiwanis Music Festival as well as public speaking. On Thursday, March 1, I attended the speak-off at the Goulds Junior High where Raylene took first place.

Mr. Speaker, I also had the opportunity to see and hear Raylene perform at various locations in my district and she indeed a talented young lady and an excellent performer, who has already released a CD of her own music. Raylene has won singing competitions, public speaking awards, has placed at school heritage and science fairs, has numerous soccer medals, and has participated in several golf competitions.

She is a member of the church choir, Allied Youth, school leadership group, church youth group, altar girl, breakfast club helper, member of St. Kevin's Beautification Club, community food bank, tutors kids in French and English and has participated in school concerts, singing at senior citizen's homes, performed in Christmas galas and St. Patrick's galas as well. Her many accomplishments at such a young age are to be admired. Raylene is an exceptional young lady who is a role model to all of our youth.

I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating Raylene on her numerous accomplishments and wish her well in her future endeavours.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate the winners of the 2010 Best in Business Awards in Mount Pearl. The twelfth annual awards banquet was recently held at the Reid Community Centre in Mount Pearl and it recognizes businesses and business owners alike for their dedication and commitment to the community at large.

Mr. Speaker, each year the business community is recognized by the Mount Pearl Chamber of Commerce for various reasons. Dedication to community involvement, great customer service, innovation in business and new business enterprises are some of the categories considered this past year.

I would like to take a moment to congratulate the following winners: Scotiabank, both in Mount Pearl Square and Centennial Square locations on their award for Community Spirit; AbbyShot Clothiers for the Innovation Award; Donovans Irving Restaurant for the Small Business Award; Collision Clinic for the Outstanding Business of the Year Award; Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union for the Customer Service Excellence Award; and Rose Parmenter from A & W Mount Pearl for the Employee of the Year Award.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating the winners of the 2010 Best in Business Awards, as well as the Mount Pearl Chamber of Commerce for hosting this wonderful event. Special thanks to the organizers and volunteers who make this annual event possible.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to extend congratulations to Alf Parsons of Labrador City, one of the finest athletes of our Province and, indeed, our country has ever produced. Alf, who was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, turned sixty this year and continues to be a tough competitor at the provincial, national and world level in cross-country skiing.

Alf has competed in his age category at World Cup events in Europe and North American for the past number of years and has returned home with bronze and silver medals, but up to now gold had always eluded him.

Last month, Alf competed in a series of races at the Master's World Cup held in Vernon, British Columbia. In his first race, a fifteen kilometre event, he led the way from the start but due to a tactical error in a sprint for the finish line he ended up in fourth place, just 2.3 seconds back of first place.

His next race, he competed as a member of the four-man Canadian team in the relay race and while the team finished in fourth place, Alf's five kilometre leg of the race was faster than all other skiers from the eight top countries which competed.

Alf's final race of the competition was the gruelling thirty kilometre freestyle event. He was up against sixty-four competitors from ten countries. Alf started out fast with the front pack in what would be a very tactical race with a lot of jockeying back and forth for the lead. Determined not to repeat the mistake of his first race, Alf broke away from the pack on a steep uphill in the final lap, and to the cheers of hundreds of spectators charged across the finish line 5.6 seconds ahead of his closest competitor to take the gold medal.

His finishing time of one hour, twenty-eight minutes for thirty kilometres works out to a speed of 2.9 minutes per kilometre, or 20.3 kilometres per hour, certainly an amazing feat for a sixty-year-old.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating Alf Parsons on this his latest in a long list of sports accomplishments. Truly a phenomenal athletic!

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, National Wildlife Week is being celebrated from April 10-16 and highlights the importance of wildlife to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It also provides an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of healthy wildlife populations and habitat to our social and economic well-being.

Newfoundland and Labrador's wildlife resources are at the heart of the Province's heritage and culture. Our vast landscape is diverse, as our wildlife species that inhabit it. From the largest big game animals to insects and rare plants, the Department of Environment and Conservation is responsible for managing and conserving Newfoundland and Labrador's biodiversity and wildlife resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Good wildlife management starts with good research, Mr. Speaker. Studying wildlife interactions, disturbances, populations and habitat use forms the basis for sound wildlife management decisions. Without a clear understanding of the biology of our wildlife species, we cannot plan appropriate management strategies. This week is a time not only to celebrate the value of our wildlife resources, but also the many individuals who are involved in the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and habitat in our Province.

During National Wildlife Week, provinces and territories partner with the Canadian Wildlife Federation to inform and educate the public on environmental and wildlife issues. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Environment and Conservation is hosting a number of activities throughout the Province this week. Staff of my department in Corner Brook and the Salmonier Nature Park is launching a number of events for individuals and schools across the Province, focusing on wildlife species and their importance to the environment. A list of these activities is available on the department's Web site and has also been published in local papers.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage the residents of our Province to participate in National Wildlife Week activities, and join with me in celebrating this very important week to Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement and to say, truly, that it is very important that we have a healthy wildlife population and habitat for future generations to come. Also, he mentions the value of our wildlife resources. We know many of the outfitters throughout this Province, the tremendous benefits that they make to bring tourists in to take part in the various hunts, which benefit our economy.

Mr. Speaker, it is good to see that the staff with the department is working in conjunction with National Wildlife Week and taking part in various functions with the school children and otherwise. It is always good to visit the Salmonier Nature Park, and I am sure they will enjoy this again this year.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say to the minister that only recently we heard a senior environmental consultant mentioning environmental assessments and that the deadlines are not met. We hear talk of the Auditor General referencing the many contaminated sites throughout our Province. All of this is important to the environment and to wildlife, Mr. Speaker.

I would also say to the minister that we are looking forward to when his government can come forward with the outdoor bill of rights, which is very important. It takes in all aspects of the habitat for the various animals. We are waiting with anticipation for the $15 million study that was done on our caribou herds.

Overall, Mr. Speaker, we commend the minister in taking part in National Wildlife Week and say that we wholeheartedly join in the celebrations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

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

I understand that at the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Network's annual conference this weekend, which I think the minister attended, people who attended expressed concern about the serious loss of habitat for wildlife, which, of course, is a very serious issue.

We do have some protected areas in the Province, but no fully protected new areas have been added since 1994. The ones that exist are being degraded every year. I think we are all aware of the serious problem, for example, with moose destroying the habitat of animals and we have heard recently that Parks Canada will be looking at that issue in the two national parks in our Province. At this conference as well, there was a discussion about the caribou population on the Island going on the endangered species list because their food supply is diminishing due to industrial logging.

I encourage the minister to continue the work on these issues and to continue consultations, especially like the consultations that were done on the Sustainable Forest Management plan in 2003. I also encourage him to move ahead with a provincial land use policy because this land use policy is what will be needed for protecting further areas.

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.

Mr. Speaker, last week in our briefings with Nalcor, Ed Martin said there was a good chance that none of the excess power from Muskrat will go beyond Nova Scotia. The reason was simple: Nova Scotia has to come off coal as its main source of energy, and we all know that coal is one of the dirtiest forms of energy in the world.

Nova Scotia will get 20 per cent of Muskrat Falls power for free, and they will have the ability, Mr. Speaker, to pay only half price for excess power – half the price of what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will pay. We also know that the Nova Scotia government will not be investing in this project.

So I ask the Premier today: Why is it that Nova Scotians will get clean, green energy without their government even having to invest, yet Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will have to pay more than anyone else who receives this power source?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, let's first start with the most basic and stark fact. In 2016, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be paying 14.3 cents a kilowatt hour for their electricity whether they remain on the isolated grid, as we are today, or if we are taking our power from Muskrat Falls. Either which way, Mr. Speaker, we are going to be paying 14.3 cents a kilowatt hour. The difference being, if we are on Muskrat Falls power, our light bills will only be going up about 0.7 per cent a year as opposed to 5 per cent a year that they will be rising, or more if we have to increase capacity.

Mr. Speaker, we never intend to put 60 per cent of power out of Newfoundland and Labrador, ever.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The reality is, Premier, that Nova Scotia is going green and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are going in the red on your power project, and you know it. Mr. Speaker, the Nova Scotia government will not invest in the Muskrat Falls Project. In fact, Mr. Speaker, they are depending upon Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to foot the bill for a clean, green energy replacement in Nova Scotia.

I ask the Premier today: Why is it that Emera is not only getting the thirty-five years that you talk about in free power, but why is it they are getting fifty years of free power within their thirty-five-year power contract? Why was the deal front-end loaded to allow Emera to pay down their investment earlier while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will continue to pay for many years to come?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, for the last several months we have heard the Leader of the Opposition try to equate $1.2 billion as free power. Now, I do not know how flawed your logical processes might be, but that does not make sense to anyone.

We could have taken the $1.2 billion, Mr. Speaker, and built the Maritime Link ourselves, supplied the power to Nova Scotia and had a market for excess power; not only for power from Muskrat Falls, if that is the power we want to push through, but if we pull that power back to Labrador for industrial development, we can fill that line with hydro and wind from the West Coast, Mr. Speaker. This is a good investment for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier knows this has nothing to do with what she is giving away to Emera and to people in the Maritimes.

This is where we are trying to go with this and the Premier knows it: Why make the people in Newfoundland and Labrador pay while you are going to give energy away? I ask you again today, Premier: Why not tell the people of the Province why you front-end loaded Emera's contract to allow them to draw down fifty years of power over thirty-five years so they could not only pay down their investment but they could earn more money while we are stuck to pay the bills in Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, it would be a terrible story to tell, if it were true. Despite the information that we continue to provide to Members of the Opposition, through either the Department of Natural Resources or through our Crown Corporation, Nalcor, they just cannot seem to get the basics right, Mr. Speaker. Nalcor will own 80 per cent of the project, Mr. Speaker, 80 per cent of the power. They will pay 80 per cent of the capital costs, 80 per cent of operations and maintenance, Mr. Speaker. Emera will own 20 per cent of the power – will purchase 20 per cent of the power for thirty-five years, Mr. Speaker. They will pay 20 per cent of the capital costs and 20 per cent of the maintenance and operations.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we can say no to Emera, we are not going to sell you any power whatsoever. We are still going to pay 14.3 cents a kilowatt hour in 2016.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, today the Premier is not answering the questions because she knows there is no defence for what we allocate; she knows that, Mr. Speaker. Let us talk about the fact that she says let us see if they can get it right. Well there are a lot of people getting it right Premier. A lot of people getting it right and you are not pulling the wool over the eyes of people in this Province. Right now today there is not only the former PC Finance Minister who is out there raising doubts, but there are many others – there are journalists, there are commentaries, there are lawyers, Mr. Speaker; they are prominent citizens in this Province who know that this is not a good deal and the economics are not adding up for the people of the Province.


Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier again today, we have asked her any number of times in this House, many others are saying it: Why not produce the information that shows where the energy rising demand is in Newfoundland and Labrador, because you have yet to do it?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I tabled that document twice here in the House of Assembly, but like many other documents we have tabled here, Mr. Speaker, we have no confidence in the Opposition's ability to be able to do the analysis.

The point is, Mr. Speaker, in 2016, even if there is no growth in demand, not one more kilowatt hour required in 2016, we will still be paying 14.3 cents a kilowatt hour because the price of oil is going to be the main driver, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier knows there is nothing to back up the statement that she just made.

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing out there and the government has refused to table it. The information she says she tabled in the House of Assembly does not speak to the demand of energy rising in this Province nor, Mr. Speaker, does it speak to the case that the price of crude is going to ensure that the price of electricity reaches 14.3 cents in 2016, and she knows the difference.

I ask you again today, Premier: Will you not tell the people of the Province where you are getting your numbers, why you are inflating the demand of energy in this Province, and why you are inflating the prices?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, electricity costs have risen by 36 per cent in the last ten years in this Province. They are predicted to rise 38 per cent over the next ten years. Mr. Speaker, everybody from the Conference Board of Canada, from Ernst & Young, from the Board of Trade, from the Association of Independent Businesses, from the President of the Federation of Labour – and I can go on and on and on, Mr. Speaker – speak to the rising cost of electricity, particularly the price of oil, predicted well over $150 a barrel, the main thing that we need to run Holyrood; never mind talking about the cost of the environmental impact, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, she does not have to take my word for it, all she has to do is look about her to the different statistical agencies in this country and she will get her answer.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

But the Premier cannot forget that we live in this Province as well and we have seen oil reach $150 a barrel, Premier, and we did not see our light bills skyrocket by 36 per cent during that period of time. In fact, it was the complete opposite – we looked at an average of about 2 per cent a year in the last five years, so your numbers are not adding up.

Mr. Speaker, the government and Nalcor have spent a tremendous amount of money already on the development of this project. I ask the Premier today if she will table all the expenditures in the House of Assembly that have been spent on the Muskrat Falls and the Lower Churchill Project by her government and by Nalcor on behalf of the people of this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would be absolutely delighted to, because it is something that we have done on a regular basis since 2003. Not only will we file ours, Mr. Speaker, which will be for a successful project, we will file theirs for their two unsuccessful attempts as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We will certainly wait to see the information.

Mr. Speaker, recently the government awarded a contract to a well-known legal firm that is a friend of the PC Party. Under the freedom of information, Mr. Speaker, it was confirmed that there was no proposal call, no expression of interest nor any intent to call one.

It is common practice, Mr. Speaker, as we all know, for tobacco litigation in other provinces to go through that particular procedure. However, in Newfoundland and Labrador there was no record of any cost-benefit analysis, no minutes of any meetings that discuss the issue, no internal letters, memos or emails, and the Minister of Justice has refused to talk about it.

I ask the Premier today: Why would you award the contract for tobacco litigation to a well-known PC-connected legal firm in this Province without any documentation, any tendering, or any call for proposals?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, as has been pointed out on a number of occasions, the previous government in 2002, I think it was, engaged a law firm from Independence, Missouri to handle the tobacco litigation because of the vast expertise they had at that time. Part of that agreement, Mr. Speaker, was that they would retain local counsel in the Province of Newfoundland because they did not have the certificate to practice law in the Province of Newfoundland.

Mr. Speaker, that company, the American firm Humphrey Farrington McClain, they retained the firm of Roebothan McKay Marshall to be their agents in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, when the time came to expedite this process and to file the statement of claim, the American company still did not have the certificate to practice so we had to engage in the firm they had retained to file their statement of claim. It is as simple as that, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I say to the Premier, someone has to answer for the actions of your government, and it stops with you, Premier. It stops with you. You have awarded a contract un-tendered. There is no paper trace anywhere inside of the government that allowed for this contract to be awarded or done appropriately.

I ask you today to stand in your place; you are spending taxpayers' money: Why did you solicit this company un-tendered, who has connections to the former Premier and is known as a former PC connected firm in this Province, Mr. Speaker?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, this is really a simple and straightforward matter. The previous government engaged the firm in Missouri, United States, and quite reasonably so. They were experts in tobacco litigation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, there was provision in that agreement that that law firm would retain Newfoundland counsel to act on their behalf in this Province. Mr. Speaker, they engaged the services of Roebothan McKay Marshall to be their agent in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, about a month ago when we filed our statement of claim, we had to engage with Roebothan McKay Marshall to do that for us because up to that point in time the American company did not have the certificate of practice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, we are not talking about what a legal firm in the United States hired; we are talking about who the government opposite hired and who they gave a contract to un-tendered, unsolicited, Mr. Speaker, using the taxpayers' money of this Province.

I ask you, Premier, to stand up today in the House and answer for what you have done in passing out tenders to a PC connected law firm in this Province, un-tendered, without going through the public process.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, if the firm of Humphrey Farrington McClain of Independence, Missouri, which is the company we initially engaged to head up this tobacco litigation, retained a local firm in this Province, that is the firm we were going to engage with to do the work on the ground. We were not going to retain another firm on our own. It was a firm that was retained by that firm. We had no choice but to do that. That is the normal matter of doing things.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, this is a potentially multi-million dollar contract that has been let to Roebothan McKay Marshall, and as we know, Mr. Speaker, a former law firm of the former Premier and it was done without any discussion or any analysis.

I ask the Premier today: Knowing that this law firm stands to gain a profit to the tune of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, will you not stand and tell the people of the Province why you awarded it to this firm without going through a public process? Stand in your place, you are the leader of the government, and answer to the people of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, I will just reiterate. The main firm that was retained for this file chose their own legal agents in this Province. They chose their own legal agents in this Province which happened to be a very competent law firm in the (inaudible) of Roebothan McKay Marshall. It was that firm who put that process in motion. It is that government, Mr. Speaker, who put that process in motion and we are just carrying through on it. It is as simple as that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, maybe the Premier will stand and tell us when she let the contract to Roebothan McKay Marshall, how much they are being paid, and how much, Mr. Speaker, they are being paid in the long-term but also in the immediate future on behalf of the people of this Province? Taxpayers' money is being used, someone should answer for it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Opposition House Leader for his co-operation.

