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May 12, 2014                  HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                        Vol. XLVII No. 25


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

Admit strangers.

 

Before we start proceedings today, I want to welcome some special guests to our galleries.

 

Today we are joined by Mr. Isaac Bonisteel of New Harbour, who is a student at Crescent Collegiate, and he is the winner of the 2014 Lester B. Pearson Scholarship.  He is accompanied today by his sister, Erin, and their mother, Mary Harris.

 

Welcome, all of you, to our Assembly.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: Today we will have members' statements from the District of Lake Melville, the Member for the District of Harbour Grace – Carbonear, the Member for the District of Lewisporte, the Member for the District of Humber Valley, the Member for the District of Virginia Waters, and the Member for the District of St. Barbe.

 

The hon. the Member for the District of Lake Melville.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise today to recognize Mr. Everett Cull of Happy Valley-Goose Bay for his honesty and due diligence. 

 

Mr. Cull is a taxicab driver who during one of his runs happened to overhear a conversation where an elder mentioned they had lost a significant sum of money.  Mr. Cull took note of the situation; and on a run the next day when another customer opened the door to exit the taxi, a gust of wind swooped up a bit of cash revealing its location.

 

Worrying that this might have been the other passenger's money, Mr. Cull decided to contact those who previously received a ride from him.  He waited a week, and after hearing no other inquiries about lost money, he handed over the cash – over $1,000, Mr. Speaker – to that elder.  Mr. Cull should truly be commended for his absolute honesty.

 

I ask all hon. members of this House to join me in recognizing Mr. Everett Cull, an honest hardworking Labrador man.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace.

 

MR. SLADE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to recognize a group of young men and women in my district, the Victoria United Church Children's Choir. 

 

The choir consists of members from age five to fourteen, and perform every second week at the United Church in Victoria, where they share their beautiful music and voices with the congregation. 

 

This spring, they participated in the Trinity Conception Music Festival, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Carbonear, and won first place in their category.  On April 2, they performed in a community choir class and received a glowing review and a mark of 85 per cent.  The choir gave their final performance for this year on Mother's Day and will resume again in September. 

 

Members of the choir include: Larissa Moores, Macie Mercer, Erica Butt, Frankie Antle, Kendall Clarke, Ruby Burke, Norah Burke, Leah Mercer, Dylan Moores, Kelsey Loch, Diego Colbourne, Katie Burke, Erica Evely, Felicia Jensen, Noah Penney, Mackaila Jenson, Brianna Parsons, Brady Colbourne, Zackery Colbourne, and Choir Director Kelly Loch.

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in recognizing the Victoria United Church Children's Choir and wish them every success in their future performances.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. VERGE: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the life of an outstanding citizen.  Rowena Earle was born on October 11, 1927 in Point Leamington. 

 

At the age of eleven, Rowena went to Botwood and began performing household duties for various families.  She later moved to Campbellton, married Stanley Young, and together they ran two businesses, a restaurant and a taxi service.

 

The Young's did not have children of their own, so in 1953 at the age of twenty-six, Rowena started to care for foster children.  Through the years, Rowena cared for over forty children in her own home.  Four of those children continued long term, and considered the Young house as their own family home.

 

Up until the age of eighty-one, Rowena still volunteered her time by driving special needs children to their educational sites as well as continuing to care for two disabled adults.  She was recognized by the Foster Parents Association for her outstanding service to the children of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Sadly, after many years of giving to others, Rowena recently passed away. 

 

Honourable colleagues, please join with me in paying tribute to Rowena Young, a remarkable lady with a great big heart.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate the Salvation Army Citadel Corps on its ninetieth anniversary in the Town of Deer Lake.

 

Just recently I had the opportunity to participate in the celebration banquet to commemorate this anniversary.  It was an honour to attend this historical milestone event.

 

The Deer Lake Salvation Army has come a long way since its beginning in 1924.  Three buildings later, the Salvation Army is still thriving in the community with its goal of meeting the needs, both spiritually and physically, of those they come in contact through their thrift store, family services program, and their community involvement. 

 

In 1959, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited Deer Lake and were greeted by the Salvation Army band.  Mr. Speaker, during the last ninety years, sixty-eight officers have been stationed in Deer Lake, with present clergy Majors Wayne and Betty Ann Pike in charge of the corps.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Salvation Army Deer Lake Citadel Corps on their ninetieth anniversary celebrations.  I commend them on the tremendous work they do and ask all members of this House to join me in recognizing their special anniversary.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise in this hon. House today to recognize the friends and family of Dr. Jack Hand who have established the Dr. Jack Hand Legacy Foundation to commemorate and celebrate his life. 

 

Dr. Jack, as he was referred to by his young patients, was a compassionate man, full of passion that showed in his life and work.  At the launch event this past Thursday, Jack's never-ending care of the children and families he served was evident.

 

From diagnosis to treatment to the best and worst outcomes, families of the children he treated felt he was right by their side through it all.  His humor, ability, and compassion were as much a part of a child's recovery from cancer as medicine itself.  “He stayed with us every step of the way,” one parent said, “when we said good bye, he stood by us.”

 

Dr. Jack Hand passed away in 2012.  As one of his young patients said, “Because he was … I am”. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating those involved in the Dr. Jack Hand Foundation, helping families concentrate on what is most important when a child is being treated for a hematology- or oncology-related illness.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the blue whale is the largest living creature.  Measuring up to 100 feet and weighing as much as 100 tons, the North Atlantic population is fewer than 250 individuals.  It was therefore a great loss when nine of these magnificent cetaceans recently died in the heavy ice conditions of 2014.

 

One of the bodies came to rest in Trout River harbour, Gros Morne National Park.  Initially a curiosity, as the carcass bloated, town officials soon realized that the implications of such a huge animal decomposing in town.  Unable to dispose of it on land, prevented from disposing it at sea, the town alerted NTV's Don Bradshaw, whose story of the exploding Trout River whale went viral, even covered by reporters from Al Jazeera.

 

The Royal Ontario Museum quickly stepped up, salvaging the whale and another at Rocky Harbour, preserving the specimens for display and scientific research.

 

Quick to recognize an opportunity for the town, a group of seven has mobilized to form the Trout River Blue Whale Corporation to investigate and pursue long-term economic opportunities that may result from the unfortunate loss of this magnificent creature.

 

Let's help them find the silver lining, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

 

Statements by Ministers

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise today in the House to congratulate Isaac Bonisteel of New Harbour, a Level II student at Crescent Collegiate, who is this year's recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship for Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

As you just referenced, Mr. Speaker, Isaac is with us today in the House.  Welcome.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, Isaac was selected based on his academic achievement, involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, and his exceptional volunteerism.  As noted last week by my colleague, the MHA for Bellevue, Isaac, his family, his teachers, and the entire Crescent Collegiate school community has every reason to be very proud of Isaac.

 

Isaac is involved in a wide variety of school and community activities, Mr. Speaker.  He participates on several school committees, the drama troupe, and in the school band.  Outside of school, he plays piano, is a member of Allied Youth, a volunteer with Canadian Blood Services, and much more.  He is also an exceptional athlete, an accomplished runner, and plays soccer on the provincial under-eighteen team.

 

Mr. Speaker, this scholarship presents a once in a lifetime opportunity and will no doubt help Isaac fulfill his long-term goals.  The Lester B. Pearson Scholarship is valued at $80,000 for two years of pre-university study at Pearson College, a United World College in Victoria, BC.  Of that amount, the Department of Education will contribute $68,000, with the remainder provided through corporate and community sponsors.  In September, Isaac will join Zoλ Wilkins, a former student at Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts, who was awarded the scholarship last year.

 

I might add, in a rather interesting twist, Mr. Speaker, Isaac's sister, Erin, who is here with us today as well, was the winner of the 2011 Lester B. Pearson Scholarship as well.  Congratulations to Erin.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege to meet with Isaac, Erin, and his mom, Mary, just before the House of Assembly.  I have to say, there is no doubt, he is a very strong individual, very deserving of this.  As I said to his mom, I am sure they are all very proud of both him and Erin.

 

I want to say congratulations, and invite all members of this House of Assembly to join in congratulating Erin for her past achievements, but today is Isaac's day; Isaac, congratulations on behalf of all of government.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's North.

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.  On behalf of the Official Opposition caucus, it gives me great pleasure to extend our congratulations to Isaac Bonisteel on receiving the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship for Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

This scholarship is well sought after through a highly competitive application process that rewards students with the most exceptional academic performance and involvement in their communities.  That is why it is so special that Isaac Bonisteel is the third person from the Trinity Conception – Placentia region to receive this scholarship in the last four years, along with Zoλ Wilkins last year, and Isaac's sister, Erin, in 2011.

The two-year International Baccalaureate program at Pearson College is outstanding.  It gives students the opportunity to excel academically, met students and teachers from around ninety other countries, and promote international understanding and co-operation.  These exemplary students, Isaac, Zoλ, and Erin are ambassadors for Newfoundland and Labrador and amongst our best and our brightest.

 

We wish them all the best but we also hope, Mr. Speaker, we hope they will return to Newfoundland and Labrador with experience that benefits, not only their future, but the future of this Province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and congratulations.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

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

 

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.  I am looking for the minister and I just found him.  We have had a few changes.

 

Congratulations to Isaac Bonisteel on receiving this very prestigious scholarship.  The minister notes Mr. Bonisteel's active involvement in community events.  The arts and athletics are big for him, not just his educational achievements.  I congratulate him on his hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication.

 

The minister also notes how proud his family, teachers and classmates are of his accomplishment, and to that I say they too should be proud of themselves.  Isaac's accomplishment did not come out of nowhere.  I am sure he would agree that without solid support from his family, friends, teachers, and the community as a whole, he could not have accomplished what he has, although we totally understand what he has done as an individual.

 

So, congratulations to Isaac and also to the wonderful community that has turned out such successful students in this area.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Today, it is my privilege to stand before this hon. House and recognize May 12 to May 18 as National Nursing Week.

 

Currently working in our Province, we have 6,340 registered nurses, the most in our Province's history, and 2,421 licensed practical nurses.  Overall, we have more registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners per population than the Canadian average.

 

Nurses play integral and valuable roles throughout the entire health care system.  With a vast array of duties delivered in a number of settings, including long-term care facilities, emergency departments, to frontline health services in schools and clinics, nurses are often the first face patients encounter when they enter the health care system.  Nurses also play an important role in post-secondary education, administration, and research and policy. 

 

Nurses are leaders in health care.  They are responsible for providing direct care to patients, mentoring new employees and students, and ensuring that everyone under their care is treated respectfully.

 

Mr. Speaker, it is a special kind of person who wants to care for and help improve the lives of people around them.  Nurses improve the quality of life for many and they help make our communities a better place in which to live.  To be a nurse is to take on significant responsibilities, and I applaud every nurse working in our Province who chooses to answer this call.

 

Our government will continue to work with and support nurses through new negotiated agreements, ongoing signing bonuses and retention initiatives, and through our nursing education programs.  Clearly, we see the value and importance of nurses in the delivery of health care.

 

Mr. Speaker, I encourage everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador to recognize National Nursing Week by thanking and recognizing the efforts of our professional nurses, their tireless work, and their dedication to patients and families throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

 

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

 

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

 

On behalf of all my colleagues, I want to commend each and every nurse in this Province for all that they do.  They play such a valuable role in our health care system, and I doubt there is one of us in this House who has not had some kind of effect on their life because of the impact of a nurse.  Again, we thank them for everything they do.

 

When we talk about nurses and what an important job it is they do, sometimes their job is made harder because of policy decisions that are made that they must carry out.  In fact, I had a conversation with some this past weekend when it comes to one of those decisions.  That is cutting out the nighttime snacks when it comes to patients in acute care.  It is unfortunate, when you see these patients are getting upset – again, snacks are being cut out.  It is nurses who have to go into these rooms and take the flak for decisions such as this that are being made obviously for budgetary reasons.

 

Again, it is difficult for a nurse to do their job on an ordinary basis, but when you have a government decision like this, it obviously makes it that much more difficult.

 

In closing, I want to commend the nurses for all their hard work and dedication each and every day.  They obviously make a significant difference.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

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

 

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.  I also join with him and with the Opposition House Leader in applauding the excellent nurses in our Province.  They are highly educated, professional, and so very good at what they do. 

 

Whenever we get complaints as MHAs in our office about health care, it is never the nurses who people are complaining about.  As a matter of fact, they always point out how wonderful the nurses are.  Rather, it is the system under which they are doing very difficult work. 

 

People praise the nurses themselves, but we know they are understaffed.  One real example is the ER, and another is long-term care.  If government, Mr. Speaker, really wants to work with and support nurses, they could revisit the number of nurses assigned to our health care institutions to correct this understaffing problem.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Oral Questions.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Last week the Premier said he would table the many documents that we have been asking for and looking for on the Humber Valley Paving.  We have yet to see any of them produced.  One of these was the government's correspondence with Humber Valley Paving last September when the contract was extended for one year.

 

I ask the Premier: Will you honour your commitment and table that correspondence today?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, last week during Question Period I also made reference to some of the documents that the Opposition had asked for.  I said that I would seek legal counsel as to what could be released here because there is some commercially-sensitive information there and we are still going through that process.  Once we get that information we will pass it on to the Opposition.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Government has also said that Humber Valley Paving was paid 60 per cent of the contract value for 60 per cent of the work, but has yet to provide the analysis that shows that 60 per cent of the work was completed. 

 

I ask the Premier: Since you now claim to be open, will you table the department's analysis of the work of this contract that shows in fact that 60 per cent was completed?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

Mr. Speaker, I tried to detail last Monday here in Question Period exactly the amount of work that was done.  There is an eighty kilometre stretch of highway that was being constructed, upgraded, and then blacktop put on that.  Of the eighty kilometres, all of the eighty kilometres has been constructed, all of the eighty kilometres has been upgraded with Class B and Class A, and twenty kilometres of the eighty kilometres has been paved. 

 

On top of that, Mr. Speaker, we have also had all of the guideposts put in place, and all of the guiderails put in place.  We have a professional team in Transportation and Works who goes in – our engineers go in and they analyze how much work is left to do.  That is what the 60 per cent is based on.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We are aware of the minister's response last week.  What we are asking for is since this document exists, will you provide this information to the people of the Province?

 

I ask the minister again: Will you table the document related to the 60 per cent analysis that you just spoke about – will you table that in the House of Assembly? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the Opposition is questioning the integrity of the engineers in the Department of Transportation and Works, but I have full confidence in all of the employees within the Department of Transportation and Works that they know exactly what they are doing.  Those engineers, they go in and they analyze exactly how much of the work was done.  In this case they have done that, and that is what was paid out through the Department of Transportation and Works for this particular project.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, I am certainly not questioning at all the work and the integrity of the staff that we have at the Department of Transportation and Works.  They have done good work, it seems.

 

I ask the minister: At least just table the analysis that the minister is referring to – will you table it here in this House of Assembly?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the Member of the Opposition that they have done exceptional work here.  I am very pleased with the work they are doing, and they will continue to do that work.

 

As you know, the AG is doing a full report on this particular project and all of that information will be given to the AG.  If he feels he should release that, then by all means.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The minister is well within his rights to table that document here in the House of Assembly. 

 

I ask the minister: Given the detail that is explained in this, why would he not table that in the House of Assembly? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, as I said, the Auditor General will be doing a full report on this, and a lot of those papers that we are working on now are still being completed.  If the Auditor General feels that is necessary, by all means he can release them.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I believe I just heard the minister say that they are still being completed.  We just mentioned that the analysis is already done.  All we are asking is that the work that is already done, will the minister table that here in this House of Assembly?  The information about the 60 per cent of the work completed for 60 per cent of the value, will you put it here in this House of Assembly? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

I certainly have no problem tabling that.  As a matter of fact, we tabled it in The Telegram about a week-and-a-half ago.  All of that information was tabled in a report in one of The Weekend Telegrams; but if the member would like it to be tabled here again, I have no problem tabling that. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, I say to the minister we look forward to that, and yes, he can table that.

 

The minister stated that he had his first conversation with the company rep on March 13.  Government cancelled the contract on March 21.  Apparently, the Premier did not hear anything about this until around April 26, which was about five weeks after the decision was made. 

 

I ask the Premier: Are you saying that cancelling of a major contract, a major construction contract benefiting the incoming Premier, was not discussed at all with you or with Cabinet at any point before a decision was made? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, that is correct. 

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said in the House on Thursday, we were aware that because of the fires, the exceptional circumstances that took place in Labrador West and Labrador East, that the company had extreme difficulty and had incurred losses because of those fires.  It could not get its liquid asphalt from the point where it had it to the site.  It was delayed because the roads were shut down.  Then the stuff had to go back and it hardened, and losses were handled.  We knew the company was going to go after the government in seeking compensation. 

 

In terms of the resolution of the matter, in terms of a negotiation of the contract –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: – and in terms of being advised that the contract had in fact been settled by the release of the company from the contract, it came to me in Halifax Airport on a Saturday, which I think was April 26. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition. 

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The minister has confirmed that the contract was terminated on March 21.  Government's registry of the mechanics' lien says that a claim of lien must be registered within thirty days of the completion or the abandonment of the work.  In this case, that would have been around April 20. 

 

I ask the Premier: Is that your understanding of how the mechanics' lien works, that a claim would have been filed before April 20 in this particular case? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I have not had the pleasure of reading the Mechanics' Lien Act over the last ten years since I came in here, but I do know that if somebody has done work on a project, if someone has supplied materials to a project, or if someone has provided labour to a project, the lien comes into existence at the moment they do it and the lien continues until they provide their last bit of labour or their last bit of materials.  Then, it continues.  The lien exists and it continues for thirty days after that date.  Then, you have to file in the Registry of Deeds a claim for lien and give notice to the other side, then that extends the lien for the period of another sixty days. 

 

The lien comes into existence automatically.  It expires, if you do not take the action, thirty days after you provide your last work.  If my memory is still there, I think that is correct. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Last week there was going to be a lesson, I guess, in mechanics' liens as well as bonds for the Opposition, but I will ask the minister this question, since you are familiar with the situation that is ongoing here with Humber Valley Paving and the subcontractors. 

 

My question is about the protection of the subcontractors: Is it your impression that the last day to actually file a claim on the mechanics' lien was April 20?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the mechanics' lien works on a case-by-case basis.  Each subcontractor or supplier that supplies anything to a company, the mechanics' lien is automatically in place.  If they feel they are not going to be paid their money, they have to within the thirty days file notice of that and then they can file for an extension.  To the best of our knowledge within the department, when we were terminating this contract there were no mechanics' liens placed at all or inquired about.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

What we are trying to establish here is the date that this mechanics' lien or the opportunity to file against the mechanics' lien would have terminated.

 

I ask the minister: Is it your understanding that date is April 20?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is a case-by-case individual here.  You claim against the mechanics' lien according to the case.  From the last day you actually do work or have any expenditure towards the company you are dealing with that is when the mechanics' lien would kick in.  You have thirty days after that, and then you can get an extension of sixty days.  Then, if you are still not satisfied, you can take legal action.

 

The advice we would give is that each individual subcontractor or supplier would deal with their own finances or with their legal opinions from their counsels.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I understand that it is case by case.  The case we are talking about is the one about Humber Valley Paving.  The minister should know this because he is on record as saying that all the subcontractors had the opportunity to go seek compensation under the Mechanics' Lien Act.  He also mentioned about the court challenge, which without the bonds in place there is not really much they can do there.

 

I ask the minister one last time: April 20, is that the date the subcontractors could file against the mechanics' lien or not?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again I say it is on a case-by-case individual.  When I say case-by-case individual –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: – I am talking about the suppliers –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: – and the contractors.  Each supplier and each contractor, once they are finished the work with the contractor they were dealing with then they have thirty days.  After that, each individual subcontractor or supplier can get an extension of sixty days.  Then, if they are still not satisfied, they can seek legal action.

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We have asked for a copy of the company's request to cancel the contract, but government has yet to provide those documents.

 

I ask the Premier: Will you table a copy of Humber Valley Paving's request to cancel the contract?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said, there were conversations with the department.  Once we realized we had two options to go, we had an option to go down the legal route or we had an option to move forward with this contract.  Then the department got in touch with Humber Valley Paving to see what could be reached, what negotiations could be reached, and then from the contract we went into a letter of termination.  We gave them the options we were putting on the table, if they wanted to mutually terminate this contract, and then we waited for them to get back to us.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Government has claimed they relied on the legal advice, as the minister just said, before making the decision.  We have asked for a copy of those legal opinions as well, but government has still not provided them.

 

I ask the Premier: Will you table a copy of the legal opinions government received on this file?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said Thursday, we are going to have the Auditor General come in and everything will be given to him for him to do his audit and to do a review.

 

With respect to other documentation, Mr. Speaker, I understand there are discussions going on between the lawyers for the company and the lawyers for the government.  As soon as they are resolved, I will be happy to table in this House the documentation the Leader of the Opposition has requested.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, the minister said the decision to cancel a contract with Humber Valley Paving was to protect employment of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

Since your government claims to be protecting jobs by the decision, I ask the minister: How many people were at risk at the time of the decision, and how many are still working with Humber Valley Paving since the decision?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will not speak for how many employees are working for Humber Valley Paving.  What I will speak to – and I think it certainly directs the question from the Leader of the Opposition – is protecting the jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  By retendering this project, then we are going to make sure the project is completed on time, on budget, and that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will still be employed within that project.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Last week it was about protecting employees of Humber Valley Paving, this week I just noticed that the minister said on this project.  In 2008, when Island Aggregates was in a similar situation as Humber Valley Paving, government would not help them or provide the protection for their employees.  They said to interfere in a market driven sector would be a major policy shift for this government.

 

I ask the Premier: Does your recent move say that Humber Valley Paving – this is now a significant policy change for your government?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I am not familiar with that particular fact situation that the hon. the Leader of the Opposition is referring to.  What I can say is I have heard comments, and the Opposition have heard comments in the media, concerned about punishing the company.  That happens in criminal law.  You punish, somebody goes to jail, somebody you sanction, and somebody pays a fine. 

 

This is civil law, this is business law.  What had happened, because of exceptional circumstances, because of the forest fires that raged, the company had losses, and government's concern was getting the work done.  If a bonding company had been involved, the odds are that they would have tendered the work –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: – and government has done the same thing.  The minister was concerned about getting the work done to meet the commitment to people in Labrador, and that is what he did.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the minister said many times that terminating the contract along with the bonds for Humber Valley Paving was because the company was losing money and calling the bonds would have put the company out of business.  He also contends that the forest fires, which closed the Trans-Labrador Highway for a number of days, was a contributing factor.

 

I ask the minister: Will he confirm whether or not government has penalized other contractors in similar circumstances?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to clarify a comment made by the Leader of the Opposition.  I have always maintained that I wanted to protect the jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  If those employees happen to be employees of Humber Valley Paving, so be it as long as they are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  That is part of my mandate, to protect those jobs.

 

Mr. Speaker, what we have done in this particular case is we have gone out and we have tried to make sure the job was completed.  Whether it was the circumstances of the fire, or everything else put together, our job is to get the job completed within the department.  That is the decision that we have made, get the job completed, get it completed on time, and protect the jobs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I ask the minister: Whether or not government has penalized other contractors in similar circumstances?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

Mr. Speaker, in the department we deal on a daily basis with different contracts.  Every contract is dealt with differently.  You look at the circumstances that are put before you. 

 

In this particular case, you had very extenuating circumstances that were beyond the control of the contractor or the government.  In a case like that we sit down and we try to do what is best for all included, especially the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  That is what we did in this case.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, tender 07-13 is a contract for brush cutting and clearing on various sections of Route 2.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, primarily the early and harsh winter conditions, the contractor found himself in the same dilemma as Humber Valley Paving.  Even though the contractor requested that the contract be terminated, he was treated much differently than government treated Humber Valley Paving.

 

I ask the minister: Why is it that Humber Valley Paving received preferential treatment while another contractor had his certified cheque cashed and was banned from bidding any further government work for twelve months?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, I will say that the department deals with contractors and contracts on a daily basis.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Each contract is dealt with in dealing with the circumstances that are put before that.  I can only speak for this contract that we are talking about here today, that we looked at the circumstances, we looked at the best case scenarios; two options, go down the legal road or go down the road that we went down to get the work done, get it done on time and on budget.  That is the decision that we made.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, two different contractors, very similar circumstances, two different ways of treating them.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. OSBORNE: I ask the minister: Why was one contractor treated with preferential treatment but another contractor banned from tendering on any work for twelve months?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, I will state that we deal with every contract on a case-by-case basis.  You look at the circumstances that were put forward, and if you feel – you go a legal road or you go the road we went on this one.  That is what we do.  Each case is dealt with differently. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, the Premier said a few moments ago they do not penalize contractors, that that is not the business of government.  Clearly, the minister did with this particular contractor on Route 2.

 

I am asking the minister now: Will he reverse the decision to ban him from bidding on contracts for twelve months?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, once again, each contract – and we deal with several contracts on a day-to-day basis.  Each contract is dealt with the circumstances that are put forward and the rationale of why that contractor cannot finish the contract.  We look at that as a department and then we make a decision.  That is what we have done here.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, did the minister get personally involved in the other tender on Route 2, where the contractor was banned from bidding for twelve months on government contracts?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I notice the way they like to play with words.  The minister is involved in most everything on a day-to-day basis, and then the minister has a full team of professionals who I either go to for advice or I advise them to move forward on how they deal with a contract.  Every contract that could come forward I could be dealing with it, but then you go to your department officials to move forward with that.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Late last week we heard about job cuts at College of the North Atlantic and while some of these job cuts were expected due to last year's program cuts, some employees are being relocated to other areas of the Province with only days' notice.

 

I ask the minister: Why weren't impacted employees given more notice?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, all the way through this process in regard to making College of the North Atlantic responsive to the labour demands of the Province, all of the instructors knew that some of the low-uptake programs would be cancelled.  They all knew that upfront going through the process.

 

Certainly, I want to ask the member, too, is she implying that we should continue to fund low-uptake programs and ignore the labour market demands of the Province, Mr. Speaker?  I do not understand where she is coming from.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Mr. Speaker, my question was about relocation with no notice of employees.

 

Prospective students of the College of the North Atlantic should have received their letters of acceptance in April, yet many have yet to be sent out.

 

I ask the minister: Is this delay due to program cuts at the College; and if so, why are the announcements on cuts being made at the eleventh hour?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, these are not cuts and announcements being made at the eleventh hour, as the hon. member implies.  These are things we have been talking about for many months now in regard to CNA being responsive to the needs of the Province and the labour market demands of the Province.  We will be introducing new programs in different colleges right around the Province.  As a matter of fact, there will be more employed tomorrow once those programs are instated or started than before we discontinued the low-uptake programs.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

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

 

We have been told that the opening of the new Hoyles-Escasoni long-term care facility will provide sixty-seven extra long-term care beds.

 

I ask the Minister of Health and Community Services: How many people are currently on the wait-list for these beds?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I thank the Leader of the Third Party for her question.  Long-term care is a very important matter for the Department of Health and Community Services, and I know it is also very important for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  One of the signature, or very important significant projects we are conducting is the construction of a new long-term care facility in the east end of St. John's.  It will have 461 new beds for long-term care for Eastern Health.  It is a significant investment by this government, a significant piece of work, and we look forward to the opening of that new facility in the coming months.

 

Mr. Speaker, wait-lists change from day to day.  While we acknowledge there are wait-lists for people for long-term care, there are a variety of programs we try to avail of to look after the needs of the people of the Province.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

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

 

I note the minister did not answer my question.  Since the figures we have are a couple of months old and it takes us more than a month to get up to date, I ask him to table in this House the up-to-date figures on wait-lists.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I pointed out to this government years ago that our aging demographic would result in an increased demand for personal care home and long-term care beds. 

 

I ask the minister: Why didn't the government make adequate plans when they had the choice?  Because I can assure him, they do not have enough beds for the wait-list.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

As I acknowledged, there is a wait-list and a demand for service.  We have an aging population in Newfoundland and Labrador and we recognize that.  In fact, as a government we are taking great steps.  We are building, as I mentioned, a new significant piece of infrastructure in the east part of St. John's, a new long-term care facility.  It will have 461 beds.  We are building a new one in Carbonear with 228 beds.  We are adding capacity to Labrador City; we are adding capacity to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.  We are adding capacity to smaller areas such as Bonavista, Clarenville.  We are adding capacity as well in Burin.

 

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you, we have made significant investments for people who need long-term services in Newfoundland and Labrador and we will continue to make those investments. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

So the minister is acknowledging we have a looming crisis, really.  The need is getting greater.  I would like to see the plan, Mr. Speaker, with details of how they are going to make sure the wait-lists end.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I remember as a fairly new MHA, when I first came to this House of Assembly, there was a significant piece of work being underway by the Department of Health and Community Services surrounding long-term care and the needs of our aging population.  It is a strategy that was released in 2012, Mr. Speaker.  It is available on our Web site.  I can provide her with a hard copy and documentation if she would like to have it as well.  It was a good piece of work.  It is a foundation of the plans for this government for us to move forward and deal with the needs of long-term care in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party. 

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I have read that document and it does not have the details I am asking for. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we are told of a senior moved from his community in St. John's to a personal care home in Long Pond, out of reach of family members who are as old as he is, and community support. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS MICHAEL: I ask the minister: What work is being done by the department to ensure that vulnerable patients are not isolated from family and community support?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I do not want to focus on any individual case and I do not feel it to be appropriate to talk about any individual circumstances that may face any Newfoundlander or Labradorian and discuss those on a personal level here in the House of Assembly. 

 

I would advise the member opposite, if she ever took the drive from Confederation Building to Long Pond, as my friend opposite here can tell you, he does it every day, sometimes several times a day, it takes him about sixteen minutes to do it, Mr. Speaker.  It is not a lengthy drive and it is part of the metropolitan, greater St. John's area, I say to the member opposite. 

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we made significant investments for the people of this Province.  We have made significant investments in health, and particularly for the needs of our aging population.  We are making great strides in doing that, and we will continue to do so. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Some residents of Deer Lake are deeply concerned with the rising water table and constantly flooding properties.  They believe that there is a fault with the Deer Lake Power Canal that diverts water along the affected area that is –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MURPHY: – leading to severe mould problems for some and flooding properties to other residents.

 

Does the government know about the problem, and what are they doing to address this? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the member spoke to me on Thursday, I believe.  He sent me an e-mail.  We had a conversation in this very House where I confirmed for him I was looking into the matter.

 

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, I had a meeting with the Town of Deer Lake council on Friday and their staff, discussed the issue, confirmed that it is indeed a municipal issue that the town is well aware of, and the town is in regular communications with the residents that are affected. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

While some consider this to be a municipal matter, this may require a lot of money for the municipality to fix it. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MURPHY: Will government step in with assistance to both the municipality as well as the residents there to investigate the Deer Lake Power Canal situation? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, I had a productive discussion with the members of Deer Lake council on a number of issues on Friday when I was there to make a capital works announcement.  On this particular issue, given that I had correspondence with the member, had a conversation with him about it hours later in this very House of Assembly, I had a discussion with the town council –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: – the town council acknowledged the issue and said that if residents have concerns that they wish to discuss, then Mayor Ball and members of that council are more than prepared to continue the dialogue with those residents. 

 

The questioning today is rather surprising given the conversations I had with the member on Thursday.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East, for a quick question.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MURPHY: Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if they are communicating with the residents.  I keep getting e-mails, including this morning, from residents who are concerned.  They are not hearing a word.  I wonder when they are going to talk to the residents there about this situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: I would encourage the Member for St. John's East to give Mayor Ball a call.  I am sure he would be happy to answer his questions.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Yes, the time for Question Period has expired.

 

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

 

Tabling of Documents.

 

Notices of Motion.

 

Notices of Motion

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I give notice of the following private member's resolution moved by me, the Member for Virginia Waters:

 

WHEREAS Newfoundland and Labrador communities face very real challenges due to population decline and population aging; and

 

WHEREAS the Province can no longer rely on employment alone to successfully compete and attract and retain skilled workers needed for growth in a global environment; and

 

WHEREAS the significant economic, social, and cultural contributions of newcomers to our Province are well recognized; and

 

WHEREAS international migrants, including immigrants, temporary workers, and international students will continue to play an increasingly important role in helping to sustain and grow a diverse and prosperous future; and

 

WHEREAS Newfoundland and Labrador has among the lowest newcomer attraction and retention rates in the country;

 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this House of Assembly urge government to implement a worker recruitment and protection act similar to Nova Scotia and Manitoba, which would require an employer registration process as well as a licensing requirement for companies and individuals recruiting foreign workers.

 

This is seconded by the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Pursuant to Standing Order 63.(3), the private member's resolution just entered by the Member for Virginia Waters is the one to be debated on Wednesday.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

 

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

 

Petitions.

 

Petitions

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's North.

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland and Labrador humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS provincial funding and support for an arms'-length advocacy group is needed in order to promote, protect, and ensure full citizenship rights for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with disabilities; and

 

WHEREAS the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities (COD-NL) has advocated for persons with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador for nearly thirty-five years; and

 

WHEREAS people with disabilities across the Province rely on COD-NL to navigate and access support services, educate the public, and provide outreach; and

 

WHEREAS long-term sustainable funding for COD-NL should be a key building block in the Province's strategy for the inclusion of persons with disabilities; and

 

WHEREAS federal and provincial funding cuts continue to threaten COD-NL's capacity to provide important advocacy, public education, and outreach activities;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to reinstate funding cut from the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013 and provide a long-term sustainable funding arrangement for COD-NL.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a petition I presented previously in the House of Assembly and it looks like this one has residents of the Province entirely from the community of Peterview.  We have received petitions from members of the public from all across the Island.

 

I would like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that this Wednesday, May 14, at 7:00 p.m. in the great, historic District of St. John's North, the annual general meeting of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador is taking place at the Fairfield Inn & Suites on Kenmount Road.  That is this Wednesday, May 14, at 7:00 p.m.  I have had the great privilege of attending that AGM since I was elected to the House of Assembly and I have certainly run into other members on both sides of the House there.

 

I do note that the first year prior to the funding cut to COD-NL, there were full-page advertisements in there from the former Premier of the Province, from the former Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, and even the member whose district their office was located in at the time, all congratulating COD-NL for their great work, their advocacy, and so on and so forth.  Then before the dust had settled on all of those congratulations, the funding was cut from the organization.  They were struggling to survive and find even a place to keep their files and have a telephone.  So I encourage government to reconsider that decision.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace.

 

MR. SLADE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS the communities of New Ferolle, Shoal Cove West, and Reefs Harbour have always relied on the fishery as a means to earn a sustainable income; and

 

WHEREAS the main employer for these three communities has been a seafood processing plant located in New Ferolle; and

 

WHEREAS this plant was seized by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of mortgage arrears; and

 

WHEREAS the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador then permitted an outside operator to operate the plant, but that operator became insolvent and closed; and

 

WHEREAS the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador then sold the plant to another operator for the sum of $1 and has not operated the plant but instead has stripped most, if not all, of the equipment from the plant instead of operating it;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to find a local operator for this plant so that people can go back to work.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I brought this petition here once before and I am bring it back here again now.  Basically, what the people in that area would like is to go to work.  I call upon government, of course, to try to get an operator for that plant in New Ferolle.  The people over there deserve it.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

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

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS consumers and businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador pay some of the highest automobile insurance rates in the country; and

 

WHEREAS part of the recent increases in automobile insurance rates is due to uninsured automobile coverage, which could increase by 329.3 per cent in 2014 for taxis and limousines insured by the Facility Association; and

 

WHEREAS consumers may see an increase in taxi fares and limousine rates as a result; and

 

WHEREAS consumers insured by the Facility Association could see their own auto insurance rates increase partly due to uninsured drivers;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to establish a procedure for insurance companies to co-ordinate with police, highway enforcements officers, and the Motor Registration Division to remove unlicensed and uninsured vehicles from our Province's highways.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I went to a meeting of taxi drivers, I think, it was some three weeks ago now who are really quite concerned about what is happening with their insurance rates.

 

Mr. Speaker, the proposal going before the Public Utilities Board right now, the third-party liability increase they are asking for right now is 50 per cent for the Facility Association in a residual market.  For accident benefits, we are talking about 294.3 per cent or an extra $235 to a driver, and for an uninsured automobile, 329.3 per cent. 

 

Mr. Speaker, these increases that are proposed and gone before the Public Utilities Board are, in one word, outrageous.  We are at risk as consumers ourselves of being tagged with the possibility of increases particularly for uninsured automobile coverage. 

