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June 16, 2015                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLVII No. 32


 

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): Order, please!

 

Admit strangers.

 

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: Today we will hear members' statements from the members representing the Districts of Humber East, Exploits, Port de Grave, St. John's North, Baie Verte – Springdale, and The Straits – White Bay North.

 

The hon. the Member for the District of Humber East.

 

MR. FLYNN: Mr. Speaker, ALS is a rapidly progressive fatal neuromuscular disease that attacks a select group of nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord which leads to progressive paralysis of the muscles.  In any one year, up to 3,000 Canadians live with ALS and two to three die each day.

 

The ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, whose head office is situated in Corner Brook, was formally established in 2006.  Prior to that, the Corner Brook chapter was associated with the ALS Society of Canada.

 

Each year in June, the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador sponsors a walk as its major fundraiser.  Every dollar raised goes to provide equipment, support services, education for the ALS community, and fund research to find a cure.  Since 2010, the group in Corner Brook alone has raised nearly $210,000 with the ALS Walk.

 

On the walk this past Sunday, more than $31,000 was raised in Corner Brook.  I want to congratulate the staff person, Cheryl Power, the Board of Directors, volunteers and participants for another successful ALS Walk. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all hon. members join me in congratulating the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador on their continued efforts to support those with this terrible disease. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FORSEY: Mr. Speaker, on Thursday, May 21, Brian Tremblett was inducted as the first Lifetime Achievement recipient with the Bishop's Falls Minor Hockey. 

 

Brian has served as President of the Bishop's Falls Minor Hockey for ten years and has coached at many different levels, all the way up through the minor hockey system and including the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts. 

 

Brian was selected as Volunteer of the Year, a Minor Hockey Meritorious Award, the Joe Byrne Honour Award, and received Hockey Canada's Junior Hockey recognition Award.  He ran Hockey Safety Clinics for trainers, facilitated Speak Out for Hockey Canada for the prevention of abuse and harassment. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating Brian Tremblett on being the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I rise today to recognize the municipality of Spaniard's Bay on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary of incorporation.  The town dates back to the 1700s and today has some 2690 residents.  Incorporated in 1965, the original town ran east to west along the CB Highway.  Through the years, the town expanded in various directions ending the expansion with the annexation of Tilton in 1991. 

 

Mr. Joe Peddle, ninety-eight, was an original member of that first council led by Mayor Calvin Gosse.  Mr. Peddle sang the blessing for the nearly 200 in attendance and was given a standing ovation. 

 

Present Mayor, Tony Menchions, spoke of the many changes which have taken place in the last fifty years.  He highlighted some of the differences in cost.  The town approved fifty street lights in 1965 at a cost of $212 a month.  Today, that cost exceeds $100,000 annually.  The first motion of council to approve road work to be completed by Transportation and Works was at a cost of $7.20 per hour for a loader operator and the work was not to exceed $300.  A far cry from today's costs for repairs. 

 

I ask all members to join me in congratulating the municipality of Spaniard's Bay on fifty years of incorporation. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I stand today to congratulate Mike and Annie Power who recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on May 29. 

 

Like many couples in the City of St. John's, Mr. and Mrs. Power first met while on a roller skating outing at Memorial Stadium.  In fact, the Powers continued to roller skate at the stadium for years afterwards and actually took their children there to enjoy the time-honoured tradition. 

 

Mike grew up in Corner Brook on the West Coast and spent his career working as an electrician.  Annie, whose maiden name is Hart, was born and raised in St. John's and worked in the provincial public service. 

 

In the years after the Powers were married at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, they lived and raised a family in Virginia Park.  Their four daughters all still live in the City of St. John's.  They have a very close family that includes their eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

 

These days Mr. and Mrs. Power enjoy their retirement together, especially the time they have to spend with their grandkids.

 

I ask all hon. members to join me in wishing a very happy fiftieth wedding anniversary to Mike and Annie Power.

 

Congratulations.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Born at 12:39 a.m. on January 1, 2015 at Grand Falls-Windsor hospital, Richelle Sandra Marie Bonnie Shiner made her special debut.  Mr. Speaker, four pounds and 8.5 ounces, Richelle was not just the first baby born in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015, but also the first in Canada. 

 

Her parents, Rick and Sandra, live in Springdale and were overwhelmed and extremely grateful to have their first girl join their family of four boys: R.J., Boyd, Brent, and Byron.

 

Richelle was due to arrive on February 26, but was delivered two months prematurely by emergency C-section.  Her proud parents are hopeful that the birth is a sign that their daughter will do something big in life.  Also special is that baby Richelle was born on her mom's birthday, giving her mom a double blessing.

 

In addition, at just five days old, Richelle had her first photo shot, as the cover girl with Maclean's magazine.  With such a unique entrance, her mother hopes that Richelle has big plans to impact this world.

 

Honourable colleagues, please join me not only in congratulating Sandra and Rick, her parents, but also in welcoming baby Richelle as Canada's first 2015 baby who has already warmed all of our hearts.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Mr. Speaker, on Saturday I attended the thirty-third Annual Ceremonial Review for RCSCC 285 Leif Erickson Sea Cadets in St. Lunaire-Griquet.  It was an honour to serve as reviewing officer for the sixteen members, inspecting uniforms, the commitment cadets took to honour their troop, and watch their drills performed with precision.

 

On June 3, members of 774 St. Anthony and area Air Cadet Squadron had their forty-seventh Annual Ceremonial Review; acting as reviewing officer for their twenty-member squadron was RCMP Corporal Mike Babstock.  Beaumont Hamel is in their plan for Honour 100.

 

Knowledge, confidence, and self-esteem are fostered as a cadet.  Each evening they learn drills, band and technical skills, but equally important is the strong part of the core trainings of leadership and citizenship.  They learn to be leaders, mentors, and team players.  Their dedication is immeasurable, as is the dedication of their leaders.

 

I ask all members to recognize Sea Cadets Commanding Officer Lieutenant (Navy) Debbie Humby, Lieutenant (Navy) Christopher Humby, Sub-Lieutenant Sabrina Humby; Acting Sub-Lieutenants Diane Snow and Ida Roberts, and Civilian Instructor Karen Bussey; Air Cadets Commanding Officer Captain Beverly Scott, DCO and Training Officer Captain Godfrey Mitchelmore, Assistant Training Officer Louise Reid, and Supply Officer Krista Diamond.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

 

Statements by Ministers

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Acting Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to recognize and commend the outstanding leadership of Marie Woodford, a humanitarian and Grade 9 teacher at Crescent Collegiate.  Under her direction, students at Crescent Collegiate, the community of Blaketown, as well as numerous schools throughout the Province helped to ensure that 105 orphans in Uganda have a new school. 

 

In 2007, Ms Woodford travelled to Africa and spent a semester teaching in Mombasa, Kenya.  This experience opened her eyes and left her wanting to do more for children in Third World countries.

 

While teaching at Holy Trinity High School in the 2013-2014 school year, Ms Woodford's class participated in a global initiative for children in an orphanage in Uganda.  It was here she learned more about the orphanage and the need for them to have a school.  Ms Woodford then moved to Blaketown to teach at Crescent Collegiate, and along with her class put out a call-to-action to schools across the Province.

 

Mr. Speaker, the call was answered.  Students from Crescent Collegiate, Holy Trinity High School, Roncalli High, Amos Comenius Memorial High School, Holy Cross Elementary, Immaculate Conception, Goulds Elementary, and pre-school students from the Little People's Workshop made clothes, artwork, collected donations and school supplies, all in an effort to make this school a reality.

 

In March of this year, Ms Woodford travelled to Uganda to help build the school and hand-deliver the items made by students in our Province.  The children in this small town in Uganda started a new semester in their new school just this past May.

 

Mr. Speaker, the students of this Province, under the leadership of Ms Woodford, have truly made a difference in the lives of these children in Uganda and have also experienced the impact of this outreach in their own lives.  I ask all hon. members to join me in thanking Ms Woodford for her leadership and dedication.  She represents the true Newfoundland and Labrador spirit of giving and we are all very proud.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Thanks to the minister for an advance copy of his statement.  I gladly join with all the members of the House to commend the exceptional leadership and humanitarian spirit shown by Ms Marie Woodford.  Her teaching approach certainly underscores that education does not always come in the form of text, and the most important teacher oftentimes a student can have is one that inspires them.  Inspires them to reach higher, to go that extra step, to get to know oneself better, and to open themselves to doing good in the world.

 

Ms Woodford is a shining example of what a great teacher in action can be, and I cannot help but be impressed with her work, and I am very proud to say she is one of our own teachers here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I would also like to congratulate the students at Crescent Collegiate, the community of Blaketown, as well as the numerous schools throughout the Province who have stepped up to make a difference in the world, Mr. Speaker.  There can be no better education than that.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.  I am very pleased to join him in honouring Marie Woodford for her achievements in making it possible for students here to contribute to the building of a school in Africa.

 

She is to be admired for following through on her earlier desire to do more for children in Africa who need our help.  We are lucky to have teachers like Marie who can give children a global experience outside of their own community, even outside of their own country, and the opportunity to discover that every small contribution combined with those of others helps to make things happen. 

 

Thank you very much, 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, I rise in this hon. House to note that the Town of Petty Harbour – Maddox Cove recently became the seventieth municipality to partner in BizPal.  Introduced to the Province in 2009, BizPal is a federal-provincial-territorial online information service that helps local entrepreneurs save time and money by simplifying the process of obtaining permits and licences. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the BizPal service begins by prompting clients with a list of questions about their business venture.  Responses are then used to generate a customized list of all permits and other regulatory approvals that must be obtained in order to operate a specific type of business.  The process is completely confidential – it is not necessary for users to provide identifying information to access the system, and no information is stored about the user.  The goal is to provide business owners with accurate, accessible, complete and current information about the requirements they must satisfy at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government. 

 

The fact that municipal participation in BizPal has grown so quickly speaks to the value of this initiative.  Statistical tracking shows that the Newfoundland and Labrador BizPal website is accessed thousands of times each month by local businesses, as well as potential business operators from foreign countries, which demonstrates how this initiative supports business activity.  Service NL has been actively encouraging municipalities to join, and to date, the department has added an average of ten municipalities a year.  I encourage municipal leaders to make contact with Service NL if they would like more information about how they can use BizPal to support new ventures in their community. 

 

Mr. Speaker, Service NL has a mandate to make government services more readily available to the people of the Province, and our involvement with BizPal is one of many ways we are fulfilling that mandate.  Our government has always been very supportive of the small and medium-sized firms that drive our economy.  We will continue these efforts through BizPal, and through the comprehensive suite of programs delivered by the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I encourage business owners, prospective entrepreneurs, and my colleagues in this hon. House to experience this great service first-hand by visiting www.bizpal.gov.nl.ca, and then spread the word about this initiative.  Fostering new business success is important, and BizPal is helping us do that in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I once again would like to thank the minister for a copy of his daily Ministerial Statement. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we want to recognize the Town of Petty Harbour – Maddox Cove for getting involved with the BizPal program.  Certainly, BizPal is a good program.  It is actually one that was developed by the Northeast Avalon RED Board.  At the time I can remember being on city council when they had actually brought this initiative forward to government, and I am certainly glad that government did adopt it.  Anything we can do to encourage business growth, to have opportunities as it is with BizPal for businesses, or perspective businesses, or business wanting to expand and to have that ability to be able to go in a very orderly way and find out the types of permits and so on they would need to operate a business.  Anything we can do in that regard is a positive thing.

 

The only other comment I would make, Mr. Speaker, is given the fact that BizPal does use information technology, I am kind of surprised that the government did not have to hire a consultant to show them how to use it.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I would like to thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement here today.  Yes, Mr. Speaker, this is one success I think that this side of the House can certainly back.  Surprising though to learn that there are only seventy municipalities that have taken advantage of this so far out of 276 municipalities here in the Province.  Being the spur to small and medium-sized business that this program is, I am surprised other municipalities have not taken advantage of it.  So I would ask government, number one, to push this with municipalities and encourage them to sign up because this is an employment creator too, at the same time. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the other thing we learned from this, of course – just playing with this – we also learned a little bit about how far the Red Tape Reduction Strategy has proceeded.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the member his time has expired.

 

Oral Questions.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Yesterday, when talking about the scathing report by the Auditor General, the Premier said we have to rely on the expertise of what is in the department, but in the next breath he said he was hiring external consultants to draft guidelines for hiring external consultants. 

 

I ask the Premier: This department has been around for ten years, why are you now hiring an external consultant to now draft guidelines on how you should hire external consultants?  Shouldn't that oversight already been available in this government? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Thank you.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I outlined yesterday, IT services throughout government, and government being such a large entity, and IT services are very complicated.  I talk to business people who even talk about small businesses and the incredible investments they have to make to ensure their IT systems and operations are up to speed so that they can continue to be competitive and work at a vibrant pace and do their work effectively and efficiently. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we want to make sure we are getting best value from our IT services, which is the Office of the Chief Information Officer, known as OCIO.  I said yesterday, I am not an expert.  The ministers here are not experts in IT and how they operate.  We want to make sure it is operating properly, and we are going to get a consultant to do that for us. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Premier's RFP for guidelines for hiring consultants that he released yesterday is very basic.  It calls for a review, number one, of what the department is already doing; number two, a jurisdictional review; and three, the recommendations on how they could improve.  The Auditor General has already made several recommendations.  It is obvious that one of them this government should start by not paying consultants who do not submit bills.

 

I ask the Premier: Response to the AG's comments about OCIO was that you were going to hire a consultant, but what about the other departments, Transportation and Works as an example, that the AG flagged?  Is that again hiring of more consultants?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We value the work of the Auditor General.  We have said that many times.  It is very true that we do.  The Auditor General plays a significant role in the operation of government.  It brings an outside view, a very high-level view, a fresh set of eyes, if I can use that phrase, Mr. Speaker, on the operations in government and how we operate. 

 

We have a lengthy history of responding to Auditor General's reports, which are done annually, and taking his recommendations and turning them into improved policies, guidelines, and delivery of programs and services of the Province.  That is what we intend to do now, Mr. Speaker. 

 

We are still going through; we are analyzing the information provided by the Auditor General.  We want to fully understand all of his recommendations, Mr. Speaker.  Once we understand, then we look at concepts and ways to make improvements as recommended by the Auditor General.  It is a process that is ongoing in government.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We all know this is a Premier who likes to do his own report cards.  Yesterday – and he just made those comments again.  He said we demonstrate year over year that we respond to the Auditor General's recommendations.  The truth is government repeatedly fails to fully implement the AG's recommendations in the required time frame, often only reaching the target for a full completion after six years.

 

I ask the Premier: People expect financial oversight, they expect accountability, why are you not strongly and decisively making the changes you need to make as recommended by the AG that you just said you value?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, we have to look at some of the recommendations that the Auditor General makes require ongoing changes and ongoing actions by government – not just one time or for one year, but year after year after year.  If you look at 2009, the Auditor General had recommended a 90 per cent implementation – yes, we reached that, but not only that, we are at 97 per cent if you include implementing recommendations that are underway in our ongoing efforts by government – 2010, 92 per cent; 2011, 95 per cent.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, we continue, as I said – there is no argument to be made where we take the recommendations of the Auditor General very seriously, we continue to work on them and improve efficiencies within government, and to provide programs and services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, the Premier likes to throw around some numbers, so we will just throw around some of them ourselves.  Government uses the phrase, like 90 per cent, and they attach that to 90 per cent completed or in progress when they boast about their success, as the Premier just did.

 

Progress does not mean done, I say, Mr. Speaker.  Things like unsafe food, wasteful spending, not following the rules, I say.  Seventy-one new recommendations, plus 176 we do not know the completion status, yet another 131 still not done from previous AGs' reports.

 

So I ask the Premier: When should the people of Newfoundland and Labrador expect these 380 recommendations that would protect public money and public safety to be done?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, we are certainly down in the weeds in Question Period today, but I do not mind doing that; I do not mind answering the questions.  If in recent years, if the member opposite wants to look at, prior to this report, 588 recommendations have been reviewed, 549 have been fully or partially implemented – 549 out of 588.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: The Leader of the Opposition, if you listen to my answer – I know he is talking over there again now, Mr. Speaker – it was 97 per cent I said that was fully or partially implemented, not 90 per cent.

 

Look, very clearly, we take these reports seriously.  The Auditor General provides a valuable service to Newfoundland and Labrador, to our government, and to the people of the Province.  He has a role to play, and he provides benefit to taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we take his recommendations.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

This morning the Premier said that we can expect a term sheet on Statoil's Bay du Nord oil development in the coming weeks.  He later backtracked saying that he could not say if it would be announced before the November election.  Media are reporting that the industry was caught off guard by the Premier's comment.

 

So I ask the Premier to clarify: Are you planning on announcing a term sheet with Statoil in the coming weeks or not? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

With due respect to the member opposite, I think he may have some of his facts just a little bit confused over on this matter as well, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, what I said this morning, and I can tell you, I speak for members on this side of the House, we are very optimistic about the future of oil and gas in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: While members opposite like to take a very pessimistic view, they like to look at what has happened in the Province, they talk how bad the economy is, they talk how bad the circumstances are in the Province, well the over 800 people this morning at Noia do not agree, Mr. Speaker.  They were at the Noia conference, the annual conference, because they believe in the future of oil in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, as do we. 

 

I can tell you, Statoil is going to be a big part of the future in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition.

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Statoil is currently on an eighteen-month drilling program that will not finish until May of 2016, I say to the Premier.  Their vice-president said they need information from that program before a decision can be made on the development.  However, the Premier is rushing this process and has mandated his minister to get a deal in 2015.  That is months before the drilling program is finished. 

 

We have seen this before.  We have seen it with CETA.  The Premier is again showing symptoms of deal fever, I say, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I say to the Premier: Why are you rushing this process before the drilling program is finished, without even knowing how much oil is there? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, let me be clear for the member opposite, and let me calm his concerns over there, because I tell you, all of the people in the room at Noia this morning agree there is a great future in the oil business for Newfoundland and Labrador, much like we have enjoyed over the last decade where oil revenues have transformed our Province.  They have transformed industry and business, Mr. Speaker, right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Those royalties are being used to diversify our economy, grow an economy, and solidify our future as a Province, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The member opposite wants to raise CETA and I will be clear on CETA with the member opposite as well, Mr. Speaker, because we are clear on CETA.  The federal government came to us and asked us to give up our MPRs.  They are our jurisdictional authority.  As long as I am in this seat, we will not give up those MPRs until the federal government lives up to their obligation. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition.

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I remind the Premier, he does not have to negotiate.  All he has to do is ask for them, they will just exempt him anyway, I say to the Premier. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we all know how turbulent the oil industry is right now and the many unknowns around Bay du Nord discovery.  Even the company says they will not know if there can be a development before May 2016.  The Premier went ahead and mandated his minister to get a deal before 2015.  This severely weakens the Province's negotiating position.

 

I ask the Premier: What other reason could you have to rush a deal other than wanting to announce it before a November election?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, we hear the member opposite raising his voice, and we have to wonder why he is becoming nervous.  I guess he just told us why he is becoming nervous because there is nothing he would hate to see more than us to achieve a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: I assured the people this morning, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: I also told the media this morning when they asked a similar question, this is too important for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  This is a valuable asset, Mr. Speaker, that is going to be produced –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

PREMIER DAVIS: It is going to produce revenues for our Province for the next fifty or sixty years, Mr. Speaker.  I tell you the one thing I will not do, I will not sign a deal and we will not do a deal with Statoil unless it benefits Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Finance challenged me to review Hansard because he claimed my question regarding the operation of the OCIO had been answered.  I reviewed the record.  In it the minister talks about an RFP seeking out IT expertise.  He obviously did not understand the question.  The AG's criticism had nothing to do with IT; it had to do with paying out $1.3 million in unsupported travel claims to consultants.

 

I ask the minister: Are you sure that the expertise needed to do basic bookkeeping work is not readily available inside government today?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I am delighted the member opposite decided to check Hansard because he would have understood clearly the scope of the answers provided by both the Premier and myself in response to questions from the Opposition yesterday.  He would have clearly understood.  In fact, if he had taken the time to explore a little further – if he had explored a little further, in fact, about an hour or so after we had Question Period in the House, Justice officials had finished the review of the RFP and it was on the street I say, out for public view. 

 

All he needs to do is look at the section of that RFP that talks about the scope of work, and there are eight or nine, or seven or eight bullets there that lays out the scope of the work to be done.  In fact, it is on the first three or four pages.  I think it is section 1.6 to be exact.  So I will give the member some clear direction which will clearly point him to what it is we are looking for as we go to the street looking for some advice.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. LANE: Mr. Speaker, the minister is trying to deflect from the facts in the AG's report, hiring consultants to review consultants, talking about IT expertise, and trying to confuse the public with his non-answers.  It does nothing to lessen the reality.  The OCIO spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars without proper oversight, all done on this government's watch.

 

I ask the minister: Why not do your job, implement the AG's recommendations in-house and stop wasting taxpayers' money on more consultants?  

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, and let me repeat again.  We respect the advice of the Auditor General.  In fact, we have started the implementation of many of the recommendations in this year's report. 

 

What I also said yesterday – when the member checked Hansard he would have seen this as well – the Auditor General reviewed a period of time from 2009 to 2011.  Since that time, we have made significant changes in our internal processes.  What we want to do now, Mr. Speaker, is to make sure that those changes not only reflect a satisfactory response to the Auditor General's report, we want to supplement what he did.  We want to make sure that what we have actually instituted represents current day best practices.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Premier was Minister of Transportation and Works for a full year during the AG review.  He was also Minister of Health, which was one of the departments involved.  He was also Premier for part of the time during which the AG conducted the review.  Mr. Speaker, almost 70 per cent of the contracts looked at during the AG review received payments without approval. 

 

I ask the Premier: While you were minister you allowed payments to be made to consultants without Treasury Board approval, why? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Again, as the Premier has outlined, we take the Auditor General's report very seriously, and we complement the work he has done. 

 

In this case, there were two recommendations relevant to Transportation and Works.  One was around the guidelines covering hiring of external consultants, and he is asking that we follow what we had outlined as our process.  I have since written back through my officials to the Auditor General and said, yes, we will.  We understand the process, we are complying there.  The second was that we would continue to use the evaluation process around consultants to ensure when we hire consultants that we have the full gamut of their professional skills, and we are continuing to do that.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, the rules are in place.  They do not need somebody to tell them they should follow the rules.  They should know that if they were honourable as government.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Premier –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. OSBORNE: The Premier, Mr. Speaker, was minister –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. OSBORNE: I asked the Premier, and I will ask him again: Did he allow payments to be made to consultants without Treasury Board approval, and why?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, we had a number of contracts with proponents here, particularly those that are on our consultant's registry, that outline exactly needs that were outlined in specific areas in this community.  We went to the market.  We identified people who could provide those services.  We paid exactly what we contracted for, no additional monies.  All the money spent went exactly into a service that was provided by those individuals, a professional service that they were qualified to do.  We continue to do that. 

 

We are now reviewing the process that we use, and we want to adhere to the recommendations of the Auditor General.  We are ensuring that the process and the policies we follow are in the best interest of the people of this Province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, the Premier did not answer the question, but I will.  He did make payments without Treasury Board approval.

 

Mr. Speaker, the AG has found that the request for expressions of interest and direct appointment process does not provide a competitive, open, fair, or transparent procurement process.

 

I will ask the Premier: Have you, during your time as Transportation Minister, directly appointed consultants?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We have been following a process, Mr. Speaker, around identifying consultants in particular areas for a number of decades here.  The multitudes of different Administrations have done that.  We have a registry in place.  It is this Administration that put in a consultant's registry that ensured those individuals or those companies were qualified to do particular pieces of work that we would engage them in, and we do that consistently.  What happens here is my staff will come to me; they will make recommendations based on their professional knowledge.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. BRAZIL: We will then assess exactly the scope of work and the company that is doing it.  We will award that contract, Mr. Speaker, and the monies that are paid out are those relevant to that contract and the services provided.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

 

MR. HILLIER: Mr. Speaker, in his review of select long-term facilities, the AG discovered some residents were accidentally being underfed.  One resident was fed half portions for seven full weeks before the AG discovered this resident should have been fed full portions all along.  Combined with the failure to weigh residents regularly, this neglect was going unchecked.

 

I ask the minister: Were the families of these residents notified of this neglect?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, I have reviewed the Auditor General's report fully.  We take all of the recommendations very seriously, and will follow up and act upon all of them.

 

What I do question, though, is the suggestion that residents in any of our long-term care facilities were neglected.  We have highly trained professionals who work in nationally accredited facilities who deliver quality care to thousands of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

When it comes to food quality, the menus in our facilities are approved by a registered dietician.  They adhere to Canada's Food Guide.  There are high standards that are maintained.  Are there quality issues and consistency issues from time to time?  Absolutely, and we want to do everything we can to address those issues, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

 

MR. HILLIER: Yesterday's speaking points, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The AG employed a dietician in his review of long-term care facilities.  That dietician identified choking hazards not being properly or consistently assessed or supervised.  The minister said in this House yesterday that long-term care staff does provide supervision.  Similarly, Eastern Health said it believes it provides a supervised dining experience.

 

I ask the minister: We are talking about a lack of oversight endangering the lives of residents of long-term facilities, are you saying you disagree with the AG's finding on inadequate assessment and supervision of choking hazards?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, it does not surprise me at all that members opposite would resort to attacking public servants who deliver high-quality care in our homes –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: – because that is who they are and that is what they do consistently, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: I find it offensive.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: That said, while the Auditor General raises some very real concerns that we need to look at and fully address –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services, to continue.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

 

The standards need to be followed.  Any issues at all are too many and they need to be fully investigated and followed up on.  In the period that the Auditor General examined in our personal care homes – because I think the member is confused about which section of the Auditor General's report he is referring to.  In that period that was evaluated, there were millions of meals delivered during that time period.  The incident rate was quite low, but any incidents at all are quite concerning, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

 

MR. HILLIER: I remind the minister, Mr. Speaker, we are not talking here about personnel; we are talking about the lack of government oversight.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, we speak in terms of the number of meals involved.  There were six – six – occurrences in the fifty-two assessed meal trays where food was not provided at the proper texture.  This could cause choking and risk other injury.  In addition, licensed practical nurses and personal care attendants who are responsible for feeding and supervising the residents were often not trained to respond to choking incidents.  In the St. John's facility, 79 per cent of the staff were not trained according to the Auditor General –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask the member to quickly ask his question.

 

MR. HILLIER: I ask the minister: What process will be put in place for long-term care residents to ensure that eating is not a safety risk? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, now the Opposition is attacking licensed practical nurses and challenging their training and qualifications. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: It is rather unfortunate that they would resort to that.  I have no problem acknowledging – thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

MR. KENT: They are a rowdy bunch today, Mr. Speaker. 

 

We have no problem acknowledging how important safe quality food is to all residents in our long-term care homes.  If there are concerns raised by residents, by families, by the Auditor General, those concerns must be addressed.  We do have processes in place to ensure that employees receive food safety training and they receive sanitation training when they enter the system.  We also need to implement refresher training as well, and we intend to do that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, since this government introduced its new math curriculum, we have been told time and time again that professional development to help teachers with the new curriculum is simply insufficient.  Now the Auditor General has identified serious deficiencies with teacher professional development. 

 

I ask the acting minister: You have ignored the pleas from math teachers, you have dismissed the advice of math education experts, are you finally willing to listen to the Auditor General?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. Acting Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, we have not ignored the need for professional development and training for teachers, particularly with our new math curriculum.  In fact, there has been very extensive professional learning, but I will say professional learning is a very important part of a professional growth, a very important part of improving quality teaching, a very important part of student achievement. 

 

As we continue with the consolidation of the four boards on an array of many, many issues within the education system, I can tell you that the recommendations made by the Auditor General will be very valuable moving forward as we implement more policies and more restrictions around professional learning.  Rest assured, we will continue to do the professional learning in the best interests of students of this Province. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

Yesterday, the Minister of Health and Community Services said that professionally trained staff in long-term care facilities use their clinical judgement to decide what levels of supervision is required for each person at meal time. 

 

I ask the Premier: When will his government admit that these staff are under stress because there are not enough of them to supervise and assist people who need help? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, I would point out to the hon. member that the number of care hours provided to residents in our long-term care facilities is among the highest in the country.  We have well-trained, professional staff, we have LPNs, we have RNs, we have personal care attendants, all of whom work together to provide exceptional care to residents. 

 

Any time there are issues, they need to be addressed.  Is the system perfect?  No, I have acknowledged many times the system is far from perfect.  We are constantly trying to improve, but all of our long-term care homes are nationally accredited, they are held to a very high standard, our staff is well-trained, they are hardworking and they are professional.  We will always try to improve, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, I say to the minister: Is the system perfect?  No.  Do we have enough trained people to do the work?  No. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General found that regular assessments of long-term care residents' dietary needs are not always being met. 

 

Will the minister ensure that each facility has at least one qualified dietitian on site to oversee procedures and make sure that things are being done to help the patients? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, again, I remind the hon. member that our staffing levels, the standards we hold our staff and our system accountable for, are among the highest in the country.  That said, to her specific question on meal changes being approved by a dietitian, we have nutrition services provided by a registered dietitian based on a nutritional assessment and resident preferences as well. 

 

The operational standards do not state that dietary changes can only be approved by a dietitian.  There are other people like physicians and nurses who are also involved in assessing residents' changing needs.  We take the views of all those professionals very seriously and we want to ensure that our professionals are working together to provide the highest quality of care possible.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

People desperate for housing cannot move into vacant Newfoundland and Labrador Housing units because growing numbers of the units need maintenance and repair.

 

I ask the minister: How many units are vacant and when will the work be done?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Mr. Speaker, we have over 5,000 units in inventory with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.  We have a regime that makes sure that maintenance is happening on a regular basis.  The numbers which the member opposite is referring to I certainly do not have here in front of me, but we can make that available in the near future.

 

Mr. Speaker, the great work that Newfoundland and Labrador Housing is doing has been called out all over the country.  They have received national awards and international awards.  We are an example for the rest to follow.  I am proud of the work that we are doing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, seniors with leaking roofs and windows are waiting to proceed with critical home repairs through the Provincial Home Repair Program, but cannot without assessments by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing inspectors.  They are being told they have to wait at least eight weeks. 

 

Now is the time to do these repairs.  This program is useless if people cannot use it.

 

I ask the minister: What is the holdup and how long will people have to wait?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Mr. Speaker, when you have 5,000 units in your inventory, there is always going to be rotation of units that are going to be out of service.  When people have left for whatever reasons, we have to go in and do the work that needs to be done.  If there is a unit that is vacant and is ready to go, we will certainly find whoever is next in the queue and move them into that unit. 

 

Saying that, Mr. Speaker, we also have a policy where we reserve units across the Island for emergencies.  If somebody's house burns down, we need to have a unit to move him into, if possible.  If somebody is a victim of family violence or domestic violence, we need to have a unit to move people into. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there are policies in place for units to be left out there that are vacant, but the ones that are vacant that you see are the ones that we are renovating.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The time for Question Period has expired.

 

Presenting Reports –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

 

Tabling of Documents.

 

Notices of Motion.

 

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

 

Petitions.

 

Petitions

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for 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 Applied Behaviour Analysis – ABA program – for children with autism is funded by the Department of Health and Community Services; and

 

WHEREAS the program was introduced in 1999 and is in serious need of revision; and

 

WHEREAS with the advances made in early diagnosis of autism, the number of high-functioning children being diagnosed with autism has drastically increased; and

 

WHEREAS the current ABA program does not take into account that children on the autism spectrum are involved in many educational, recreational, and social activities outside of the home; and

 

WHEREAS the current ABA program requires that the therapist be accompanied at all times by another adult, which is not only inconvenient, but can be quite costly when a parent is unable to be that second adult due to work or other obligations; and

 

WHEREAS the current ABA program ends at Grade 3, but autism is a life-long social disorder;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House to urge the government to implement a review of the ABA program with considerations given to alternate programming options, and to extend programming beyond Grade 3.

 

As in duty bound, you petitioners will ever pray.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask members for their co-operation.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I have entered this petition on a number of occasions, and obviously it is a very serious one that affects constituents in every district that is represented by members in this House.

 

The good news is that there has been a lot of attention paid to this.  The bad news is that government, like many of the things that they do – and it has been outlined by the Auditor General – they measure success in the amount of dollars that they have invested, and not in the outcomes.  This is a prime example right here.  Any time you ask a question on autism you get back that yes, we have invested X number of dollars – but the problems are still there.

 

The problem that we seem to have now is there does not seem to be a recognition that this goes beyond children, and we have adults – again, this program goes to Grade 3.  I would like to see that acknowledgement made by this government, first, that we do have an issue.  ABA is a great program, but if you talk to parents out there, if you talk to educators, we need a review of the program.  I think everybody here could agree to that.  Beyond that and going right to the top there we need a strategy – and that is something that this government has not put in place, is a strategy to deal with this.  It is a government that scrambles and reacts, throws money at the problem, and then wonders why the problem is not fixed, because they do not have a plan.

 

So let's get a plan in place.  We need a plan, and the first thing we can do is start talking to the parents because they are out there desperately crying out for some attention, and we need to give it to them.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We, the citizens serviced by Curtis Hospital, located in St. Anthony, Newfoundland and Labrador, petition the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Labrador-Grenfell Health to retain the midwives and allow them to continue to perform other duties at Curtis Hospital. 

 

Our midwives offer services that cannot be duplicated and which cannot be replaced.  The level of care they offer and the knowledge and training they have in the area of obstetrics is immense.  It will be a great disservice to the people of this area if our midwives are no longer available to care for the people here.  Privatizing midwifery or waiting five to seven years for regulation, as stated by government, is unacceptable.  We have an operational model of midwifery here in St. Anthony that has been delivering outstanding care for over ninety years. 

 

We urge the House of Assembly to implore the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Labrador-Grenfell Health to preserve our midwifery services at Curtis Hospital.

 

Mr. Speaker, this petition is signed by residents primarily in the Straits, Flower's Cove, Bear Cove, Shoal Cove, Sandy Cove, as well as Port Saunders.  I had the opportunity to meet with Labrador-Grenfell Health executive and the leadership team and raise this particular issue.  They have clearly stated that they want to see midwifery in a publicly funded system. 