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Order, please!

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition knows full well the details because they were the ones who entered into the contract with the firm to start with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. F. COLLINS: Having said that, Mr. Speaker, that firm, and rightfully so, engaged the service of a topnotch legal firm within this Province to carry out their work on the ground in this Province. They retained Roebothan McKay Marshall. That was their firm that they retained. We entered into a contract with that firm for purposes of expediting the process, filing the statement of claim. They are a good law firm. The American firm made a great choice as far as I am concerned.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I understand from the Coast Guard that there are still extreme ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle and the ferry, the Apollo, has been held up now for a week, and people are stranded. Mr. Speaker, there are not just people from the Labrador Straits, there are people from all over Labrador, all different parts of the Province, and even from outside of the Province. They have been staying in hotels, buying food at their own expense, and, Mr. Speaker, government, to date, has not even acknowledged the fact that there has been an interruption in service in this particular area.

I ask the minister today: What are you prepared to do to address and alleviate some of the personal and financial stress that has been faced by many of these passengers, a lot of them, Mr. Speaker, who are travelling to St. John's for medical reasons?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Yes, Mr. Speaker, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, we have a serious ice condition up in the Straits; not uncommon, I might add. Except in the last couple of years, we have been pretty well relatively ice free. In conditions such as these, the ferry cannot run and the Coast Guard is doing everything they can to open up a passage so that we could run back and forth.

In the meantime, again, I know it is a terrible inconvenience, as she has pointed out, but we are handcuffed in trying to clear ice to make sure that there is a passage across. As well, we are looking for alternatives and working with the provider to see what we can do to alleviate the situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I also have been talking to the Coast Guard everyday and I know the extreme ice pressure that is there but it does not change the fact that people have been stranded now for about a week, so have goods coming into the area. I will just give you an example. Two litres of milk that was $4.49 last week is $6.99 this week. People have signs on their coolers saying it is due to the fact that there is no ferry service into the area.

I ask the government today: What is the contingency plan when areas of the Province find themselves in a situation like the people in the Strait of Belle Isle do today, and I ask you, what your government is proposing as a backup plan for residents and passengers who are currently stuck?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the hon. member for her question. As of this afternoon a public advisory has gone out to all the retailers down in that part of the coast that the Air Foodlift Subsidy will start immediately, and I understand that certainly milk is something that we subsidize 100 per cent.

We fully appreciate the challenges that we are having down in Southern Labrador, but I just want to remind the hon. member, it was you and your government that lobbied for the forty-one-year-old Apollo that is running in the Strait of Belle Isle today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I did not raise the issue today so the Member for Lake Melville could get up and be cheap about it. I raised it, Mr. Speaker, because it is a serious issue for the people in that area. I might remind them that in the last eight years the people in that area have been asking for a new ferry, lobbying for a new ferry and your government has not as much as blinked an eye in trying to deliver on that particular service.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I will ask the government again, because we know that there are thousands of pounds of freight stuck on the other side of The Straits, and I appreciate the fact that they will fly it in, hopefully starting immediately today, flying that freight into the communities where it needs to be.

I ask you again as well: What are you going to do for the passengers who are stuck? What are you going to do for the lady from Lake Melville who is trying to get to St. John's for her cancer treatment (inaudible) –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Again, Mr. Speaker, we realize the seriousness of the difficulties that the people on both sides of The Straits are experiencing right now. We cannot do very much about the ice and the ice conditions except to look at other possibilities right now, and that is that we are looking, again with the provider, to see if there is a contingency that we can perhaps get an alternate port such as Corner Brook so that we can again keep that flow of goods going back and forth.

We are right now, Mr. Speaker, in the second year of a pilot project of trying to provide a twelve-month service, a vital service, to the people of Labrador and to Newfoundland. We are looking into the future to try to make sure, as a result of this pilot, to find ways that can alleviate situations such as we are into right now.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are also aware that the Apollo has only one propeller right now and is due to go on dry dock within the next few days, I think Sunday is the date they are looking at, so obviously the boat will come out of service. It is my understanding that there is no other vessel to replace the Apollo right now as a passenger and freight carrier for that service.

I ask the minister: How long can the people of the region expect to see the Apollo off, and what is the contingency plan for providing services to the people in that region and to all the people of the Province over that period of time?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

With regard to that, we are again working very closely with the provider because the Apollo unfortunately, as well, not only the ice, but the fact that she picked up a rope going into the harbour the other day and destroyed one of the propellers, she has to come into St. John's and she has to be lifted out of the water. The company is in the process of getting the parts in. Sunday, I believe, she will make her way into St. John's to begin that repair.

We are working very closely with the provider and looking at what we can provide with regard to vessel service and air service. In this case, the Sir Robert Bond is on dry dock and getting refit. The only one available would be the Astron, and we are looking at that possibility, with air service, to provide that vital service that is needed (inaudible) -

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.

Mr. Speaker, the Cameron report of 2009 said patients and their families should see peer reviews related to an adverse event affecting them, minus the name of the reviewer or reviewers, of course. Last year, the Minister of Health and Community Services said further work would be done on the issue and he would consult other Health Ministers. The latest Cameron update indicates that nothing concrete has happened since discussions with the Health Ministers last fall.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Could he please give us details of actual work done this year on the peer review access?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The assumption made by the member opposite that no work has been done is one that, I can tell you, is certainly incorrect. Mr. Speaker, we face a very difficult situation with this issue of peer review. Under recommendations thirty-three, thirty-four and thirty-five, there is a recommendation that peer review be provided in all circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, I am informed by my officials, and the Canadian Medical Association this would, in fact, jeopardize patients' safety. What we have done, Mr. Speaker, is looked at the taskforce on adverse events, which has what I would refer to as a middle ground in terms of the disclosure of peer review reports.

The issue was discussed at the Health Ministers' meeting and we are still working on this issue, Mr. Speaker. It is the most difficult issue that we are facing in terms of the Cameron report, because while we have a recommendation from a judge as to what should be done, we also have to look at patient safety. I have to listen to the officials as to how it should be done and we are still working that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the minister gave a similar answer when I asked questions about this last year. So, what I would like the minister to do now is explain to us, and to the public, in what way patients' safety is jeopardized by having access to the peer reviews?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the answer to that is very simple. I am told that if we bring in the Cameron recommendation as it is phrased, then no one will do peer reviews. If no one does peer reviews, then patients' safety is obviously jeopardized.

What we have to look at, Mr. Speaker, is a way of satisfying our professionals that the work they do will be protected, while meanwhile providing the public with the information they require. So, the taskforce on adverse events has a middle ground, Mr. Speaker, one which allows for certain information to be disclosed, while meanwhile protecting the integrity of the peer review process. That is how patients' safety will be jeopardized if no one does peer reviews, and that is what I am told will happen if we bring in the Cameron recommendation as written.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Cameron update said, the recent one, that the department will be giving direction to the health authorities in the near future - that is what is in the update - regarding access to peer reviews.

So, based on what the minister just said, would he please tell us what it is that they are going to be directing the regional health authorities about, based on what he just told us here in the House.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is the role of the Department of Health to outline policy for the regional health authorities in how issues are to be dealt with. They will then operationalize them on a daily basis.

I can assure the member opposite that I will be making a decision on this very quickly, and if it helps, in terms of time frames, before this House finishes in this sitting, a decision will be made as to how we will approach peer reviews. I will listen to the expert advice that has been provided to me, Mr. Speaker. I will consult with my officials, and we will make a decision that is in the best interest of the people of this Province, that protects patients' safety, while meanwhile ensures that peer reviews are done and doctors are protected also within the parameters of the law.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Cameron update also said that last year a consultant reviewed labs in each health region and found that there is a need for staff, equipment, and infrastructure to bring all of these labs up to the standard needed for accreditation. Mr. Speaker, the update said that government is working with the health authorities to invest in human resources, equipment, and infrastructure to fix the problems.

Mr. Speaker, will the minister tell us when all requirements will be fixed so that laboratories can be accredited?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Over the last two years, we have invested $100 million in capital equipment throughout our hospitals and health clinics in the Province. Much of that has gone to address recommendations of the Cameron report.

Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of what we have done in relation to the Cameron recommendations. We have completed, or substantially completed, 92 per cent of the recommendations. Forty-three are completed, twelve are substantially completed, and five are left to complete. Mr. Speaker, what we are dealing with is that we invested - a fact - over $26 million to respond directly to the recommendations. By their very nature, Mr. Speaker, some of these recommendations are ongoing, such as continuing education quality assurance issues. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that in this House today we will be bringing in a medical act which has a new section dealing with quality assurance which is directly coming out of the Cameron Report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Tabling of Documents

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to table a report to the Lieutenant Governor in Council concerning the position of the fund of the Public Accountants Licensing Board for the year ended December 31, 2010.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further tabling of documents?

Notices of Motion.

Notices of Motion

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider a resolution relating to advancing or guaranteeing of certain loans made under the Loans And Guarantee Act, 1957, Bill 26.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting Forestry Professions, Bill 27.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Health Research Ethics Authority Act, Bill 28.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

The hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Mr. Speaker, I move the following private member's resolution:

WHEREAS on November 18, 2010, Nalcor Energy entered into a term sheet –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HICKEY: Oh, sorry.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs presenting a private member's motion in his own name?

MR. HICKEY: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

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

Order, please!

Does the hon. minister have leave to present the private member's resolution?

MS JONES: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: Yes?

MS JONES: Yes.

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

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

Thank you very much, I say to the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: (Inaudible).

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

MR. HICKEY: I move the following private member's resolution, Mr. Speaker:

WHEREAS on November 18, 2010, Nalcor Energy entered into a Term Sheet with Emera Inc. setting up a plan for the Muskrat Falls phase of the development of the Lower Churchill's hydro-electrical potential and associated transmission infrastructure; and

WHEREAS Newfoundland and Labrador has asked the federal government for a loan guarantee to support this project, stating that it is financially, economically, and environmentally sound and nationally significant, and the benefits of the federal loan guarantee will accrue to the electricity rate-payers; and

WHEREAS the Members of the National Assembly of Quebec on April 6, 2011 voted unanimously for a resolution that, when translated, states: "that the National Assembly reiterates its opposition to federal financial participation in the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project, considering Quebec has assumed on its own and through the assertion of its own powers, the total cost of its hydroelectric facilities"; and

WHEREAS the Conservative Party of Canada led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated on page 42 of its 2011 election platform, Here For Canada, released on April 8, 2011:

"Stephen Harper's Government will continue supporting clean energy initiatives to protect our environment and improve the quality of the air we breathe.

"We will support economically viable clean energy projects that will assist regions and provinces in the replacement of fossil fuel with renewable fuel sources. The criteria for our support of a project will be whether it: has national and regional significance; has economic and financial merit…"

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HICKEY: "…and will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"For example, we will support the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project, through a loan guarantee or equivalent financial support. The project would strengthen the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador's connection to the continental grid – and it would be a major regional environmental initiative.

"It is estimated the project would reduce carbon emissions by 4.5 million tonnes annually – the equivalent of removing 3.2 million cars from the road every year.

"In addition to the criteria noted above, our support for any clean energy project will be based on the principles of respect and equitable treatment for all regions of the country."; and

WHEREAS the Liberal Party of Canada Leader –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HICKEY: - Michael Ignatieff stated in a radio interview in St. John's on April 4, 2011:

"I think it is an important national project for all of Canada. One of the great developments in the national eyes of the whole country is that Newfoundland and Labrador is set to become a green energy superpower, and I think it is appropriate for a federal government to work with Newfoundland and Labrador -"

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HICKEY: "- and put that loan guarantee in place so the cost of borrowing the money is lower and so that the ratepayers' energy costs are lower.";

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that in disagreement with the National Assembly of Quebec, this hon. House affirms its support for federal financial participation in the Lower Churchill hydro-electric project –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HICKEY: - defined in the Term Sheet between Nalcor and Emera, and commends the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for pledging federal support -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: - for this project through the provision of a loan guarantee or equivalent financial support.

Seconded by my hon. friend and colleague, the Member for Labrador West, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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 residents of Labrador with regard to the Labrador highway. Mr. Speaker, hopefully we can get more out of the minister for Labrador on this issue than we are going to get out of Muskrat Falls from him I can say.

Mr. Speaker, the petition says:

WHEREAS the Trans-Labrador Highway is a vital transportation lifeline for the Labrador communities, providing access, generating economic activity, and allowing residents to obtain health care and other public services; and

WHEREAS Route 510 and connecting branch roads of the Trans-Labrador Highway are unpaved, in deplorable condition and are no longer suitable and safe for the traffic volumes that travel this route; and

WHEREAS Labrador cannot afford to wait years or decades for upgrading or paving of their essential transportation route;

WHEREUPON the petitioners urge the House of Assembly to call upon government to provide additional funding for much-needed improvements to Route 510 and connecting branch roads of the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Mr. Speaker, people in Labrador are circulating these petitions and they are doing so for a very good reason; the roads are deplorable. In fact, Mr. Speaker, they are probably the worst roads that you can put a vehicle on anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador. I know that for a fact because I drove that highway myself this past weekend. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that road was nothing only potholes and ruts for the full eighty kilometres, or eighty-five kilometres that I drove it. It was absolutely ridiculous.

Mr. Speaker, there are groomer operators out there trying to groom the road. In fact, they are beating themselves up on a grader. They are out there grading the road and they are beating themselves up on the graders because the graders are hooking into the big rocks that are sticking up out of the roads, Mr. Speaker, and they are actually jolting the drivers who are on these graders. That is how bad the road is right now.

Mr. Speaker, the people in this area deserve to have a better transportation system. The people in Labrador are no different than people anywhere else in this Province, and anywhere else in this country. They are calling upon their governments to do what is right and appropriate, and that is to pave those sections of roads. They do not want a response like they got from the Minister of Transportation and Works a few weeks ago when he said it is not on their government's radar and will not be until 2014 before they start looking for money to actually pave this section of road. That is not acceptable, Mr. Speaker, and nor should it be acceptable. I would challenge any member here - in fact, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Lake Melville, every single time I get up on this petition, does not stop babbling over on the other side. Maybe he should stop babbling and do something about it, I say to you, Minister.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS JONES: You are collecting the big paycheque.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members to my left for their co-operation.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: He is collecting the big paycheque, Mr. Speaker, to be the Minister for Labrador. Why should the people have to come to this House of Assembly to petition and beg their government to have decent roads to drive over? I say to you, Minister, quit the babbling and do something for the people who sent you here.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

The hon. the Member for the District of The Straits & White Bay North.

MR. DEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased this afternoon to be able to stand in this House again and present a petition on behalf of the students of French Shore Academy.

I would like to read the prayer of the petition.

To the Honourable House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament Assembled, the Petition of the Undersigned Humbly Sheweth:

WHEREAS the students of French Shore Academy in Port Saunders from the towns of River of Ponds, Hawke's Bay, Port Saunders, Port aux Choix and Eddies Cove West appreciate the facility we currently learn in; and

WHEREAS unfortunately the sense of fairness and equality existing at school is absent on the outside due to essential services not equally available in all our towns; and

WHEREAS the lack of high-speed Internet in River of Ponds, Hawke's Bay and Eddies Cove West put some students or our school in an unacceptable disadvantage at learning today in the twenty-first Century;

WHEREUPON your petitioners call upon all members of the House of Assembly to urge government to direct funding to ensure high-speed Internet services are provided in these towns to allow equality and fairness for all members of our student body.

And as in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

This is the second or third time I have stood and presented this petition here in this House and I will continue to do so because it is not only for the students who are presenting it but it is an issue that is so important in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I am not sure what all of the other districts in the Province are doing in terms of the lack of high-speed Internet but I can assure you that along the Northern Peninsula in many small communities they have become very frustrated, to say the least, in the lack of high-speed Internet access; and not only the lack of high-speed Internet access but really not having an understanding or a commitment from this government as to when they can reasonably expect something to be done about it.

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting, if you watch television and look at some of the ads. It was just yesterday afternoon, I believe it was, as I was watching the Masters on television and you watch a mother with an electronic device, iPod, whatever you want to call it, I am not really sure, but some form of transmission and turning on the lights back in her home at some point for her son who is doing his homework. That is the ability that is out there and yet you come from there down to a place where there is not even high-speed Internet available.