 

We know every day in the news we are hearing about it, that police are hauling in various vehicles that are unregistered and finding in some cases that these are uninsured.  The unregistered part I can see, where there is a way for Motor Vehicle Registration to co-ordinate with the police; it is the uninsured part that we are talking about here when we are talking about uninsured vehicles.

 

We have a possibility here that we can get good co-operation from the insurance companies to co-ordinate this.  I know in conversations with my own insurance company and with other insurance companies on the outside they are not required under the law to report that to Motor Vehicle Registration.  So the question here being asked by taxi drivers particularly is if the uninsured question can be addressed here by government and co-ordination brought on part between government and the various justice officials, then obviously that part of their insurance rates would not be impacted.

 

Mr. Speaker, I leave that to the House of Assembly to determine.  I am told that I am going to be getting a few of these petitions in the next couple of weeks, so I will stand and talk about high insurance rates as they deal commercially when it comes to taxis and limousines but not only that as well to the consumer in general. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth: 

 

WHEREAS there are extreme overcrowding issues in St. Peter's Elementary and Mount Pearl Senior High, a direct result of poor planning by the Department of Education; and

 

WHEREAS the solution imposed by the English School Board to deal with this now crisis situation will have a devastating impact on many students, families and teachers in Mount Pearl Senior High, Mount Pearl Intermediate, St. Peter's Elementary and Newton Elementary; and

 

WHEREAS there are other less disruptive solutions which can be introduced to alleviate this overcrowding issue including capital investment as a preferred option as well catchment area realignment. 

 

WHEREAS the school board was not provided with the financial flexibility by the Minister of Education to explore other more suitable options;

 

WHEREAS the government has intervened in board decisions in the past such as in 2005 when Bishop Falls, reversing the closure of the Leo Burke Academy – during a by-election, I might add;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to intervene in this matter, commit appropriate resources to the English School Board, and instruct them to develop more suitable options.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray. 

Mr. Speaker, this is one petition I have, of many, and there are many more coming in.  I actually had a message from a parent in my district this morning who has several of them signed.  This issue is not going away.  We have a situation in Mount Pearl where as a result of neglect over the years by the school board – the then Eastern School District – there was poor planning, and we saw all the specialty spaces at St. Peter's Elementary, all the specialty spaces at Mount Pearl Senior High, get chopped up into classroom space as the population grew.

 

Now we are to a point where both of those schools have all their specialty spaces gone.  We have kids, for example, at St. Peter's Elementary who are eating lunch at their desks while they are doing gym class and music in the cafeteria.  They have lost their resource library, they have lost their computer room, and the solution being brought forth is not going to change that.  As a matter of fact, next year that same problem will still exist at St. Peter's, and now they are talking about chopping up Newtown Elementary and losing some of their specialty space as well.

 

Mr. Speaker, this was a poor decision, and it was brought upon by the fact that government did not provide any financial flexibility to the board to make these decisions.  Certainly, we are calling upon the government to have a change of heart, to provide that opportunity for the school board to come up with more suitable options for our students.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS most communities in the District of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair do not have adequate broadband service; and

 

WHEREAS residents, businesses, students, nurses, and teachers rely heavily on the Internet to conduct their work and cannot afford to wait until 2016 to access a potential plan in partnership with the Muskrat Falls development; and

 

WHEREAS there are a number of world-class tourism sites in the region, including a UNESCO site at Red Bay, Battle Harbour Historic Site, and the Mealy Mountains National Park;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to work with the appropriate agencies to provide adequate broadband service to the communities along the Labrador Coast.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will continue to bring this petition forward.  It is a huge issue; it crosses many sectors in the district.  It is really stunting the growth in many ways; 95 per cent of the Province we know is connected, but of the 5 per cent that is not, that includes an awful lot of my district.  I am still asking for a list of where the 5 per cent of communities are that are not connected.  I still have not seen that list, Mr. Speaker.

 

Tourism is huge.  We are just coming into the tourism season.  We are in a technological age.  People go into a region now and they expect to be able to stay in contact with people, and for many it is even doing business on the road. 

 

More importantly than that, yes, we need the tourism, we need whatever ways we can to generate revenue into rural areas, Mr. Speaker, but there are things that we could be doing in health care.  People should be able to sit in front of Skype now and see their specialist here in St. John's and save money if that infrastructure was there. 

 

We spend a lot of money trying to entice professionals into the community, many who want to continue their studies through distance education but basic things like streamlining – and because of the ten communities that we say have Internet are actually maxed out, have exceeded capacity so this prohibits them.  Businesses not able to do something like use a simple Interac debit machine without putting their own booster on. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I heard from hotels last week that are missing business because they are not able to get on and reply back to e-mail of tour groups that want to come into the region and want to stay with them.  It is a very, very serious issue, one that is certainly negatively impacting my area.  I will continue to stand and lobby for this service.  We cannot wait until 2016, until two years.  We want to know what is the interim plan, what is being done right now.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

 

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

 

I have a petition to the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS the residents of Burgeo, Ramea, Grey River, and Franηois of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador must use Route 480 on a regular basis for work, medical, educational, and social reasons; and

 

WHEREAS Route 480 is in deplorable condition, such that the shoulders of the road continuously wash away and there are huge potholes in the road; and

 

WHEREAS the condition of Route 480 poses a safety hazard to residents and visitors to Burgeo, Ramea, Grey River, and Franηois; and

 

WHEREAS the Department of Transportation and Works is responsible for the maintenance and repairs in the Province; and

 

WHEREAS the local division of the Department of Transportation and Works does make periodic repairs to this route but these repairs are only temporary patchwork and this road needs to be resurfaced;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to support the users of Route 480 in their request to have Route 480 resurfaced.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I was just going to stand up today and talk about the state of this road because it has been in a deplorable condition for some time.  Yesterday we had a very serious situation when we had another washout on this road.  The road closed and people were not able to get back and forth. 

 

We had people who were looking to get out of town so they could go and have surgeries.  I actually heard from people who work for the ambulance service calling and concerned about what could happen.  I had seniors calling me.  This is beyond the usual calls you get from people whose vehicles have been damaged and have to pay for the cost because this road is not fit.  The good news here is the local employees of Transportation and Works attended to it and got the situation taken care of so that people could go back and forth. 

 

We are still speaking on a greater level.  When it comes to these decisions that are being made, this road is not fit.  It is in a deplorable condition, yet there is absolutely nothing getting done besides the usual patchwork.  People keep sending me pictures of their cars taking terrible damage.  Again, they are being left to hold the bag because there is no money going into this district.  I guess it is just located in the wrong spot. 

 

I am putting it out there.  There are a lot of people who have to travel over this road.  People have to take a ferry to get there in many cases, if they are coming from Franηois, if they are coming from Ramea, or if they are coming from Grey River.  When you get up there and you cannot get back and forth.  This is the second washout, the second summer, and we are still seeing the same thing.  People are not getting the same quality of roads that they should as elsewhere.  I am going to continue to make this an issue. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

As per Standing Order 32, I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, that we move to Orders of the Day. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that we now move to Orders of the Day. 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion Carried. 

 

Orders of the Day. 

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

First of all, I move, as pursuant to Standing Order 11, seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 today, Monday, May 12, 2014. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn today, Monday, May 12, at 5:30 p.m. 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried. 

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Just for clarity, I understood I probably should do them as two motions that is why I split them up. 

I move, Mr. Speaker, seconded by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, pursuant to Standing Order 11 that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. today, Monday, May 12, 2014. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. this evening, Monday, May 12. 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried. 

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Now, I am going to move to item 10 on our Order Paper. 

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, for the following resolution:

 

WHEREAS subsection 20(7) of the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act provides that a change to the level of amounts of allowances and resources provided to members not be made except in accordance with a rule that has been first laid before the House of Assembly and adopted by resolution of the House; and

 

WHEREAS an amendment to the Members' Resources and Allowances Rules, which would change the level of the amounts of allowances and resources has been laid before the House by the Speaker;

 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this hon. House of Assembly adopt the amendment to the Members' Resources and Allowances Rules, as approved by the Management Commission of this House on April 14, 2014 and tabled by the Speaker of the House on May 8, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All members have heard the motion.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader, speaking to the motion?

 

MR. KING: Yes, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I think, with leave, I am speaking quickly for both of the Opposition parties just to provide a very quick explanation here.  The Members Resources' Rules were amended a short while ago by this House unanimously.  It came to our attention that there was a typographical error with respect to two particular districts, the one for Lake Melville and Labrador West.  The motion we are bringing forward today simply fixes the error and honours the intent of the motion that members of this House voted on several weeks ago.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All members have heard the motion.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Under Motions, I am moving to Motion 5.

 

Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Establish And Implement A Province-Wide 911 Telephone Service For The Reporting Of Emergencies, Bill 14, and so move that the bill be now read the first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs shall have leave to introduce a bill, An Act To Establish And Implement A Province-Wide 911 Telephone Service For The Reporting Of Emergencies, Bill 14, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 14, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs to introduce a bill, “An Act To Establish And Implement A Province-Wide 911 Telephone Service For The Reporting Of Emergencies”, carried.  (Bill 14).

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Establish And Implement A Province-Wide 911 Telephone Service For The Reporting Of Emergencies.  (Bill 14)

 

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

 

When shall the bill be read a second time?

 

MR. KING: Tomorrow.

 

MR. SPEAKER: On tomorrow.

 

On motion, Bill 14 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act, Bill 16, and that the said bill be now read the first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills shall have leave to introduce a bill, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act, Bill 16, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce such bill?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act”, carried.  (Bill 16)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act.  (Bill 16)

 

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

 

When shall the bill be read a second time?

 

MR. KING: Tomorrow.

 

MR. SPEAKER: On tomorrow.

 

On motion, Bill 16 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, for leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act And The Tax Agreement Act, 2010, Bill 17, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board shall have leave to introduce a bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act And The Tax Agreement Act, 2010, Bill 17, and the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall leave to introduce Bill 17?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act And The Tax Agreement Act, 2010”, carried.  (Bill 17)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act And The Tax Agreement Act, 2010.  (Bill 17)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a first time.  When shall the bill be read a second time?

 

On tomorrow.

 

On motion, Bill 17 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Fish Processing Licensing Board Act, Bill 18, and that the said bill be now read the first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture shall have leave to introduce a bill, An Act To Amend The Fish Processing Licensing Board Act, Bill 18, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 18?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Fish Processing Licensing Board Act”, carried.  (Bill 18)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Fish Processing Licensing Board Act.  (Bill 18)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a first time.  When shall the bill be read a second time?

 

On tomorrow.

 

On motion, Bill 18 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I call under Second Reading Bills, Order 4, second reading of a bill, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure, Bill 1.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House to speak to Bill 1, seven years in the making, and certainly exciting for the people of the Province to finally see this legislation on the books here at the House of Assembly.

 

The provincial government promised to create this legislation to protect employees who want to report what they consider wrongdoing.  That promise came after a 2007 review of the Province's Legislature by Justice Derek Green, and the promise came before the 2007 provincial election.  In his report from the review, Green recommended a law under which public servants, without fear of reprisal, could disclose others' improper or unethical behaviour. 

 

In the 2008 Throne Speech, government committed to introduce the whistleblower protection legislation that same year, after appropriate consultation had taken place.  In 2009, former Premier Danny Williams reiterated his government's position and promised to create the legislation.

 

In May, 2012, Justice Minister Felix Collins said there were problems with the legislation elsewhere, the Province had looked.  He also said he believed “…the existing legislative regime in Newfoundland and Labrador may provide adequate protections for government workers.”  My question to the minister today, Mr. Speaker, would be, why has it taken seven years for us to get to this point where this legislation is going to be enacted? 

 

As recently as last Monday, I have had a situation where I had an individual seek counsel from me as an MHA on a circumstance related to their employment and are concerned as to how they might go about resolving that.  While this whistleblower legislation, assuming it comes into effect in July, would have applicability to this individual, certainly based on the dates and the lack of clarity around situations prior to July of 2014, this individual does not have clarity.  We have seven years where individuals who have worked for the provincial government in a variety of ways do not have clarity on how they can provide feedback, concerns, and questions in a way that does not put them at risk of retaliation.

 

The bill itself has four basic problems.  There is no internal review process.  There is lack of proactive disclosure.  The release of documents to authorities in the past – the Office of the Citizens' Rep has denied under certain circumstances those documents being released in the past, which has made circumstances difficult to be resolved. 

 

The biggest question from my perspective comes down to the issue of the dates and the fact that this legislation promised seven years ago really will have little effect on feedback, concerns, questions, information that may need to be discussed, may want to be discussed over the last number of years.  It would seem to me, and appear to me, that if this government had been serious about the whistleblower legislation when they announced it years ago, they certainly would have been making sure they were acting in a principled way, providing an opportunity for employees to give feedback where appropriate. 

 

I think the dates in particular provide some concern to government employees who may feel that the dates do not allow them to go back under a certain period of time and talk about things.  Whether it is in a certain department, whether it is a conversation they were part of, that they do not really know what to do with.  The fact that there is no internal process does not allow the individual to be able to go to their direct supervisor, their direct boss, or somebody who has the authority and should have the authority inside government in the management team to be able to deal with the situation that the employee brings. 

 

This is quite the contrary to what I have seen in the private sector, and certainly it would require a more open process to allow internal resolutions to happen on a more eased basis.  If you are an employee who works outside of a driving distance from the Office of the Citizens' Rep, certainly phone conversations are much more difficult to have if you are looking and seeking advice then it would be to have a face-to-face conversation.  This legislation certainly makes it difficult for individuals to have a face-to-face conversation at a time when it is important, a time of undue stress on an individual and an employee. 

 

The issue that was spoken about in this House last week around retrospective versus retroactive I think is a very meaningful one.  I am at a loss to understand, as I said earlier, why a government that committed to people, promised to people this legislation, would feel the need or feel it was in its own best interest not to implement legislation that allowed for everything that needed to be disclosed by employees to be disclosed prior to the implementation of this legislation.  That the simple act of changing the language and allowing retrospective to be used, it would have certainly enabled those employees to make that change.

 

We also have a number of areas in the act that I believe need to be reviewed.  Certainly, making sure we have dual remedy and internal complaints investigation is one area where there is an opportunity to improve the bill.  The whistleblower should be protected from reprisals when they are making good faith complaints internally, as well as going to the Citizens' Rep.  An individual who speaks to their direct manager, their direct support, whoever is providing coaching and counselling and feedback to that individual should feel comfortable speaking to their direct supervisor. 

 

I ask the question: Is there a need to amend the regulation section to give authority to set up an internal complaints review system?  Wrongdoings to which the act applies – this bill may need to be amended to apply to wrongdoings that occur subsequent to October 9, 2007, not the day the act comes into force, as per section 4.(2).

 

When you think about the list of exemptions and things that are not applicable around Cabinet confidences that are exempt to access, whether it is Cabinet records; memorandums; discussion papers; agendas; minutes; records used; records created by a minister; record created during the process of developing and preparing a submission to Cabinet; discontinued Cabinet records; official Cabinet records; supporting Cabinet records; discounted Cabinet records.  All of these items certainly exclude a significant area of work that public sector employees work in and provide an opportunity, if you had a situation where we had dual reporting processes, you could certainly look at situations where somebody could report to their direct supervisor possibly around some of these particular areas that have been exempt.

 

When an investigation is not required and the terms of when an investigation is not required, there may be a need to add certain conditions for when an investigation is not required in the act.  This would include things like the alleged person who committed a wrongdoing is deceased, resides outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, or is in such a mental condition as to be unable to respond in a meaningful manner; subject matter may also have been otherwise heard or adjudicated by another public body or, at the time of the disclosure, before another public body was empowered to hear a rule on the alleged wrongdoing.  So there are some requirement to make some adjustments there, I believe.

 

When an investigation is not required might also include that if criminal activity is reliably alleged, the Citizens' Representative shall refer the matter to the appropriate police force for further investigation, without disclosing the name of the whistleblower, unless the disclosure is found to be erroneous or made in bad faith.

 

Again, I refer to the date of July of this year, when we have situations, as I mentioned earlier, that I am dealing with in my office right now of an individual who has concerns and questions and is at a loss as to how to resolve those through an internal process, because there is not one that is available, or now the external process is not available to them until post-July.  Certainly, it is very concerning and frustrating and does not inspire confidence for this particular individual in this government's desire to act in good faith under the whistleblower legislation.

 

There is reference in the act around the annual report.  As the bill now says, an annual report must be tabled within fifteen days; however, if the House closes before the fifteen days of being received by the Speaker, within eight, for example, it must be tabled before the House closes.  If the report is completed and provided to the Speaker between the two sessions, it must be tabled within three days of opening.  That certainly is a concern based on the history that this House has had in the last number of years around when the House closes, and there could be a situation where the reports would not be available to be reviewed.

 

One of the things that Justice Green, if you go back to his report, certainly made clear is that he felt the information needed to be disclosed in the House of Assembly in a way that allowed those people who were elected by the people of the Province to act in the best interests of the people of the Province.  He wanted those discussions to happen here and I would assume the same would happen around discussions in this annual report.

 

Protections of the employee: Somewhere in the bill – is this the best place – there must be sanctions against individuals who are guilty of taking a reprisal against a former employee.  New Brunswick has made this recommendation and by doing this it shows reprisals will not be tolerated.  One of the certainly challenging things for an individual who steps forward bravely to talk about a potential wrongdoing, concern, or conflict they feel is how do we protect that individual, not only from reprisals from their boss or their direct report, but also from their peers?  That legislation and recommendation that has been changed in New Brunswick certainly is worthwhile for us to take a look at.

 

Complaints to the Labour Relations Board: The organization that employs the person found guilty of the offence at the time of the offence was found to have been committed is deemed to be liable for the wrongdoings of the offender and shall be jointly and severally liable of such wrongdoings, as well as any penalties imposed or remedies ordered.  Certainly those changes would ensure that the right person pays for the infraction, for the misjudgement, for the situation that was not handled in the best interests of the people of the Province and in the best interests of government.

 

This particular piece of legislation, the minister has said, is based on four pillars: employees may disclose serious wrongdoings, the Office of the Citizens' Representative would be involved, there will be anti-reprisal protection, and the Labour Relations Board will hear complaints and award remedies.  Again, I go back to my comment earlier about no internal process.  It seems quite inconsistent with how a best-in-class organization would want to operate, assuming that is what this government wants to operate in its employee relations, is a situation where you have a lack of a mechanism inside government that allows for an internal disclosure process.  Many of these situations that arise can be handled internally, assuming that you have good discipline, good systems, and good communication amongst management and front-line staff that allow for those discussions to happen. 

 

When you take those discussions out and you force them into a third party, then you restrict the employee's ability to have an open and frank discussion with their managers.  You also limit and restrict the manager's ability to act in good faith on what might be a small infraction that could be handled quickly, efficiently, and in the best interest of the people of the Province. 

 

I would ask the minister if he could provide clarity on how, in the absence of an internal process, employees and managers will be functioning together when there are situations that need to be handled on a timely basis, and how taking those situations outside of a normal work discussion into the Office of the Citizens' Rep, which may be required, how that will improve employee productivity and help improve situations where things can be resolved in short order.

 

There is a need for continued discussion and dialogue on this particular bill.  It has been a pleasure to rise here today and speak to it. 

 

I think the act and the discussions we have had over the last number of days around this, certainly some key themes would include concern about why a date of July.  As government has said, they are an open government now, one that is operating in the best interests of the people of the Province.  It would seem to me that if that was a commitment they wanted to make that they would back this up with a commitment under the whistleblower, which they promised in 2007.

 

With that said, I thank, Mr. Speaker, for the time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Harbour Main.

 

MR. HEDDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am very pleased to be on my feet today to talk about – I believe looking around that I might have got up a bit prematurely.  I am looking down the row at the member. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Go for it.

 

MR. HEDDERSON: I am looking at the minister and the minister says: Go for it.  I apologize to the member for Bonavista down there. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am so anxious to stand up and talk about Bill 1, a bill regarding Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act.  This is a bill that has been in the making for a fair amount of time.  When you look at Bill 1, in any session, you look at it as an important initiative that the government feels quite serious about, obviously, to name it as Bill 1, and to see that it is the right time to do the right thing and to put forward a significant piece of legislation. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be able to get up and have some words on what I believe to be a very solid bill.  I commend the minister for putting together a great deal of research and comparative analysis to bring forward a bill that I would say will stand the test of any complaints; complaints from the Opposition, complaints from the Third Party, complaints from outside parties as well.  These complaints are very necessary in a debate, Mr. Speaker.  I am sure the minister is listening attentively as the speakers on both sides of the House get up and talk about this particular bill. 

 

I will say, Mr. Speaker, this is a case where government has certainly listened to the people of the Province on an issue that is very important to them.  It is not something that was taken lightly because whistleblower legislation – even though it is, I believe, in six or seven jurisdictions, it is relatively new.  By doing some good comparative analysis, hopefully we, as a jurisdiction, will not go down a road that some others have gone down and run into significant difficulties. 

 

Mr. Speaker, significant difficulties with whistleblowing means that individuals who came forward were not given the protection they thought they would get.  So, as a government, you want to make sure that what probably happened in some other jurisdictions is not going to happen in this jurisdiction, because of the seriousness of the nature and the intent of what this bill is putting forward. 

 

Again, Mr. Speaker, any time is a good time to do the right thing.  We said as a government that we would do this legislation, and, Mr. Speaker, I am standing here as part of a government that is moving forward with it.  From what I am hearing from across the way, especially from the Third Party, there are a lot of good things they see in this legislation, one they have anticipated for a period of time and very hopeful that this bill will take care of the intent. 

 

Mr. Speaker, what is the bill?  The bill talks about an independent mechanism for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoings in or relating to the public service and protect employees who make the disclosures from reprisals.  That is always the danger.  You see a wrongdoing and you have to judge for yourself whether you want to put yourself on the line so to speak.  In many cases you are putting yourself on the line with regard to employment. 

 

You are working in a particular area with a particular group of people and you have to make the judgement as to whether or not you are going to be the one who would bring forward some type of wrongdoing, knowing full well that you are probably going to have to suffer some reprisals for doing so.  It is not as simple as saying: No, that is not going to happen.  It is the right thing to do.  It is about justice and so on and so forth; because, as all of you know in this Chamber, this is Newfoundland and Labrador and, believe it or not, a very closed community in a lot of ways. 

 

Even within government departments, in the larger government, a lot of people know each other and if there is a wrongdoing in some of these units or some of these offices, it will become quite obvious.  Even though you say you can protect, I think it would be quite obvious to who might be the one who is bringing forth that disclosure.  So it is very, very important that we have tight legislation which makes sure everything is done, everything that is possible is done so the identity of that individual is not known. 

 

I would say to you, Mr. Speaker, that is going to be a tough job, a very tough job.  I am satisfied that this legislation is going as far as it possibly can but it is not as simple as black and white.  Again, we must, as a Chamber, look at all aspects of this bill and make sure it is what we think it would be.

 

Now, the scope – and the scope is line departments or public bodies.  That is what this is all about.  As a government, we have an obligation to protect the employees who fall under our jurisdiction, our responsibility.  Of course, you would hope that we are doing what we believe is the right thing for our employees and you would hope in private business they would look at having similar mechanisms as we do in government. 

 

We also know, for example, that Memorial University does have really robust whistleblower protection.  We are satisfied everything has been done in that academic community because it is a little bit unique, as we as a Province are unique.  When you have an academic community, that too lends itself to making sure you are doing the right thing, because you have a closed community, and a large community, when you look at Memorial University. 

 

Having said that, there is always an opportunity for that public body to avail of this legislation.  At some future date, if something is brought to the attention of government or to Memorial, that their protection does not match up with what has been legislated, we hope, in this particular bill.

 

The scope is our line departments, our public bodies.  The intent is to uphold the integrity of the public service.  I have been around government now for, going on any number of years and have been very much involved in at least six departments.

 

MR. JOYCE: (Inaudible).

 

MR. HEDDERSON: I look at the Member for Bay of Islands, I am not saying I am here too long, but I am here long enough to have had some great experience with some of the departments.  I am sure he is nodding as well, in saying that I have met some tremendous individuals who are dedicated to public service in Newfoundland and Labrador, who are intent on making a career out of it.  Whether it is in Transportation and Works, whether it is in Intergovernmental Affairs, in any number of departments that I was there. 

 

The integrity of the public service is so, so important.  We must as a government, as a Chamber here, do everything we can to uphold that integrity.  The way to do it is to make sure the people who work in government or any associated bodies, that we give them the protection and the opportunity to make sure that they feel very, very comfortable and protected as they would move forward with what I believe to be very, very difficult decision makings and judgements.  That is to look at wrongdoing within your department, for example, and go forward.

 

The pillars have been mentioned, and every bill has to be based on strong principles.  The first one, and the most important one, is disclosure without fear.  That is sort of all right for me to stand here and say to the public employees out there that this bill is going to allow you to go forward without fear.  I am in a real world, and I know that if the decision is made to go forward with disclosure, regardless of what kind of protection we have in this bill, there will be apprehension, and there will be someone who perhaps feels uncomfortable.  The principle is that we have to do everything that we can in legislation to allow for that employee to make the right decision, not only to make the right decision but to do it in a manner which allows him or her to be able to move forward. 

 

The second pillar – I like the aspect of the independent investigation.  I fear I differ.  I know the member who stood just before me on the Opposition talked about the two aspects: the internal as opposed to the external.  I think the seriousness of this particular disclosure calls for complete independence. 

 

I know that there are some cells, some units, within government where you would have a half-a-dozen people and it is very, very difficult for one of those six, for example, or one of those four, or one of those seven who have worked together very closely perhaps for a period of time – it is so difficult for an employee to just turn around and go to one of them, in many cases, what they consider to be their family and talk about a particular wrongdoing of a third party or of the party themselves.  That is why we are introducing this.  If it is anything less serious, I am sure that they could probably work it out amongst themselves. 

 

This calls for an independent where you can step out of where you are, go to a place where you are going to get total independence, assessment, advice and so on and so forth.  That is most important because of the seriousness of the nature of this wrongdoing. 

 

It is not going to be a trivial thing, I can tell you that, as someone who sees something they need.  This one stream or this one mechanism, that is where I would be.  I think in other jurisdictions they found that would be the best route to go.  Not only that, but that independent mechanism is our Citizens' Representative. 

 

I have already heard that gentleman talk about how they are prepared for this, how they are looking forward to this, how they do have right now, they feel, the resources to deal with this.  What better place and what better office to deal with this very, very sensitive matter of an employee within a certain unit or department talking about some wrongdoing that they have witnessed that they need to have addressed? 

 

Thirdly – and let's be honest; as much as you have the independence of the Office of the Citizens' Representative, as your outside the work situation, there is an investigation that takes place.  Let's be honest if you look at the numbers that are used, a small section here, a small section there, it might become quite obvious and, in many cases, it will of who the whistleblower is.

 

Once that happens then, just by the very fact that there is knowledge of it there may be in some indirect or direct reprisals against that individual.  It is all right to say that we will protect you, but we cannot give 100 per cent guarantee; nobody can.  If the identity becomes obvious, there may be individuals or an individual who within that work unit will look for reprisals.  It might be a look.  It might be some verbal communications that would suggest abuse.

 

It is also very important, if that is there, the pillar is if that happens there is somewhere else that the individual can go for further protection.  Of course, you have to look for a second independent body, and the labour council would be again an independent body who knows how to deal with labour-related matters, as this would be, and could address the necessary compensation, action plan or whatever that is required to allow this individual, this public servant, as someone who has talked, who had the courage, because it is going to take courage.  I do not care what it is, I do not care what type of wrongdoing or whatever, it takes a lot of courage for somebody to stand up and say: This is not right.  The labour council can then, as an independent body, assess the situation and make sure what is necessary to be done is indeed done.

 

Of course, Opposition parties and government parties, no matter who we are or on what side of the House, guess what?  It always comes down to the details.  That is where we have to look.  I like the detailed part of it because there is a single disclosure process that eliminates cumbersome administration and paper trail.  You have one independent office dealing with this, and from what it is to where it should go.  Basically, it eliminates that discomfort and that apprehension an employee might have in having to go to their supervisor, their director, or whoever.  I like, again, the independent body in the Office of the Citizens' Representative as well as the Labour Relations Board.

 

I think there are seven provinces and the feds who have this legislation in place.  I think we, as a government, have done enough of the comparative analysis to know what is best for this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Is it exactly the same as all other jurisdictions?  No, and I would not want to be, I say, Mr. Speaker – I would not want it to be.

 

Our population is not a great population of 500,000-plus people, but I believe we as a government have done a good job in making sure we are as a jurisdiction doing this, but secondly that we are taking the best we have seen across this Nation, federally and provincially, and incorporated it into a bill.  I believe we have cut the cloth to fit the job.

 

We are focused on wrongdoing, not routine operational or HR matters.  That is obvious, I think.  When you are dealing with HR, we have unions and so on, and we have this, that, and the other thing, but we are focused where we did.  As I already pointed out, MUN is exempted because we believe their program takes care of it.  We do know that Cabinet confidence is again protected, that hallmark of democracy that obviously allows our Cabinet to function in a democratic manner in which they should.  The accountability – I know some are questioning the accountability.  When I look at the Speaker and the Chair and know that this Legislature has mechanisms that would insist on reports being brought in and made public in the most opportune way, I am very, very comfortable. 

 

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I certainly am very supportive of this bill.  I know that both Opposition Parties believe in the principles that we are putting forth.  I would encourage them to continue to bring forth their concerns.  Because in the end, we want, as we do with all of our legislation, it to be the best in not only this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but we as a government would want it to be the best in the country. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. HEDDERSON: I believe, Mr. Speaker, we set the table and it is up to us here in this Legislature now to go forward with what I believe to be a very important initiative from this government.  We have listened and we have acted.  Here is Bill 1; take it as it is. 

 

Thank you very much. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): I recognize the hon. the Member for St. John's South. 

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any argument from anybody on either side of this House that whistleblower legislation is needed.  It is a long time in the making.  It was promised several years ago by government and I think everybody will be happy to see the day that whistleblower legislation is finally brought into effect.  There are some concerns with it and I will get into that, but I will say that whistleblower legislation is certainly a long time in the making and long overdue. 

 

After years of waiting, we finally see the legislation brought to the House of Assembly.  There has been some debate and I think some very good suggestions by members on this side of the House on how this legislation can be improved. 

 

Public servants have wanted this for a long time, Mr. Speaker.  I know in 2007 House of Assembly employees were protected under similar legislation or clauses as a result of Justice Green's report, but public servants have wanted this particular legislation for some time.  Public servants know that there is wrongdoing from time to time within government, either at the departmental level or politically and they want to see an ability to be able to inform the public of when a wrongdoing is taking place. 

 

If that had happened, Mr. Speaker, maybe what happened back in the early 2000s where we needed to see Justice Green come in and make the changes here in the House of Assembly, maybe that would not have happened.  Because there were bureaucrats who obviously understood and saw that there was some wrongdoing and that needed to be corrected.  So, it is needed.  Public servants now want the same protections and the same rights that certain members of the staff of the House of Assembly currently have.

 

I do have some questions, and I know that based on this legislation we are going to potentially see an increased workload for the Office of the Citizens' Representative, but we do not see any increase in the budget in the Office of the Citizens' Representative for an anticipated increase in workload.  If there is work referred to the Office of the Citizens' Representative, is that going to be covered under a special warrant?  It will have to be.  We will have to bring a special warrant to this House to cover any additional work that their office cannot afford to undertake because they have seen no increase in this year's budget.

 

That is one example, and I know that we are still deliberating and debating the Budget, Mr. Speaker, but it is certainly one example where we could see an improvement to this legislation by means of increasing the budget for the Office of the Citizens' Representative.

 

The act comes into force on July 1, Mr. Speaker.  So, clearly, what you have is April 1 is the new fiscal year, you have all of April, all of May and all of June that the Office of the Citizens' Representative would not see an increase in work; but as of July 1, you have nine more months that the Office of the Citizens' Representative could potentially see an increase in workload.

 

Mr. Speaker, if a member of the public service were to blow the whistle to the media, for example, rather than making a written complaint to the Office of the Citizens' Representative, would they be protected?  I am not clear under this legislation.  In fact, I do not think they would under this legislation.  It does not specifically outline that, but I do not think they would be protected under this particular piece of legislation if they were to speak with the media.

 

So is that something intentionally that the legislation has left out?  Are we trying to discourage members of the public service from speaking to the media if there is a wrongdoing?  Do we want them specifically to go in writing to the Office of the Citizens' Representative?

 

Mr. Speaker, the Citizens' Representative is not required to investigate complaints that are considered frivolous or vexatious, and they say that such complaints could damage the reputation of those being named.  So, safeguards will be needed to ensure that reputations are not damaged unnecessarily.

 

If somebody has a beef with a manager, a director, a deputy minister, or a minister, for that matter, they could make a frivolous complaint to the Office of the Citizens' Representative.  We do need to ensure that if such a complaint is made, that those who are in positions of authority are protected, if it is proven and if it can be shown that is a frivolous complaint, that the reputation of somebody is not damaged simply because somebody has a beef with them.  We need to look at the legislation and we need to ensure that the legislation is a little bit stronger in those regards to ensure that we do encourage people to come forward, we do encourage people to make the complaint if they see a wrongdoing, but we also need to ensure that people are protected against frivolous complaints or vexatious complaints.

 

Mr. Speaker, clause 4 of the act only applies to wrongdoings that occur after July 1 of 2014.  What about issues that happen prior to July 1, 2014?  I will give you a prime example; we are talking now about Humber Valley Paving.  I am not going to say that I have evidence that could be brought forward, but that is something that has been hotly debated back and forth across this House.  There are different opinions on that particular issue, so it is a fine example.  If this legislation comes into force, it comes into force July 1.  Something such as Humber Valley Paving, if a public servant is aware that there is a wrongdoing with that cannot come forward with it. 

 

There are other cases, Mr. Speaker, where public servants would not be able to come forward if they have a concern or a complaint of a wrongdoing that happened within government prior to the July 1, 2014.  What about ongoing issues and events that have taken place prior to?  It does not protect anyone who makes a complaint about something that happened prior to July 1, 2014. 

 

I think that is a weakness in the bill.  I think that is somewhere that we could look at improving this bill, Mr. Speaker.  I would say that we should look at putting in place going back to when the legislation was promised, ensuring that as of the time the legislation was promised, people have the ability to come forward and say that something happened, something went wrong within government.  We should amend that, Mr. Speaker.  The act should also apply to any reports of wrongdoing which take place after this comes into force.  We do not provide any post facto blanket amnesty for events that happened prior to. 

 

Mr. Speaker, under clause 8, disclosures must be signed.  There is no provision for a valid anonymous disclosure or complaint.  While I understand to a certain degree the need for that, at the same time, on the same token, the other side of it, there is perhaps at times a need for an anonymous complaint because of somebody's connection to the person they are complaining about within a department or the sensitivity involved.  I would say that is something that should be looked at, whether or not it was overlooked.  I think we should look at and maybe put in clauses that would say under certain conditions an anonymous complaint may be made. 

 

“The identity of an employee making a disclosure” – under the current legislation that is being proposed – “shall be kept confidential to the extent permitted by law and consistent with the need to conduct a proper investigation.”  There is no absolute guarantee of anonymity.  That is the concern with what I am raising, the fact that there should be certain cases, certain conditions clearly outlined where an anonymous complaint can also be made.

 

Mr. Speaker, you look at solicitor-client privilege here, the act authorizes the disclosure of “information or documents that are protected by solicitor-client privilege.”  There is a concern here as well.  It provides a very broad protection and exemption of text reviewed by government lawyers giving what I would call blanket protection to legal documents covered under solicitor-client privilege.  Therefore, the same problem as Bill 29 and associated rulings where we see under Bill 29 there are certain things protected because government consider them to be client-solicitor protected. 

 

Under clause 14(2) “An investigation shall” – and this is an important word, shall – “be conducted as informally and expeditiously as possible.”  Essentially, the legislation forces investigations to be conducted informally; it could perhaps weaken an investigation because it is an informal investigation.  It does not permit any other option to require the investigation to be a little more formal, shall we say.  There will be lots of unrecorded conversations if it is informal; no evidence to put forward should something be found to be truly wrong and the complaint that was brought forward substantiated.  I am not sure if I am comfortable with the fact that they should be conducted as informally as possible, leaving no paper trail at all in the event that a complaint is deemed to be a very legitimate complaint.

 

Mr. Speaker, clause 15, the Office of the Citizens' Representative might refer the matter to another agency, if that agency is deemed to be more appropriate; for example, the Commissioner for Legislative Standards, if it relates to a member of the House or a minister.  Depending on what the Office of the Citizens' Representative deem to be appropriate, they may refer that to the Commissioner for Legislative Standards.