 

Yet, the former Minister of Health has pointed out in a news conference well over a year ago that this government is focused on privatizing midwifery, privatizing the health care services, and taking it from a publicly funded setting that was working extremely well.  We have a number of residents – I have constituents who are actually working in other provinces as midwives who would be able to come back and work in St. Anthony at Curtis Hospital. 

 

You talk about population growth.  You talk about looking at trying to retain youth and skilled professionals.  When we talk about the important role of a health care team, one would think that the government should be focused on looking at these options as other jurisdictions have. 

 

We see where British Columbia and Ontario have embraced midwifery.  It is providing some outstanding results.  If we look at the historical context, it is something that has been working and working well for over ninety years. 

 

Midwives have helped a number of people out.  That Facebook group that we have when it comes to parents, families, and members – there are thousands of people who are asking for this request.  They see the government is completely focused on privatization of those health care services.


Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: 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 in 2011 the provincial government announced it would lift the 8 per cent provincial portion of the HST off residential heat and light by introducing the Residential Energy Rebate; and

 

WHEREAS heat is a necessity of life and a health concern, particularly for seniors; and

 

WHEREAS the provincial government has projected oil prices to increase in the next five years;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to stop taxing home energy and to reverse its decision to abolish the Residential Energy Rebate.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, on this occasion, I would like to thank the people of Grand Falls- Windsor, Springdale, and Bishop's Falls for signing this petition and sending it in and expressing their concerns as regards to government's role in increasing the price of heating products that people are using in the house.

 

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, tomorrow, we will be going through a private member's motion talking about the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy.  We know that several years ago government talked about this in their Poverty Reduction Strategy.  They talked about putting disposable income back in – particularly back in seniors' pockets and helping out those people who were in trouble when it came to paying their heating and light costs.  This was one of the initiatives that government thought would be a great initiative to put money back in their pockets so that people could actually feed themselves and at the same time make heat a little bit more affordable.

 

This is a primary health concern, particularly among seniors, that government needs to pay attention to.  It is also a primary concern when it comes to keeping money in the economy and allowing people at the same time to pay for food rather than having to pay for it all on fuel.  Mr. Speaker, the 8 per cent tax is not an easy burden for somebody on a low income to maintain and to be paying out all the time. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I will leave this for the government's consideration again, to reconsider their position when it comes to the Residential Energy Rebate.  Hopefully they will reinstate it.  If they are open thinkers, like they are thinking about when it comes to the HST, having gone one way and thinking about putting on the HST and taking it off again, hopefully this is one area where government can respond and say that they will not – they will pick up the charge again and not decide to put provincial taxes back on heating and back on light again.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Before I recognize the next member to present a petition, I would ask members if they would take their private conversations outside.  The Chamber is becoming really disruptive.  I ask all members for their co-operation.

 

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 humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS there is no traffic signage or traffic control devices present on the eastbound traffic from Whitbourne, or for oncoming westbound traffic from the east end of Tilton, or exiting from either Route 73 off Veteran's Memorial Highway from Harbour Grace; and

 

WHEREAS due to increased residential dwellings, residents with small children, and a resident living with hearing impairment, inadequate signage and no visible sidewalks increase the risk of residents being hit by oncoming traffic; and

 

WHEREAS the speed limit is fifty kilometres an hour; and

 

WHEREAS dangerous driving motorists drive excessive speeds beyond the speed limit; and

 

WHEREAS there is no traffic signage to advise motorists they are entering a residential zone, non-confirmative drivers do not have enough time to slow down;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to erect adequate traffic signage and traffic control devices and revisit and reduce the speed limit from the current fifty. 

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the issue is exactly the reduction of the speed limit, I think adequate signage would probably prevail a little bit better there.  The residents in this area, many of them have small children.  There is one lady there with a hearing impairment.  They are very concerned.  If you came across the New Harbour Barrens, the speed limit there is eighty kilometres an hour and what is taking place, just outside as they are entering Tilton, they are not slowing down because there is simply no signage there or not enough signage there to allow people to drive the proper speed there. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is a simple matter of the Minister of Transportation taking the time to ask his employees to just check that area.  There are very serious concerns.  The minister also got a message from this lady there who is presenting me with those petitions.  If there is anything that can be done there, the residents of this area would certainly like to have it done.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Trinity – Bay de Verde.

 

MR. CROCKER: 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 residents of Heart's Delight-Islington feel that the condition of Main Road, Route 80, throughout the Town of Heart's Delight-Islington is a major safety concern; and

 

WHEREAS shoulders of the road are washed out and unsafe for pedestrians; and

 

WHEREAS government continues to delay the ditching and maintenance required on Route 80 through the town;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to make the necessary repairs to Route 80 through the community of Heart's Delight-Islington;

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to enter this petition on behalf of the residents of Heart's Delight – Islington this afternoon, and I guess the residents of Trinity – Bay de Verde as a whole.  Because one thing I hear day in and day out is the lack of summer maintenance that has left our communities all along Route 80, 74 and 70 with very, very poor ditching and shoulder washouts, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I can speak from personal experience when it comes to Heart's Delight – Islington because it is where I do a fair bit of walking.  What you will find, Mr. Speaker, over time through heavy rainfalls, the shoulders of the road have actually created ditches and small gorges going off the road.  A pedestrian totally has to walk on the pavement itself to navigate around the towns on Route 80. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I understand the department has issues with summer maintenance, but one thing I look at with summer maintenance when it comes to highways and roads, it is a pay now or pay later.  Because, Mr. Speaker, if we do not ensure we have the proper culverts and the proper ditching in our communities, when we have weather systems, and we have seen an increasing severity of weather systems over the years, we are going to have more and more problems. 

 

A lot of these issues, I think, in the District of Trinity – Bay de Verde and Heart's Delight – Islington as a community, stem from the closure of the Heart's Content highways depot, which happened back in the mid-2000s under the current Administration.  It was another one of those issues, Mr. Speaker, where it was cut off your nose to spite your face.  Heart's Content is very strategically located in the district.  With the closure of that depot, crews now have a much more difficult time getting out around the district to make the necessary repairs. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I do call upon the department to ensure that the proper summer maintenance and the shoulders of the road throughout the community of Heart's Delight – Islington, and throughout the entire Trinity – Bay de Verde is something that the department take a serious look at in this coming summer maintenance season. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Orders of the Day. 

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper, Motion 1, and ask leave to introduce a bill, An Act To Amend The Teachers' Pensions Act.  (Bill 15)

 

So moved by me, and seconded by the Minister of Health and Community Services, that the said bill be now read the first time. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

It is moved and seconded that the hon. Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Teachers' Pensions Act, Bill 15, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 15 be now read a first time?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Teachers' Pensions Act,” carried.  (Bill 15)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Teachers' Pensions Act.  (Bill 15)

 

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: Tomorrow. 

 

On motion, Bill 15 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 would like to call Order 2, An Act To Amend The Health And Community Services Act, Bill 11. 

 

So moved by me, seconded by the Minister of Health and Community Services, that the said bill be now read a third time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the said bill, Bill 11, be now read a third time.

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Health And Community Services Act.  (Bill 11)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and that its title be as on the Order Paper.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Health And Community Services Act,” read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 11)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper, Bill 13, An Act To Amend The House Of Assembly Act.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Continuing debate in second reading on Bill 13.

 

I recognize the hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is ironic that 800 years ago yesterday we signed the Magna Carta; 800 years ago yesterday we signed the Magna Carta to – I see that the peons on the other side who do not have the nerve enough to speak to this bill are speaking up already.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. J. BENNETT: In any event, Mr. Speaker, the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago yesterday.  By this piece of legislation, the Premier who swore to uphold the law less than a year ago is going to use his force, his majority to undo the law to legitimize him, something that the barons did to delegitimize King John 800 years ago. 

 

The Premier has not even spoken to the bill.  Mr. Speaker, when does it ever happen that this government brings in legislation and all of the ministers run and hide because they are ashamed to speak to it?  They are so ashamed that they will not speak to the bill that they say is good for everybody else.  It is unbelievable.  It is absolutely disgraceful.  It is absolutely pathetic that these members will not speak to this bill that they say is good for all of us.

 

If you look at the speaking chart and go across the front row, with the exception of the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, who is about to lose his seat, and who got up and ranted in his irrelevant and puerile way, typically, yesterday for a few minutes and used up less than his time.  It is only the Minister of Justice in the front row who even spoke to this bill.  The Minister of Justice had to speak to it because he brought it in.  He had to speak to it.  Someone had to speak to it.  Then, virtually all the other ministers ran and hid.

 

The Premier has not spoken to it.  The Deputy Premier has not spoken to it.  The Minister of Natural Resources has not spoken to it.  The Attorney General has not spoken to it.  The Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador has not spoken to it.  The Minister of Finance had not spoken to it. 

 

We will give the Minister of AES a pass for a reason we will not discuss here, because I will be shouted down if I do.  The Minister of Fisheries has not spoken to it.  So across the front row we have two ministers who have spoken to it.  One who was bound to speak to it, and one who did not make any sense or advance the argument when he did speak to it, and who is losing his seat anyway – unbelievable.

 

Mr. Speaker, how did we find ourselves in this predicament 800 years into democracy, when someone is sworn to uphold democracy, needs to introduce a law to legitimize himself to hang onto power for longer than the law currently allows him?  He is going to use his power to change the law to make him a legitimate Premier of this Province after September.  It is absolutely outrageous.  You talk about democracy watch – good grief.  You should watch democracy die in this Province under this person.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, where did all of this start?  Well, this started really in January 2014 when the only elected female Premier of the Province threw in the towel, ran out of energy after twenty-seven months.  She did not even serve a full term; elected, and did not even serve four years.  She did not serve three years.  She served twenty-seven months and then the lights went out.  The party that campaigned on new energy, lost all the energy they had.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I say to the hon. member, you have to make your comments relevant to the bill.

 

The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I understand this bill is necessitated in part because this Premier needs a mandate.  I was talking about the last Premier who quit –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I am not asking the Member for St. Barbe to explain why his comments are relevant.  I am telling him his comments are irrelevant and he needs to speak to the bill.

 

The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, this particular bill has been necessitated because of a leadership convention, and I think that we can all agree that a leadership convention was relevant.  The leadership convention that resulted in this Premier becoming the Premier of the Province has a provision that says if you become Premier by virtue of a leadership convention, you must go to the people within twelve months of being sworn in.  So hopefully, that will be relevant. 

 

Mr. Speaker, contained in the bill – section 3.1 of the existing act is going to be set aside for this Premier in this bill by this act.  Section 3.1 is going to be set side; 3.1 is the Roger Grimes bill.  The Roger Grimes law which says you cannot hang on forever; you cannot hang on for more than twelve months.  Well, you can if you change the law.  This Premier is about to demonstrate that you can hang on longer because Bill 13, which is the one that we are debating, says for this time and this time only the Roger Grimes law is set aside, this Premier can cling to power until November 30.  That is another clause, in another section, and I will try to remain relevant.

 

I will go clause by clause and try to explain to the people who are watching why this Province which in 2007 said every four years you will have an election starting on Tuesday, October 2007, October 2011, October 2015 and so on; however, this bill says notwithstanding anything in this bill – it means no matter what else we said, this is what matters.  All that matters is that section 3.1, the Roger Grimes section, does not apply to this Premier.  That will apply to the next Premier because it is not taken out.  It is left in the legislation.  It is left in the House of Assembly Act, Mr. Speaker.  The House of Assembly Act remains unchanged in that respect right after this Premier has his shot at clinging to power, which will be more than twelve months after he became Premier. 

 

Now, there are other sections in this bill that the people of the Province may find interesting.  What they may find interesting is that there is a section which says – and it is useful section.  This is the type of a bill where when you study it and you study it in detail you say well, how much harm does it do – how much good does it do?  Does the good that it does outweigh the harm that it does?  I would say, barely.  The good that it does outweighs the harm that it does by barely enough.  You would be worse off if you did not pass it then if you did pass it, but not by very much.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, the section that I am referring to, in order to continue to be relevant in this case, is section 54.  Section 54 says that a by-election must be called within sixty days after there is a vacancy.  This bill says that if you are within six months of an election, then you do not have a by-election. 

 

This is not a bad bill.  This section is not bad.  In fact, this section is in play in virtually every jurisdiction in Canada.  In fact, we are finally catching up with every jurisdiction in Canada in respect of the by-election section.  However, why is it done?  Why is it being done on this occasion?

 

Mr. Speaker, when I read the comments on VOCM online when people were talking about the bill, they kept referring to rats leaving the sinking ship.  This is the rats leaving the sinking ship section.  When I look down through and I see the number of hon. members, I said well these are not rats; they have put in their time.  They have put in their time and now they want to move on. 

 

When I look down I see at least eight members who clearly will not run again, who clearly will resign, who clearly – Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, including yourself, you have indicated an indication to retire.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

It is totally unparliamentary for any member in debate to make any reference to the Speaker in the Chair.  I ask the member to be careful.

 

The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Member for Gander has indicated that – and Gander is a changed seat.  It is a larger seat now.  He has indicated he wants to run for another party, and that is fine.  Why wouldn't he?  You cannot really say that this is a rat leaving a sinking ship.  That is really unfair; he wants to run for another party. 

 

He served his party well.  He is a long-term member of the party.  He is a long-term member of the government.  Quite frankly, in dealing with him, I thought that he was a pretty good minister.  No question, you get an answer out of him, not always yes, but you are going to get an answer pretty quick.  It will be a fair answer regardless of party stripe.  So you cannot really say it in his case.

 

Then, Mr. Speaker, when we look at the Attorney General, I mean the Attorney General was literally dragged back in order to be Attorney General because of the lack of depth on the bench on the other side.  So they did not really have many people to go with.  We saw that they had to go outside of the government to find a Minister of Justice and found a Minister of Justice, but the Attorney General needs to be a lawyer. 

 

He is a hon. gentleman.  I dealt with him personally.  He has done his time.  If he decides to resign between now and, I suppose ninety days less than November – so if he decides any time between now and the summer to resign, we have to have a by-election, unless we have this bill.

 

Mr. Speaker, numerous other members have indicated that they have really had enough.  They have really had enough.  They do not want to be here anymore.  The Premier himself has indicated yes, there may well be other resignations long before the election comes.  This is a section of this bill that is completely self-serving, is introduced into this legislation by this Premier, who by the current law that we have – and the current law is the House of Assembly Act – is that he will no longer be able to sit.  He will no longer be able to sit as Premier after September 26 if he has not called an election.

 

The only cure is that he can use the force of his majority to introduce legislation and ram it through this House, and then it makes him legal, and I suppose in a strictly legal term, it makes him legitimate, I guess.  I do not think in the eyes of the public, if you have to use your force, if you have to use your will, if you have to use your numbers and your mob to rewrite the law, and you rewrite the law so that it favours you, you can hang on longer than what the law was when you put up your hand and you took the oath, you took the oath to be Premium and to follow the law.  Well, it is not kind of convenient any more to follow the law.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, it is not convenient to follow the law because the polls are not very good.  It has nothing to do with the price of oil.  The polls are not very good, so this Premier needs to hang on for as long as he can.  Things have changed, he is not doing so well, and now he needs to extend his time.  Mr. Speaker, there was an opening.  There was an out.  He did not need to do this, even with this committee.

 

The committee was struck, and if you look at the committee that proposed this change in the boundaries, what was the composition of the committee?  Well, we would assume that a committee is going to have the legitimacy, it is going to be able to impose the size of our districts in this Province, would be something that people would say well, clearly, this is an impartial, neutral committee, this would have some gender equity – well, I guess would have some women on the committee, would we not?  Well, we do not.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a committee of political hacks, four political hacks, and if there was an opportunity, if there is any chance whatsoever to have some gender balance by having at least one female member, then that could have been the Chair.  We have enough judges in this Province who are smart enough to be able to chair a committee such as this, and then we could have a female judge who could have chaired – and all parties are guilty in this respect. 

 

My own party, we appointed a man.  The Third Party, they appointed a man.  The government appointed two men.  Is it fair to the voters who do not follow any particular party that the three parties in the House of Assembly should basically share up the power?  What about all of the people who do not necessarily follow any party?  Why shouldn't this committee have been representative of gender?  Why shouldn't it have been representative of geography? 

 

When five guys sit down in St. John's and decide how to divide up the Province for electoral purposes, it almost puts you in the mind of the Amulree Commission.  It takes you right back to the Amulree Commission and say, well, they are not fit to govern themselves.  That is what they said about our people.  That is what they said about us. 

 

For fifteen years we were under a committee.  This committee then decided, well, we are going to rush this thing through.  They had no choice but to rush it through.  They were given a timeline, and they complied with the timeline, but it was a rush job.  I think everybody would admit it was a pretty shoddy job.  It was a very poor job, and you can see the outcry. 

 

When first you act and then you consult, you do not tend to get a good result.  In any event, the committee put together a package, sent it out, and said what do you think of this?  Not many people thought very much of it.  They did not consult first, and they ought to have. 

 

The one ray of hope, the one good thing that could have come from this committee responding so quickly is there was time for a September election.  One person in this Province is bound by the law, which they call the Grimes law, and that is the Premier.  This committee did a slapped up job, threw it all together, full of political action, and a judge who has admitted to donating to the PC Party.  A financial donor to the PC Party and four political hacks decided, well, we are going to divide up the boundaries now and this is going to be fair to everybody – and no women on the committee, nobody in Labrador, nobody in Western Newfoundland, and nobody in Central. 

 

Anyway, the one thing they did bring in – by bringing this in, it is that this Premier could have been legitimized by a September election based on this committee's report.  But, did he do it?  Absolutely, he did not do it.  We could have all been here today pushing this through without the Roger Grimes clause being put in abeyance for this election because the Premier figures it is good business for anybody who becomes a Premier by virtue of a leadership convention to be forced to have an election within a year.  Oh, but not him.  He is the only one; he never wants this to apply. 

 

If somebody else takes over the government and that person takes off in six years, then that person is bound by the Grimes law.  So if the Premier figures he should not be bound by the Grimes, why wouldn't he strip it out entirely?  Why is he going to leave it there like a rake left out in the fall of the year to come up and smack the next Premier in the face if he wins an election by virtue of a leadership?  It is absolutely hypocrisy.  It is complete hypocrisy to set aside for one time only that this law should not apply to me, but for everybody else it is going to apply to them.

 

Mr. Speaker, I do not wonder why the Premier has not spoken to the bill.  He must be embarrassed to speak to it.  How can he justify to people that he is trying to ram this through?  Not trying to ram it through, he is going to ram it through.  When you look at the very limited number of members on the government side who have even had nerve enough to get up and speak to the bill, Mr. Speaker, it is really unfortunate. 

 

I have no issue with the forty members.  Forty members should be able to govern this Province, if it is done properly.  As a matter of fact, the idea came from the Leader of the Opposition.  The Leader of the Opposition had the idea of forty members.  At least he floated the idea in 2013. 

 

This Premier came back and said, well, we need something new, or we need something strong or something.  I am going to go with thirty-eight.  Well, the Opposition Party and the government worked together with an amendment which made this palatable, if barely palatable, but that did not include six-month by-elections.  That did not include relieving this Premier of the responsibility that he took on himself when he took the job. 

 

When he took the job, the reason that the date is late September is because he was not sworn in as early as he ought to have been sworn in.  Mr. Speaker, the one area that I think most people of the Province find really demeaning is the one that says we cannot conflict with a federal election. 

 

All over North America, states, provinces, countries run elections where they elect whole slates of individuals.  They elect school boards, municipal councils, they elect judges, and they elect commissioners all in one election.  What this government is saying to the people of this Province is, well, you are not really smart enough to figure out the difference between Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair, and Stephen Harper compared to Paul Davis and Earle McCurdy and – I am sorry, I withdraw the names, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the member that referring to members in the House of Assembly by name is unparliamentary, and I ask the member to withdraw.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, withdrawn.

 

Mr. Speaker, what this government is saying with this bill which says we cannot overlap with the federal election because the people of the Province are not discerning enough to know the difference between a federal election and a provincial election.  What does that say?  What does that mean that this government is saying about our people?  They are saying: You are not smart enough to be able to figure out whether you voted for a federal candidate or a provincial candidate. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is completely unnecessary.  It is absolutely unnecessary, but it provides a mechanism to avoid the four-year fixed election date.  It means the section of the bill that overrides 3.1, the Roger Grimes bill, does not quite do enough.  It only carries us into October.  So that only buys the Premier another few weeks.  He needs the one which says the people of the Province are not smart enough to figure out whether it is a federal election or a provincial election.  Then he puts it right to the end of November. 

 

I do not think the people will be fooled.  I do not think the outcome will be any different, but it is a real travesty to democracy what this bill is doing.  In spite of that, I find myself compelled to support it.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I can assure the Member for St. Barbe and others that there are many, many members on this side of the House who are quite passionate about this bill, quite passionate about the changes we are proposing, and quite excited to stand and share their views on this important piece of legislation that affects this very House that we find ourselves in today.

 

I take some exception to the comments made by the Member for St. Barbe, as I am sure many others do as well.  I will get to that, but I would like to share my own thoughts, just for a few minutes, on this particular bill and why I am going to stand and support it.

 

The Premier, when he commenced his term, made it very clear that House of Assembly reform was a priority for him and for his government.  It is something that lots have talked about for a long, long time.  As long as I have been in this House, there has been discussion happening, informally, about whether we should reform the institution.  There seems to be lots of agreement around the fact that this is an institution in need of reform. 

 

Everybody seemed enthusiastic until the time came where we were actually going to do something about it.  So rather than simply continue to talk about it, our Premier and this government has done something about it.  That is why we are here debating this bill again this afternoon.

 

He has not stopped with simply reforming the House of Assembly.  He has made it clear that we will also look at the structure of MHA pensions.  We will also look at how this House functions in terms of committees and the opportunities that may exist to get parliamentarians more involved in the democratic process.  These are commitments that our Premier has made and we will follow through on.  This bill is evidence of that, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is interesting that members opposite, at least one of the parties opposite, seemed to be in favour of reforming the House until it came time to actually follow through and do something about it. 

 

We have been very consistent in our view.  We have been very consistent all along in saying that House reform is needed and it should happen.  We do not need to wait another five years to do it.  Forty seats is an acceptable number, and this can also be achieved in a reasonable time frame.  The amount of time we have until November 30 is quite reasonable in allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to do his work with his team, but also allowing the federal election to take place without having an overlapping writ period, which I think makes a lot of good sense. 

 

The Member for St. Barbe disagrees.  Some of the other members opposite seem to agree for one reason or another, depending on the day, but we have been very consistent in our view.  The federal election is taking place in mid-October.  That is well known and it just makes good, practical, common sense to avoid that election, to avoid that writ period.  As well, the Chief Electoral Officer has made it clear in writing that he needs time to be ready if the boundaries are, in fact, changing.  For all those reasons, a slight shift in election date makes really good sense. 

 

Other members have taken an opportunity to talk a little bit about their own district and I will not go on for longer than is necessary, but I would like to talk about my great and historic district of Mount Pearl North. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: We heard about another Mount Pearl district last night, I believe, in the wee hours, so now I would like to share a few thoughts on –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: That is because of the great work you did now it is a great town to live in.  Isn't it? 

 

MR. KENT: Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: I am getting some encouragement on one side, some heckles on the other and that is just –

 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order, the hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South. 

 

MR. LANE: I say to the Minister of Finance it is not a town; it is a city. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order. 

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services. 

 

MR. KENT: It reminds me of a great Meatloaf song: “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth.”  We still agree on a few things, not as many as we used to.

 

Back to my district, formerly known as Waterford Valley, I was pleased to see the resurrection of the Waterford Valley name in the Commission's initial report, but my district will continue to be Mount Pearl North.  I have mixed feelings about the boundary changes, to be honest, like most members I suspect in this House.  I am not as impacted to the extent that some members are impacted, and I acknowledge that.  I am disappointed to be losing the section of the Town of Paradise that I am proud to represent.  I currently represent the bulk of Elizabeth Park.

 

Interestingly enough, I spent the first couple of years of my life living in Elizabeth Park, in that section of the district that I now represent, and had built a really strong connection to that community over the last eight years.  It has been a real honour to represent the Town of Paradise, and particularly the constituents of Elizabeth Park.  We have built a couple of new schools in Paradise during that time.  The town hall has been renovated, we built a new community centre, new arena.  Great progress has been made because people have been working together.  So I am disappointed to be relinquishing that portion of my district.

 

Interestingly enough, as the Member for Mount Pearl South highlighted in his remarks last night, I am also losing a little section of Mount Pearl, that happens to be the neighbourhood I grew up in.  There is an area around Sunrise Avenue, First Street, Second Street, Roosevelt Avenue, St. David's Avenue, Edinburgh Drive, that will now – St. Andrew's Avenue, did I say that already?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: No.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you.

 

Those streets will now find themselves in Mount Pearl South, where there were once upon a time.  Not a big change, of course, and I got to say, regardless of political stripe, my experience has been both municipally and provincially that politicians in Mount Pearl, regardless of political stripe, have worked well together and have been able to, at times, put politics aside in the best interests of the community.  I hope regardless of what happens this fall and beyond that, that kind of spirit of co-operation in the best interests of the citizens we represent will continue.

 

I am disappointed to be losing that section of a neighbourhood that I have spent most of my life in, but I am gaining another little section of Mount Pearl that I represented municipally for ten years.  A little section of Mount Pearl South will be coming over to Mount Pearl North.

 

I recognize that the Commission must have had a really difficult job in trying to balance all the numbers and to make an adjustment here which will result in impacts over here.  It could not have been an easy task.  I take exception to the comments made by the Member for St. Barbe that they did a shoddy job.  I find that offensive. 

 

They were all very credible people who clearly worked really hard, worked efficiently, and produced a very comprehensive report.  Not only did they do a good job producing an initial report in a timely fashion, they then listened to what people had to say, and they responded and came back with revisions that affected a lot of districts, including my own.  While I may agree or disagree with certain pieces of what was decided in terms of how it impacts my district and others around me, I definitely have great respect for the work that was done.  I am excited about the opportunity to represent some new constituents as well, if I am successful in the election this fall.

 

So I am gaining the neighbourhood that is closest to O'Donel High School in Mount Pearl – my old high school – Lindbergh Crescent and Scammell Crescent and the streets that are off both of those streets.  So I am looking forward to representing those neighbourhoods here in the House of Assembly, if I am given the opportunity to do so.

 

I will also be becoming a St. John's MHA, if I am successful this fall.  There is a neighbourhood that should be part of Mount Pearl – and I fought hard to make it part of Mount Pearl – called Brookfield Plains.  I know the Member for – I am forgetting his district name at the very moment.  The Member for Trinity – Bay de Verde likes to shout out about greenhouses now and then in his hon. House. 

 

Brookfield Plains, I can assure, you that is where there were once greenhouses located.  In fact, having grown up in that old neighbourhood I referenced a few minutes ago, I grew up in the orange glow, Mr. Speaker.  I do not know what impact that has had on me.  It certainly has not made me a New Democrat, thank God.  I did grow up for a number of years in that glow.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Brookfield Plains, in all seriousness, that land has always had a connection to the City of Mount Pearl and the former Town of Mount Pearl.  I know that there are a lot of residents in that neighbourhood who are currently well represented in the House of Assembly by the hon. Member for Kilbride. 

 

They have a connection to our community.  Many of them come from Mount Pearl.  Their children go to school in Mount Pearl.  They attend worship in Mount Pearl.  Many of them will buy their groceries in Mount Pearl.  To get out of their neighbourhood, they have to drive through Mount Pearl.  So it should be part of Mount Pearl.  I have always been on record as saying so.  I know the member opposite would agree with me.  I look forward to representing that neighbourhood as part of the new District of Mount Pearl North. 

 

Anyway I know all these changes present challenges for all of us.  I do feel badly for some of my colleagues on both sides of the House who have tough decisions to make about what district they are going to run, if they are going to run at all.  I am fortunate personally that much of my district remains intact.  I feel good that Mount Pearl will still have two strong districts, as it always has. 

 

We have had a third MHA for the last eight years and I think we have been well served through that structure as well.  I do think that the proposal that the Commission has made is a reasonable one.  The Town of Paradise will once again have two MHAs, as well, who will have considerable focus on the town's interests and needs.  I think that is an acceptable approach.

 

The suggestions that the Member for St. Barbe makes about this process being rushed and the job being shoddy I think really shows disrespect and contempt for this hon. House, for the people who were involved in the process including a judge, and for members who have backgrounds in various parties who are not just St. John's people as the member suggests.  Bill Matthews, for instance, was a rural MHA and a rural MP for a good part of his career, who would certainly have a really good understanding of the issues in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.  I think all members of the Commission have given it a good effort.  They have backgrounds that should be respected.  I believe that the people in Newfoundland and Labrador, more importantly than all of that, will be well represented with these proposed changes. 

 

When you look at the number of members in the various Legislatures around the country and you compare to Newfoundland and Labrador, when you do that comparison, I would argue that we will continue to be well represented in this House.  The people of Newfoundland and Labrador will be well represented in this House. 

 

The Member for St. Barbe talks about September 26.  Well, the Chief Electoral Officer in this Province, who the member has also disrespected today, has outlined why that date is impractical.  I was pleased that the new Leader of the New Democratic Party acknowledged as well that it does not make sense to have overlapping writ periods.  It is unnecessary, it is confusing, it is just not sensible – it is nonsensical.

 

For that reason, I think the Chief Electoral Officer has weighed in and provided some commentary that I do not think members in this House should ignore.  By shifting the election date by several weeks, we avoid that conflict.  Some will say well, you could have shifted it earlier.  Yes, we could have, but the Chief Electoral Officer made it clear that that was not practical, that it would not give him time to do the preparation necessary in light of the boundary changes that are being brought forth through the Commission's report and through this legislation.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, by bringing in this legislation, we are a government that has shown leadership.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: We are prepared to make the tough decisions and we are prepared to act on something that all political parties have been talking about for a long, long time.  I will go as far as saying that there are more changes needed in terms of how this House of Assembly runs, and we are committed to looking at those issues as well.

 

I think that most people in Newfoundland and Labrador actually agree that fewer MHAs make sense, that reforming this institution makes sense, and I believe we are small enough and we are agile enough that if we work together, we could have the best model of parliamentary democracy anywhere in the country.  We do not have it today, but I believe it is possible if we are serious about working together, and I hope that day will come.

 

For members to get up, like the Member for St. Barbe did before I spoke, and show total disregard and disrespect for the committee, for the Chief Electoral Officer, for fellow hon. members, it is disappointing and it is disingenuous and it is disheartening –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. KENT: Here we go again, Mr. Speaker –

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe, on a point of order? 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I do not mind a personal attack (inaudible); however, I would prefer if he do it in a money bill when he does not have to relevant to what he speaking to. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services, to continue. 

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The fresh prince of relevance.  I am surprised he did not use his twenty minutes to educate us about the boundaries in Ontario. 

 

In all seriousness, Mr. Speaker, his own leader acknowledged the conflict with the September election date because of the federal election happening in mid-October.  His own leader acknowledged that.  It is unfortunate that there has been a change in position time and time again by the party opposite. 

 

I feel we are doing the right thing.  I think this is a good piece of legislation.  I think thorough research has been done.  I commend the boundary commission for doing a really good job, despite the fact that not everybody is going to be happy with the proposed boundary changes.  When you are dealing with something like this that is so politically charged, that is inevitable.  I think we have landed in a good place and I think we are doing what is in the best interest of our own constituents that we represent and the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

For that reason, Mr. Speaker, and I hope I will have other opportunities, I am pleased to rise here in second reading to lend my support to this bill. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is an honour for me to stand here and represent my constituents in St. John's North and speak to second reading of Bill 13.  I just want to start out by saying thanks to the members of the Commission for their work.  I know that it is not satisfactory to some Members of the House of Assembly.  I am not sure that we had enough time and I am not sure if we were given a longer period of time if everything would have worked out to everyone's satisfaction, but I really understand where people are coming from. 

 

I want to talk about some of the changes in here as they relate to the district that I represent, and then some of the political implications coming out of this.  I also want to rebut some of the nonsensical comments that were made here last evening by Members of the House of Assembly with respect to this bill and positions of the political parties here in the House of Assembly. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed representing the District of St. John's North the past, almost four years.  People who know my work here in the House know that I do – there is probably not a week or a couple of weeks that go by that I am not out knocking on doors, bugging my constituents, chatting with them about whether it is this bill or legislation before the House of Assembly, or cold calling people to ask them how everything is going and getting to know people at bit.  So it saddens me to be losing – I guess I should say my intention is to seek the Liberal nomination in the District of Mount Scio.  By doing that, I will be losing a number of constituencies and neighbourhoods, should I be successful in getting the nomination and then being successful in getting a seat here in the House of Assembly after the general election on November 30. 

 

I have done a lot of door knocking.  I have probably knocked on almost all of the doors all over again since the last election.  It is just something I enjoy doing.  If you understand St. John's North – I always say the great and historic District of St. John's North.  I am not really kidding because if you look at Mount Scio there on one side of the Avalon Mall and you look at Mount Ken on the other side, because that is where Kenmount Road gets its name, all that area up through the middle is called Waterford Valley.  Over 100 years ago, there were thirty-odd family farms.  Scottish and Irish settlers who came here and they farmed up that lush valley there.

 

Over the years, most recently the Kelseys – that is where Kelsey Drive gets its name – they had a milk farm up there, but there were lots of farms up through that valley.  On O'Briens Hill there is still O'Brien's farm, which is a provincial historic site, which is there to help us all remember our Irish and farming cultural heritage in the Province. 

 

That is a bit of the history there.  It is something I have learned just through wanting to represent that district because I first ran in that district in 1999.  I have been studying the area since and getting to know the people who have lived there for a long time.

 

One of the areas that is not going to be in the District of Mount Scio is the area, which I would say west, that is St. John's West, not proper west, but west of the Avalon Mall, so all of the neighbourhoods that go up over the side of Mount Ken and over towards Blackmarsh Road.  I especially have developed a good relationship with the people at the west heights neighbourhood association there on New Pennywell Road and the surrounding streets.  So I will miss all of those people: Lisa, Daphne, and Gail, and a lot of people who I have worked with over the past four or so years.