When a student in high school wants to access some records, some program, some exam materials, whatever the case might be at his or her local high school, they have to do it through dial-up. We all know that dial-up is very slow at best. It is interruptive. It does not always stay connected and so on and you get through the process of downloading a particular document at probably twenty minutes in and then all of a sudden it is cut off and you have to go back and start the process over again. We take it for granted, those of us who have high-speed Internet and have the access to that in our communities. We kind of forget the day, or have forgotten the day when high speed was the in thing. That is where many of the communities in rural Newfoundland are left.

Again, we call today upon this government to not only identify the problem but to speak to it and give us some idea of when we can expect this situation to be corrected.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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 people in the District of The Isles of Notre Dame, in the area of Twillingate, New World Island.

Mr. Speaker, this has to do with their health care facilities in that particular area and I will read the pray of the petition into the record.

WHEREAS there were fifteen acute care beds in the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital Health Centre; and

WHEREAS five of the acute care beds closed last summer and did not reopen in the fall; and

WHEREAS the availability of acute care beds is critical to the people of Twillingate and New World Island; and

WHEREAS the shortage of acute care beds is resulting in people being denied admittance to Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital Health Centre; and

WHEREAS the people of Twillingate and New World Island do not want to see their health care services cut;

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and ask the House of Assembly to urge government to reinstate the five acute care beds in the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital Health Care Centre.

Mr. Speaker, just a little bit of history behind this because I know the member for the area, the member for Twillingate and New World Island, is not going to stand up in the House of Assembly and address this issue on behalf of his constituents. It is only right and proper to tell what exactly happened here.

This was a case, Mr. Speaker, where there were beds in this particular hospital that normally, like acute care beds do in the summertime, they close down a certain number of beds in hospitals all across the Province. That is only because the intake is slower in the summer. A lot of our physicians, specialists are on vacation, so they are not scheduling as many procedures as you would normally do. It is not unusual for acute care beds to close in hospitals in the summer. What is unusual is when they do not reopen in the fall. That is what happened to the health centre in Twillingate-New World Island area.

In the fall, those acute care beds did not reopen. Instead, Mr. Speaker, the government reallocated them to restorative beds, which, you need to recognize, there was a need for restorative beds in that area as well. The people who were lobbying for these particular beds, Mr. Speaker, people who were lobbying for this type of care were doing so, but not to the point that they wanted to see acute care beds closed. They wanted to see extra beds added to their facility. That was the whole purpose, Mr. Speaker. They wanted to be able to ensure that people who needed the various types of care would receive those particular types of care. They did not want government to do this in an underhanded way, and that is exactly what happened here. That is exactly what happened.

What they did was instead of reopening the acute care beds in that particular area, they re-designated these particular beds to be used for restorative care beds, Mr. Speaker, and they went out and had a big public announcement. The MHA went in, the minister went in, Mr. Speaker, they had a big public announcement telling the people they were going to add restorative beds to the health care centre in the Twillingate-New World Island area. In fact, what they did is they closed five acute care beds, renamed them to be restorative care beds, and this was the health care plan that they offered the people of that area.

How gullible do you think people are? I say to the member: If you thought you were going to pull the wool over the people's eyes in that district, you certainly failed to do so, because thousands of them have signed petitions and sent them to the House of Assembly to ensure that they get their acute care beds back.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Finance, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bills 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 19.

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

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

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

Committee of the Whole

CHAIR (T. Osborne): Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I want to call Bill 19, please.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 19, An Act To Amend The Urban And Rural Planning Act, 2000.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Urban And Rural Planning Act, 2000". (Bill 19)

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 and 3.

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 and 3 carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 3 carried.

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

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, enacting clause carried.

CLERK: An Act To Amend The Urban And Rural Planning Act, 2000.

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 Minister of Natural Resources.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I would now like to call Bill 15, An Act To Amend The Petroleum And Natural Gas Act.

CHAIR: We are now debating Bill 15, An Act To Amend The Petroleum And Natural Gas Act.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Petroleum And Natural Gas Act". (Bill 15)

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 Petroleum And Natural Gas 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 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 Minister of Natural Resources.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I now ask that the Committee rise and report progress, please.

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise, report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

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

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for St. John's South and 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 that Bills 15 and 19 have passed without amendment.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and has directed him to report Bills 15 and 19 without amendment.

When shall the report be received?

MR. SKINNER: Now.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

When shall the said bills be read a third time?

MR. SKINNER: Tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, report received and adopted. Bills ordered read a third time on tomorrow.

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

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs, second reading of Bill 18, An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999, No. 2. (Bill 18)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I move, seconded by the Minister of Human Resources Labour and Employment, second reading of An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No.2 (Bill 18)

MR. SPEAKER: It is properly moved and seconded that Bill 18, An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999, No. 2, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No. 2". (Bill 18)

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

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I am happy to get up in my place in the House of Assembly today again in regard to the Municipalities Act, 1999.

The municipalities in general, and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador have had a number of symposiums since three or four years ago that they brought forward resolutions in regard to what they saw as amendments that were needed within the Municipalities Act, 1999; amendments that were much needed by the municipalities in regard to clarity, enabling them to transact their work and provide the services to the people that they have been elected to serve, Mr. Speaker.

I brought forward, last week, Mr. Speaker, another amendment to the Municipalities Act, 1999, which addressed somewhere around eighteen or nineteen amendments at that particular time; all worthwhile amendments to the municipalities, all worthwhile to this government in regard to what we try to do for municipalities in partnership with their elected people, Mr. Speaker.

This one is a very simple amendment and I might also say that I am proud of my department in regard to the work that they have done for Municipalities Newfoundland. This amendment was in response to a resolution in their last symposium which was only in October. All of us members in the House of Assembly realize that sometimes in regard to bringing forward amendments to the particular legislation that we might have within our department, it takes time to actually bring that through the process, have it approved by Cabinet, have it drafted by Legislative Counsel, and then bring it back to this House for final approval and discussion, Mr. Speaker. So that is a process we have to go through. It is sometimes lengthy, but in this case here, my department and I, as the minister responsible, saw this is a very simple amendment – a worthwhile amendment, actually. It is a little bit more significant than it might be considered because it is addresses the issue of collecting revenue streams, which is very, very important to municipalities all across Newfoundland and Labrador in regard to their everyday operations and their financial means to provide the services that they provide in their communities.

The bill will amend the Municipalities Act, 1999 and now will require employers to provide municipalities with the addresses of their employees to assist in the collection of poll tax. I might want to say right up front as well, Mr. Speaker, that the proposed amendment does not grant municipalities any additional taxation authority. So all this amendment does is direct employers to now, besides the names of the particular employees that they have in their company and besides any other information coming forward, include the addresses of those employees as well.

The poll tax, just to explain that Mr. Speaker, is an annual tax of a fixed amount which may be imposed by municipalities on persons eighteen years of age or older who live in a municipality, persons eighteen years of age or older who work in a municipality for ninety days or more in a calendar year, or persons, corporations, partnerships, or associations who own real property in a municipality.

Certain persons are exempt from paying poll tax as well, Mr. Speaker: persons residing in a municipality who must pay property tax in a municipality, so that people who are paying property tax already would not be subject to a poll tax; non-residents employed in a municipality who must pay property tax, poll tax, or a service fee to the municipality or local service district in which he she resides; and a person whose income is less than the federal basic personal exemption provided under the Income Tax Act.

Mr. Speaker, in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere in Canada, municipalities are faced with the everyday operation of their communities. In order to deal with the everyday operation, they have to have revenue streams. There are only a number of sources of revenue streams, Mr. Speaker, that they can avail of and one of them is the poll tax. The others are property tax, commercial taxes, and that sort of thing. Then, as well, some of them have minimum taxes based on those kinds of things. Some of them may very well have water taxes as well to provide a service.

People residing in these communities understand fully that the municipality requires amounts of money in order to provide any of the services such as snow clearing, any garbage collection, whatever it may be, Mr. Speaker; it has to be provided and those things cost money. They have to employ people within their municipality or they have to contract it out. Whichever way you look at it, Mr. Speaker, that kind of a service is going to cost money, so they have to have revenue streams in order to bring in the much-needed cash that they have to have in their treasury, if I could name it that I guess, or in their bank accounts in order to contract, or to buy equipment, or to hire people to provide that service.

This poll tax is at the discretion of the municipality, as I just said, to raise revenues. They do not have to charge it, Mr. Speaker. As I just mentioned, they only have a limited number of issues or opportunities if I could say that, in regard to creating that revenue stream and certainly one of them is the poll tax. This is not a new tax; it has been around for a long, long time. As I said, it is not practiced by all the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador; it is only practiced in some of the municipalities that have issues surrounding their revenue streams.

Where I can put it on record as well is that many of the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador choose their main revenue stream as being property tax. Property tax, as we all know, is based on assessed value of that particular property. In my hometown of Gander that assessed value could equate into a fair number of dollars in regard to the revenues coming into my municipality. If you were to take some small community in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the assessed values of their property are much lower. Regardless of the house just being built probably a few years ago, whatever it is, they are assessed at a much lower value than most of the urban areas in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are only so many households in that community as well, Mr. Speaker.

With that, the municipality in question would have to create other revenue streams and one of the areas that they can consider is the poll tax, which a number of municipalities have now instituted. I would not be able to say just how many municipalities do institute this type of tax, Mr. Speaker, but I know they are in existence. I know they are predominately in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, as compared to the urban towns that we have in our Province.

Currently under the act, as I said, the employers have to provide the municipality the names of the employees in the municipality and the dates in which their employment began. That is another aspect they have to provide as the act reads at this particular time without this amendment. They would, first and foremost, provide a list of the employees of that particular municipality who may work with their particular company and also the date of their employment as well; which determines, as I said earlier in my speaking on this particular amendment to the act, that would determine if they would have to pay or not because they have to be employed a certain amount of time before the actual poll tax would cut in.

Under the act, they do not have to provide the address of the employees. Therein constitutes a problem in regard to sending out the different invoices and the bills to those particular members of the municipality. I believe most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understand fully that in order to have services, to be provided services they have to pay. That is a standard thing in regard to the free world, Mr. Speaker.

Anywhere we go throughout this Province, every province in Canada, the Territories, anywhere in the United States, anywhere in the free world really, people pay taxes in regard to their municipalities and the services they provide. I think that is a given. Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, I would think, would have no issues in regard to paying taxes just as long as the municipality governs itself in a financial, prudent, accountable and a transparent way. Then each and every one of the residents and householders in that particular municipality would have no issue in regard to dealing and also paying those taxes.

Now, Mr. Speaker, with the adoption of that resolution back in the annual general meeting of municipalities Newfoundland in October - when I first became the Minister of Municipal Affairs shortly afterward, one of the first things I reviewed were the resolutions that came on the floor of that particular Assembly in October. I thought it was worthwhile to get this done. There were not a whole lot of complications in regard to drafting an amendment. We could push this forward as fast as we possibly can. I am quite happy to say today and stand in my place today to see this as another amendment on top of the other eighteen or nineteen amendments that were brought forward a week or two ago, which was discussed, debated in this House and certainly agreed on by all the members of the House, including the members of the Opposition parties as well.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I think I have gone over most of anything that I want to say in regard to this amendment. I reserve what I am going to say here right now actually because I think it is a thing of the past. One time we took all the services that a municipality would provide the citizens in regard to what they provide on a daily basis for granted. Just to name a few of the services that a municipality would provide as services: fire protection; waste collection; roads; water and sewer services; recreational facilities; planning, development controls as well. It is all carried out by the municipalities.

We, as a Province and as a population, see the great work that has been done by municipal leaders, councillors, mayors, professional administrators, clerks and all the people who work with municipalities. We see the great work they do for us as residents of our communities. As the Minister of Municipal Affairs, I would like to commend them for the work they do. Most of them do it as volunteers, Mr. Speaker. Most of them do not get paid as municipal councillors, certainly the employees do.

In the meantime, when I travel across this Province - and I have been in many, many communities in many, many municipal town halls, and I have met many of the employees as well as the councillors. These people actually work long hours, sometimes at their own expense, Mr. Speaker. They know full well the revenues are not there to pay the overtime and all that kind of gear. They do lots of work. They do lots of work home, at their own homes. Also, they will work when they go out and grocery shop for their own family and they are approached by a resident of the community. I commend all of those people because they are certainly partners of ours in this government.

We have a great relationship with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a great relationship as a government with the municipalities, the councils, councillors, and mayors all across this Province. We certainly have a great relationship with the professional administrators and their association as well. I spoke on Friday night to 200, 250 of them. Certainly, I was well-received and they had great comments in regard to what we have done over the past eight years for municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador, making them and their jobs easier to deal with. We will continue to do that, especially in the next eight years, Mr. Speaker, because I cannot foresee us losing government any time soon; especially in October, and certainly not in October, 2015, and probably not even in October, 2019. I might have to retire here a very, very old man, probably in my nineties if all goes well.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, with that being said, I am going to take my seat in the House. I am looking forward to any of the comments in regard to providing the addresses concerning poll tax from the employers of the employees who work with the various companies in municipalities. I am sure it will be unanimous here in the House of Assembly in regard to this issue.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): The hon. the Member for the District of The Straits & White Bay North.

MR. DEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It a privilege this afternoon to be able to stand and speak for a moments to Bill 18, An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No. 2.

I have to speak to the minister's closing comments before I speak to the act itself. I just hope he is not surprised – I have to say, I think he is very disillusioned, Mr. Speaker. Anyway, I hope it is not one of his last pieces of legislation. We will let the electorate decide that for sure.

This amendment requires an employer to provide their employees' names and addresses within two weeks after being requested by council. This amendment is made to address the issue of increasing the effectiveness of the poll tax collection process. Obviously, there could be a lot of residents and a lot of workers in municipalities who the municipalities or the councils themselves would have trouble, really, following them down and finding where they are, even in terms of working, because of the fact that employers are not necessarily providing that type of information to the municipality. This is a request, as the minister acknowledged, that was made at the MNL last fall, 2010, at their convention. The resolution was passed and it has been brought forward here today for debate in the House of Assembly and to become entrenched in the law of our Province in the very near future.

Municipalities, basically, complained that they could not collect poll tax for some people, as they just did not have the right information. It is easy to elude the tax man, so to speak, and when the tax man is a municipality then obviously, I guess, it becomes easy to elude them as well. The current legislation that we have today does not compel employers to provide the address of their employees and the date they started, so it is harder to send a bill, it is harder to collect, it is harder to send a summons, and any other collection activity that the municipality might get involved in because they do not have the correct addresses. The larger the municipalities would become or would be then, obviously, the more difficult it would be to follow that process through. Mr. Speaker, that, in essence, is the reason, as the minister suggested, why this legislation is being put forward.

One concern that we would have with this particular piece of legislation, and I would suppose that the minister and the department has already really researched this and so on and would be certain that it is okay, but it is a fact that the amendment may be subject to the privacy and protection act whereby this information may be considered confidential. If that is the case, then the municipalities may need the proper protocol or whatever in place to ensure the protection is ensured for its citizens.

In the day in which we live, it is easy to request information from someone but there are always repercussions to doing that. So, in this case, whether this breaches the privacy and protection act, that would be something I would ask the minister and probably he could speak to that in his concluding remarks or in Committee, whatever the case might be, as to what concerns municipalities might need to have as they go and request this information from the employers. There may not be any at all, but I ask the question simply because it is an issue that we need to be concerned about.

Municipal Affairs noted that Port aux Basques was one of the municipalities that recently asked that this amendment be made so that the town could secure addresses of those who work in that town. It was the Town of Wabana that actually put forth the resolution at the convention last fall.

It should be noted that this piece of the amendment, though, does not address the second part of the MNL resolution, which requests that government provide the means for the poll tax to be collected when a poll tax delinquent taxpayer applies for his or her renewal of their motor vehicle registration. That was a part of the resolution that was put forward at the MNL by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, and it was omitted in this legislation.

So, again it is something that I would ask the minister if he could speak to, to give us further detail and further clarification as to why the amendment is only covering half of the resolution. Because it was requested in the addresses and it was also requested in the case of delinquency that there be a mechanism in place whereby it could be collected upon the renewal of a motor vehicle registration. That is not included, so I would certainly appreciate, Mr. Speaker, if that could be spoken to at a later time in this process.

The new amendment does not give any new tax powers to the municipalities, but it provides them with a better mechanism to provide the core services for which they, as a municipality, are responsible when it comes to collecting the revenues they are entitled to collect. The whole issue of poll taxes is problematic for municipalities, Mr. Speaker. The issue of delinquent taxpayers is one of the concerns that are associated with this tax.