 

Again, we do not see any increase in the budget or funding for the office of the commissioner's interest or legislative standards.  If a complaint were referred there, depending on the magnitude of the complaint, the level of investigation that would need to be carried out, the type of work that would need to be done, there would have to be an increase in the budget for the Commissioner for Legislative Standards, but there is nothing here.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Office of the Citizens' Representative merely makes recommendations in this report.  Those recommendations would go to a department or to the deputy, or to the person involved.  If nothing is done, they merely make another report; send off another report to the same individual.  So, I have to wonder whether or not the act lacks teeth in that regard. 

 

There seems to be no consequences for a public body or an individual if the Office of the Citizens' Representative makes a recommendation and that recommendation is not carried through.  If there is no action on that recommendation, we see nothing done as a result, what happens then?  There are no provisions laid out in this legislation to identify what the next steps are.

 

Mr. Speaker, clause 19, “When making recommendations, the citizens' representative may request” – again, may as opposed to shall – “the appropriate department or public body to notify him or her, within a specified period of time, of the steps it has taken or proposes to take to give effect to the recommendations.”  The concern here is the fact that they may.  This really, in my opinion, should be shall, because if they may request the appropriate department or public body to report back, that does not mean they have to.  It does not even mean the Office of the Citizens' Rep has to make that request.

 

I think there are some areas of this that could be strengthened.  We all like the fact that there is whistleblower legislation.  It is something the people of the Province have been looking for, that the public service have been looking for, that members of the House have been looking for, and it is something that was promised, Mr. Speaker, several years ago. 

 

I do not think you are going to get any complaints on the fact that this legislation is on the table, but there are some areas in this legislation where there are concerns, there are weaknesses in the legislation, and we would certainly like to see that legislation improved, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Thank you very much. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I am delighted to rise in the House today to speak to Bill 1, this very important piece of legislation.  I have listened to some of my colleagues speaking to Bill 1 and how important this piece of legislation ties into the workplaces and employees within the workplace. 

 

This government is very serious about Bill 1.  We recognize how important Bill 1 is to the workers of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

In relation to some of the comments made from some of the members on the opposite side, they realize how important this piece of legislation is as well.  It looks like we all feel the same way.  That a piece of legislation like this Bill 1 is certainly going to make a difference in relation to employees and how they feel about actually bringing forward a concern in the future. 

 

This legislation represents a great step forward towards increased openness and transparency in government by ensuring that those who work in the public service can freely report legitimate wrongdoing or gross mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars, misuse of government assets or other types of serious and significant wrongdoing that could be occurring within our public service. 

 

I am going to speak about other jurisdictions in Canada, places where whistleblower legislation has been brought forward, Mr. Speaker, and how it ties into what we are doing in this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  An employee can feel free to make these types of referrals under this act without fear of reprisal.  When I was part of the briefing, I picked up some very key points in relation to this piece of important legislation.  I would like to commend the department officials from Justice and Municipal Affairs in doing an outstanding job and giving us a great briefing so we can come to this House of Assembly and speak on this very important piece of legislation, Bill 1.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the experience of other jurisdictions in Canada and how this legislation compares.  Newfoundland and Labrador will be the seventh Province to introduce whistleblower protection legislation as currently Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, as well as the Government of Canada has such legislation in place. 

 

We are not the first, and yes, we did take a little bit more time.  Also, by taking more time, we can make changes on behalf of the workers and the workplaces of Newfoundland and Labrador to make improvements, Mr. Speaker.  That is what we are intending to do with this piece of legislation.

 

This bill largely echoes many of the major provisions found in the legislation of other provinces, like I said, but we believe it has improved on the very important aspect of this type of legislation.  Mr. Speaker, in consulting with other provincial colleagues across the country, we have determined that Newfoundland and Labrador's whistleblower legislation will be differentiated from all other provinces by the existence of a single disclosure route.  The use of such a method means that all complaints of wrongdoing are solely reported to and investigated by the Citizens' Representative. 

 

The difference is significant, Mr. Speaker, as our provincial colleagues advised us that the commonly used dual disclosure route represents two key challenges.  First, the dual disclosure route requires the investment of a significant amount of time and financial resources, particularly with regard to ensuring consistency across all departments and public bodies and the provision of ongoing training to employees tasked with receiving and investigating disclosures.  Secondly, the public service employees may be unwilling or hesitant to disclose information regarding wrongdoing to a supervisor or chief executive without assurance of protection. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is for these reasons that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has decided to use a single disclosure route to the independent Citizens' Representative so that employees in the public service may freely report legitimate concerns of wrongdoing, in keeping with the act, without fear of reprisal and receive clear and consistent guidance when they do so.  In addition to this, Mr. Speaker, the Citizens' Representative and the employees of that office are already well trained in such matters, thereby limiting any additional financial burden on the Province – and this is an issue that the Opposition highlighted in relation to the cost and so forth.

 

With regard to the definition of wrongdoing, the legislation is the same as that of other jurisdictions in Canada.  Within the proposed bill, a wrongdoing is considered to include any act or omission that is considered an offence under provincial or federal law regulations; an act or omission that creates a danger to the life, health, safety of a person or to the health and safety of the environment that may be considered outside the dangerous characteristic of their job; gross mismanagement, particularly of taxpayers' dollars and public assets; advising someone to commit a wrongdoing as outlined in the act. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the types of discipline to be administered to an employee who has committed a wrongdoing as outlined in this bill is similar to that of most of other provinces in Canada that have this type of legislation.  An employee who is found to have committed wrongdoing is subject to disciplinary action, such as termination of employment as well as any additional legal punishments.  Again, with respect to what is required when a person makes a disclosure under this legislation, the content of that disclosure is similar to jurisdictions all across Canada.  In that disclosure there must be a written proposal, include a description of wrongdoing, include the name of the person alleged to have committed or to be about to commit the wrongdoing, reinforce the date it occurred, and indicate whether the information was previously disclosed and a response received. 

 

Mr. Speaker, another important feature of Bill 1 is that it not only authorizes the Citizens' Representative to provide advice to accept disclosures and discuss the conduct of the investigation, but it also allows him or her to facilitate resolution of matters informally.  This is another aspect of this legislation where we are aligned with the other jurisdictions and by taking more time to actually evaluate and consult with other jurisdictions, this allowed improvement to this piece of legislation that is very important to us all in this Province. 

 

We feel it is very important to allow for informal resolution mechanisms while at the same time ensuring that the formal procedures exists.  By allowing this flexibility, the Citizens' Representative can make the determination as to how best to proceed in these matters. 

 

Mr. Speaker, provinces with this type of legislation use various entities to consider complaints related to reprisals.  This proposed bill will designate and empower the Labour Relations Board as the entity to handle such complaints here in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Some provinces such as the provinces I mentioned earlier, and in particular Alberta and Saskatchewan, investigate reprisal complaints similar to disclosures; however, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Labour Relations Board possesses numerous tools to rectify complaints and, therefore, offers the most appropriate means for dealing with reprisal complaints. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have highlighted just a few of the main components of this very important bill so as to demonstrate that we are not only building upon that which has been established in other provinces, but we are also being innovative in our single disclosure process.

 

I listened to the member earlier, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and who is responsible for this legislation.  I listened to some of the answers and comments that he made and I am delighted to be able to stand in this House and speak to this bill, such an important bill, and support this bill.  A bill that will go down in history as an important bill to all workers, to the Labour Relations Board, to employers, and to work sites all over Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

We believe, as a government, that we proposed a strong legislative framework for public interest disclosure and whistleblower protection for the employees within the public service of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

The act contributes to increased accountability and integrity within the public service at a minimal cost and ensures that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador continues to work towards being more open and transparent.  This government has definitely listened to the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in relation to this very important bill and how we should introduce the bill and include legislative framework that is very important to the work sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I would like to take a minute just elaborate a little bit more in relation to the Labour Relations Board and how it ties into the legislative framework of Bill 1 that is being discussed in the House of Assembly as we speak, Mr. Speaker.  Like I said, it is a delight to be able to get up and have a discussion on this very important bill, Bill 1.  Some of my colleagues on the other side are actually shaking their heads and agreeing that this whistleblower legislation is very important, and I definitely agree.  I agree and it is encouraging.  I will continue to speak on important pieces of legislation like this in the future as it ties into the Province and how important the type of work and commitment this government is actually doing on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: I am certainly delighted, Mr. Speaker, to be part of a government who listens to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, will continue to listen to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, to be able to bring in whistleblower legislation at a time in our history, and to know that this legislation is an improvement in relation to what legislation has been brought in, in other provinces than Newfoundland and Labrador.  I am certainly proud to be able to stand in the House and make that comment, and this government will continue, like I said, to listen to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

This bill vests significant authority and responsibility in two key independent offices: the Office of the Citizens' Representative and the Labour Relations Board.  Successful impartial implementation of this legislation is being largely placed within the mandates of these entities.  Mr. Speaker, this translates into key accountabilities for each of these offices and we have faith and trust that they have the skills and abilities to effectively implement this legislation.

 

The Office of the Citizens' Representative is well positioned to provide advice, accept disclosures, and investigate wrongdoing within the public service as outlined in Bill 1.  The office already provides a Province-wide Ombudsman service on behalf of the citizens of this great Province.  The office was established back in 2002 and is an independent office of this House.

 

Mr. Speaker, the primary work of the Citizens' Representative is to accept complaints from citizens who feel they have been treated unfairly with respect to their contact with government offices and agencies.  The Citizens' Representative and his or her staff mediate citizens' complaints where informal mediation is not possible.  The office can undertake an impartial and unbiased investigation, and this is important – an impartial and unbiased investigation.

 

This act will provide for the Office of the Citizens' Representative to act as the single independent body which will accept disclosures and investigate wrongdoings in the public service.  The office will be given the power and the responsibility to conduct this work consistent with the powers and authorities contained in the Citizens' Representative Act, which is already in fruition. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act already names the Citizens' Representative as the investigator for public interest disclosures related to the House of Assembly.  Therefore, the office is currently responsible for a role similar to that in the proposed Bill 1 legislation and is well positioned to take on this broader role. 

 

The Citizens' Representative and the staff of that office have been in contact with other jurisdictions as well to ensure they stay on top of trends and best practices across the country as they carry out their work related to public interest of the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we provide legislation like Bill 1 to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

I would like to conclude.  My time is up.  I can speak on this bill for another probably sixty minutes or so, but time is up.  I commend my colleagues on this side of the House for taking such great leadership.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I recognize the hon. the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SLADE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It indeed gives me a great pleasure to stand here today on Bill 1, the Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act.  Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation that Danny Williams promised in the 2008 Throne Speech to bring in during his term in office, but that promise was broken.  That promise came after a 2007 review of the Province's Legislature by Justice Derek Green.  In his review report, Green recommended a law under which public servants “without fear of reprisal, [could] disclose others' improper or unethical behaviour.” 

 

Former Premier Williams promised at a campaign stop in Carbonear on October 6, 2007, “Williams pledged that his government would implement whistleblower laws in the first session of the legislature after the election.  ‘We'll get that on at the very earliest opportunity'”.  This is what was said, “The very first session of the House that we have, that's something we'll have a look at.”

 

MR. LANE: Seven years ago.

 

MR. SLADE: Seven years ago, Mr. Speaker, I might add.

 

Of course, we have called for this legislation numerous times, as well as NAPE, but the same government members who sit here today supported Justice Minister Felix Collins when he said: it will not be enacted until we are perfectly comfortable that we have the best piece of legislation moving forward that we can get.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the hon. member that it is unparliamentary to refer to sitting members of the House by their full, proper name.  You can refer to them by their district or their portfolio that they hold.

 

The hon. the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace.

 

MR. SLADE: Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I do apologize, indeed.

 

Mr. Speaker, it took seven years to implement this piece of legislation.  It is long, long overdue.  Mr. Speaker, we are looking at this in a very favourable light.  I am sure there are some changes, some tweaking on it I am sure needs to be done.

 

Mr. Speaker, the only thing about it, and I have to say this, is this piece of legislation looks an awful lot like the whistleblower legislation in New Brunswick.  So, I am kind of concerned about that part of it.

 

Mr. Speaker, government's inactions on this were condemned by a group call FAIR, Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, which promotes integrity and accountability within governments across Canada.  So, again, it is about making people accountable.  We are certainly glad to see that part coming across here.

 

If I may, the overview of the legislation, there are four pillars.  Employees may disclose a serious or significant wrongdoing without fear or threat of reprisal.  The Office of the Citizens' Representative will have power and authority to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing and publicly report findings.  Three: anti-reprisal protection for employees who disclose wrongdoings.  Four: the Labour Relations Board to hear complaints and award remedies including reinstatement for reprisals against whistleblowers. 

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, at no point in time should anybody who sees something of a wrongdoing, should have anything said to them or anything else.  How are you going to get people to come forward if they are not allowed to do just that. 

As I said, Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador is the seventh Province to enact whistleblower legislation.  This is following Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to add to that note.  The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there are wonderful people in this Province.  We have some of the smartest people around, who sit around these tables in this House.  I do not understand; why can't we – as the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador - why can't we be leaders instead of followers?  That is what I would like to add.  We have so much talent in the Province. 

 

The Member for Harbour Main is over there having a little crack at me, Mr. Speaker, but I am pretty tough and durable.  Since I came here I have a skin on me as thick as an alligator.  I would just like to say that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Whistleblower, why is it important?  Many public service scandals have come to light in Canada over the past several years.  A few notable examples are: the tainted blood scandal in which 60,000 Canadians were infected with Hepatitis C, many of them fatally; the gun registry scandal, in which the program with a budget of $2 million spent $1 billion without authorization or reporting of the cost overruns.  I could go on and on.  Any time, like I said, this kind of stuff goes on, the public has a right to know and it would be great for this to be recognized.

 

Mr. Speaker, if one were to blow the whistle to the media, for example, rather than make a written complaint to OCR, would they be protected?  It seems not.  Is this the way to control people speaking out?  People have to be given that protection.  Of course, with this bill, Bill 1, it does exactly that: it gives them somewhat protection.

 

When I went over to look on clause 8, disclosure must be signed.  I take note on the bottom part of this, there is still no guarantee of anonymity.  That concerns me a little bit.  When people are prepared to come out of their comfort zone and to do the whistleblowing, at all points in time they have to be protected, Mr. Speaker.  It is just not right.

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing in this act that authorizes the disclosure of information or documents which would disclose the deliberations of Executive Council or a committee of Executive Council, or information on documents that are protected by solicitor-client privilege.  You cannot disclose deliberations of Cabinet.  Justice staff indicated this is not quite the same as Cabinet confidence.

 

Can the minister flesh out how deliberations of the Executive Council differ from Cabinet confidence?  It has to be well defined on exactly what this piece of legislation does and how they deal with the different issues after this bill gets Royal Assent.  I am sure every issue would not be taken care of in that bill.

 

Mr. Speaker, OCR merely makes recommendations in the report, and if nothing is done, they make another report.  There seems to be no teeth to the legislation; there seem to be no consequences for a public body that does not act on recommendations made by OCR.  Again, what I have just reflected on is they are going to have to make sure, of course, that each and every scenario is addressed to make this bill something really worthy, and make the people in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador very proud that they have this bill. 

 

Mr. Speaker, in clause 19, “When making recommendations, the citizen' representative may request the appropriate department or public body to notify him or her, within a specified time, of the steps it has taken or proposes to take to give effect to the recommendations.”  Maybe there is some wording that needs to be tightened up in this bill instead, like say shall.  It is just small things, but it is important things to people who are going to be out there.  At all points in time, we have to make sure they are always protected. 

 

Mr. Speaker, administration and the effective date – the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement will administer the act with any regulations.  The act will come into force July 1, 2014.  It applies to employees in the public service, government departments, and public bodies such as Crown corporations, school boards, Workers Compensation, and CNA.  I take note that MUN is not included in the act since it is covered by its own whistleblower legislation, which is fine.

 

Mr. Speaker, if we are to put some teeth into what we are doing here, I think probably that it would have to go back.  This is only from this period on.  If you took it and moved it back to when it was first talked about, I think it would be a much, much better piece of legislation than it would be right now under that piece of information there.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am just going to go on another little bit.  To “provide a mechanism for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoings in or relating to the public service that an employee believes may be unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest;” and to protect those persons who make those disclosures from reprisal.  The act is not intended to deal with routine operational or human resources personnel matters.  I can probably understand that part of it, Mr. Speaker.

 

Wrongdoing is a definition consistent with other jurisdictions: an act or omission constituting an offence under the act of the Parliament of Canada; an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to life, health or safety or persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of the duties and function of the employee; gross mismanagement, inclusive of public funds or a public asset; knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit a wrongdoing, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the public body means– and when I go to this, there needs to be some clarity put to it, “a corporation, the ownership of which or a majority of the shares of which is vested in the Crown,” Nalcor or Hydro corporation, “a corporation, commission or body, the majority of the members…” are appointed by LGC, then LC, NLHC, Workers' Comp, PUB, RHA, Legal Aid Commission, CNA, school boards and school districts are.  So, I am not sure that certain groups are not – I guess it is probably because they are considered to be sort of out there on their own or arm's-length of government.  Again, Mr. Speaker, I do not know where all of that is coming from.

 

Mr. Speaker, disclosure is where an employee reasonably believes there is a wrongdoing committed or about to be committed and may disclose to the Office of the Citizens' Representative – single disclosure process, disclosure of OCI only, unlike other jurisdictions of the HOA/AIA, no internal disclosure to the head of government departments or a public body, disclosure shall be in writing and shall be signed by the person making it, may not disclose information or documents which would reveal deliberations of Cabinet or those protected by the solicitor-client privilege.

 

Mr. Speaker, when the investigation is done and the Office of the Citizens' Representative – does the act apply to whistleblowers at that point in time?  I am just trying to bring some sense to the legislation.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take up any more time.  It was a pleasure speaking to it.  Certainly, there are different parts in the legislation that we tend to agree with, and of course, there is also some there that we do not agree with, so hopefully there will be amendments to this particular bill.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

 

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is certainly a privilege of mine to get up after listening to some of the people across the floor get up and speak to the whistleblower legislation, as it is commonly known in the House.  I heard a couple of things talked about earlier that I am hoping to reference over the next couple of minutes.

 

I am not sure how long I will go on for, but there are a couple of points here that I believe is very, very important to make, and something that obviously the Justice department did quite a bit of work on this.  Many of the officials in Justice have worked very, very closely with the office of OPE.  I guess the idea of this being in OPE is that it fits perfectly with what OPE stands for – not only in this Province in the country, but certainly internationally.  So, Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation certainly fits in there.

 

I think it is important, I notice that some of the criticism that has come from the hall, across the way, it has been about the length of time that it has taken.  Yes, Mr. Speaker, we have taken quite a bit of time with this; we have watched it in several other provinces, how the legislation unfolded.  We have even learned from some jurisdictions who have had a lot of trouble with this legislation and has not been up to par.  So, we believe we have the best of it here.  Many of the people who have viewed it have said the same.

 

It was interesting as I sat here and I was listening to the Member for St. John's South and he was talking about the time that it was taking and so on.  I have to highlight it for the people at home.  The Member for St. John's South was actually the Minister of Justice in 2007 when this was crafted and talked about, when Justice Green brought down his report, Mr. Speaker. 

 

So, if the hon. Member for St. John's South was so concerned at the time, and so concerned about the timing and so concerned about the legislation, well, as Minister of Justice at the time he would have certainly brought this forward, but obviously he did not.  So I have to point that out, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): The hon. the Member for St. John's South, on a point of order.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, this legislation, the same as the safer communities and neighbourhood legislation, as the other side of the House knows, when a bill is introduced there is a process it has to go through, and that hon. member knows –

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FRENCH: Mr. Speaker, I was going to let it go at that, but now I have to point it out and explain this a little further.  Picture this now, the hon. member was the Minister of Justice from, I think it was January, 2007 to October, 2007.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. FRENCH: Now, Mr. Speaker, I just heard the hon. Member for St. John's South threatening me, deciding that if I did not sit down he was going to get me down.  I look forward to the hon. member's comments.  I sat and listened to him patiently.  Now it is my turn.  Unfortunately, because of our rules of order and the way this House operates, now it is my turn to get to say the things I want to say.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FRENCH: When the Member for St. John's South gets up here and grumbles about this government being a long time bringing this legislation forward, and when the hon. member himself was in charge of this legislation and was the one who was supposed to bring this forward in 2007, Mr. Speaker, then he better expect to get retaliation.  That is the point I was trying to make for our listeners at home.

 

Before I go on too much longer on that, I thought it was important for people to see what people can say sometimes, but there are other things that should be pointed out.  That is why had to highlight the fact that the hon. member was Minister of Justice for that period of time and he had ten months.  He could have easily brought this forward, Mr. Speaker.  I had to point that out for our listeners at home.

 

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing about this piece of legislation.  It brings out two important pieces, and I would like to touch on the explanatory note of the bill because I think that explains it the best.  It is usually the place I go when I want to see quickly –

 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER: On a point of order, the hon. the Member for St. John's South.

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to give the member a history lesson.  The promise was in the Blue Book of 2007.  Mr. Speaker, I was the Minister of Justice up to and including that time, not after.  I was taken –

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

 

MR. FRENCH: Mr. Speaker, I was into the explanatory note, but the Member for St. John's South, his skin is a little thin today for some reason.  Usually he has skin on him like tapping leather.

 

I have to address that again, Mr. Speaker.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. FRENCH: He is making insults now, Mr. Speaker.  This is what you get.

 

Now I have to point something else out.  He reiterated it was a promise in the Blue Book of 2007, and he is absolutely right, but our Justice wizard of the day, Mr. Speaker, was the Member for St. John's South.  He was leading the Justice file at the time.  He was the one who was coming forward with Justice initiatives for our Blue Book because he believed in them, Mr. Speaker, but if he is going complaining about time, he should have brought them to the House at that point.  He was the Minister of Justice.  He was responsible for whistleblower legislation. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I just say to the hon. member, I do not mind him getting up and speaking, obviously everyone has a right to speak in this House about any piece of legislation, but he had better point out, he should point out to the viewing audiences we have across this Province that he was here as Minister of Justice and could have easily brought this forward, but he refused, Mr. Speaker, he refused. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FRENCH: However, Mr. Speaker, this is a government that is bringing it forward.  It is a great piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker. 

I would like to speak from the explanatory notes because when I am reading bills, that is one of the places I go often is the explanatory notes because it is usually very simple.  It does not get into the details of a bill but it lays it out very clearly.  In this case, Mr. Speaker, this bill does two things very clearly, “provides a mechanism for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoings in or relating to the public service that an employee believes may be unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest; and protect persons who make disclosures…”

 

Mr. Speaker, it is quite simple, if somebody working in the public service sees something they believe is illegal then they have every right to bring it forward, and they can do so without fear of reprisals, without fear of losing their job, without fear of being demoted and so on.  I would just like to go on and explain a little bit over the next ten or fifteen minutes for the people here in the House and certainly give my opinion on the bill and where it is.  I certainly, as I said from the start, believe it is a very good bill.

 

Mr. Speaker, when you are in politics and when you are forming legislation, and you are in government, or you are in Cabinet, or you are on this side of the House certainly, when you see others, in particular – obviously, there are political sides to any debate and you have strong political opinions on one side of the House in favour of one party or the other party.  On this side you will have the same thing. 

 

When you get independent people, people who are not political – they are not into it for politics.  They are actually independent officers.  They cannot be political.  Even if they wanted to be political, they cannot.  They are independent officers of the House who have the best interests of the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador in their interest.  Their first and foremost interests are the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, including the people who work in government and in these buildings. 

 

I thought it appropriate for me to start out by quoting Mr. Fleming, who spoke to this bill and certainly will be a very important figure in this bill.  Obviously, he is going to be the one, if you have a complaint his office is where you will go.  Mr. Fleming is in that chair and, I might add, doing a great job. 

 

Mr. Speaker, to quote Mr. Fleming, this is what he said recently.  Actually, it was s CBC news post on May 6.  I just wanted to quote Mr. Fleming because I want to remind everybody in the House, and people listening, that this is not political.  This is a gentleman who is an independent officer of this House.  He has no skin in the game for this party or that party, or anybody.  However, like I said, he looks after the interests of the people of the Province. 

 

This is what he said.  “I think it's a good day for the public service… really, the best model in the country in terms of prosecuting or investigating complaints of wrongdoing,” said Mr.  Fleming.  There is the independent officer.  This is what I would call third party endorsement, and there is nothing like it when you see an independent officer looking at this legislation in great detail and going on to say that. 

 

He goes on to say, “…this allowed for time to look at what the rest of Canada was doing…”  To paraphrase, he was saying that even though it took a little bit longer, what it did was give this Province time to look at what was happening across the country.  That is exactly what we did.  You will find in some jurisdictions, there were a couple of jurisdictions that had a lot of trouble with this legislation.  They had a couple of real bad situations and bad circumstances; however, even the provinces that have done it recently in the last year or so have learned quite a bit.  I think Nova Scotia may be the last one, if I recall correctly.  Nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, they did very, very well on it. 

 

Mr. Speaker, something else that Mr. Fleming goes on to say is this information will be confidential.  You have to sign the legislation to bring it forward, but it is confidential.  Mr. Fleming and his office will hold that information.  They will not be out sharing it, fearing that there will be reprisals come against them.  That is between that person and, obviously, Mr. Fleming in this case, who will go on and look at it. 

 

Mr. Speaker, so you can go forward and present your case to the Citizens' Representative, then if by chance there is some reprisal that comes against you – if you have a director, a deputy minister, an ADM, a political person, or a Cabinet minister, a backbencher, or somebody who sits next to you, or somebody who does not like you, and because of that some harm comes to you, whether you do not get a promotion in a position, whether somebody tries to remove you from a position, regardless of what it is, then you have a chance to go to the Labour Relations Board, another quasi-judicial group totally independent of government and totally independent of the bureaucracy and the leadership in the bureaucracy.  They do absolutely their own thing, and from that, from the Labour Relations Board, they will be able to lay out exactly what is to happen.  They can order the person to have their job back; they can order that they move desks.  Whatever they order, the government will have to obey by, whether that is leadership in the government, whether that is political people, whether that is a division, or whatever the case.  Now we have two very independent groups, not only enforcing the issues, but also protecting the people who come forward.  That is certainly very, very important.

 

A couple of things have also come up, and I have heard the Opposition say this, that they did not want single entry and that they wanted some form of double entry.  I see where they are going.  Where they are going, I guess, is that if you have a problem with your supervisor and you are in government, you can, okay, skip the supervisor or your director and go to your ADM or your deputy minister.  If you were to do that, I think, personally, and we believe on this side, the potential for something to negatively happen to the person who is bringing that forward is highlighted.  You have more potential to have something bad happen to you for coming forward, which is protecting the interests of the citizens in this Province.

 

That is why we have the third party totally separate from the confines of a division, or even a department, or even in government.  The third party is much better with the single entry certainly than it would be having multiple entries.  One of the things we talked about is confidentially.  Obviously some people might want to bring it forward and would not want to be talked about in the lunchroom, if you will.  This makes sure that happens, Mr. Speaker.  I am certainly supportive of that single-entry system.

 

Mr. Speaker, another thing I wanted to talk about – and the member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace brought this up, and I thought I would just address it.  One of the things that he talked about was bringing things to the media and he talked about that you would be controlling people speaking, so people would be in fear of speaking out.  One of the things we have to be cautious of, and I know members opposite are of the same mind, and I am sure we all agree in this House that we all do not get along all the time, so when you are making a statement about someone it is a pretty serious allegation.  Can you imagine someone being wrongfully accused of something foolish – it could be something foolish or it could be something very, very serious – without an investigation?  You could go out to the media and make an accusation about one of your co-workers, one of your bosses, or one of your employees and that could not be true; however, it would be publicized throughout the Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, you have to have protections for that.  If there is wrongdoing, then the Citizens' Rep will follow that through right to the bitter end.  The Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace talked about how this is secret and no one will know. 

 

I just wanted to point out and I am just trying to highlight some of the things.  This is not meant to be any other way than that.  I just wanted to highlight some of the things that the Citizens' Representative has to do, Mr. Speaker.  It is not about hiding at all, quite the contrary.  First of all, the Citizens' Rep is required by law to table a report in this House every year.  That is something he has to do under the act.  There is no grey area; he has no choice but to table that report. 

 

That report includes a number of things.  It includes the number of inquiries the man or woman received, the number of disclosures received, the number he has acted upon, the number of investigations that have commenced and are ongoing, and the number of recommendations the Citizens' Representative has made.  He will go in and in this report he will say what he has told other departments he wanted to do. 

 

He also has to say whether that public body has actually acted on his recommendations.  That is hardly a closed shop.  That is laying it out there.  That is laying it out every year how many he has had, what he has said for them to do, and if they have complied. 

 

What are the other things?  Let us assume that something really, really bad happens.  God forbid, knock on wood, nothing like that ever happens.  Let us say something really did happen, so much so that the Citizens' Representative of the day decided this is big stuff, this is really bad, and this is really something.  He has the right then under his or her discretion – the office has the right – to publish a special report dealing specifically with that one incident.

 

For someone to say this is a secret process, nothing could be further from the truth.  Quite the contrary, it is a very open process.  That was the idea of the legislation to begin with.  That was why we came forward with it.  It was time; it was needed.  The public wanted it, and we were listening to the public in bringing it forward, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the other thing he has to do as well, of course, is that office, the Citizens' Representative Office, also has to in a timely manner provide all the employees with what this is all about.  So when this comes into force, it is acted upon in the coming weeks, this goes through the House of Assembly, it is signed off, and then it will come to pass.  The Citizens' Representative will then go out and explain to all the people who work in these governing bodies how it works.  He will let everybody know how this works and how they can maneuver through it should they ever be put in that position.

 

Mr. Speaker, my time is coming to a close, but I just wanted to address one other thing before I sit down.  One of the other things the Opposition has pointed out is: We do not want it to start tomorrow; we would like for it to go back in time.  Now, there is no necessary fear in going back in time, but the problem is that all legislation is in to the future.  If you pass the legislation today, today it is in effect and it moves on for years and years to come until someone in this House decides to get rid of the legislation.  If you were to entertain the idea of going back, where do you end?  Where do you go back, a year?  Do you go back two years?  Do you go back five years?  Do you go back ten years?

 

I remember first when I was elected, Mr. Speaker, I was actually in the House and I had a meeting with a constituent and it was an issue that went back twenty years – almost twenty years.  When I started to look into it, and unfortunately for the poor gentleman, it never did work out in his favour because many of the people who were involved had been retired from government.  When I tried to do my minimal investigation, many of them had retired.  In some cases, some of them had passed away, so it was very difficult to go back.

 

Memories fade obviously when you are working in a place like this.  The notes you would have would certainly be current.  You cannot go back and expect people who are retirees to keep a logbook of information for years and years to come.  It is not unusual, and for anyone to make the claim and make the spin that we have to go back, nothing could be further from the truth, Mr. Speaker.  That is just the way legislation works in this House and once it is acclaimed we move on.

 

Mr. Speaker, on that note I just want to say I think it is a great day that we are hopefully coming to the end of passing this legislation.  I think it will benefit the people of this Province and in particular the people who work for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will stand and have a few words on this here, on the whistleblower legislation.  I just find it strange the Minister of Justice – and I was smiling as he was criticizing the member over here, talking about when he was in government and talking about why didn't he bring stuff in?  Mr. Minister, I just wish the whistleblower was brought in a year ago when the people from McIver's were suffering because they could not get a $15,000 grant because some of them told me – I spoke out against the West Coast Training Centre therefore –

 

MR. FRENCH: A point of order.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice, on a point of order.

 

MR. FRENCH: (Inaudible) chuckle here, Mr. Speaker, because if he talks to the people of McIver's he will find out they got the grant months and months ago.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Actually, they got it early April.  Thank you for cc'ing me, though, because I embarrassed the government so much.  Thank you.

 

I say to the Premier also, when you talk about whistleblower legislation and when you want to talk about people and why you need it, Mr. Speaker, it is a prime example in McIver's.  I can tell you, when you speak to the people in the department, they talk about if you never spoke up out in Stephenville, you would have gotten your $15,000.  If you want to talk about whistleblower, that is why I would like to see some of it retroactive.

 

I am glad McIver's got it.  I am glad I embarrassed them, Mr. Speaker; I am glad no one got fired because of it.  That is a great reason we need whistleblower, how people are being denied because of other influences in government.

 

I just speak about the hospital in Corner Brook, Mr. Speaker, if there was whistleblower.  We mentioned here about it being retroactive for a while back, back to when the government first announced it in 2007.  We talk about all the misconceptions put out there in Corner Brook about the hospital, how there were even notes sent around that you cannot speak up about what is being said and what is being done.  We hear one public statement after the other of what is being in the hospital, but when you go into the functional design with the people who are actually – and when I said this here before, the functional design committee never met for almost two years but they were not allowed to publicly say it.  They were not allowed because they were not protected under any whistleblower legislation.

 

I had to stand in this House of Assembly for a year-and-a-half or two years saying it is not true, saying that yes, they did meet, and yes, they are almost completed, Mr. Speaker, the functional design of the hospital, knowing full well it was not.  The people who cared about the patients in Corner Brook, the management at the West Coast hospital, would not speak up because they were scared of being reprimanded or fired.  That is why we were looking at bringing whistleblower retroactive.  That is why.

 

When the commitment was made back in 2007, Mr. Speaker, everybody was happy.  Yes, we need it, because there are wrongdoings happening in government.  It is sad to say – we are all human – it does happen, but we need to protect the people who are going to stand up, Mr. Speaker.

 

When this legislation was brought in, make no bones about it, it was done dragging them by the heels.  If you look at statements from the former Minister of Justice, dragging their heels, saying no, we are not going to bring it in.  No, we will not be.  There is no need of it; everything is working fine.

 

When you talk about the government wanting to stand up and tout about whistleblower, you have to realize, Mr. Speaker, they were dragged into this here by their feet, by their heels, because of public embarrassment.  The former Minister of Justice stood in this House, and I heard him say on numerous occasions – no, it will not be brought in.  Guess what?  It is in here.

 

That is what Oppositions can do.  That is what we can do as an Opposition.  We can make government aware of issues that need to be brought into government, Mr. Speaker.

 

I say to the Minister of Justice who is listening attentively over there on this: You wonder why we want to make sure that it is done right, if there is anybody in this Legislature, if anybody in this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador wants to know why we need to do it right, Mr. Speaker, look at Bill 29.  We were vilified over here on Bill 29, Mr. Speaker.  We did not know what we were talking about.  It was not going to happen, Mr. Speaker.  A few members over there said we are just fear mongering, we are just totally fear mongering, we do not know, and everything we are saying is not true.  Guess what?  When they finally put the knife in the former Premier, got rid of her, guess what?  They all had a different opinion on Bill 29.

 

What do you think of that, Mr. Speaker?  I know you would never change your mind on a bill like that, Mr. Speaker, but they changed their mind on Bill 29.  Every one of them over there stood up and voted for it.  Every one of them over there thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, but once the former Premier was ousted, they all stood up and said no, we are going to send it out now and we are going to have it revisited because we do not think it is the best thing right now, Bill 29.  That is why we need to show some flaws in this bill.

 

I am not saying bringing whistleblower legislation in is a bad thing.  I think it is a great thing.  There are a lot of good things in this bill, I will be the first to say that, but there are changes that we can make that will make it stronger.  If we do not make it stronger, Mr. Speaker, we can also educate the public on what the bill actually entails.

 

I understand fully that as we move on in years that there are going to be changes to the bill; there are going to be changes that are going to be brought up that are going to enhance the bill.  I understand that.  We all understand that.  Please, Mr. Speaker – and if anybody wants an example look at Bill 29, why we need and we made so many amendments to Bill 29 and they were all voted down.  Now they scrap Bill 29 and have a committee out now to look at Bill 29 because it was the wrong thing to do. 

 

That is why instead of looking at what the Opposition is stating as just always bad, always criticizing, look and see what good points are there to improve the bill.  That is what this Legislature is all about, to improve the bill.

 

I understand we are going to have fun with it sometimes and I know we are going to play politics, and I understand that, Mr. Speaker.  I teased the Minister of Justice about McIver's.  The Minister of Justice wants to do the best he can for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; I know that deep down.  I am sure he realizes that I fight for the District of Bay of Islands and I am concerned about the people of the Bay of Islands and Newfoundland in general. 

 

We play politics, that is fine, but I would never, ever question his ability and his thought to try to improve things for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  We differ on different approaches, on how things happen, that is fine.  Personally I feel we all, as legislators, want this here to work, and work properly.