 

The new District of Mount Scio is probably about 65 per cent St. John's North.  Another area that is not in it that I currently represent is a portion of Portugal Cove-St. Phillips.  That will be going into the new district that is Portugal Cove – Bell Island, I believe is the name.  So I will not represent those folks anymore should I be successful in what I am planning to do. 

 

The new District of Mount Scio adds that portion of the District of St. John's East, bounded by Newtown Road, Empire Avenue, Bonaventure Avenue, and Elizabeth Avenue, and also the area of Paradise called Elizabeth Park that the Member for Mount Pearl North currently represents.  I think the Boundaries Commission had some decent thinking when they added Elizabeth Park to that area. 

 

If you think about Kenmount Terrace, which is sort of in the middle of the District of Mount Scio, a lot of those people shop at the same places.  Their kids will inevitably be going to some of the same schools over time, participating in a lot of the same community activities.  For me, it will be similar to my current work in that I will be representing two urban municipalities or citizens of two urban municipalities.

 

Those are the changes as I see it.  I did provide a written submission to the Commission.  I did not present in person.  I did not have a whole lot of issues with the work that they have done.  I had two emails from people about the bill.  I know that is not the experience, Mr. Speaker, of other Members of the House of Assembly, and some over here and some on the other side.  I got two emails, one demanding I vote for the bill and one demanding I vote against the bill.  So I will have to keep you guessing. 

 

I want to talk about some of the stuff, the frou-frou that went on here last night.  One thing that surprised me last week, the Minister of Transportation and Works got up and said something to the effect – now he can stand up and correct me if he wants.  He said something to the effect of we are all upset over here, the Liberals are upset because you foiled our master plan.  We are taking over the world or something. 

 

That is the job of Opposition is to try to get over on the other side of the House.  That is the way all of this works.  That should not come as any surprise to anybody over there, because some of the members were over there one time.  That should not come as any surprise.  I thought about it.  I said, my God I lived in residence back in the day and I thought it is like Potsie and the Sweathogs are running the show here.  That mentality, I just cannot relate to whatsoever. 

 

This bill, the Premier said, was about saving taxpayers money.  That is the reason why.  We can go back through the whole history.  I will not go back through the electoral history, Dunderdale resigning, Frank Coleman resigning, the new Premier coming in, all of that.  Before the bill that enabled all of this came before the Legislature, the PCs had two nominations done, and one of them was the Premier's. 

 

They had no plan to do this going into the Christmas holidays, or at least there was no obvious plan for this.  We came back after the Christmas holidays and they wanted to bring in the pension bill, and then this came in alongside of it.  The explanation was that this was about saving money.  So that is in stark contradiction to what the Minister of Transportation and Works was getting on with.

 

Another thing, the Member for Lab West got up and he decried this whole idea that the Liberals are having a free vote.  It is like some sort of foreign object.  What is wrong with having a free vote every now and then?  I say to the Member for Labrador West, Mr. Speaker, that he might forget the history, but I certainly do not forget it. 

 

When the FPI Act came before this Legislature several years ago, there was a free vote that Premier Danny Williams, who sat over there, held in here, and basically your party voted for it and he voted against it.  He did not vote for it, in any case.  So the Premier did not even vote for the legislation that the rest of his Cabinet and members voted for.  That was the free vote.  There were no complaints then.  It is not unusual to have a free vote.  Political parties often run on that platform, that there will be more free votes.  That is a good thing.  We are often chastised for not having enough freedom to vote your conscience in this Legislature.  So that is a bit ridiculous.

 

Now, another thing that has been said here in the House is that the NDP has been saying this was all done under the cover of darkness, and everybody was ignorant of what was going on.  It all just emerged in the middle of the night.  Well, as a number of members have already stated, the first thing happened after this proposal came in is the Leader of the Liberal Party held a press conference and talked about the three conditions that we were willing to accept this reduction in seats under.  One of them was preserving the four seats for Labrador.  Then there was a whole process of negotiation whereby the Official Opposition spoke to the government about how all of this could work, and there was a process of negotiation that went over several days.

 

Now, the NDP never contacted anyone to find out what was going on.  It was obvious that there were negotiations taking place, because that is the way it is supposed to work in here.  You cannot just complain all the time and not look for solutions.  This is about negotiation.  They talk about collaboration and they never collaborate.  If you want collaboration then we have to have collaboration.  You cannot say you want collaboration and then not collaborate ever. 

 

This whole suggestion from the NDP is that we are disunited because we are having a free vote, we are not being whipped.  Well, I say, Mr. Speaker, if you govern your caucus with an iron whip, then you are going to have fewer members over time, I tell you that.  That is what is going to happen.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KIRBY: The other thing I wanted to say about all of that too, and I am glad the Premier pointed this out because he reminded me that the Liberal Party and the NDP supported a reduction in seats.  This story, I had to go dig it up because he said, this was March 1, 2013, and the title is: Liberals, NDP call for fewer seats in the House of Assembly.  The Leader of the NDP at the time said, “I look at places like Nova Scotia, Ontario or other provinces, and the MLAs have many more people in their ridings than we have in our districts.”  The current Leader of the NDP is out talking about how somehow we are too incompetent to do our jobs in representing more people and then just a couple of years ago, that was no problem. 

 

Now, I do not know, I was on this show On Point, that unfortunately CBC is not carrying anymore, and the good member, the hon. Member for St. John's East was on representing the NDP.  I raised this point, and I said your leader sat right there in that chair and said your party was in favour of seat reduction.  He said she did not put a number on it. 

 

Well, let me extrapolate from this statement, that Ontario and the MLAs there have more people in their ridings than we have in our districts.  In Ontario, the range of population that is represented by members of the provincial Parliament – because they call them MPPs in Ontario; MPPs in Ontario represent anywhere from 71,000 to 170,000 in Brampton West people. 

 

So basically under that model proposed by the NDP in that interview, this Legislature would consist of seven to three seats, three to seven seats.  You could have a comfortable minority government perhaps with just three seats.  Look, they have just three seats.  How ironic that it works out that way.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KIRBY: I just want to put that to rest once and for all. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KIRBY: With respect to some of the technical aspects of the bill, Mr. Speaker, this bill proposes to reduce the number of seats in the House of Assembly to forty.  I believe that we can get the work done with forty.  I believe all the good Members of this House of Assembly are competent enough to do that.  You have certainly shown that over the past almost four years and some of you have been here, well, since it opened in some cases.  Maybe it just seems to me that is the case. 

 

I was not talking about the Member for Bay of Islands, Mr. Speaker.  I do not know why he is looking at me. 

 

I believe we can get the work done with that.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KIRBY: When the original bill came before the Legislature the Premier said thirty-eight.  Then there was a process of negotiation whereby the Labrador seats were protected and they arrived at this number of forty. 

 

It also sets out the new boundaries which we have discussed right down to the end.  There will be a little more said before we get to the end of second reading.  I am satisfied with the boundaries myself, to a large extent.  There are some problems with them.  I am not sure we can resolve the problems within the proper timeline because we know that people in this Province want an election this year. 

 

The Chief Electoral Officer – there was correspondence that went back and forth from the Liberal Party to the chief electoral office.  I am not sure if any of the other parties engaged in this, but it was a process of negotiation and finding information.  We asked the Chief Electoral Officer for some clarification on all the timelines. 

 

There was a window whereby we could have had a September election this year.  The government does not want to do that.  The government has a majority.  We recognize that.  We have had two lengthy filibusters in here on Bill 29 and Muskrat Falls.  We know the government can put through legislation because it has a majority so we accept that. 

 

The Leader of the Liberal Party said originally that he would accept pushing the election into November.  That was the first day all this was proposed.  He did say that and he stuck by his words the entire time.  He did not back down from it at any point in time, and so I am satisfied with that.

 

I do not understand one part of this – and I apologize to Legislative Counsel and I apologize to those who are responsible for drafting this bill because I do not think it was the members who sit over there.  I have some serious concerns about this one section here.  I do not have an amendment, but I just want to put this on the record.

 

It is clause 1 which amends section 3 of the House of Assembly Act.  It is section 3(4) in Clause 1 in this Bill.  It says – let's see if I can get this out now – “Notwithstanding subsection (2), if, on April 1 in the year that a general election is to be held under that subsection, the Premier is of the opinion that the day that would be an ordinary polling day under that subsection is not suitable for that purpose because it overlaps with a federal election, the Premier shall choose an alternative day in accordance with subsection (5) and shall provide advice to the Lieutenant-Governor that a general election be held on that alternative day.” 

 

There has to be a simpler way to write that.  Mr. Speaker, I am sort of ashamed to say that I spent thirteen years in university – God love my mother and father; they have a lot of patience – but I have some difficulty understanding what is intended by this.  I think what it means is that if by April 1 in a given year that the Premier thinks there is going to be a conflict with a federal election of some overlap, that they will change the date to the last Monday in November in the fourth calendar year following the ordinary polling day for the most recently held general election is the alternative day referred to in subsection (4). 

 

This is really cumbersome language and I think if we want legislation to be accessible to the general public, whereby people can go online, read this stuff and understand what the laws of the Province are – because people are interested in this Province about when the election date is and so on and so forth.  People are engaged.  We are lucky here – somebody said the other night it is sort of like this is the end of democracy here in the Province and that we should be ashamed of ourselves.  I do not believe that at all.  Do you know what?  This process has been a good one for this Province.  People have been engaged, people have been enraged, people have been upset by this, and people have shown passion about politics over this.  That is a good thing for us in this Province.  We should feel good about that. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KIRBY: People are paying attention to what is going on in here, and that is really important because too often in too many provinces, in too many places, in this country people do not care, they are disengaged, they are complacent.  By and large, this has created good conversation.  Whatever side of the issue you are on, this is good for our democracy; but for the love of God, Mr. Speaker, people have to be able to read it and understand it. 

 

Anyway, I will leave it there.  I thank all members for their contribution to the debate and I appreciate everyone putting up with my contribution.  I know that it always does not please everybody but you are who you are and again I thank all hon. members for their hard work.  I think we are all here for a reason that we think is right in the least.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. GRANTER: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand here in the House, just to stand for a few moments to address the House on Bill 13, An Act to Amend the House of Assembly Act.  It was interesting, the Member for St. Barbe must have had some wisdom and wanted to talk about which members over here – he has inspired which members over here would or not speak to Bill 13.  I was sat here while he was speaking and I was thinking to myself, I was right ready to get on my feet to share with the Province and the people of the good District of Humber West my experience over the last number of years as their representative here in the House of Assembly, and it is all about change.

 

When we look back on life, life is all about change and every one of us have gone through change experiences.  What this is about with regard to Bill 13, Mr. Speaker, is all about change.  We are going from forty-eight seats to forty seats.  We went through a process, an initial process of going out and seeking collaboration.  My District of Humber West that I have represented going on five years has changed.  It is changing now to what is a District of Corner Brook, which encompasses most of the City of Corner Brook and takes in from the initial changes much of a section of Townsite on up to parts of Humber Heights with regard to the split coming down the known parkway.

 

It is always important that we represent the people.  When we come into this House, we dedicate ourselves to working for the people of the Province and working for the people of the district.  When you get elected and put into Cabinet, you park your district at the door, Mr. Speaker, and you work for the entire Province.  I have enjoyed nearly five years representing the good people of Humber West and really representing the entire district of what currently would be Corner Brook. 

 

It is interesting, Mr. Speaker, historically when you look at the District of Humber West since its inception back in 1949 since the Province became a part of Canada, the members who represented the people of Humber West in the House of Assembly have always sat on the government side.  The representative who was elected to Humber West from the time of Confederation has always sat on the government side, with the exception of the former Premier Danny Williams for that short period of time when he sat in Opposition.  So that is a historical piece that is important to remember. 

 

Mr. Speaker, life, as I said at the beginning, is all about change.  We need to embrace change.  This is what we are doing here with Bill 13, reducing the number of seats in the Province from forty-eight down to forty.  If we start to battle change – change is always good.  Change is difficult, but change is always good. 

 

I know there are colleagues of mine on this side of the House who have to sit back and reflect on what district they are going to run in.  I know there are colleagues on the other side of the House as well who will have to reflect on what districts they are going to run in.  At the end of the day, Mr. Speaker, when they step forward and put their names forward, in no matter what district it is, in the forty seats that we will have come election day on November 30, they will stand up and they will put their name forward for the hard job, for the difficult job, and the difficult task of representing the people of the district that they represent. 

 

I know the good Member for Carbonear – Harbour Grace says it so eloquently; he got elected to represent the people of the district.  That is what we all do.  We spend day in and day out, 365 days a year.  Some people sometimes in the public do not realize how hard the Members of the House of Assembly work; meetings, meetings, and meetings, travelling all throughout the district. 

 

Some of us have districts that are small in geography.  Others have districts that are large in geography.  We are going to find out in this change that some of the districts are going to grow.  Most of the districts will grow in size.  The district that I now represent, Humber West – which is two seats in Corner Brook, Humber West and Humber East – will now be encompassed in one seat, and that will be Corner Brook, Mr. Speaker.

 

Change is always inevitable, Mr. Speaker.  I look forward to the change.  I look forward to the challenges that are ahead.  People in this House will put their names forward in the district they want to represent.  They will do a good job representing the people once they get elected in November.

 

Mr. Speaker, I always like to use a few quotes.  I thought the opportunity today would be to just use two or three quotes to put this in perspective about change in life and the idea of a butterfly.  The beautiful butterfly would never exist without change.  We all know how that transpires.  The beautiful butterfly would never exist without change.

 

Mr. Speaker, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  We have had experience.  We have all sat representing forty-eight districts in this House, and come November there will be forty seats.  That will be a new phase in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

I know others in this House in the last few days talked about the number of seats that have changed from the time that Newfoundland was a colony and from the time Newfoundland came down through Confederation since 1949.  Many members in this House have talked about the change down through the years.  Again, we are going to experience change this year, Mr. Speaker.  Ten years from now, after going through this process, if change is required again with the population and that population changes, then I am sure the Legislature of the day will enact another process by which they will travel the Province and look at change of the number of seats in the House of Assembly.

 

Another one, Mr. Speaker, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  That is absolutely important, because each and every day we look at change.  We look at how we see our world and how we see our Province.  It is important that we accept the realities.  Change exists in our life, and change exists in the Province.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to making my decision on what district I will represent.  Currently, it is the District of Humber West.  Again, as I said earlier, that will encompass the entire, for the most part, most of the City of Corner Brook.  Although a section of the City of Corner Brook will be represented by another district.

 

There were presentations made.  I know the Member for Bay of Islands made a presentation.  The Member for Mount Pearl made a presentation to the Commission.  The Commission went back and reviewed the presentations that were made, and they accepted aspects of the presentations that were made.  I know there were a number of letters that were written, even from people in Corner Brook, even from people in the Bay of Islands, that had other suggestions.  At the end of the day, the Commission looked at and tried to make a balance of what it is, the geographical boundaries that they would represent, and at the end of the day they issued a report.

 

I commend the work of the commissioners on that particular committee for the hard work they did in the period of time they had, Mr. Speaker.  Now it is our opportunity to stand in this House, all of us, each and every one of us, to stand on our feet and either support Bill 13, An Act To Amend The House Of Assembly Act, or stand on our feet and reject that. 

 

We all have a choice in what we do, and likewise we all have a choice.  Either we put our name forward in the Legislature that we will be elected on November 30 of this year – but I can guarantee the people of the Province, and I can guarantee the people of my current District of Humber West, and the future District of Corner Brook, and whatever that district might be, that when you get a representative who stands in the House of Assembly –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. GRANTER: When you get a representative who stands in the House of Assembly, Mr. Speaker, they – he or she – will represent the people of the district to the best of their ability.  That is all that the people of the Province ask, that when you come to St. John's and you put your name forward and you get elected by the good people of the district that you represent, is to come here and represent their needs on the floor of this House to enact change, to enact new legislation. 

 

So that the day you leave this House, the day that you walk away from this, whether it is four years or five years, or those of us who have careers in politics, the day you walk away is the day that you can say: well done, you did well, you made some changes, you enacted good legislation, and you represented the people of your district to the best possible way that you can.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, I am going to support Bill 13 when we get a chance to vote on this here in this House of Assembly, and everyone else in the House will have their opportunity to either support Bill 13 or not support Bill 13.  I want to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of us, those of us who put our names forward in the upcoming election on November 30, and those of us who might say, well, I am finished with politics, I want to wish all of them the very best, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Thank you very much. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I have a few comments on this bill.  I want to first of all thank the members of the committee because I know their job was not an easy one.  Trying to determine how to change boundaries and reduce the number of electoral districts in this Province was not an easy task, knowing that some areas of the Province, some districts were going to be disappointed, communities disappointed. 

 

They took on that task, Mr. Speaker, and I think that despite the fact that some members are adversely affected, they did have a difficult job to do.  They carried it out professionally, whether or not everybody is happy is to be debated in this House, obviously, but I think they carried out their job with a great deal of professionalism.  

 

Mr. Speaker, you look at the number of districts – and I remember a former member of this House, something he said quite often, and I will repeat that today, that we are amongst forty-eight in this House.  We have the privilege as a group of forty-eight individuals in this House to represent the people who elected us to speak on their behalf. 

 

Mr. Speaker, that is a huge privilege.  It is an honour to be amongst forty-eight individuals to speak on behalf of the people of the Province.  I take that as an honour, Mr. Speaker, and I do say that I am truly privileged to be a member of this Assembly. 

 

Mr. Speaker, to reduce that number from forty-eight to forty, obviously, it is having an impact on some of our colleague here.  I want to talk a little bit about the British Parliamentary system and how that operates, because a lot of the viewers at home see us, we come in, we vote, and why did you toe the party line. 

 

Under the British Parliamentary system, as we all know, you bring your debates and your issues to caucus.  They are debated around the caucus table and oftentimes there is vigorous debate at a caucus table.  Once you reach a consensus, the majority of people in caucus speak a certain way on any particular issue.  You bring that issue then to the Assembly or to the people of the Province, and you support it as a party, but there is a great deal of debate that generally takes place within caucus on issues.  There are people who are very happy with that and some people who are not, but as part of the British Parliamentary system you go out as a united party and you support that issue. 

 

Not often in an Assembly, Mr. Speaker, do you have truly an open and free vote.  That is what is happening with the Liberal Party in this particular case, and we are doing that because of the fact that there are individuals in our caucus that, because we are a group of forty-eight and we are elected to represent our people, we looked at this particular issue – and there are individuals within our caucus that while they supported the reduction in the number of electoral districts, from forty-eight to forty, as our leader proposed well over a year ago, those individuals heard from their constituents who spoke out loudly and said they are not happy with the way the boundaries have been changed.  So we do have a couple of individuals in our caucus, Mr. Speaker, that because of the feedback they have received in their own districts are going to vote against this.  Even though they were in favour of voting, and voted for a reduction in the number of electoral districts.

 

It reminds me of education reform.  A number of years ago when this Province went through the education reform debate and there was a referendum, I lobbied very loudly and opening, publicly lobbied, against education reform at the time. 

 

Mr. Speaker, through the referendum I know my district voted 52 per cent in favour of education reform and 48 per cent against education reform.  As a result, when I came to this Assembly – and that was a free vote as well – I stood and I spoke as I felt and said that I was personally against education reform, but I am elected to represent the people who brought me to this House of Assembly.  As a result, they spoke, through the referendum, 52 per cent in favour of education reform.  As a result, I voted in favour of education reform, even though my personal belief was that I was not favour, because I am elected to represent the people who brought me to this Assembly to represent their views.

 

So in the case of a referendum it is easy.  It is easy to know how your district wants you to vote.  In a lot of cases, you have to consult with your constituents through various methods and determine how your constituents want you to vote.  That is the debate you then bring to your caucus table on a particular issue.

 

So to those individuals who have had to make the tough decision in our caucus, you voted in favour of a reduction in the number of electoral districts, but because your constituents have told you they are not happy with the boundary alignment, to those individuals I applaud your courage to stand and vote against the bill that you voted in favour of initially.

 

Mr. Speaker, we are now going to have forty individuals in this Assembly.  So when we come back, those of us who are lucky to come back here after the next election, there will be forty of us.  That is an even greater privilege to be chosen by your peers, to be chosen by the people you represent, to reflect their views and their ideas and to fight on their behalf in this Assembly. 

 

I have seen three boundary changes so far, Mr. Speaker.  I hope I am here long enough to see a fourth, but I have seen three boundary changes so far in my time in this Assembly.  I can tell you that it is not always easy for individuals.  The previous two boundary changes that I have seen saw my district get bigger, and I have taken on more area.  Well,  again this time if we are seeing a reduction from forty-eight to forty seats, obviously those forty districts will be larger. 

 

I am seeing a lot of new areas added to my district, and I certainly look forward to working on behalf of those communities and those residents as well.  I promise to give them the service that I have always promised, to act on their behalf, and to do so in a very diligent and open and fair manner, Mr. Speaker.

 

I wanted to talk a little bit about the six month change where now we see six months prior to an election if a member decides that he or she is going to retire, for whatever reason leaves the seat that they represent, that there will not be a by-election.  Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of that, but I am very suspect of the timing.

 

I think that is a good rule because six months prior to an election, if you are three months or four months, five months prior to the election to have a by-election is a cost to the Province and it is seeing a number of individuals run for a district and then three or four months later they are running again.  So I am in favour of that six month change in the legislation, but like I said I am very suspect of the timing because we do know that there are a number of members opposite who are looking to leave.  The Premier even indicated, when he announced the change, the Member for Gander has indicated publicly and openly that he is looking to leave provincial politics to make a run for federal politics, but he also indicated that there are others.  He would not be surprised to see other individuals leave prior to the next election.  I am suspect of that rule at this particular time. 

 

While I agree with the rule, Mr. Speaker, I am suspect of the change at this particular time because there have been a number of by-elections and government has lost all of those by-elections.  So this is a way of protecting themselves and allowing individuals to leave without triggering a by-election.

 

Mr. Speaker, we look at the November date – and I am also suspect of that date change.  We are now on three-and-a-half Premiers since the last provincial general election.

 

MR. JOYCE: How many?

 

MR. OSBORNE: Three-and-a-half Premiers we have had since the last provincial general election.  The intent of the legislation is that there would be a year, Mr. Speaker, from the time a Premier leaves office, if it is during a term as opposed to at the end of a term.  If he or she were to leave office, within a year that party is supposed to have their leadership process organized, arranged, have a new leader in place, and then call and election.  That was supposed to be the intent of the legislation. 

 

I know.  I sat around the table while the legislation was debated at our caucus table, and then sat in the House when the legislation was brought forward to the House of Assembly and voted on here.  So I know the intent of the legislation, what was intended.  Now, Mr. Speaker, we see three-and-a-half Premiers since the last provincial general election. 

 

If the first leadership process had gone – if the party opposite were able to organize that and carry it out the way it was supposed to be carried out, we would have been into an election in June of this year.  So that did not go as they planned.  The individual who was to be acclaimed leader of the party decided to not accept that position, to leave, and they had to go through another leadership process. 

 

With that leadership process, Mr. Speaker, instead of it being June, which is what it should have been, it was put out to September.  When this process was laid out before the people of the Province just after Christmas, early January I believe it was, and the current Premier indicated his plans to reduce the number of electoral seats in the Province from forty-eight to forty, he indicated at that particular time that we could potentially be looking to push the election out to 2016.  That was his intent.  That is what he was thinking at the time. 

 

As part of this legislation and part of the process here, he initially announced thirty-eight seats would be the number that the – from forty-eight to thirty-eight seats.  Our party put forward a number of amendments that were accepted in this House.  One was to protect the four seats in Labrador because Labrador is a big, big geographic area.  While the population of each of the districts in Labrador is less than what it is on the Island, geographically it is a very large area about two-and-a-half, three times the size of the Island of Newfoundland.  We set out to protect those four seats in Labrador which was not in place under the current legislation or the current amendments that government had intended.  That was one of the amendments. 

 

The second amendment, Mr. Speaker, was based on the fact that the current Premier said he was looking at pushing the election out to sometime in 2016.  We perhaps should have been more specific, but we said that we wanted an amendment to ensure that the election took place in 2015.  That it would not go beyond this calendar year.  So, we now see that it is November 30, which is absolutely the latest possible time government could have pushed the election out until.  Otherwise, you would have been into Christmas. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that government had pushed this out as long as they possibly could.  Their polling numbers are showing that government are not in great shape in the polls and they continue to slide.  So they have pushed it out as long as they possibly could.  In that particular instance, I do not think anybody on this side was delighted with the fact that it was November 30, because it pushed it out as far they could possibly push it out.

 

Mr. Speaker, other than that I think everybody in this Legislature voted unanimously to see the change in electoral boundaries and the reduction to having forty of us return after the next provincial general election.  Overall, you cannot pick bits and piece of legislation and say I do not like that so I am not going to support – overall, I support the legislation.  There are parts of it obviously that I am suspect of, there are parts of it that I am not pleased with, but overall I support the legislation and I will be voting in favour of the legislation.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader, to close debate?

 

MR. KING: Yes.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader and Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am standing now to close debate in second reading on Bill 13, An Act to Amend the House of Assembly Act.  For those watching and following this, we are actually in second reading so when I stand today now to speak as the minister responsible for the bill, this closes debate in second reading, allows us to move the bill through the next stage in the process, which would be Committee.  We plan to go into Committee sometime later this evening.  Then, of course, the final step would be third reading.

 

I want to thank all members who have contributed to this debate.  It is always interesting to hear the perspectives on the legislation and the points of view expressed.  I must say upfront that while we may disagree philosophically, I have the greatest respect for all members' positions in this House and how they see particular pieces of legislation.

 

I do get a little bothered sometimes when debate gets a little personal and away from the issue at hand.  I try not to do that myself, although I am probably guilty of it as much as anybody sometimes.  I think it is important to try and keep the debate at a level that is about what is in the bill and what the intentions of the bill would be.  So what we are talking about here obviously is the report of the electoral boundaries commission and a number of recommendations; the most significant certainly would be the reduction in seats in the House of Assembly from forty-eight down to forty.  Of course, within those forty there was a preservation made with the House of Assembly when we gave direction to the Commission that the four Labrador seats would be maintained.

 

So, in essence, we maintained four seats in Labrador, and then we reduced the eight seats from the forty-four remaining on the Island.  Of course, with that, as a result of that reduction in the legislation itself we will require a renaming of districts, which is provided here, the new names for the districts, and there will be new descriptors that would describe in very specific terms the latitude and longitude and all that sort of stuff on the map of the Province as to the exact boundaries.  In some cases, Mr. Speaker, as people would certainly know, if you look at the map at least, some our boundaries go in very odd directions, and not necessarily along straightforward community names.

 

So all of that is provided, and of course, given the time frame with the federal election call, we have had to include a provision here to change the date of the next provincial election to November 30.  An additional amendment to that will provide that for future instances where it appears that now at least there will be future conflicts between the federal election date and the provincial election date, that the Premier of the day, on April 1 of the given year will make the determination that the election date has to be moved, and if that is the determination, then this legislation provides when that alternate election date will be.

 

So it really removes any element of surprise for future dates, and it really squarely puts the decision on the shoulders of the Premier of the day to do it on April 1 of that particular year.  If there is no intention to move the date signified at that time, then it means the date stays November 30.

 

As well, of course, I mentioned this in my opening statement that there are a number of consequential changes required through the members' compensation and benefits rules and regulations that will be handled by the House of Assembly Management Commission.  That work has already started; pending this House confirms this particular piece of legislation and the description of the electoral districts that are contained there within.

 

Knowing that I am on the Management Commission, I suspect that work will be concluded in very short order, once this legislation is passed, so that the new budget allocations for the various districts can be implemented immediately upon the passing of the legislation.

 

Many members have talked about their own personal circumstance.  I have not done that, but I will take a few moments.  I have tried to stick to the higher level of the legislation as the minister responsible.  My district, like everyone's, is affected.  In my particular case, the District of Grand Bank is actually preserved.  We did not lose anything.  We picked up communities.  We are picking up communities in the Bay L'Argent area of the Burin Peninsula and of course a portion of the old Burin Placentia West.  The area that I would call Salt Pond, Burin, Black Duck Cove area is coming in to the new Burin – Grand Bank district.

 

It is a good fit in many respects.  The traditional areas of employment, the fishery in particular, has been dominant in all of those communities.  I see a lot of natural fit, a lot of synergies.  So I certainly, as the Member for the current Grand Bank district, I welcome all of those new communities into the new Burin – Grand Bank district.  I think it is going to be a good fit.

 

I, too, would want to take a moment, like many of the members, and simply acknowledge that some of my colleagues here are obviously in a very bad situation.  Some districts have disappeared completely; others are kind of being engulfed with a mishmash of boundaries moving.  In some cases, I think on both sides of the House, we have conflicts where members in both parties have to make decisions to either run against each other for nominations or chose to do something else.

 

That is unfortunate.  I certainly want to acknowledge that to all members in the House.  It is unfortunate when we face that situation, but the reality is we all knew going into this that there would be outcomes that none of us could anticipate or predict.

 

I suspect if you were to ask anybody in this House the day the legislation was passed, we all had a scenario of how this would play out.  I suspect, I do not know for certain, but I suspect everybody had their thoughts on what this would look like.  I suspect after the first report came out, many people had thoughts on what would be changed and what would not be changed.  Some of us were dead on in our guesses on some of it, and some of us were way off in our guesses of other aspects of it.

 

My point being, Mr. Speaker, when we went into this we all acknowledged that it could be me, it could be you, or it could be someone else who would get affected here.  We accept that.  For all the members affected here, our job today is to deal with the legislation that is before us and make the best decisions we can.  Hopefully, everyone will support this legislation so that we can move forward and put it behind us.  As I said, to the members who are more impacted than me in a negative way, I certainly wish them the best of luck as they make some decisions about whether they are going to run against a colleague, or decide to do something else. 

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, I think most of my colleagues are in the House now who are going to be here for the vote.  I am going to conclude my remarks and I think that will take us into the vote for second reading.  I look forward to moving this bill a little later in the evening into Committee stage and furthering our debate, and answering some questions.  I understand that perhaps some members opposite will have questions for me on some of the more specific aspects of the bill.  I certainly look forward to taking those questions and doing what we can.


Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Division.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Division has been called.

 

Summon the members, please.

 

Division

 

MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips ready?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: No.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips ready?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Call for the vote.

 

All those in favour, please rise.

 

CLERK: Mr. Davis, Mr. King, Mr. Hutchings, Mr. Kent, Mr. Dalley, Mr. Crummell, Mr. Sandy Collins, Mr. Felix Collins, Mr. Wiseman, Mr. Granter, Mr. Cross, Ms Perry, Mr. Brazil, Mr. Russell, Mr. Forsey, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Dinn, Mr. Cornect, Mr. Hedderson, Mr. Kevin Parsons, Mr. Little, Mr. Pollard, Mr. McGrath, Mr. Ball, Mr. Andrew Parsons, Mr. Osborne, Mr. Joyce, Ms Cathy Bennett, Mr. Jim Bennett, Mr. Mitchelmore, Ms Dempster, Mr. Edmunds, Mr. Kirby, Mr. Lane, Mr. Hillier. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Those against? 

 

CLERK: Mr. Slade, Mr. Reid, Mr. Flynn, Mr. Crocker, Ms Michael, Mr. Murphy, Ms Rogers. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the ayes: thirty five; the nays: seven. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The ayes have it.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The House Of Assembly Act.  (Bill 13). 

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read the second time.  When shall the bill be referred to the Committee? 

 

MR. KING: Later today.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Later. 

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The House Of Assembly Act,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House.  (Bill 13)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Right now, I would like to go to the Order Paper and call Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2, so moved by me, seconded by my colleague the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board that the said bill be now read the second time. 

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried. 

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2.”  (Bill 12)

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is my pleasure today to stand and introduce Bill 12.  As a part of the annual Budget process, there are generally pieces of legislation that grow from the Budget.  The Budget was passed in this House a little while ago and we obviously endorsed the expenditures as laid out in the Estimates.  We endorsed the general fiscal policies of government through that process.  Now that we have the Budget passed, there are number of pieces of legislation – in fact I think there is about four pieces of legislation that we now need to debate in the House and when passed in the House, they will give effect to some of the initiatives announced in the Budget.  This bill is one of those. 

 

Bill 12 is an amendment to the Income Tax Act, but it is a very precise set of adjustments, a very precise set of amendments.  In the House, we tend to talk about bills at Budget time as being either very specific to a very specific amendment, to a particular piece of legislation, or we get commonly referred to as money bills.  Money bills are one of those areas where members will get up and they are able to talk about a wide range of things, sometimes they talk about their district, sometimes they talk about the Budget itself, but it is pretty wide ranging.  This is not one of those circumstances, I say, Mr. Speaker.  This is one of those pieces of legislation where we are going into an existing piece of legislation itself, we are going into an act – this bill amends an existing act, the Income Tax Act No 2. 

 

What we are trying to do here is two-fold.  This bill has two purposes, two things to be dealt with.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. WISEMAN: One is the Harmonized Sales Tax Credit, and the other deals with a credit that we are providing in this year's Budget, an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit.  That is the two provisions that are covered off in this Budget.  I will provide some introductory comments to each of those issues and other speakers will speak to this in second reading and then, when we get into Committee, there may be some very specific questions around this bill that I will be only too glad to answer. 

 

Let me provide, by way of a general overview – this is not, as I said, a detailed piece of legislation so let me just provide some basic comments.  Number one, this bill is intended to implement a series of tax measures, tax credits.  In particular though, Mr. Speaker, there will be an increase in the Harmonized Sales Tax Credit – that is the sales tax credit – and providing for a new tax credit with respect to the digital interactive media products. 

 

The Harmonized Sales Tax Credit first; so what we are doing here, Mr. Speaker, is bringing in a new process or a new amendment to allow for a greater tax deduction, a greater credit to a larger number of people for the HST that they paid on goods and services that they purchased.  The coming into effect of this I want to speak to in the front end.  One of the things that is happening, in January 2016 this Budget proposes to implement a change in the HST that is being charged moving from a 13 per cent to a 15 per cent. 

 

This tax credit that we are talking about here will apply to the 2016 tax year.  When individuals who live in the Province file their tax returns for the tax year 2016, this credit that has been introduced in this bill will apply and be used in that tax filing.  So that is the first thing, Mr. Speaker.