When we look at the statistics of the census for municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador for 2007, we see that 80 per cent of the communities in our Province – as I read that, I thought about it for a moment, it is an extremely high number of the municipalities in this Province that, during a census, would suggest they have problems in collecting their taxes. That is very surprising. It is 88 per cent, I believe it is, in smaller towns, and somewhere around 78 per cent or so in the larger communities. Those statistics were given at the municipalities convention last fall by Professor Wade Locke from Memorial University when he did his presentation for those who might have been there to see it - I did sit in on it and was very interested in what he had to say. To recognize that 88 per cent of the communities in this Province today are dealing with or having to wrestle through, if you will, problems when it comes to collecting taxes from their tax base, I think is phenomenal.

In fact, the whole issue of municipal sustainability is a high concern. That was put forward at MNL as well, voiced by many of the municipalities that were there. They tried to impress upon government for years just the whole crisis that they are going through and the sustainability really being questioned for municipalities and so on.

The minister mentioned in his comments that we accept that we have to pay for the services that we want and that are provided. There is no doubt about that. We certainly all do accept that. There are municipalities in this Province that are finding it very, very difficult to offer these services, to bring them to the taxpayers that they have. In many municipalities, their tax base has been shrinking, which I would suggest most of the municipalities throughout this Province has seen their tax base shrink over the past number of years, yet they are required to provide that same level of service.

Municipalities are really stymied, if you will, by the lack of revenue options and so on. I will just give you an example. If you look at a local service district, I met with local service districts in my district over the past couple of months and they really have no revenue base. They have no MOGs, Municipal Operating Grants. They have no gas tax credit that they can take advantage of and so on. So, they are very limited to what they can do in terms of providing services to the districts, to the LSDs, and to the residents that they are responsible for. It certainly is a great challenge.

If we look at the declining tax base, as I said, that they have in terms of the number of residents and so on, the number of taxpayers that they can draw on, we look at the downloading of services to municipalities whether it be from the federal government in some cases, from the provincial government in other cases, we know that we are trying to get the municipalities to take on more services, yet we have seen tremendous cuts in the Municipal Operating Grants. Again, it is one of the things that they presented at the conference last fall. If we go back to 1991, there was about $41.5 million, approximately, in Municipal Operating Grants; twenty years later, it is somewhere in the area of $17.8 million, I believe, it is..

I realize that different grants and so on have come in place that may eliminate some of that and alleviate some of that pressure, but municipalities provide services that are some of the most important in our daily lives. We take it all for granted at times, really. When we see the garbage collection person coming every Thursday, Friday, or Monday morning, or whatever the case is, we take it for granted that when we lay it by the side of the street as we leave home, when we come back it is going to be gone. If we come back and it was not gone, we would be very upset because by that time it has become a part of our landscape, basically. Yet, these are very important services. They are not services that can be provided without cost, obviously. When we talk about water and sewer, unfortunately a lot of us, a lot of communities in this Province, do not have good potable water. Some have been on boil orders for years, some for decades. Yet, there is a responsibility to try and maintain the systems and the sewer systems as well.

One of the most important things that our municipalities provide for us is fire service. Where would we be if we did not have our volunteer fire services in our communities, our paid firefighters and the equipment they have and whatever? If you consider snow removal, this winter in my district the amount of snow we have had has just been tremendous. Yet, the streets have been cleaned so well in our towns, in St. Anthony and other communities in the area. Our high roads that are worked on and covered by the Department of Transportation and Works, and service people, they have just done a tremendous job of keeping the system going; yet, at the municipal level, often under great restraint. It is important that they are able to collect their taxes effectively and so on.

What is interesting, Mr. Speaker, to note is that unlike provincial and federal governments which can benefit from annual growth and revenues, municipalities have to provide essential services even if the cost of doing so increases much faster than their tax base does. That is one of the things they wrestle with as well, that the tax base has been decreasing, the cost of providing services has been increasing.

Property taxes are certainly not providing the level of funding that is really needed to be able to allow municipalities to address the issues that are important to them. That could be because of collection issues and other issues as well. That is why I believe it is so important that government put a chase on creating a new fiscal arrangement with the municipalities as they have been promising to do so for a number of years.

In fact, the strategic plan of the Department of Municipal Affairs states that its goal is to develop a new fiscal arrangement by 2009. Of course, here we are in 2011 and clearly government has not achieved what it had promised to the municipalities. I would challenge the government, I would challenge the Department of Municipal Affairs, as we work through things and put legislation in place, to ensure that the addresses and things of taxpayers are provided by employers in municipalities that larger things are there, that we give the attention to that which is needed and so on and we get it done.

Mr. Speaker, the issue of collecting poll tax, as this amendment deals with, really kind of only skims the surface of what needs to be done to address the issues of ensuring that our municipalities are more sustainable. It is a step forward, it is something that needs to be done, and certainly we have no issue with supporting this legislation. We look forward to greater things coming as well.

I am optimistic as well, Mr. Speaker, I have to say, like the minister. I look forward to being around for many years when a lot of legislation is presented by our government. I do not know where the minister will be at that time, but I am sure there will be someone else scratching for his seat or whatever the case might be. Until then, we will challenge and we will critique their policies as much as possible. As an Opposition, we are certainly looking forward to October, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for the District of Bellevue.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PEACH: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand here in this hon. House today in my place as the Member for the District of Bellevue and speak on this amendment. It certainly is a very important amendment to the councils throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

We have been wrestling with this for years, Mr. Speaker. Being a previous Mayor of Norman's Cove-Long Cove, I have seen many times where we have had written letters to employers asking for addresses of their employees and very seldom did we get the response that we should have gotten at that time. It is a lot of work involved for our town clerks out there in the offices and it is a lot of red tape that you have to go through in order just to get an address to find out if there is an employee working with that employer.

In these small towns, the revenue that comes down through poll taxes in a lot of the small towns is very, very important. I have thirteen towns in my district and there are only probably three or four of the towns that charge property taxes. The others rely on the revenue coming in from poll tax. In most cases, these small towns really have great difficulty in collecting the poll tax. They do not need anything like this to hold them up in trying to get the revenues that they need to operate their town.

As was said earlier, it is very important for these small towns because they have all kinds of services that they have to provide. If you have a water system in, you have to have the chlorination system. In order to purchase chlorination for the chlorination system, it is very costly. In the wintertime they have the roadwork that they have to prepare the services for, sanding, and out on the road plowing the roads and what have you.

Also, Mr. Speaker, there is the whole thing of running the town with regard to their employees and making sure they can meet the payroll everyday. If you are only operating on half the revenue in your town and the other half are not paying, then it is certainly a great difficulty for the towns to be able to look after their town properly and provide the services to the people that they expect.

Mr. Speaker, this amendment deals with the addresses to be sent back to the towns. I know of an instance, when I was a previous mayor that we had, that the Town of Norman's Cove sent out to an employer about seven times looking to find out if this guy worked with that company. We could not tell because there were three guys with the same name working with the company. We could not identify if it was the same person that we were trying to tax because we could not get the address out of the employer. It is very, very important, and it is a very, very important amendment.

I want to commend the minister, too, for bringing in this amendment and also to say that it shows how our government works with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador and the speedency in getting this bill through. Also, of our minister knowing the importance that it is to the municipalities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador to have this amendment brought forward.

I also want to say about the poll tax itself, how it is being applied in the communities. In some communities we have the property taxes but also we have a poll tax in that same community. Somebody mentioned earlier that if you are paying a property tax you do not have to pay poll tax. That is so, but if you have four people in a household and the homeowners are paying property taxes and the son and daughter is working, those people too have to pay poll taxes in a lot of cases. Some towns opted out of that but most towns do have it, depending on the type of revenue they have and if they can afford to carry on with the revenue they have.

This is where the problem comes in, in collecting poll taxes. A lot of young people are in the community or in the towns for perhaps six months out of a year and then they move on to other jobs across Canada, throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and then they are back again for another six months out of the year. They feel they should not have to pay the poll taxes because they are only living in that community for half of the year, but that is not so, Mr. Speaker. If you are living there for six months or more and you earn the amount of money more than the basic tax exemptions, then you are eligible to pay a poll tax to that town as well. This is where a lot of the towns are struggling in trying to get their revenues for their town councils. It certainly is a necessity to get the message out to those people that the town needs your support as well by paying your revenue that you owe to the town in order for it to be able to supply the services throughout the whole town. This is not a tax that is being levied on people, Mr. Speaker; this is just merely an amendment to help the towns in trying to collect the taxes to help the towns –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. PEACH: - to get the message out there to be able –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. PEACH: - to contact the employers and say do you have ‘John Joe' working at your plant, or do you have such a person working at your industry. Then they can come back and say yes, here is the address of this person. Then after that then they can take the appropriate measures to make sure that those taxes are given to the – the right advice is given to the employer so that they can deduct the taxes as required by the town.

Mr. Speaker, I certainly will be supporting this amendment, it is very important to the towns in my district and throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well. I am sure it is a very important amendment for Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. I want to endorse the minister's request to put through this amendment and I look forward to hearing more debate on it later.

Thank you very much.

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.

I am glad to have a few moments to speak to Bill 18, An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No. 2. As has been said already by the minister and by other speakers, this act basically is being put in place to make it easier for municipalities to collect their poll taxes.

It seems like quick action was taken by the minister after the Annual General Meeting of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, who passed a resolution that MNL should lobby the provincial government to effect changes to facilitate more effective means to collect poll taxes that would include. Well, I have to say MNL must be one of the most effective lobby groups in the Province because they received pretty quick action from the minister on this one. I am sure they will be very happy. The minister says that he always looks after his municipalities and MNL. I am sure they appreciate that.

If we are going to have a poll tax, the amendment makes all kinds of sense. There are no privacy issues for those who may wonder are there privacy issues because the information that the towns are looking for can be gotten through other means. It is not like it is information that is not accessible. It is accessible; it is just that it would make life a bit easier for them, since they can get the names of the employees from the employers; it just makes it easier for them then to also be able to get the addresses from the employers. So it facilitates the process.

There is an issue that I would like to bring up and I would like this government to think about, and that is the issue of poll tax itself. Poll tax is aimed at tenants. In municipalities, we have property taxes and property taxes are aimed at property owners. Poll taxes are aimed at tenants. However, the poll tax is really a double tax on the tenant because landlords who own property and pay taxes on those properties, they build in the cost of their taxes into the rent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: When they build the cost of taxes into the rent, then that rent is paid by the tenants so they are contributing to the property tax that is paid by the landlord.

When you put a poll tax on top of them, then you are adding a second tax to the tenants. So it really is an unfair tax from that perspective. I really believe that this government needs to look at this. Some municipalities, I would imagine, feel forced to do poll taxes because they have had such cutbacks by both the federal government and the provincial government in money to help them run their towns. So I think we have take the onus off the tenant here – tenants who are already paying into the property tax of the landlord. We have to take the onus off their backs and see that municipalities are getting the adequate support they need to get both from the Province and also from the federal government.

This is one of the things that concerns me. The previous speaker did talk about the fact that in a rental property you may have multiple people and that you are trying to get poll taxes from these multiple people. When we look at property tax, we do not determine property tax based on how many people are living in a house.

So if young people, the young people who were referred to by my colleague prior to me, for example, were from a family where the family owns their own home, then those young people can live in the home of their parents and not have to worry because the parents are paying property tax. If the young people do not come from a family who is able to own their own home and a family that is renting, we are expecting them to pay a poll tax because they live in the rental property. Just as the owners of the home, who are paying property tax are probably paying a mortgage, and they are paying their property tax and the younger people who live with them do not have any responsibility for it, well it is the same way for the parents who may be renting. They are paying their rent. That rent includes the property tax of the landlord so why should we expect other people living in the house to have to pay a poll tax and why should we expect those paying the rent to have to pay a poll tax either.

It brings up for me that extra question of why we have poll taxes; why we are really making things more difficult for people in rented properties. This then goes to the issue of affordable housing because one of the issues around lack of affordable housing in this Province is the way in which rental properties have gone up, residential rental properties. While the amendment itself is an innocuous amendment, and I certainly support, I really do ask the minister and this government to consider the fact that the poll tax itself is an unjust tax and not fair to people who are renting. Very, very often people who are renting are renting because they cannot afford to own, not always but that is one of the reasons. We are putting an extra onus on them to pay taxes when, as I said, it really is a double tax for them.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs, if he speaks now he will close debate.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to answering some of the questions with regard to my closing comments on second reading of this very important act and the amendment as well.

It might be just a simple change with regard to having the employers of people living in municipalities to provide the address of their employees to that particular municipality, but it is a very important tool in regard to municipalities having the ability to collect that tax.

That is what this is all about, Mr. Speaker, and yes MNL are a great bunch of people. I have really grown to respect each and every person on the executive of MNL, also the executive director and anybody else who works with MNL. They are a great bunch of people. We work in partnership with them as we work in partnership with all municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador. I think this government has forged a relationship with municipalities across this great Province of ours in no other way as in previous years with previous governments. I have had that said to me on numerous occasions. I have had it said to me on a couple of events and in regard to the speaking of people connected to MNL, as well as municipal leaders, referencing that they had not seen it in their twenty or so years, or whatever it may be, on serving on council the relationship that they currently have with this government.

As to the number of things that was brought forward by my hon. members across the House, one of them is in regard to the protection of that particular information. As with any other government entity, Mr. Speaker, municipalities must collect, store, and use this information under the guidelines of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. So, that is taken care of, they have to protect, and they have to respect that information, Mr. Speaker.

They do this in other cases as well in the collection of property tax and all of the other good things that they might have instances to use the particular addresses and the particular information surrounding the citizens who live in their municipality. They cannot share that information with outside third parties, Mr. Speaker. That is protected by the act under the Municipalities Act, under the access to information act as well. To clarify that, that was brought up by the hon. member across the House, so I just wanted to bring that forward.

He also referenced he was glad that we were bringing this amendment forward, that it was brought forward shortly after the symposium they had in October. Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador gathered here in St. John's in October and this was one of the resolutions, but this is only part of the resolutions that they brought forward. One of the things that he referenced was in regard to the collection of taxes that we might consider attaching that collection process to driver's licence. Mr. Speaker, yes, that will be considered in the future by this government, certainly by the current Minister of Government Services, which was my past post, and we have done a certain amount of work in regard to that. There is a policy issue surrounding that particular request that has to be considered by government. Also, it requires software and programming issues to be addressed before we could actually do that, Mr. Speaker.

What I am saying is that it is a lot more complicated than just attaching that to a person's driver's licence. A lot of other things come into play regarding that. So, that is something that is going to be considered by government in future years, on a go-forward basis, but it is not something that we can address here as quickly as we could address this particular amendment.

So, we have this forward. We will take any and all resolutions that come forward from MNL and their symposium that they have each year as serious requests. We will research it, Mr. Speaker, and certainly, we will bring forward any amendments to the Municipalities Act that we possibly can in as fast a manner as we possibly can.

The other piece that was referenced by the hon. member was the Municipal Operating Grants and how important it is for municipalities to have the necessary revenues to carry out their everyday operation. Well, this government, like no other, has recognized all those issues surrounding municipalities. They do need the revenue. They do they have to provide services to the citizens that they serve and the people who have elected them as municipal leaders in their own right.

As well, I just want to give you a little bit of history in the Municipal Operating Grants. The Municipal Operating Grant formula was developed back in 1992 under the Wells government. I guess they brought forward that formula in regard to the amounts of money that were considered at that time and transferred to municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador with all the goodness in their hearts. The one thing that they did not have was any vision in the viability of that particular program at that particular time in history, Mr. Speaker, because in subsequent years, shortly after the introduction of the Municipal Operating Grants, they were cut, and cut drastically. As a matter of fact, one of the largest cuts came in 1996, because they did not have the vision to understand that it is great to bring in something like a Municipal Operating Grant formula, but it is another thing to be able to afford it in the out years.

The one thing that I can say as I speak in this House, after eight years in this hon. House as the Member for Gander, Mr. Speaker, I will tell you one thing, when we brought forward things in regard to all our past budgets, we looked at the sustainability of those particular programs in the out years. As a matter of fact, going out as far as twenty and twenty-five and thirty years, could we afford it? Could we afford it if the price of oil goes down? Could we afford it if the oil production went down? Could we afford it if we had a glitch in our mining industry? Could we afford it in regard to our forest industry? Could we afford it in regard to any of the revenue streams that we might have as a Province?

So, not unlike municipalities, we depend on revenue streams as well to provide the services that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador expect, also that they require and certainly what they need. In order to provide that, we have to have the revenue streams that offsets that cost. Sometimes there are not enough revenues coming into our Provincial Treasury to provide all the things that people might expect.

We have to make choices, hard choices, and we have made hard choices over the years.