 

When we make some amendments and when we make some statements here, just do not take it, throw it down and say they are no good.  Think about it; logically put them in the system just to see if this would work, can this work, would it enhance the bill.  This is our role here as government.  This is our role as legislators, Mr. Speaker, is to offer friendly amendments, give some drawbacks that are in bill, and see how we can help to improve the bill. 

 

That is why we all need to voice our concerns, and voice our opinions.  Some may be fruitful, they may get into legislation, and some may not.  Every legislator here, every person here is bringing them back ideas that we are hearing from our constituents.  That is what we are supposed to do, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Just because we stand up and offer some suggestions, that does not mean we are totally against whistleblower legislation.  That does not mean we are totally against it because I am not totally against this piece of legislation.  I will say it honestly upfront. 

 

Mr. Speaker, if you were here – and you were – for the five or six days that we had on Bill 29 that we were vilified, that we were told that no, we are just fear mongering.  Everything that happened was going to happen and was not going to happen.  We were just out playing on people's emotions and people's fears.  Now we have Bill 29 scrapped and have it sent out to a committee.  Mr. Speaker, not everything people in the Opposition say is incorrect; it is just not.

 

Let's look at it from a different approach, I say to the government.  Let's look at some ways we can improve the bill for the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Let's look at some ways we can say together that we made improvements to this, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to go through for the first little while the overview we got, the briefing from the Department of Justice on this.  I am going to go through the overview of it and go through some of the points.  Each point has its own merit.  There are going to be some suggestions that are going to be made to some of these points, and there are going to be some you agree with totally because there are some good ideas in this bill.  I will be the first to say it.

 

Mr. Speaker, in the overview of the legislation there are four main pillars.  Employees may disclose a serious and significant wrongdoing without fear or threat of reprisal.  Well, I understand the intent.  We all know human nature; we all know how human nature works and how it operates.  If we know someone is trying to embarrass us, if someone is trying to, for some personal reason, intimidate us, trying to make us look bad in front of our superiors, or trying to assassinate your character, I understand the Citizens' Representative should not look into that.  I understand that.  I understand that totally, but when you look at serious threat or reprisal, it is hard to protect somebody.

 

I want everybody out there in this Newfoundland and Labrador – and I do not care what government it is.  It could be the current government, this government, or any government.  There is no 100 per cent guarantee that a person can be protected if they go and make a complaint, Mr. Speaker – not 100 per cent.  We have to ensure that is diminished to the best of our ability.  It has to be to the best of our ability because we know once a complaint is made and once it is followed up on, there is going to be an investigation done, probably in the department.  If it is done in the department, then people have to be asking questions.  Who made this accusation?  Who made the complaint?  Fingers start pointing.

 

Mr. Speaker, what happens a lot of times is people point fingers at the wrong person.  There may be reprisals from the person who actually made the complaint and others who never made the complaint but may be in just the line of fire.  People in their own natural state of paranoia may start lashing out at other people.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure how we can get without fear or threat of reprisal.  If you go to the Labour Relations Board it becomes public, it becomes very public.  Mr. Speaker, as we all know, human nature itself, there are always ways you can intimidate somebody without breaking the law. 

 

As Parliamentarians, as legislators, we have to ensure we diminish that as much as possible, but I would never, ever say that any government should 100 per cent guarantee anybody that their identity cannot be done – in a lot of cases it will be, no doubt.  No matter what government it is, you cannot guarantee it.  I understand that government here is trying to make it very hard for whistleblowers to have any negative impact on their accusations if they are with merit.

 

The next one, the second pillar of the Department of Justice: Office of the Citizens' Representative would have power and authority to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing and publicly report findings.

 

Mr. Speaker, I know the minister went and spoke on this earlier, is that if there is extra funding for that office.  I understand also that there is no request made yet – and I am sure I am correct on that.  There is no request made yet, Mr. Speaker, because you do not know how many complaints the office is going to have.  I understand that, I appreciate that. 

 

Is there any way we can make a commitment – and I am not even sure if the House of Assembly could do it, it may have to be made through the Speaker – that if there is a need for extra funding, that the funding will be in place?  I know we are looking at down the road, Mr. Speaker, if there is a need – there may not be a need.  I will be the first to admit that there may not be a need.  It is not proper to put it in the legislation that the Office of the Citizens' Representative is going to investigate these whistleblower complaints, and a year later, a year and a half later, he says I do not have the resources.

 

Now, I am not saying that will happen, but I think we have to try to find some way to ensure, through this House of Assembly, that if he makes a legitimate claim to the House, through the Speaker, that we – any government, and we all support it – that he does have the resources to follow through.  Mr. Speaker, if we do not do that and we keep the office at the same level, and we do not make the commitment that, yes, we will follow through to make sure you have the resources, what we are doing, we are saying: Yes, okay, we can have so many complaints a year, deal with it the best way you can.

 

What happens then, Mr. Speaker?  If it does – again, I am just bringing up what ifs, because it can happen.  It very easily it can happen.  This is something I want government to think about, Mr. Speaker, to put in their information to say: How can we make this better?  How can we handle that if it arises, because it will arise? 

 

If the Office of the Citizens' Representative, Mr. Speaker, is at its maximum now, and we are getting complaints – some of them will take a lot of time to do an investigation.  Some may need their own special investigator because of the time complexities of the investigation and the circumstances.  That is something I ask the minister, that if you can find some way to put a mechanism in place to ensure that if it is needed and it is proven to the Speaker, to the House, that, yes, they do need it, that the funding will be there for the resources.  That will make it much easier to support the bill. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Minister of Justice talking about every year the Speaker has to put in his report once a year.  What happened in 2011 when the House never sat that November?  Then we have to wait until fifteen days after the next sitting of the Legislature.  I do not know if there is some way we could put a time limit in, that if the House does not sit in that period of time, there is some way through the Speaker it can released to the media.  That is another concern a few people have brought up.  That it can extend beyond – once an issue gets beyond a certain date, then people are waiting for the conclusion of it.  People are waiting for the final report, but if you have to wait for the Legislature to open it may be extended a bit longer than usual. 

 

That is something I will ask the minister also, if there is any way to put in legislation that may help to ensure that the reports are put in a timely manner into the House, especially when you are dealing with someone who is going out on a limb to try to ensure that everything is running properly in government.  It is a major risk for them.  It is a concern for them. 

 

Then if the report gets dragged out, Mr. Speaker, people are saying: Well, why are they holding on the report?  Why don't they release the report?  Why don't they do it so I can clear my name?  Especially if a person goes to the Labour Relations Board, if for some reason, through harassment, through demotion or not getting a promotion, Mr. Speaker, it is very fundamental that if someone gets exonerated in public, then they feel that what they did was worth it.  It will make other people come forth knowing they are protected and the report will be made public. 

 

Mr. Speaker, anti-reprisal protection for employees who disclose wrongdoing; I said this in the first main pillar, Mr. Speaker.  We can put in all the safeguards we like, but it will happen – it will happen.  This is incumbent upon the Minister of Justice and the Minister Responsible for Labour Relations to ensure we have all the protections in place for the workers.  It is very difficult to do it, but we have to ensure it.  If we can do it, like I say, if they can make a complaint to the Citizens' Representative, and then if it is kept confidential, it is a greater possibility of not having reprisals.

 

If it is not kept confidential, as we know how things get out and sometimes in the civil service, the anti-reprisal protections, Mr. Speaker, have to be such that we can ensure, and this is something I asked the minister also to look at somehow, not only ensure because of the allegation, once the allegation is made, but in the future.  What happens, and it can happen very easily, is if someone does make a complaint, they may have the report done, they may find the wrongdoing, and in four to six months everything is fine; but after the four to six or seven months you have to try to correlate that back for making the complaint.  It becomes a bit more difficult.  I am not sure how the minister can try to make laws that would help out and have it documented in such a way that even after a certain period of time.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will get on the fourth one, and I will get another time later in committee to speak: the Labour Relations Board to hear complaints and award remedies including reinstatement for reprisals against whistleblowers.  We have to ensure the Labour Relations Board does have the materials and they do have the power to do this without delay.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will be back in Committee to speak on this and I just thank you for the time to speak on it.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, that we adjourn debate at this time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded by the minister that we adjourn debate.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

With leave, I would like to give a notice of motion that was forgotten earlier on the Order Paper.

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Leave.

 

MR. KING: Thank you.

 

Mr. Speaker, I give notice under Standing Order 11 that I shall move that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014; and further I give notice under Standing Order 11 I shall move that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, 2014. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved that the House does not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 and it is also moved that the House does not adjourn at 10:30 p.m.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you.

 

Mr. Speaker, at this point in time I call from the Order Paper, Order 4, second reading of a bill, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure, Bill 1.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am just going to take a couple of minutes, Mr. Speaker, to go on the record speaking to Bill 1 as well, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure.  We see that, “This Bill would enact the Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act.  The Bill would provide a mechanism for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoings in or relating to the public service that an employee believes may be unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest; and protect persons who make disclosures under the Act from reprisals.”

 

Mr. Speaker, we know we have been a long time waiting for this act.  We see it was an election promise since 2007, seven years ago.  One of my concerns, and a concern of many, is that we have been talking about this for seven years.  Why has this not been retro?  Anything that has happened up to July 2014, there is nothing that can be done about that.  That is very concerning.

 

We have been hearing a lot about Humber Valley Paving.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that.  If there is anybody within the governing bodies who would like to talk about some of the things or their involvement, they are not protected to do so under that file where there is a lot of concern and the spotlight is on right now, Mr. Speaker.  This is only dealing with it going forward from July 2014. 

 

I do think whistleblower legislation, a long time coming, is going to serve a very important role in rural areas.  In the district I represent, we have a lot of unique situations I believe are different than around other parts of the Province.  I am going to mention several. 

 

I think about Transportation and Works.  I will use an example where we have clusters of employees who stay in little camps.  They all exist under the same roof and they are there for turnaround periods of time.  Mr. Speaker, a lot of times when you are a long, long way from main offices, supervisors, and things like that, you can see things that are going on around you, but you are sharing camps with those people.  You might see wrongdoings, but up until now they were not going to speak out because there was no mechanism.  There was no process in place.  These people needed to know that their jobs were protected.  In many cases in rural communities, if you are fortunate enough to have a government position, you might be the only one who is bringing income into that household.  Those provisions were not there before. 

 

I can think of a situation, Mr. Speaker, back three or four years ago where one person was so concerned about things that were going on that they finally did report.  When it came in and it was investigated, it was really, really unfortunate that there was this tension.  Somebody came in, they sat at the kitchen table in that camp, and one by one they interviewed people.  Just like my colleague from Bay of Islands was referring to, fingers started to be pointed and this is the kind of thing that prevents people from coming forward when they see wrongdoings all around them.  At the end of the day, all of us pay the price for that when there is a mismanagement of public funds and things like that.

 

For that reason, I am really happy to see this in place.  It may encourage more workers who are in rural communities and rural areas, if they see wrongful misdoings going on around them.  It might encourage them; however, there is something wrong with the process, Mr. Speaker, right now, the act we are debating here with no internal process.  I am thinking right now the Office of the Citizens' Representative is here in St. John's, so internally somebody would go to their manager and then that manager would go to his manager.  I do not know how that is going to work.

 

Do we know how much more resources are going to be put in place?  What about the extra funding?  Do we know the cost?  We probably do not know on a go-forward basis because this whistleblower legislation is just being brought in right now, Mr. Speaker.  Certainly there is room here with this piece of legislation for amendments to come down.

 

The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is the time frame.  I had a look through the act and I cannot see when somebody finally gets the courage to come forward and voice a concern they have or identify something that is a wrongdoing how long this is going to be hung up in the system.  Obviously, sometimes it takes a lot for people to come forward.  They maybe cannot have confidence in the system that they are going to be protected in their job.  The quicker this is dealt with, the better for all the parties involved.  I believe we need to see some kind of a time frame around that.

 

I mentioned transportation workers in particular, Mr. Speaker, and the unique circumstances many of them are in, working in clusters and alone in my district.  I also want to mention the importance of whistleblower for people like nurses and nursing staff in our community clinics.  We have protocols in place.  We have policy.  When somebody gets sick, often there is a Twin Otter that has to be dispatched and has to come.  There is a flight medical specialist team.  There is work all the nurses have to do to follow protocol.  The ambulance workers come.  All of this happens in very remote areas.  Sometimes protocol is not followed; sometimes lives are on the line because protocol is not followed.  Those three or four people who are working in that community clinic might be very aware something was not followed right; yet, can I risk speaking out and lose my job?  I am in a small isolated community; where am I going to find another job?  Not to mention the fact that I would be remiss, Mr. Speaker, if I did not say it is a very small community and the people that you might be blowing the whistle on are the same people that you line up and get your groceries with on Saturday night.  It is a little bit different than an urban area.

 

So we are going to have to try this bill.  We are going to test it once it comes in.  People will need to know that it is very confidential and that they are going to have to take time to build up their confidence in coming forward.

 

Also, I want to mention the teachers.  There are a lot of issues in rural communities.  We have many schools that have double grades and now we are getting into triple grading classrooms.  The Schools Act had some amendments last fall about bullying.  I think it is wonderful any time that we can bring down new legislation that is going to protect people from bullying, but again my concern around that was I did not see where there were any extra resources attached to help that being implemented in small schools where teachers are already very maxed out.

 

We know that we have teachers who see things that are going on around them, not only teachers, administration; but, again, everybody is there concerned about their job and sometimes they have felt that it is easier to turn a blind eye and move on.  Hopefully, this whistleblower – we have been hearing people from all four corners of the Province that have been waiting for a long, long time – seven years – for this piece of legislation to come in.  So we know that people are happy.  They have been waiting for it.  It is what we need.  I believe that everybody, Mr. Speaker, will be better off in the workplace once this legislation is brought in.

 

We know that it is critical for employees to feel confident in the process.  Again, I take it from a rural focus.  It is very important when you are living in small communities and you have to work to with these – and many of them, Mr. Speaker, are family and related to each other, so they need to know that protection is there for them.

 

We are anticipating, Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt, that there will be an increase in the Office of the Citizens' Rep workload.  We do not know what their budget increase will be.

 

Mr. Speaker, we see that this comes into force in July, yet we did not see any new money in the Budget.  So I look forward to hearing what some of my other colleagues have to say on that; that is just some of my areas of concern.

 

I will just run down through, Mr. Speaker, looking at the legislation, the four main pillars.  We see that in this whistleblower legislation employees may disclose a serious and significant wrongdoing without fear and threat of reprisal or retaliation.  It is absolutely necessary; everybody needs to know in the workplace.  That will only make the workplace a better place by bringing in this whistleblower legislation.

 

The Office of the Citizens' Representative will have power and authority to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing and publicly report the findings – publicly report the findings.  Again, Mr. Speaker, we see that this just moves us more in the direction of transparency and accountability.  It takes us back to the taxpayers' dollars of those publicly-funding employees.  Really, it is your money, it is my money, and like my colleague, the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace often says, it is the people's House, and it is about managing that properly.  So, again in the interests of transparency we are moving in the right direction with this whistleblower legislation.

 

Anti-reprisal protections for employees who disclose wrongdoing – people are not going to come forward if they feel that there is going to be repercussion for them.  We already know that is why we have been calling on the whistleblower legislation for a long time, and we have been waiting for this promise since 2007; it has been on record.  The Labour Relations to hear complaints and award remedies, including reinstatement for reprisals against whistleblowers.  So, hopefully, Mr. Speaker, with some of these pillars that are in place, it will encourage people to come forward and we will hear publicly what the findings were of the investigation.

 

Mr. Speaker, to “provide a mechanism for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoings in or related to the public service that an employee believes may be unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to public interest”.  Again, sometimes you might have a case where an employee knows that his buddy is helping himself to a bit of gas at the end of the day there and no one is around to see that.  That is not injurious, yet that is mismanagement of funds.  It is important for them to know that they can speak out and be protected.  When I referenced the clinics in particular in the remote areas and all of the policy that has to be properly in place because lives are in the balance there that is where we would look at the injurious and the danger.  So I am glad to see that a number of different areas are covered off here to protect those persons who make disclosures.

 

We see, Mr. Speaker, that the act is not intended to deal with routine operational or human resource personnel matters, and we would hope that there are already processes in place right now to help people deal with that.  It is very important as we go forward that within the various departments people are educated, that they have the knowledge on what they can come forward with and what they cannot.  There needs to be some PR around this whistleblower once it is brought in.

 

The definition, for example, of wrongdoing.  We know it is consistent with other jurisdictions, and it is important to have consistencies there.  It is important again for the people who might want to come forward and utilize the protection of the whistleblower act, important for them to have that knowledge on exactly what is entailed.  We know that wrongdoing is defined as an act or omission constituting an offence under an act of the Legislature or the Parliament or Canada.  We know that a wrongdoing could be an act that creates a substantial and specific danger to life, health or safety of persons. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am really looking forward to what is going to come out of this act once it is implemented.  It is very, very important.  I believe that by bringing in whistleblower legislation we are only going to be moving to make the workplace better for everybody, and people are going to feel safer in the workplace.  Hopefully, we are going to have a stronger handle on the public funds.  Right now all of us – maybe – know of places and situations where there is mismanagement of public funds and public assets, but the people are just turning a blind eye because up until now there was no protection there.

 

We know that a wrongdoing is anyone who knowingly directs or counsels a person to commit a wrongdoing as set out above.  Mr. Speaker, we know that the people protected here would be government departments and public bodies.  Memorial University is not because I believe they have their own. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there are lots of issues on the go right now with the College of the North Atlantic.  As the provincial critic for Advanced Education and Skills, every single day I am receiving a broad gamut of e-mails, people that have concerns around the College of the North Atlantic, people who are very concerned with what is going on in some of the classrooms between instructors and students.  It is anything but professional.  Also, right now we see cuts coming down and we are not sure how far reaching that impact is going to be.  We are being told that they are being made based on labour market information, but we already know that labour market information is very outdated. 

 

There are a lot of concerns around things with the in-depth, publicly-funded education system within Newfoundland and Labrador.  This piece of legislation will not help what is happening right now because, again, sadly this does not come into effect until July. 

 

I can only hope that once Bill 1 is passed that people will find the comfort level to come forward and as a result of them coming forward and identifying shortcomings and wrongdoings within the system that we will end up with a better system.  Once we have a better system, that serves to benefit everybody as we go forward. 

 

Education is a very key area.  Mr. Speaker, Nelson Mandela always said education is the key with which we can use to change the world.  Therefore, our publicly funded institutions, we need to know they are being run as absolute, clean, above board, professional as they can be, not where instructors are feeling the pressures and stresses so much that they are going in and raising their voices at students.  Then, as a result of that, you have students quitting.  Then it is like a circle, they are unemployed and they do not have an education and they are coming back around.  So I can see where whistleblower legislation will certainly move to improve areas like the publicly funded college system.

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the other points under disclosures that I noticed was an employee may request advice from the Office of the Citizens' Representative when considering making a disclosure.  I think this was very, very necessary because somebody might have something in their mind and they are not sure: Do I go and disclose that or do I not?  Is it noteworthy?  Maybe it seems a big issue to me but it is not.  Because that provision is there, maybe after the employee has gone out and sought the advice of the Office of the Citizens' Representative they may decide they are not going forward.  Maybe there will be another plan of action.  Maybe they will just go to their supervisor and hope that it will be dealt with that way. 

 

One of the things that did concern me a bit is that they may not disclose information or documents which would reveal deliberations of Cabinet or those protected by solicitor-client privilege.  There are some things here that are still going to be covered; some things here that are still going to have a black mark.  We are not going to know what those are, Mr. Speaker.

 

Overall, I am very happy to see that Bill 1 is finally on the table.  Whistleblower legislation is finally being brought in, and that the Office of the Citizens' Representative will investigate disclosures received under this act.  We are being told the wording in this bill states that the investigation will be informal and as expeditious as possible.  Again, we do not know the time frame.  We do not know the extra resources that are going to be allocated to this, but I believe that the timing is very, very critical. 

 

Just like we have often heard the term in the justice system, delayed justice often means denied justice.  When something is brought forward and it is a very big deal right now, maybe if it is not dealt with right away, in six months' time people may not see the relevance and the importance and why that was a big issue at that time.  I think, Mr. Speaker, that is something that is going to have to have a close eye kept on it as we move forward.  I am pleased there is a bill that is going to ensure a right to procedural fairness and natural justice for all of the people involved.

 

Why is it so imperative, Mr. Speaker, also, for this act to ensure the right to procedural fairness and natural justice for all persons is because we also have to be mindful of the fact that we may have people come forward, pointing a finger at someone, and maybe that person was not guilty.  That is why it is necessary for this process to be carried out in its full entirety because sometimes somebody might be finger pointing and that person did not necessarily do the wrong, so it would be wrong for them to be labeled that way.

 

We know the Office of the Citizens' Representative is not required to investigate where disclosure would be appropriately dealt with via another procedure or act, like if too much time has elapsed, if it is frivolous vexation, not in good faith, or not enough particulars provided.  That is good, because, Mr. Speaker, we would not want this to become a cumbersome process and be held up with things that are not important or would not fall under the details of what would be considered the whistleblower of the person and there are other procedures, back to things that are operational or things that are of human resource in nature.  We see that the Office of the Citizens' Representative may refer disclosure back to a department or a public body if the matter can be more appropriately resolved internally.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see Bill 1 come on the table and I am happy to speak to it.  I believe there are some improvements that need to be made to the bill and we will work with that on a go-forward basis.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs speaks now, he will close the debate.

 

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is great to rise again to speak on Bill 1 and close debate in second reading.  I want to thank hon. members for participating.  We had, I think, over a dozen members on each side of the House participate in the debate.  There is obviously lots of interest because this is a new and very significant piece of legislation for the public service employees of this Province.  I am very pleased to see there is such a great level of interest and I look forward to further discussion as we move into the Committee phase of the debate as well.

 

While I have an opportunity to close second reading, though, I would like to use that time to address some of the concerns that have been raised and some of the questions that have been raised.  Of course, what I do not get to in the short amount of time I have, we will be able to talk more about it at the Committee stage as well.

 

Mr. Speaker, our decision to move this legislation forward will address the gap that currently exists in this Province with respect to mechanisms that are available to employees who have knowledge of serious wrongdoing that they wish to disclosure.  This legislation will afford them protection from reprisal when doing so.  It is further evidence, as well, of our commitment to doing what we said we would do in a past Blue Book.  It demonstrates our commitment to open government, ethical conduct, and integrity within the public sector.

 

Mr. Speaker, during this debate, members opposite questioned the length of time it took to develop this piece of legislation.  That was a criticism that I anticipated.  We have used the last number of years to consult with other jurisdictions, to watch this legislation evolve in practice in other jurisdictions, to ask questions, to determine an appropriate disclosure process for this Province, and to ensure that the anti-reprisal provisions provide efficient and effective protection tailored to meet the needs of our public service employees here in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

We have also been reviewing and researching best practices, and we have learned and gained valuable insight not only from other jurisdictions across Canada but also from our own Citizens' Representative.  He currently has a similar role under the House of Assembly whistleblower legislation.  He has also been monitoring and consulting with his colleagues across the country about best practices that exist in this area.  That has been helpful to us as well and it has certainly informed our process.

 

Once this legislation comes into force on July 1 of this year, we will be the seventh jurisdiction in the country to implement whistleblower legislation.  After the news conference that was held to announce this legislation, the Citizens' Representative was quoted as saying that this legislation represents the best model in the country.  Mr. Speaker, this signifies that this legislation is fully endorsed by our independent Citizens' Representative.  It highlights the fact that we took the proper time to do the due diligence required to ensure that this legislation is robust and meets the needs of our public service employees.

 

Some members have also questioned the rationale behind moving forward with a single disclosure process.  So I would like to share with you why exactly we are going in that direction.  With respect to the single disclosure process through the Citizens' Representative, there are significant benefits for employees.  One of our objectives with respect to this legislation is to uphold the integrity of the public service by ensuring a transparent and effective process for disclosure of wrongdoing. 

 

The single disclosure route is considered the most efficient and effective process which will allow all employees to make confidential disclosures to one independent office.  That office is equipped with the skills, the expertise, and the training necessary to conduct investigations in a fair and an impartial manner.

 

Employees will likely feel more comfortable with this process, given that they therefore will not be required to disclose internally within their own office or organization.  We chose not to go with a dual disclosure process as that would involve internal and external disclosure, and would increase the need for new resources to be allocated for the administration of the disclosure and the investigation process.  This, for instance, would require all government departments and public bodies to provide ongoing training, as well as up-to-date policies and procedures.  It would also require a high level of impartiality in order to conform to the principles of procedural fairness.  I think this would be tough, if not impossible, to achieve on an ongoing basis.  Other jurisdictions have struggled with this approach, and we have learned from those other jurisdictions.

 

Under our recommended approach, employees, including supervisors, managers, and executives of the public service, will be informed with respect to the process and protections set out in the Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act.  They will have full and they will have complete information to make a decision on how they should proceed in the event that they become aware of wrongdoing in accordance with this act.  The Office of the Citizens' Representative will ensure that employees have access to the information they need to understand the legislation, and also understand the roles and responsibilities of all parties and the implementation process as well.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Office of the Citizens' Representative is a single office that is independent of both the political process and government administration.  The office will receive inquiries; it will conduct investigations, as outlined in Bill 1.  This will strengthen the comfort level and contribute to enhanced confidentiality for employees who make or are considering making a disclosure.  If there is wrongdoing within the public service and our employees have awareness of it, we want it exposed and we want it investigated.  We also want our valued employees to be protected during that process, and that is what this bill is all about.

It is obvious that some employees may be reluctant or uncomfortable with disclosing significant wrongdoing if they have to do so internally to a supervisor or a deputy minister or a CEO, as would be the case if we utilized the dual disclosure process.  We want to facilitate disclosures of legitimate wrongdoing in a safe and supportive environment.  That is the core and fundamental premise of this bill.  It is a critical component that we believe to be one of the essential components of this legislation, and it is what makes it unique from other jurisdictions.

 

With regard to Cabinet information – I know, Mr. Speaker, that has arisen several times during this debate – there is a requirement to protect the confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings, and that is a cornerstone of the Canadian system of government.  These documents are protected by convention, common law, and legislative provisions as well.  This is a principle that has been widely recognized by Canadian courts.

 

Democracy works best in our system when Cabinet ministers in charge of government policy and decision making are free to express themselves around the Cabinet table without reservation.  The essence of the principle of Cabinet confidentiality is therefore to protect the collective decision making of ministers whereby ministers discuss issues and arrive at decisions.

 

It is important to note that New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Government of Canada, all jurisdictions that have whistleblower legislation in this country, also include this protection in their whistleblower legislation. 

 

It is expected that employees who have knowledge of Cabinet information would also be aware of the expectation that this information is protected and not subject to disclosure.  Additionally, the Office of the Citizens' Representative is knowledgeable about this issue and will provide advice accordingly.

 

Mr. Speaker, not only does this legislation enhance the integrity of the public service in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it has built in accountability measures to the public.  The Citizens' Representative may refer a matter to the Auditor General, if he or she thinks that it is more appropriately investigated under the Auditor General Act.  The Citizens' Representative may also refer a matter back to a department or a public body if it is more appropriately resolved internally.  This allows the Citizens' Representative to make informed decisions based on individual employee situations and needs and ensures that matters receive the most appropriate response.

 

The Citizens' Representative, as has been pointed out a number of times during debate, is required to prepare an annual report, not only prepare it but table it in this House, outlining the number of inquiries received under this act, the number of disclosures and the number acted upon and not acted upon.  The number of investigations undertaken also has to be reported, the number of recommendations made, and whether departments and public bodies have complied with the recommendations. 

 

Whether there are any systemic problems that contribute to the issues, any recommendations for improvement that should be considered, all of that will be encompassed within the reports that the Citizens' Representative will not only prepare but table in this House of Assembly. 

 

The Citizens' Representative will also have the authority to publish special reports, which I think really addressed a couple of the concerns that have been raised during debate.  If he or she deems it to be in the public interest and consistent with the scope of his or her functions and duties outlined in this act, the Citizens' Representative has the authority to publish special reports at any time.  This includes the publishing of a report related to an investigation of wrongdoing under the act.

 

Through this debate we also discussed the issue of when this legislation will come into effect.  Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that no other jurisdiction provided for retroactivity when their acts came into force, and there is good reason for that.  Wrongdoing that is ongoing prior to the act coming into force and continuing after the act becomes effective can be disclosed.  There is no question about that.

 

With respect to the comments made about retroactivity, I provide the following explanation.  Generally speaking, legislation does not include retroactive or retrospective clauses.  Retroactive application of legislation is usually found in financial and tax provisions.  It would not be appropriate, from a legal perspective, in this legislation that we are debating here in the House.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would also note that with respect to wrongdoings prior to this bill coming into force, those matters can still be investigated under a number of pieces of legislation.  They can be investigated under the Criminal Code, the Environmental Protection Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Personal Health Information Act and the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act.  Those acts have anti-reprisal protections as well.

 

Unionized employees are also free to make internal disclosures of wrongdoing and to receive protection through their collective agreements.  I think that is another important point to raise that addresses some of the concern that has been expressed during debate. 

 

As well, we are all aware that the Auditor General, under the Auditor General Act, can review a matter any time there is a financial issue; therefore, there are existing avenues for serious wrongdoings to be addressed.  We recognize that there are still gaps and we need to address those gaps, and that is why this whistleblower protection legislation is so important. 

 

Mr. Speaker, questions have been raised about who is covered by this legislation and why it only applies to public service employees and not those in private sector.  Well, this act is intended to protect the public interest by ensuring that wrongdoings related to the public service are disclosed and investigated.  This whistleblower legislation is about public accountability and integrity of the public service for those involved in the delivery and management of public services and programs and the management of public funds and assets. 

 

Private sector companies can certainly choose to adopt whistleblower policies to increase the integrity of their organizations and to facilitate disclosures of wrongdoing and protect employees who make those disclosures and I would certainly encourage them to look at this act as a model for their own policies. 

 

The act is intended to protect the public interests by ensuring that wrongdoings related to the public service are disclosed and investigated and employees are protected from retaliation if they choose to disclose.  Mr. Speaker, this legislation does not require employees to disclose wrongdoings.  It enables employees to make a disclosure and to feel assured that they will be protected from reprisals if they choose to disclose. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I also wish to address the issue raised about why an employee would not be protected from reprisal action if they disclose wrongdoing internally to a supervisor or manager.  The reprisal protection that was contemplated in this act is being provided to assure employees that if they make a disclosure, they are protected against reprisals as outlined in the legislation. 

 

Mr. Speaker, a question also arose about whether or not this legislation covers municipalities.  No, municipalities are not covered by the application of the act.  This again is consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada.  Municipalities, however, may choose to adopt whistleblower policies to increase the public's confidence in their elected officials and their staff who are delivering programs and services to the community.  I would certainly encourage municipal governments to look at that, as the minister also responsible for Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.

 

Another point that has been raised relates to the discretion provided by the Citizens' Representative to choose not to investigate if it is believed that too much time has passed between when the matter occurred and when it is reported, and that the investigation of that would serve no purpose.  Mr. Speaker, I want to advise that while this bill was being drafted we certainly considered the pros and cons of including a specific time frame, and that I know has been suggested by members opposite.

 

For instance, Nova Scotia's act requires that disclosures of wrongdoing must be made within twelve months of an employee becoming aware of the matter.  We considered including such a provision, but we determined that allowing the Citizens' Representative to make that decision was the preferred option.  It allows the Citizens' Representative to accept and investigate legitimate disclosures whenever it is felt there is a useful purpose for doing so, no matter when the employee becomes aware of the issue and reports it.  We believe this facilitates and supports disclosures of any wrongdoing that occur and allows the Citizens' Representative to make case-by-case decisions on investigations rather than ruling out investigations due to the date that an employee becomes aware.

 

There could be a valid reason for an employee making a decision to delay making a report and we want to ensure those reports can be accepted.  This is not ambiguous or vague; it is discretion that is being provided to the Citizens' Representative, which we believe and which the Citizens' Representative believes is critical.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have a lot of information to share with our employees so they understand this legislation from start to finish.  In the coming weeks, we will ensure that all public service employees have access to information about this legislation.  The Office of the Citizens' Representative will issue a news release and provide detailed information on its Web site within the coming weeks before the act comes into force with a complete update regarding this new legislation and what it means for public service employees in the Province.  The Office of Public Engagement, together with the Office of the Citizens' Representative, will ensure comprehensive employee awareness efforts and education are in place.

 

Mr. Speaker, I see my time is winding down.  I urge all hon. colleagues in this House to support the legislation we are proposing here.  We all acknowledge, on both sides of the House, that we have a competent, professional public service.  This government values their significant efforts, which on a daily basis benefit the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.  We really believe this legislation is the right approach in ensuring the integrity of the public service and ensuring that it remains strong.  The citizens of this Province can rest assured that every opportunity to report wrongdoing is available to our public service employees.

 

As the Citizens' Representative stated just a week or so ago, this legislation represents the best model in the country.  While it admittedly has taken some time to prepare this legislation, it is important that we get it right to ensure it meets the needs of our public service employees for many years to come. 

 

Mr. Speaker, again, I thank all hon. members for participating in debate during second reading.  It was an informed and spirited debate.  I look forward to clarifying various points that may be raised during the Committee process. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried. 

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure.  (Bill 1)

 

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

 

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

 

MR. KING: Now. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure”, read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave.  (Bill 1)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Given the time, I move, seconded by the Minister of Education, that the House take a recess for supper and return at 7:00 o'clock. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands in recess until 7:00 p.m. 


May 12, 2014                  HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                     Vol. XLVII No. 25A


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

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Order 2, Concurrence Motion, Government Services Committee. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Concurrence Motion, the Government Services Committee. 

 

I recognize the hon. the Member for Kilbride. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, I do not think I am going to be off the topic or anything because I am going to talk about a very interesting subject.  One that is very important to this Province, one that has been important for a number of years, and I am hoping it is one that is going to be important for many years to come.  I am talking about the oil and gas industry.  I tie it in with Concurrence because of the financial aspects and the revenue aspects of it. 

 

Oil and gas accounts for a substantial portion of provincial government revenues.  In recent years, it is approximately 25 per cent of what we take in.  Over the last number of years it varies, 24 per cent, 26 per cent, but in most cases it is roughly one-quarter of our revenue that we take in. 

 

I think we had a little bit of a downturn a couple of years ago because some of the rigs were in for repairs.  They were not pumping oil for a while, so consequently the revenues declined a bit.  Since first oil came from Hibernia in 1997, up to March of 2013, oil royalties have contributed $14.7 billion to the provincial Treasury; $14.7 billion, that is real close to $15 billion.  In that time, 1.44 billion barrels of oil have been extracted worth $102 billion. 

 

In 2014, 85 million barrels of oil will be extracted from our three oil producing fields.  Hibernia will yield 47.5 million barrels of oil this year, Terra Nova will yield 16.8 million barrels, and White Rose will yield 20.8 million barrels.  The oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to the provincial GDP. 

 

In 2013, 8,800 person years of employment were realized from this industry, including support industry.  That is a lot of people working at that.  I do not know if this included the fact that people go to Alberta.  I do not know if they are even included, but I would say that is associated only with our industry.  If you could count the people who are going away and coming back all the time, that would mean a big, big impetus to the Province here from the oil and gas in Canada. 

 

Hibernia was the first offshore oil project to be developed in this Province.  We all know that.  It is operated by Hibernia Management and Development Company Limited.  Hibernia oil is extracted using a gravity-based structure, a GBS.  Hibernia and Hibernia South Extension did contain an estimated 1,395,000,000 barrels of oil, that is recoverable oil. 

 

Hibernia South Extension will extend the life of the Hibernia field from five to ten years.  From first oil in November, 1997 to the end of last year, December 31, 2013, 876.5 million barrels of oil have come from Hibernia.  That means there is approximately 500 million barrels of oil left to be extracted.  This represents 35 per cent of the total estimate that was there in the beginning.  So the lifespan of Hibernia is now approximately ten years.  In ten more years, or a little bit over, we will find that Hibernia probably will close down unless some oil fields, or more oil reserves are found somewhere in that locale in the distant future. 

 

The Province has a 10 per cent equity stake in Hibernia.  Terra Nova is our second offshore oil discovery.  First oil came from Terra Nova in 2002.  Terra Nova is operated by Suncor Energy limited using a FPSO, floating production storage and offloading vessel.  The oilfield contains an estimated 592.4 million barrels of recoverable oil. 

 

Up to December 31, 2013, Terra Nova field has yielded 349.4 million barrels of oil, which is 59 per cent of the recoverable oil that Terra Nova was estimated to have in the beginning.  This means that 41 per cent of recoverable resources or reserves are left.  Without adding reserves in this area, the lifespan of Terra Nova is approximately ten to fifteen years.  These are two of our oilfields, Hibernia and Terra Nova, with lifespans of around ten years or a little bit over. 