 

Now, as a part of this process in terms of the credit and looking at what we would do to – and why we would want to increase this tax credit, it takes us back a little bit to what we have done in the Budget.  We have made a change in the HST going from 13 per cent to 15 per cent.  When it was at 13 per cent, we had a process in place, Mr. Speaker, that provided for a tax credit. 

 

To become eligible for that tax credit under the old system at 13 per cent, individuals who made $15,000 a year were able to get a full tax credit.  That tax credit would be based on their income.  The amounts at that time were $40 for each individual adult, another $40 for their spouse, and for any child under the age of nineteen there was a $60 credit.  What is important here, Mr. Speaker, is $15,000 was the income threshold. 

 

What we are doing now is we are taking – what this bill does it takes that threshold and increases it.  That is the first part of the credit.  It takes the threshold from $15,000 and increases it to $30,000.  So what that means is that individuals who file a tax return in this Province, starting in tax year 2016, will be eligible for a tax credit based on HST that they have made.  There is no proof of those purchases required.  The assumption is if you live in this Province and you buy goods and services, that you will in fact pay HST. 

 

Now, not all products, not all things that you buy you pay HST on.  For example, basic groceries you do not pay HST; prescription drugs you do not pay HST.  Any medical devices you may have to provide for yourself or your family, you do not pay HST on.  There are certain things you do not pay HST on, but the assumption is if you live in this Province you are buying goods and services that will be subject to an HST. 

 

The assumption is that if you live here you will pay it.  So you do not have to have receipts when you file your tax return.  You do not have to have receipts to get this credit.  What it triggers the eligibility for is purely an income, and that income is $30,000 up from the current $15,000. 

 

The other aspects of this, Mr. Speaker, that improves it is, as I said a moment ago, when it gets to be $15,000 the amount of credit you were going to get was only going to be $40.  So what we have taken is, we have taken the income of $15,000 and doubled it to $30,000, but we more than doubled the $40.  We have taken it from $40 to $300.  For an adult, there is a $300 credit. 

 

Now for the spouse or partner it is a $60 credit, and for each child under the age of nineteen it is $60 as well.  So what we have done, Mr. Speaker, is inasmuch as – and there has been lots of discussion around the HST increase.  That is not the subject of the bill.  I will not necessarily go into a lot of detail about the increase; however, what we have done is we recognize that any time you increase a tax like we have done here on consumption, then we want to make sure we minimize the impact on low-income people, and that is what we have done here, Mr. Speaker.

 

We have fundamentally taken a position that says anybody making $30,000 or less will get the full credit, but then it gets graduated.  Someone making $32,000 gets a credit, but it is something less.  So it diminishes as your income goes up, and it reaches a point where it disappears all together.

 

Basically, what we are trying to do here, Mr. Speaker, is we are trying to on one hand increase revenue to the Province.  In this year's Budget, we are spending a little over $8 billion on providing programs and services, much needed programs and services to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  As such, one of the areas of revenue we have looked at is HST.  One of the other bills I made a comment about, there were four altogether – one of the other ones we are going to talk about later on is the increase in income tax, another source of revenue.

 

I say, Mr. Speaker, this becomes a part of our overall tax structure in the Province.  What we are trying to do here is to create some change, but at the same time, minimizing the impact on low-income individuals.  That is what this does. 

 

This change going from the $15,000 to the $30,000, the change going from the $40 to the $300, and the $40 to the $60 has been the first time there has been a change since 1997.  So obviously this would be a welcome change for individuals who live in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

This, Mr. Speaker, is stacked.  This is on top of what the federal government will provide as a credit as well.  It will be paid out by the federal government in the fall.  We have an arrangement with CRA where they administer our tax structure.  Rebates and your income tax returns are filed with them.  They remit the Newfoundland portion to the Province. 

 

We have an arrangement with the federal government where they administer our tax program for us.  Individuals who live in the Province, when they file their return, they will automatically get their cheque associated with this credit directly from CRA as a part of their administering our tax structure for us.

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the other interesting things that this has done is we have taken an old system of a $15,000 limit and taken care of about 58,000 people.  There are about 58,000 people who are benefitting from this credit – that is 58,000 tax filers I should say.  So it is 58,000 tax filers benefitting from this program.

 

With the increase in the threshold going from $15,000 to $30,000, this will represent a significant increase, more than double, Mr. Speaker.  We will have about 127,000 tax filers who will be eligible for this credit as a result of our moving the threshold from the $15,000 to the $30,000.  That is a significant benefit for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who find themselves at an income threshold of $30,000 or under for the full rebate, and obviously $30,000-plus for the partial. 

 

That is a significant change I say, Mr. Speaker.  The cheque they will receive associated with this, commonly referred to as the HST cheque, that comes out in the fall of the year, generally October I believe.  Families will get that cheque in the fall of the year as they have always done, only the amounts will be greater and the credit will be greater.

 

So, one of the other things that this bill is intended to do, this bill is intended to also provide another provision that I made a comment on earlier, and that is about the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we are very pleased in the Province that we would have a strong industry, one that has emerged in recent years and quite successfully.  We have, in the last number of years, evolved in this Province a digital media industry.  There are about forty firms in the Province currently doing business and doing quite well, Mr. Speaker.  They employ over sixty-odd people, and experiencing great growth.

 

We have had some obviously who have been new into the business in recent years, some more established, but all of them enjoying a level of success.  This industry is a very competitive industry – extremely competitive.  If we look at what is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to what is happening in other jurisdictions, we found ourselves in a positon where we have an industry that has evolved, well-paying jobs, and talented Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  Our ability to attract and retain the kind of talent that we need to expand that business is depending on that industry's ability to compete with other jurisdictions, who are also companies in those jurisdictions competing for the same talent.

 

These are well sought after individuals with a lot of skill and a lot of talent.  Clearly, if they do not stay competitive, if they are not able to provide a competitive salary, if they are not able to provide competitive benefits, then they lose out.  The talent will be hired away and so they will not be able to continue to grow and expand. 

 

The second thing obviously, with forty firms, that is a significant base, lots of opportunity for growth.  So then we look at how do we grow that industry?  How do we expand that forty to a bigger number?  How do we attract other companies to come here, and how do we convince those individuals who are already here to grow and expand while at the same time other jurisdictions around the country are putting in place programs, incentive programs, tax structures, financial incentives to try to attract them to their jurisdiction?

 

So we are in a circumstance, Mr. Speaker, with two things.  We have an industry where many jurisdictions in the country are competing for those companies.  The companies that exist are competing in the same talent pool to recruit the kind of skill and talent that we need to fill those positions and to grow that industry and to make these companies successful.

 

How do we actually make ourselves more competitive in the marketplace?  We have done an analysis, Mr. Speaker, of: What is current best practice?  What happens in other jurisdictions?  How does this industry expand in other parts of Canada?  How does that industry create success in those other jurisdictions?  Because keep in mind, these are young talented individuals, well trained, very skilled, who contributed, in a big way, to the economies of their respective jurisdictions. 

 

So we have looked at Western Canada.  We looked at Eastern Canada.  We looked at Central Canada.  Now, not every single province in the entire country does this.  Not every single province in this country has had success in building this industry, but there are a few and those that have – one of the key things that is consistent with those provinces that have been able to build this industry, one thing has been consistent: They have put in place incentives.  So we will be joining five other provinces that have had success in building this industry and attracting and keeping the companies they have by doing the same thing that we are proposing in this bill.

 

What we are talking about is putting in place a tax credit that provides for a 40 per cent refundable provincial tax credit on eligible wage expenditures starting in fiscal January 2015, I say, Mr. Speaker.  This credit is designed to help companies with their competitive cost for labour.  What we are prepared to do is a maximum credit value of $40,000 per person, to a maximum of $2 million per company per year.

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the things we are trying to do here is we want to try to attract these companies to Newfoundland and Labrador and we want to keep them here while we are doing it.  So what we are trying to do, as we put this in place, we anticipate that, as any program, we would want to make sure that it is successful, obviously.  We would want to make sure that it is time specific.  We want to make sure that we introduce it, measure its success, determine if it is working for us, and what might be that time period.

 

So what we are talking about here is putting in place a program that will have a five-year sunset clause so we are able understand what this program looks like.  So any renewal of it at the end of a five-year period will be subject to an evaluation.

 

We have heard some comments in the House, and some questions in the House in recent days, around the comments made by the Auditor General and the need for program evaluation.  This is a shining example where we have put in place a mechanism; (a) we established when the sunset clause would be.  We then put in place a mechanism for a renewal conditional upon a successful program evaluation, making sure that it still satisfies the objectives which would set up, which is what we are talking about here today. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is one of those things that we want to make sure that we get value for.  We believe that with the success of the industry thus far, the forty companies that are here, and with the number of employees that they currently have, the opportunity that exists for growth and expansion – we believe that this tax credit will have a cost to it of about $1 million on an annual basis. 

 

However, Mr. Speaker, if you think about that for a moment – and that is why this is important for us to understand – that tax credit obviously will only materialize if the companies are successful and they attract the talent.  There is a criterion for them getting this money.  Obviously it is a result of having paid money out. 

 

So think about it for a moment.  These companies will have talent that they will attract and they will pay them.  There is tax revenue that comes from the personal income tax paid by those individuals.  There is revenue that comes to the Province as a result of their spending their disposable income in Newfoundland and Labrador.  It comes about as the company itself growing its operation, becoming profitable, paying taxes to the people as corporate citizens, paying taxes to the people of the Province – to the coffers of the Province rather, but also what they are doing in their spending. 

 

They are stimulating economic activity in their respective communities.  They are buying goods and services.  They are potentially leasing space, buying buildings, owning real estate, or renting real estate.  They are pumping additional money into the provincial coffers, I say, Mr. Speaker.  This $1 million that we anticipate would be the outside that we would spend as a tax credit will be more than recovered as a part of our stimulating economic activity in the Province.

 

Mr. Speaker, I know there is lots of time left that I could take advantage of and speak to the bill, but clearly, the bill is very specific, as I said.  It centres around two very specific things.  It is not a lengthy bill that will stimulate a lot of discussion as would a money bill might, but it is very precise and very focused.  It takes a particular piece of legislation called the Income Tax Act, one section of it, and makes two amendments, or amendments to reflect two changes, providing two credits.  One is the Harmonized Sales Tax Credit for individuals who make $30,000 or less.  It is a significant enhancement to the current program.  The second thing it does is provide a tax credit, the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, another classic example, Mr. Speaker, of where as a government, we have made strategic investments in trying to grow additional economic activity in the Province, grow it in a non-traditional sector.

 

This industry is not an industry that has been around for thirty years.  This is a relatively new industry.  Members frequently talk about and ask questions around what do we do as a government to stimulate economic activity?  What do we do as a government to diversify our economy?  What are we doing in the knowledge-based industries? 

 

This, Mr. Speaker, just speaks to answering those three questions as just one example.  That is not the subject of this bill, so I will not get into to it.  I could go on for hours talking about many other examples of where we have done similar kinds of things to diversify an economy, stimulate economic activity, and make strategic investments.

 

So I say, Mr. Speaker, the bill is precise, and I invite members' other comments to the bill and look forward to the debate.  When we get into Committee, no doubt, there will be very some very specific questions, and I will only be too glad to answer them.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Cross): The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to follow the Minister of Finance on Bill 12, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act.

 

This particular piece of legislation amending the Income Tax Act, as the minister stated, is putting forward two specific amendments; one around the HST Credit and about changing it to $300 for an adult, a maximum amount, and $60 for a spouse.  The income eligibility will be phased from $15,000 to $30,000.  If I look at the budgetary documents in this year's Budget – this is the reason why this bill is before the floor – and we look at the personal income tax and benefits under Appendix I, HST Credit, we see that in 2014-2015, which would have been last year's Budget, that the amount in millions of dollars for the credit would have been $3.7 million. 

 

In this year's Budget which takes us right up to 2015-2016, that HST Credit has not changed, it is $3.7 million.  I want to point that out, because even though the threshold is changing and this value has been increasing, the commencement date for this particular change to the act will not happen until January 1, 2016 and a credit will not be paid until October 2016. 

 

So there is quite a bit of time between now and then before the 127,000 filers, as the Minister of Finance noted, will collect an enhanced HST cheque.  During that time, because of the passage of Budget this year – the Premier's Budget which increases HST – they will be paying an increased HST on virtually every item.  You look at housing; you look at the big ticket items.  You look at those who are of low to moderate income of $15,000 to $30,000, you have to work really hard to save, to come up with that ability to be able to make a big purchase like a car, like a washing machine, or a new sofa, and things like that. 

 

The delay in being able to collect such an enhanced credit does have an impact on the overall economy, and how in signs of a weakening economy increasing HST, coupled with adding back the HST on home heating, which is in the Budget as well – you have to look at what $300 means.  If you had to pay $3,000 annually or $250 a month to heat your home that is the equivalent, then, of that 10 per cent HST hike added on the power bills, not mentioning everything else.  So having an enhanced credit is certainly necessary based on the decisions of the Budget.

 

This in my view is not really giving anything back.  It is a way to try and stabilize the cost of the increases and fees, and the increase to tax that is in Budget 2015-2016.  I just wanted to point that out very clearly.  I will have some questions on this particular matter for the Minister of Finance to clarify in the Committee stage.  I like the aspect of Committee because you can ask very direct questions and seek information rather than myself standing and speaking, coming to assumptions and making guesses.  I would not want to do that.

 

I do want to talk a little bit more about the amendment for the new Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit and the regulations that are surrounding it.  It was announced in Budget 2015 and I see in the appendix as well.  When you look at the corporate income tax and what credits are available, the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit is $1 million.  There is nothing in 2014 as it is a new credit.  The minister stated that it would come into effect in January of this year. 

 

When we look at what was announced in Budget 2015, it will be applied to positions.  It is attached basically to salaries that are directly related to the development of interactive digital media products, such as game designers, programmers, artists, and composers.

 

We have to look forward in seeing what the particular criteria is around this when the regulations come out, and how the industry and those who are in the knowledge-based economy can benefit from such a tax credit.  The minister mentioned that companies would be eligible for up to $2 million per year, yet the budgeted amount in rebate is $1 million. 

 

Looking at other jurisdictions in other places, certainly there is mix between where things are in British Columbia in terms of salaries, wages, and how they are put forward.  Sometimes it is only 17.5 per cent there.  In Ontario, you have 40 per cent, but there are restrictions put in between 35 per cent, depending on if it's a specific project.  So really we need to make sure that when you are looking at giving a credit and trying to grow an economy, an incentive in that way, that programs are administered very effectively and thoroughly. 

 

We see in the Auditor General's report that was put forward that the Department of Finance is basically one of the ones that were highlighted out as not managing the effectiveness of the deliveries of their programs and how they administer money.  So a credit like the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit would fall under that and fall under that effectiveness.

 

We need to make sure when offering a credit that the taxpayers of the Province are getting that benefit, that the jobs are being created, and that there is stimulated activity around that so that there is an opportunity to grow the knowledge-based economy, which does represent a $1.6 billion industry and 3,900 jobs already in Newfoundland and Labrador.  This is not something new.  This is not a new industry.  It is a new tax credit indeed, but it is not a new industry to Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced some high-quality products when it comes to gaming and when it comes to being interactive.  I think having a tax credit there that allows us to be more competitive, or as competitive, or can keep a company, or attract a company is important given that Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, and other areas have such tax credits. 

 

There is no reason why I would not support having this particular tax credit, but I will be looking forward to the regulations and the administration of programming.  We have had hearings, committees, the Auditor General's report, and Public Accounts where when it comes to looking at how government programs are being delivered, we are just not getting best value.  It is not giving the deliverables that it should be. 

 

When I go back – and just bringing this all back into perspective.  When you look at someone's income for the HST Credit, once they start earning above $30,000 family income, then their income is being diminished, so the tax credit will be less.  In Budget 2015-2016 there is an HST tax hike that will take $176 million to bring to the Provincial Treasury.  That is what is estimated.

 

When you look at what is there now in an HST Credit of $3.7 million, there is really going to be a greater impact on those who are low to moderate income.  Certainly this credit is absolutely necessary to at least mitigate some of the negative consequences that will happen in the economy because of Budget 2015-2016 with the HST tax hike.  Then whenever you are issuing a credit, you are looking at additional layers, additional oversight. 

 

There are costs to implementing such a program and making sure that delivery and being in receipt – so all those things need to be factored in when you look at it, as well as the delay and the timing of those people who are in that income and eligibility level, those 127,000 Newfoundlander and Labradorian tax filers who will be not collecting an HST credit until October 2016, despite an HST increase happening in January 2016.  That is ten months of paying additional tax without having that ability.  There are a lot of people who are living day by day when it comes to cheque to cheque, and any increase has an impact.  As well, the HST increase on power bills is happening in July of this year.  So that is more than a year where some people will be paying additional tax beyond the other 261 fees that are in Budget 2015-2016.

 

I think I have made my points.  I could say a lot more, Mr. Speaker, about this, about the HST, about the tax credits, and about the impacts and how Budget 2015-2016 has led to Bill 12.  I think I will leave it at that and ask my specific questions to Committee.  That will allow me and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to get specific answers to this particular bill. 

 

I will support seeing an increase to an HST Credit and an Interactive Digital Media Credit which can look at, if administered effectively, seeing some additional economic activity stimulated in a $1.6 billion industry.

 

With that, I will take my seat.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

I am glad to be able to stand and speak to Bill 12, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2.  As we know and as the minister said and the MHA for – I was going to say Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair – The Straits – White Bay North – excuse me – has pointed out this is a bill that is necessitated by changes to tax credits, changes that happened in the Budget here, in the 2015-2016 Budget.

 

There are two parts to it, related in one way but not in another, and they are both credits.  One is the Harmonized Sales Tax Credit which, as the Finance Minister pointed out, is available for people with incomes under $30,000; and the second is a tax credit, but it is a corporate tax credit.  So it is two different aspects of a tax credit.

 

Tax credits are important; they are incentives in many ways.  On the personal level when we look at the HST, the provincial tax, and we look at the fact that people who earn under $30,000 can get a credit for taxes that they have paid, that is a good thing.  It is something that benefits the individuals and it is something that benefits the overall economy as well.  With this one, this year, in this year's Budget, it is a bit strange what the government has done; it is almost like giving with one hand and taking back with the other.  I have to question how they rolled things out. 

 

While this bill does not specifically deal with the HST, the rate of the HST, I think it is important to point out a couple of things that have happened.  We have not been paying HST on home heating, which has been something that is very beneficial for people earning under $30,000; but, in July of this year, in a short month's time, that break is going to be ended and we are going to go back into paying the provincial HST on home heating.

 

So the rebate that we were all getting is going to end and beginning in July everybody, including low-income people, those under $30,000, are going to be paying the provincial sales tax, provincial HST on home heating.  So all of a sudden in July the people are going to be paying more money, more money going out, and I am sure that they are all praying for a very warm summer so that they do not have to worry about paying too much for heat beginning in July.  Maybe that is the government's thinking, but we have had summers where it can be extremely cold in July.  We have even had temperatures down to fifteen and twelve degrees in July.  We have had them; we all remember them.  A few years ago, we had a terrible summer like that. 

 

Beginning in July, people are going to lose the rebate that we were all getting on our bills.  It would show up what the provincial tax was, the rebate would be there, and we did not pay the provincial part.  We are all going to start paying that in July.  Now, what we have here with regard to the Harmonized Sales Tax Credit, we already have a credit, the credit is going to be improved which is good, but this credit is not going to happen until October of 2016.  We are talking sixteen months away; sixteen months after people start now paying their HST, the provincial portion of HST on home heating, the credit that they will get that will be beneficial to them does not happen until October.  The enhanced credit will not happen until October 2016. 

 

What else happens in between there, Mr. Speaker?  This is the thing that the government just seems to be ignoring, but in January of 2016 the whole of the provincial sales tax is going to be increased by 25 per cent.  Low-income people are going to have extra tax being paid on their home heating beginning in July and then next January a complete increase in the provincial tax, the provincial HST, by 25 per cent.  This is going to be such a hit on people earning under $30,000, a tremendous hit, yet this slightly enhanced tax credit that is in the Budget is not going to come in until October 2016. 

 

It is fine that we have the tax credit, and I am glad that it is an enhanced tax credit.  We are very happy about that, but certainly it is nowhere going to make up for the increase of 25 per cent in the tax and the fact that people are going to have to pay tax on their home heating now. 

 

This hit is just not acceptable.  It really cries out for the government to explain, how do they see that as fair?

 

Then we go over to the corporate side of this bill.  I think it is good that we have what is here, a digital media tax.  It is a relatively new industry.  By that I do not mean it has only been here a year or two, but it is still relatively new in the light of media.  It is good.  We need to help industry, there is no doubt about that.  I am very, very happy we are doing that, especially with an industry that is relatively new, so that it can grow.

 

With the changes in technology, the rate at which technology changes these days, I think governments do have to stay on top of that change in technology.  If there are ways in which we can help industry to grow here in this Province, industry that will employ more people, and industry that will create more production here in our Province and higher productivity in our Province, then that is really good. 

 

Now, I know the film industry and other creative industries in the Province have worked with the government on this, and I am delighted.  Because we do know that the film industry and other creative industries in the Province are growing.  We still have films being made here, and digital media is an essential part of that industry.  So this is good, and we want this to happen.

 

I have not, obviously, been able to do an analysis.  We really have to get somebody who is very experienced in it, but it would be really great to do an analysis of what is the overall benefit to people with incomes under $30,000 of the tax credit they are going to get, as compared to the benefit to the digital media industry of the corporate tax break that they are going to get?  I call it tax credit that they are going to get.

 

I have a guess.  Maybe it is bias on my part, but I bet the industry.  Overall, the analysis would show the industry is probably going to benefit more as an industry than the individuals are going to benefit.  That would be my guess.  Now this would take an expert to do the analysis and figure that out.  That might be a project we might want to take on because it would be interesting to see who really has benefitted here the most.

 

With this government, the way in which they have behaved over the past years, we know that in other tax issues they have dealt with – for example, starting in 2010 when we started seeing changes to the income tax, it was the higher earning people who benefitted from the changes to the income tax, not the lower end of people paying income tax.  Then, when the government decided to give a break to people with regard to income tax, as they did this year, we find that again it was the corporate sector that benefited more, and higher-end income individuals who benefited more.

 

So, based on that, is why I say I am being brave enough to guess that it is quite possible that the digital media industry is getting a better break with what is being done for them than the individual earner under $30,000 is getting with what is being done for them.  I am basing that – to use a term that was used in the House today, I am extrapolating from the experience that we have of this government and the way in which they have been cutting income tax and raising income tax, both for individuals and corporations. 

 

It is the individuals on the lower end who are the ones who are not benefiting.  They get a little benefit, but it is literally very, very little, especially with the HST Credit that we have here in this bill.  Government really is giving and taking at the same time.  Time is going to tell what the negative effects of that are going to be.  How many more people are going to be going to food banks, for example?  Just at a point when things seem to be maybe not too bad, I think we are going to see a rise in food bank use again.

 

Yes, we definitely want the HST Credit.  Low-income people will not know until after the fall of 2016 how much they are going to benefit from it, and yes, we want corporations, especially burgeoning corporations, new corporations to be supported by government.  Definitely, we want that as well. 

 

So, we will be voting for the bill, Mr. Speaker.  I point out to the government that what they have done in their Budget with regard to the HST has actually been quite despicable. 

 

They talk about poverty reduction, and that is all.  They know how to say the words.  They do not know what it means in practical terms.  They do not know what the impact of this is going to be on seniors.  Seniors who already – and this has been going on for years – going to malls in the winter to stay warm so they do not have to put their heat on.  This is going to really affect those seniors. 

 

Low-income families, families on Income Support, families on minimum wage – something the government will not increase, will not even allow the minimum wage to increase with the cost of living.  So I challenge the government, it is fine to do what they have done on one level, but with regard to the HST Credit, it will be of no benefit to people until well into 2016.  It is going to questionable then whether or not it actually is a benefit for them. 

 

Having said that – as I said, I am challenging the government on this one – maybe the 2016 Budget will be something different but right now we could have a major problem on our hands with regard to what people are going to go through.  If the government were as smart as to put in this tax credit and to enhance the tax credit, then why didn't they bring it in in the fall of 2015, not the fall of 2016? 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is certainly a pleasure to take the opportunity to speak for a couple of minutes on Bill 12, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take a lot of time here, but I do want to make a couple of comments.  First of all, I want to talk about the increase in the threshold from $15,000 to $30,000 for the HST Tax Credit, and the increase up from $40 to $300 credit. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is not often – although sometimes, maybe more than we give credit for – I agree with the House Leader for the Third Party, but I do have to say that she does raise some valid points.  I do not think anybody is going to argue – we all have people who live in our respective districts that would make incomes of $15,000 to $30,000, or even some less than $15,000. 

 

If we are going to increase the threshold to give those people a break in terms of the HST Tax Credit, perhaps put a few more dollars into their pockets – although, let's face it, we are not talking a big lot of money on an individual basis, but if we can do something to put a few more dollars into their pockets, I think that is a positive thing.  Whether that be the senior who is on a fixed income, whether that be perhaps the single parent or whatever the case might be.  Perhaps it is somebody in our community who are unable to work.  Perhaps someone with a disability or whatever the case might be.  There are all kinds of reasons why people – we have people on workers' compensation and so on as well.  We know the struggles that some of those people are going through.

 

There are many reasons why people are at the lower end of the income scale, people in all walks of life.  If we can do something here through the HST to help them out a little bit, I do not think anybody has a big issue with that.  I think we would all support that in principle. 

 

That being said though, and as the House Leader for the NDP just said, when we look at this: How did we get here?  Where is this money coming from, first of all, the extra money?  We all know that a lot of the extra money coming in to the government coffers is related to the increase in this year's Budget, that 2 per cent on the HST. 

 

Everybody in the Province, whether that be people of lower incomes or people of middle incomes or people of higher incomes, we are all going to be hit – I think it is July.  No, January sorry.  The power bill is in July, I will get to that.  In January, we are all going to be hit with a 2 per cent increase in the HST.

 

We have said, and many people have said, that really what that is going to do is it is going to put a financial burden on – certainly a bigger financial burden, depending on your income level – but a financial burden on all people.  We know that it is a job killer and all that kind of stuff as well.  We have heard that said and we know that to be true, but government is going to do that anyway, against the advice of, I think most people in this Province.  I do not think anybody truly supports it.  Not many people do for sure.  The majority of the people do not.

 

What we are going to do is we are going to increase taxes by 2 per cent, but then what we are saying is we are trying to make this a little bit of feel-good legislation, if you will.  We are doing something for low income people.  We are doing something for low income seniors and so on.  This is almost like a little bit of a feel good thing, that we are doing something positive, but the bottom line is whatever we are giving to those people, that targeted group, on the one hand we are taking that away from them in terms of having to pay extra money every time they make a purchase in terms of the HST, certainly on the larger purchases at least.

 

As, I think, my colleague from The Straits – White Bay North said someone had saved up to buy an automobile, or they needed a washer or dryer or a couch or whatever the case might be, they are going to have to pay 2 per cent more HST.  So whatever they save in this credit is going to be taken away on the other hand.  Certainly, for the rest of us who are above that range, above that threshold – which is many people in Newfoundland and Labrador – they are not getting any rebate at all.  They are getting zero rebate.  They are just going to pay an extra 2 per cent.

 

Of course, we also know that the HST now is going to be applied to the power bill.  That is going to be 8 per cent in July, and then the additional 2 per cent in January.  So come January, we are going to be paying 10 per cent more on your power bill.  That is going to more than wipe out any kind of benefit that a person on a low income receives, big time, and certainly for the rest of us who do not receive any kind of a credit at all, we are just simply going to be hit by a 10 per cent bill on your light bill.

 

In an average home, perhaps, if your light bill was say, $400 a month, now it is going to be $440 a month.  That is an additional $40 a month.  That is about $500 a year that everyone is going to be hit with as a result of the tax increases.

 

So, while I applaud the initiatives, and I do, and support the initiative here to give a rebate, to increase that tax credit for the people here, to increase that range, I would suggest that it does very little.  Although, it does something, I suppose, for some people, but it is really kind of smoke and mirrors.  It is really smoke and mirrors.  It is trying to turn a very negative thing about a 2 per cent increase, a 2 per cent job killer, and 10 per cent on everyone's light bill, and trying to somehow downplay all that negativity with throwing a bone to a few people here with a few crumbs here with this amendment.  That is how I see it, Mr. Speaker.

 

Now, the other piece here talks about the digital media companies and so on and giving them a tax credit.  I would say I totally understand where the minister is coming from.  We have to try to diversify our economy.  There could be certainly some opportunity in this particular area when it comes to digital media and so on.  I understand we have to be competitive and so on.  I do understand that piece as well.  I suppose you could argue there is a little bit of a slippery slope.  When you start with this type of company now, next year do you get into some other type of industry and so on that are looking for the same thing, and before you know it, nobody wants to pay taxes.  

 

That being said, from the perspective of attracting business, retaining business, and attracting professional people who will purchase goods and services and all that stuff, I do understand that point.

 

I am very pleased to see that there is a sunset clause, and that it will be reviewed and evaluated after five years.  That is a welcomed change.  Because, as the minister said himself, the AG was certainly critical of the fact that we have a number of programs and so on where there is no evaluation.  We do not look at outcomes.  If we are going to have a process here to at least measure the value of what we are doing, to measure those outcomes to ensure that we are getting good bang for our buck, then I would view that as a positive thing. 

 

Mr. Speaker, from an overall perspective, I will be supporting Bill 12, but I want to point out that really it is a piece of feel-good legislation and smoke and mirrors in the face of the 2 per cent HST that everyone is going to have to pay and the 10 per cent on everybody's light bill.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I just wanted to get up for a couple of minutes and express my views on this.  When I first saw this bill, I was thinking to myself I can appreciate the Finance Minister stepping up on this one, and I can appreciate whoever writes the legislation putting both pieces into the act.  Both seem so radically different that I would have expected these two pieces, to tell you the truth, Mr. Speaker, to be put in under two separate bills, even though both of them are making changes to the Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2. 

 

Like I said, as regards to the Film and Video Industry Tax Credit, I certainly understand, we are in a very competitive industry now.  We have a burgeoning industry in this Province.  One can only think of – God only knows how many companies out there that are doing work out there in the film industry, for example, and in digital media as well. 

 

Best Boy Productions is one that immediately runs into mind.  It is an award-winning company.  I cannot remember exactly how many employees who are out there, but I can remember when they were only a little small operation in there on Park Avenue.  They are after growing into a huge operation. 

 

We know the recording artists that we have here.  We know how much this tax credit can go to promoting Newfoundland and Labrador.  We know the effect of the entertainment industry, for example, on Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly on tourism.  We have seen that effect, for example, with Doyle when it was out there.  Now we are seeing government invest in another production.  So that part of it there I can understand.

 

Mr. Speaker, it is the other part that I would have questions about.  Some of the other members here in the House today have already commented on the simple fact of the HST.  From day to day I stand up in this House and I talk about government reinstating the Residential Energy Rebate.  One of the big questions that people have in the Province here as regards to their own energy costs and the money that they have to pay out is the 8 per cent HST.  We already know that amount is going to be going up another 2 per cent on top of it.  We already know that it is going to be going up in July, and again we are going to see that increase happening in January.

 

The whole idea of taking people's money from a form of taxation and then giving it back to somebody on $30,000 income or less – I have this image.  It is simple that somebody is taking money out of their pocket only to be receiving it in the other hand.  We know that government is going to be coming out with a form of credit and we totally approve of a credit.  We know that there are a lot of people out there, and the Finance Minister has already said it as regards to the number of people out there on a $30,000 income right now.  Mr. Speaker, 127,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador are on $30,000 or less. 

 

We have to ask ourselves questions about the wage levels.  The population of the Province is about 520,000.  The workforce is probably a little bit less than that.  We know that there are a lot of stay-at-home people too.  Mr. Speaker, 127,000 people in this Province keeping this Province going on $30,000 or less; we are going to give them back some of their money when we are taking a lot out of it when it comes to heat and light.

 

Mr. Speaker, just to sum up, I believe there are some things that we could be doing with the HST altogether.  Government should reconsider the Residential Energy Rebate and leave the money where it is at.  We are talking about the Poverty Reduction Strategy as well.  This is going to affect them.  We know that obviously it is a good thing to be giving them money, but I think they need to reconsider some of the things that they are also considering.

 

Again, like I said, it is a good thing.  We do approve of this piece of legislation, but we still have some questions for government, probably, when it gets to the Committee stage.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the Minister of Finance and President Board speaks now he will close the debate.

 

The hon. the Minister of Finance.

 

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


I just want to make a couple of closing comments.  My closing comments will tie to comments made by members opposite rather than introduce some new information at this time.

 

There are just a couple of things; the issue about whether this is a feel-good piece of legislation, as described by one of the members opposite.  Fundamentally, Mr. Speaker, just think about what is happening here.  There has always been an offset.  Ever since we have had HST we have always had a provision to provide protection to low-income families.  The federal government does it.  Other jurisdictions across the country do it.  We have been doing it for years; the difference is we have only had a $15,000 threshold.  It is has been in place since 1997.  So since 1997 we have never increased.  As a Province, we have never increased that threshold from the $15,000. 

 

What we are doing here now, Mr. Speaker, is not just making feel good; we are staying to the principle of having an offset provision.  That is what this is.  This is not a new concept.  It is a concept that is well entrenched across the country, at federal levels, provincial levels.  There is an offset to protect low-income individuals.  That is what this does.  It just takes the threshold from $15,000 up to $30,000.  That is an entrenched principle.  It is not just smoke and mirrors, as has been described.  It is very real, it is very practical, it is very reasonable, it is measured, it is fair, and it is equitable. 

 

The second part one of the members raised is this whole issue – put it into context of other values and other benefits that are available to low-income people in the Province, and the fact that we did not have anything in this Province other than this potential credit here.  I wanted to just remind members of two things; one is we have this Low Income Tax Reduction where fundamentally in 2015, with the enhancements we have made in our tax structure, today, any individual – starting in the 2015 taxation year, any individual in this Province who makes $18,955 or less pays zero provincial income tax.  That is an enhancement.  It is indexed, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The second thing, a family tied to that, a family whose income is $32,052 or less pays zero provincial income tax in this Province.  If you happen to be a senior on top of that, the Low Income Seniors' Benefit, Mr. Speaker, is now up to $1,059 annually and that is indexed.  If you are a senior today and your income is $28,654 or less, you are going to get the full $1,059 paid. 