These are the kinds of things in regard to Municipal Operating Grants, and I am not going to shy away when the hon. member brought that forward that we also had reductions to Municipal Operating Grants to nineteen of our largest communities. We had a three-year plan in regard to those reductions because we did not know what was coming at us in the out years. We projected them, but we only reduced them in the first two years and then froze them in the third year, and they have been frozen ever since.

We have done a lot of work within my department with regard to understanding that formula, understanding the revenue stream and how important it is to the municipalities. Certainly I, as the minister, now have a good appreciation of Municipal Operating Grants and we will continue to work with municipalities and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador in regard to that.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I believe that I have spoken to most of the issues surrounding this act and this amendment that was brought up by the hon. members across the House. Again, I welcome their comments and I also recognize that they fully agree with the amendment as has been brought forward here this afternoon. They see it as a very worthwhile thing, a good tool to the municipalities in regard to collecting this very important tax. I agree sometimes you do not want to have poll tax, but sometimes you just have to have it because you have to have that revenue stream.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat in the House. If there are any other questions, I would be glad to stand in my place and answer them during Committee stage.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 18, An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No.2, 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 Municipalities Act, 1999 No. 2. (Bill 18)

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?

MR. SKINNER: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act, 1999 No. 2", read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 18)

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources and Acting Government House Leader.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I now call Order 12, second reading of Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works, that Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act, be now read a second time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act". (Bill 20)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is a pleasure for me this evening to stand and introduce Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act. What we are talking about here today is, again, what we refer to on a number of occasions as housekeeping. What we are doing is streamlining the current language that is in the legislation and removing some duplication in some sections of the act.

Mr. Speaker, while I say it is housekeeping, nevertheless, any time you are talking about the Highway Traffic Act, you are talking about a very serious piece of legislation in our Province. With respect to the changes, Mr. Speaker, there are no changes regarding policy itself. It is just streamlining some of the current clauses that are in the legislation.

As most people are aware in the Province, Mr. Speaker, the Highway Traffic Act is a very significant piece of legislation. It has more than 215 provisions. It has a detailed scheduled as well as eighteen associated sets of regulations. The act has been amended on a fairly regular basis since its enactment. Mr. Speaker, it is like most everything else, as times change, as circumstances change, so the need for legislation to change. As a result, in this particular case it requires occasional housekeeping, as we call it, to ensure that, number one, it is as clear as possible and also that it reduces the type of repetition which may arise from policy changes being made at different points in time.

Mr. Speaker, in this particular bill, the amendments we are seeking are to consolidate common references to two classes of drivers. One of these classes is what we call regular drivers; they are drivers like ourselves who have been driving for a number of years. The other class is novice drivers. That simply we can class as young drivers who are just about to gain experience to get their regular driver's licence. The two provisions that we are talking about with respect to these two classes of drivers relate to the surrender or suspension of licences and also the screening for alcohol and or drug impairment, as well as the various periods for licence suspensions. Basically, what we are saying is consolidating these two references. In particular, for one section that might apply to a regular driver with respect to the suspension of their licence. Right now it is separated, regular drivers and novice drivers. What we are talking about is just combining the two into one.

The bill, Mr. Speaker, creates new sections to combine existing but separate sections for both regular drivers and novice drivers, as I just mentioned. These revised sections outline the requirements for testing for impairment of alcohol, drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, and also the limits at which penalties are imposed. For example, Mr. Speaker, for regular drivers now under the legislation, and this will not change - for regular drivers having fifty milligrams or more of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or what we would class as .05, will get an automatic seven-day licence suspension. If a person has eighty milligrams or more in 100 millilitres of blood, what we class as .08, this will automatically mean a ninety-day suspension. Mr Speaker, as I said, that is not a change in the legislation. That is what we impose ourselves under the current Highways Traffic Act. Of course, in addition to that, there is also licence suspensions if someone is convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada for impaired driving over .08, then also additional sentences would apply. That is for the regular drivers, Mr. Speaker.

Under the current legislation, with respect to novice drivers, the test certainly is much more restrictive, as it should be, because a new driver getting their licence certainly do not want to be involved in being charged with impaired driving or anything like that. Certainly, we have to try to discourage, wherever possible, young drivers from becoming involved in that kind of thing. I just want to give you an example, Mr. Speaker, for novice drivers. The presence of any alcohol at all, anything above zero in 100 millimetres of blood attracts an automatic suspension of two months for the first offence. It is four months for the second offence, and six months for a third or subsequent offence. A novice driver having eighty milligrams in 100 millilitres, or .08, provides an additional ninety-day suspension. Again, Mr. Speaker, there are also additional licence suspensions if someone is convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Also, Mr. Speaker, with respect to both types of drivers, whether you are a regular driver or a novice driver, if you fail to provide a breath or blood sample, or if you refuse to provide a sample, that automatically carries a ninety-day suspension, plus any other suspensions or penalties which might be applicable under the Criminal Code of Canada. As I said before, Mr. Speaker, while these are not new penalties they are combined in a way which reduces the amount of separate references in different sections of the current legislation and hopefully, will provide a format which law enforcement officials will find clearer and easier to understand and to administer.

In addition to these consolidations, Mr. Speaker, we are also including a reference to section 255 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which governs punishment for impaired driving, especially for offences causing serious injury or death. This addition is made to ensure that a police officer has clear authority when requesting surrender of a person's driver's licence.

Mr. Speaker, before we drafted this legislation we did speak to the RCMP and the RNC, and both of these police forces are very much supportive of what we are doing today to help clarify the situation with respect to their job out in the field.

Mr. Speaker, on that I would like to finish my remarks now and leave it open for any of my colleagues who would like to address this piece of legislation.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I say it is a pleasure to be able to stand today and make a few comments with regard to Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act.

I am not going to go over everything because the minister, I think, went through most of the changes and amendments that I recognized, but I want to touch on a few and make a few personal comments on what I believe probably should be in the bill, that is not there. That is, I guess, a case for another day.

Mr. Speaker, this bill goes on to clean up the act, and also to remove repetition. The provisions respecting drivers and novice drivers, are taken care of here, and there are three types of impairments: alcohol, drugs, or the combination of both. Mr. Speaker, I know over the years that one of the most major issues was alcohol, but we know the society we live in today, there are major changes and major concerns with the abuse of many other drugs.

It goes on to say another provision is suspension periods, where the driver's licence or the driving privileges are suspended due to impairment. Mr. Speaker, we know that, and people go to court and they get charged and so on, but how often do we hear of people being picked up again by the RCMP or the RNC, who have been charged several times. I know only recently we have heard many cases where individuals, not only under the influence of alcohol, but on various other charges, owe thousands of dollars to the treasury. I do not know what can be done to correct that. I guess we can put all kinds of penalties in place, whatever we have. If people are going to ignore the laws, going to ignore the rights of other people, then I think that becomes a very serious situation.

It also goes on, Mr. Speaker, the fourth one, includes a reference to Section 255 of the Criminal Code that allows a peace officer to require the surrender of a driver's licence. As the minister said, these are not new penalties within the bill, but, Mr. Speaker, there are many situations that I think once this bill becomes the law, it will help to clarify some of the situations that we are faced with.

Under section 60.01, a peace officer may demand a driver to provide a breath sample, and the proportion of alcohol under which a peace officer may demand that a driver's licence be suspended, is fifty milligrams or more of alcohol to one hundred millilitres of blood, or zero milligrams or more of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.

Mr. Speaker, the minister gave those statistics, and just for the record, I think fifty milligrams is approximately what we probably hear more talk of as 0.5. I can tell you that from experience in the past, not in recent years, but in the past alcohol played a major difference with different people. It could have to do with your age, it could have to do with your size and I will get into that in a little more detail. Some of the research I found that an individual, a 200 pound male would have to drink between three and four regular size glasses – that would be a twelve ounce glass of beer – before they would be considered over the legal alcohol limits in this Province. I do not know about anyone else, Mr. Speaker, and I have not been drinking for many years but I can tell you if I had four glasses of beer, twelve ounce glasses, I may not be over the legal limits but I guarantee you sir I would not do a very good job behind the wheel. I think there are many scenarios that have to come into play; it is good that we have those rules and the limits and the amount of alcohol that can be in the blood, but, Mr. Speaker, on many occasions that is what takes place.

I know that is the rule, the law, not only in our Province; I think Saskatchewan is the only other province that they have a limit which is forty. Mr. Speaker, when you come to size it up that an individual with three or four glasses of beer, and maybe it is other liquors as well – but I know the information I saw mentioned beer – and, like I said, you may not be over the limits but I can assure you it is very disturbing to know that someone may be probably have the right size to carry that off. Maybe on any given day they might have some medical problem that their systems cannot do what they ordinarily would do under good health. I know I have personal problems with that, there is very little you can do about it. We can only go with the legislation that we have here at the present time and hopefully that the educational programs that are being put out there will help those who have some serious problems.

We also have to consider that there are many groups, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They are some of the people that really bring this to the forefront and rightly so. We know of many cases in our Province where people have been not only seriously injured but many people have lost their lives.

One of the major problems, and I do not know how it can be done and I do not think the minister will be able to bring it in through this legislation, but in my books, if someone is picked up for drunk driving and someone else has lost their life through it, I think that is a very serious situation and then to know some of them end up back on the road again. I do not know if you can stamp something on their foreheads so everybody will identify them fairly quickly but it is a very serious situation, Mr. Speaker, and I do not know what can be done. You can raise the limits all you want, if someone is going to ignore the law then that is all you can do about that.

Mr. Speaker, many cases go to court. From time to time, I do not know that our legal system or what have you – and for various reasons someone may have been in a serious accident, someone may have died through it and they were under the influence of alcohol. Many times we hear cases, whether it is medical conditions, under other pressures in the court system, the judge may rule that there were other outstanding circumstances here. Even though he was under the influence of alcohol that caused the problem, many times they get off relatively free, Mr. Speaker.

The other issue, it was mentioned here in 60.01, has been changed in order to include persons charged under sections 253, 254, and 255 of the Criminal Code. It previously only included sections 254 and 253 where it involves operating a motor vehicle while impaired, whereas section 254 involves testing for a presence of alcohol in the blood and samples of breath or blood with reasonable belief of commission of an offence. Mr. Speaker, I know under this bill, like the minister has stated, that now the rules are there where a peace officer can ask to have that licence lifted right there on the spot and he went through all the time limits that this would be done and the penalties imposed, whether it is seven days, in other situations he mentioned ninety days and so on. Mr. Speaker, it goes on to say that if a person is now charged under one of these sections, 60.01 of the Newfoundland Highway Traffic Act now requires that their licence be suspended.

Mr. Speaker, my personal opinion – and it is only my personal opinion – I believe that the penalties should be stronger. However, any change is acceptable and I will be voting for this piece of legislation. However, I think in the future we should go further with it for many reasons. I know back about thirty-five or forty years ago, a friend of mine who was out partying one night, and even though he was under the influence to a degree that he should never have been, he would not give up his keys for someone else to drive home, and (inaudible) two of the individuals in the car were very seriously injured and at that time he lost his life unfortunately.

I have no problem, Mr. Speaker, with anyone having a sociable drink; I do not care how much they drink. I think when the person sits behind that wheel, then it becomes a problem and a concern of mine and I am sure all the residents of this great Province of ours.

So, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I concur with the amendments to this Highway Traffic Act. I believe that the penalties should be stronger; I really believe that. There are many other ways that you can go out now and party and have a drink. You can have a designated driver. There are lots of taxis in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, like I said, I agree with the bill and thank the minister for the opportunity. He gave me some issues prior to the bill of what was coming up.

Mr. Speaker, with that, I will take my place.

Thank you.

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

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

I am very happy to stand and speak to Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act. Of course, we all remember that it was last spring, in 2010, when we brought in some very key amendments into the Highway Traffic Act that the bill we have in front of us today is dealing with again. I think the minister has explained that the amendments we are dealing with today, which consolidate and remove some repetition in some of the changes we made last year, will make the legislation simpler.

So, we have consolidation and repetitions dealt with in a number of cases: one, relating to drivers and novice drivers; another, relating to alcohol impairment and drug impairment, or a combination of the two. I think what we did before was it made the section unnecessarily long. Each part was dealt with separately, the drivers, the novice drivers, et cetera, and there was no need for that. I think what they have done in the department is tighten up the language of the amendments that we made last year, which may be a sign, maybe the work was done a little bit too quickly. At least we are making the legislation clearer and simpler. I think all legislation should be as clear and simple as possible, and I think that is what we are dealing with here today in the legislation we are looking at.

I think it is extremely important that we have the legislation with regard to drinking and driving as clear as possible because it continues to be a problem in our Province and in our country. According to the Government Services Web site, we still have about 700 driving and drinking convictions registered every year in this Province. That does not mean that is the number of people who are drinking and driving, but we actually have 700 convictions a year that are registered.

The interesting point that the Government Services Web site says is that 85 per cent to 90 per cent are first-time offenders. That is really interesting because I consider that to be very high. Sometimes when we listen to the news, it sounds like it is repeat offenders all the time, but it is because it is only the repeat offenders who make it to the news. Sometimes, of course, it is multiple repetitions and that is very concerning. In actual fact, 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the 700 convictions are first-time offenders, which mean that we still have a lot of work to do in the Province with regard to education of people with regard to the dangers of drinking and driving.

Last year, we did bring in the amendment that is now in legislation which lowered the acceptable limit to 0.05. I have heard a lot of complaints from people, not so much recently but certainly right after we passed the legislation. People complaining that we were really almost down to zero tolerance for the regular drivers, not just for novice drivers, and was this acceptable and we were going to have to get taxis to go anywhere now if we knew we were going to have at least one drink.

That complaint seems to have died down, I do not hear those complaints any more, not the way that I remember hearing them after we first passed the legislation. Just like with anything else, if it is a good change, people are going to accept the change and they find, I am sure, that they can make the adaptations that one has to make. I think it is good that we do that because of the number of deaths that we have in our country, because of the number of accidents that we have.

The other good thing that has happened which shows that educational programs can work, I am noticing more than ever now in the news that police are finding somebody who is drinking and driving because of reports that are coming in. I think that is very important. That means the educational program that is going on with regard to calling the police if you suspect that somebody is drinking and driving, that educational program is making inroads. I do not have any details, and maybe the minister does, on whether or not we have actual numbers of reports that are going into police. I am hoping that what we hear on the news are only some of the cases where this is happening. It certainly seems like people are catching on to the fact that we have a responsibility as citizens, as people who live in our community, we have a responsibility to notify authorities if we think somebody is drinking and driving. That is very good and I am glad to see that going on.

One of the things that I think is good in this legislation, it does make clear the difference between the roadside screening that happens and the testing by an approved instrument at the station after somebody has actually been stopped by the police. They are two different tests. The one that happens by the roadside is sort of an alert test. It alerts the police to the fact of whether or not the person is over the limit and then the police can make a decision to then have the person tested by the approved instrument back at the station. This Breathalyzer will deal with both – well, it is more than a Breathalyzer it deals with both blood and breath. As well, not only is it the right of the authorities, of the police to say that the test is going to happen, a person who has had the screening on the roadside and who believes that they are not over the acceptable limit can also request to have the testing by the approved instrument. What is interesting in the legislation is no matter who asks for that second test to happen by the approved instrument, the results of the second analysis is actually the final result. That is what is accepted, no matter what happened at the roadside.

It is important that we make things very clear, as clear as they can possibly be. We know that there are other things that we probably should look at in the Province to deal with drinking and driving. Some of them are problematic in terms of cost, but if they are helpful in terms of stopping drinking and driving, then I think they need to be considered. I know one thing that Mothers Against Drunk Driving are calling for is the mandatory interlock program, the program that disallows somebody to be able to turn on the ignition in their car. Right now, in our Province it is voluntary. It is certainly an excellent program if somebody is a problem driver when it comes to drinking and driving. It would stop the person from being able to turn on their car. Now, I cannot imagine if looking at the fact that 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the convictions are first-time drivers, then the numbers of people who are repeat offenders, while it is larger than I would like it to be, is still relatively small in terms of the full number of people who get convicted.

So, it would seem to me that it would not be too costly to make the interlock program a mandatory one and not just voluntary. Yes, if it were mandatory, it does require more resources to make sure that it is monitored. The thing is, once you put it in place, if it is demanded that it happen then the person is going to have to use it. If it is voluntary, it is a different thing. I think it really is something that we need to look into because 10 per cent to 15 per cent of repeat offenders is still not acceptable. It is certainly lower than those who are first time, but it is still not acceptable. I think it is something the department does need to look at, making it mandatory so that we really do cut down even more so on those who are repeat offenders.

We also, of course, need more education. Obviously, if we have so many first-time offenders, then we have people who are not getting the message. The message is drinking and driving just does not mix. They are a danger to the community and they are a danger to the person, his or herself, who is drinking or driving. So, that is one thing I think we need to look at.