 

Our third one is White Rose.  When I talk about White Rose we are also talking about North Amethyst too, our third producing offshore oilfield.  White Rose is operated by Husky Energy using another FPSO, which is a floating production system we are talking about here.  The estimated reserves for White Rose are 379.8 million barrels. 

 

First oil came from White Rose in November, 2005.  First oil came from North Amethyst in May, 2010.  The Province also has 5 per cent equity in this field. 

 

From November, 2005 to December 31, 2013 – that is our last year – 218 million barrels of oil have been extracted from White Rose.  This represents 57 per cent of the estimated reserves, which means 43 per cent of the reserves are left.  Therefore, if we use the amount we are talking about extracting from White Rose this year, if we use that as a figure, I think it is around 20 million barrels.  That would mean there is a lifespan of eight years left on White Rose.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said in the beginning, the oil and gas industry is a significant contributor to the provincial Treasury.  The reason I mention these numbers and mention these three oil fields – not that most people did not know about it, all of us know we have three oil fields.  We know they have a lifespan that is going to end sometime, that they are going to be out of oil.  I, too, and I have heard others; many are concerned in the past few years that we are going to run out of oil. 

 

As a matter of fact, twenty years or so ago, probably twenty-five years, a common theme that you heard from scientists and people in the oil business, people in many industries, is that the world would eventually run out of oil.  Now that idea kind of died out over time because of all the finds in different areas, but I was concerned about this and a lot of others were concerned: What will happen when our oil reserves run out?  What would we do to replace the lost revenues, the lost jobs and the business activity that is associated with this work?  It looked like there was an end when you look at the three that we do have, each of them are close to ten years and then they would be all finished, all pumped out. 

 

There is good news on the horizon, though.  There are two oil projects preparing for the day when new oil will be extracted.  There are actually two projects now ongoing where the construction work is going on and these will be pumping oil in 2017.

 

The first one is the White Rose Extension project.  This is already in the construction phase, as I said.  An estimated 115 million barrels of oil are expected to be extracted from this project using a concrete gravity-based structure. 

 

MR. F. COLLINS: Argentia (inaudible).

 

MR. DINN: That is being done in Argentia, isn't it?  Good.

 

The development phase of this project is expected to generate 2,800 person years of employment in this Province alone, and it will create 250 new long-term platform positions when the contract work is done and when they actually start extracting oil from the ground.  Furthermore, the Province will get $3 billion in royalties from the life of this project.  That is just from this White Rose Extension Project.  We will get $3 billion in revenues and royalties from this project over the time that it lasts.  White Rose Extension is a partnership between Husky Energy, Suncor Energy, and Nalcor, which holds a 5 per cent equity stake for us, the Province.  I said already that first oil from this project is expected in 2017.

 

A second new offshore oil project in its construction phase is Hebron.  We all know about Hebron.  Hebron was discovered in 1981.  The Hebron field contains in excess of 700 million barrels of recoverable oil.  Now, when Hibernia started they thought there was only around 600 million barrels of oil; but after further investigations and when they got into it, they found out that it contained an awful lot more.  We know that it is still ongoing and will be for another ten years.

The Hebron project received official sanction on December 31, 2012, becoming the Province's fourth stand-alone offshore project.  The Hebron project will use a GBS also, being built in this Province at Bull Arm – that is on the go right now.  Two of the four topside modules are also being built in this Province.  The Accommodation Module is being built at Bull Arm, and the Drilling Support Module is being fabricated at Marystown.  As of December 31, 2013, the Hebron project was employing 4,937 people; 86 per cent of which are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  So a lot of activity, a lot of wealth being spread around, a lot of good-paying jobs.

 

The Province has a 4.9 per cent equity stake in Hebron, with ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron, Suncor Energy Incorporated, and Statoil Canada also partnering.  ExxonMobil is the operator of the project.  First oil is also expected in 2017.  The Province stands to gain many billions in royalties from Hebron, as well as jobs and other commercial activities and business activity.

 

The capital cost of Hebron is $14 billion – that is $14 billion – twice, pretty well, the price of Muskrat Falls.  A lot of money is being spent, a lot of people from the Province are getting jobs, a lot of good-paying jobs, and a lot of revenue is going around the Province because of this.

 

The White Rose Extension and Hebron should keep this Province active in the oil business for another twenty years or more.  That is even after the other three are probably pumped out.  Now, this is pretty good for us, because it will keep us in the oil business a lot longer.  That means if we are another ten or twenty or more years in the oil business, we are going to have these royalties coming into the provincial Treasury for that much longer.

 

Now, what will happen after this, though, is the question that some would ask.  This oil history of ours will continue well beyond twenty years, I can assure you that, with the new discoveries by Statoil in the Flemish Pass Basin in 2013.  I do not know if anyone heard VOCM this morning at 8:00.  Fred Hutton was interviewing the Vice-President of Statoil who was ecstatic about the fact that they had one of these new discoveries and what it is going to mean.

In 2013, Statoil had two discoveries in the Flemish Pass, like I just said, the most significant of which was the Bay du Nord discovery – the largest oil discovery in the world in 2013.  We had the largest new oil discovery in the world in 2013.  In 2013, Statoil announced the Harpoon and Bay du Nord discoveries; these, in conjunction with the 2009 Mizzen discovery – also made by Statoil – have the potential to rival and replace Hibernia, White Rose, and Terra Nova.  Preliminary estimates put the Bay du Nord discovery at 300 million to 600 million barrels of recoverable oil.  Mizzen is estimated to contain 100 million to 200 million barrels of oil, and the Harpoon discovery is yet to be determined.  They do not have any figures for that, because I guess they have not done much drilling in that area.

 

In the next year, Statoil is preparing to do a lot of drilling in the Flemish Pass Basin.  When I listened to the interview this morning with the Vice-President of Statoil with Fred Hutton of VOCM, she was saying that Statoil is well equipped and well used to drilling in deep water.  Now, in this Flemish Pass Basin the water is supposed to be over 1,100 metres deep.  This is nothing new for this company.  As a matter of fact, it is only routine for them, in all their other activities around the world.  So they feel that this is not going to be a big challenge at all for them.

 

They are hoping to have the Bay du Nord project – they are trying to accelerate it actually so that in the next four or five years they might have some activity going on there.  They say that they are hoping in the fall of the year to get an oil rig down – I forget the name of the one now.  It is going to come down and drill more delineation wells so that they can probably get a better estimate of how much oil there really is.  This is going to be our next big, good news, the Bay du Nord development.

 

That is two new projects that are going to take place which will keep us in the oil business for twenty, thirty, probably forty years.  Now, that is not the only thing that is on the go here.  There is a lot of exploratory work going on in many other areas in this Province.  Oil companies are drilling or preparing to drill offshore in the Western part of this Province.  They are preparing to drill or do exploratory drilling off the Coast of Labrador and there is also drilling activity planned for Western and Central Newfoundland, on land itself.  We are not talking here about hydraulic fracturing.  We are talking about actual drilling of oil.

 

Along with this, calls for bids were announced in May 2013 for three different offshore parcels of land that companies could pick up and go and explore and see if there is oil in these also.  Remember, there is a lot of ocean out there under our jurisdiction, and a lot of oil out there too.  People thought years ago that we would only be in the oil business for twenty or thirty years.  I think we are going to be in the oil business probably an awful lot longer than that, and that all bodes well for us because we are going to have the royalties and have an equity stake which means that we are going to get more out of these than ever before.

 

I do not expect the price of oil to go down to what it was when Hibernia started.  When Hibernia started the break-even price for oil was $18 a barrel.  I think we are getting more than $18 a barrel for oil now, if I am not mistaken.  I saw today that the Canadian dollar is down around ninety-one-point-something cents, which also helps us.  It means that we get more for our oil than we expected.  It is good for exporting when our dollar is down.

 

Now, all of this discovery and new activity bodes well for the Province's Treasury and for our economy in the future.  It means oil wealth and activity for many years to come.  Now, when you combine this with Muskrat Falls, we said we were going to develop Muskrat Falls as a source of revenue in the future, we will sell excess power, we will take what we need and we will sell the excess power – and again, we are not talking about selling wagon trains; we are talking about selling a commodity that will be wanted and needed in the future.  Muskrat Falls, along with all the other activities and our resources that we have on the go, we have good potential.  We have mining expansions planned – new mines coming into existence and it is all going to be good for us.  There is lots of room for expansion.  Our fishery with the new deal that we have, the trade with European markets, it is going to be good for us in our fishery. 

 

Our agricultural industry – there is lots of room for expansion for agriculture in Newfoundland.  When you consider that we bring in probably 90 per cent of what we are using in this Province in the way of vegetables and fruit, we should be able to take advantage of the markets that we have here.

 

I always look at John Lester and Jim Lester in my district as a prime example of what can be done with agriculture in this Province.  If John Lester could grow or had the land base, and I guess the weather and the time and everything else, to produce three or four times more than he is producing, he could probably sell it.  He is usually out of produce by December, by Christmas, which means that there is lots of room.  There are big markets here in the city alone, in the Mount Pearl area.  Go in to Brookfield Road on a Saturday afternoon in the fall of the year – not even the fall, August, September, October and you find big, long lineups of vehicles looking for that produce. 

 

Our timber, our lumber, our forestry, all of these bode well.  These sectors look like they are going to be very important for us in the future.  When I look at all of this, I can see the future as being so bright that I think a lot of us are going to have to wear shades.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace. 

 

MR. SLADE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to do a little bit of talking about the condition of the roads in my district.  It is quite relevant in regard to I sit down and I listen to the members opposite talking about the strings of pavement that they are putting through their districts.  Like every member here, we all want great things for our district.  I am here tonight to speak on some of the things that are going on in my district. 

 

Mr. Speaker, up on High Road North in Carbonear, it is the entrance to our town, the town's boundaries end off by the first house going in that road.  The road belongs to the Province.  Our boundary line is right to the end of that house.  Council has been plowing that road out to the highway just so that we could be half decent with government and they would not have to take their trucks in off the road.  So, this road is in a deplorable state.  It needs to be corrected.  I take notice that the Minister of Transportation is over shaking his head saying no, it is not; but I can assure him that it is.  The town is after sending in to the minister's office the boundary lines to the town and where it ends to.

 

Anyway, that is one issue in the Carbonear district, Mr. Speaker.  Another issue are those lights there on Columbus Drive, alongside the TC Square.  Last year the Department of Transportation went down there and they painted the dots on the road and one thing and another.  Those lights are activated by vehicles stopped to the lights, lines across the road, and they never were done, Mr. Speaker.  They just simply, simply did not get done.  I can assure the Department of Transportation it is a very, very dangerous intersection indeed.  Many, many accidents have taken place there prior to those lights going in there in that intersection.

 

So anyway, Mr. Speaker, that is just a couple of issues as it pertains to the Town of Carbonear.  Now, there are a couple of other issues in Carbonear that I would like to bring up also.  One is, I question when the school was built and the school was occupied and they were in building four more classrooms on the end of it – I am concerned about that, what took place there.  Somebody had to have the numbers, and the kids were in there in school and construction going on, of course.  That was something else, too.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, those are a few issues about there.  In Harbour Grace, Harvey Street in Harbour Grace was supposed to be done two years ago.  That is a Department of Transportation road.  I do not even think there is anything in the budget this year to continue on with that stretch of road.  Like I said, it was supposed to be done two years, and up to this point in time it has not been done.

 

Mr. Speaker, in Riverhead there is a section of road that was done by the transportation department about three years ago.  The drain was on one side of the road, the road was elevated to the opposite, residents down there now, six or seven residents along that road, are getting the full brunt of the water on the road there.  In some cases, it is running in to people's garages and one thing and another.  We had a meeting with the Mayor of Harbour Grace and of course there is a letter gone off to the minister to that effect.  I am hoping (inaudible) whether it is with curb and gutter or whatever the case may be, but the water and the pressure has to be taken off those people down there.  They are having a very, very tough time down there, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, Harvey Street in Harbour Grace, I want to get back to that again for a little bit.  Is it government's intention to finish that road for the people in that area?  It is in deplorable condition.  I will tell you, it was a good job done on it to where they ended off, but now we need to move forward with that.  It is a shame to see such a state of a road, especially a road that belongs to the Province.

 

Mr. Speaker, there are another few issues in Bristol's Hope.  It can be twofold.  There is a beach that goes across Bristol's Hope that ties one road into the other, on the north and the south side of town.  Over the last few years the Department of Transportation no longer tries to keep that road open, and there are some concerns there.  On the other side of the road, the issue is that there is a pond and it is now infilling with beach rock and one thing and another.

 

Mr. Speaker, if the community of Bristol's Hope, if somebody took a loader and went down and filled in that pond, I am sure it would be an environmental concern to somebody in here.  I am pretty sure that they would be out and stop them from filling in that pond.  There is life in that pond, trout and other things, and that is not the biggest problem, Mr. Speaker.  By this road not being reinstated there, as it was over the past, it is a big concern if a fire took place down in that area.  Bristol's Hope is mostly a wooded area and the possibilities of somebody actually getting trapped down there, if they were not able to travel across the beach area, they would be trapped either on one side of that community or the other.  So, there are two concerns here.  One is safety of the residents in Bristol's Hope; and, of course, the other one being the safety concern as it pertains to the environmental concern as it pertains to that pond in that area.  Mr. Speaker, there certainly has to be something done for those people down there.  It is not a big job, by the way.  It is not a big job to have that road reinstated. 

 

MR. MCGRATH: You are going to put (inaudible).

 

MR. SLADE: Mr. Speaker, I take note the Minister of Transportation does not feel this is a big thing, but I can assure him that this is a big concern for the residents of Bristol's Hope.  It is a big concern for me as the MHA for the Carbonear- Harbour Grace district.  I will continue to fight to make sure this job gets done. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to tell you, I have my twenty minutes now.  They will get their opportunity when the time comes.  They may think it is funny, but the people in Bristol's Hope, or the people in Carbonear, or the people in Victoria or anywhere else, do not think it is funny what is taking place with them out around there.

 

Mr. Speaker, Bryant's Cove; I will thank the government.  They finally rectified the situation as it pertained to the drinking water in Bryant's Cove.  I am very, very glad that was done.  Unfortunately, it took an election to get it done, but it was done and I really do appreciate that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, they have another big concern up there right now, and they did apply for capital funding this year.  It was Point Road.  We are in the position over there now and the people over there are calling me, they are e-mailing me with their concerns.  The problem is that road, Point Road it is called, the pavement is that bad on that road now that bus drivers no longer will travel out there with the bus – because they are breaking springs off the bus – to pick up the children.  That there in itself is a concern for the safety of the children on the buses too I am sure, but that Point Road needs to get done.  It is important to the people in that part of the district.

 

Mr. Speaker, Victoria is a growing community and needs infrastructure.  I just want to bring up one thing in this House now and it needs to be brought forward.  Some years ago there was what they call Limits of Service agreements.  In order for our towns to grow on that part – and I will explain it too, because some people probably do not understand what it means. 

 

What it means, Mr. Speaker, if just say for instance, you wanted to put another road in the Town of Carbonear and the town took it upon themselves to do it, they would not be able to apply to government for funding on that section of road because it would be what they call outside the Limits of Services agreement.  In order for communities to grow in the district this should certainly be looked at with the possibility of lifting that, because we all want our communities to grow.  Each and every one of us wants our communities to grow.

 

Mr. Speaker, just to give you an idea on that, Victoria is indeed a growing community.  It has a lot of housing.  It did a lot of housing over the last few years and it is certainly increasing in size.  Of course we all want our communities to grow and prosper.

 

Mr. Speaker, Freshwater is another area.  I will go back to it again; it has the same problem as Bristol's Hope.  The beach is actually washed in over the road.  With very little work from the Department of Transportation this can be repaired, this can be fixed.  This will give people a way out. 

 

It is the same situation they have in Bristol's Hope.  Freshwater is a pond on the other side there, and there is some infilling taking place there now as it pertains to the beach.  Again, Mr. Speaker, I cannot emphasize enough on the fire safety and the fire aspects of that community also.  It is in poor shape and we need to do the same thing with it.  Like I was just speaking to you, I did say as well as Bristol's Hope, so that has to be taken care of.

 

All towns in the district, Mr. Speaker, depend on our government to show a little leadership and to bring some capital works and capital funding to the district in order for the districts to maintain, to grow, and to just be a part of the Province.  I am certainly going to try my very best to do that for them by standing up here every day and speaking about it.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will say to government that in Spaniard's Bay – now in order for me to talk about Spaniard's Bay I have to look over at my colleague on the other side there too, because he and I split a district.  I am going to give you a little bit of history on one road that was done down there, and it was done some time ago now.  It was a road done up by the church. 

 

We had a PC member in one end of the district, and we had the Liberal member on the other side of the district.  The curb ended up getting put on the PC side of the district, and no curb was put on the other side of the road.  Talk about splitting districts.

 

By the way, Mr. Speaker, just to give you a heads up on that, up until this point in time, in a five to six-year period, the Town of Spaniard's Bay received $256,000 in capital works.  I will say that this time around they received a very good increase in their funding.  In one year they almost doubled it, and I am sure it is for probably a three-year period.  They almost actually doubled what they received over the last five or six.  I am very happy for the Town of Spaniard's Bay and for that part of the district, as well as, I am sure my colleague opposite is also.

 

Mr. Speaker, we all sit here in our seats and we all try to do whatever we can for our districts.  I am very respectful of that.  I am respectful of the members opposite for what they can get for their districts and one thing or another, but we are on this side, too. 

 

I am only here because the people wanted me here.  I am here to bring their concerns forward to you guys, and hopefully at the end of the day to have that conversation with each one of the ministers over there.  When I have concerns I need to bring them forward. 

 

I will just say this; any time that I stand here and speak I am speaking from the heart, I am speaking on behalf of my constituents, and I do not really apologize to anybody for that.  We all live in different parts of the Province.  Some communities get a little more than others.  That is understandable; I have no problem with that.  Mr. Speaker, we cannot leave parts of the districts out because we are going to be vindictive.  I do not want to think that way.  I want to try to do the very, very best that I can do for my constituents.  As well as all you guys over there, you try to do the best that you can for the district. 

 

All I am saying to you here right now tonight, and I will sit down then, Mr. Speaker, is that I am going to stand here and try to do the very best I can for my district.  Those concerns I brought here tonight gentlemen, those are legitimate concerns.  I am certainly hoping that I get to hear the minister on those concerns, to discuss them a little further.  It is a concern for the people who live in those communities and those towns. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on one other item now, just to bring it into the same fold.  The fishery, Mr. Speaker, we have to be proud to be Newfoundlanders.  The fish and everything was brought here and we were here because of the fishery. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we need to spend a little bit more time on that, and emphasize on that a little because we have to remember one thing, the fishery is a renewable resource.  The fishery and the forestry are renewable resources.  Mr. Speaker, if we do not pay attention – and I will say this, the average age of a fisherman out there today is fifty-five years old.  Like everything else, unfortunately we have nobody coming behind and that is going to present a real problem to the Province overall.  I am not sure it is not being designed that way. 

 

You take some young fellow now who wants to get involved in the fishery, it is going to cost him big time because the first thing he has to do is go out and buy an enterprise.  He has to buy licences and one thing and another, which is probably going to cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.  Who is going to do that?  I do not know.  I have grave concerns that it is not designed that way by the federal government.  I have some great concerns about it, like every other organization or whatever out there. 

 

You will hear tell of that volunteers do not volunteer so much anymore.  When you look around the room and see who the people are that are volunteering, you will see a lot of grey heads.  We have to engage our youth into getting involved.  I have no doubt in my mind.

 

Mr. Speaker, the fishery is indeed an important piece and parcel for all of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I would like to leave on that note, Mr. Speaker, but I will say that I am here and I am prepared to work with the ministers opposite to make sure that we bring great things to the District of Carbonear – Harbour Grace.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Concurrence here this evening as part of the budgetary process.  For the people at home, this is the way the various committees can report back to the House what the committee members have heard in the Budget Estimates process and then provide some commentary on that.  So, as a minister, I am not one of the members of one of the three committees of the House but I do have an opportunity to speak during the Concurrence process, and I would like to take this opportunity to talk about a few things here tonight.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk a little bit about my responsibilities.  A lot of people ask me: Minister of Service NL, exactly what does that entail?  Sometimes I have to write it all down to get it all straight in my head, because it is a wide and varied responsibility and portfolio.  I would like to talk to that for just about a minute before I get into the thrust of what I want to talk about here this evening.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am Minister Responsible for the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.  Most people are pretty aware of that entity.  I am Minister Responsible for the Office of the Chief Information Office.  A lot of people probably would not know what that is about, but basically it is our IT department here within government.  We deal with entities and agencies, and the health care corporations as well, providing services to employees and to external people of the Province as well.

 

I am Minister Responsible for the Government Procurement Agency.  It is an area where – the Public Tender Act comes under my purview.  We are actually going through procurement reform right now, Mr. Speaker, and there is going to be a lot to talk about that in the coming days and weeks.

 

I am also Minister Responsible for the Labour Relations Agency.  That was newly bestowed upon me just last week.  It is a new portfolio that I am getting up to speed on.  It is a very interesting portfolio, when we hear all the conversations around temporary foreign workers, what it means to this Province, where we are going in the future.  So, Mr. Speaker, we will have lots to say about that in the coming days.

 

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I am Minister Responsible for Service Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is here I would like to focus my attention for this evening's talk.  I just want to talk about the vision of Service NL, people in Newfoundland and Labrador living and working in healthy and safe environments with access to efficient and responsive programs and services.

 

We talked about Newfoundland and Labrador providing services and programs to the people of the Province.  Mr. Speaker, we are 530,000 people spread over God's creation – and I certainly look at Newfoundland and Labrador as God's creation – but there are challenges around delivering the services and programs to the people of the Province.  I believe the civil servants in my department do an excellent job of that, a tremendous job.  I am very proud of the work they do, but we know that 500,000-plus people, trying to deliver services to them is a challenge.  It is a challenge that we face every day, day in and day out. 

 

When you compare us to a population base, like the City of London, Ontario; London, Ontario has approximately the same population we have as a Province.  Well, their footprint, Mr. Speaker, is about the same size as the Northeast Avalon.  Not even that probably, one half of that.  Delivering services to 500,000 people spread out over the size of two or three provinces is a real challenge.  Again, it is a vision we have in place at Service NL to make sure that we can be the best we can possibly be.

 

By March 31, 2017 – and this is a mission statement, Mr. Speaker – Service NL will have enhanced program and service delivery through improved standards and regulatory processes that promote living and working in a healthy, fair and safe environment.  You will hear that constantly in the things we do within our department, working in a healthy, fair and safe environment.  That is one of the key areas and thrusts of the responsibilities of Service NL.

 

We provide a wide range of service, including licensing, inspections related to public health, public safety, environmental protection, the provision of vital documents.  It ensures the health and safety of employees in the workplace in Newfoundland and Labrador.  It also safeguards consumer interest.  The department was created with the aim of providing a single window access point to the public for those services.  The department derives the authority to carry out its functions from over 150 pieces of legislation and related regulation standards and codes of practice. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we are the keepers of a lot of legislation that gives us the direction and the authority to provide the services to the people of the Province.  We are divided into three branches.  Service NL is one branch, or Government Services; Occupational Health and Safety, which is the area I would like to spend a few minutes on because it has relevance today; and Consumer and Commercial Affairs.  That is the three branches of Service NL. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus a little bit on Occupational Health and Safety.  Why do I want to talk about that branch of my department?  Well, last week was Occupational Health and Safety Week here in the Province.  Last week was North American Occupation Safety and Health Week in all of North America.  We had a conference here in St. John's where we hosted participants from right across Canada.  Last week we also had a National Day of Mourning for those who lost their lives on the job.  It was a very poignant ceremony in the Confederation East Block lobby.  This week, Occupational Health and Safety Newfoundland and Labrador are having their provincial convention in Gander.  I am going to be speaking at that on Thursday night and I am really excited about it. 

 

The Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the Department of Service Newfoundland and Labrador is a branch of government that everybody here in this Chamber should be proud of.  We are leading the country in so many ways.  We are an example to the rest of the country in how to perform our duties to make our workplaces safer and healthier, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is amazing when you look at the metrics and how far we have come in the last ten years.  We have a professional group of people who are doing incredible work.  They are doing professional work that is at a level of nowhere else in this country and in North America.  We are constantly being held up as a model to the rest of the country on how to deliver this type of service to the people of the Province.

 

We have thirty-seven inspector positions within the OHS Division, when we are fully staffed.  We have people coming and going, just like any other department.  Twenty-four of them are actually officers on the ground.  We have a senior industrial hygienist, we have four industrial hygienists, we have two hazardous materials officers, we have two radiation officers, we have one ergonomist, we have one engineer, a mine's engineer, and we also have a consultant who works on a variety of different projects.

 

We have about thirty-seven inspector employees in these positions, Mr. Speaker.  They have vast responsibility.  They cover a wide swath of land and have major responsibilities when it comes to striving to instill a safety culture in the workplaces throughout this Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, employees, employers, industry, labour and government are coming together in a relationship championing safe and responsible practices at work, at home, and in our greater communities.  The right legislation, the right enforcement, the right employee training, the oversight, the right culture and teamwork will add to incidents reduced, prevented, lives saved, and a safer Province to live and be in. 

Mr. Speaker, our goal in the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of government is to accomplish zero injuries in the workplace.  Is that achievable in the real world?  The answer is yes.  Every single accident, every single incident, that happens in the workplace is preventable.  We actually call them incidents in this business, because they are not accidents; they happen for a reason.  Accidents happen sometimes for no reason.  Incidents are what we call them and it is an incident that happened because of a set of events that happened leading up to that situation to occur. 

 

We need to acknowledge that we must all continue to work together to raise health and safety awareness wherever possible, and it is not just a responsibility of the people that work in the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of our government.  Our motto is working safely together.  As leaders here in the Province, in this room, in this Chamber here tonight, we all need to take the responsibility, but so do the people at home who are watching this here today.  Safety is everybody's responsibility, Mr. Speaker.  We all have to take it seriously and we all need to work toward that zero injury gain.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have metrics in place that I am going to talk about now in a minute that are exciting, I think – very exciting.  We have achieved this all together.  We have effective working relationships throughout this Province to enhance education, training, and enforcement.  Bringing all facets of Occupational Health and Safety together, we are working to instill a stronger safety culture in Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and we are doing it every single day.  We are moving towards that positive outcome. 

 

We have achieved record numbers, even at a time when there are more people working in our Province than ever before.  Service Newfoundland and Labrador recognizes this and that is why increased investment in this year's Budget – we are going to have two Occupational Health and Safety inspectors that are going to be hired in a short while to assist with our inspection program across the Province.  These additional staff will provide significant assistance in ensuring that employers and employees are following the very best practices and that more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians go home safe and healthy at the end of the working day.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of Service NL continues to work with industry, labour stakeholders, employers, employees, and certainly the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission to develop sound safety training standards and programs and to deliver effective legislation in enforcement in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I attended a conference last week where we had multiple speakers from right across North America talking about safety inspections and how important they are to making sure workplaces are safer, but the whole theme of the conference was called Make Safety a Habit.  The key note speaker who was over from Scotland, I believe, he was from – he was wearing a kilt.  He talked about the 20,000 or 30,000 employees within his company; it is a global company.  They manufacture paint, a very highly combustible product, very high risk in the manufacturing environment.  He talked about you can have as many inspections as you want, and that is an important piece of making our workplaces safer, and you need to use that as a measure in some way, shape or form to show that indeed compliance is happening in the workplace, but he talked about how people need to change their habits.

 

He talked a little bit about how sometimes some of the older employees, you would think are the wiser employees, were the ones that had developed habits over the years that were not necessarily the safest.  They knew what they were doing, they were very experienced, and to try to change the habits in the workplace proved to be very difficult.  The younger employees actually were easier to train because they were malleable and they sensed the risk that is inherent in their job situations.

 

He said by engaging the older employees to get them to understand by simple little things in a run of the day can change an outcome and focus on the older employees who are the mentors for the younger employees, they found a great uptake in their safety programs.  Their focus went towards the older employees, the younger employees were there, and they wanted to hear what the older employees had to say.  He said that was tremendous in a very short time, very short turnaround; they got below 1 per cent incident rate within their company when it had a high of 3 per cent or 4 per cent per 100 employees, because they focused on understanding that bad habits are hard to die.  Changing habits in the workplace, changing habits when you are driving your car, changing bad habits – you could do the same thing over and over again and nothing happen; it only has to happen once.  Changing those habits were fundamental to making your life safer and workplaces safer. 

 

It is not just about inspections – and we hear this every now and again about our rate of inspections, perhaps in the fish harvesting sector, where we know it is a very difficult sector to get out and inspect the fishing boats that are applying their trade two, three, and four days at a time, 100 miles offshore, how can you parachute or land a safety inspector on that boat to observe to see what is going on to make sure that compliance is happening with regard to rules and regulations.  It is a very difficult challenge.  It is about the training, it is about changing habits, and it was an incredible theme, Mr. Speaker, and everybody in the room was nodding their head and they were all professionals in the industry throughout this Province. We all have a role and responsibility to make sure that we have the safest place in the world to live and work. 

 

Speaking of enforcement and saying that changing habits is important, enforcement is as well.  Our branch has a strong record of enforcement activities.  In fact, one of the leaders in the country.  The most recent statistics in 2012 show that we had the third highest inspection rate per 100 employees in all of the Canadian provinces.  We also issued more directives in other jurisdictions per 100 employees.  You may look at that as a negative, we issued more directives.  When we went to a work site, we issued more directives per visits.  Well, the fact that we were there doing the work showed that our professionals were serious about it.  We were there to observe the behaviours and observe the habits and make sure we called them out and said this is something that you are doing wrong and not to be doing again.  That is a positive metric. 

We said we issued more directives per inspection; this is indicative of our sound enforcement management program, a risk-based approach to occupational health and safety enforcement in the Province.  By working with our partners, employers, employees as well as industry partners and the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission the Province now has the lowest injuries resulting in lost time compensation claims ever recorded in our history.  This number has been stable for the last two years of 1.6 per 100 employees. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is about 50 per cent less than what it was ten years ago when the rate was about 2.4 per cent.  That is a significant reduction in workplace incidents and it is all because of that collaborative approach to safety in our workplaces, but, Mr. Speaker, we are not there yet.  We have done tremendous work in this area, our civil servants, our officers, our professionals in the job sites, in the high-risk environments, in other environments as well. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about violence prevention programs now with the City of St. John's and participating with the taxi committees.  The Member for St. John's East might be interested in having a conversation about that.  We need to talk about workplace violence.  Working alone are new issues in today's economy and what is happening out there in the industry.  There is more work to be done for sure. 

 

One of the areas I would like to just talk about briefly before I run out of time – and we do have our challenges, we admit that.  We do have metrics that we are not as proud of as we could be.  For instance, when we talk about fall related injuries and fatalities, it is definitely an area where we need to see more improvement.  We have seen tremendous improvement when we brought in legislation a few years back, I think it was in 2009. 

 

In 2013, there were 8.1 injuries, including fatalities, per 10,000 workers from fall heights in the Province.  It is down from 8.4 in 2012, and down from 11 per cent in 2009, which is a very positive trend but it is nowhere near where we need to get to when we talk about fall related injuries and fatalities.  If everybody followed the rules and regulations – training is mandatory.  It has to be done if you are working from heights.  You have to do it or you are not allowed to get up there. 

 

If everybody followed the rules and regulations and followed their training we would be talking about getting close to that zero incident rate, Mr. Speaker, but we are not there.  We need to make sure our people are trained as best as possible.  They are making sound decisions on a daily basis.  Employers are making the right decisions, employees, supervisors, every single day.  In this area we need to work very, very hard. 

 

We brought in the regulations in 2009 for fall protection.  They were enhanced again in 2012.  Workers who work at heights above three metres are now required to complete a fall protection certification program approved by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.  Certification has to be renewed every three years. 

 

In January, the Occupational Health and Safety Branch drew up a scaffolding safety guide to support worksite visits promoting safe practices and working from heights.  This is just some of the few facts around this, Mr. Speaker. 

 

In 2013, the Occupational Health and Safety Branch issued 728 work orders for failure to comply with scaffolding regulations, 190 of which were stop-work orders; 278 orders were issued for non-compliance with general fall protection rig requirements, 139 of which were stop-work orders; and 81 orders were issued for roof work infractions, 51 of which were stop-work orders. 

 

When I look at these statistics, it shows that we are out there doing the enforcing that needs to be done, but these numbers are way too high.  We do not have the buy-in from the industry that we need to have.  This is an area I do not mind standing up in the House and saying we are moving in the right direction, but there is more work to do.

 

As minister responsible, I have taken keen interest in occupational health and safety.  I have taken huge interest in it, and I want to see that ball move forward.  I want to see us get to that better place where everybody comes home safe at the end of the day.  It is achievable and it is doable, and it takes a collaborative approach by all people involved in the industry. 

 

Workers, families have to put pressure on their husbands and their wives, their loved ones, their daughters and their sons to make sure they are safe in the workplace.  Think about safety.  The first thought in your head when you start that task, when you identify that job, the task you have to do for the next half hour, half a day or whatever you are doing, you have to stop and think, you think safety.  What do I have to do to be safe?  What do I have to do to come home safe to my family?  That is the key to making our workplace safer.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am running out of time.  I am very passionate about this.  I am going to be talking about this more in the House in the coming days and weeks.  Just a passionate plea to everybody out there, let's be safe, let's work together, let's work collaboratively amongst ourselves.  Let's make sure that we do everything we can, anything we can, everything we possibly can to raise the awareness of occupational health and safety in this Province.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.  I look forward to more comments tonight.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am happy to get up and speak for a few minutes on Concurrence and talk about issues in my district, and we have lots of issues. 

 

The member across the way just talked about safety; let's make sure everyone is safe.  Well, we certainly have lots of concerns when it comes to safety issues.  I could use my whole time just talking about transportation, and I am going to start with transportation because until you have your most basic infrastructure needs met, when you cannot move people in and out of a region, where you are impacting the flow of goods of service, you have an issue and you are not going anywhere.  There are many other things that hinges on that.

Just in the last hour, Mr. Speaker, once again we still continue to have ongoing ferry issues.  We had a ferry that spent six hours on a 90-minute crossing earlier today.  Then she came back and she has been left without icebreaker support again.  I think it is absolutely ridiculous.  Now it seems the earliest we are going to have that ferry move is on Thursday.

 

Everybody sitting here, that does not impact them, but there are a whole lot of people in Labrador who are impacted by that, Mr. Speaker, and there seems to be no plan b to move the people when they are disrupted.  Now we have the Apollo on, she is much smaller than the Bond.  When she is unable to go for two or three days that means the traffic is going to be backed up for who knows how long. 

 

People with very important appointments, Mr. Speaker, have been waiting months and months to see a specialist.  One lady called and said: If I do not make my appointment tomorrow, the next earliest appointment I can get is October.  That is what we are dealing with, Mr. Speaker.  It is just not good enough.

 

In the last half an hour I have had calls from the communities of Williams Harbour and Norman Bay.  They have an ice road during the winter.  That is what gets them in and out, that is what moves the mail and the goods and everything through.  Right now, they have no transportation.  Is there going to be a helicopter put on for them?  What form of service – these are the answers that the people need to know. 

 

The community of Williams Harbour, we have sixteen people on an island.  They have all voted to relocate.  Nobody wants to leave their home.  When you talk about relocation, I think about the words of the song, I think it is Simani that says: they left without leaving and never arrived.  That is what you end up with.  Sometimes when all of your services are gone and the school is closed, they knew they had no choice.  These people have been waiting for months and months now.  They have many issues. 

 

I have dealt with the member across the way on the issues they have ongoing with Hydro and unable to pay the bill.  They are on a cut-off notice.  That community is at risk of the lights going out.  Now they have no transportation.  They are all seniors, I think about 95 per cent of them, what happens if someone takes sick and they need to get out? 

 

These are the kinds of issues we are dealing with in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.  It is very different.  In here we get up and we talk about the blue zone and if the space is wide enough for wheelchair accessibility, and very important things, but the issues in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair are monumental. 

 

You have heard me many times get up and talk about a fixed link.  We absolutely do need a feasibility study done to determine if a fixed link would be viable.  We certainly need something, Mr. Speaker.  Something that would reduce the cost of our goods and services by 25 per cent to 30 per cent and it would also give us a means of moving people in and out.