 

If you think about it for a moment, if you stack those values, the HST credit, now the $30,000 – if you are a senior you are in that same bracket.  You are going to get $1,059 in the fall.  Because your income is now within that threshold, you now pay zero provincial income tax.  If you think about it for a moment that same person pays zero provincial income tax and they get the $300 credit for HST.  In addition to that, if you are a senior in that category, you get an additional $1,059 as a part of a rebate. 

 

So I just wanted to respond to those two critical points that were made as a part of the debate.  Mr. Speaker, that concludes my comments at second reading, and I now adjourn debate at this stage of the debate.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the said bill shall now be read a second time.

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2.  (Bill 12)

 

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

 

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

 

MR. KING: Later.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Later.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave.  (Bill 12)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper, Bill 14.  I ask leave to introduce the bill, An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act, 2012. 

 

So moved by me, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, that the said bill be now read the second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the said bill be now read a second time.

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act, 2012.”  (Bill 14)

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to rise today in the hon. House to propose amendments to the Regional Service Boards Act, 2012, Bill 14.

 

Regional service boards oversee the implementation of the waste management strategy and are authorized under the Regional Service Boards Act, 2012 to design, finance, and operate regional waste management systems.  The Northern Peninsula Regional Service Board also provides fire protection services to residents of Anchor Point and to Eddies Cove East.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. HUTCHINGS: To date, six boards have been established, and it is expected that other boards will be created so as to expand coverage to the entire Province.

 

The regional service boards are corporations operated by boards of directors who represent municipalities, local service districts, and unincorporated communities within their waste management regions.

 

Mr. Speaker, in 2002 the government of the day introduced a Provincial Solid Waste Management Strategy designed to result in long-term solutions for modern waste management in the Province.  In 2007, this government provided an implementation plan, and certainly with the funds to go with it to move the strategy forward.  This strategy demonstrates we are ensuring waste disposal is disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way, and we are protecting the environment for future generations.

 

There are two important amendments to the bill.  First, through these proposed amendments, regional service boards will have an independent election process similar to the Province's local governments that is more reflective of their independence and increased operational maturity.  These amendments eliminate the need for government involvement in the appointment process, thereby streamlining the process of replacing members and chairpersons.

 

The regional service board accountability requirements are maintained.  While the appointment process may change, a number of other provisions that currently exist will continue to ensure appropriate accountabilities are in place for regional service board operations.

 

For example, section 26(3) of the act requires that a copy of the board's budget is sent to the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.  Section 30 of the act states that the board shall not, without the prior approval of the minister, incur an expenditure of debt exceeding the total of the estimated expenditure of indebtedness approved in the budget.  Section 40(5) requires the board to seek prior approval of the minister to borrow money for current account purposes that is greater than 20 per cent of its estimated revenue. 

 

The requirements are similar to those contained in the Municipalities Act 1999 to ensure accountability for municipalities.  Boards will still be required to produce an annual report and audited financial statements to be available to the public.

 

These amendments will come into effect August 1 to align with the proclamation of the public bodies' component of the recently amended ATIPP legislation.  This will ensure there is no gap in the coverage of the regional service boards under ATIPPA and that the accountability of the boards in this regard is maintained. 

 

A second important area of the bill is with respect to amending the Regional Service Boards Act 2012 to allow members of the federal Indian reserves to be elected nominated to regional service boards.  While there are currently six regional service boards, the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs has been working with the Coast of Bays Waste Management Committee to establish regional boundaries and a regional board for the Coast of Bays region. 

 

The Coast of Bays region is located in the southern area of the Province, as we know, and includes the Miawpukek First Nation of Conne River which is a federal Indian Act reserve.  While the Miawpukek First Nation have been active members of the waste management committee, the department wants to amend the Regional Service Boards Act 2012 to allow members of the federal Indian Act reserve the option to formally participate on the regional services board when established.

 

The proposed amendments support the provincial Solid Waste Management Strategy, Blue Book 2011, and the vision of the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs by strengthening regional sharing of services.  Regional sharing of services avoids duplication of effort and allows for economies of scale as we know.  The regional service boards are an important part of this service delivery model.  These proposed amendments are steps to help ensure the continued successful implementation of the Provincial Waste Management Strategy.

 

Mr. Speaker, I certainly look forward to comments, inquiries, and questions on this legislation as we move through debate with the hon. members of the House.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It certainly is a pleasure to rise once again, this time to speak on Bill 14, An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this bill primarily deals with regional service boards which have been set up for the purposes of waste management.  That is primarily what it is, at least right now.  My understanding is that we have six boards right now that are operational.  There are actually eight, six are operational.  There are two established, one in Green Bay and one in the Coast of Bays region, which are not active at this time, but the other six are. 

 

Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with the board here in the St. John's area, the Avalon, as I can recall when it was established.  I was a member of the Mount Pearl city council.  They were trying to set up a regional waste site.  We can recall at the time it was supposed to Dog Hill.  I do not know if members from the St. John's area and so on can recall they were going to actually put the landfill site in Dog Hill.  Then there was a bit of a fuss with then Mayor Wells of St. John's.  It ended up being moved or maintaining I suppose in Robin Hood Bay. 

 

Of course, then we had a situation following that over the whole idea of governance, who will govern it, how much representation there would be, who would be on the board, and how it would be divvied out by region, by population.  We know that the landfill in St. John's and the board that governs it, I believe it goes out as far as Clarenville for waste management.  It comes into St. John's. 

 

At one point they were going to include the Bonavista Peninsula, as well as the Burin Peninsula.  Now I am not sure if that actually is happening right now or not, those two peninsulas.  If they are not, they are supposed to be, I believe, as part of the plan that they would utilize that facility as well at the Robin Hood Bay landfill site.  The garbage would be trucked in from all those communities, and of course then there are issues around transfer stations and so on. 

 

It is a big deal.  It certainly has come with it a lot of hard work by a lot of people, a lot of councils, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador to have these established for the purposes, as I said, primarily of waste management.  We know that municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador certainly are strong proponents of this regional approach.  I actually served as Avalon director on the Board of Directors with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador for a period of time and attended the MNL conventions.  I still do.  As an MHA, I still go to them, to be informed of what the municipal issues are because they impact us all. 

 

I know that MNL and its members are strong proponents of regional governance, regional services, and so on.  Not everybody is necessarily on board but I think it is fair to say that MNL, as an organization, and its members are in favour of this approach.  While this approach is currently being used for waste management, certainly this approach could be expanded to these boards for other things as well.

 

We know that when you look at things like economic development – and there are all kinds of things that can apply.  Certainly when you look at the larger municipalities like the City of St. John's, the City of Mount Pearl, Corner Brook, Gander, Grand Falls, and so on, a lot of these larger municipalities do have their own professional staff.  They have town engineers, planners, financial directors and so on; but a lot of the small towns, by virtue of their size, do not necessarily have that in-house expertise and they do not necessarily have all of the services that they would like to have because they simply do not have the critical mass to make it happen in terms of population and tax base. 

 

We know that there has been a move and continues to be a move from Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador and its membership to continue the move down this road and having these regional models that will not just be in place to deal with things such as waste management, but also to be able to deal with things like economic development as an example.  A small town perhaps does not have the wherewithal to have an individual, an economic developmental director, but perhaps a regional authority that represented a whole region, representing all of those towns in the area that if they pool their resources together and pool the tax base together, there could be a person on a regional basis to look at things like planning. 

 

The same thing could happen when it comes to things like municipal enforcement.  Again, a number of the large towns have their own municipal enforcement divisions, or their own municipal enforcement officer that deals with a whole host of things, whether that be things around municipal bylaws – and they could be very wide ranging.  A lot of the larger towns have that, but again, the smaller towns do not have the resources and the ability to do that.

 

So there is the concept that would make sense on a regional basis to expand services like that to that board as well, where they could have a municipal enforcement officer, division, or whatever, reporting to this board that could do municipal enforcement for the entire region, as opposed to a particular town.  We can see where that could apply to a number of other things as well, whether that be having an engineer, for example – that is another thing.  Having an engineer who would be employed by the regional authority to deal with a lot of the engineering issues and submission of plans and looking at things like clean drinking water and water and sewer, and all those things, to work on behalf of the region, as opposed to on behalf of a town because the town does not have the financial ability to do it.

 

When we talk about these regional boards in this piece of legislation, the point is right now we are primarily talking about it from the perspective of waste management, but we certainly know that it can be expanded to other municipal services and it does make a lot of sense particularly in areas where the smaller towns do not have the resources to do it on their own.  As I said, this is something that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador have been pushing for.  So we are very supportive of that, and it is important that they be consulted on these things.

 

Now, specifically one of the main points that are being addressed here is the fact that currently, as it stands, with these boards that the government, and I guess the minister, as representing the government, would appoint the Chairperson and the members of these regional boards, as it currently stands.  So, the proposal here in Bill 14 – and this is really the main thrust of it, and there are some other details as well, but the main thrust of this legislation is to now have the ability to take that ability away from the government to simply appoint people, and to put a democratic process in place whereby municipalities themselves would elect a regional board.

 

So, if you have a number of municipalities within a region, then I guess they would put forward names and so on of councillors or mayors or deputy mayors from their towns who are interested in serving on the regional board.  Then there would be an election, if you will, and from that, you would have that regional board that would be representative of the whole area.  Now, obviously, there is going to have to be a lot of details around I would suspect that if you have a large region, you would not want everybody elected from the one town.  I guess there will be some mechanism whereby different parts of the region – there would be a regional director, if you will, for the board, for different parts of the region and so on.

 

Then my understanding is that then the board itself, once the board is elected, then amongst themselves they would elect a Chair of the board and this Chair of the board could be one of themselves or they could actually elect another Chair from outside that particular board.  That outside person I do not even think has to be a councillor.  I think it says here someone from the community, if they all agreed.

 

I am assuming that there are a lot of reasons whether it be the time factor or whether it be the expertise – there may be someone in that region who has expertise that everyone would agree would be a good choice to have to Chair the board. 

 

Mr. Speaker, given the time, I would like to adjourn the debate temporarily and then I continue on when we come back after the break, if that is okay.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Make the motion –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South, you can move the motion to adjourn debate. 

 

MR. LANE: Oh, I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.  I will make the motion, seconded by the Member for St. George's – Stephenville, is it?  Stephenville – St. George's –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. LANE: Okay, I will tell you what: St. John's North, how is that?  I cannot remember the names. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

It has been moved and seconded by, whom we are not sure, that the debate be now adjourned. 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

Government House Leader, we are going to take supper break? 

 

MR. KING: Yes we will take a break, with leave of the House, until 7:00 p.m. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The House will resume at 7:00 p.m.

 


June 16, 2015                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLVII No. 32A


 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper Bill 14, An Act To Amend The Regional Services Board Act, 2012. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: To resume debate, the hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South. 

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is a pleasure to continue on Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Services Board Act.  For the benefit of those who are just tuning in, really what we are talking – at the risk of sounding repetitive, I am not quite sure where I left off.  We were discussing this, of course, before the supper break and we had to end off.  I am not quite sure where I ended off so I may have to start –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Start all over again.

 

MR. LANE: They are saying I may have to start over again, to some degree, and if I am a little bit repetitive I certainly apologize for that.  I know the member, the Attorney General; I can tell that he is very anxious to hear what I have to say.  I look forward to enlightening him some more. 

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, as we said, Bill 14, we are talking about the Regional Services Board Act.  This is really relating to the boards that we have within the Province.  Currently, there are eight boards.  Six of the eight are actually functioning and there are two which are established and not functioning; one in Green Bay and one in the Coast of Bays region.  Primarily, these are regional boards that have been put in place to deal with waste management within the Province. 

 

As I said before we went to break, while they are primarily in place to deal with waste management this could certainly be expanded over time to cover a whole host of regional, municipal services.  Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador have been pressing for that model over the years and they are certainly in agreement with this piece of legislation.  They are in agreement with what is being proposed here, as I understand it.

 

I am glad to see that because we have seen legislation in the past come before the House where the appropriate stakeholders were not consulted and that was certainly a problem.  I know we had a piece of legislation that came in the House – I am not sure if it was this sitting, or maybe the sitting before last – that was a municipal bill around youth being involved in municipal councils and so on.  MNL were never really consulted and they did not agree with it.  In this particular case, they do agree with it, so that in itself is a positive thing.

 

Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation – there are a number of changes here, but certainly the biggest change and the main thrust of this is the fact that we would be actually electing members of the regional service board as opposed to the current practice in place where the government and the minister would actually appoint these individuals to the regional service board.  What is being proposed here now is that you would have a number of municipalities within a particular region covered by the regional service board and those municipalities would have the ability to put names forward from their council to serve on the regional service board.

 

As I indicated earlier, or at least as I would understand or suspect it would be, there would be some sort of proportional representation I would assume from the various parts of the region so that you did not have one town council or one city council with all the members on the board or with the majority of the members on the board, that it would be sort of shared up around the region to make sure there was some sort of equal representation.

 

Of course this bill does not get into all of those details, and I guess there will be a set of regulations or perhaps policies and procedures or whatever the case might be to cover off all those details; but certainly, the municipalities have the ability now to put names forward and to have these people elected, if there is more than one person with their name put forward for a particular part of the region or so on, that there would be an election process to determine who the people are who would serve on the board.

 

That is fitting right within the whole democratic process.  I think that is a good thing.  I think the whole concept that the government, whoever that government would be, will just simply be picking and choosing who serves on these boards is wrong.  The municipalities themselves are the ones that have to use these regional service boards and the facilities that are governed under them.  They are the ones that use them.  They are the ones that have to pay for it through taxes that their citizens are paying, municipal tax, to help fund these facilities, or to use these facilities that are being governed. 

 

So it only makes sense that if the key stakeholders here are the municipalities, and they are the ones that are paying for it, then obviously they are the ones who should have the say in how these facilities are run, how they are governed, and the decisions that are being made.  Obviously, there are significant decisions that these regional service boards would make. 

 

I know if we look at just the waste management piece – which as we said, is primarily what we have now.  If you look at the waste management piece – because obviously decisions are going to be made in terms of, for example, what the tipping fees will be, so how much towns will have to pay at the gate per ton when they drop off their garbage.  There are going to be decisions made as to whether there will be recycling within those facilities. 

 

Of course there are all different types of recycling.  Will we be separating metals?  Will we be separating plastics?  Will we be doing composting and all those types of issues?  There are decisions that would be made around that.  There would be costs associated around that depending on the type of recycling that is taking place, who the contractors might be who would be doing the recycling and so on, where they would be selling the product. 

 

All those decisions are going to tie into the cost of operating the facility and it is going to tie into the tipping fees at the gate.  Obviously the municipalities are going to have to pay for all that.  Therefore, it is important that they be the ones, through their elected representatives and elected amongst themselves, that it be those people in that ward representing of that group who are making those decisions, impacting those user groups, impacting those municipalities, Mr. Speaker.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: It is democratic.

 

MR. LANE: Yes, my colleague is saying it is democratic.  Absolutely it is, and that is certainly the way it should be. 

 

There are other issues that come to mind as well when we talk waste management, not just the whole aspect of the tipping fees.  We have had issues, we know, around transfer stations, for example.  Would there be transfer stations?  Where would those transfer stations be located?  Who pays for the transfer stations?  Does everybody who uses that facility pay for it or just the towns that would feed into those transfer stations that would pay for it?  How far would the municipality be expected to transport the garbage from their town to the regional landfill site?  Who pays for that cost?  Do they pay for all the cost?  Is some subsidized?  Is there a certain distance that would be covered off by the authority and then the town picks up the rest?

 

There are all kinds of practical issues that deal with just waste management.  We have certainly experienced that in those questions here on the Northeast Avalon, and I am sure that those same types of issues are being brought forward and concerns raised in other parts of the Province.  There are a lot of municipalities that have concerns.

 

Then there is the whole issue around local service districts and unincorporated areas and what happens to their waste and who pays for that and what is the model around that.  So there are a whole host of issues that I can think of that comes to mind just around waste management alone.

 

Once this is established and these people are elected to these boards, we start applying a whole bunch of other municipal services to that whether that be to include things like municipal enforcement, whether it be to include things like animal control, whether it be to include things like planning and engineering and all those things being done on a regional basis through these regional boards at some point in time, then there is going to be significant costs around those things, significant decisions to be made.  It is important once again that the municipalities that are going to pay the bill for all this are the ones that are making those decisions themselves and they are the ones that are selecting the people amongst their own municipal councillors and so on to serve on these regional authorities to make these decisions on their behalf. 

 

It is important then as well that if somebody is not functioning the way they should or this entity is not functioning in the way that it should, there is the opportunity to be able to remove people from the boards and to re-elect other people to replace them.  Again, it just comes down to democracy and respecting the users, the stakeholders, which is really the municipal council.  In that regard, we totally support this aspect of the bill.  We are aware that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador also supports this.  In that regard, we are definitely on board.

 

One of the things I will raise, one of the things that are not addressed, or do not seem to be addressed here – and I would say to the minister, because I know he is listening intently, one of the issues here is around the terms of office.  I do not think it is really there.

 

If there is a municipal election – because I understand that these elections will sort of occur in conjunction with municipal elections.  For example, we have a municipal election, so then shortly thereafter there would be an election to elect people to these regional service boards.  They would serve, I believe, for the four-year term until the next municipal election.  There are no time frames.  Now maybe that will be in the policies and procedures or in the –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Four years.

 

MR. LANE: Yes, I hear the minister saying four years.  I understand four years.  It runs in conjunction with municipal elections.  Once there is an election, could you drag it out for six months, eight months, or nine months before you get around to appointing people?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Or twelve months like the Premier, right?

 

MR. LANE: Yes.  My colleague is saying like the provincial election here where we are waiting twenty-two months or whatever it is, later, to have an election.  We want to make sure that once there is a municipal election that the mechanism to elect people to the regional service board is done in a timely fashion. 

 

Obviously if the people who are serving on these boards are elected officials, well, the next municipal election that comes around, some of those people may not run again, or some of those people may not be elected.  They could run and be defeated.  They need to be replaced. 

 

We did not see anything in here that sort of outlines a timeline to ensure that we do not have a long period of time after an election where there is nobody running the shop.  Maybe nobody decides to run again, or maybe they all get defeated, or a combination of both or only half of them is there.  So what happens, we cannot wait like a full year to re-elect the people to this.  We need some assurance that when there is a municipal election, people are re-elected in a timely fashion.  That was really the only point we had here that we were really concerned about.  We are suggesting maybe there should be something to say within 120 days people will be re-elected or whatever to the board. 

 

Other than that, Mr. Speaker, we really do not have any issue with this piece of legislation.  I think it is a positive thing, once again, that we would be introducing a democratic process as opposed to the current process of the minister and the government just appointing who they feel like and taking it out of the hands of the municipalities.  I think it is important to put it in the hands of municipalities.  Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, as we said, are in favour of this, so therefore we support it also. 

 

With that, I will take my seat. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Exploits. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FORSEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Just to make a point of the Explanatory Notes for Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Service Boards Act, 2012 –and I think the Member for Mount Pearl South explained some of it in very good detail, as well as the minister, and made some very good points to it as well.  What we are doing here, we will “remove the requirement that the minister appoint members to a regional service board and allow members of a regional service board to be elected or appointed by the municipal authorities in each ward.” 

 

The other note: “remove the requirement that a chairperson of a regional service board be appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council and allow the members of a regional service board to elect a chairperson from among the members of the board or from outside the board.” 

 

As it was explained earlier, the chairperson could come from outside of the municipality.  Of course, now they will be given an independent election process that is more reflective of their independence.  Certainly the minister can answer any question that arises, but I would think that once the board is formed the board will make some rules and regulations on how and when they will do their election for board members and their Chair, especially regarding the municipal elections.  I would imagine they would want to get that done immediately after the municipal elections are completed and the new councils in place.

 

Mr. Speaker, even though they are going to be independent onto themselves, they still have to report and come under Municipal Affairs and they will have to prepare a report of their annual activities including an audited financial statement, and that is according to the Regional Service Boards Act.  They would have to follow the regulations and prepare those reports annually anyway. 

 

Basically what we are doing is giving them the privilege or the right to go out and elect their own board from their own councils.  I know the Member for Mount Pearl South mentioned about the different regions and I will just touch on them for a second.  Anybody who is listening and wants to know about the Waste Management Strategy and where the waste management boards are set up or the regions, there is an Eastern Region, a Central Region, Western, Western Labrador, and Coast of Bays. 

 

This has been ongoing now since 2002 and there has been quite a bit of money invested by our government in the different regions.  Just for a point of interest, the kind of money that is being invested to ensure that we have a good waste management strategy – and I would like to speak about how it operates in Central, if I can get a few minutes.  However, in the Eastern Region, the total funding has been $63.5 million; in the Central Region, total funding has been $72.9 million; Western, so far $10.8 million that has been provided to the Western Region.  That is the detailed implementation plan for the Western Region that has been completed.

 

The plans provide for six transfer stations strategically located at Channel-Port aux Basques, Burgeo, St. George's, Wild Cove, Rocky Harbour, and Hampton Junction.  Western Labrador, total funding of $6.5 million; and Coast of Bays, a total funding of $80,000 – and this is provided for the waste management study for the region.  There is a study ongoing down there, Mr. Speaker. 

 

In Central, I guess we were a little bit more fortunate because we were using shared services anyway, some of the communities in the Central Region, especially in the Exploits Valley.  I had spoken about the Exploits Valley before.  Basically we have now in Central Newfoundland –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. FORSEY: In Central Newfoundland, Mr. Speaker, the site is set up in Norris Arm North.  We have a lot of the communities already carrying and trucking to that site.  We do have transfer stations in Central set up in different places.  Actually we have transfer stations in Terra Nova, Fogo Island, New World Island, Buchans Junction, Gander Bay, Indian Bay, and Point Leamington.  That is where the transfer stations are set up for the Central Region. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when we started this in Central, like I said, we were rather fortunate because we had already been part of some shared services, especially when it comes to the waste management, which included Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls, and a couple of more communities.  In the meantime, the board currently provides curbside collection services to 70 per cent of communities in the region at a cost of $74 per household for collection. 

 

Mr. Speaker, in the Central Region, we have already started the recycling program as well.  Even though it only started in March, it is working very well.  I know we look at, say, Bishop's Falls, Botwood, these communities in that area, they would normally pick or designate one member for the board before.  That is the way it was set up.  Now what they will do is they will elect all their own members and they will also elect a Chair.  As was stated before, the Chair can come from the municipalities or come from outside. 

 

Basically that is it in a nutshell really.  We are giving them that authority to do so.  Of course they know what they need and they will know what services they want and provide it.  They will get their budgets and they will be able to operate from those budgets. 

 

This is a very good piece of legislation moving forward, Mr. Speaker.  I will certainly be supporting this.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will not be long – I think everybody has been covering off most of the points.  This is an interesting piece of legislation at the same time.  If you are into municipal affairs, it would be.  If you are watching, maybe not – but either way, it brings about an interesting dynamic here.

 

Mr. Speaker, just looking at this piece of legislation a lot of things came to mind.  We know that government, for example, is looking at making some of these boards autonomous – which is a good thing, so that some of these boards can end up self-regulating, and probably administer some of their own programs in the future.  I would imagine that is probably where government is going.

 

We do know it is a hard road sometimes when it comes to regional governance.  We also know that a lot of people have been advocating for changes.  We know particularly that Municipalities NL has had a voice on this issue, and we know that it is based partially on a 2013 resolution that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador came up with.

 

We have to go back in history that it was this government back in 2003 that came out with the Regional Service Boards Act back 2003.  The simple part of that act, the simple reason why they existed back then was to regulate waste management, but the roles have been changing.  They have been evolving.  Sometimes it is not readily apparent, but this is 2015, twelve years later, and the roles, the people who have been serving on these boards are getting a little bit used to small pieces that they have been given over the years to try out at the same time.

 

Mr. Speaker, we do know that, for example, three regional boards have been allowed to participate in a pilot project on water management.  Even though it is kind of outside their realm, but it kind of gives them a little bit of governance, and that is a good thing.  You pass it on so that somebody else can handle things.  As well, we also have one example where the Northern Peninsula regional service district is administering some fire services as well.  We also have forms of regional co-operation that are starting to happen at the same time.  So we look at it as being a good thing.

 

There is no doubt, like I said, when you look at the population of Newfoundland and Labrador and the decline in some areas of population, there is a need to have a regional service board in there so that we can probably start to share a little bit more in services at the same time.  We look at this as being a positive thing.

 

In 2012, there were major amendments to the act.  They needed to provide consistency with the administrative provisions in the Municipalities Act of 1999 – one of the reasons why they made the changes – and with some variation, given the geographic distribution of members of a board.  So they did extend the term, for example, of some members.  It enabled the minister to establish wards.  It provided prescribed powers of a board to include the operation of waste management systems, so that is where they evolved from, and also to clarify the fees that may be charged by a regional service board for services that they would be offering.

 

There is no doubt that while somebody may be living outside of a municipality and end up being in a regional service board area, you cannot get a service for nothing.  I think that is recognition on the part of government.  On April 29 of this year when government announced a new fiscal arrangement with the Province's municipalities, they also announced an advisory committee that would be established to explore a regional governance structure at the same time. 

 

This is going to allow the regional service boards again to extend their wings, if you will, to see if they can actually take over part of governance and part of the administration of this Province.  We recognize that it is a hard job on the part of Municipal Affairs to do that just on their own, but it is nice to have the watchdog agency there too. 

 

The one thing that we are wondering about in all this – it looks like this is the start of the evolution of regional governance in this Province.  While we did not get a straightforward answer as regards to that, nobody gave us a straight answer on it, it certainly appears to be.  So, Mr. Speaker, just looking at the process of what has been happening in this Province over the years, we recognize that there has to be changes made.  We are obviously going to be supporting this.

 

The other thing that we have to note too was about the election process, which we did notice in the bill.  We did note that of course it was going to be following the Municipalities Act – the Municipal Elections Act I believe the proper name on it is.  It looks like certainly that is going to be happening every four years.  Certainly under section 8(1) on down to that there was going to be changes as regards to board appointments and everything.

 

Mr. Speaker, just to sum up, we are quite pleased to see this happen.  We have to recognize that, again, the geography of the Province simply is that we have to share services in some regard.  We have to have a regulatory agency that is going to be able to present some of these services at the same time.  Again, as it started off in waste management and even before in the evolution to it up from 2003 basically onwards, we have to recognize the simple fact that if you want water perhaps it is going to be done by one of these regional service boards. 

 

If you want waste management to happen, certainly it is going to have to happen through a regional service board if you not living directly in a municipality.  We have to look after our own backyards in some cases.  Again, Mr. Speaker, we look at this as being a pretty good piece of legislation.  It is not bad.  There is certainly lots of room for improvement but it shows how the Province is changing and evolving, and we will be there to support these regional service boards as we do municipalities on this side of the House.  We want to wish them all the best in their tenure. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

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

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I will just stand for a few minutes to speak about the Regional Service Boards Act that the minister – I just wanted to say that MNL has been pushing for this for a while, Mr. Speaker. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: How long will it take? 

 

MR. JOYCE: How long will it take?  I think 2017 is when the appointments will start because of the election now and every four years after, from my understanding of the bill.  There will be a few questions that I will be asking.

 

Mr. Speaker, when you look at the waste management, you have to look at Western Newfoundland.  You have to look at Don Downer, the chairperson, and the appointees.  When I see the government holding this up now and saying okay, we are going to start appointing people and now, all of a sudden, we are going to have an election, there is a question.  If there is a CEO, do the regional service board appoint that person or hire that person, or is it the minister's discretion?  Because Mr. Downer was picked out of mid-air, put in the position, and waste management now is what, four years, five years behind – a lot more than that, Mr. Speaker, because it was supposed to be done in 2012.  Western Newfoundland was supposed to be completed in 2012.  So we are looking at eight, ten years, but it is supposed to be completed in 2016 and now we are four years behind, up to twenty-five for the recycles. 

 

I say to the minister, and I challenge the minister, and I said it before, part of the discontent out on the West Coast is the decision was made to bring the garbage from Western Newfoundland out to Norris Arm.  I think it was sixteen members, fifteen members on the board.  It was done in July, eight members (inaudible) nine voted – there was not even a full quorum.  It was a quorum but it was not a full board brought together.  One for sure, maybe two, was on teleconference when this decision was made. 

 

I honestly feel, Mr. Speaker, that there was not enough discussion.  I honestly feel that it was done.  I brought this up before – and I know the Member for Humber West knows Don Downer quite well.  He ran against him for the PC nomination actually.  In actual fact, Mr. Speaker, he was on the Land Use Advisory Committee, I think.  He resigned for four months, he lost the nomination, and he got hired back on again. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: I remind the hon. member to speak to the bill, please. 

 

MR. JOYCE: That is part of the bill, Mr. Speaker.  He is running the Land Use Advisory Committee.  It is part of the bill.  I am not sure if you know what I am – do you understand this bill here?  It is part of the bill. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when someone in that state all of a sudden can take it and move – okay, I am going to run for the PCs now.  Here is the funny part about it.  After the Land Use Advisory Committee –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. JOYCE: If the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune has something to say stand up – stand up.  Just stand up, if not –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: She is stood up.

 

MR. JOYCE: One of the members said she is stood up. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. JOYCE: I say to the member, I do not know if she is standing or sitting. but she always has her gums flapping, I can tell you that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue out on the West Coast.  This is a very serious issue out on the West Coast.  My question – I know the minister can answer it later – will the person who is going to oversee it, the CEO or the manager, will they be hired by this regional service board or will this be of the minister's discretion?  That is the question that the minister could answer. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I just want to just give you a little brief on this.  There was a person out around the West Coast – no need to say his name; you can look on the minutes – who was the manager or the CEO of the Western waste management.  He resigned his position.  Do you know why?  Lack of inaction by government, he resigned his position.  Lack of action, no action whatsoever – he got frustrated, Mr. Speaker, and he resigned. 

 

At that time, there was a Land Use Advisory Committee set up which all of a sudden became dormant for three years, no meeting, waiting and waiting, Mr. Speaker.  All of a sudden, as the Member for Humber West would know, they said: Okay, Mr. Downer, this Land Use Advisory Committee is not sitting.  We are going to take you now and we are going to appoint you to the regional waste management.  That is how it was done, Mr. Speaker. 

 

You hear all the discontent out on the West Coast about this, Mr. Speaker.  Do I think that there has to be issues done with garbage, waste disposal?  Absolutely, but we need consultation.  Here is what happened, Mr. Speaker – and I said it before.  When waste management, the initial plan was brought about in 2003, when it was being implemented, out in Central they created such a large site they said: Uh-oh, we created a large site here.  What we are going to have to do now to bring it up to capacity – I think the site out there is 33 per cent capacity, 30 per cent or 33 per cent, somewhere in that range. 

 

What came up: Well, we cannot set one up on the West Coast now because we need to make sure that we bring up the amount of garbage that is going to be brought in out in Norris Arm.  What they did, they scrapped the idea.  With government's consent and approval, they scrapped the idea of building a waste management site on the West Coast and they put it out in Norris Arm.  The garbage now is going to be shipped out and according to the minister, the transfer stations, the tenders are supposed to be let sometime this month, we were told.  I have not seen them yet.  I am sure they will be because if the minister says it, I am sure it will be done in the near future.  I have not seen them yet. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: How much does that cost?

 

MR. JOYCE: I do not know.  I do not know what consultants were hired to do it.  I have not seen any work on that.

 

Mr. Speaker, the other question out in Western Newfoundland – and I know it was brought up a fair number of times, even the Mayor of Corner Brook – is the Wild Cove dump site.  Because of the delays, can the Wild Cove dump site be active that long?  It is getting to capacity.  That is a big question, Mr. Speaker – that is a big question.

 

There are a lot of issues about waste management out on the West Coast.  These regional service boards, if they are implemented and if the voting is within the regions themselves, I support that.  It is a good move by the minister to have people who are within their own elections going to make decisions for their own area.  I agree with that.

 

With the four-year terms, I also agree with that, I say to the minister.  That is a proper way, unlike the Land Use Advisory Committee when they had people elected, off the board, there was no one reappointed for up to three years. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Sounds like the school board.

 

MR. JOYCE: Sounds like the school board.  No, that was two years they were appointed, and there are still no elections.  At least they were trying out there every four years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I agree with this bill, these amendments.  I will keep on explaining, I will keep on bringing up the shortfalls of the Waste Management Strategy for Western Newfoundland.  I honestly believe that this was a ploy to keep Norris Arm more active and bring up their capacity more and the people who are going to pay more are the people on the Northern Peninsula, people on the West Coast.  The people on the Northern Peninsula are going to pay more because government uh-oh, we built this big monstrosity of a site that we need now to start bringing more garbage to it.  I really truly feel that, Mr. Speaker.

 

When you get people like the Mayor of Corner Brook and other municipalities who cannot find out what is going on, cannot get the information – and I said from day one that the cost per ton was going to go over $200, $225, $250, and I was laughed at – I was laughed at.  I know the Member for Humber West now – Mr. Don Downer finally said: Yes, it is going to get up that high.  What do people expect?  It has to be taken care of. 

 

I said it from day one and I say it again, what we have to do is we have to sit down and we have to consult, Mr. Speaker.  I am hoping the minister will take this advice.  It is not very often when you go out and you have all these municipalities and there is so much discontent about it, you have to consult.  If there is some other way that we can make this easier and better and cheaper for the residents – and there is no one on this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, who is going to stand up and say we should not take care of the environment, absolutely nobody.  Everybody agrees we should take care of the environment.  I do not think there is a member in this House who would disagree with that.

 

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you right now and you can ask any municipality in Western Newfoundland that I deal with, since the waste management was taken over in Wild Cove, you can see more areas on the West Coast for illegal dumping.  I do not condone it, but you can see it.  That is a concern that we all have to face somehow. 

 

I am sure out in Central there are sites that are now becoming illegal dump sites that people go.  In Western Newfoundland I walk in the woods a fair bit, I walk around, and you can see it more and more and more.  I am not sure if we need to do the education more.  I am not sure if it is enforcement, or if we have to find some way to make it easier. 