The other thing that Mothers Against Drunk Driving are calling for is vehicle impoundments and vehicle forfeiture. In other words, you lose your vehicle after three impoundments. Now, police do have the power to impound. Usually, they do not do it if it is just somebody who has blown 0.5 at the roadside, but with the new law that we have, impoundment has gone up with the new law that we brought in. Once again, if something is going to work to save more lives, then I think we have to look at that. We already have cases this year, the year is young, and we already have cases of people being killed because of a drunk driver.

I am glad to see that we are making our act, the Highway Traffic Act, clearer with regard to drunk driving. That is a good thing to do, and I do encourage the minister to look further at the two issues that I have raised, especially the mandatory interlock as a way of cutting down even more on accidents and deaths that can happen because of people, who, unfortunately, in spite of everything, are still drinking and driving.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair recognizes the hon. the Member for Topsail.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DAVIS: Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you for the opportunity to rise today and to participate in this debate on Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act.

As mentioned by my colleagues in this hon. House, this bill will create some wording changes, some changes in the Highway Traffic Act as it relates to provisions, but primarily relating to alcohol and impaired types of offences and circumstances. Mr. Speaker, as well, has been indicated earlier and referred to earlier, it could be considered to be housekeeping or streamlining these administrative sections.

Mr. Speaker, before I get too far into my comments I think it would be worthy for me to take just a couple of minutes to explain some aspects of the Criminal Code that relate to impaired driving, because it does apply to this bill as well. There has been discussion here about screening devices and also approved instruments. An approved screening device is sometimes referred to as - it used to be, one time, referred to as an A.L.E.R.T. I think A.L.E.R.T actually referred to an Alcohol Level Evaluation Roadside Tester. It was actually stamped right on some of the screening devices that were used. A Dräger is another device that is used for roadside screening. The use of that device is used by police officers when they find a person is operating a motor vehicle or has care or control of a motor vehicle when they believe there is a presence of alcohol. Mr. Speaker, in that case there does not have to be grounds for a police officer to necessarily believe a person may be impaired by alcohol. They only need to have reason to believe the operator or person in care or control has a present of alcohol. Under that circumstance a police officer can demand the person provide a sample suitable for a roadside screening, and in that case use an approved roadside screening device.

Mr. Speaker, if a person operating or having care and control of a motor vehicle is found to have alcohol in excess of .08, or eighty milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, sometimes referred to as .08 or .08 per cent, which is actually what it is, or eighty milligrams, which, in short, as it is sometimes referred to, if the screening device finds that a person's alcohol is higher than eighty milligrams the officer can then, under the Criminal Code, demand that the driver submit to testing by an approved instrument. An approved instrument is generally referred to as a Breathalyzer, a commonly known device. A test for a Breathalyzer has to be provided in a controlled circumstance, quite often at a police station or detachment office. In a controlled circumstance and only given by an approved operator of a Breathalyzer, a person who has to be approved by the Attorney General, actually, to administer the testing.

As well, not only when an officer finds a driver who they believe has a presence of alcohol can they demand that they provide a sample for roadside screening, but they can also demand the driver undergo roadside sobriety testing. That is allowed for, again, in the Criminal Code of Canada which is referred to in this bill, under the Highway Traffic Act under section 254. That is where the officer can demand the driver perform a physical co-ordination test as prescribed by the regulations.

All of these regulations, Mr. Speaker, are intended to take steps to ensure the safety of all members of the general public, including a person who may be operating a motor vehicle while impaired or under the influence of alcohol or a drug. These regulations, these laws, the Criminal Code of Canada, the Highway Traffic Act, the changes that are in this bill – which, by the way, do not create any policy changes in law, it changes the language in the way that it is written. All of these laws are for the greater protection of the public, to ensure that people do not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or have care or control of a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug.

Mr. Speaker, under this particular bill, proposed to be section 60.01 of the Highway Traffic Act if the bill is approved, it indicates here as well that, where upon the demand of a peace officer who is given under section 254 – and 254 of the Criminal Code is the section that actually refers to the rights of an officer to give a demand for a screening or evaluation of the concentration of alcohol that may be in the person's blood. Under that particular section, under 60.01, when an officer demands that a driver of a motor vehicle or a person who has care or control of a motor vehicle, because it may be that the person is not actually driving it but has care or control of the motor vehicle, a novice driver of a motor vehicle or a novice driver who has care or control, where they provide a sample of his or her breath, which is an analyzed and approved screening device as approved by section 254 of the Criminal Code and the proportion of alcohol is higher than what is permitted.

Now what they are referring to here, without getting through the intricacies of all of the sections, if a person under the Criminal Code is deemed to have committed a criminal offence when the level of alcohol in their blood is greater than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. That is the criminal law. So, what I am talking about here refers to the criminal law and it also refers to the law under the Highway Traffic Act. Under the law of the Highway Traffic Act, a person is not legally permitted to operate a motor vehicle when the concentration of alcohol is greater than 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

In a case when a driver is found to be driving, or having care or control, and their level of alcohol is greater than 50 milligrams, a police officer can demand that the person hand over their driver's licence, that the person surrender their driver's licence. In that case, a person's licence can be suspended for a period of seven days when their alcohol level is greater than 50 milligrams.

Now, when their alcohol level is higher than 80 milligrams, again, the officer can and will demand that the person surrender their driver's licence to the officer for a period of seven days as well. In addition to that, the person's driver's licence will be suspended for a period of ninety days beyond that.

Under the process of the law, what would occur is a person's driver's licence will be taken away from them at the time they are found to be operating a motor vehicle with 80 milligrams or more of alcohol in their blood. Their licence is then suspended for a seven-day period. Then there is a two-week period where a person would be allowed to operate their vehicle again. I think I have heard it referred to as a courtesy period or a time to allow a person to get their affairs in order.

After the fourteenth day, a person's licence is then suspended. If you have alcohol greater than 80 milligrams in your blood when you are found to be driving, your licence is then suspended for a further ninety days. So seven days, there is a fourteen-day period where a person can get their affairs in order, and then your licence is suspended for a ninety-day period.

Mr. Speaker, they are serious administrative penalties, or a punitive section, under our provincial law which are greater than those allowed under the Criminal Code. They are different than the Criminal Code in that when you are found to have been driving with alcohol over 80 milligrams, your licence is automatically suspended for a seven-day period and subsequently a further ninety days.

When a person is charged, they go through their court process, they either plead guilty or sometimes they would prefer to have a trial, which is a person's right. When they are convicted under the Criminal Code, there is a further suspension of their licence on a first offence of twelve months. So, for a twelve-month period on a first offence, your licence is suspended for a full year; however, if a person is convicted a second or a subsequent time, the penalties, the suspension periods, are even longer. It can be three years and even longer. So, for a period of thirty-six months, actually, in the case of a second conviction when a conviction is entered within ten years of the first conviction. With a person's first time conviction of impaired driving, the minimum driving suspension is twelve months; however, if any time in the next ten years that person is convicted of an impaired driving offence, a second time in ten years, anywhere in Canada, in any province or territory of Canada and they are convicted, that person then will, for a period of thirty-six months, have their licence suspended.

As well, if a third conviction was to occur within that ten years of the first conviction, it is a period of sixty months suspension, then for life in the case of a fourth conviction within ten years. A criminal conviction for impaired driving has an effect on future sentencing of any person convicted for up to a ten-year period from their first conviction.

Mr. Speaker, to get back to the bill at hand, as I said earlier these laws work together. The Highway Traffic Act rules and laws relating to impaired driving and what is contained in the Criminal Code of Canada actually work together. The Highway Traffic Act is designed to work with the laws under the Criminal Code of Canada and they do work together. They are separate, yet work together.

We know that in the last number of years there have been increases in the changes to the legislation as it relates to novice drivers. A novice driver in Newfoundland and Labrador is not permitted to have a presence of alcohol at all while operating a motor vehicle. Now, I am not sure how clear that is to the general public, but I am going to try to make an effort today to make that clearer because I know novice drivers are aware of it. I speak to novice drivers and when they go through their driver training - which is highly recommended. Anybody who is obtaining a driver's licence, attempting to obtain a driver's licence, should undergo qualified training. Anybody can go in and write their test, they can write a written test and do a road test and go through those processes, but I firmly believe that proper, comprehensive instruction by qualified instructors is a valuable education and a valuable investment.

If a novice driver has a presence of alcohol when they are operating or have care or control of a motor vehicle, then they are subject to suspension as well, Mr. Speaker. In the case of a novice driver, on the first occasion it is for a two-month period. Two-month automatic suspension for any presence of alcohol, a four-month for a second, and six months for any subsequent occasion. They are very strong, very stringent for a novice driver. It is very important that those novice drivers not consume or have the presence of alcohol before getting behind the wheel, or before having care or control of a motor vehicle.

I know that my colleague across the House referred earlier to some statistics relating to the numbers of impaired drivers who have been arrested or have been charged in recent years. I know that there has been an increase in the number of impaired drivers in recent years. If you went back over the statistics for the last ten years – I do not have them here in front of me, and I do not think I would want to bore everyone with the intricate details of statistics, but we do know that the number of drivers found to be operating a motor vehicle while impaired, or while having consumed alcohol or a drug, has increased.

I think we have to look at other factors that may be in play to create that. I think it is very important to consider those other factors. I know in the case of the RNC, and I can speak very clearly to the RNC, that since 2004, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, with working with this government, began training police cadets through a program that is conducted co-operatively with Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. I stand to be corrected, Mr. Speaker, but I believe the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary may still be the only police service in Canada that requires their cadets to obtain a university education to be qualified for employment with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary as a police officer. I stand to be corrected on that, but I can tell you, to the best of my knowledge, it is still only the RNC that has that requirement.

The first class began training in that program in 2004. They graduated in August, the first of September, Labour Day weekend, in 2005. I can tell you as well that since 2004, the RNC today has 163 more police officers on the street than they had in 2004 – 163 more police officers. Now, that means there are more police officers on the street today checking for impaired drivers, checking the operations of motor vehicles, and doing all of the things that the RNC do, but for the purposes of today, there are more police officers who are looking for those drivers who may be impaired. That, Mr. Speaker, would in a great way add to the increase in impaired drivers that we have seen in recent years.

The numbers are not exciting, the fact that there are a lot of people operating or too many people operating motor vehicles while their ability is impaired by alcohol or a drug is not an exciting number but it is a factual number. The initiatives taken by government, under the criminal law and under the Highway Traffic Act in recent years to strengthen these laws relating to impaired driving, are going to do nothing but help. When you lower the provincial level of alcohol to fifty milligrams – when the alcohol level exceeds fifty milligrams you are going to get a suspension. Now you will not be convicted of a criminal offence at fifty milligrams – you will at eighty – but at fifty you are going to get your licence suspended for a week. If you are a person who relies on your motor vehicle and your ability to drive for your livelihood or to carry out your day-to-day business, that is going to be a major impact on you and you are going to think more about what you are going to do before you get behind the wheel when you consider that the repercussions could be included. Even at fifty milligrams the repercussions could be the loss of your licence for a period of seven days.

Mr. Speaker, before I clue up this afternoon I want to speak briefly on drugs; on impaired by drug. In recent years there are persons, there is more of a variety of drugs that are available to people and the law has become more complex as it is into determining if a person is impaired by a drug. Now, a person when stopped by a police officer in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada, a police officer can demand that the operator undergo a standardized field sobriety test. A standardized field sobriety test is a test the officer can do, a physical test or a series of tests that the officer can conduct with the driver right on the side of the road, when that person believes there may be a presence of alcohol or drug. The officer can ask the driver to submit to these standard field sobriety tests.

If an officer carries out the standardized field sobriety test and as a result of that standardized field sobriety test believes that the operator may be impaired by a drug, then the officer can then demand that the driver undergo an examination by a Drug Recognition Expert. A Drug Recognition Expert is an officer qualified, and has to be qualified to undergo a drug recognition evaluation, or what is sometimes called, officers refer to it as a DRE, Drug Recognition Expert, and can do the drug recognition evaluation. There is a considerable investment in training these officers to be able to be qualified to conduct a drug recognition evaluation, but it is a very worthwhile training, it is very worthwhile to ensure that the officers have this ability, it is allowed for under the criminal code and it has to be done correctly. It is a very significant piece of work to train and develop the skills as a Drug Recognition Expert. I applaud police services throughout Canada who are now using drug recognition evaluations to detect people who may be impaired by a drug, and it should continue.

Mr. Speaker, those are my comments for this afternoon. I will be supporting this bill. I thank the minister for bringing it forward and I thank you for the opportunity to have a say in Bill 20 this afternoon.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the Minister of Government Services speaks now he will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Government Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Certainly, I want to take the opportunity to thank all of my colleagues who took part in the debate today on this piece of legislation with respect to the Highway Traffic Act. Before I brought forward this piece of legislation I asked my colleague for Topsail if he would speak to it because I wanted to take advantage of his long experience as a former member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. I think you would agree, Mr. Speaker, that the knowledge that he has parted here today has certainly added considerably to the debate in this piece of legislation and I thank him very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: In fact, Mr. Speaker, I think he might have answered any of the concerns that were raised as well by members of the Opposition.

A couple of points with respect to some things that were raised by the hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi: First, with respect to devices that are used, she is correct that the first instrument that they use in determining the alcohol content of a person is with a piece of equipment called A.L.E.R.T. and my colleague made reference to another couple of names. Anyway, that is what they use during the roadside screening. In addition to that, if the driver or the police feel that further tests should be done, then they would go back to the police station or wherever and do what is called the test on the actual Breathalyzer. As was mentioned earlier as well, the results of that second test would be the one that would determine what charges would be laid.

The Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi also made reference to the interlock program, asking if that could be made mandatory. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, that is not really a simple issue, it is something that warrants more discussion and more information. It is my understanding that there are only a few of the larger centres in the Province currently where that could be used. Also, another issue with that is that there is a need for alcohol education and treatment. Mr. Speaker, that is something that is not available throughout the Province and some of our people would no doubt have problems getting access to it.

Also, the point of police having the authority to impound vehicles from impaired drivers. Mr. Speaker, I understand that this is currently permitted under the legislation as we have it now, but it can only be done under certain circumstances. Some of these circumstances would be if a person is driving without insurance, or if they are driving that is showing they are causing danger to the general public. A couple of more incidents as well, Mr. Speaker, where that could be used but it cannot be used under all circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, on that I would like to conclude debate on Bill 20. As we said earlier, while there are no changes to policy in this piece of legislation and while there is no change to the current operational practices or the suspension periods associated with the current bill, these amendments are just to help streamline the language that we already have in the current legislation and to help the police in a way to be more effective in the enforcement of the laws in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, on that, I would like to say that I think it shows again that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador remains committed to combating impaired driving in this Province. Last fall, as some people have already alluded to, we did make a number of changes again to the legislation under the Highway Traffic Act with respect to impaired driving. Mr. Speaker, that is something that all of us, everyone of us in the Province certainly should have concern about, because who knows, tomorrow or the next day we could be, or someone in our family could be a victim of an impaired driver, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, none of us want to see that.

So, Mr. Speaker, on that, I would like to conclude debate on Bill 20, and again, I want to thank my colleagues who took part in the debate.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill 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 To Amend The Highway Traffic Act. (Bill 20)

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? Presently?

MR. SKINNER: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act", read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 20)

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Acting Government House Leader and Minister of Natural Resources.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I call Order 14, Bill 22, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Medicine In The Province.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, that Bill 22, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Medicine In The Province, be now read a second time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 22, An Act Respecting The Practice Of Medicine In The Province be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act Respecting The Practice Of Medicine In The Province". (Bill 22)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, earlier today we announced, at a news conference with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, that the new Medical Act would be brought in and debated in the House of Assembly today.

Mr. Speaker, this new legislation will replace the Medical Act, 2005, and will guide how the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador – I will refer to them as the college – regulates the practice of medicine. Mr. Speaker, this new act will be called the Medical Act, 2011.

Normally, Mr. Speaker, when an act is brought in five or six years earlier, amendments are brought before the House, sections of the act are dealt with. What we felt, Mr. Speaker, in this particular case having regard to some significant additions to the Medical Act, that the best way to deal with this was to bring in a new act. As opposed to amending certain sections or repealing certain sections of the act, we decided to bring in a new piece of legislation. Mr. Speaker, this act we feel is a significant advancement which will address some of the concerns raised during the Cameron inquiry and in the Cameron report, and also as it relates to the disciplinary procedures of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Mr. Speaker, the primary goal of this legislation, as in at least most, if not all, self-governing pieces of legislation, is the protection of the public. Mr. Speaker, that may sound trite. It may sound as if it is something that should be in every piece of similar legislation, but in the previous act it was not stated as clearly as it is today.