 

A number of times when I have been on Open Line shows, people have posted things in social media and said this is what happened in Change Islands and other communities when the ferry went down.  We are not talking just one community.  When you cut us off from the Island, Mr. Speaker, you are talking the whole of Labrador.  We now have a road link that starts in Blanc Sablon, L'Anse au Clair, goes right through my district, runs down to Goose Bay in Central, and to Lab West, and we know that the pavement, after a long, long time, is coming.  So, certainly, we have to look seriously at that.  We know that the former Premier did a pre-feasibility study eight years ago, he found out a number of things, and he did not carry it any further.  We now need to know if the costs have stayed the same.

 

There are always advancements being made in how things are being done, engineering-wise, and so the cost may in fact be cheaper.  Just recently I was in New York and used tunnels a number of times going over to Manhattan and on and off the island.  You are down, you are under, you are through the tunnel, you do not even realize that you are under water, but things are just flowing all the time.  Until we can get the transportation issues taken care of in Labrador, we are not going to move forward.

 

It is very frustrating for people when you see multi-billion dollar megaprojects going on all around you.  I have mentioned it here before, and I will continue to mention it.  I talked to a lady today in Black Tickle – a whole family that is living right now on $800 a month.  They cannot even save enough to get out to Goose Bay somewhere to look for a job because they are unable to save the money that they need to make that deposit on an apartment.  It is a sad situation, Mr. Speaker.

 

When you look at the wealth – just coming flying in last night on the flight, Mr. Speaker, I read an article by the St. John's Board of Trade.  In that article she was talking about the business potential that is coming up, and she said Labrador is going to be exploding, tremendous business potential in Labrador.  It really, really, really is upsetting, Mr. Speaker, when you read that kind of stuff knowing that the residents, the people who need it, are not going to benefit from it.

 

I am happy to say that I do have nine more people who are going to tomorrow to Muskrat Falls.  We have worked mighty hard to get them in there.  We could not understand why – they did their profiles on the job site, they were not getting in, and we knew they were qualified.  We have lost the supports in our communities like our employment offices that were providing that assistance, and it really does tax my CA office when half the time we turn around and we are ending up providing the service of an employment office.  These are the things that we have to do because so many services have been cut in our small communities.  So, little by little, we do have some numbers going in, but we certainly have a lot farther to go, Mr. Speaker.

 

The recent cuts to the shrimp – I know that is a federal issue, but I believe that the onus is on this government to do whatever it can relentlessly to lobby the federal government to ensure that either the cuts are reversed, or there has to be a fair distribution.  As it stands right now, this LIFO policy – last in, first out – is very unfair.  People have geared up, they have invested big money, and now they stand to lose all.

 

Many times at the Combined Councils when we sit around and we debate and we look at our small communities, we sometimes use the analogy that our small communities are bleeding out.  I was at a forum with my colleague for The Straits – White Bay North over at Memorial University just before the Easter break and I listened to Dr. Barbara Neis reference the fishery as the guts of the small communities.  I thought, well, there you go, piece both of it together.  If we take the guts out of our small communities, there is a good reason that they are going to bleed out.

 

We have an obligation to ensure the fishery we have often referenced as the backbone of our Province, of our rural communities, and we know that more than half of our Province is rural – we have an obligation to ensure that we do all we can to support the fisherpeople, to ensure that fisheries like shrimp, like crab, that we have done all that we can to protect that.  Also, I believe that we need to be looking at other species to see where we can diversify, where we can go into new fisheries.  We need to be doing more.  There is a fair bit of interest right now in my area from fisherpeople on sea urchins.  So, I will be working with them on that.

 

Mr. Speaker, broadband, again, something basic that you definitely need, broadband and cell communications – something that is widely lacking in my area.  Last night I was driving from the coast into Goose Bay to catch the last flight out and I saw a truck on the road.  It is a pretty desolate stretch of road and when you see a truck, you usually know they are broke down.  When I pulled over this was a man from Sheshatshiu and his wife and a truckload of small children.  They had broken down on the side of the road.  He had a radio in his hand.  I am not sure what he was trying to do with the radio, but I can tell you, where he was nobody was going to hear him.

 

Luckily for me I do travel very equipped, so I had the plugs and I had everything he needed.  I was in a hurry to catch the flight, so I gave him everything he needed to fix his tires.  If it is too costly upfront to put the cell service in place, why can't we have the Wi-Fi?  Most people now have the phones, they have the iPods, and you can just message someone and you can tell them where you are; because if we are talking about safety, this is all about safety.

 

We live in a piece of the Province where we have very harsh weather conditions, snow storms.  I left the community of St. Lewis on Saturday night and I thought I was in a storm in March – very stormy, and here we are in the middle of May.  These are the reasons why we need this infrastructure in place, Mr. Speaker.  So I will continue to lobby for broadband.

 

When I think about businesses, many times I have stood and I have tried to convince government that if we had a tourism development officer in the district, the revenue that could be brought in, what a valuable investment.  We are sitting on a gold mine in terms of tourism and I cannot understand how people cannot see that.  We have tourists who come to places like Red Bay and Battle Harbour and it is unlike anything they have experienced.  I have been to Alaska, Mr. Speaker, and I do not know if there is anything in Alaska that compares with what we have, if we had the funds and we had some infrastructure and we were able to market that in terms of our icebergs and our whales and everything.

 

Yet, Mr. Speaker, businesses are trying to do what they can on their own and are not even able to get on the Internet.  Can you imagine?  In L'Anse-au-Loup, the biggest community in my district, there is a business there that is experiencing great frustration because they cannot even use their Interac with a debit card in 2014.  This same business is looking out their front window and all day long they are watching traffic go back and forth to Muskrat Falls.  Despite what Nalcor said about their equipment is going in by boat, what about all the subcontractors?

 

That is the reason people are so frustrated.  They know the billions of dollars that is happening a few yards from them, yet our people continue to live in poverty.  Sometimes, yes, you hear them talking about separatism and everything else and sometimes you think you just cannot blame them for that.  There is certainly a lot of inequality, injustice, unfairness, and it has been going on for quite a long time.  It is very, very, very unfair, Mr. Speaker, that you can have a small Province and the disparities that exist between the Island and Labrador, the gap is so wide.  We have a long way to go in terms of bridging that gap.

 

We have a new government now in Quebec, and hopefully we are going to see Route 128 connected and that is going to be a link out for Labrador.  I believe then the Island is going to see that we should have done this fixed link a long time ago and then they are going to be hurrying to catch up. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the health care is a huge issue and there are a lot of things that we can do to improve the life of the people in that area and save money to health care.  We know that we are already spending forty cents on every dollar and clearly we are not meeting the need.  Mr. Speaker, if we had some of this communication technology in place that I just referenced, it would certainly go a long way in terms of helping with health care.  Every time somebody from a coastal community flies to St. Anthony, they go on a voucher that is subsidized by the provincial government, but here is the problem, Mr. Speaker: they get on a flight and they travel to St. Anthony on that voucher, they come back, and when the result of their test comes in, they get on the plane and they travel again.  Many people have said to me: Why can the results not be given to you by telephone, or why can you not go sit in your community clinic, sit in front of a TV screen and talk with your doctor?  Thousands of dollars, Mr. Speaker, could be saved that way. 

 

I do not know why people are not looking at this.  I do not know why government is not looking at ways to save money; looking at ways to spend smarter, thinking outside the box.  There are so many areas we can see room for improvement.  Like I have said here before, after all the room for improvement is the biggest room in the house, isn't it? 

 

The problem is, Mr. Speaker, people are not talking with the people on the ground.  Decisions are being made up here that impact the people down here.  The people who are using the system, they see every day where improvements can be made. 

 

I see them when I am in the district because I live there, too, full time.  I use the same services they use, and I often reference it.  When my family has an incident or an accident, I am using the same system.  I am getting to see where improvements need to be made and if protocols and policy that are in place are already working, because I am not taking my child to the Health Sciences Centre down the road or I am not in here, I have the same issues as they do.  Their issues are my issues, so I understand clearly where their frustrations are, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I want to mention our youth, Mr. Speaker, our most valuable resource in so many ways.  May is a month of graduations.  Every weekend when I am back in my district I am attending a graduation.  That is one of the nice things we get to do as a member, to see these youth who have so much potential.  They are the ones who are going to lead the way.  They are the ones who are going to change a lot of this.  I really believe that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Right now, we have youth from Labrador who are all over the world working in all different kinds of sectors.  In the communities they have so little in the way of resources.  In most towns we do have a community recreation centre.  They kick the ball around, they stick handle the puck around, and then they do it up nicely and have their graduation there. 

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I have been lobbying for is a family resource co-ordinator in the community of St. Lewis.  One of the bigger communities in my area and it has nothing for children.  We already know the benefits of the family resource centre program.  It is a program that provides services for children, birth to twelve years old.  We know how effectively they are working in other communities in terms of educating parents about child raising; in terms of educating them on obesity, how to eat healthy, bullying, and educating the parents. 

 

All of this is an investment into children.  Mr. Speaker, when you invest into children it pays off in dividends, it certainly does.  Many times what we are talking about is such a small, small amount of money, Mr. Speaker, and I will continue to push for that.  We have been months working on that file and I am hoping we are going to hear something positive in the very near future. 

 

When I was on to transportation, Mr. Speaker, I did not mention the dust control.  I know I have stood many times, and I will continue to do so, urging government to replace the pavement.  Route 510, in L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay, is seventy-six kilometres, thirty-five years old.  We did do a patch-up job again on it but that is just a temporary.  We cannot wait until the rest of the pavement is done to address that.

 

Down in Southeast, because the two parts of the district is very divided, and half of the district is a little more advanced in terms of infrastructure.  Down in Southeast, a small amount of money to dust control on provincially-owned gravel roads, I could not believe last year when the funding was cut.  I do not know what the rationale was, but I can tell you many people have suffered issues with health since that time, Mr. Speaker.  It is very, very sad; breathing, respiratory, and the list goes on. 

 

It is like a sandstorm.  Unless you have been there, unless you have walked it on a hot day, you cannot appreciate what this has taken from the people in terms of quality of life.  When I tell you, you are just listening to me explain it to you but I have been there and walked through the communities last June. 

 

It is absolutely ridiculous that we have lost something that was such a small amount and was making such a huge difference in those communities that have so little.  I believe $700,000 was the amount that was spent on provincially-owned gravel roads in the whole of Newfoundland and Labrador.  So I imagine it was much less than that in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.  I will continue to stand and push. 

 

If there are environmental concerns about calcium, which is what the minister referred to, then let's look at some other form of dust control.  Surely we can do something to protect the health of the people.  Those people who are breathing in that heavy dust end up in the hospital and then they have a diagnosis.  Look at the money you are spending then when they are back and forth and they are getting treated for different things.  Really, it all ties together, Mr. Speaker, and I will continue to raise that issue.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Mealy Mountains Park in Cartwright is a file that has been open for years now.  I spoke with the minister's office just today wondering what the holdup is.  That community was told in November that 99.9 per cent of it was done.  We are a long time waiting for some news on that 0.1 per cent. 

 

I understand from talking with the office today that Aboriginal consultations have to be done yet.  There is no time frame, we do not know when, we do not know how extensive, but Cartwright is positioned there as the gateway for Mealy Mountains Park.  That is going to pick up a lot of rubber tire traffic.  Every small thing is a huge thing to keeping the life of a small community alive, Mr. Speaker.  We cannot wait; we really cannot wait to see – we need to push.  That land needs to be transferred over from the Province so that we can get on with this.

 

I will take my seat now, Mr. Speaker, but I look forward to continuing to speak on district issues.

 

Thank you.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to stand here this evening and be involved in the Concurrence debate.  I am going to talk mostly about Transportation and Works and how the department works and some of the things we have been doing, certainly in this past Budget and over the last few years. 

 

Before I do, I would like to address some of the comments that were made by the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace, as well as the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.  I appreciate the comments from both, but I have to say I find it very frustrating that you can stand up – especially Carbonear – Harbour Grace, where in the last six years there has been over $800 million invested in that district.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: How much?

 

MR. MCGRATH: Over $800 million in that district.

 

It is frustrating to sit here and listen to that when you have $800 million that you know was invested.  I know, Mr. Speaker, there is more work to be done, as there is everywhere in the Province, but to hear somebody stand on their feet for twenty minutes and talk about all the things that we are not doing.  There was one mention of one thing, and that was in Bryant's Cove, that we finally got right, and he was appreciative of that.  He talked about High Road North, and I have to correct him.  I have checked with the officials in my department, Mr. Speaker –

 

MR. JOYCE: Are you sure?  The last time you checked (inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. JOYCE: Are you sure?

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Member for Bay of Islands is doing what he does best over there now and just cackling, but he can do that.  I do know the facts here, and I know that High Road North is not part of the provincial inventory.  We have 10,000 kilometres in roadwork throughout the Province and High Road North is not part of that, so I would just like to clarify that for the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace.  We have checked and the municipality has been taking care of that. 

 

He mentioned the line painting.  I have to mention that line painting last year, most of it throughout the Province, was not done and for a very valid reason.  Every employee who works in the roads program, summer maintenance program, in the Department of Transportation and Works, every employee last summer was recertified for Occupational Health and Safety.  We all know last year that we had a bad fatality on the highway.  When that happened, I was the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador at the time and we saw the necessity then to have certifications done and upgrading done in the certifications and there was a stop-work order put in. 

 

Many places – I get it in my own district; I was getting hassled just last weekend about painting lines on the highway in October when they were brushing snow off.  It cannot be done.  There was a very good reason for line painting not being done, and it is something that we are very aware of and we are addressing this year. 

 

I heard him talk about Bristol's Hope and the road between the beaches.  We are aware of the problems there.  We understand the safety implications involved in that and we are watching it, as we are throughout the whole Province, and we will continue to do that. 

 

One of the things that I heard him talk about was Victoria and the growing community.  I remember during the by-election that Victoria was one of the communities that I happened to go knocking door to door.  I knocked on every door in Victoria.  I think it was the Minister of Natural Resources was with me that evening.  I made the comment of what a beautiful, scenic, picturesque and rich-looking community Victoria is.  It is an absolutely beautiful community, and it is growing vibrantly.  You have to realize that when that is happening, so the tax base and all of these things have to be taken into consideration.

 

He did mention about the multi-year capital works program and how the minister this year, they are getting over double.  He acknowledged that, and I was glad to hear that.  I just want to let the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace know that we are listening and we are acting.  I have had a lot of abuse in the last few days, but it is disturbing when you hear members across the way use words like vindictive.  We are not a vindictive government, we listen to everybody, and in every district we do our best for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and we will continue to do that.  So I just want you to rest assured, to the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace, we will continue to do that.  We will continue to listen and we will continue to try to work with you.  It will not be in a vindictive way.

 

Talking about Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, I am going to start that she acknowledged there are nine more people in her district who just got jobs in Muskrat Falls.  Yes, Labrador is booming.  I am very proud to say Labrador is booming and I am proud to be a part of that boom.  There are nine more people in her district who just got jobs in Muskrat Falls.  These are very high-paying jobs, but what she forgot to mention is that they are utilizing the Trans-Labrador Highway to transport from home to the job.  They are very happy to have that road because they can go back and forth now at their leisure.  They do not have to worry about catching flights or waiting on flights; they can actually use that.

 

She talked about Williams Harbour.  We are working with Williams Harbour, as we are with other municipalities throughout the Province, on resettlement.  There are sixteen people there and they have decided they want to resettle.  We are listening to that and we are working through the process of that. 

 

I have to talk about the fixed link, because do you know what?  I would love to see a fixed link.  I heard the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair mention, on many occasions, that a fixed link and the ferry service on the Coast affects every Labradorian every day.  I am not sure I agree with that.  Although members and my constituents certainly do use the ferry service, they also realize that at certain times of the year you are taking a risk because you are dealing with ice conditions.  I can guarantee you that the 2013-2014 winter season has certainly shown us what Mother Nature is capable of doing.

 

So, in my district, which I think is the largest populated district in Labrador, I have about 12,000 constituents.  The second largest district is Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Lake Melville.  My colleague has about between 10,000 and 11,000 people.  The whole population of Labrador is 27,000.  In those two districts you have approximately 23,000 people.  They realize that at certain times of the year, you cannot use the ferry service, or you cannot always depend on it because of weather conditions.  Not because of the service we provide, because of weather conditions.

 

She brought up the icebreakers again.  It is a federal issue.  We work and we advocate with the federal government every day on the Coast Guard providing us with icebreaker service, and we will continue to do that.  I am not going to get into the fishery – she talked about the shrimp cuts.  I thought it was absolutely wonderful that this government put together and formed an all-party committee to go to Ottawa, from all three parties who spoke about it here the other day in the House of Assembly.  I thought it was a very positive report.  So we are working together, and these are examples.

 

Tourism – I have to have a little chuckle at the tourism because as she advocates to have the tourism officer in her district; she advocates to have it taken out of my district.  The tourism officer has been based in Labrador West for as long as I can remember, and as long as I am representing the people of Labrador West in this House of Assembly I am going to advocate to keep that position in Labrador West.  I think they have done a very good job representing all of Labrador there.

 

We talked about broadband and cellular service.  We know that needs to improve.  That is why we just invested over $20 million in the broadband system throughout Labrador, and we will continue to improve it and continue to invest in it.

 

So, we are doing things.  She talked about repaving the highway from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay.  Just this past Easter weekend, I had my employees on the road maintenance program in Transportation and Works all work overtime Easter weekend; to go in and do a lot of maintenance work in her district.  It needed to be done, and I know it needs to be replaced.  I am the first to admit that section of highway needs to be replaced, like many other sections of the 10,000 kilometres of highway that we have in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador that needs upgrading or replacement, but we cannot get it all done in one year.  I had an $81 million budget this year for my roads program.  I had $852 million worth of asks.  So, I got basically about 10 per cent of the asks to go through the Province, but we will continue to work away at that.

 

I mentioned $81 million; that is what we have this year for upgrades and enhancements to the provincial highways, the roads, and the bridges.  This year, for the first time, in January I had a pre-commitment from my Cabinet colleagues to pre-spend and get out early $30 million worth of tenders.  What that did is we got $30 million worth of tenders out early.  By the first week in February, we had $30 million worth of tenders out, and that gave us the time then within the department – my department officials then could concentrate on getting the other $51 million worth of tenders ready and out to the public.

 

I am very proud to say that my department, the Department of Transportation and Works, by the middle of this month, May, we will have all of the tenders out.  Normally they are not out until late June or late July.  That caused havoc with the Heavy Civil Association, and we know that.  That caused problems with getting the work done and you were always dealing with carryovers.  So this government is trying to improve on the services.  We are trying to improve on getting the work out early and getting the work completed on time. 

 

I think it is only fair that I should let the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair know, I have $76.3 million in a special fund for the Trans-Labrador Highway.  As we all know, there was a special fund for that project.  One of the largest projects in road infrastructure that has been taken on by any government in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, over 1,200 kilometres of new highway being built.  I am very proud to say that $76.3 million is being tendered this year.

 

I am coming out very shortly with a tender for another eighty kilometres in the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair's district.  I am coming out to get another eighty kilometres in her district done this year for upgrading and stone.  Then they say we are not listening and we are not working with them.  That is eighty kilometres from Lodge Bay going north to Cartwright Junction.  So we are listening and we are working with you.  I think we are working in a positive way. 

 

We have $71.5 million for ferry vessel replacement and maintenance.  Now, we just put out two tenders.  We have a new ferry on order that will be here in September, 2015 for Fogo – Change Islands.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: A brand new, state-of-the-art ferry. 

 

We have another ferry coming out in February, 2016 for Bell Island.  We are also going to be making large investments in the docking terminals and the wharf systems at both of those facilities to accommodate those ferries. 

 

Again, for the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, I have just had a tender go out and that tender will be awarded in the very near future for two more ferries.  One for the Strait of Belle Isle and one for the North Coast of Labrador in the Torngat Mountains District.  Two districts that are represented by the Opposition.  Are we listening?  I think we are listening.  Are we acting?  I think we are acting.  On top of that, on top of those two ferries –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Mr. Speaker, on top of those two ferries that we have coming out there, the RFP is out for that.  On top of that, we have put together – again, the first time in the history of the ferry system on the Labrador Straits and on the North Coast – a fifteen-year service, a full package put together.  So whoever is fortunate enough to get that fifteen year contract, they will be putting new ferries in there.  They will be putting a new passenger service in there.  They will be putting a new freight service in there.  They will be responsible for the reservation system. 

 

The one company is responsible and able now to manage the whole system, rather than it being piecemealed in five different contracts.  To me that makes a lot of sense.  Are we listening?  Yes we are listening.  Are we acting?  Yes we are acting.

 

I hear the Member for Bay of Islands over there.  I challenge him, when I am sat down – I am going to use up my time.  I will not give him my time.  I challenge him to stand up and argue differently with me that any time he has placed a phone call to my office that I have not acknowledged him or not acted upon what he has asked me to act upon.  Maybe not always in a positive way, but I challenge him to stand up in this House of Assembly and say different.  I have always acknowledged him, and I will continue to –

 

MR. JOYCE: (Inaudible).

 

MR. MCGRATH: When I am done.  Mr. Speaker, I am not going to give up my time.

 

MR. JOYCE: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

As I said, I have always acknowledged him and I have always acted upon his requests, and I will continue to do that.  I will continue to work with him in a positive way. 

 

Some of the other things we have done; you look at the Confederation Building.  I remember during Estimates, I was a bit taken back during Estimates because in actual fact I only got halfway through my Estimates.  I looked at my colleagues and they had three hours, and for the first two hours-and-fifteen minutes I listened to a member ask me questions, then answer the questions and then comment on his answers.  I was not sure what my role was.  At one point I said: Well, you have already answered those questions so I am not sure I have to. 

 

Then for the next forty-five minutes I was drilled on a particular issue and when the member thought he had what he was looking for, he stopped.  I looked my colleagues and I looked at a full complement of professionals I had brought with me to answer the questions in case I was not capable, a full complement of professionals with me, and not quite two-thirds of our way through the Estimates book they said we are done, thank you very much.  We were listening.  I was bit baffled, but that is okay.  We will continue to listen. 

 

I am going to run out of time, I see I am getting short.  Just another couple of little things that I would like to mention.  When I say little things, like $32.7 million that is going into the building.  You look at this building here, and one of things, as I was saying, that came up in Estimates was the condition of the building.  I heard the members from the Opposition talking about how the cost has escalated on the repairs to the Confederation Building. 

 

As the Minister of Transportation and Works, my department and I shared pictures with the Opposition during the Estimates.  They say a picture talks a thousand words.  Well, I can guarantee you these pictures talked millions of words because it was frightening to see the work that was done in the building. 

 

You have no choice, I do not care if it is a Progressive Conservative government, if it is a Liberal government, or if it is an NDP government, it would be unsafe to leave the building in the condition it was in.  As we all know, we were replacing the windows.  When they started to replace the windows they realized all of the limestone had to be replaced around the windows. 

 

When we got into the tower, when we took off the outer face on the tower – and I saw the pictures of what we were underneath every day – it was frightening.  I shared those pictures with the Opposition.  I think they were as amazed as I was, and there was no argument that the work had to be done.  That money that is being invested is being invested into what I have to say is a very important part of our heritage. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) blue windows.

 

MR. MCGRATH: I hear the member from across the way talking about the blue.  I only have less than a minute left.  The rationale of the blue tint in the windows is to save money.  It keeps the heat out in the summer; it keeps the heat in, in the winter. 

 

Would red work?  I do not think so, and I can guarantee you it would not look good.  Orange?  Sorry, I am not there either.  To me, blue is by far the best choice and the most aesthetically pleasing colour that you could put there.  I will not apologize for those beautiful blue windows. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am running out of time here now so I am going to clue up.  I am sure I will get an opportunity to stand up again.  I can go on for an hour talking about some of the wonderful things that the Department of Transportation and Works is doing, the budget that we put out this year.  I am excited for the work that we are going to be doing and I know that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador realize and appreciate everything that we are doing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I was going to say something nice about the minister, but then he said did not like orange, so there you go.  I have to say a couple of things –

 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands, on a point of order.

 

MR. JOYCE: The Minister of Transportation and Works said I could stand up and – I did meet with the minister three weeks ago.  He was going to give the people of Hughes Brook on the North Shore how much paving was going to be done to correct the unsafe conditions.  They are still waiting.

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I agree with your ruling.  I wanted to say something about the minister because, of course, I know that over the last couple of weeks he has been having a bit of a hard time in the House.  I know that the whole issue of Humber Valley Paving has gone to the Auditor General, as it should.

 

I know that he is responsive to concerns.  I can certainly attest that while he was Minister of Service NL when we were pushing for move-over legislation in this Province to protect highway workers, he was more than agreeable to that.  We sat down and had a nice, cordial meeting about that and the next thing you know the law was before this House.  It was probably one of best things that I can say, so far, in my term of service that this government is after doing when it comes to the protection of workers.

 

So, I do know about his responsiveness when it comes to that.  Sometimes, I guess, we question the way that government pushes its policy; but when it comes to responsiveness, I will say about the minister that while so far the jury is out, I will give him top marks on the rules when it comes to the move-over legislation. 

 

I have to say, first off, that I did not make it to the Transportation and Works Estimates Committee this time around.  I had a pressing family matter that was ongoing that night.  I want to thank the research staff in our party who gave us a very thorough briefing on what happened in Estimates that night.  So I want to thank the staff who work in my office who are very hard workers and very diligent about taking notes.  They did give me a good briefing with regard to what happened.  Especially the monies that have been sunk into the Confederation Building here, they did give me some very vivid descriptions on exactly what has been happening with this building.

 

I have to concur with the minister that this place was ready to fall down around your ears.  I can only attest to when you go out through the back entrance of the building here, the old Bank of Montreal entrance, you can see the cracks in the corners of the building where it looked like brick work was going to be letting go.  I am only too glad to know that the government is having to spend some money in it to correct the inequities, I guess, of the mid-1950s when this building was under construction back then.

 

In some cases, Mr. Speaker, while you agree with some things that government does do, you disagree with other things the government has done in the past.  I can certainly speak to one particular matter because this whole night started off talking about provincial revenues, provincial royalties, that have come into the government's hands since 1997.

 

At that particular time the Member for Kilbride stood on his feet and he mentioned $14.7 billion, with a B, but he forgot another important component of revenue that was taken in and used by particular departments, namely Transportation and Works, and that would be the gasoline tax in this Province which also adds another $2.6 billion to government revenues.  Now we are up to $17.3 billion, and that would be my point.  Because, at the same time as the minister mentioning about the amount of dollars that are put into roads this year, $81 million which is supposed to be a new record, $76 million as well from the special fund, as they call it – I would certainly like to know more about the special fund.  I think it would be federal monies that they would be talking about.  At the same time, $183 million is projected to be picked up by this government this year in gas tax revenue. 

 

Overall since 1997, like I said, we are dealing with two Administrations.  We are dealing with the Conservatives and we are dealing with the Liberals back in 1997 when oil first came in on shore.  That is great, fine and dandy.  What we did not see was a plan for that revenue when it came to roads.  Hence, the minister stands on his feet and he says he had $852 million in asks: roads, bridges, that sort of thing in this Province that is sorely needed.

 

The Auditor General in his report to the House of Assembly, in his last report, talked about over $800 million in bridge work alone, in culvert work, that is obviously going to have to be done by this government and the next.  We now have to have that very stringent need for a plan to deal with the road and bridge situation in this Province.  While he says $852 million in asks on the part of the people of the Province –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible). 

 

MR. MURPHY: What was that?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. MURPHY: Certainly, I do not think, it does not include the amount of monies that the Auditor General is talking about.  You have about $1.6 billion – and this is altogether alone, just on that basis alone, that because they do not have a plan, we are now that far back in our work that now they are having to play catch up with the little bits of money that is coming in.  It is no wonder they are pressing for other sorts of revenue, for example, like the Muskrat Falls Project that is supposedly supposed to be the end of our financial woes when oil runs out.  We still do not know whether solar is going to take over the world, or we do not know whether wind energy is going to be taking over the world, or we do not know if the titanium battery is going to have an impact. 

 

If you look down to the New York State, for example, there are talking about using titanium batteries now in most of their transportations systems down there, then if the power goes out they are not going to need electricity for a nice long time.  So, we have emerging technologies, too, that we should be looking at and that we should be cautious over before we go ahead and invest in things like electrical projects that would probably take twice as long to pay for under the government's thinking than what they actually think, and at the same time make social programs pay for it in the end. 

 

Because of the simple fact that we do not have a plan for roads, I say to the minister and I say to the government – and the Auditor General said that it appears that since 2003 it was nothing but pure neglect and that is why we are in this situation now.  It is particularly noticeable since 2003 that we did not see that strategic investment in roads and bridges. 

 

Where else can we look to say that there was probably no plan when it came to Transportation and Works when it came to that, when it came to this government?  We can say certainly that it came about in the ferry system.  We are seeing some changes now because of necessity.  Because of necessity we are seeing – I will use the term panic spending here; not to say that these are not good investments in the boat, but they have to do it now because of maintenance problems, because of the age of the boats. 

 

The minister can stand on his feet any time he wants to.  I will grant him leave to stand up and tell us the average age of the old boats that are out there now.  He will stand up and he will tell you that they are pretty close to fifty years old. 

 

The Auditor General, back in one of the reports, I think it was in 2001, when she came out with the Auditor General's report back then, said that there should be no boat amongst the provincial fleet any older than twenty years of age.  Now we have several boats out there that, as far as I am concerned, they may meet some of the requirements as regards inspections, but they have overdone their usefulness. 

 

We have some new boats coming out now for Bell Island.  We have new boats coming out now for Fogo, but we have not heard a word from the minister as regards smaller boats that they had designed I think it was back in 2000-2001, the boats that were designed by a Netherlands company, Knud E. Hansen, I think was the name of the company, that was supposed to come out and these were supposed to be the basis of the new boats that the provincial government was going to be getting and adding into the fleet.  All the South Coast and some of the Northeast Coast, the smaller boats, have yet to see any replacement here and we have not heard a word from the minister on that.  So, where are they?  We have not seen it in this Budget. 

 

We need to see strategic investments in boats as well.  Keep in mind $4.7 billion is what the Member for Kilbride stood up and said in royalties since 1997 and if we are a growing population, I have no doubt that we have a growing tax base.  We have small businesses out there that are doing very well and contributing their share.  We know that there are other means that government, of course, is raising revenue.  Again, like I said, I will come back to the gas tax; $183 million this year and the projection, every year since I looked at it, every year since 1997 that gas tax revenue has increased year over year with the exception of one year where it was about $500,000 less, that being in the year 2003-2004.

 

Where do we go?  Obviously when we are talking about a plan for roads, sometimes besides dealing with the cost of asphalt, I think, is probably one of the constraints that government is dealing with.  I think that it is probably time that this government look a little bit more towards recycling and what we can do with regard to using our own resources when it comes to roads.

 

I will give you a good example of probably one of the biggest wastes of taxpayers' money when it comes to recycling, as far as I am concerned, was getting rid of the tires that we had stacked up in Argentia.  We had about $6 million the contract was let out for, for the disposal of tires.  What happened to the tires?  The tires all went off to Quebec to be burned in a Quebec factory oven up there.  Instead, what we could have been doing was taking these tires as they do in the United States – and right now in the United States they have about 22,000 miles of roads.  One of the things that they mix in with the asphalt to make the roads last longer is rubber from the tires.  They recycle tires and they put it into roads. 

 

We do have some resources here to drive down the cost of asphalt.  We do have ways of creating jobs, creating green jobs in this Province by breaking down old rubber tires.  We already know that the consumer, the taxpayer out there, is being dinged out there for $3 a tire right now, and he or she would like to see a more constructive use of that particular item.  Again, it is a resource that is already here in the Province.  It is there, it is readily available, and we know what is happening to it year after year.  It is going off to a Quebec factory to be burned, secondary for energy. 

 

That is not anybody's idea of recycling, Mr. Speaker, and that is where we lose it.  We think that we can take this resource – and I will call it a resource, because it is an untapped resource.  It is sent out in its raw form.  For example, a tire, somebody else uses it to convert it into energy, probably gets it for next to nothing, and they take it and they burn it.  So they do something to the atmosphere at the same time, and they make themselves a little bit less reliant on an import of some other form of energy that they would probably be burning too.  I do not think that is really responsible when it comes to that, when it comes to recycling.

 

I will say to government at the same time, one of the initiatives that I thought really positive about – I think it was a small initiative that government mentioned about the Multi Materials Stewardship Board, that they were going to be coming out and they are actually looking for some papers, some proposals, if you will, that will ask the government – they would get a small bit of research money from the government in order to put into various recycling projects, that sort of thing.  One of those could potentially be for the recycling of tires into pavement to make our roads last longer, and God only knows if they have been neglected for ten, fifteen years – like I said, the Auditor General says since 2003.  So, we will go with eleven years.

 

God only knows that if eleven years ago some of these roads had tires mixed and used along with asphalt, maybe some of these roads would be lasting longer.  So maybe you will not be dealing with a five-year revolving program of roads, or a seven-year revolving program for road maintenance, that sort of thing.  Maybe we will be dealing with a ten-year program so that maybe, just maybe, government might be able to take that $183 million in gas tax and take a piece of that and probably give back to municipalities where they need it; or probably be able to give to homelessness efforts, for example, in this Province, where it is sorely needed; or be able to give it to some groups like, for example, the CNIB so that they can go and they help train workers who might be disadvantaged by the lack of vision.

 

The vision health study, by the way, to the government, is one of the more interesting documents that I ever read about the costs for something like that, the costs to the economy, if you will, by not enfranchising somebody with the power of being able to learn because they are blind.  I think that it is a vast untapped resource out there when you are talking about the need for more workers out there right now with the shortages that we have.

 

I want to come back and talk a little bit about that $14.7 billion in royalties since 1997 because the member also mentioned about the Bay du Nord discoveries out in the Flemish Pass.  I think that this is where it comes in when we are talking about Service NL and we are talking about safety.

 

I witnessed a CBC report, for example, just on the fishery, talking about the lack of on-site visits.  We know that we are talking about a mobile job site.  Yes, we are talking about a fishing boat, but at the same time, the lack of inspections that were happening with fishing boats.  Let's go and take it further offshore when it comes to the Bay du Nord oil reserves.  Let's look at the future, if you will.  What is the government doing?  What are they going to be able to do to ensure safety happening 400 kilometres out when they talking about – as the Member for Kilbride said – in 1,100 metres of water? 

 

Look what happened in the Gulf of Mexico.  Let's make a couple of comparisons because the first thing that we are going to be dealing with is the cleanup, no doubt.  We could be talking about search and rescue, but we know that we are lacking sorely in search and rescue services.  We know that.  We know, as an industry, the industry itself had to go out and contract services for search and rescue.  We know that we are going to have to go further out to explore for resources.  We are going to need more people here to do it.

 

At the same time as bringing in all of that revenue, we are going to have to consider things like the safety that is going to be happening.  The dangers, if you will, of operating in the North Atlantic in pretty much – I will not say uncharted waters because they are not, but in places where we have not gone before. 

 

Let's remember going back into the Gulf of Mexico when it comes to the loss of personnel they had when the Deepwater Horizon was lost.  They lost 4.9 million barrels of oil.  They are still dealing with some severe issues when it comes to their coastline.  We lost eleven people down there.  It was no small accident.

 

We remember the people who we lost on the Ocean Ranger, the dangers of working in deepwater.  We recognize the people that we lost on Cougar 491.  We know that accidents are going to happen, but if we have the safety mechanisms and everything out there, we know that if we give it 110 per cent when it comes to worker safety out there, we would know that if we did lose somebody, it was not because we did not lack any investment into their safety.  I just wanted to make government aware of that when it came to workplace health and safety.

 

I want to touch on something that I ran into just a couple of weeks ago.  Of course, I talked about this in the House, I think it was in the last session, November or December, just before the House closed in the last session, I talked about workers and I talked about what was happening with some workers out there.  I dealt, in one particular case, with a worker that I knew who had several back surgeries and he was still out of work.  He had a very invasive back surgery that was done and because of the surgery that he had, it in itself was debilitating to the point that the work that was done on him became an impediment for him to work.

 

At the same time as saying that ,while he was suffering back pain and was lying on his back most of the time, not being able to sleep in his own bed, it came upon him to go south of the border to look for an alternative treatment.  He went south, down to Florida, and ended up with another back treatment and now today he is pain free.

 

I want to encourage government, particularly in Service NL when it comes to workplace, health and safety, that perhaps it is time not only to look after the worker's family in this particular case, but to look after him or her as well and start to explore the safer methods of treatment.  That particular treatment was not available here in Canada.  At the same time this person is back on his feet and is a productive member of society.  I wanted to bring that note forward as regards that. 