 

I will use just a good example.  The people in Corner Brook, rightly or wrongly, Mr. Speaker – I am just explaining the way it is.  I live in Corner Brook.  If I have a truckload of garbage, I can drive over, because I am a resident I can dump off the garbage.  They will tell you where to go.  Now, since this waste management you have to go and get a key card.  You have to go in to get a key card.  You have to go in now and you have to pay for it.  The hassle of people who are saying well, it is better now to just go and dump it.  I do not agree with that, but that is what happening around.  That is another bigger issue. 

 

Another issue with a lot of waste management is the cleaning up of those sites, Mr. Speaker.  That is another issue that we have to deal with not only as a government.  No matter any municipality that is part of it, but government has to step in because there has been no solution to the sites that are going to be – the Corner Brook, Wild Cove site for example, is that going to be a transfer station?  Maybe it is.  Those are the kinds of issues that are not being dealt with. 

 

I will support this bill.  I think it is a move in the right direction to put the power back into the hands of the people who have the most to gain or the most to lose and who have been dealing with other councils within the area.  I say the minister did a good job on this here, but until 2017 we have to do something more to try to get more information out to the councils, get more information out to the people in Western Newfoundland about the waste management because it is becoming an issue.  It is becoming a major issue for our environment with the dumping that is occurring.

 

I will sit down and take my seat, Mr. Speaker.  Once again, I applaud the minister for bringing this forward.  I applaud MNL for passing this.  I think it was in 2012 they put that in one of their resolutions, pushing this forward.  It is a positive step, and I am sure a lot of towns would like to have control back in their hands, not have people being appointed but have people who are appointed by the towns, who have to answer to the board and answer to their own municipalities on the decision.  So I will be supporting this bill.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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 going to speak for a few minutes to Bill 14.  I am happy to stand and on behalf of the residents of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, talk for a little bit about Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Service Boards Act.  There are several things that this act is going to do, primarily co-ordinate and execute the Province's Waste Management Strategy. 

 

Mr. Speaker, before I was elected, I got a bit involved and sat on the committee, the waste management in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair – a big issue, and I am going to speak to it for a few minutes, in that area.  Also, as I have said here in the House before, I sat on the provincial municipalities board.  So I am very familiar with the resolution back in 2011 that MNL put forward and familiar with a lot of the Provincial Waste Management Strategy.

 

I think this is a very positive bill.  When we see a bill that is giving some power and some control back into the hands of the municipalities, the people who are on the ground, the people who have an invested interest in that area, and taking some of that away from the ministers, no matter who was in government, no matter who is in power, I believe that is a very, very positive thing.

 

Mr. Speaker, this amendment to the Regional Service Boards Act is something that comes directly from a push by municipalities, and it is refreshing to see that the government listened and that we are here tonight and that we are debating Bill 14.  This organization has been lobbying for significant change in the Regional Service Boards Act for some time.  It is nice to see the resolution that was put forward about four years ago; they are now getting what they had asked for at that time.

 

Mr. Speaker, I believe when you take the politics out of something like this, there is far more work that will be accomplished in the end because the focus will be on the work that needs to be done instead of partisan favours, you do something for me and I will appoint you to this board.  There are all kinds of examples across the departments and connections where we can see that political appointments were made – and not always a positive thing, and oftentimes lots of fallout from it.  In the end, the regions where specific work was to be done, those are the regions, and the work ends up not being done and the regions suffer from that.

 

So, the resolution that was put forward by MNL back in 2011, it called for eliminating all appointment powers of the minister.  Mr. Speaker, a board like the MNL, a very credible board in this Province, they obviously had reason to be concerned, fed up with probably years and decades of abuse, appointments made by ministers.  So they put forward this resolution to eliminate the appointment powers of the minister and require that all members of a regional service board, including the chairperson of the said board, be elected from among municipal councillors and local service district representatives from the municipalities and communities within the jurisdiction of a regional service board.

 

Mr. Speaker, Bill 14, the bill we are discussing here tonight, which amends the Regional Service Boards Act, recognizes the request that was put forward by MNL in 2011 and is a welcome change for local government – a welcome change.

 

I was also very happy to hear the minister stand and speak to say that the act being amended would recognize the Indian reserves and provide them a place at the board table as full members of a regional service board.  It is very rewarding to see Indian reserves being recognized, the valuable role they have to play, and the contribution that they can make to the table and their close connection to the environment and the land.  It is nice to see this now being an inclusive process and to see them at the table as full members of that regional service board.

 

Mr. Speaker, there is all kinds of detail in this that my colleague for Mount Pearl South had talked about, and I do not want to reiterate too much of what he said about the act is being amended so that the minister no longer appoints the chairperson or the members.  We feel this is a very, very positive thing, as I said earlier, to take the politics out of this and to focus on the work of the regional service board.  I do not need to talk tonight about how that is rolling out.  There was some concern that there is no timeline provided for the reappointment, and that is something that we need to look at changing. 

 

I want to talk a little bit about the Waste Management Strategy in the Province.  There is no doubt about it that a lot of work has already been done, Mr. Speaker.  I believe a press release came out on May 25 and $161 million has been invested to date, significant accomplishments, no doubt, have been achieved; but in Labrador we are nearing a crisis stage. 

 

In the District of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, as I said I was involved with the Waste Management Strategy.  I got heavily involved in fall of 2012 and we pulled all of the community leaders in the district together to see if we could move a file.  Hatch Mott MacDonald was commissioned to do a study; I think it was back in the early 2000s.  They did a study, nothing happened for years and years and years, then we came together in December 2012 and we held a forum initiated by local people.

 

I facilitated that forum, Mr. Speaker, and we brought in a rep from Hatch Mott MacDonald and we discussed why we had not moved beyond where we were.  We got Crow Head in the Labrador Straits.  It is a very hot potato, Mr. Speaker – no pun intended.  It is about to explode.  The dump is overfilled.  It is at a crisis state.  Several other communities in my district, Mary's Harbour and Charlottetown – in Charlottetown we have the only shrimp processing facility so we have tons of things from the shrimp plant, the bags the effluent goes in and things like that that go into the dump. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have travelled around the Province a little bit since the Waste Management Strategy has been implemented.  It is amazing what has happened with some of the dump sites and what used to be a terrible, terrible dump site is now beautiful, pristine land, green grass; but in the District of Cartwright L'Anse au Clair we still have a string of town dumps.  They are an eyesore.  We are at a crisis state. 

 

When we saw the recent press release out extending the timeline for the waste management, Mr. Speaker, there was a lot of discontent, I can tell you, on the local level in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.  The press release specifically mentioned the development of the new landfill site for Southern Labrador.  It talked about the research and the analysis that has been ongoing for over a decade. 

 

Mr. Speaker, at the forum that we had in 2012 we did secure another $44,000.  We wanted to get answers.  The municipal leaders wanted answers to some more questions they had because there has been some concern around what would be the most least cost effective, a one-site model, a two site, or a three. 

 

As I have said many times, the district is very, very, very spread out, Mr. Speaker.  It is six hours, seven hours, maybe, drive from one end to the other.  It is still a bad road.  It is not going to be a paved road for a number of years.  Then it comes into question even the equipment.  How is it going to hold up? 

 

If you have a one-site model and you have those dump trucks that are travelling for hours every day on the road, Mr. Speaker, we know on the Northern Peninsula they are well underway with this Waste Management Strategy, but they have certainly had lots and lots of issues with vehicles breaking down, having to go to, I believe it is, Grand Falls each time and be repaired. 

 

The initial study showed that a single-site model was the most expensive to operate: $203 per household per year.  The two-site model was cheaper: $131 per household per year.  The three-site model would be the cheapest.  Once we had the additional study done, whatever happened, Hatch Mott McDonald came back and showed that in fact the one-site model was the cheapest. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why government has not moved forward to date on this, knowing that the crisis is in that area.  The people on the ground in the district, the leaders and those involved on the waste management committee, most recently received a letter from the Environment Minister's office saying that an environmental preview report was now required. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if an environmental preview report was needed for any other site.  I know it is important that we get this right.  I understand that these models that we are putting in place is expected to last for –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) going all night.

 

MS DEMPSTER: You might be going all night because it is a chance for me to talk about the waste management issues in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, I say to the hon. member across the way. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Waste Management Strategy timelines in which it was to be implemented has just been stretched out a little further.  What that means is that communities like I represent that have town dump sites are going to be waiting longer, years and years more, and there is no doubt about it that we are going to be in a crisis if those communities are expected to wait into the future very long.

 

The people involved in the Waste Management Strategy in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair feel that they made significant progress over the past couple of years, but right now everything seems to be at a standstill.  So I encourage government to work with the Waste Management Strategy people in the district and try to move this along before we are all dealing with something that we would prefer not to be.  Any further unnecessary delays is definitely going to exasperate the already intolerable existing conditions for the residents who live there, for tourists who travel through the region, many of these dump sites are in very prominent, focal areas.

 

I do not have a lot more to say about it.  It gave me an opportunity to mention the serious issue that is in Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair with the waste management sites that needed to be addressed maybe ten years ago.  We are far past when we need to do that.

 

Mr. Speaker, under Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Service Boards Act, it is always a very positive thing when we can see that we are making a step in the right direction.  I hope we will see it in more departments where a minister kind of removes himself away from political appointments and we see that we give some onus back to those people in our communities, community leaders, municipalities, local service districts that do very valuable work every day for the people that they represent.

 

As I said at Combined Councils last week, those people who live in these small communities who give so much, at the end of the day they want to see the places that they live and call home a little better place.  I am very happy to have a couple of minutes to speak to Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Service Boards Act.  One of the positives that I did not mention that is here in this act is that there is also an amendment being put in directing the regional service board to publish on an annual basis their audited financial statements and their annual reports so that the general public has full access. 

 

It is very important, Mr. Speaker.  Every single day in all different departments we hear about openness, transparency, and accountability.  Any time you are dealing with the public's money, residents paying money into user fees and things like that, I am really happy to see that amendment put in so that audited financial statements will be published on an annual basis.

 

With that, I will take my place and I am happy to have spoken for a minute to Bill 14.  I do hope that things will move before they get to a crisis stage in the waste management situation in the District of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North. 

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to Bill 14, An Act to Amend the Regional Service Boards Act.  I wanted to speak to this particular bill after listening to the minister in his commentary of what he stated around the NorPen Regional Service Board.  That particular board comprises basically, if we look at Bill 13 and what the electoral boundaries commission proposes for St. Barbe – L'Anse aux Meadows, that particular geographical space. 

 

Last night, after midnight, when I was on my feet debating that, I pointed out how that electoral district is basically the same as the NorPen Regional Service Board, which represents the sixteen municipalities, all of the local service districts and all of the other communities that are there.  There are fifty-three communities.  The NorPen Regional Service Board is a model that is reflective of how these can work effectively well if they are properly resourced. 

 

NorPen has their headquarters in St. Anthony and what they do is they are collecting fees from all of the communities.  If it is a municipality, they can collect their fees on a more upfront basis.  Then on other regions, they go through a different process to collect fees, but all householders pay an annual fee for waste collection services. 

 

Also, NorPen is a unique model in a sense that it also manages fire services for the thirteen communities as the minister stated.  In a region of the district where I live, between Eddies Cove and Anchor Point, there are thirteen communities, two municipalities, and there are eight unincorporated communities and three other local service districts in that region. 

 

For the population, prior to this coming together for regional fire services, each little community, thirteen of them, a number of them had their own fire departments.  Can you imagine 150, 130 or 180 people trying to support fire services, fire trucks, equipment, training and management in that way?  Instead, what NorPen does, NorPen has managed to set up one regional fire centre and a second station so that it adequately covers that radius of almost fifty linear kilometres.  They are properly resources in terms of having fire trucks, seeing growth and proper training, and this is a way where government can save money and provide more efficient services to people. 

 

I applaud this model of looking at regional service boards, how they can be implemented, and how it is fair for all because every individual pays a fee.  The householder pays a fee, whether they live in a municipality, whether they live in a local service district, or an unincorporated community.  So it is not like when you talk about certain people in towns pay property taxes and those who do not live in a particular town are not paying their fair share.  When you look at a regional service board, you pay the fee for the services that are being provided.  This could be a way to look at providing more regional fire departments.  I think that works. 

 

I do not know, I think the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune may think it is funny, but I represent some very small areas that have a lot of challenges.  When you look at pooling together, working together collaboratively and finding solutions, then that is a way to make sure that you are effective. 

 

I look at that having members elected is more democratic than being appointed.  You can see where people who are locally able to make the decisions and make them public – which this amendment is doing in terms of an annual report. 

 

There are challenges.  There are challenges to regional service boards achieving that level of co-operation.  There will be challenges moving forward when it comes to resourcing, when it comes to how waste management and how implementing additional services, whether it be recreation, or whether it be looking at regional water operators being added to these service boards.  That is something that needs to be looked at.

 

I will be supporting this particular piece of legislation.  I believe in what the regional service boards do.  They certainly need adequate training.  They need to be supported.  They need that community appeal where they do have that elected voice so that they can come to government on behalf of these larger bodies and speak to the needs of what must happen in terms of the services that can be provided to a particular region. 

 

I think it is a really positive thing.  I will support this particular piece of legislation.


Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Members for Mount Pearl South, Exploits, St. John's East, Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, Bay of Islands, and The Straits – White Bay North for their participation in Bill 14.  It is good discussion in terms of the bill and the contents in terms of the appointments to the regional service boards, what happens now, the current method, and what we are going to do as we move forward.  It is very important, in terms of the maturity of the regional service boards, that we move forward, and that autonomy for those volunteers who are so important. 

 

I think someone mentioned on the other side these are obviously volunteers.  They do a lot of work in our communities.  They serve on very small local service districts, municipalities, and larger towns and cities in our Province.  They certainly do a great job in that, and again would put their hand up to serve on these regional service boards.  This is a broad based overview of our region, and as was mentioned as well in terms of providing not only waste management, but looking at what other services that can be provided and provided very effectively for our regions.

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat.  I will certainly look forward to any questions when we move to Committee.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 14 be now read a second time?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act, 2012.  (Bill 14)

 

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 14 has now been read a second time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Later.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Later.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act, 2012,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow.  (Bill 14).

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I would like to now call from the Order Paper, Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.  So moved by me, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs that the said bill be now read the second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act be now read a second time. 

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.”  (Bill 9)

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is indeed a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak to Bill 9 this evening, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act. 

 

For the benefit of those who are paying attention to the debate, there are two purposes for what we are about to debate here this evening with this bill, Mr. Speaker.  One is to implement legislative requirements as a result of an external review of the Legal Aid Commission that was carried out in 2013.  There were a number of statutory –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KING: There were a number of statutory requirements, legislative requirements that we need to implement as a result of the review.  Also, Mr. Speaker, we took the opportunity, as part of that review, to consult with the Legal Aid Commission.  We have found a number of areas in consultation with them where there is an opportunity to modernize this particular act.  It is about modernizing the act and also implementing the recommendations from the external review. 

 

By way of a little bit of background to introduce the Legal Aid Act, Mr. Speaker, the Legal Aid Act is the act in the Province that guides the operations of the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission.  The Commission has a number of significant responsibilities.  One, of course, primarily is the provision of legal counsel to those who qualify, which would be eligible residents either charged with offences under the Criminal Code of Canada, charged with other federal or provincial statutes, and those who may be involved in family legal disputes or other civil matters. 

 

The Commission, Mr. Speaker, is located across the Province.  They have eleven provincial offices with 125 employees.  There is a combination there of fifty-nine solicitors – that is fifty-nine lawyers – and sixty-six management and staff.  So it is quite a large organization that provides a very significant function in the justice system to support many individuals and families across our Province.

 

The core mandate of the Legal Aid Commission is to ensure that all residents who are eligible within our Province receive competent legal advice and representation.  They are set up, Mr. Speaker, as a Crown agency or a Crown corporation under the act.  It is an organization that we fund, but they operate certainly at arm's length from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

By way of a little bit of background, the first purpose, I said a few minutes ago with respect to the revisions here, was to implement the recommendations of the legal aid review.  Back in 2013, I happened to be the Minister of Justice at that time as well.  It was decided that a review would be completed of the Legal Aid Act in the Province, part of looking at how we were using the resources we had, whether there were opportunities to better use the resources, and whether in fact there were more resources required.  It was significant also, Mr. Speaker, because it was really the only substantial review that had been completed of the Legal Aid Act since 1975. 

 

As a result of that in June 2013, I, as the minister at the time, commissioned a review of the Legal Aid Act.  That was completed by John Roil who is QC, Queen's Counsel.  The purpose, as I said before, there were a couple of things; one is to look at the cost efficiencies, and whether or not there were things that we could do better or things that we could improve. 

 

The review at the time included to look at the assessment of staff workloads, Mr. Speaker.  It looked, as well, at the geographical, cultural, and economic challenges that the Legal Aid Commission was facing.  A significant issue we were asked to address as well was the use of private counsel and the use of choice of counsel, which I will get into in a couple of moments, and of course an examination of our service delivery model and how we were doing things throughout the Province.

 

The Roil review was certainly very extensive and very engaging.  A lot of individuals, groups, and community organizations had some input in that and gave him and his group some very clear advice.  They came back and there are a number of summary statements that I would like to share with the House for the record, and a number of recommendations that I am going to talk about. 

 

First of all, one of the things they did that we are absolutely proud of is they affirmed that the current model of legal aid being provided in the Province is very effective and the most appropriate for us, and certainly urged us to continue with the current model.  The second one, Mr. Speaker, that I also want to draw attention to for the record is that the Roil review highlighted the quality of work that we are receiving from solicitors and others who work within the Legal Aid Commission. 

 

I want to just draw attention to that because oftentimes there is a perception out there by some in society that the Legal Aid solicitors and the Legal Aid lawyers are not of the same quality or competence as other lawyers. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KING: This review certainly refuted that completely and reminded all of us, for the record, that we have good people who are providing good services through the Legal Aid Commission, and that the Commission has a very important, very integral role to play as part of the implementation and the administration of justice in the Province. 

 

There were a number of recommendations that came from the review.  I can talk about a couple of them as part of this legislative review: In Budget 2014-2015 we funded the Family Court Duty Counsel on a permanent basis, we also extended that service to other locations outside of St. John's, Mr. Speaker, to other areas of the Province; sustaining funding for core Legal Aid services and to ensure we had adequate staff provided, the Legal Aid Commission was also funded; a number of important projects related to –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KING:  – the Mental Health Office, the Family and Child Services Offices; and, we also created the position of a Deputy Director – Legal.  Certainly, they are some very important initiatives, Mr. Speaker. 

 

There were also a number of other recommendations that have been implemented independently by the Legal Aid Commission as a result of taking the opportunity, not only for the Roil review to take place, but for the Legal Aid Commission itself to do an internal review of its own policies, procedures, and practices.  They have made changes, for example, around their intake and appeals processes. 

 

The Commission has reviewed and revised its use of technology in its operations.  That is something, Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to speak to this morning at the Canadian Bar Association gathering on access to justice in the Province and in Canada generally.  We are using more technology in the court system overall.  I think it is a very good thing.  It is certainly promoting greater access to justice for many people, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador where we are very much a rural Province and many communities are somewhat isolated from one another.  So the use of technology is certainly very important. 

 

Several of the recommendations, Mr. Speaker, to get to the heart of this bill, require legislative changes.  One is the size and composition of the Legal Aid board.  The second one is clarifying improving upon conflict issues on files within the Legal Aid Commission itself.  The issue of maintaining choice of counsel – which I will touch on in a couple of moments – and the fourth significant one is not actually a legislative change but it is going to be a policy change that will come about as a part of the legislative change, is increasing the tariff that we pay.

 

I will take just a couple of moments on each of these.  With respect to the size of the Legal Aid board, Mr. Speaker, the amendments we are proposing here this evening will expand the board to a total complement of seven members.  Three of these members will be appointed from a list that is provided to myself, as the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, by the Law Society of Newfoundland, and that is currently the case.

 

One of the things that is recommended and we support, and the Legal Aid Commission supports, is that by expanding the number of board members and the process we are going to follow, it will provide an opportunity for a more diverse management-oriented set of skills on the board.  It will also permit the board, because of the larger numbers, to work more with subcommittees. 

 

One of the challenges the Legal Aid Commission board has right now is that almost every activity it engages in the full board is required to meet.  That becomes not only an onerous task for board members, but it also becomes a challenge to get a quorum for meetings when you have so many frequent meetings.  So, because of the increase in the size of the board it will allow for the use of subcommittees and a greater opportunity to get more work done. 

 

I mentioned before that we are hoping with the change in legislation it will reduce conflicts on certain files.  That has to do with solicitors in the case where you have a number of solicitors from the Legal Aid Commission who may engage with the same client on certain files.  Now, the legislation here is intended to clarify that particular position.

 

The choice of counsel, as I mentioned, Mr. Speaker, is a very important one.  Currently, our act provides where an application for Legal Aid is in respect of murder, manslaughter, or infanticide, the application may select a solicitor employed by the commission or a solicitor in private practice.  The choice is currently provided in the legislation. 

 

The Royal Report recommended removal of the choice of counsel.  It recommended removal so that an individual who presented themselves for the services of Legal Aid would be required to simply accept the services of one of the Legal Aid solicitors.  That was a strong debate amongst the department, amongst the Legal Aid Commission, but in the end it was felt that was not the right approach to take.  In fact, leaving the choice of counsel was the approach to take.

 

What we are doing in this particular legislation is we are remaining with the choice of counsel for those who fit the criteria, but in the choice of counsel we are clarifying in the legislation that solicitors must be first of all on a Legal Aid panel; secondly, they must be paid at the Legal Aid tariffs.  There has always been some confusion.  Certainly, at least in my tenure having been the minister on three occasions, there has always been some confusion about the rate of tariffs.  We have had to involve the Attorney General to try and intervene on tariffs and all that sort of stuff.

 

So, clearly, what we are going to do here is we are going to have two parameters that if you choose outside counsel it must be an individual who is on the Legal Aid panel and they must be paid at Legal Aid tariff rates.  The tariffs rates, Mr. Speaker, while not being included in this legislation, they will be included in the regulations that follow this.  A tariff will go from $60 an hour up to $135 an hour – the tariff will go from $65 per hour to $135 per hour. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KING: There are, Mr. Speaker, a number of other administrative changes contained in this bill and those are changes that have been recommended to us by the Legal Aid Commission, considered very much from their perspective at least, administrative in nature. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly very pleased to have a few moments to speak to this bill and to provide a high level summary of the bill, Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.  With that, I am going to close my remarks and invite my colleague from Burgeo – La Poile to have his chance to speak, and anyone else who wishes to speak and move this bill forward.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I am very happy to speak to Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act. 

 

This is a very necessary piece of legislation, as I believe the minister said.  This act has not seen anything very major over the last number of decades.  The changes we have here, again, some may seem minor but in reality they will have a significant effect on the administration of justice in this Province, and that is always a good thing when it is done positively.

 

Before I begin, I would like to say that I appreciate the department giving me and our staff a briefing, sitting down with us and going over it.  It was very much appreciated.  We have had a lot of time to go through this, and I will try my best to just go through it and discuss a few of the changes here.  Some of them are substantive.  Some are housekeeping, but like I said, that is what happens when you have a bill of this nature.

 

We all understand the concept of legal aid in this Province.  We have a Commission, people have an opportunity.  Everybody is entitled to a solicitor to help them when they are involved in a legal case, primarily when it comes to family and/or criminal law.  You do see civil in some cases, although obviously that should be fairly minor.  It is a much different standard than the individual who is defending himself against a criminal charge, or an individual who is involved in a family law proceeding where we are talking a division of property, or if we are talking children or spousal support, things like that. 

 

One of the first things you will notice when you go through this bill is under paragraph 2 of section 2.  We are dealing with people now, immigrants who are illegally in Canada, but they are awaiting adjudication of their case.  They are now eligible for legal aid.  They can be deemed a resident for the purposes of legal aid.  I think that is an absolutely wonderful thing for us to do. 

 

At the end of the day, an adjudicator will rule whether this individual should be or should not be in the country, but they are entitled to having representation.  People like – anybody, but especially those who work in the field, myself, the Member for St. Barbe, and the Member for Placentia – St. Mary's, at the end of the day the value of representation is so important when it comes to the administration of justice.  You need to have that.  When we have somebody here in this Province who is fighting deportation or the fact that they should be here, they need a person to represent them.

 

I am going to move forward here.  Some of the changes are fairly minor.  We are moving from five members to seven members of the Commission.  The fact is that Legal Aid is, as the minister said, somewhat arm's length from the Department of Justice.  You need that, because at the end of the day the Department of Justice administers the public prosecutions. 

 

It would be kind of hard, in a conflicting type of way.  If the department administers prosecutions and the department administers legal aid, which primarily is defence, you are going to have a conflict at some point.  So Legal Aid really is an arm's length group.  Obviously, they get their funding – the lion's share of their funding comes from government.  I think the number here, whether it is federal or provincial, there is almost $17 million that goes into Legal Aid; $3 million of that is federal, the rest comes from the provincial government.

 

We have this board that administers it.  One of the things that came to us during this briefing is that Legal Aid is trying to revamp their operations.  They are trying to revamp their management.  That is why they are adding more people.  From what we have been told, they are trying to add a more technical level of expertise to the management side. 

 

I do not have the statistic here, but I believe at one point the administrator of Legal Aid had somewhere in the range of twenty-five to thirty different people reporting to them on the different functions.  That is no way for any structure to operate.  So they are trying to change the operations to allow it to run properly. 

 

We have heard many times over the last number of years – and a lot of this stems out of the Roil report which government received and did accept all of the recommendations in full.  That stemmed out of the 2013 –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

I know it is a topic that causes a lot of strife here in the House, but I appreciate the members listening to me.  It is an enthralling bill, but the Roil report stemmed out of the 2013 Budget.  The 2013 Budget saw a huge cut to Justice.  We saw the outrage that came out of that.  Forty-eight hours later there was a committee that came in and had to change a lot of the decisions that were made. 

 

One of the things that came out was a review of legal aid.  There was also a review of the sheriff's office.  There was a justice who was brought in to do the legal aid report and Mr. John Roil came in and took it over after.  I think there were some health issues there.  John Royal, for anybody who knows him, is very well thought of in this Province in the legal field.  He has had a number of roles and he came in this report.  Government accepted all of the recommendations in principle. 

 

One of the things we know is that Legal Aid has had its share of criticism over the years.  The one thing I would like to say – and this is as somebody who has practiced against Legal Aid lawyers and who has referred people to Legal Aid lawyers.  I have never practiced with Legal Aid, although I did spend some time with them doing some training. 

 

I can say that any Legal Aid lawyer I know are great, great lawyers.  They are fantastic lawyers.  They have a lot of experience.  The amount of experience they get on a day-to-day basis – if anything, the only complaint I have ever said is that the problem is their caseload can be so high that it is very hard for them to have enough time to handle the files. 

 

You think about it.  I look at the circuit courts, where they have to travel to a court from Stephenville out to Port aux Basques, then they have to go down to Burgeo, and then they have to go to Corner Brook.  You are doing your travelling.  You are acting as duty counsel, so when anybody shows up to the court you have to see them to make sure that they get advice, you have your own files, you are dealing with a multitude of different lawyers, and you have people coming up.  The lawyers themselves are not responsible for discussing whether somebody is applicable for legal aid or not, their job is to represent people. 

 

They are great lawyers.  Sometimes there is a perception out there that Legal Aid lawyers are not the same as a private bar lawyer and that is simply not true.  That is an unfortunate perception.  It is one that has been addressed by Mr. Roil.  The department is trying to address it.  I think that is necessary because Legal Aid is good. 

 

Don't get me wrong, at the end of the day the private bar has a role to play here too.  There has always been that sort of line between letting everybody have state-paid attorneys versus the private bar.  There has always been that line there between making sure that there is a balance there.  There are individuals who get legal representation at public taxpayer expense, and there are individuals who have to go out and pay for their legal needs, we will say, and they have to pay out of pocket.  That is addressed in here later on.

 

When you move forward here we talk about the fact that there are now seven members.  There used to be five.  The Law Society recommends some.  They are hopefully going to make this a higher-functioning organization which nobody has any issue with. 

 

I like the fact here that they say if they fail to attend three consecutive meetings of the board they are kicked off the board.  That is good, as they should be.  If you cannot show up to it – and you might have valid reasons, but if you cannot do the job, if you cannot be there, then you should not be there.  That is no different than anybody.  It is no different than a member here.  If you are not attending where you should be, then you should not be there.  We treat every organization the same.

 

A lot of these – may establish offices that they consider expedient.  The other thing too is that they are trying to take some of the authority of work off the Minister of Justice.  The Minister of Justice should not decide where this is happening in some cases.  At the end of the day, the Minister of Justice and Treasury Board helps decide how much money you get.  Legal Aid has to figure out what to do with that money.  That is the reason they have had troubles in the past.  It is because the government cut the guts out of the money that they were getting.  That is why we saw things like courtrooms in Burgeo and Springdale close for savings of things like $600 and $900. Obviously I do not agree and still do not agree with that, but that is how they operate.  They operate with the funds they are allocated. 

 

One change here – and this is so small to many people that it probably does not generate a lot of attention.  One of the big issues we have had with Legal Aid is that they have not had the backroom support to do things like auditing of their files.  They have been very late filing reports with the feds.  That is why now we are getting extra money coming from the feds.  It is not extra money; it is money that we are getting that the feds have owed us for years.  The feds have said you have to give us an audit of the files to show what you have done and we never did it. 

 

The reason we never did it is because Legal Aid has been so short staffed that they did not have time to do that.  Now we are catching up and that means more money coming in.  At a time like this where we have seen the government put this Province in a difficult financial state, any money coming in is great, especially money from the feds. 

 

What is going on here is that in some cases you have to pass on information to the Auditor General to get these things done, but then there was a case of solicitor-client confidentiality, and then you did not want to pass that on.  In this case they are saying that is not going to be an issue here for auditing purposes.  We are not disclosing your name for untoward reasons.  At the end of the day we need to make sure that the files are done right so that the funding is handled right. 

 

I am going to continue on here to probably the next relevant section and that is subsection 31(3.1).  This is the part about choice of counsel.  Anybody who watches the news on a regular basis will see individuals who are charged with crimes.  They show up and they want the Province or Legal Aid, or they want the Department of Justice to pay for their lawyer.  They want them to pay for their lawyer.  They say I want my choice of counsel.  In fact, we recently had a Court of Appeal decision that is probably the impetus for where we are with this.  I think it may have stemmed some of this.

 

In this case, sometimes this is where the perception is created where we are saying I do not want a Legal Aid lawyer.  I want my own private lawyer, but I want them to pay for it.  One of the issues always has been there that, okay, we will go out and hire outside counsel, but we are going to get paid Legal Aid rates.  Legal Aid rates have been so small that the private counsel will not take them.  Now what we have seen is an increase in the Legal Aid rates.  That is something that has been well overdue. 

 

Anybody in the system, anybody whatsoever will say this was long overdue and we are happy to see this change made.  It was a proper change.  Anything that I do not touch on, I am sure my colleague from St. Barbe, who also has a significant amount of experience here – he is going to make sure to touch on these as well because he has a background in this. 

 

What we want to see here – there is an increase in the rates.  I have no problem with that.  We have defined the crimes or the criminal sections for which you can go out and get counsel.  I believe it is murder, I think it is manslaughter, and I think is where you can get it.  I have seen some cases, there is one recently, where an individual was charged with aiding and abetting somebody, which was probably less significant than these.  He is out looking for private counsel.

 

I continue on here; another part on dealing with conflicts within the office.  What you had are lawyers who were saying I cannot do this case because I represented so-and-so and I cannot question them now.  There was no means set up in the office to reduce conflicts or to allow certain things to happen.  We have seen them in just about any law office, especially ones across the country.  They set up something called a Chinese wall.  It is a way to help partition and reduce conflict. 

 

In this case we only have so many lawyers.  I think the number that I was given is sixty-odd lawyers in this.  Yes, fifty-nine solicitors in this Province.  When you have fifty-nine solicitors to handle a fairly small population, just over 500,000, the fact is you are going to have conflict at some point.  We have to reduce the amount of conflict so that we are not having lawyers conflicted out of every single file.  There are steps being taken here.  Certainly, I do not have any issue with it from my reading of it, but I will leave it to others to see if there is any issue there. 

 

We continue on – this is an interesting section and I am all for it.  Subsection 36(3) says, “In determining whether a person is qualified for legal aid, an area director or the provincial director shall consider the matter from the standpoint of a usual solicitor and client relationship, taking into account (a) whether a reasonable person of moderate means would be prepared to pay a solicitor to pursue the matter.” 

 

Now, what is going to happen is we had to look at – I have legal aid, if I am in a criminal matter, instead of that lawyer going out and filing umpteen applications in the court, what they are going to do is they have to look at the possibility of success, the cost of proceedings in relation to the anticipated loss or recovery, and the likelihood of enforcing judgement. 

 

The criminal side is one thing because, at the end of the day, you have the underlying factor of the person is entitled to a full and fair defence and you have to do what you have to do as a defence counsel.  That is fine, but I am especially thinking about the family cases where one side of the matter has private counsel, is paying out of pocket and it is costing them significantly.  The other person has state-paid lawyers.

 

What is going to happen here, you see in many cases especially when it comes to, unfortunately, children, you will see there is a racket between both sides and one side says I do not like this; I am going to go out and get my Legal Aid lawyer and file an application now to deal with custody and access.  The person who has private counsel has to go out and defend that obviously, like you would, because it is involving your children, but it is coming out of their pocket.  In many cases, you see people who cannot afford to continue on with private counsel and then you have unrepresented litigants in the court, which nobody wants to see. 

 

Judges do not want to see it.  Other lawyers do not want to see it.  In fact, the people who have to represent themselves, in many cases, they do not want to be doing it, but they have no choice.  They cannot qualify for legal aid, they are above that threshold, but they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer because of all the other bills.  You have some people who can use the system – I have seen it and I have dealt with it – use the state-paid lawyer to make all of these applications.  In many cases, to use one of government's buzz words, they are “frivolous,” and it is unfortunate. 