Mr. Speaker, the mandate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons is stated in section 8.(1), "The college is authorized to regulate the practice of medicine and the medical profession in the public interest. (2) The objects of the college include (a) the promotion of (i) high standards of practice, and (ii) continuing competence and quality improvement through continuing medical education; (b) the administration of a quality assurance program; and (c) the enforcement of standards of conduct."

Mr. Speaker, I will come to it in awhile but there was a program on not too long ago, on W5 which raised questions as to the way that the College of Physicians and Surgeons dealt with complaints before them. The question that was raised for me by one of the families – and I remember the first e-mail I got was: Well, what is the mandate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons? That was a question that a lady said: I have been trying for a long period of time to find the answer to that.

Well, let me put it out there, Mr. Speaker. Clearly, as outlined in the act, when you look to the intent of this piece of legislation it is to allow the college to govern its own affairs within the parameters of the act. I will talk about the making of regulations later, Mr. Speaker, with ministerial approval. The college mandate is to ensure and to regulate that the practice of medicine and the medical profession is in the public interest. To protect the public, Mr. Speaker, that is the primary goal of this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, in doing that, as I just referred to under section 8.(2), the objects of the college are outlined. I think it is very important that we look at what the objects of the college include. It is to promote high standards of practice, continuing competence and quality improvement, quality assurance program and standards of conduct.

Mr. Speaker, one of the significant aspects of this act is, in Part VII of the act there is a quality assurance section. So that into the act there will be a quality assurance committee. I think earlier today at the press conference with Dr Vinod Patel, a long time practitioner in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and an excellent doctor - Dr. Patel who has worked in, him and his brother, have both worked in the emergency department for many years prior to opening up their own practice. Dr. Patel talked about today, how the quality assurance committee will look to the standards set by the colleges of family medicine, how the continuing medical education, the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada, they outline guidelines to be complied with.

Essentially, Mr. Speaker, the college will monitor and ensure that the quality assurance provisions are complied with. One of my colleagues will speak in more detail about Part VII and Quality Assurance, but that is a very significant aspect of this act which is meant to address some of the recommendations that came out of Cameron.

The proposed measures will include a quality assurance committee requiring mandatory continuing and remedial education. Ensuring provisionally licensed physicians receive appropriate orientation, supervision assessment, and the monitoring of prescribing practices. Mr. Speaker, that is a very significant aspect of this act. Through ensuring quality assurance we are ensuring patient safety and protecting patient safety, and that is something that was obviously in the foremost of the Cameron inquiry and the Cameron report.

Mr. Speaker, the legislation itself helps to ensure that physicians practicing in the Province continue to maintain their high professional standards. In a while I will go through some of the numbers and why - some people may say: Well, why doesn't government, why don't you look after or set the rules for the College of Physicians and Surgeons?

Mr. Speaker, when you have a body or a college right now - I think, as I review this shortly, there are close to 1,100 physicians in this Province, and they are the ones who have the expertise. The College of Physicians and Surgeons, they have the expertise. They draw from their own members. There is an elected council, Mr. Speaker, with several representatives appointed by the minister. They know how to regulate their profession. They know what amounts to conduct unbecoming a member. Just as we have the Law Society which governs the practice of law, we have other groups which govern themselves.

What we have to try to do, Mr. Speaker, as a government, and what we are doing here is outlining the policy, working with the particular group, in this case the College of Physicians and Surgeons. I will say, Mr. Speaker, that I am very pleased with the collaborative and co-operative approach between the Department of Health and Community Services and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. When I get to the disciplinary procedures shortly, I will outline a way that we can both work together in a very practical way in terms of promoting and protecting the public interest.

Mr. Speaker, other than the quality assurance committee, and some of these issues I will go through in more detail, there is authorization for the college to make regulations, with ministerial approval, to monitor and verify physician prescribing practices. That comes somewhat, Mr. Speaker, from the OxyContin Task Force a number of years ago where there were certain recommendations made about physicians prescribing. Authorization for the college to make regulations, with ministerial approval, to ensure that sponsors of provisionally licensed physicians have appropriate orientation, supervision and ongoing assessment process; this will relate to doctors or physicians who are provided with provisional licences depending on meeting certain qualifications. So, it is not only that we want to keep an eye on these doctors, it is just that they are coming in with training, oftentimes it can be from other countries, we want to ensure that they are receiving the orientation and the guidance required.

Mr. Speaker, the complaints authorization committee, I will go through in a few minutes in more detail. This is a very significant change to that: The ability to suspend or restrict a physician's licence upon where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a physician has engaged in conduct deserving of sanction. I will come to section 39 in a second and the definition of conduct deserving of sanction.

Mr. Speaker, in the previous act, in the Medical Act, 2005, there had to be a finding of guilt, that someone had engaged in conduct deserving of sanction before the college could act. What this allows the college to do - and I will go through the section in a minute – is it allows the college to take a pre-emptive action where the public interest requires that they do so. In other words, Mr. Speaker, it can be in relation to overwhelming evidence of improper prescribing practices, it could be a health concern of an individual doctor who allows the college to go in and do what they have to do to protect not only the public, but also that particular physician if there are health concerns.

Mr. Speaker, Dr. Patel talked about this today, the recognition that no one physician will have the training or practice experience to perform all medical procedures, so this will be a scope of practice provision.

Authorization - and this is something I will certainly discuss in more detail – for the college to make a regulation, with ministerial approval, that specifies to whom information gathered during the discipline process has to be disclosed. This is an issue that certainly came out of the W5 cases, Mr. Speaker, and it is something that we will deal with under section 75.(2) of the act which allows the college to make regulations with ministerial approval. We have had discussions and I am going to outline how we can address some of the family's concerns in the W5 case.

Mr. Speaker, this new act will allow us to, as I have indicated, further some of the recommendations of the Cameron report. As I indicated in the House of Assembly during Question Period today, approximately 92 per cent of the sixty recommendations have either been completed or are substantially completed. I think we have forty-three which are completed, twelve which are substantially completed, and five which are partially complete. The issue was raised earlier today, Mr. Speaker, in relation to peer review.

Mr. Speaker, this new medical act, I would suggest, is another step in restoring public faith in our health care system in that we now have a College of Physicians and Surgeons working with the government to ensure that we are providing the best possible health care to our residents, and allowing for processes to ensure that this is taking place - and again, the quality assurance committee, complaints authorization committee.

I will now start to go through, Mr. Speaker, some of the particular sections of the act, always referencing to the overriding intent of this act is to protect the public interest. Mr. Speaker, Part I deal with the medical association. Part II deals with the role of the college and how the college is meant to protect the public interest. Part III deals with licensing and regulations. Part IV deals with professional medical corporations. I am going to jump ahead to Part V and the disciplinary proceedings. I am going to start with section 39 of the act.

Section 39 is the first section in Part V which deals with discipline. Mr. Speaker, I am just going to outline what we are dealing with here. An allegation is defined, in 39.(a), as a written document alleging that a person has engaged in conduct deserving of sanction. Now, Mr. Speaker, we have to be careful with an allegation because that is what it is. It is an allegation until someone decides either that it is a complaint or that someone is guilty of conduct that should be sanctioned.

Now, what is conduct deserving of sanction? Section 39.(c) states, ""conduct deserving of sanction" includes (i) professional misconduct, (ii) professional incompetence, (iii) conduct unbecoming a medical practitioner, (iv) incapacity or unfitness to engage in the practice of medicine, and (v) acting in breach of this Act, the regulations or the code of ethics adopted under section 15." Now, Mr. Speaker, that is a wide definition of conduct deserving of sanction. Conduct unbecoming is another way we could perhaps describe it.

So, professional misconduct, professional incompetence, now, Mr. Speaker, some may say: Well, where is negligence in all of this? What about there is an allegation that someone is negligent? Is that conduct deserving of sanction? Well, Mr. Speaker, if you look at the definition here, I would suggest to you that professional misconduct can amount to negligence. Professional incompetence, can that amount to negligence; conduct unbecoming?

What this is meant to do, Mr. Speaker, is to define, in the broadest terms possible, conduct deserving of sanction, so that if a member of the public wishes to make a complaint, he or she is not hamstrung by technical legal terms. If an individual says: Well, the medical practitioner was negligent in the treatment of my loved one. Well, it is not enough for the college to then say: Negligence is not within this definition; therefore, we are going to dismiss that complaint. There has to be a broader perspective, Mr. Speaker, and I would suggest to you that if you simply look at the test, whether or not there is an allegation that has evidence supporting one of these criteria or, Mr. Speaker, any conduct which could deserve sanctions. it is very broad and gives the college a lot of leeway which I think is what was meant to happen here, Mr. Speaker.

We get into then, Mr. Speaker, in the previous section we have dealt with the issue of the council and the council is made up of elected members of the college along with the minister appointing certain people. Section 40 deals with the composition of a complaints authorization committee.

What is going to happen now, Mr. Speaker, I am a member of the public and I feel that a doctor has not treated me properly and I want to make a complaint. The allegation, Mr. Speaker, must be in writing. It must be signed with the complainant and filed with the college registrar. Once it receives an allegation, Mr. Speaker, the college will open a file and contact the complainant. The college will acknowledge the receipt of the allegation, it will clarify the concerns, obtain additional information necessary and where appropriate attempt to resolve or address the concerns.

Mr. Speaker, as I will come to what I will call the W5 cases in a minute, that was one of the problems that both of these families when I met with them expressed to me is that there is no guidance how to get through the system here. No one tells us what we have to do. There is information out there that we should be aware of. It is all in legalese.

It is very straightforward, we will see, Mr. Speaker, and the college has agreed, as I will come to in a second, that there will be a Web site where it will be outlined in detail, this is what you do and it will be stated, Mr. Speaker, as clearly as I just tried to outline the steps to be taken. Step three, the allegation will be sent to a doctor for his or her response and the response will be in writing. Four, the college will send the doctor's response to the complainant who will have an opportunity to provide the college additional written information. Mr Speaker, one of the families complained to me that look I never saw the doctor's reply to my complaint. Well under this new procedure, the new process that, and again, Mr. Speaker, it makes sense. It is similar to the process and again I will speak about the Law Society because that is one I am familiar with; a lawyer had to respond to – a complaint was made by client or a member of the public and the lawyer responded well obviously the response went to the person who made the complaint. How else could the person know it is being dealt with?

Step one, allegation; step two, receipt of the allegation; step three, doctor responds; step four, the response of the doctor is sent to the complainant who will have a further opportunity to provide written information.

Now, Mr. Speaker, if the complaint can be resolved at this stage, the college will attempt to do so. I am not going to, Mr. Speaker, attempt to speak for the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Let me use an example. A doctor is having a tough day. He or she is seeing twenty or thirty patients. There could be something going on in his or her life. The doctor is rude or the doctor says something he or she probably should not have said. Now, Mr. Speaker, that is not something that necessarily – it is an allegation. It is something that could be within the definition of conduct deserving a sanction, but it may be resolved with an apology. If it can be resolved with an apology, why are we going to go through this whole process?

Sometimes though, Mr. Speaker, it takes a mediator. Again, I go back to my own experience in dealing with clients. Sometimes people get mad at each other and they do not want to talk. A cooler third party will come in and say: Wait now, look, how can we resolve this? So that is what is meant there, Mr. Speaker. It is not that the college is going to try to talk the person out of proceeding with their complaint, but simply, look, can we resolve this? Certain cases, Mr. Speaker, may be open to that kind of resolution as opposed to more serious complaints.

If the allegation is not satisfactorily resolved, Mr. Speaker, then the allegation is referred to the complaints authorization committee. So, an allegation is made, it is reviewed, you look at where it can be resolved, and replies are received. The complainant, Mr. Speaker, and the respondent will be informed that the allegation has been referred to the complaints authorization committee.

So now, we have gone through the allegation process, we are now before the complaints authorization committee, and they will decide, Mr. Speaker. Again, in section 40, I think it is, I have outlined that at least three members of the complaints authorization committee, Mr. Speaker, one of whom shall be appointed by the minister, will constitute the complaints authorization committee. Mr. Speaker, the registrar of the college is not eligible to sit there. The council of the college shall appoint at least ten medical practitioners who are not members of the council and they shall comprise the disciplinary panel.

So now the complaints authorization committee will send the complaint for further investigation, dismiss the complaint, sanction the physician, or refer the allegation to the disciplinary panel. So, Mr. Speaker, what we have is a process that I will suggest to you will be outlined step-by-step as to what can take place here.

Section 42 deals with allegation, Mr. Speaker; section 44 deals with the complaints authorization committee; and the powers of the complaints authorization committee are outlined in section 44. (1) of the act, Mr. Speaker.

The complaints authorization committee may – so what we have, Mr. Speaker, is the permissive may; they may - exercise one or more powers. So, they have discretion here: (a) They can refer it back to the registrar for an investigation or alternative dispute resolution in accordance with the regulations; (b) they can conduct a practice review into the respondent's practice or appoint a person to conduct a review; (c) they can refer the allegation to the quality assurance committee; (d) they can conduct an investigation itself or appoint a person to conduct an investigation; or they can require the respondent to appear before it.

Section 44. (2): "Where the complaints authorization committee is of the opinion that there are no reasonable grounds to believe the respondent has engaged in conduct deserving of sanction, the committee shall dismiss the allegation and give notice in writing of the dismissal to the complainant." So, there are no reasonable grounds. What are reasonable grounds, Mr. Speaker? Reasonable grounds, I would suggest to you, if you look at how those terms are used in law there would have to be evidence about which a person could conclude that there is a valid complaint here.

Reasonable grounds, Mr. Speaker, are those that can be enunciated, they are those that can be explained to the common person; they are grounds upon which an individual, when he or she says yes, that makes sense to me. The word reasonable is used to define the evidence.

In other words, Mr. Speaker, there is some evidence here. It is not simply someone out on a whim or a fancy; that there are reasonable grounds which can be outlined, which can be put forward and which can justify the step taken. Mr. Speaker, that is not exactly a judicial definition, nor is it meant to be a judicial definition of what reasonable grounds constitute, but what I am trying to establish here, is that there has to be a basis upon which the complaint can move forward.

Mr. Speaker, one of the things we always have to remember here is that an allegation is exactly that, but that reputations can be tarnished and reputations can be affected by the making of allegations. What this complaints authorization is going to do, Mr. Speaker, is determine if we should move to the next level with this. Is this the type of allegation which we should look at further and which we have reasonable grounds to believe is conduct deserving of sanction as I outlined earlier, be it professional misconduct, professional incompetence, and those three or four enunciated grounds in section 39. Mr. Speaker, if the complaints authorization committee dismisses the complaint, then they have to give notice in writing to the complainant.

Mr. Speaker, when I met with the families who were the subject of the W5 case - again, I will refer specifically in a second - I said to them, I cannot change what has taken place since 2002. I cannot change what has gotten you to where you are today, but what do you want me to do? Mr. Speaker, the sister of the deceased in one case said to me, we want you to try to improve the system so that other people do not have to go through what we have gone through. Their complaints with the – and I am not casting judgement on the way this was dealt with by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, nor am I in any way commenting on the merits of the case and the decisions made in terms of what took place in 2002. What I am saying is that we have learned or we are trying to learn from the process and what these two families encountered as they tried to get to the bottom of what was taking place.

Mr. Speaker, let me just give you an example, and I am sort of talking a little bit in a vacuum. Even though I have permission from at least one of the families to use their names, I am not going to use their names. I do not think that is necessary.

In October of 2010, W5 aired a program which dealt with a number of patients and their experience at Eastern Health, and events that occurred around 2002 and involved events in the emergency room. In one case, a sister died after visiting the emergency room in 2002. This family was not notified until 2008, Mr. Speaker, that something may have gone wrong – or something did go wrong, obviously, in the emergency room, that in fact, there had been a peer review conducted. This is a very poignant statement when asked, well why – this particular family said, we always suspected that something had gone wrong. The question was put to them: Well, why didn't you do something? The statement, Mr. Speaker, so simple, yet so powerful: We trusted in the doctors.

Mr. Speaker, as average citizens, that is what we are brought up to believe. We respect our medical practitioners. We do have trust and we place our lives in their hands, each and every one of us. So, unless someone tells us that something has gone wrong, unless there is a mechanism for informing us that something has gone wrong, how are we to know?

Now, contrast that, Mr. Speaker, to the other case where a mother had died on March 4, 2002, and this family knew something about the medical system. The daughter in that case did not encounter the same difficulties in obtaining the information. What she encountered was difficulties in dealing with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Mr. Speaker, there are two issues here. They are different cases. They involve very similar circumstances, in terms of the complaints, but the first family encountered difficulties with obtaining information from Eastern Health. No one told them that something had gone on.