 

When it comes to workers' compensation, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission, I wanted to bring out the point of us fighting workers' compensation claims and workers who are out there trying to make a claim upon government, there are no workers out there now who are able to avail of worker representatives.  There is no representation for the worker there.  They have to come with their own representation here.  So, what happens is that –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I am going to remind hon. members if they want to have a conversation, they can certainly take it outside the Chamber.

 

Thank you.

 

The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank you very much for the protection, as I see I only have a couple of seconds left.  I want to be able to bring up the point to government that when somebody goes in to make an appeal, it is a very serious issue sometimes when somebody is thrown out of work because of a workplace injury.  It would certainly be nice to see government switch around the policy when it comes to workers and have proper worker representatives there at all times to represent workers when it comes to fighting injury cases and compensation claims.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is indeed a pleasure to get up here tonight and speak on Estimates.  That is what we are talking about here tonight is the Estimate Committees that are set up by government.  It is a great opportunity for MHAs like myself that really do not see the inside parts of some of the departments, to see how they work and see the expertise that we have, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I noticed no members mentioned tonight that it is amazing, every time I come here – I have been at it for six years on Estimate Committees.  I have watched the ministers and am always impressed with the way the ministers give their answers, but I am really impressed with employees of our provincial government, our ADMs, people who are in charge of different departments, the job that they do, how they are so well in tune to what they are doing and the reasons why they are doing it. 

 

Just to let people know out there, in Estimates it is a time for the Opposition, basically, to drill down.  We have an Estimates book here that they come in and go line for line on everything – they are supposed to.  That is what Estimates are about, but they look at different expenditures from one year to the next.  Some years expenditures are up for some reason and they are down for other reasons.  I tell you, it is very impressive to be here and it is very – how do I say it – appreciative of the people who work for our government.  Our public service people are top notch and the employees of this provincial government are top-notch people and they really know their work, as do our ministers. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Estimates Committee that we are on and the Estimates that we are talking here tonight is the general government sector and the legislative branch.  Basically, there are three.  It is Finance, Service Newfoundland and Labrador, and Transportation that we deal with.  Like I said, the ministers come in, with their departments, and they get drilled down on the line by line and every other thing, but they also do answer policy stuff. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I listened tonight to members of the Opposition and we are all alike.  That side over there, they are negative and when I say my bit here tonight, I am going to be positive.  I listened to the Member for Harbour Grace – Carbonear.  I know he is a new member to this House and everything else, but again, I was out in his district – and I know he works hard for the people in his district.  I know he worked hard as a mayor beforehand; but, Mr. Speaker, I tell you right now that district, when I was out there, I was kind of amazed – I almost envied it basically.  I know I am getting a lot of work done down in my own district.  I know that I am very pleased with what has invested in my district. 

 

I tell you, when you look at what the Minister of Finance said tonight, $800 million since 2003 invested in that district.  You get up and complain about a road, a ditch or something like that.  Granted, that is a part of your job and I would do the exact same thing –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible). 

 

MR. K. PARSONS: The former minister who was out there, a good friend of mine, the only problem that the minister had is that he is a Habs fan.  That is the only problem I have with that minister who was there. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that, that district – the member said one good thing about it, one good thing he mentioned about Bryants Cove and their water getting straightened up.  He did not mention anything about the long-term –

MR. JOYCE: (Inaudible).

 

MR. K. PARSONS: The Member for Bay of Islands is here all night long and he is telling us not to heckle.  I have not heckled one moment here tonight and I ask him to have the same respect for me.  He will talk about us and heckling.  I did not heckle him nor did I heckle anyone, but he brought some interesting stuff that I think we should we go over.  I think we should look at the long-term care facility in Carbonear.  A huge investment this government has made, and an adult addiction centre in Carbonear.  These are things that we do need.  These are great investments in our districts.

 

I applaud the District of Carbonear – and the new school that is out there.  I know there is an announcement for an arena, that is between you fellows out there how to figure all that out, but I know we have a beautiful one down our way.  I hope that you get the same type of arena that we have in our district.

 

Mr. Speaker, this government – when I look at different members – we have been investing in every district in this Province.  The Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair got up – I have a new school in my district.  I am very appreciative.  We are going to get another new school, Mr. Speaker.  It was announced in the Budget this year, but she got two.  There is $6.6 million getting invested in the school that is there to finish the construction this year, so that will be three new schools.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, it is easy to get up and say I am not getting the roadwork done.  I am not getting this done.  There is water going across the road, but that is happening in all of our districts.  I do not think that there is a member in this House of Assembly who can get up, since 2003, and say my district was neglected, there was not one cent spent in it, you did nothing in my district, because it is not true.

 

When I look around this Province, I look at the investments we did – I remember one news release I went to with the Department of Transportation and we were looking at all of the investments.  They had a map up there, with little dots all over the place.  The thing that amazed me, it was in every area of this Province.  This government has invested in rural Newfoundland and we are going to continue.  We are going to continue to invest in –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: You get up in your time and say what you have to say.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask members to direct their comments to the Chair.  I ask other members to please acknowledge and respect the person who is on their feet and recognized by the Speaker, and please listen in silence.

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will address my remarks to you.

 

Mr. Speaker, when you look at different areas of the Province, like I said, we are doing major investments.  I am going to just say a few words about each one of the departments that we had the opportunity to look at in Estimates and listen to what the ministers had to say and look at the investments that were done.  I will talk a little bit about a few investments that are in my area.  It is amazing sometimes, when you look at some of these departments, we do not realize how big they are and what they really do.

 

The first one I am going to look at is the Department of Transportation.  I know the minister was up and he said about the ask.  I know in my district I would love to have $20 million worth of roadwork.  I would like to have every culvert, every bridge, every road paved, right on through from St. John's right down to the end of the cape and over to Bauline and everywhere else.  Mr. Speaker, I have to be realistic of the amount of work that is going to be done in my district.

 

This year, there is $81 million worth of upgrades in roadwork and bridge work and everything else, but an important part that the minister did mention, he did mention that tenders were out earlier.  Myself and the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island had our news release a couple of weeks ago and both of ours, I think, are going in the same package.  I spoke to some of the contractors that were asking me about it, and they are so excited.  Usually this happens that they do not get out until probably August and then by the time it gets done, it is September and then we have one month to probably get it done.  We end up getting these following years – it rolls over, carry-over to the following year.  I am hoping that there will be no carry-overs this year. 

 

Area roads that I am going to get done, it is not exactly what I want.  Like I said, I want $25 million, but I am going to get $1 million or $1.1 million or something like that.  I am very pleased with it.  I hope all the members in the House will get a bit of roadwork done in their districts.  I know some districts have more roadwork than others.  Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, this lady right here, she is all the time advocating for her area because she has a lot more roadwork than I do.  I hope that the people in that area will be satisfied with what they have, but I can tell the people in that area and I can tell the people in most areas that their members are advocating on their behalf and working very hard to get what we have.

 

Mr. Speaker, we would love to have all the money in the world.  We would love to have that magic wand, boom, and do all the roadwork down in Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, do all the roadwork out in Harbour Main, but we do not have it.  We have to be very smart with what we are doing and we have to be able to do a bit at a time.  We would love to – if the money was there, I am sure we could do all the roadwork we wanted to, but the Department of Transportation has a lot of investments to make.

 

I mentioned this earlier with their vessel replacement – and I had the opportunity again, I said it before, I went down to Portugal Cove and was there for the announcement for the Bell Island ferry.  I saw how excited the people were.  I know the same thing is happening out in Fogo Island, in that area, that they are so excited about the new ferry they have coming.  That is not something that we can just, boom, put that ferry in service.  We cannot do it; we would love to do it.

 

My mother is from Joe Batt's Arm, by the way.  I had the opportunity to go over to Joe Batt's Arm, stayed over there, what a beautiful spot, absolutely beautiful part of the Island and if anybody ever gets the opportunity to go over there, it is absolutely gorgeous and one of the nicest places I was ever to in my life.  They deserve a new ferry.  The people from Bell Island deserve a new ferry.

 

This year, we are investing $76.3 million to try to get our ferry situation straightened up.  Would we like to do all ferries in the Province?  Yes, we would.  We would like to have all new ferries in the Province, no doubt about it; but again, the almighty dollar, it depends what you have there.  If you can spend your money – there is a budget and we are trying to do the best we can.  We are putting money in our roads, we are putting money in our ferry systems, and we are replacing bridges.

 

I know the hon. Member for St. John's East was up talking about bridgework.  I will talk a little bit about bridgework.  In my district, Mr. Speaker, a few years ago, the bridge down in Outer Cove, going down by the beach down there was, it was not even on my list to get done; but anyway, when I went over to the Department of Transportation and met with the minister, it was brought to the concern of the Department of Transportation that it was a safety issue.  They showed pictures of big slabs that were after falling off the bridge down there and the bridge needed to be replaced.

 

Now, I was hoping to get roadwork done here and roadwork done there, but that bridge work cost $2.5 million.  So, guess what?  That was a priority for the Department of Transportation.  My roadwork, while I wanted to get the ruts fixed on Piperstock Hill and this done in another place, the priority had to go to safety, and that is what the Department of Transportation has to do. 

 

If there is an issue out there with safety – they replaced that bridge.  I think it took almost two years to do it, a beautiful bridge down there now and a lot of people go down to the beach.  I know a lot of people when they use the recreational fishery in that area, they put their boats down on the thing – that is where they go off over on the other side.  We call it the Outer Cove shore.  That is where they go fishing.  It is a great spot to get a few fish, Mr. Speaker.  There are lots of fish down there. 

 

That bridge needed to be done, it was barred off, nobody could go down there – and again if somebody did happen to go down there and one of these slabs of concrete happened to fall off, that is our responsibility when we find out these things. 

 

Another bridge that was replaced in my district was down in Savage Creek.  This one, Mr. Speaker, was a little bit different.  The government and the Department of Transportation partnered with the City of St. John's.  When it came out that the department met and there was a lot of flooding in the area – actually the town was cut off a couple of times because where this bridge is to it is right in the middle of the town and when we have major flooding, the water was coming down and it used to wash right out over the road.  The town was basically shut off, but it was determined by the City of St. John's actually when they did their flood-risk analysis, that all this development on Stavanger Drive and Torbay Road area was increasing the amount of water that was in these rivers.

 

What happened was the government and the Town of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove approached the City of St. John's and the City of St John's partnered with the government 50-50 and replaced the bridge.  It cost us $750,000 and now the bridge is down there and the people who are along that road there are very, very pleased, but that was something that had to be done.  I am sure that most of the bridgework if it comes down to a safety issue or an issue like this, there is no doubt where our priorities will be.  While there is a lot of bridges and while there is a lot of things have to be replaced, safety always comes first when it comes to the Department of Transportation. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am just going to speak a little bit about some of the roadwork getting done in my district and the little bit of roadwork that was done in the last little while.  In Torbay, there was some roadwork done on the Bauline Line.  The road was in hard old shape up there.  There were a lot of areas where they were putting in the water and sewer over the years and it was up and down all over the place. 

That was done from the Kinsmen Centre right into the Torbay Bypass Road.  On the Piperstock Hill, one of the ones I wanted to get done first when I was elected, there used to be water running down in the ruts.  If you had a lot of rain, I tell you it was like two rivers running down the hill.  That has all been fixed.  We have nice shoulders on the side of the road now.  It took a little bit of time, but we got it done.

 

Mr. Speaker, when I look at transportation needs in my district – and I know every time I get up I probably say something about it, and that is the investment government made in the Torbay Bypass Road.  What that has done to the whole area is unbelievable.  I would say 50 per cent of the traffic coming up out of Torbay in the mornings use the bypass road and 50 per cent is on the other road.  The other road, basically the main road coming up out of Torbay, is where the school is located. 

 

Every morning before the bypass road there would be a lineup of traffic all the way back right on back to Torbay, probably about five or six kilometres of traffic every single morning.  Every morning you listen to CBC News, or VOCM, or one of those and they give their road report, they say it is slow-moving traffic on Piperstock Hill. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we invested $23 million and last year I never heard once about slow-moving traffic on Piperstock Hill.  That was a great investment.  Not only that, it opened up the whole area.  If I look at development in the towns where I live in Flatrock, in Pouch Cove, in Bauline and Torbay, we are after increasing in population alone by 20 per cent in the last four years.  It is a great place. 

 

I encourage anybody looking for a new home or a place to live to come down.  It is the most beautiful district in the Province as far as I am concerned, Mr. Speaker.  We have great schools down there.  We have great recreation facilities down there.  We have great fishing down there if anyone wants to catch a cod fish.  I invite all the hon. members to come down, I have a boat, I will take you out any time at all in the food fishery – not any time at all; I am not illegal. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is because of the investments that this government has done that the whole area is really doing well.  When you see growth in small towns, like a town like Bauline, when you see their growth going up by 20 per cent and their budgets increasing by so much money – I know when I was Mayor of Flatrock, which was six years ago, our budget was maybe $680,000.  This year for the first time the Budget went up to over $1 million. 

 

For a small community to be able to have $1 million in their budget to spend on the things that they want to do, there are a lot of things they want to do.  They just put a new playground in down there.  They invested a lot of money in a playground.  Right now, they are looking at building their own garage.  They have a garage, but they want a bigger one because they are hoping on getting a loader someday – and their snow clearing is second to none.  They are planning on investing in their community.  It is the same thing with the Town of Torbay, the same thing with Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove.  Our economy, I mean we listen to all the negative stuff that is said all the time – negative, negative, negative – but you know what, Mr. Speaker?  I believe that there is more positive than negative.

 

Now, I thought I was only going to be up here for a little while, but I want to talk a little bit about Service NL.  Mr. Speaker, when you come to the Estimates of Service NL, the one thing that amazes me so much, people look at different departments in government – we look at Finance, we look at Transportation, we look at Municipal Affairs, Education, and everything else.  I am not sure, but I believe it is one of the largest departments in government, because there is so much getting done.  This department has you from the time you are born until the time you die.  That is it.  There is everything in the department.

 

I know that some of the things I wanted to talk about in Service NL was the different things that they do related to safety– I am looking for my notes here now, Mr. Speaker, but I know they do a lot with safety.  The Queen's Printer, for example, downstairs where they do all the printing for government, I had the opportunity, I spoke one time before on a bill that was here in government, and I have to tell the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that people who work  down in the Queen's Printer – because I know; I was there a lot of time – are fantastic people. 

 

There are lot of times when the Budget needs to be done and different documents need to be done and they are there in the nighttime making sure that everything gets there to people.  Sometimes people are expecting all these documents at 8:30 in the morning and we do not realize how our public service and how our public employees put so much time and effort to make sure that we get things on time and different departments get things on time.

 

Again, I mentioned Vital Statistics.  Again, a very important part – anybody who needs a birth certificate or anything at all, that is part of it.  Also, Mr. Speaker, you look at safety – and I know that the hon. Member for St. John's East mentioned about the legislation that came in here, the move-over safety, and I had to get up and speak on it.  It is important that we realize that we have to make sure we take care of, especially our peace officers that are on the road every day, and other people who are out there working on the roads that they are working in a safe environment.  That was a good piece of legislation that came in here.

 

Mr. Speaker, in some rural parts there a lot of centres – I do not know how many there are.  There are government centres in different parts of the Province, and it is like a one-stop shopping for people to go get their permits and different licences and approval for inspections and building safety codes, and everything else that you need to know from government services, that is there.  Mr. Speaker, this is a very important department, and I said most of the legislation – I think a lot of does, anyway – that comes into this government here is tweaking that department and making sure that the people get the best possible service that they can. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the last department that I am going to speak about is Finance.  I could have used my full twenty minutes just on Finance, basically, because if you look at what the Finance department does – I only have one-and-a-half minutes, and I just want to talk about where we have come from.  Mr. Speaker, we have come so far in this Province.  I am looking at our income; our weekly income for people in this Province is the highest it ever was.  Mr. Speaker, we are second in all of Canada when it comes to the income for household families and the income that people are making. 

 

I know there was a stat I heard earlier about car sales.  All you have to do is just drive around Newfoundland – and it is not only in St. John's; it is all over this Province.  People are investing money because they have more money to invest. 

 

Mr. Speaker, that is the result of the investments our government have made in most of these projects that we are doing.  People are having the opportunity to work.  It is great time for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and it is a great time for our young people. 

 

Mr. Speaker, our young people are going out there, they are getting well-paying jobs, and they are getting jobs in engineering.  I never saw so many engineers before in my district.  Every young person, I think, today that I talk to, you say: What are you doing in MUN?  I am doing engineering.  It is a great opportunity.  The opportunities are here. 

 

I look down at the young people in my district and I thank this government from them and say listen, thanks for giving me the opportunity to do what I do.  Because only for the investments that we are making as a government, they would not have the opportunity to get out to Hibernia, or go out to Long Harbour, or go to these different areas. 

 

Mr. Speaker, my time is up and I just want to thank you.  Again, we are doing great things in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of St. Barbe. 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time and that is where this government is today.  This government has been fooling people with their numbers, with their card games, their card tricks, about how the economy of the Province has performed and continues to perform under this government.

Where are we today, with today's Budget?  Actually, it was a relief tonight that we were going to do Concurrence.  It gives us an opportunity to actually talk about the Budget.  Initially, one of the members did talk about the financial indicators in the Province, and then it seemed to go downhill after that. 

 

Where we are today in this year's Budget is approximately a half a billion dollar projected deficit.  That is $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the Province, but it gets worse than that because this government has had to borrow a billion dollars so they could have a half a billion dollar deficit.  A billion dollar loan is another $2,000 per man, woman and child, so that really means, Mr. Speaker, that we are going backwards this year by $3,000 per man, woman and child in this Province and that is the government's own numbers.  That is not my numbers, that is not numbers from an economist, that is the actual numbers projected by this government in this Budget. 

 

The government keeps playing a shell game with what they say is while the net debt is getting better all the time, we have these assets over here and we have these assets over there, so even though we owe more money – we may well owe more money than we have owed in this Province maybe historically.  They say we have certain debts to offset against it.  Mr. Speaker, to me, that is like somebody who has to go off and borrow – I do not know how much an orthodontist costs today, but twenty-five years or so ago when I was paying for an orthodontist, it was fairly expensive.  Let's say it is $10,000, $15,000 for an orthodontist, for the taxpayer's child.  Now the taxpayer borrows $10,000 or $15,000 and says well, I am not really any worse off because even though I owe $10,000 or $15,000, my kids have really nice teeth.

 

Well, I am not saying that the child should not have nice teeth, but I am saying we are only deluding ourselves when we say – and by we, I mean the government – that actually we are no worse off because even though we owe a whole lot more money, we have a whole lot more stuff.  What kind of stuff are we talking about?  Well, Mr. Speaker, one of the items of stuff that we are talking about is a hydroelectric development that is going to cost eight, ten, twelve, nine, eleven, billions and billions and billions of dollars and that asset, we cannot eat that asset.  We cannot put it in the bank.  It is there to generate electricity.  It is there to generate electricity that we do not need and that nobody else wants. 

 

The reason nobody else wants it is because of the declining price of electricity related in large part to the extra production of shale gas in the United States.  The actual price has been declining as we are rushing in to borrow all sorts of money so we can have a development.  So even though we will owe more money, we will have a nice asset, but the asset will not produce any income for us.  It will not give us any revenue.  The revenue that government is talking about is selling certain amounts that people may need on the spot market in North America after we get through the line – the line, which is going across to Nova Scotia, is a 500 megawatt line which is less power than Bay d'Espoir generates.  Of the 500 megawatt line, the Nova Scotians will have 170 megawatts and we will have 330 megawatts that we would be able to sell from time to time if somebody wants it, if they do not already have a surplus themselves, if all of those hydroelectric developments in Quebec that Quebec is selling power for as little as a nickel a kilowatt when we are going to be paying fifteen or twenty cents a kilowatt.  Mr. Speaker, to generate a commodity like electricity and then sell it for less than the price to generate makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the items that this Budget includes is a package, a book on the economy.  If we look at where we have come so far in this Province in the last ten years, we now have the most bloated government per capita in Canada.  It costs more to govern this Province than any other province in Canada and that is today with a billion dollar loan this year and a half a billion dollar deficit.

 

If we look to the government's own economic indicators, we can see where we are headed.  Reading this document over the next two or three years or three or four years, it is almost like reading the book of Revelation if you want to look and see where the government says we will be in the next few years.  If we look at the drop in our GDP over the past year, our GDP in the past year into 2014 has dropped from the highest in Canada to the second lowest in Canada.  The Canadian 2014 average GDP will be 2.3 per cent.  Our Province will be 1.3 per cent.  We will be in second-last place in Gross Domestic Product in 2014, slightly ahead of New Brunswick and behind every other province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, that is shameful for a government that has had so much revenue for the last decade, so much revenue to deal with.  Our GPD around 1.3 per cent in 2014 stacks up against Alberta with 3.5 per cent, Saskatchewan for 2.4 per cent, and BC for 2.4 per cent.  The members of this government tend to brag about the past accomplishments when, really, little has been accomplished, except to collect oil revenues generated from projects they had nothing to do with and spend those revenues.

 

Mr. Speaker, to continue on, more troubling is if we look at where our economic growth has come from in the last few years.  If we look at major project development – and this is the government's book; this is not me saying anything that government has not produced.  They have produced the book for us to read.  People should read what our major products will look like from now until 2017.

 

Mr. Speaker, if you look at the number of people who will be employed in major projects in 2014, it is approximately 10,000 people; next year, 9,500; and in 2016, 5,500 people – 4,000 people drop from 2015 to 2016, and then it gets worse.  It goes down another 2,500 people.  In the year 2017, we are forecast to have 3,000 people employed in major projects from 10,000 people employed in major projects this year.  What has government done to replace that level of economic development?

 

Big projects, Mr. Speaker, take time to come on, and we see no big projects developing.  That is the declining employment level in this Province over the next three years, as projected by this government.  This is their own numbers.  If we look at the investment in major project capital investments, 2014, $7.5 billion; next year, $7 billion; the following year it drops to $4.5 billion; and the following year, $2.75 billion.

 

MR. KIRBY: This is a good news story (inaudible).

MR. J. BENNETT: This is the good news story, Mr. Speaker, of this Budget for this government.  They had to borrow a billion dollars so they could have a half a billion dollar deficit.  So, we are in the high times right now and this is what government is forecasting for the future in the next two or three years for this Province.

 

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the economic indicators found on page 16, if we look at the change in Gross Domestic Product it is on a straight slide downward over the next three years, and if we look at one of the key critical indicators for economic growth or the health of any economy is housing starts.  In 2012 there were approximately 3,800; 2013, a little over 2,800; another 2,800 this year; and housing starts will decline by one-third from now until 2017.

 

As of today, there will be a thousand fewer housing starts three years from now.  What will happen to all of the people who were employed in building homes?  What will happen to all of the people who have borrowed for businesses in order to have these businesses, these companies, build homes?  How will they replace the revenue?  How will they be able to stay in our Province?

 

Well clearly, Mr. Speaker, they will not stay in our Province, because this government, after having a miscalculation over the last half a dozen years on the amount of population, the number of people we have in the Province, we are looking at a leveling off and then a gradual slide in population.  I know that somebody said BS when told the population decline is coming, but this is the government's own numbers.  They are forecasting a steady decline over the next three, four, five years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the employment level in this Province from 232,000 this year, it will go up slightly in 2014 from 2013 and then that also will slide.  From 2015-2016 it will slide by 8,000 fewer people employed; from 2016-2017, 4,800 fewer people employed.  Mr. Speaker, over the next four years we are forecast to have 13,700 fewer people employed in this Province, and this is supposed to be a good news story of a government that borrows money to break even and, in fact, do not break even.  They still fall a half a billion dollars behind. 

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the real tragedies of our time, we will look back on the gross fiscal mismanagement of this Province by this government.  We have had nearly $20 billion in oil revenues in less than the last decade and we have accumulated debt and accumulated debt and accumulated debt.  When I hear ministers speak and say yes, we know the roads are pretty bad and we need to do something about it and we are doing the best we can.  I think the voters are going to say: Doing the best you can just is not good enough.

 

We know that we have some awful roads all over the Province.  Government says they are spending this money here and spending that money there.  It seems like every time there is a criticism government members, and particularly Cabinet ministers, say but we are spending this money here; we are spending that money there.  In fact, spending more is not necessarily spending more wisely.  It is not necessarily getting better results, and it certainly is not the way to go.

 

Mr. Speaker, this Province is in a straight economic decline, a straight population decline, and we are in a time of unprecedented wealth.  When this government came to power the Budget was approximately $4 billion.  Today it is more than $7 billion.  There has been an 80 per cent or 90 per cent increase in revenue, and what has happened to it?  A large amount of that money has been purely wasted.  It has been wasted by increasing the size of government.  It seems like even in the time of what you would think would be a fiscal restraint, government within the last handful of days, decided to increase the size of the Cabinet.  We have gone with even a bigger Cabinet in a time of a half a billion dollar deficit. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the allocation of Cabinet positions seems to be some sort of a retrenching.  It is almost like we are in some sort of a Third-World government who needs to give somebody a title because having a title is going to make somebody feel better.  In fact, Mr. Speaker, as we grow the size of government, not only do we grow the current liability, in addition to growing the current liability, we grow the future liability and that future liability is for pension liability, it is for extended health benefits for people for the rest of their lives.  Mr. Speaker, it seems like absolutely no thought goes into the proper and sound fiscal management of this government.  It seems like if there is a problem, spend more.  If that does not fix the problem, spend even more.  If that does not fix the problem, announce even more programs. 

 

There are categories in the Budget where funds are allocated year after year after year and not spent.  There are categories in the Budget where the government picks a number as if, I guess, we will put in this number here.  How much are we going to spend?  Well, we do not really know because we have not actually figured it out, but we will let you know next year how much we spent. 

 

Estimates have been way off track for so long that they should not even be called Estimates.  Mr. Speaker, an estimate should be that somebody actually takes stock of the situation, puts some thought to it and decides then what would be the most appropriate or the most realistic number to arrive at a particular situation.  Then you estimate and then you recalculate as you go forward. 

 

The type of fiscal mismanagement that we have seen in this Province has been showcased in this Province in the last couple of weeks with the revelations about the Humber Valley Paving scandal.  Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is a scandal.  The government entered into a contract in 2012, it should have been completed sometime in 2013, an extension was required, an extension was requested; and the contract, which was tabled, clearly said that there is a process, there is a mechanism which says that if for any reason enumerated in a certain set of reasons, ordinarily referred to as force majeure reasons, then the contractor should come to the government with written notice and based on that written notice, government will provide an extension and would consider providing some sort of relief.  The company came and asked for that. 

 

The company came and said because we lost a few weeks in the middle of the summer or early in the summer of 2013, we are going to get a one-year extension.  Less than a year later, the company is back knocking on the government's door saying: We are really losing a lot of money on that contract.  Will you please, please let us out of the contract? 

 

Government says that we have protected the interest of the taxpayers, but I do not know how.  When people enter into contracting, particularly in large capital projects, in order to be able to bid for a large capital project it is necessary for a company to be able to acquire bonding.  The bonding company provides a fidelity bond which says that yes, for this reason or for that reason we will agree that if you cannot finish the job, we will come in and finish the job.  For that, you pay a fee.  This is not uncommon in the construction industry.  As a matter of fact, it is the norm.

 

The bonding company says: We will say to the owner – and the owner in this case is the government – if they cannot finish, we will finish.  We will hire somebody else to come and finish that job and we will back charge that on our customer who is the insured, who is the person who is covered under that bond, in this case Humber Valley Paving. 

 

What happened?  What happened is that having had the security of having not one but two bonds totalling $19 million, without providing any reasonable inquiries into the reason for the required release from the contract, without looking to find out how many people had their hands out who were owed money by this contractor, without having as far as we can tell at this point – because answers are scarce.  Without having a statutory declaration sworn by a representative from the company to say we owe no money, we are free and clear, without having all of the cards on the table and as a result of the answers provided by the Premier of the Province in the last few days, without even the knowledge of the Premier, the key player in our Province did not even know that somebody was being let out of the contract which was worth millions of dollars.  Mr. Speaker, how is that going to come back to the taxpayers?

 

In contracting, one of the key factors, one of the key prices in a contract is the cost to mobilize and demobilize.  It means getting everything on site and getting it up and running, and it means tidying up and cleaning up the job at the end of it.  Most people can understand that, can figure it out quite clearly.  If you have to get on site you have to assemble equipment, you have to hire staff, you have to get aggregate, and you have to get your bonding in place.  You need to put the job into place and you have to wind it down at the end. 

 

Does this mean now that because the government permitted this company to get out of this contract and release them from the bond, that we, the taxpayers, have to pay all over again for the mobilization costs?  What will that be?  Where is the financial clarity?  Where is the openness?

 

I appreciate that the Premier said he has written to and requested the Auditor General to review the situation.  Based on the Auditor General's reports of the last two or three years, there has been a chronic refrain in the Auditor General's reports which says due to lack of documentation I am not saying that they did anything wrong, I am just saying there were inadequate controls.  There were insufficient controls.

 

There was the Roddickton pellet plant, which is the forestry diversification program.  There was the College of the North Atlantic, Western Regional Health Authority, Centre for Health Information.  That is just in the past year.  The Auditor General keeps saying we cannot really audit properly because you did not put these controls in place.  So if these controls were not put in place for all these agencies and the minister is unable to provide any satisfactory explanation with the protection of the House of Assembly, what will there be to audit, and how much money have we lost, and is this just another example of the gross fiscal mismanagement of this Province by this government?  Mr. Speaker, I guess we will have to wait and see.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

 

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, maybe it is the lateness of the evening, but I do not know if I understood anything that happened in the last twenty minutes.  I have to be honest with you.  It is good to be able to get up and speak here on Concurrence with Government Services, but I have said on a couple of occasions when I got up to speak: I have more hope for Newfoundland and Labrador than the party across the way has, Mr. Speaker.  I have to say that: I have more hope.

 

This weekend I had the pleasure of having our next leader down on the Burin Peninsula.  One of the things I said to him – because sometimes people put the message out there that it seems that only the Avalon, and the Northeast Avalon in particular, is the only area in the Province that seems to be doing well.  I think they hope if they preach it enough that people will somehow come to agree with it.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to tell you, and I told him, that rural Newfoundland –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. JACKMAN: Will you tell the big man just to calm it down, Mr. Speaker, while I have a few words?  I respect him when he is up speaking, and I would ask that he do the same thing.

 

Mr. Speaker, I said to him, and I have said to people before: Rural Newfoundland is doing quite well.  If you come and you spend time on the peninsula and go to my colleague, the Member for Grand Bank, and you travel down to my district and then finish off the peninsula in the MHA for Bellevue's district, Mr. Speaker, you will find that our areas are doing quite well.  These are rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I am sure my fellow colleagues who sit behind me and sit beside me in this House on this side, we believe and we see evidence of it that rural Newfoundland and Labrador is doing quite well, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. JACKMAN: I want to point out just a couple of things.  Mr. Speaker, we toured the Cow Head facility, which is the fabrication of one of the modules for the Hebron project.  I had thought there was something around 500 people working there.  In fact, there are about 700 tradespeople, another eighty or ninety working in the offices, so there is about 800-plus people working down there.  The thing that struck me, quite opposite as to what the Member for St. Barbe talked about, what struck me with this tour – and I have toured it several times – is you are seeing more young people working on that site. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when he talks about the future for the young people in our Province, these are young people working on a project right here in Newfoundland and Labrador because of benefits this government negotiated around Hebron.  Then, if you take from that site, and I will go down to the Member for Placentia and look at how many people are working at Long Harbour, then look into Bull Arm, these are projects that are happening right here in Newfoundland and Labrador employing the majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Mr. Speaker, and it bodes well for the future. 

 

As much as some people might want to discount the fishery, Mr. Speaker, I am not one of them.  I served in the Department of Fisheries for two years.  I will say that it is one of my proudest moments in government because I do believe that the future of the fishery in this Province is bright.  There are not going to be as many people into it, but those people who are into the fishery will do quite well and it will serve this Province quite well.  There is absolutely no doubt about it. 

 

We met this past weekend with the Burin council, we met with the council in Marystown, and we met with some people in the northern part of the district to see what is happening there around health care.  A new clinic is being built in the northern part of my district that will serve my district and the Member for Bellevue and his residents who live on the Burin Peninsula. 

 

It was very obvious; one of the things that struck me with the folks who live in, I would say, one of the rural parts of my district is that a clinic is being built there and how they are looking to work to attract a physician, how they will work with Eastern Health to attract a physician to a rural part of this Province so that they are provided with quality health care, Mr. Speaker.  It is as simple as that. 

 

Do not go out there and tell these people that their area is dead.  Do not go down around Springdale and tell them that their area is dead or go to Central Newfoundland, or on the West Coast or up in Labrador. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Much alive. 

 

MR. JACKMAN: Much alive with many people working, making good incomes, never like it before in this Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have five children.  I joke with people.  I say: We have done our part for population growth; we have twelve grandchildren.  We are doing our part; but my children, four of them are working here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one is commuting back and forth to Alberta.  You do not hear him complaining about it; you do not hear me complaining about it.  We are making our way in this Province, and they will continue to make their way in this Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have to say, when the Member for St. Barbe got up and spoke about Muskrat Falls, I think one of the best things about Muskrat Falls is that it provides clean energy.  The Member for St. Barbe, no doubt about it, is a learned man.  I am sure – he did not mention it – he has heard of the latest report that has come out on climate change.  He must have.  Anybody who is in the know and looking at our weather patterns and whatnot will know that our climate is changing and it is because of manmade pollutions, pollutants that are making our air quality and creating these catastrophic weather patterns. 

 

For years, we have seen it happen in other parts of the world, but recently we have seen it happen in our own Province.  We can look back to Igor, look at the downpours that we have had over the past couple years and how that has impacted the infrastructure.

 

Mr. Speaker, the member has to recognize that Muskrat Falls provides clean energy.  It is the type of project that if we are going to see the reversal of climate change, these are the types of projects that we need on our radar.  These are the types of projects that will do away with pollution emitters like the one that is out in the Foxtrap area. 

 

We know what that was emitting.  We know that when Muskrat Falls comes online, Mr. Speaker, that will close down.  For my children and the children of this Province – and we even need to think a little bit bigger than that, for the children of the world – these are the types of projects that will reverse the impacts of climate change. 

 

It certainly will be an economic generator for the Province, Mr. Speaker.  If you are talking about a legacy project, this is one of the legacies that will see the future of our children bright, as it generates revenue.  I think equally and probably in the long run more important is what it is doing for the environment and that it is cleaning it up. 

 

We, as a small Province, when we look at the global numbers, the global population and looking at our Province of 500,000 people, to realize that we can develop a project of this nature that contributes to countering what is happening in terms of climate change.  I think all of us on each side of this House – the folks in Opposition are not going to admit it, but from myself as a minister being a part of this government, it would be one of the things that I will walk away from government saying I was proud to be a part of, Mr. Speaker.  I can assure you that.  At no point will I ever say that this project was not the right one to do.  I can honestly say that.

 

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Member for St. Barbe talking about that we are a government of no accomplishments.  You just have to shake your head; it makes you wonder.  You have to shake your head and just wonder where the member is coming from.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: It is shocking.

 

MR. JACKMAN: Somebody is over there saying shocking.  Yes, I have to agree with him; it is shocking. 

 

Just take a look at some of the things that we have been able to implement over the past ten years, Mr. Speaker.  He is right.  He is right in one aspect, Mr. Speaker.  He did recognize that we are a government that have made some very wise decisions and because of it, we have generated revenue; and, then we have invested them.  We have invested them.  I will start by speaking about the fisheries.

One of the things we did as a Department of Fisheries, Mr. Speaker, was to invest in research.  The new member from Carbonear would recognize, him being a fisherman, is one of the things we were never quite certain about is exactly what was happening in our waters.  We were doing some sentinel fisheries; we were doing some pieces of research.  We know the federal government have moved away, very much, from the research. 

 

Mr. Speaker, what did we do?  We went and leased a research vessel, the Celtic Explorer, to go out and spend weeks out on the Atlantic researching so we could have some answers.  Mr. Speaker, I think it is one of the better things we have done in the fisheries. 

 

Dr. George Rose, who spent these years on that boat, did the research, led some researchers.  I am very pleased to say – the first year we entered into it we did not have people from our own Province who were on there, because we did not have them.  Do you know why we did not have them?  It is because parents were discouraging their children from going into the fisheries, Mr. Speaker.  People in our own Province were saying to their sons and daughters: Don't go into the fishery, there is not a future there.