 

In this case, there are considerations that are being put there now.  What they are saying is: Would the person of reasonable means be doing that?  So I have private counsel, would I go out and pay my lawyer to do this?  Do I have any chance of success, or am I just tying up the court and tying up the resources?  Again, on its face – and I may have some points to bring up in Committee, depending on what everybody else has to say – I think this is a positive move.  I like to see everybody have a fair shot.  I like to see everybody get fair opportunity in the court and I like to see everybody get fair representation.  Nobody – whether you have money or you do not have money, whether you have private counsel or Legal Aid, we should all be treated the same in the court.  That is the administration of justice right there. 

 

Overall when we look at this we talk about the legal aid system.  In many ways, this is an attempt to revamp the system.  Not fundamentally.  We used to have a certificate system, which has not been around for some time.  Then we moved into having staff solicitors.  Other provinces use other methods.  In this case, Mr. Roil said: No, we are using the one that we need to use.  This is the best system, but we can change the way that we operate. 

 

I do like this here.  What they are saying here is in many cases some people – and people do not realize this – go to Legal Aid and they do not get free counsel.  They may have to pay some money.  It is based on their means.  In some cases, you can look at if I were to go to court for a family proceeding, at the end of the day I may be entitled to child support, I may be entitled to spousal support.  Now I am not going to say I.  Obviously when you are entitled to child support, the child is entitled to support, but I am the one getting it because it is my child. 

 

We will not consider child support when it comes to payment back to the court because that money is entitled to the child.  That is their money.  That is for their means.  In some cases, it is hard to believe, people have legal aid because they cannot – they are entitled to it, but they get huge amounts of spousal support in the court decisions.  It is not really fair for them to continue to get state-paid lawyers and they are getting huge amounts of money. 

 

Our job is to make sure that they have a fair defence so that they are not getting bullied by someone who has means, but in this case we are saying that can be considered.  We can consider the money that they get in spousal support settlements when we go to the regulations on payment.

 

It looks like there have been some changes here for what legal aid shall not be granted for.  Legal aid shall not be granted for civil law in terms of torts, so personal injury law.  That is perfect.  Our legal aid should not be paying for that.  We all know now, you only have to turn on the TV or look in the newspaper.  As it stands now we have a system where you go to the lawyer and if you have a good civil claim, you are not going to pay until you get some money anyway.  Why should we be having legal aid do that on the taxpayer dime?  That is perfect.  I am glad to see that is clarified here again.

 

Also, you cannot get legal aid when we talk about private prosecutions such as defamation.  Thank God that is the case.  Can you imagine if we had to get Legal Aid lawyers out defending people – sorry, out prosecuting people for defamation.  We have seen a number of defamation cases in this Province in the last number of years, some of them even related to the political field.  So again in this case, legal aid is not going to cover that nor should they. 

 

I think I have covered it off here – there are a lot of good changes here.  Many of them that are not going to hit the average Joe out there who is watching this, but to those who are in the system and those who have worked within the system or dealt with the system these are positive changes. 

 

I, for one, will be supporting this piece of legislation.  I think it is a good move forward –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: The members are happy to hear that, but again it is a good piece of legislation.  Not all the legislation they put out there is good, but in this case it is a good piece of legislation, good changes, overdue, and I am glad to see it. 

 

Thank you for the opportunity.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

This is a useful piece of legislation, a good piece of legislation, and I do not have any problem supporting it.  It has some shortcomings.  I would like to go through the bill and the act and point out some of what I feel are some of the shortcomings that the minister may well want to consider with his deputy. 

 

In the definition section first of all, section 2, under 1(1), it identifies the department and says “'department' means the department presided over by the minister.”  It does not say the Minister of Justice.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems to imply that it does not need to be the Department of Justice presiding over legal aid in the future. 

 

The second definition to me is a little more problematic.  My colleague may be enthusiastic about taking on federal battles with immigration; I am not.  Under section 2(s) it says: “'resident' means a person lawfully entitled to be or remain in Canada who makes his or her home and is ordinarily present in the province, but does not include a tourist, transient or visitor to the province.”

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, this changes the definition of resident to be, first of all, a person lawfully entitled to be or remain in Canada, and it says or somebody who is “illegally in Canada but awaiting adjudication of his or her immigration or citizenship status.” 

 

Mr. Speaker, if immigration is federal and if 250 refugees show up on our shore tomorrow morning and it is a federal claim and they go before the Immigration and Refugee Board, why should the taxpayers of this Province pay the legal costs on a federal case?  Why should the $13 million or $15 million or $17 million that the taxpayers of this Province, through government, set aside to represent people legally, be used to handle what is clearly a federal issue?  Why should we pay, without some sort of an agreement with the federal government, to defend on refugee or immigration claims? 

 

What about if the two guys who escaped from the prison in New York a week or so ago show up here?  Are we supposed to provide them with legal aid here?  Because this change in the act says that we are now exposing ourselves to provide a defence for people who I am not sure it is in the interests of the people of this Province to be taking on this federal burden. 

 

Our Province is not a nation.  We are not someone who has any authority over deporting these people.  They are dealt with in a federal board, the Immigration and Refugee Board.  They are dealt with in federal court, not in any of the courts of this Province.  They will go to through the federal court of appeal, and they could go through the Supreme Court of Canada.  Why should the funds set aside for legal aid of this Province be drained by people on what clearly looks like a federal issue?  Anyway, the minister may want to discuss that with his deputy.

 

Mr. Speaker, under section 3(2) it says, “Where a member of the board, other than the deputy minister of the department and the provincial director, without giving a reasonable explanation to the chairperson, fails to attend 3 consecutive meetings of the board, he or she stops being a member of the board.”  What about if that person is the Chair?  Could it not be strengthened by saying if that person is the Chair and fails to give notice to the Vice-Chair?  Because looking at this particular amendment, it looks like the chairperson need never show up and there is no way to get the chairperson off the board for not showing up.  It is just a weakness in drafting, in my view.

 

Section 4, which modifies the old section 9, says, “The commission may establish other offices and agencies in the province … ” and that is an amendment from what previously said it was necessary to have ministerial approval.  Mr. Speaker, I think that is a good amendment because it provides more autonomy to the board.  They do not always have to come to the minister in order to setup offices.  Why should they?  They should be able to manage the affairs of the commission themselves.

 

Under section 6, which amends 27, it says, “The commission may divide the provinces into areas for the provision of legal services.”  That appears to give more autonomy also to the board than the board currently has. 

 

The next section to me is rather curious because it says under 7, which modifies section 28, “The commission may appoint, on a full-time or part-time basis, a solicitor to act as an area director.” 

 

Mr. Speaker, if the Minister of Justice does not have to be a solicitor, why should the area director of Legal Aid have to be a solicitor?  Why are there not competent people other than solicitors in the Province who could possibly be the area director for Legal Aid?

 

If, for example, the Minister of Justice retires at some point and would not mind doing additional work, fully familiar with the legal aid system and with the justice system, why couldn't a former Minister of Justice or any other capable person serve as the area director?  It seems to me that is a serious shortcoming.  I do not think the lawyers would mind because it actually reserves the job for a solicitor.  I do not think it is our job here to preserve positions for lawyers.

 

Mr. Speaker, as we go through there is section 11 of this bill which amends section 43 of the old act.  This says, “Where an area director issues a legal aid certificate authorizing legal aid to be provided by a solicitor in private practice, he or she shall advise the holder of the legal aid certificate of the names of all solicitors on the panel that practice where the court in which the holder of the certificate is required to appear … .” where that court is located. 

 

Mr. Speaker what that means is that if some people from St. John's, for example, go down the Burin Peninsula and get on a big tear and get charged, they get out on bail and they come back to town, they will be given a list of lawyers on the Burin Peninsula so that the taxpayers through Legal Aid will not be paying for a lawyer to go from St. John's maybe to Marystown to represent them, if their lawyer is in Marystown.  This is clearly designed to prevent abuse and cut down on overhead in the legal aid system.

 

If there is no counsel available in that area, then the holder of that legal aid certificate can apply back to the Legal Aid Commission for approval to hire a lawyer not where the court is located.  That would mean travel.  It would mean extra time, and potentially accommodations. 

 

If at all possible, why should the taxpayers of the Province pay more expenses than would be necessary because somebody on a whim decides they do not want to deal with a lawyer who is very familiar with the area?  When, in fact, they might be better off dealing with a local lawyer who knows the prosecutor, is familiar with the judge, the judge's preferences and idiosyncrasies for that matter, and knows how to put on a case before that judge.  That is a very useful amendment. 

 

Now, section 14 which amends “Paragraphs 47(a) and (b)” is quite problematic to me.  I think there is a real serious shortcoming in that particular section.  That section, as it exists up until this amendment goes through, says, “Except as otherwise provided in this Act or the regulations, legal aid may be granted to a person … ” for proceedings in the Supreme Court, Family Court, or Provincial Court.  Now, that would seem to make sense because that actually covers pretty much all of the courts that would handle matters of this nature in our Province.

 

The amendment takes out Provincial Court.  The amendment says this section is repealed.  It does not refer to Supreme Court, it does not refer to Family Court, and it does not refer to Provincial Court.  It refers to Trial Division - General Division, and it says Family Division, but it leaves out Provincial Court. 

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, the effect of this is that if a person is somewhere in St. Anthony area, for example, the Supreme Court never goes to the Northern Peninsula, but the Provincial Court goes to the Northern Peninsula.  This means that if this new Legal Aid Act, if this bill denies coverage in Provincial Court matters for people in the St. Anthony area, for example, on a family law case, then that person will be stuck with travelling from St. Anthony to Corner Brook, nearly 500 kilometres, to be able to attend Supreme Court; because that region of the Province has only provincial court. 

 

If they have only Provincial Court, and if this bill has denied them the right to legal aid for Provincial Court and proceedings in St. Anthony, for example, or Forteau, then effectively they have been shut out of the legal aid system.  I think it probably was an oversight; probably by drafters who are not fully familiar with some areas of the Province that are remote and do not have Supreme Court of any kind.  Yes, there are three Supreme Court justices sitting in Corner Brook, but Corner Brook is 500 kilometres from St. Anthony. 

 

Provincial Court goes to St. Anthony, Provincial Court goes to Southern Labrador, but this bill says that legal aid may be granted to only people who are seeking coverage for (a) or (b), and (a) and (b) become the Trial Division, Family Division, and General, but it knocks out Provincial Court.  I do not understand why the drafters would deny the opportunity for somebody – let's say, for example, somebody in Cook's Harbour or St. Anthony area is left behind.  Maybe it is a woman with a couple of small children and the guy is gone off to Alberta or wherever, and she is trying to enforce a support order or trying to get a support order. 

 

If she is going to go to Legal Aid, the legal aid certificate – this says that it does not cover Provincial Court.  Why wouldn't it cover Provincial Court?  Who knows why it would not cover Provincial Court.  Why should she have to go practically a day's drive to Corner Brook for Supreme Court when there is a perfectly capable Provincial Court judge who comes to St. Anthony for a week of a month, eight times a year? 


Even though the Northern Peninsula seems to be withdrawing services – when this government took office the Provincial Court used to come fifty days a year.  Now it comes forty days a year.  So there has been a withdrawal of services, but to deny them the right to apply for legal aid by the stroke of a pen seems to be a bit harsh.

 

Mr. Speaker, generally the bill is good, but like I say, it has some shortcomings that appear to have suffered from maybe hasty drafting, maybe in a rush to get it through.  One particularly good area is that the tariff has been increased. 

 

For people who are watching, legal aid is provided generally in two ways; one is through staff lawyers.  We have some very capable staff lawyers with Legal Aid in our Province.  I have dealt with quite a number of them.  They are quite diligent and hard working.  Because they see the same area of law day in and day out – handling maybe twenty-five, thirty, forty files every day, sometimes in bail court doing jury trials for weeks on end – they get considerable experience.  The person who needs legal aid is quite lucky, in many cases, to be represented by them. 

 

In some cases, because maybe the Legal Aid lawyer there has a conflict of interest and a conflict often would come about – they may be representing a co-accused.  Maybe there are two or three people involved in the same alleged crime and Legal Aid is representing this person and this person, and there is nobody from that office available to represent the third accused.  Maybe the person going into Corner Brook will send somebody in from Grand Falls, or maybe they just do not have anybody, but the certificate system permits a legal aid certificate to be issued. 

 

Really, I suppose, it is almost like a coupon for a lawyer.  The new tariff would be $60 to $135 an hour.  That may sound like a considerable amount to some people, but I would doubt that anybody would open a law office today, first year out of law school, on less than $125 or $150 an hour.  It is a very basic rate. 

 

There are many lawyers who are quite capable who will accept legal aid certificates because they consider it part of their responsibility to provide strong representation to people throughout the Province.  So, you can have a legal aid certificate, you can have a Legal Aid lawyer, and there is a considerable element of choice.  The legal aid system will be significantly strengthened by this.  I would not want to see it not be passed because of the observations or glitches that I pointed out.

 

Mr. Speaker, there is another apparent inconsistency in the drafting.  The current act says seven.  Now I do not want to be correcting the Minister of Justice.  He referred to five.  In fact there are five.  Plus the five, there are two members who shall be the Deputy Minister of Justice – but that is struck out now.  It does not have to be the Deputy Minister of Justice, it has to be the deputy minister of the department, whatever that happens to be, and the provincial director. 

 

Five plus two is seven.  Now there will be seven plus two, which would be nine.  An amendment that seems to be missed is that under section 3 of the existing act it says, “Three members of the board shall be appointed from a list of 5 persons to be submitted by the law society at the request of the minister.”  Maybe if we are increasing the number of board members from seven to nine, this figure of three should be increased from three to five just for consistency sake.

 

Then, Mr. Speaker, there would seem to be other amendments that are necessary in the act that have been overlooked in the bill.  This bill seems to change to say that it does not have to be the Department of Justice, so it does not have to be the Deputy Minister of Justice.  It does that in its definitions where it says, “'department' means the department presided over by the minister.”  It does not say the Minister of Justice, it says the minister.  Then, the current bill still retains references to the Deputy Minister of Justice when it should probably be simply the deputy minister. 

 

That looks like a certain number of amendments have not been done.  Someone will have to go by guesswork and try to figure out what was really intended here.  If some parts of it are changed and it does not have proper concordance, if it has not been changed everywhere, then it just makes it have shortcomings because it leaves people guessing as to what the drafters of the legislation intended.

 

But for the shortcomings that I think I have highlighted, I think that it is basically a well-intended and good bill, even if it seems to suffer from some drafting flaws.  It appears to have been drafted in haste with some things missed and not properly considered, but it certainly is worth voting for.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

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

 

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


I am very happy to stand and speak to this Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act. 

 

First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the department for the excellent, thorough, comprehensive, and accessible briefing that was provided to us by the assistant deputy minister.  He did an excellent job.  He was there to answer all our questions.  The information that was provided to us was so clear and so accessible.  I would like to thank the whole department and whoever had a hand in preparing the briefing notes for us.

 

I would also like to thank all the good people at Legal Aid who provide services to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, oftentimes under very, very difficult situations.  We know their workload is very heavy.  We know that we went through a real hard time, particularly because of Budget 2013-2014 where there were deep cuts.  Some of those cuts had to be reinstated, had to be reversed.  These are people who do their jobs because of their passion for justice.  They do their jobs with professionalism, with passion, with commitment, and with generosity.  I would like to thank the good people who work at Legal Aid.

 

The Legal Aid Act that we were dealing with was originally passed in 1975 and there has been no significant review since.  That is about forty years, Mr. Speaker.  That is a significant amount of time.  Sometimes if we do not update our legislation, or if we do not update the way we do things, we end up doing things that become state of the ark instead of state of the art. 

 

I know, Mr. Speaker, that all the good people at Legal Aid and all the people in the Department of Justice wish to modernize our system – wish to modernize our whole judicial system, our court system, not just Legal Aid – to make it state of the art rather than state of the ark. 

 

It is great to see some of the recommendations here for amendments to the Legal Aid Act.  Most of them as a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, come out of the Roil report, the Roil review of legal aid that was undertaken last year.  I would like to thank John Roil, Q.C., for his excellent work and for the recommendations that came out of his work. 

 

The Legal Aid Commission was mandated to provide legal services to those who financially qualify in criminal, family, and civil matters.  Mr. Speaker, I am not so sure whether or not that is something else that needs to be looked at.  That is not really being approached in the amendments that are put before us now, but it is quite possible that some of the thresholds for eligibility – because of the high cost of living that people are experiencing, the high cost of housing, the high cost of food, that in fact some of those thresholds may be too low right now.

 

Justice Derek Green has spoken on a number of occasions about how important it is for access to justice, that people should not be prohibited from having access to justice because of financial reasons.  That is not what we are dealing with right now, though; but those thresholds, those ceilings of eligibility, whether or not they are generous enough, taking into account the high cost of living that people experience these days. 

 

The Commission is arm's-length from the government, and that is ideal.  That is exactly what we would want for our Commission.  It is very important that those who work within the justice system have that arm's-length from government.  It is governed by a board of commissioners of five appointees, and I will talk a little bit about that because that is one of the amendments that we are going to look at. 

 

Legal Aid currently employs 125 people in eleven provincial offices and project locations across Newfoundland and Labrador.  This was a surprise to me that there are fifty-nine solicitors and sixty-six management and staff personnel.  That seemed like a lot of people to me in terms of the ratio of management and staff to solicitors; but then when you look at they do all of their own assessments, they do all of their own billing, they do all of their own file management, then that made sense.  We certainly do not want cases held up because of administrative procedures, because of lack of support staff for administrative procedures.  It is pretty evident that they need those sixty-six people, that in fact it is not an odd balance.

 

The funding for 2015-2016 will be $16.9 million.  Mr. Speaker, $2 million of that comes from the federal government.  The mandate of the review that John Roil did – and he delivered it in March 2014.  He said, “The review will examine the cost-effectiveness of the delivery of legal aid services in ensuring that the residents of the province have access to justice.”  That is what is so important.  What we are talking about is that people have access to justice.  That means having comprehensive, expert representation when people have to go to the court systems.

 

The terms of reference were broad.  It included review of the effectiveness of the current service model; solicitor, administrator, and executive structures.  That is those solicitors who are staff at Legal Aid, and also the backroom staff who are doing those kinds of administrative services that are so important.  They take care of business so that business can get moving.  It also looked at the recommendations on legal aid services that should be enhanced, maintained, or reduced.

 

Some of the recommendations which required legislative amendments were to increase the size and composition of the board of commissioners.  We are dealing with that, Mr. Speaker, in this particular piece of legislation.  Previously, there were five representations.  John Roil recommended anywhere from seven to nine members on the board.  Government has chosen – the department has chosen to recommend that seven be appointed.  That is where they are going to be going with this. 

 

They want to clarify and improve conflict issues on files within the Commission.  That means whether or not – we will talk a little bit about that.  Consider removing the choice of counsel provision of the act, and change the Law Foundation funding obligation to allow it to retain $300,000 of its net annual resources.  Government accepted all the recommendations in principle of the Roil report. 

 

The bill that we have before the House this evening, we are going to deal with the following recommendations.  The Commission expands the Commission to seven appointed members from the current five.  That makes sense, Mr. Speaker, so that they are able to handle more with subcommittees the business of the Legal Aid Commission.  The Law Society will give five names to government to choose three members.  So there are three members that are recommended by the Law Society.  They recommend five, but government chooses three.  So there are three members really that are appointments from the list from the Law Society.

 

The conflict issue – that expands the conflict rule clarifications to reduce conflicts on certain files.  Mr. Speaker, what that refers to is that if a lawyer has a current file that he is not in conflict in a current file if he cross-examines a witness that he has formerly represented or another solicitor associated with him.  So that will not be considered a conflict unless there is genuine concern of serious risk.

 

That makes sense, Mr. Speaker, we are a small province, we are small pool of lawyers so that makes sense, but there is a safeguard.  If there is a genuine concern of serious risk, then that would be reconsidered. 

 

Section 23(1) is about the audit.  Files are audited by the Office of the Auditor General.  The Auditor General is sworn to secrecy; there is absolute confidentiality.  What has happened before is that when the Commission had to provide material to the Auditor General, files, they had to redact the names of the clients.  We were told it could take weeks of work.  Because the Auditor General is under provisions of confidentiality and secrecy, it is now clarifying that not requiring the redaction of somebody's name is not interfering with client-solicitor privilege.  We know how important solicitor-client privilege is, so this is not taken lightly.  This has been given a lot of thought, and there is a belief that this will not violate solicitor-client privilege. 

 

The choice of counsel – Mr. Speaker, I think this is a very important one.  Roil recommended that government consider deleting the section out of concerns that it sends the wrong message about the quality of legal aid representation.  People with very serious charges – whether they be murder, manslaughter, or infanticide – could choose an outside solicitor and not go with a Legal Aid solicitor. 

 

The concern Roil had was that there is this misconception out there that Legal Aid lawyers are not good lawyers.  That the only reason Legal Aid lawyers are working for Legal Aid is because they cannot make it out in the real world.  In fact, Mr. Speaker, that is quite the opposite.  These are well trained, fully qualified lawyers who are passionate about the law and who have decided to serve justice by becoming Legal Aid lawyers. 

 

The interesting thing, Mr. Speaker, that among our lawyers in the Province they are often the ones with the most court experience and with the most criminal experience.  In fact, they are not second-class lawyers.  There is that misconception out there, that myth.  So what we have is that people who need representation feel they want a lawyer who is not a Legal Aid lawyer. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is about reacting to that.  Government agrees that this misrepresentation is a concern.  We were also told that government is looking at doing a PR campaign to highlight the profiles of Legal Aid lawyers, to show that, in fact, our Legal Aid lawyers are well trained, are up for the job, and are very experienced in their court procedures. 

 

The amendment retains the choice of counsel provision but clarifies that private solicitors have to be on a panel, that they have to be approved.  That means they have to agree to accept legal aid tariff rates.  The wonderful thing now, Mr. Speaker, is we are seeing that the legal aid tariff rates have been increased to $135 an hour from the previous $60 an hour, which was way too low.  That was certainly too low.  The Budget now increases it again from $135 an hour, up from the $60 an hour.  We look forward to seeing that increase implemented shortly, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you very much.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am getting backhanded compliments from members across the floor. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the other issues we are looking at – the amendments also are looking at that they are identifying as being required to update the act and deal with various other issues.  One is when legal aid is provided.  One of the issues that was highlighted during our briefing was looking at what happens if people are using legal aid just for feuds.  A measure that is being applied to this is to add what Legal Aid is looking at –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Cross): Order, please!

 

MS ROGERS: – how to determine whether a case is valid and is qualified for the criteria for legal aid.  The issue that is being addressed in this particular item is whether a reasonable person of moderate means would be prepared to pay a solicitor to pursue a matter. 

 

We do not want people abusing our legal aid system, whether people are coming to legal aid for something that is like a feud.  In fact, Legal Aid has to make determinations not simply on financial eligibility, but whether or not these are cases that Legal Aid should be undertaking.  This is a test that the Commission uses informally and now it is going to be used formally.  It will be an amendment to the law.

 

Another amendment that I find kind of interesting, Mr. Speaker, is in clause 45, the payment of costs.  It adds the exclusion of child and spousal support order from the calculation of costs recovered by the Commission from judgments subject to a limit to be set out in the regulations.  I think that this is really important. 

 

Payments for child support, payments for spousal support cannot be used in the calculations of recovering costs from judgments.  So that means that payments for child support are not to be used for anything other than payments of child support.  That protects those monies to help families.  That protects, Mr. Speaker, child supports for the welfare of children.

 

Also, what is amended is the definition of resident.  That expands individuals who can qualify for legal aid to include non-residents in the country illegally where they are engaged in immigration or residency processes.  Mr. Speaker, this is very important, particularly for people who need representation, who are not yet Canadian citizens, who may be here illegally, that they have the right to apply for legal aid so that they have access to justice and representation.

 

The clause 5(2) amendment is about meetings of a board.  This is simply a housekeeping issue, Mr. Speaker.  It says the board can meet electronically, that they do not have to meet in person.  Again, that helps with people who are travelling or people who are representatives on the board, if they do not live in the capital city.  The head office; again, these are a number of housekeeping amendments to the act. 

 

Section 44, is the contribution agreement.  This provides the Commission the power to amend or cancel contribution agreements.  This will be carried into the regulations to provide the power to write off amounts if a contract is cancelled.  This says that, in fact, the minister does not have to be involved.  The Department of Justice does not have to be involved, that the Commission itself can amend or cancel contribution agreements.  This makes sense, Mr. Speaker.  Again, because they are at arm's length from the government and they are able to do this kind of work without making it unnecessarily bureaucratically cumbersome.

 

Section 58(2), the secrecy; I found this kind of interesting, and I think the people of the Province might find this interesting.  It clarifies that secrecy commitments and solicitor-client privilege do not apply where the Commission is responding in court to allegations of wrongdoings by the Commission.  That means if a client or if someone is accusing a Legal Aid lawyer of wrongdoing, that that Legal Aid lawyer is not bound by secrecy commitments and solicitor-client privilege, that they can defend themselves without breaking that solicitor-client privilege – and we know how important solicitor-client privilege is.

 

Also, suspension; this is all about modernizing Legal Aid and making sure that it is as responsive as it can be to the needs of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Attorney General.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. F. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take my full time on this bill.  The Minister of Justice has gone through the focus of the bill fairly well and explained what the bill is all about.  Members from the other side have also gone through the provisions of the bill and explained them very well.

 

I just want to add a few comments to the debate, and that is that a strong justice system requires a strong legal aid system.  This Province has been committed, Mr. Speaker, to the legal aid system over the last number of years.  As a matter of fact, since 2003 it has invested heavily in the legal aid system because the federal funding for the legal aid system has been drastically reduced.  I think the Member for Burgeo – La Poile pointed out that we now have a budget in Legal Aid of somewhere around $17 million and the federal government is only providing $2 million.  We have invested heavily in the legal aid system over the last few years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, following the Roil report, when we accepted the thirteen recommendations, we committed $7.1 million in additional funding for Legal Aid over the next three years.  Last year, we spent $2.1 million in Legal Aid.  That firmed up funding for seventeen positions – established permanent funding for these seventeen positions that previous to that were not funded permanently.

 

We also hired four new paralegals, secretaries, and an area director.  That was what Legal Aid requested at that time.  This year, Mr. Speaker, we are hiring in this Budget three extra solicitors for Legal Aid.  In addition, we are providing some office space for Aboriginal community workers and doing some funding for technology improvements. 

 

We have over $7 million, Mr. Speaker, allocated for Legal Aid over three years.  The ratio of spending in Legal Aid from what the Province spends and what the federal government spends has widened significantly over a number of years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have attended, over the years when I was Minister of Justice, at least three federal-provincial-territorial meetings of Justice Ministers.  The present Minister of Justice has attended a couple as well.  Always on the agenda of those meetings is the topic of federal funding for Legal Aid.  Every year the FPT conference pushes for more funding from the federal government, but it never materializes.  The current agreement, as a matter of fact, will continue for one more year, 2016-2017.  After that, a new agreement will have to be put in place with respect to the federal funding. 

 

One of the things that we have accomplished as a result of the Roil report – and the Roil report made thirteen recommendations.  I think seven or eight of them have already been completed.  The rest will be done with these amendments. 

 

One of the things we have been able to do – by putting the management structure in place and solidifying the management structure of Legal Aid, we have now been able to get our audits up to date, and consequently, we were able to access the federal monies.  Previously, we were behind two or three, four years sometimes, in accessing federal money because we did not have the resources in place to get our audits done and get our requests into the federal government for our money. 

 

Now we are up to date, Mr. Speaker, and consequently the federal monies are up to date.  I think the Member for Burgeo – La Poile mentioned that as well.  So that is a good thing.  It comes as a result of putting the good management now in place.

 

One of the things Legal Aid does of course is provide legal services for those who qualify who cannot afford to pay for private legal services.  Private legal services today, Mr. Speaker, are pretty expensive and beyond the reach of a lot of people. 

 

One of the real significant problems we have in the justice system today is the unrepresented litigant.  There are more and more of them because they cannot afford private law practice, afford private law services, and are representing themselves.  They cause us all kinds of headaches in the court.  The courts have modified their systems and provided services to help the unrepresented litigant.  They have done a lot of work in that regard. 

 

As a matter of fact, there is a judiciary committee, a federal committee that constantly meets to look at ways and means of improving the system so that the unrepresented litigant can be accommodated.  We have our own representatives sit on that committee as well.  If we did not have legal aid services in place, we would have a whole lot more unrepresented litigants who would have to try to wind their way and navigate their way through the court system.  That is not an easy task, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Just very briefly, the three main things, the main focus of the recommendations, as I mentioned earlier, of the bill; eight of the thirteen recommendations have already been completed.  The ones I mentioned earlier, some of the investments took care of some of these.  The rest of them needed legislative amendments.  That is why we are here tonight to deal with the other legislative amendments out of the Roil report. 

 

Basically there are three main ones.  Choice of counsel was one that had received a lot of discussion.  Mr. Roil wanted to take that out altogether because, as was already mentioned, it sort of sets an unfavourable reaction or an interpretation of Legal Aid lawyers which was not founded.  We wanted to eradicate that.  Rather than take it out, we changed it and any choice of counsel, Mr. Speaker, has to conform with tariff rates.  The tariffs are not addressed in this legislation, but they will be addressed in the regulations.

 

The courts interpreted that particular piece of the old act, Mr. Speaker, as that when you get private counsel you had to pay the market rates, and that was pretty costly.  That is what the Pardy decision said you had to do.  This new amendment now sets the rates at the established tariff rates, whatever these rates are going to be.  They are $135, I think, is what the regulations will establish now.

 

One of the big costs and one of the big headaches in Legal Aid is the whole area of conflicts.  It is costing Legal Aid a lot of money.  While you can have lawyers from Legal Aid represent both sides – that provision is there – where there is risk, then you cannot do that.  In St. John's it is all right because you have an intake office and another office.  So someone in the intake office represents one client and someone from the other office can represent the opponent. 

 

In St. John's you can handle it for the most part, but in a lot of cases you cannot, and you have to bring in solicitors from another jurisdiction altogether so there is no perceived conflict.  As a matter of fact, they have gone so far, Mr. Speaker, of having the other lawyer coming in through the back door and entering the building in the offices so there would be no perceived connection whatsoever with people on the other side.

 

The Member for Burgeo – La Poile referenced the China wall.  The China wall is a legal term for if you have two lawyers in the one firm acting – you are trying to avoid a conflict, but it is a very difficult thing to do.  Conflicts have cost a lot of money.  The act puts a little bit more restriction and tries to tighten up the section on conflicts so as to make it a little bit more effective.

 

The size of the board was already mentioned.  Mr. Speaker, I want to just briefly respond to a couple of the comments made by the Member for St. Barbe, and some of the questions he had, some of the concerns he raised.  The first one he raised had to do with the definition of resident.  He had some concerns over the fact that Legal Aid would be dealing with people who were illegally in Canada.  He made the point of refugees coming in, and spending a lot of taxpayers' dollars to provide legal services to these people. 

 

The fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, Legal Aid always has done immigration work.  As a matter of fact, in the funding that Canada provides, part of that money is for immigration work.  The definition as it was, Mr. Speaker, in the old act sort of deemed that we could not do that.  The previous definition was faulty. 

 

It was deemed that you could interpret it to mean really Legal Aid could not provide these services, but they can and they should, but only to people who are illegally in Canada who are already going through the residency process.  They are already going through immigration and residency process.  These are the only people.  If they are involved in criminal activity or family matters activity while they are going through this process, Legal Aid will cover them as well.

 

One of the other things that the hon. member referenced, and I think it needs to be responded to, section 14 modifies or amends paragraph 47(a) and (b) of the act.  It says section 47(a) and (b) of the act is repealed and the following substituted: in the Trial Division – General Division; Trial Division – Family Division. 

 

It gave the impression that the only place Legal Aid can practice now are in the two Trial Divisions and cannot practice in the Provincial Court, but that is not the case, Mr. Speaker.  It did not repeal all of section 47.  It only repealed section 47(a) and 47(b).  Section 47(c) of the old provision is still there. 

 

Section 47(c) says that the practice can be done in a provincial court or in a tribunal.  As a matter of fact a couple of years ago we amended a provision to allow Legal Aid lawyers now to practice in front of tribunals.  So that is still there, Mr. Speaker, under section 47(c).  So it is only section 47(a) and (b) that was repealed, not section 47(c).

 

Mr. Speaker, these are just a couple of things that I wanted to respond to.  This is a good piece of legislation.  It comes from the Roil review.  It completes, really, the Roil review.  It is a major piece of work with respect to Legal Aid.  It solidifies and sustains Legal Aid for some time to come.  It makes it more efficient. 

 

The people in Legal Aid are very happy with what has happened here.  The investment of the government over this year, last year, and the next year indicates the government's willingness to accept all the Roil report.

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat.

 

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

 

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am pleased certainly to have a few moments to close debate on this bill.  I want to thank my colleagues who participated in the debate: the hon. colleague for St. Barbe, the Member for St. John's Centre, and the Attorney General.  I am not going to prolong too much of my commentary here.

 

I want to thank the Attorney General for addressing a couple of concerns raised.  I am not sure that we caught all of the issues that the Member for St. Barbe raised and if we did not, then certainly raise them in Committee.  There is one that I will add to.  He mentioned a concern around section 28 – by my numbers in the amended act; it is page 5 – around the Commission appointing the director or the manager having to be a solicitor. 

 

To be clear, Mr. Speaker, the intent there is that the primary function of the staff, individuals are to be solicitors and then from those employed as solicitors, the part-time duty of being the manager is assigned to one of them so it is still a practising solicitor.  If we felt – which we do not – there was a need to be a full-time manager that would, in effect, mean hiring another person or cutting by one solicitor.  So at this point in time, for the benefit of the member, what they have indicated to us is that the part-time management function will be assumed by a practising solicitor who will continue to practice.

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank members for their contribution.  Pardon me, I forgot my colleague for Burgeo – La Poile – I did not see you there for a second – who also contributed to the debate.

 

Thank you very much.  With that, I will close debate on second reading.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.  (Bill 9).

 

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

 

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

 

MR. KING: In a little while.

 

MR. SPEAKER: In a little while.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House.  (Bill 9).

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper, An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act, Bill 8.  It is so moved by me, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the said bill be now read a second time.

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act.” (Bill 8).