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year I issued a directive, as I can do pursuant to section 5 of the Regional Health Authorities Act, to all CEOs of the regional health authorities indicating to them that the policy outlined in the task force report on adverse events was to be followed and that individuals and families were to be notified of adverse events. Mr. Speaker, that would result in family number one being aware, certainly more six years had passed and prior to a journalist having to tell them that something had gone wrong. So, that situation would be covered. Then we come to both families saying: Well, we had difficulty dealing with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Mr. Speaker, a complaint was filed against a doctor on January 20, 2003 in case number two, where the daughter filed a complaint. If you compare that, Mr. Speaker, she knew within a little less than a year. She had the wherewithal to obtain the information and file a complaint. This case was dismissed by the medical board on December 15, 2003, prior to the new Medical Act, 2005, coming in.

Mr. Speaker, when I spoke to this lady, and I spoke to her as late as yesterday, I said: Well, what can we do? What are the problems that you have encountered? How can we address your situation so that other people can benefit? I cannot get involved in whether or not the medical board's decision was right or wrong. That is what they are there for in terms of using their expertise, but what can I do with this new Medical Act, or new regulations to help you? She said, and I remember the first e-mail I received from this woman – this is family number two, where the mother had died. The first e-mail I received, she said: I have been a number of years trying to find out what the mandate of the board is. Again, Mr. Speaker, when I come back to my comments earlier today, that is now codified in the legislation and the mandate of the board, and which I am sure it has always been, but the mandate of the board is to protect the public interest. That is her first question; that is the answer.

She indicated, Mr. Speaker, there was inability to access other information in relation to the doctor in question. We will now, as I will come to shortly - there is a provision in the regulations, we will deal with that, whereby if an individual has been disciplined in the past, that may be relevant to the complaint that is being made. The college will have to outline certain regulations, but there will be a mechanism in this act to access that other information. Whether or not it will be accessed in all cases, Mr. Speaker, I cannot speak to that, but there will be an ability to access it.

This lady also, Mr. Speaker, had the problem of not obtaining the peer review until 2010. Again, the directive sent to the CEOs of each health authority should, as best I can guarantee – which is obviously not an absolute guarantee because it requires the co-operation of the health authorities – outline the Task Force on Adverse Events. What that Task Force on Adverse Events recommends is that if there is an adverse event then there has to be notification to the individual or person affected. If there are multiple adverse events, Mr. Speaker, that becomes a little bit more complicated, but that is something – we applied that same policy last year in dealing with the cyclosporine situation at the Janeway hospital.

So, how do people navigate the system? Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to say that we went back to the College of Physicians and Surgeons and we looked at the navigation of the system. The college, as I indicated earlier today, agreed that it has to be made as simple as possible for the public to access the information, and I will come to in a second what the college said.

Mr. Speaker, the lady whose mother died said she never received a copy of the doctor's reply. Well, I just went through that section in the act, or the process whereby if a complaint is made, the doctor replies, the reply goes to the complainant; again, fairly straightforward.

Mr. Speaker, in March of 2011, after meeting with and or discussing with the two families affected, I had my officials engage in conversations with the college. I said: Look, these are practical concerns I am hearing from people, how are we going to deal with this?

Mr. Speaker, section 75.(2) allows the college to make regulations with ministerial approval. The college agrees that the language used in correspondence to the public from the college and on the college's Web site was legalistic and not in plain English. Now, Mr. Speaker, all that means is that we have to make it fairly straightforward so that no matter what your level of education, no matter what your status in life, no matter where you come from or what language you speak, you should be able to learn this process, to navigate the process. When I say what language you speak, Mr. Speaker, obviously English or French would have to be your primary language in Canada, in terms of accessing information, our two official languages, Mr. Speaker.

The description of the complaints process on the college's Web site does not adequately explain the process to the public; the college agrees with that, so they are going to put up a Web site, Mr. Speaker, that will go through what I did earlier; steps one, two, three, four, five, six, in terms of making a complaint. And, Mr. Speaker, the college acknowledged that the college should keep complainants informed at regular intervals on the progress of the investigation of their complaints. So, Mr. Speaker, when my officials went to the college and said: This is what we are hearing from people, can you work with us on this? They agreed to collaborate, Mr. Speaker, and I must say it has been a very welcome and pleasant experience, because we are all trying to do the same thing, Mr. Speaker – work to protect the public.

Mr. Speaker, the Web site, and again, the college will have, hopefully – I went in and looked at their Web site and it certainly did not have the kind of detail you would want. Mr. Speaker, what we have to recognize is that when people are dealing with the health care system, that if something has happened to a loved one and they suspect, or they believe – not even suspect – they believe that a doctor did not do something he or she should have done, or did something improperly, then there is going to be an emotional involvement. When they look at how they proceed, it should be out there fairly straightforward, and again, in plain English.

Mr. Speaker, they should not have to get a lawyer. There should be no obligation on people in our society who want to proceed down this road that they have to have legal counsel, because legal counsel, or the ability to hire legal counsel, can be an impediment to pursuing that complaint. Why do I say that, Mr. Speaker? Because people do not have the money, necessarily, to pursue the complaint. Why should they have to have that money? The college should be there and is there to help outline the procedure.

So, Mr. Speaker, these cases are examples of cases where we have learned where we can better the system, Mr. Speaker, through, unfortunately, the experiences of others. So often in life, in law, in politics, that is how we learn. It is either through our own experience, the mistakes that we have made, Mr. Speaker, or the things that we have done right.

So, I am very pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, today, to these two families that we have heard what you have had to say. I cannot change the past, Mr. Speaker, I cannot sit in judgement on what has taken place or on decisions that have already been decided. What I can do, as the Minister of Health, is try to learn from your experiences to make it better for other people. That is, Mr. Speaker, what these two families, to be commended, have said to me. So, I also said I cannot do everything they want done, but that was their goal, Mr. Speaker, and I feel that this legislation will certainly help address some of those issues.

Mr. Speaker, the last section I want to refer to on what I will call the W5 cases, Mr. Speaker, are, if I go to section 71.(5), which says that a physician or another person cannot be sued – that is part of what it says – cannot be sued for complying with a request to provide personal health information. Also, Mr. Speaker, this is the section which deals with the quality assurance committee, Mr. Speaker, and deals with the powers of the quality assurance committee.

I will go to section 75.(1), this is the section I am looking for, Mr. Speaker, allows the college to release identifiable information to other bodies that regulate health professionals. This is a new section, Mr. Speaker, and it will allow the college to provide information to other health regulatory bodies, such as the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador, the dental board, the College of Licensed Practical Nurses, to facilitate investigation of other health professionals.

Now, section 75.(2), Mr. Speaker, is new. Section 75.(2) does not have a similar section in the current act, Mr. Speaker. It will require mandatory disclosure of information, including identifiable and personal information for those purposes in the manner and to those persons as prescribed in regulations. This section will help ensure that people will know what is happening, Mr. Speaker, when they make a complaint or express a concern to the college. It is an important accountability and transparency tool.

Mr. Speaker, this is the section that will allow for disclosure of information and will allow for the making of regulations, with ministerial approval, as to the kinds of things that I have been talking about in the last period of time.

Mr. Speaker, one other issue I referred to briefly, and I want to take a few minutes to talk about, is: Why do we have to have a special act, for example, to deal with the physicians and surgeons? Why do we have to have a special act to deal with the lawyers, architects, engineers, or other professional groups? In the fall, we brought in the Health Professions Act, but I referred to earlier, the number of doctors that we have in this Province. Mr. Speaker, Eastern Health alone, for example, has a billion dollar budget and has almost 14,000 employees. When you look at a work force in our public civil service of approximately 35,000 to 36,000 people, then one-third of them work with Eastern Health; that includes all of our health care professionals, it includes teachers, it includes police officers, all of our 170 agencies, boards and commissions. So health care is a big – I am not going to say machine, it is not the term I am looking for, but it involves a lot of people.

Mr. Speaker, as of September 30 of this year, we had 1,098 physicians practising in the Province. We had 543 family physicians and 555 specialists, so the highest number in the history of the Province. Now, I think, there was something arose last week where I indicated: Look, what we have to do as a government, or what I have to do as the Minister of Health, is follow the medical advice or defer to the medical advice in individual cases. I cannot get involved in deciding what doctors should do or how they should treat patients. What we try to do, as a department, is to outline the policy that should be followed so that it is consistently followed across the Province, consistently applied, and that the level of care or the service that you get in one regional health authority should be similar to that that you receive in another health authority.

Mr. Speaker, that is a lot of doctors in this Province – 1,098 physicians. That is an increase of 5 per cent over the last year. We had 1,042 in September of 2009, an 11 per cent increase in March of 2008. So, with this many physicians, it is the College of Physicians and Surgeons who can determine how to deal with these doctors. It is their peers who can look upon a case just as I, as a lawyer, could look upon, or other lawyers could look upon my conduct and say well, yes, that is acceptable or that is outside the standard of care that one would expect in this profession.

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the reasons we need to have a comprehensive and extensive act that outlines the roles of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the roles of the council, the roles of the complaints authorization committee, the roles of the disciplinary panel. What we have to try to do, Mr. Speaker, is put it in language that people can understand because that is, again, what we are trying to do, especially when I talked about the complaint process.

Mr. Speaker, each year the numbers of doctors are growing in this Province. Each year we have more doctors who want to come here. We expect that there will be more doctors who will come to this Province with the recent agreement entered into with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. Mr. Speaker, early on in the act, I think it is around section 3, 4, or 5, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association is defined as the bargaining agent - or excuse me, it is the association and they deal with the bargaining, the College of Physicians and Surgeons does not get into that. They represent their doctors, Mr. Speaker, not only in bargaining but in other areas. All physicians in the Province are required to be members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. We cannot confuse the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, although members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association will make up the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the council.

Mr. Speaker, with the complexity of the practice of medicine, with the complexity of the specialities then it makes sense that this college will govern themselves and that they are in the best position to determine what is conduct that is unacceptable, or conduct unbecoming.

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, we have 1,098 physicians, we expect that there will be more. We are expanding the medical school whereby there will be another twenty medical seats within the next year or two, from sixty to eighty-four. Our latest agreement with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association outlines bonuses for physicians to practise in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. They will now have Atlantic parity. There will be significant raises, retention bonuses. So, my point is that we have the most doctors in our Province that we have ever had. We have a good deal with the doctors which will attract more to our Province. Mr. Speaker, we know that a lot of our physicians come from a rural background and they do want to return to rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

So, Mr. Speaker, what we are trying to do is ensure, as a government, that the public is protected while not getting too much involved in the business of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. That is why I am very pleased that we have worked well with them.

So what we have now, Mr. Speaker, again, it is what can take place over a short number of months, but we feel that we have a good relationship with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association at this point in time. We have a good relationship with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. What we are doing and what this act is an example of is all of us working together to try to ensure that the public is protected.

Mr. Speaker, we also have to be fair in outlining the complaints process. We have to ensure that doctors' reputations are protected. We have to ensure that the rules of natural justice are complied with. We have to ensure that their rights are protected. So, there has to be that balancing. The public is best protected when frivolous complaints are not taking up doctors' valuable time, so that there is a screening process that allows someone in the college to say: Well, no, that is not one that we need a complaints authorization committee to go to, or we do not need a disciplinary panel.

So, Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation is consistent with other pieces of legislation – very consistent with the Law Society Act, if I remember correctly. Also, it allows, which again makes so much sense, that there are different levels of conduct so that there can be letters of counsel. So you can say: Well, look, you did something here you should not have done; this is a warning and will go in your file, but there is nothing further required.

Mr. Speaker, there can be situations whereby the college can deal with their own members on their own, especially if there are personal circumstances or health circumstances. It is very important, Mr. Speaker, that doctors treat their own just as lawyers treat their own with respect and dignity. We do not hold people up to public – not hate; that is not the word I am looking for here. We do not jump the gun and we do not find people guilty before they have had their opportunity to respond.

That is what the rules of natural justice are: It is an opportunity to be heard. There is a fair process here. Again, in this particular act, if the College of Physicians and Surgeons feels that it is necessary to move quickly, in the public interest, they can do so.

The question was asked earlier today in the news conference by one of the media: Will you publish or does it have to be published if someone is found guilty? Well, yes, if someone is found guilty, there will be a publication, whether or not it will be in the newspaper or other media that is certainly the case. What happens, Mr. Speaker, to the person who is suspended? What happens to the person who the college decides we are going to use our powers here and we are going to suspend or restrict your privileges right away? Now that person has not been found guilty of anything, so should that person's name be published?

I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, having the opportunity to reflect on the question that was put to me today, that there is no easy or simple answer. There may be cases where it is obvious that an individual is committing certain acts which should result in immediate notification of the public, MCP and health authorities of the suspension or restriction. What about the other case of an individual who is having personal health issues? What about a doctor who is having personal problems and those personal problems are interfering, on that particular time in his or her life, to do their job? At that particular time, there may be a concern, but should we hold that person up to public ridicule without a finding of guilt because he or she is having certain problems?

I guess my point, Mr. Speaker, there seems to be a continuum whereby the college could move to suspend or restrict the person's licence because that person is having personal issues. Again, some that come to mind could be mental health issues, addiction issues, just personal problems in life. Is that person to be held at the same level or put before the public in the same way as the individual who has breached very significant prescribing practices?

I guess what we have to do is we have to trust, to a certain extent, that the college, having regard to their overriding mandate to protect the public, will apply their common sense. I come back, and it gives me some comfort today when I sit at the table with Dr. Vinod Patel, so many of these medical practitioners who have been around for so long and who know the practicalities of practising medicine, but the practicalities of life, who can apply common sense, who can take a compassionate view not only toward members of the public but toward their own brethren as they deal with these acts. That section, Mr. Speaker, could be seen as somewhat draconian when you are talking about immediate suspension or restriction. That is one we have to be careful of.

Mr. Speaker, what I want everyone to be aware of here is that there cannot be a jump to judgement. That yes, the public has to be informed of their processes, of their right to make complaints. This is the way it will be; we have to assist you in ensuring that your compliant is heard. We have to dispel - because this did come out in this W5 story - this notion that the doctors were protecting themselves or that there was a cover-up. Do you know the best way to do that, Mr. Speaker? It is to be upfront with members of the public. Here is the Web site, step one, two, three, four, five. Here is what you have to do. Here is the information you need. Here is how we are going to deal with this. When it comes to the decision making of whether or not an allegation should become a compliant or a complaint should result in discipline, Mr. Speaker, that is where the self-governing body themselves have to be aware and be alert to their expertise, because that is what we are asking them to do.

Mr. Speaker, these are some of the highlights of the act. Now I am just going to go through, very briefly, some of the other aspects of this particular act. Again, I am going to take a couple of examples here.

Under section 44, it is the complaints authorization committee; section 45 is the adjudication tribunal. I just want to go through, if you get to that stage, what is going to happen here. There shall be a chairperson of a panel, there shall be three people. A complaint has been received; the adjudication tribunal shall hear the complaint.

Again, Mr. Speaker, I think there was a question today from the media: well look, one of our criticisms of the college is that you are not open enough, you are not transparent enough. My answer to that was, well, I know that in most cases if the Law Society, if there was a hearing then the public and the media can attend. Again, if you are going to be open and transparent and accountable it would seem to me that unless there are particularly sensitive issues - and one, for example, Mr. Speaker, that could come to my mind would be if there was an allegation of sexual misconduct against a physician and that the complainant did not want the media to be present or the public to be present. That is something where you would have to be certainly alert to that kind of thing. There can be documents filed. The respondent can plead guilty. So, Mr. Speaker, there can be cases in which the individual says: Yes, I…

Shawn, excuse me, what do I now? I am not finished.

MR. SKINNER: (Inaudible).

MR. KENNEDY: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was just getting the process there from our Acting House Leader.

There is a guilty plea, and there are very wide-ranging powers as to what the disciplinary tribunal can do. They can order the respondent to obtain medical treatment, obtain counselling. Again, there are very sensible ways to deal with things. They can make restitution to the complainant, obtain substance abuse counselling or treatment, or engage in continuing education programs. I would suggest that this is a great way to deal with this, giving this board wide-ranging power. Then, very importantly, Mr. Speaker, there is an appeal. If the complaint is dismissed, then the individual does have the right to appeal.

So, Mr. Speaker, those would be my comments at this point and I look forward to hearing comments of my colleagues in the House of Assembly on this important piece of legislation.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, given the lateness of the hour, I will now move, seconded by the Minister of Transportation and Works, that this House now adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is properly moved and seconded 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.