 

The member for Mount Pearl may not know it, Mr. Speaker, the man has never stepped foot in a boat, I doubt, but for someone who is living in rural Newfoundland, and the member from Carbonear would know, there is a future in the fishery.  There indeed is a future.  Some of the people –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. JACKMAN: He knows what fish and chips are, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, to some of the younger fellows who are serving and getting into the boats in my community, do not tell them there is no future in the fishery.  They are out there fishing now and they will be fishing into the future.  There is absolutely no doubt about that.  A large part of it is that we continue to do the research so we know exactly what is happening out in that water. 

We know some people are expressing some concerns in certain areas.  Up on the Northeast Coast they know what they are facing in terms of the crab stocks.  We see what is happening with the shrimp stocks.  We should not be in a position where we guess.  We should be more in a position where we carry out the research and we know exactly what is happening, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, another accomplishment; I am in a portfolio now of Child, Youth and Family Services.  One of the things we will be remembered for is identifying a department specifically to deal with children and youth.  Why?  It is because we are not only playing lip service to it. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we have often, many of us – I bet you every member in this House has gotten up and said that our most valuable resource is our children.  Well, Mr. Speaker, an accomplishment of this government is we have put in place a Department of Child, Youth and Family Services focusing solely on what is in the best interest of the children.  A new department four, four-and-a-half-years old, that still is figuring out its way in certain files and certain pieces of legislation and whatnot, but the direction in which it was established and a ten-year strategy that will continue will see a better provision of services for children and youth in this Province.

 

I will go back to the department I was previously in and look at what this government has done for education, and I have repeated it.  People will say they are tired of hearing me say it, but I am going to say it.  I have said it, and I am going to say it again.  Look at the infrastructure we have put in place in this Province. 

 

As someone stood up earlier and spoke about, it is not only in Conservative districts that we have built new schools.  We have built schools where they needed to be built, Mr. Speaker.  We built schools where they needed to be built in Labrador, on the Avalon where we have seen increased population.  We built schools in Gander.  Mr. Speaker, wherever there was the need, that is where we have gone.

 

I believe the latest, when I left, Mr. Speaker, there was something like fifty-one major projects going on.  I think there are nine schools in the works now.  Twelve, I believe, have been built.  The projects I am speaking about are not something like $100,000 to put in ten windows, Mr. Speaker.  These are million dollar projects; $2 million, $3 million, $4 million projects that will see our children in infrastructure as good as and better than any other jurisdiction in Canada, I will say to you, Mr. Speaker.  I will say that.

 

Then, I cannot help but repeating and I have said it here before, to those members who were in education to look where we have moved in terms of textbooks.  No charges for textbooks; the elimination of school fees; the introduction of full-day Kindergarten.  Mr. Speaker, all initiatives aimed at making a better education system for the children in this Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I was at the opening of some of these facilities in Baie Verte and out in Carbonear, and I will tell you it is worth anyone's while to walk into those facilities and see what is now offered to our children.  Mr. Speaker, one of the things I always looked for when I went into school is to see what is happening in terms of the theatre arts and the music programs.  Go into the music rooms.

 

I went into a school in Goose Bay when we had the junior high students taking out their instruments and starting on a new music program.  The comments I heard there and the comments I hear around the Province – I heard from one lady who was a retired teacher who commented on it.  She could not get over how much resources there were for these programs in the schools now compared to when she was there.  Mr. Speaker, why?  Because we recognize the importance of the arts. 

 

We recognize the importance of the arts and we have quality teachers, Mr. Speaker.  We have quality teachers who provide for education day in and day out.  So we have kept the class caps, Mr. Speaker.  We have kept the class caps in place.  It is all about providing the best quality education that we can for the students of this Province.  Whether it be Child, Youth and Family Services or Education, Mr. Speaker, our goal is about directing resources to what we have all spoken about as our most valuable resources, that being our students.

 

I will close by saying that as much as the Opposition sometimes will try to point out that there is doom and gloom, Mr. Speaker, we on this side are optimistic and we know that the future of this Province is bright and people will be working and living in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The time for debate on Concurrence on the Government Services Committee has now expired.  You have all heard the debate. 

 

Is the report concurred in?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The report is passed.

 

On motion, Report of Government Services Estimates Committee, carried. 

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I move, seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 1, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the House 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'.

 

Motion carried.

 

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

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Verge): Order, please!

 

The Committee of the Whole will now consider Bill 1.

 

A bill, “An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure”.  (Bill 1)

 

CLERK: Clause 1.

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak again to Bill 1 in Committee, An Act Respecting Public Interest Disclosure.

 

During debate I took basically the full hour of my time to speak to the legislation, and a number of my colleagues had spoken to the legislation as well.  I have some additional things I would like to put forward before the House in the Committee process on the whistleblower legislation. 

 

One of the things that was discussed is not only the length of time that it took, but I want to talk about – and I believe one of my colleagues had talked about an article in The Telegram, an editorial on how this basically is a piece of copycat legislation.  If I get to the point, there are very similar comparisons to New Brunswick.  It had talked about that Newfoundland's proposed bill has twenty-nine sections. Twenty-one of them are word for word matches of the seven-year-old New Brunswick legislation. 

 

Without going back and reiterating anything that was said in comparing the actual legislation clause for clause, I could do that but instead what I am looking at here is let's look at New Brunswick, because I have listened to other members across the House – I believe maybe it was the Member for Bonavista South – talk about how good this legislation was, and others talking about comparing with other provinces.  Well, we want to look at New Brunswick since it is very, very similar and basically scrutinize it a little bit because that is important when you are looking at the committee phase. 

 

We need to look at the New Brunswick provincial government.  When it introduced its legislation in 2007 it was basically meant to prevent employees from being punished if they blew the whistle on bosses and colleagues who are breaking the laws.  Similarly, beyond civil servants in government departments, the bill also would protect employees of hospital authorities, school boards, Crown corporations.  In New Brunswick's case it included their utility company, NB Power, just as this piece of legislation would include Nalcor. 

 

There was a real approval of this legislation from the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees saying that this is a very good thing because you need to make sure it is a step forward.  It is a step forward to protect employees, but in order to do that you need to make sure the legislation has the appropriate protocols and mechanisms in place that truly does protect employees. 

 

If we look at the intent of the legislation, the copycat legislation that this government took seven years to introduce.  Let's see where the New Brunswick legislation sits.  If we go back to a report by the CBC in February, 2013, that the acting Ombudsman says only seven calls were received last year and that it has barely been used.  The New Brunswick whistleblower law was barely used in the five years since it was introduced for all of the civil servants to report illegal or dangerous actions by their co-workers, according to the province that was acting in the role as the Ombudsman. 

 

If we look at the case that it was barely used, and New Brunswick has a dual option, with just a single option for us to go to the Office of the Citizens' Representative, I wonder how many calls that office is going to field.  We heard it before in other pieces of legislation, whether it be Bill 29 where there was continuous requests, they could not deal with all of those numbers, but really those amounted to about eleven requests per week.  Last year, already there has only been a couple of hundred or so requests, as the minister who introduced the bill stated. 

 

The whistleblower legislation in New Brunswick, passed in 2007, was monitored by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and that justice was not busy prior.  We look at 2010, there were just eleven inquires about the act.  The current law prohibits reprisals in New Brunswick, and there has been no punishment. 

 

Similarly, when we look at the federal government legislation and when we look at the Canadian whistleblower legislation, it says it is not as strong as it could be and that what we have really seen from the federal level is the dismissal of the commissioner.  The person who was responsible was dismissed, basically while under investigation of the Auditor General, given a golden handshake and went away.

 

In New Brunswick, police charged a senior bureaucrat with, basically, the department of aquaculture and fisheries, with obstruction of justice.  There was an anonymous letter sent to a member of the Legislative Assembly in New Brunswick, an anonymous letter.  There is no way to indicate that it actually came from a public servant, but it may have. 

 

In the situation here, there would not be any protection because there would be no ability to send an anonymous letter with the way this format is set up in the legislation.  It has to be written.  Someone has to put their name attached.  That protection may come out, depending on how it gets referred, whether it gets referred to the RNC, RCMP, whether it gets referred to the Labour Relations Agency or a court case.  Then the person's identify, the whistleblower, may not be at the level of protection.

 

Basically, in New Brunswick it talked about how civil servants are still uneasy about coming forward with information, about revealing things about colleagues they may have, because people may not feel 100 per cent comfortable that they are fully protected.  The Conflict of Interest Commissioner says that they need to toughen the act to make sure that there are the adequate punishments in place so that if there is an employee who would retaliate against a whistleblower – that type of action may happen where there could be harassment or where there could be some level of intimidation that was put forward.

 

When we look at the New Brunswick Liberals, the New Brunswick Liberal bills seek to protect whistleblowers and end nepotism.  This is something that the Canadian Press published.  They published that the New Brunswick Liberal Opposition says that it will introduce four bills in the Legislature.  The Opposition is going to put four new bills in the Legislature aimed at increasing openness, transparency and accountability, and that would even have more protection against whistleblowers.

 

We are talking about something that was published February of 2014, just a few months ago that seven-year old act, the Official Opposition is looking at strengthening.  They are looking at finding ways to make sure that they are protecting whistleblowers so that there are additional penalties put in place for those who seek to punish members to disclose or intimidate whistleblowers in government – that is what is quoted here – to strengthen that public interest disclosure act.

 

There are a number of other acts too that they are looking at doing when it comes to ending partisan government advertisements, nepotism from elected members to disclose immediate family members, and other things when it comes to the possession of government contracts.  We know that if there is an inadequate process followed, that there can be significant impacts.  So, that one bill is interlinked with a number of other bills when it comes to the integrity act, when it comes to what is happening in New Brunswick.  The leader says that they certainly want to restore the faith of New Brunswickers in their government.

 

When we look at Newfoundland and Labrador, we really see a gap when it comes to openness and accountability and transparency from government.  That is where, when we talk about the process of this bill and that it is going to go through the Office of the Citizens' Representative, I took some time to look at the annual report of the Ombudsman of New Brunswick because in it they do a report.  So, I wanted to see the detail of maybe what we would be seeing, since it is copycat legislation.

 

In their annual report of 2011-2012, it talks about how their Public Interest Disclosure Act , which is the copycat legislation of this whistleblower act, was assented on December 20, 2007 and did not come into effect until six months later, on July 1.  Interestingly enough, our legislation will come into effect on July 1 as well.  Copycat legislation, right? 

 

The purpose of the act was very similar.  It talked about the wrongdoings.  I will not go through those word for word but when it comes to the actual act itself, it said that somebody may file a complaint for reprisal and that has to go with the Labour and Employment Board.  Similar to how if it is a personnel issue, there would be a process in place, as stated in the act, whether it will be internal through the union process for a grievance or looking at the Labour Relations Act. 

 

The Office of the Ombudsman is unaware of any activity under the reprisal section of the act.  They will not know about any of the internal processes that are taking place because they are the only option, and it is the external option.  If somebody does not actually go that route, then they will not get that information. 

 

Then, in 2011-2012, we want to look at the statistics and compare the success of this piece of legislation.  From when we assume the mandate – this is what is stated here in the report of June 2011 when it went to basically what is considered our Office of the Citizens' Representative to March 2012; the office received five contacts total under the act.  Four of those contacts were actually inquiries.  They were inquiries that did not amount any further, somebody just seeking some advice, some clarification, and the other piece of advice was just withdrawn.  It was withdrawn because the individual opted to go through an internal process.  They felt that they could deal with it informally, through their employer.

 

This piece of legislation that we have does not grant any protection for any employee of the civil service to be able to go internally to try to settle a dispute informally.  That may be the advice that would be given by the Office of the Citizens' Representative to make sure that the wheels of government are moving more quickly, that disputes can be settled in a more much efficient and timely manner, and the protection is given. 

 

Why wouldn't we want to protect our public sector employees, give them the ultimate protection?  The recommendation that was put forward of this hon. member in the report is stated that the New Brunswick act should be amended to include a sanction; sanctions against individuals who are guilty of taking a reprisal against a former employee.  So if we look at that the New Brunswick act itself, it did not completely have all of the teeth needed, but it does point out in 2011-2012 that other jurisdictions do have whistleblower legislation.  I find it very interesting that it states Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland – it leaves off Labrador – but Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario.

 

We have seen where the Office of the Citizens' Representative has investigated whistleblower legislation without having this piece of legislation passed, and that New Brunswick is actually acknowledging that Newfoundland has whistleblower legislation and that the Office of the Citizens' Representative has had authority based on this annual report that is stated here.  It may be an error based on the Ombudsman there, but there may need to be some point of clarification where the minister who introduced the bill could actually clarify what is meant by this piece of copycat legislation and also the fact that the Office of the Citizens' Representative has investigated whistleblower legislation in 2009 and that Newfoundland and Labrador is stated there.  Were they acting outside of their authority to do so without this standalone piece of legislation?

 

We need to look at that and also looking at the number of contacts that were there.  The piece of legislation that is put forward in New Brunswick does not have a lot of contacts.  If anything is an indication, we will likely not see many contacts as well.

 

I have a lot more actually to say on this.  I see my time is expired.  I will have the opportunity again in Committee to speak.

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Good evening.  I appreciate the points raised by the member opposite and I will do my best during this Committee stage to answer as many questions as I can specific to the legislation.

 

The suggestion is that we have simply copied and pasted this legislation from other jurisdictions.  It is not uncommon for any province to review legislation in other jurisdictions and look at how their legislation works in practice, then to adopt or modify provisions, where appropriate.  In fact, Part VI of the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act was informed by Manitoba's legislation.  That was one of the only acts that was in place at the time.  The Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act, however, has the benefit of being informed by the legislation based on the experience in six other provinces.  We are also aware that the Yukon is currently in the process of developing whistleblower legislation.

 

Also, Mr. Chair, harmonization is a key principle of regulatory reform in this country.  It is a best practice when it makes sense to do so.  A prime example of harmonization efforts is that all Canadian provinces and territories, and the federal government, appoint delegates to the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, or ULCC.  This is an organization whose sole mandate is to facilitate and promote the harmonization of legislation throughout the country.  Many ULCC uniform acts have been adopted into legislation by this jurisdiction, including apology, vital statistics, public inquiries, limited liability partnerships, and securities legislation.  So these pieces of legislation mirror legislation in other jurisdictions in the country.

 

While Bill 1, the piece of legislation we are debating here this evening, is consistent with legislation in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and indeed New Brunswick, there are differences.  These differences are significant.  They are based on the experiences that other jurisdictions have had and suggestions that have been made to us by some of these other jurisdictions as we have developed this bill.  I do not know if I will get through all of them now, but I will certainly talk about some of the specific differences that exist.

 

One that was highlighted during debate is the single versus the dual-disclosure route.  This legislation contemplates a single-disclosure route, whereby disclosures of wrongdoing will be received and investigated by the Office of the Citizens' Representative, and that office will bring those matters to the attention of government.  This single route will be unique across the country.  It is considered to be the most effective process that will give our public service employees the comfort and assurance so that they may make a disclosure in confidence to one independent office which is equipped with the skills and the expertise and the resources necessary to conduct investigations in a fair and impartial manner.

 

The process of advice giving, disclosure, investigation, and recommendations will be consistent, because the Office of the Citizens' Representative will be the only office involved.  All employees of the public service will therefore receive high-quality, consistent, well-informed, and knowledgeable advice and support.  We have looked closely at what has been happening in New Brunswick, but also other jurisdictions as well right across the country, and we have been advised that internal processes have been problematic in other jurisdictions due to the need to consistently and continuously train officials in all departments and public bodies, and to ensure that all employees are aware of who the investigator is and what the process is and so on. 

 

Updating the policies and procedures and communication to all officials and staff is very resource intensive from an administrative perspective.  This can result in matters falling through the cracks for instance or investigations of serious and significant wrongdoing not being dealt with appropriately.  That is a major concern for us.  We believe the Office of the Citizens' Representative is well equipped to handle these matters in a consistent way, in a fair way, and in an appropriate way.

 

The Citizens' Representative has legislative powers that will also contribute to thorough unbiased investigations including the powers to hold hearings and make inquiries deemed appropriate for a matter, and the authority to require a person to provide and produce evidence.  These authorities are pretty critical to ensuring a proper investigation of serious and significant wrongdoing.  We do want to ensure that these matters are properly investigated.  If matters were to simply be investigated internally, departmental officials would not have these powers, meaning that investigations could be severely negatively impacted. 

 

The Citizens' Representative will also be aware of all disclosures of serious and significant wrongdoing reported and investigated.  Whereas if all public bodies and departments were involved, there would be no collective sense of the issues and no ability to prioritize and expedite matters so that investigations receive priority and can be conducted in an expedient manner.

 

There were a few other issues we have learned about through the Manitoba Auditor General's review of the province's Framework for an Ethical Environment.  There was a need for more communication to employees about the act, and more training for management in conducting investigations.  Those are definitely useful learnings that we can apply here in our jurisdiction in Newfoundland and Labrador.  There was also concern about the tracking and reporting of disclosures. 

 

Through the Office of the Citizens' Representative, we will implement comprehensive awareness and education opportunities for employees.  Given that the Citizens' Representative will report on all inquiries and investigations through the House of Assembly, there is no concern about tracking and reporting of all the activities under this act, as may be experienced if all departments and public bodies involved in providing advice, receiving disclosures, and conducting investigations – if everybody was involved, then the reporting and the tracking would certainly be more problematic, there is no doubt about that. 

 

The Citizens' Representative here in Newfoundland and Labrador has been consulted and has advised that he believes this legislation represents the best model in the country.  He is satisfied that he can begin implementation of this legislation within current resources and that he will monitor the impacts over time.  He will request additional resources through the House of Assembly Management Commission if deemed necessary.

 

I know the Member for Bay of Islands raised that point earlier today during second reading.  I would suspect the Management Commission would respond very favourably to a request from the Citizens' Representative if he deemed that he needed more resources because of this legislation.  We do not believe that will be the case, but the door is certainly open to that.  I have confidence the Management Commission would do the right thing in that circumstance given how important that is. 

 

Mr. Chair, I could talk about some of the other differences in the legislation, and I am happy to do that, but I would rather hear what other questions and concerns members have specific to the legislation.  We will work our way through them and I am sure I will have many more opportunities to speak this evening.

 

Thank you. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe. 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Chair, I would like to speak by way of background a little bit on whistleblower legislation because it is almost as if the government discovered a wheel and they thought they invented it.  The wheel has been around for a while; whistleblower legislation has been around for a while.  In fact, the first whistleblower protection law in the United States was on July 30, 1778; 1778 was the first whistleblower protection law in the United States. 

 

Government promised this when they were trying to get elected in 2007.  They got elected on that promise and seven years later they are trudging along.  I guess they are getting ready to produce another Blue Book, so they would like to go back at whistleblower protection legislation and act as if it is something new.  You see, it is not new.  It is very, very old. 

In the bad old days before Ralph Nader, whistleblowers used to be referred to as informers and snitchers, and probably even rats for that matter.  Ralph Nader coined the phrase in the early 1970s, whistleblower.  The whistleblower term comes from, as if it is a referee blowing the whistle to indicate illegal or foul play. 

 

The different types of whistleblowers – and this is really relevant because this piece of legislation is very, very limited.  It is also very limiting, as limited in the types of occasions when it can be used and who can use it.  This is designed to deal with internal whistleblowers, people who would report misconduct of a fellow employee or a superior within their company.  One of the most interesting questions historically with respect to internal whistleblowers is why and under what circumstances people either act on the spot to stop illegal or otherwise unacceptable behaviour, or to report it. 

 

Mr. Chair, this is something that government should want people to do.  Government should want people to report inappropriate, illegal, unethical, fraudulent conduct.  We should want people to report it because it is in the public interest that these types of activities be rooted out.  In order to do so, we have available to us whistleblower legislation, and this whistleblower bill is extremely weak.

 

We could have considered and have not considered external whistleblowers who would report misconduct to outside persons or entities.  The Citizens' Representative clearly is an arm of government and not an outside person or entity.  I am not saying that he is not the appropriate person or an appropriate person, but government has completely bypassed the internal option of providing protection for someone who would file a complaint internally within the organization. 

 

Some of the common reactions to people who are seen as whistleblowers is sometimes they are seen as selfless martyrs acting in the public interest and for organizational accountability, although other times they are viewed as traitors, defectors, someone who told on a friend.  One of the more prominent whistleblowers – I know we have looked at the most recent ones in the last few years that disclosed a whole lot of information, and that was the WikiLeaks, this type of a whistleblower.  Well, years ago, Ryszard Kukliński believed that he would be able to prevent a war in Europe between the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries by handing in 40,265 pages of secret military documents of East Germany and the People's Republic of Poland to the CIA in West Germany. 

 

The whistleblower legislation that we are looking at is very limiting; it is very focused.  Mr. Chair, whistleblowers are persecuted, regardless of what law we think we can pass to protect them from people exacting retaliation on them or retribution.  There is no doubt that anybody who files a complaint in the workplace can expect to suffer some form of retaliation; however, the legislation that we are proposing – and I have no doubt that all parties ultimately will support the legislation, hopefully legislation that has been amended adequately to be much more effective than it is, but that may well be a few days away yet. 

 

The different nations have a whole range of whistleblower legislation.  Government would be interested to know that the United Kingdom has a government which is the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, which initiated a whistleblowing commission in October 2013 to explore whether there are any aspects of the law governing whistleblowers that may not be protecting whistleblowers or encouraging them to come forward about wrongdoing. 

 

Government seems to be acting as if this is a wonderful thing they are doing for whistleblowers.  In fact, it is not a wonderful thing for whistleblowers; it is a wonderful thing for the taxpayers, for the people who are the straight shooters in organizations, the people who do a good job, and the people who will report misconduct but they want to be protected if they do so.

 

Mr. Chair, the Netherlands have measures in place to mitigate the risks of whistleblowers.  They have the Advice Centre for Whistleblowers; they offer advice to whistleblowers.  The Parliament of the Netherlands recently passed a proposal to establish so-called House for Whistleblowers to protect them from the severe consequences that they might endure.

  

In the United States, even though whistleblower protection was first used in the 1770s, the actual first law was introduced and adopted by the government of the United States in 1863.  In 1863, four years before Canada was formed, the United States enacted the United States False Claims Act and then revised it in 1986.  This tried to combat fraud by suppliers of the United States government during the civil war.  The act encourages whistleblowers by promising them a percentage of the money recovered or the damages won by government, and protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

 

If we roll forward there are different types of protection provided in different types of industries.  On Wall Street, securities whistleblowers are provided incentives and protection by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  The SEC Office of the Whistleblower was formed as a part of the Dodd-Frank Act.  They help to handle whistleblower tips and complaints, and provide guidance to the enforcement division.  They will help the commission determine the size of awards for each whistleblower.  Further, they assist whistleblowers by promoting the program and providing guidance and answering questions about the program.  Mr. Chair, the United States also takes an interest in whistleblowers in respect of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the US military, US law enforcement, and tax fraud. 

 

Australia is also fully engaged in whistleblower protection.  There are laws in a number of states.  The former New South Wales Police Commissioner Tony Lauer summed up official government or police attitudes as “‘Nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers, particularly in an organisation like the police or the government.'  Mr. Lauer's comments are clearly at odds with public support for WikiLeaks.”

 

We need not think by passing this legislation that it would be that much easier for people to come forward; however, what the legislation seeks to do is to ensure that if people do file a complaint, if people do come forward, if they do the right thing, that the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador would provide protection so that person will not lose their job, will not be basically frozen at the workplace. 

 

The legislation that is proposed is very mild; it is weak.  Even though The Telegram has recently called it copycat legislation, it sort of seems like copycat legislation, but when you read line by line between the New Brunswick act and the proposed Newfoundland and Labrador bill, it is easy to see that what has been copied has been copied but it has been watered down.  It is a weak piece of feel-good legislation that intends to do the right thing.  Hopefully, over the next while, the Opposition can help the government focus in the right direction and strengthen this piece of much needed and I am sure would be very popular legislation. 

 

I have no further comments at this point, Mr. Chair. 

 

Thank you very much. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs. 

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

I will just respond to the member's comments.  It was a fascinating lesson on whistleblower principles, I guess.  I am not quite sure where he was coming from, but he did make some comments about our legislation not being particularly strong. 

 

I actually am confident based on paying attention to what is happening in other jurisdictions, based on incorporating the best of the legislation from across the country and then fine tuning it to ensure that it fits within the Newfoundland and Labrador context within our public service, I think we can come up with a piece of legislation that is, in fact, the strongest of anywhere in the country.

 

Employees are going to be able to disclose a series of significant wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.  That is the fundamental essence of whistleblower legislation.  We have an independent office in the Office of the Citizens' Representative that will have the power and authority to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing, and publicly report findings.  As I said in my previous remarks the Office of the Citizens' Representative has the powers and the authority to really do that role in an effective way. 

 

The anti-reprisal protections will be in place for employees who disclose wrongdoing.  The Labour Relations Board has significant power.  It will be given the power to consider complaints and award remedies, including reinstatement, for reprisals against whistleblowers.  So we are talking about a piece of legislation that gives considerable power to the Office of the Citizens' Representative, considerable power to the Labour Relations Board, and also provides considerable protection to our employees.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for St. John's North.

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

It is a pleasure for me to stand again in the House and have a few more words to say to the Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act, Bill 1.

 

Of course, I think one of the things we will all agree on here in the House, and it has been alluded to by a number of individuals, a number of individuals have stated outright, we have heard a number of comments on it, is the fact that people who stand by the courage of their convictions and speak up, and stand by their word.  Those people who see wrongdoing that affects the public interest in some way, that expose misconduct, expose incompetence or corruption, that those people who stand by the courage of their convictions are not only recognized but also protected through our law. 

 

There have been a number of high-profile cases that members of the House of Assembly are no doubt aware of or heard about through the media.  I know my colleague, the Member for St. Barbe, has talked about some of the things that have happened across the country and in other jurisdictions, and rules and regulations they have in place.

 

One of the cases I am sure many members will recognize is the July, 2013 – that was just last year – the case of Sylvie Therrien who was suspended without pay for revealing that she, like a number of other Employment Insurance investigators, was subject to a quota.  You will remember this was in the news just last year.  She was subject to a quota each year to find a savings of nearly half a million dollars, $500,000 each year – she was an Employment Insurance investigator – by denying EI claims made by people, by EI applicants.  Basically, having to find a quota each year of $500,000, denying many people who were potentially eligible for Employment Insurance benefits.

 

Basically, she pointed out at that time that many of the people who were denied Employment Insurance benefits were actually entitled to them.  They were denied Employment Insurance benefits that they had paid for.  They had paid into the system.  They were playing by the rules.  They were entitled to Employment Insurance benefits, and they were denied them because these individuals, by virtue of their work, were required to come up with $500,000 worth of saved claims on an annual basis.

 

This particular woman, Sylvie Therrien, felt she could not send people out in the street in order to do the Harper government's bidding.  Unfortunately, she did not realize how perilously close to the street she actually was herself because the government fired her.  She was fired by the federal government, which means that she, in fact, was not entitled to Employment Insurance benefits because she was fired.  She was stripped of all of her benefits from her work, her security clearance, and was basically unemployable in the public service.  In the end, she was unable to afford her rent.  She was couch surfing and living with a friend.  That is all as a result that she pointed out this wrongdoing by the Harper government.

 

There have been all sorts of previous cases.  We have heard about cases where the undue influence of one interest or another, whether it is the pharmaceutical industry or some other company that is pressuring for approvals and aggressively lobbing people who have spoken out courageously, and under legislation such as this would be protected.

 

I think one of the other things I do not see here in the legislation is scenarios that we have talked about whereby people are sort of shuffled off to some part of the operation where they are rarely heard from or rarely acknowledged, people who basically feel like they have been put into dead-end jobs or positions after coming forward with information as a whistleblower.  That, too, is a punishment.  There are many ways to silence people.  We have seen that with many cases, the high profile cases that we have seen come forward.

 

One of the cases that is synonymous with whistleblower legislation and protection is the case of the RCMP pension fund scandal.  Everybody will remember the RCMP pension fund scandal.  It finally came to light through the efforts of five people who were employed by that organization.  They all struggled on; they all courageously came forward in the face of attempted or apparent attempts by top people there to block investigators. 

 

Denise Revine was a human resource director who first uncovered these suspicious transactions.  She compiled a massive amount of information, a massive file of evidence.  Her boss, her immediate supervisor, Chief Superintendent Fraser Macaulay tried to ensure that all of this was properly investigated.  He was removed from his position, given what he believed to be a punitive secondment, a transfer to another job that he felt was being shuffled off to one of the four corners of the universe to be shut up effectively.

 

Then retired Staff Sergeant Ron Lewis was also fairly persistent in efforts to make somebody in authority pay attention, first within the RCMP, then through Treasury Board federally and the Office of the Auditor General, finally the Members of Parliament, and then as a last resort out to the media.  Staff Sergeant Steve Walker took part in the Ottawa Police Service's criminal investigation of the RCMP five pension fund scandal into the entire affair.  Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell was removed from the investigation as the inquiries got closer and closer and closer to the most senior RCMP management. 

 

In what we would probably regard in a situation where there was limited or no whistleblower protection at all, in an unprecedented turn of events, all five of these individuals were given the RCMP's most coveted national award, the Commissioner's Commendation for Outstanding Service.  The House of Commons Committee unanimously passed a motion that the five be publicly commended and that the commendation be tabled in Parliament.  Prior to this, no Canadian whistleblower had ever, ever received any form of formal thanks.  No thank you whatsoever or recognition from authorities for having the courage of their convictions to stand out, to point out an obvious egregious case of corruption.  Well, more or less outright theft that was proven. 

 

All of those people were – various tools in the workplace were used against them to try and discredit them, to try and discourage them, but they did not give up.  I think this is yet another reasonably good case to point out why we need whistleblower protection, such as the ones that are being proposed through Bill 1. 

 

As my colleague, the Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace, pointed out earlier today, we have some concerns about this legislation.  We know this has been a reasonably good try and we know the twenty-one sections that were copy and pasted from the legislation in New Brunswick have also been in effect and useful for that Province for some time.

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I thank the member for his comments.  He gave some examples of whistleblower cases that have existed in other jurisdictions, and they are good examples.  They actually speak to the need for this legislation.  They speak to the importance of the legislation.  So I hope we can talk more specifically about our legislation as we work through the committee process this evening.

 

He referenced the possibility of employees who are aware of wrongdoing being shuffled off – to use his words – to another job in order to silence people; being shifted to another place, perhaps a dead-end position in a department or an agency.  That would be serious reprisal.  There is a need to deal with just that.

Under this legislation, if an employee feels there has been any form of reprisal of any type against him or her as a result of an action under this act, then that employee can make a complaint to the Labour Relations Board.  The Labour Relations Board has some real power, not only to decide whether a reprisal action has occurred but the board can actually order a remedy or a solution. 

 

For instance, if somebody had been demoted or shifted to another position, then the board can make a decision to award compensation or even reinstate somebody in their previous position.  The board has some real clear authority in this legislation that would address the specific concerns the member opposite is talking about. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Where I left off previously on this bill, I was talking about the Public Interest Disclosure Act.  I have had the opportunity to listen to my colleague for St. Barbe talk about whistleblower legislation in detail and the historical significance from the American perspective, and also my colleague from St. John's North talk about a significant example of why whistleblower legislation would be needed and how we need to have strong whistleblower legislation to make sure that the whistleblower is protected.

 

What I want to ask the minister, and it is a very specific question that is not addressed in the legislation, or not one that I saw.  It is listed in the Annual Report of the Public Interest Disclosure Act in New Brunswick, where it says, “If the Ombudsman receives a complaint from an individual who is not an employee of the Public Service, under section 23 he may forward the claim to the chief executive of that portion of the public service in respect of which the claim is made.” 

 

What mechanism do we have to make sure that when an individual makes a claim that it goes through the appropriate mechanism to make sure it gets dealt with?  Is that the role of the Citizens' Representative to do a referral out?  Will the Citizens' Representative then do a follow up to make sure there was adequate action taken, or is the protocols dealt with on an internal basis? 

 

That is one of the questions that specifically shows how the New Brunswick legislation is a bit different.  That is something the Member for St. Barbe talked about, is that the legislation does copy a number of sections but there are differences.  We do not adequately see that difference in how we deal with the individuals who are not part of the public service and how their complaints get dealt with, and we certainly know they do not have the reprisal piece.

 

If we go to page 7 of the bill it talks about, section 11, where disclosure restrictions continue to apply.  “Notwithstanding section 10, nothing in this Act authorizes the disclosure of…” and then it lists (a) and talks about “…the deliberations of the Executive Council or a committee of the Executive Council; or (b) information or documents that are protected by solicitor-client privilege.”

 

Solicitor-client privilege, although at the briefing we received it was talked about that this is not uncommon, but if we look at real life examples and what is actually happening when we look at the overarching federal legislation, the Canadian legislation when it comes to the challenges that sometimes our government lawyers face, the ethical conundrums they face and whether it would be – government lawyers, about releasing information, know they may have to release a document or they know there may be something unethical or illegal happening, but if you are going to use a clause like: protected by solicitor-client privilege, then it can lead to, I guess in many cases, where the public is not being protected, or adequately protected. 

 

To give you an example here of an individual who was legal counsel for the Legislative Service branch in the federal Department of Justice, so a lawyer in the federal Department of Justice, served the Office of the Attorney General, the AG, with a statement of claim.  They alleged that their own ministry, their own department had acted unlawfully by failing to properly review the constitutionality of the draft legislation.  They did not do their due diligence.  That is the claim.  That is the claim by a lawyer who went to the Office of the Auditor General to file a complaint. 

 

Do you know what happened to that person?  Even though the whistleblower legislation federally existed, the immediate superior, that person's boss advised that employee by telephone they were terminated, suspended without pay for making that action, for taking action to try and protect the public good. 

 

Also with follow up, that person was not allowed to go to their office, was not allowed to access any files.  This was a real piece of reprisal.  This was action taken against an individual.  It raises many questions about the ethical beauty of a government lawyer and the tension about whistleblowing legislation that exists, the rules for professional conduct and how a lawyer who knows there is wrongdoing happening in the public service is unable to use the whistleblower legislation to protect the public good. 

 

That person felt so compelled that they are taking legal action as an unlawful practice.  This is going forward.  It is going through the vetting process, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada on grounds that the allocations were unlikely to lead to an investigation.  We saw a request was made under the Public Servants Disclosure Act seeking a legal opinion, $1,500 to assess the adequacy.  Eventually, the claim (inaudible) and said to move things forward; basically, it was almost likely or almost certainly inconsistent with the Charter – even if it was a likelihood of 95 per cent or more – but the argument was made that it was consistent – even if it was less than a 5 per cent chance of success – then there is no duty to inform the House of Commons.

 

So this was what was pressed.  It went back to say that solicitor-client privilege should protect this information even though it could do damage to the public good and that due diligence was not practiced under the constitutionality of legislation.  The Attorney General in the Department of Justice first argued that it violated the solicitor-client privilege because it revealed information, policy documents.  We all know the Cabinet deliberations, what leads to a policy document, and that information based on Bill 29 and going on down through that.  So this is how the federal government tried to deal with making sure that a whistleblower was really being reprimanded.

 

They were trying to do good and got suspended there without pay, were not able to get their information, and then the Attorney General said you violated the solicitor-client privilege, that it is a federal offence, and it called for all the action to be dismissed, but that was dropped.  That motion was dropped for dismissal of claims for breach because it said, “ in order to promote an expeditious resolution, the defendant wishes to proceed directly to the merits and no longer seeks to strike or stay this action.'”

 

So, government, the Attorney General, did not move forward on this matter on that basis.  They talked about privilege, they talked about the privilege of doctrine and where policies of how government lawyers do their work, they were not taking legal advice on a particular matter.  It really showed, this actual case, the Schmidt case, it talked about the Attorney General's whole department was being unwilling to release information.

 

This is something that I raised in the first hour of debate.  I talked about: Will the Office of the Citizens' Representative be able to use information, protect information?  We see there have already been cases where there have been criminal investigations filed with the RNC, the RNC goes to the Citizens' Representative and they are not able to get the information because the Citizens' Representative is using their act to protect the information and hide it, basically leave it unavailable for the public good.

 

So, how are we ensuring that the whistleblower, the person who should be protected, does not end up being unemployed and getting all kinds of information placed against them and have to go through the filing court challenges, dragging that in – how many public servants would have to financial resources to take on such an onerous task, as happened in this federal case that is going forward right now? 

 

The lawyer has stated that this was not inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that there was only the slightest chance that if it was moved forward for a constitutional challenge, that this was not implemented in good faith and that the Department of Justice requires that of the Department of Justice in being able to engage in good faith.  This whistleblower basically did everything right and that the activity brought the issue successfully to light.  It brought this issue to light and it was done in fairness on how it impacts Parliament.

 

I am not able to get through the full extent, but maybe the minister could respond so far.  I will get another opportunity to finish this example and go forward in Committee. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!