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I just want to provide a brief introduction to Bill 8.  It is an amendment – let me just read from the bill itself.  Bill 8 is An Act to Amend the Services Charges Act.  Inside the bill cover, members will see the Explanatory Notes.  Let me just read it; it is two short bullets: This bill would amend the Services Charges Act to implement increases to charges payable to the Crown.  Number one, the bill would increase the charges payable to the Crown on estate value; and number two, the second purpose of the bill, to impose a charge payable to the Crown for applications for and amendments to plans and licences under the Mining Act. 

 

Mr. Speaker, that is simply what the bill will do.  The Services Charges Act itself governs the fees and charges that are levied by government by various departments and agencies to offset some of the costs of providing those services.  Throughout government we have not, as some other jurisdictions have done as a matter of policy, said that all fees on all services that are provided to the public, whether it is individuals or corporations, that all fees charged for services that are provided are in a 100 per cent cost recovery.  That is not what has happened here, I say, Mr. Speaker. 

 

What we are doing here, we have not done that.  We have had some fees that represent a very small portion of what it costs to provide the service.  In fact, we have some areas where services are provided where there are no fees attached at all.  One of the changes we are making here is to create a fee for a service that has been provided for quite some time with no cost, no charge at all.  What we are doing is affixing a fee for that now. 

 

Mr. Speaker, fees are one of those things that governments charge to provide for some recovery of the cost of providing the service.  There is a belief that governments provide certain programs and services that are embedded and the cost of them are taken out of general revenue and they are financed basically through tax revenues and it is provided as no cost to the user. There are many other services where there is a fairly significant cost of administering the system that we put in place to provide those services and we attach fees for those. 

 

The current legislation that we are amending here now came into effect back in 1998.  I will not get into the detail around it, but there was a Supreme Court decision at that time that spoke to the issue of taxation versus fees, and what constituted a fee versus what constituted a levy of taxes for general revenue.  That is when this bill came into effect.  The reason I am making this comment is just to provide some context for discussion around fees, and discussion around the rationale for the actual act itself that we are making some amendments to tonight. 

 

As I said a moment ago, there are two amendments to this act.  The first one deals with the Crown on estate values, charges payable to the Crown and settling estates.  Just very specifically, it is pursuant to section 4(1) of the act itself, “A charge is payable to the Crown by the estate of a deceased person for a grant of letters of probate or administration …” on the estate. 

 

Right now, today, there is a charge that is payable only if the value of the estate is greater than $1,000.  That is not changing, Mr. Speaker.  What is changing, though, this particular bill repeals section 4(3) of the act and substitutes it with the following – and just let me read into the record what we are actually adding to the bill, “Where the value of an estate exceeds $1,000, the amount payable … upon a grant of letters of probate or administration or the repealing of a foreign grant is $60” – a flat amount – “plus  $0.60 for each additional $100 in the value of the estate.”  Simply, what we are doing here is making an adjustment in the fees, the additional costs per $100 based on the value of the estate. 

 

The second amendment deals with the Mining Act.  This is something we are adding.  This was not something that was in place before.  I made a comment a moment ago, sometimes we have been providing, in this case here, forever and a day, a service that has been utilized by a select number of individuals or companies as they make application, and we have never charged for that, but at the same time there is a significant cost of doing it. 

 

We need to deploy people to evaluate these applications.  We need assessments done.  Many of them are fairly detailed.  Many of them are very technical in nature and you require a great deal of time and expertise to process these applications.  These applications are being made to undertake an operation to generate revenue, an operation to turn profit.  It is an area where our resources are being pursued in the act of mining and mineral development. 

 

So what we are doing, Mr. Speaker, is now creating a fee structure to provide for compensation for the effort and time and human resources that goes into processing these applications.  What we are doing, in accordance with the Mining Act an operator must submit according to that act a development plan for the approval of the Minister of Natural Resources, approval of a plan for rehabilitation and the closure, or the establishment of a mine.  That needs to be approved by the minister prior to that project getting sanctioned.  There is a licence required and they need to have an application for that development. 

 

As I said a moment ago, there is no charge currently for that service.  What we are doing, we are providing a fee structure now and a greater fee will be charged in circumstances where it is a metal mine versus a non-metal mine; unique differences, different income generated from both.  Different capacity for different income levels from both necessary to the operation. 

 

The metal mines will have a greater fee structure than the non-metal ones.  When we get into committee, no doubt there will be some questions with respect to how these mining applications are processed and issues tying to the involvement of the officials in Natural Resources.  I am certain the Minister of Natural Resources will be only too glad to answer those specific questions around the application of the Mining Act welded to these fees.

 

I want to provide an overview of the fee structure itself.  At the time these applications are made – and this is where the dollar amounts are attached that I am going to share with you now.  The amounts payable for each initial application and each application for an amendment will look like this.  For the initial application for a metal mine the filing of a development plan, the charge will be $4,000.  If an operator, though, intends to make an amendment to that plan an additional $2,000 shall be applied. 

 

Now for the initial application for a non-metal mine, filing of that development plan, the charge shall be one half of that, which is $2,000.  For the metal mine it will be $4,000 and for the non-metal mine it is $2,000.  Now if the operator intends to make any amendments to that plan, again, it is one half of the previous value.  So an amendment will attach to it a fee of $1,000. 

 

Mr. Speaker, for an initial application for a metal mine development rehabilitation and closure plan – because many times there are two steps here.  At the front end we have an application for the development of a mine, so a development plan gets filed.  At some point in time, as the life expectancy of all operations, there will be an end. 

 

There will be a need to provide a plan for the closure, a plan for the rehabilitation of the site.  That requires another application.  For the metal mine there is a $4,000 fee for the application for the development of the rehabilitation and the closure plan.  If there are amendments to that there will be a $2,000 fee attached to that amendment application.

 

Following that same kind of logic with respect to non-metal and metal mines, the initial application for the non-metal mine development and rehabilitation and closure plan, the charge will be $2,000.  If there are any amendments to that original plan the developer will need to file an amendment to the original application.  To have that re-evaluated there will be $1,000 charge I say, Mr. Speaker. 

 

For an initial application of a mill licence, a $1,000 charge will apply and a $750 charge will apply to the licence, any kind of an amendment application.  So what we are doing here, Mr. Speaker – again very briefly to provide an overview – we are making amendments here to two provisions.  Under the authority of the Services Charges Act we are making an amendment to that act to provide for changes in fee structures for two different services: one is the settlement of estates and probated estates; and, the second deals with a – and that is a fee structure that is already in place and we are making an amendment to that fee structure.  The second part of the bill deals with the creation of a new set of application fees associated with mining developments. 

 

Just to speak in general terms with respect to the concept of having fees associated with services, we have had an opportunity through this past budgetary process to look at a number of areas where we have had to evaluate what it cost to provide certain services.  What kind of human resources do we deploy?  What kind of other supports are necessary to put in place for us as a government to receive applications from a variety of people for certain things that they avail of?  Motor Registration is probably the one that comes to mind for a lot of people because there are such a large number of individuals with vehicles that they register and there are driver's licence systems.  There are fees that you have to pay for the maintenance of those systems and the processing of your application. 

 

Throughout government departments and agencies there are a variety of programs and services that we charge fees for.  The criteria that we have used have not always been a total cost recovery.  Some jurisdictions have looked at a total cost recovery.  We have not done that.  We recognize sometimes that the fee structures – if it is a total cost recovery, there may be extreme financial difficulties for many people to access the services. 

 

In these cases here, these two fees that we are talking about, one is where we have a mining application.  An entrepreneur, an individual, or a corporation sees an opportunity to prosecute the resources that we have as a Province, and so we want to make sure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador get value from that resource.  That is why we have such things as corporate tax systems.  That is why we have such things as mining royalties to give us a return on that resource.  It is the people's resource and we need a return on that.

 

The other part of that is the cost of working with that, accompanying that entity to process their applications to ensure they are able to comply with the regulatory regime of the Province, to ensure that we understand how they are going to go about doing the development, what implications might it have for other things, how they are going to rehabilitate the site when it is done, and what their closure plan will look like.  Whether it is economic issues or environmental issues, we want to make sure these applications reflect an appropriate response to that kind of regulatory regime we have in place.

 

The only way to do that is to have someone who works with Natural Resources.  A lot of our officials get involved in reviewing the detail of those applications, frequently going back to the proponent looking for additional information.  A lot of analysis goes into that.  That requires a lot of technical expertise, talented individuals who spend a lot of time and energy in evaluating those applications.  We believe it is appropriate that those companies who are going to get the value of those operations should pay to have that as a part of their development.

 

When they look at developing a mine they look at their total cost of developing.  It is built into their business plan the cost of financing, the cost of labour, the cost of materials, and the cost of shipment.  All of those things become a part of their factor that they give consideration to.  Obviously the fees associated with the development and the application process would be a standard part of – they will get building permits from municipalities potentially.  They will get permits from other agencies to carry out their work.  This is a natural part of their developing these operations and that is what these fees are intended to do. 

 

With those few brief comments, Mr. Speaker, and introduction to the bill – because, like I said, the bill is very straightforward.  It is not one that requires, like many money bills, lengthy debate on a variety of issues.  This is not a money bill.  It is very specific around a set of fees; therefore, it is not one of these things that require a great deal of elaboration on my part. 

 

However, if members opposite have some questions when we get in Committee I will be only too glad to answer them.  The Minister of Justice might have answers to some of the questions with respect to the estates.  The Minister of Natural Resources may have some answers with respect to the development of some of the mining operations under the Mining Act.  Clearly, the substance of the bill is pretty straightforward and very precisely around two amendments we are making to an existing act. 

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make the introduction. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I am happy to stand and speak to Bill 8, An Act to Amend the Services Charges Act.  The minister has provided a detailed overview of the bill.  I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of his department.  The staff of his department met with us a couple of days ago to brief us on the bill, and certainly had ample time to explain and answer any questions that we had on what the language was in the bill. 

 

As I listened to the minister's comments – there were a number of things that I would like to reference as part of my comments tonight.  In particular, some of the questions and things that have arisen from his comments, as I listened to him introduce this bill as part of the debate this evening. 

 

Mr. Speaker, he spoke in great detail to the first change which is the subsection 4(3) of the Services Charges Act to repeal the following and substitute.  This is the item that the minister referred to with regard to estates and those estates that exceed values of $1,000.  The amounts that are payable under subsection (1), under the “… grant of letters of probate or administration or the resealing of a foreign grant of $60 plus $0.60 for each additional $100 in the value of the estate.” 

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the questions that I have asked the minister – my understanding is that this is about a 20 per cent increase in the estate value, or the fee associated with the estates.  I would like to ask the minister to clarify that.  I think that is right, but I may have my information incorrect.  I am sure he will provide that more accurately.

 

When we were briefed on this bill, one of the things that certainly reminded me, as we spoke about estate planning and people whose estates are being filed on behalf of the family members, et cetera who have passed, is that we have legislation – or lack of, some people would say – around seniors who have to pass on their assets to family members so that it is protected from taxes.  This legislation may impact those individuals and their choices.  Other provinces have brought in – exclusive of this piece of legislation they have brought in legislation that allows individuals, particularly seniors, to maintain that wealth without having to transfer it to family members.

 

The second part of the act is the part which references the increases in mining, or the implementation of a new fee that is around the Mining Act.  It is for the amounts that are associated with application fees, so initial application fees, and then a fee related to amendments. 

 

One of the things that the minister spoke about in both situations was the cost of administration and that government really looks, in some cases, to not necessarily implement a full cost recovery program under the fees, but in these two cases, part of what is trying to be accomplished is cost recovery.  I think it is interesting that when you talk about cost recovery, one of the things the corporation that may be paying the fee or the individual who is paying the probate fees would have to pay for is if there are any inefficiencies in the costs that are going to be recovered.

 

If, for example, the minister referenced the cost of administration and the cost of processing as we have seen in this House earlier today – and we have had debates around some of the Auditor General's recommendations.  There are certainly questions around some of the systems and processes that are in place, and whether or not those systems and processes are cost effective.  If you have a cost recovery model, those inefficiencies then are captured in the costs that are trying to be recovered from the people or the corporations that are paying these fees.

 

The minister mentioned that there is not currently a policy in government.  My understanding is that he said there was not a total cost recovery model.  He mentioned that a total cost recovery model would actually put undue hardship and undue pressure on individuals and corporations that are paying fees, such as the two that are described in this bill. 

 

I would go back to the comments I made earlier that if government was looking at a cost recovery model, if we had an individual who had to pay, for example, a fee associated with, as the minister talked, a driver's licence.  Understanding that processing that driver's licence, if there are any inefficiencies in that and then you pass all that cost onto the person who is getting the driver's licence, then there are increased costs that the end-user has to pay.

 

The mining licence fees, one of the things that surprised me when we went into the briefing with staff – and I guess for somebody who has been in the House for just over a year representing the great people of Virginia Waters, one of the things that I was surprised at is that there was no application fee before.  These applications, I wonder if the Minister of Natural Resources could maybe provide for this House the volume of new applications, the number of amendments, as well as the number of changes that may happen that would result in these fees. 

 

I am curious to know if the Minister of Finance could provide some detail on what the actual estimate is for revenue from these two fees.  I understand from the Finance staff who were at the briefing that they do very comprehensive forecasting on some of these figures, so I am sure that the Minister of Natural Resources would have the number related to these fees of the applications that they are processing.  The minister, I am sure, has extrapolated that out with staff to come up with a revenue target that I am sure they can share here with the House tonight as we debate this.

 

One of the things that we certainly thought about as we were being briefed on this particular piece of legislation was situations like we currently are seeing in Wabush.  When you talk about fees associated with mining applications, including the application for a metal mine rehabilitation or closure plan, it is hard to stand in this House and not think about the situation that is unfolding in Wabush and the difficulty that the families and the community there are faced with.  We have asked questions.  The Leader of the Official Opposition has asked questions with regard to the closure plan in Wabush.  If the minister would like to take the opportunity to share some information on that tonight, I am sure that everybody in the House would be very interested in hearing that. 

 

Interestingly as well – I think it was earlier this week, maybe late last week – we were able to see some of the – I will not use the word celebrations but maybe the reflective community coming together in Central Newfoundland with the anticipated closing of the Teck duck mine, and certainly thinking about the community there as well who are faced with the reality of that particular facility closing as well. 

 

Certainly, when you see the bill and you see the language about fees associated with closure plans, I do not think anybody in this House of Assembly wants to even think about the reality that those fees had to be changed, and I think as we debate this tonight it would be certainly appropriate for us to take a moment and think about the communities that are affected by those two particular mine changes that we see in our Province as we speak. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Services Charges Act that the minister is amending with reference to probate and administration, particularly around the value of estates and the fees associated with the value of estates, there is no doubt that those individuals who are maybe a couple, seniors who have maybe lived a long life together and sadly one of them has passed on, that those costs now and the increase in the probate fees will have an impact on some of those individuals, and certainly for those people who are on fixed incomes.  Even though they may still have a nest egg tucked away, the reality is that nest egg is going to get a little bit smaller here as a result of that.  I think that is something that those people who are watching at home tonight would need to understand about this particular piece of legislation. 

 

The reality is that the minister is absolutely right.  There is a need for government to capture and collect fees as part of the work that it does and if citizens or corporations require services from government that are outside what is considered core services, then certainly one way to recoup the cost associated with providing those services is to have fees in place that allows those fees to be recovered. 

 

One of the dangers, I guess, in having this conversation, in light of some of the things we have been talking about here through Question Period and through the debates, is around the efficiencies and whether or not those costs that are going to be passed on to the end-user are going to be, as the minister's words, the right value.

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will ask a couple of questions from the ministers, and I look forward to hearing them provide the answers as part of the debate or as part of Committee as we move into Committee.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

After a late night last night and now 10:00 tonight my voice is starting to give out a bit.  I will make it strong and no matter how long we are here tonight, it will be there; I promise.  This is a pretty practical bill that we are dealing with here, rather technical, but also practical.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on it because I think the minister has certainly explained it.  There are a couple of points I would want to make. 

 

I think the difference between a fee and a tax is important.  It is a totally different mindset.  It is interesting that it took a Supreme Court ruling to see the difference between a fee and a tax when it came to the probating of wills.  That is what the first part of this bill is all about, An Act to Amend the Services Charges Act.  The probating of a will is more than a service; it is something legal that is needed to be done to make sure that the people who benefit from a will, from a loved one, or maybe in some cases not a loved one who has left them an inheritance, it is very important that legally everything is covered so that the wishes of the will are carried out.  In actual fact, that is what the probating is all about and making sure that everything is done as it should be done.

 

It is more than a service.  The Supreme Court ruling, by saying that it was a tax, certainly changed the thinking around what is going on when a will is being probated.  The provincial bills for the imposition of any tax must originate in the Legislature to be valid.  So that is why we are here tonight.  Because where this is a tax and we have not done this before in the Province, we now are making sure that the probate fee is recognized as a tax and therefore, from here on in, will be in legislation, which is extremely important.

 

As the minister pointed out, it goes right back to 1998 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the constitutional validity of Ontario's probate fees in the case of an estate called the Eurig estate.  I will not go into the details of that; however, the probate represents the court's recognition of the validity of a will and the appointment of the personal representative or the executor.

 

This is a really important legal thing that happens, and I am sure some people in the room have been executors.  Unfortunately, I am sure a lot of us have had somebody in our family die and we have had to be the executor of the will.  It is extremely important that a will is seen as being valid and that the person who is then the representative of the deceased is recognized legally. 

 

Applying for letters of probate requires the filling of various forms.  There is a lot of work that goes on because of all the forms that have to be filled out and there are fees that go to lawyers and fees that go to government, so it is important that this is all done correctly and having this in legislation is extremely important. 

 

I do not think there is any need to go any further with that, but I would like to make comments about the second part of this bill which is the one that has to deal with the Mining Act and a charge being payable to the Crown for applications for and amendments to plans and licences under the Mining Act. 

 

The minister, again, has explained well the content that is in the bill, the amount of money that is being charged, et cetera, but there is one thing that I would like clarification on.  The minister can either do it tonight – well, do it in second reading or do it when we are in Committee.  If I do not hear the answer in second reading, then I can ask it in Committee again.

 

I fully understand an application for a metal mine development plan.  You are applying, you want to develop, you are making an application to develop and there is a fee for that: $4,000 and $2,000 if you do an amendment to that plan. That I fully understand.  Now, it is the language in section 5.1(2)(b) that I am not clearly understanding.  It is just the language: $4,000 for an initial application for a metal mine rehabilitation and closure plan.

 

My understanding is – and maybe I am wrong – that the applicant is the one who has to put a rehabilitation and closure plan together.  If that is the case, why is it called an application for the plan?  I am not quite sure on the language.  If the applicant is presenting a rehabilitation and closure plan, I do not see that as an application for it.  I just wanted clarification of that language.  The minister is nodding, so I know I will get the clarification of that. 

 

I do know that, for example, under our environmental assessment act, both provincially and federally, one of the things that gets demanded, having been on a panel myself and I remember this clearly, an applicant, a company, a corporation putting a development plan together for a mine – and the one I was on was the Voisey's Bay mine for example.  They have to prove in that plan that they actually have the ability to pay for the rehabilitation and the closure.  There has to actually be a legal financial agreement put in place that indicates that the money is there, and they are able to do that rehabilitation and closure. 

 

I am wondering is that something that is part of this application.  That, I do not know.  That is what I am trying to get a handle on what this rehabilitation and closure plan is.  As I have said, if the minister cannot get it for – excuse me, I said my voice was going.  I need some water.  Thank you. 

 

If the minister cannot get it for second reading I would like to have that explained in Committee, the whole connection between this application and then actually having in place the whole financial system to show – I forget the language for that – that the money is there when the time comes for rehabilitation and closure.  So that is something I would like the minister to speak about.  I know that is not part of this act per se, but I think there is a connection so I would like to hear what that connection is.

 

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I am glad to see that this charge is now being put in place with regard to the applications under the Mining Act.  I think it is important as part of the spirit of wanting to make sure that companies, whether they are companies from our Province or other companies, that are going to benefit from our resources should actually be paying for services and paying their way, and I think starting right up front when they first make an application is part of that. 

 

What I do not know either, and I do not have the information – maybe the minister can get it.  He did make reference – he did not put it this way; it is my language – to not being too tough on the companies.  I would like to know how the $4,000 compares to the fees in other provinces in Canada to see are we giving a really easy way out, or are the fees in other places a lot higher than what we are charging here.

 

Those are the two issues that I have questions about.  I hope I have been clear in those questions for the minister, and I look forward to hearing the answers.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): If the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board speaks now, he will close debate.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

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

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I have no concern with the second part of this bill, and that is the part that sets to charge a fee for amounts payable to the Crown related to mining applications.  It appears, based on the submissions of the minister, that there is a substantial amount of work involved in going through mining applications.  There is a real benefit, but there is also a substantial amount of work.

 

The first part of the bill, I do have a problem with.  This type of a fee was ruled by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 to be a tax, and an unlawful tax, in a case called the Eurig estate.  The Government of Ontario sought to charge an estate probate fee similar to this one, only less than this.  The estate trustee in that particular estate, the Eurig estate, challenged the amount that was being paid, the amount that was being sought to be recovered from that estate. 

 

The argument they made is that a fee is for a service.  A service must be in relation to what you have actually done, and it costs no more, proportionally speaking, for the court to issue probate in a small estate, medium estate, or large estate.  Therefore, if you insist on increasing the amount you charge in relation to the size of the estate you are not providing any value.  Therefore, you, in this case the Province of Ontario, was found to be charging a tax.  The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada said in the Eurig Estate – and there were interveners. 

 

The Attorney General of Quebec intervened and the Attorney General of British Columbia intervened.  Those were the only two other provinces to intervene.  So as we increase this fee, which really is a tax.  It is a tax because it is not related proportionately to the value being provided – to have a real concern that we are inviting litigation from estates, from somebody in this Province who will make the exact same argument that was made before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 and made successfully.

 

I would ask the Minister of Finance if he has obtained a judgement or a legal opinion from the department or from anybody who deals with tax and estates as to whether this bill as proposed will run afoul of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Eurig Estate. 

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: I am trying to address some of the issues raised in second reading here that have been raised by other members.  So if I do not give a satisfactory answer, I am certain we will get a question in Committee.

 

The Member for St. Barbe just provided a legal commentary.  Obviously he is a lawyer.  He is trained in the law so obviously he is in a position to express a legal opinion.  I respect that.  I do want to point out though, to the member, that the act we are amending was brought into force in 1998 which was after the case that he has cited. 

 

The act, when it was introduced in 1998, created a legislative framework to introduce the fees that are already in place.  Keep in mind there is already a fee in place and that fee still remains at $60 for the first $1,000 value and fifty cents per $100 of any value over the $1,000.  The legislation, the act itself introduced in 1998, made or created a legislative authority to allow the fees to be imposed in the first place.  What this amendment this evening does is amend that fee from fifty cents per $100 to sixty. 

 

In as much as I appreciate the member's legal opinion and his suggestion that it will run afoul to the Supreme Court decision that has already been made, as a part of our process of developing a piece of legislation such as this – this happens to be a bill that was crafted by Legislative Counsel.  It is a bill that I am introducing as the Minister of Finance, but it is an issue that has been advanced by the Department of Justice and obviously has been vetted by legal counsel. 

 

Obviously, as in many cases before courts and as in many legal opinions, there are always many.  We have relied on the legal advice of the Department of Justice to provide the structure of this bill we are introducing tonight, which is an amendment to an act.  The act itself was created with the advice and in consultation with lawyers in the Department of Justice.  I thank him for his opinion.  It may be one of those that we will agree to disagree. 

 

With respect to the Member for Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi, the question around the application process and the rehabilitation; I will get absolute clarity for you by the time we get to Committee.  What I understand and I will verify this as the evening progresses, (a) and (b) are two separate pieces.  As you pointed out, when a company makes an application, they want to go into a territory and develop a mine.  They will put together a development plan and they will attach a cheque for $4,000.  If they make an amendment to it they will advance another $2,000.  That is in the initial application. 

 

I think one of the things you referenced was that they are demonstrating an ability to be financially viable in order to allow them to do the real rehabilitation at the end of the life of the mine.  They need to put together certain financial sureties to make sure the reserves are there for that to happen.  That is the financial test to determine whether or not you will be able to do the rehabilitation at the time it is required.  Have you set aside some kind of financial security for the Province to make sure you do it?

 

The second thing though, which is separate and apart, is the actual day that you go to close down your mine.  So let's say today you make the application in 2015.  You put together your development plan.  You attach your cheque for the $4,000.  You then, at that time, demonstrate that you will at the end of – say the life of the mine is twenty years, that you will be in a position at the end of twenty years to pay for the rehabilitation, yet you have not filed a rehabilitation plan. 

 

Advance yourself now twenty years.  The mine is coming to an end.  You now develop and send in an application for the rehabilitation and closure.  That is another application that will follow near the end of the life of the mine.  You at the front end said here is my application for development and here is my financial surety that I will be able to finance and pay for the rehabilitation at the end.  Here you are now at the end of the life of the mine saying, by the way, we are about to close it down, here is my application for the rehabilitation of the site and my closure plan, and here is my $4,000 for that plan.  That is the connection.  I will make certain that is an accurate description of what takes place, but that is what I understand.  When we get into Committee, by that time I will have that verification for you, but I think that is what it is. 

 

Hopefully that satisfies the questions that have been raised.  I just want to go back to the point around the estates.  I thank the Member for Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi for her commentary with respect to what that process actually involves, how significant it is, and how important it is to get it right.  It is a legal process.  It requires a tremendous amount of work and effort by a number of people.  This is a piece of work that has a huge impact on people's assets.  It is protecting the assets that they have amassed.

 

The Member for Virginia Waters expressed some concern that people amass this kind of value and they have their estate, and then someone else at the end of the day takes some of that value away from some of the beneficiaries.  Keep in mind they are doing work on behalf of those very same beneficiaries to make sure that the proceeding was legal and that they have not opened themselves up for some legal challenge because the estate was not handled correctly, and something got dealt with in a fashion that now somebody else who may have laid claim to the estate will come back and want to make a claim against the person who now assumes that they have the full value of that. 


It is important to understand in both these cases here – and I think it is a valid point with respect to both of these amendments.  These are areas where the application for these mining applications, the issue around administration of estates – these are areas where there is a lot of technical expertise at hand, highly skilled, well-paid individuals who put a tremendous amount of effort and work in doing the work at hand with respect to those two significant issues. 

 

Because it is such a highly skilled, highly technical area of work, it requires a tremendous amount of due diligence.  It is not taxation for the sake of generating revenue, it is an ability to be able to get a recovery for the effort that has gone into dealing with those two very significant issues: one on behalf of the estates of individuals and their beneficiaries; and second, in the development of our resource-based economy that we have, mining has been a huge part of our history.  Given the tremendous reserves that we have, it will no doubt become and continue to be a tremendous part of our economic future as well, Mr. Speaker.

 

Hopefully that responds to a couple of the issues raised in second reading.  As I said, when we get into Committee if there are some questions very specific to these, then we will be only too glad to address them at that time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 8 be now read a second time?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act.  (Bill 8)

 

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

 

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

 

MR. KING: Now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave.  (Bill 8)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I move, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, that the House do resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 8, An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act; to consider Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2; to consider Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act; and as well, to consider Bill 14, An Act To Amend The Regional Service Boards Act, 2012.

 

MR. SPEAKER: For clarity, Government House Leader, you did not refer Bill 13 to the Committee, did you?

 

MR. KING: Not right now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Okay.

 

The motion is that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole for the Committee to consider Bills 8, 12, 9, and 14.

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

The motion is carried.

 

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

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Littlejohn): Order, please!

 

We are now considering Bill 8, An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act. 

 

A bill, “An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act.”  (Bill 8)

 

CLERK: Clause 1. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters. 

 

MS C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

In the earlier debate around Bill 8, I asked a question around the revenue target or revenue forecast for both of these changes.  I am wondering if the minister might be able to provide some information on that. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe. 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Chair, I ask the minister: How much is generated to the Province by the probate fees annually today? 

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, clause 1 carried. 

 

CLERK: Clause 2. 

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 2 carry? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, clause 2 carried. 

 

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

 

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, enacting clause carried. 

 

CLERK: An Act To Amend The Services Charges Act. 

 

CHAIR: Shall the title carry? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, title carried. 

 

CHAIR: Shall I report the bill without amendment? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried. 

 

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

 

CHAIR: We are now considering Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2. 

 

A bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2.”  (Bill 12)

 

CLERK: Clause 1. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters. 

 

MS C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

I am eager to ask my questions tonight as you can see by my jumping up out of the chair.  I understand there are some other people on this side of the House who are very eager to ask questions in Committee. 

 

Mr. Chair, with regard to Bill 12, one of the questions that I would like to ask the minister with reference to this particular piece of legislation is around the timing of the HST credit.  The legislation that we are voting on will require that the changes take place as of January 1, 2016.  In recent days, the Premier has actually spoken about the fact that he may rethink his entire plan to increase the HST. 

 

Now I understand that the two actions are separate, the charging of the HST and a rebate of an HST credit.  I am wondering if the minister could clarify if government has any intentions of changing this particular piece of legislation depending on what they do with the HST that they are going to collect under the piece that they introduced in the Budget, and if so, when in fact they would do that.

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

The issue of the tax credit – what we are talking about is the HST increase is going to take effect January 1, 2016.  This credit we are talking about here will apply to your 2016 tax year. 

 

There is a tie between the two, and I made this comment when we talked about it in second reading earlier.  We made some changes in the proposed HST rates from 13 per cent to 15 per cent.  What we are doing here now is providing a relief to people with $30,000 and less – in fact, it is more than that because it is graduated out from $30,000 onward.  From $30,000 under, it is 100 per cent of the $300. 

 

The reason we are bringing in this credit is because we are trying to minimize the impact on those individuals at that income threshold as a result of the changes we made in HST.  If we were to contemplate a change in the announced HST rates, then we would have to contemplate making a change to the effective date of this – or the rebate structure here is predicated on a change in the HST rate. 

 

I just want to go back to the important question that the member has raised.  I think one of the things that the Premier has indicated is that we as a government have been extremely optimistic about the performance and the rates associated with oil revenue.  At the first quarter of the year when we did our projection based on the Budget, we took the annual forecast and said we believe it will average out to be sixty-two.  We broke it down quarter by quarter. 

 

The first quarter performance of Brent on the market has been much better than we had anticipated in the first quarter.  We forecasted fifty-five and it has been somewhere in the mid-sixties.  If that trend continues into the second, third and fourth quarter – and the Premier's comment was based on an optimism and pleasure with the performance in the first quarter.  So to talk about what – at the end in the fall, and if we are making the same kind of progress that we made in the first quarter, it was in that context that the Premier made his comments. 

 

To the member's question.  The changes we have made to the credit was in response to the increase in the HST in the first place.  This was intended to shield lower-income families from the impact of that increase in the HST from 13 per cent to 15 per cent.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for his answer. 

 

I would just ask him, the intention of the credit is to soften the financial blow of a HST increase that would take place on January 1, 2016.  The reality is that for many low-income and fixed-income individuals, their weekly cash management issues are more real than tax credits that come nine months later. 

 

I would ask the minister how government would assume or feel that a credit in October is going to help somebody who has to pay 2 per cent more on a light bill in February when, in fact, they may not have the cash for that particular purchase.

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Chair, the question the member – I will answer the question but it not relevant to the bill. 

 

What the bill does, it makes an amendment to an already existing provision.  The HST rebate, whether it is on a provincial jurisdiction or a federal jurisdiction, takes place in the fall of the year.  It is a rebate.  It is a credit that occurs after the taxes have been paid.  

 

The current legislation that you see before the House, Bill 12, amends an already existing act that provides for a mechanism and a timing to pay HST.  The subject of the amendment is around changing the dollar amount.  The principle of paying it once a year and the principle of paying it in the fall is embedded in an act that is not subject, and that provision is not subject to the amendment.  Inasmuch as I have answered your question, it is not relevant to the bill at hand.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

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

 

I appreciate the minister clarifying that the legislation that would actually address the cash flow implications of the 2 per cent HST increase on low-income and fixed-income individuals is not being addressed as part of this legislation.  It is in fact only the value of the rebate that is received.  So ten months after the HST is increased.

 

I would ask the question with regard to – I believe it is the section that refers to, “establishing the criteria for determining who or what is (i) an eligible corporation, (ii) an eligible product, (iii) an eligible project, and (iv) a qualifying expenditure.”  I would ask the minister if he could provide some specifics on exactly what those items are. 

 

I am confused, is that list of items determined based on federal guidelines that the Province has to follow, or does the Province have any flexibility with regard to those items?  I am assuming from this legislation that those lists are created for the Province, but I do not really know.  Hence, that is the reason I am asking the question. 

 

I appreciate the minister's willingness to answer the questions as we go through this important piece of legislation here tonight. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Yes, Mr. Chair.

 

Those items that our tax lawyers established are harmonized with the federal legislation. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: So, Mr. Chair, I just want to clarify that any changes then that the federal government would make in products that would be applicable to HST charges or HST credits, would be under federal jurisdiction and not under provincial jurisdiction?  Is that correct?

 

CHAIR: Yes.

 

The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity again to speak to in Committee, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act when it comes to looking at the HST credit. 

 

The GST/HST credit, when we look at the concept, is paid in quarterly installments when you look at the federal GST in January, April, July, and October.  The question I believe the Member for Virginia Waters had pointed out is that the government, in its current Budget, is increasing the HST.  It is going to be effective on power bills in July and there is also going to be a 10 per cent increase in January, 2016. 

 

In January, 2016, HST is going from 13 per cent to 15 per cent, yet there will be no HST credit paid out by the Province in the concept of a quarterly installment, which is a possibility to look at that type of option to mitigate the burden as what the Finance Minister is stating is that the reason it is done, it is done annually.  I would like some clarification on that particular matter. 

 

As well, when you look at the threshold and the analysis of the increase, it is up to $300 from a smaller amount that was there and $60 for a spouse, that would be attached.  I want to ask, what type of analysis was done to come up with the $300 amount? 

 

When looking at the budgetary documents, it is very clear for the 127,000 filers that the Minister of Finance stated would be eligible for an HST credit – what is put there is $3.7 million.  For 127,000 tax filers this is a very small amount of money that we are talking about when you look at the overall amount that this government has allocated in the past, in 2014-2015 Budget, and in 2015-2016 Budget. 

 

I do want that clarification around the analysis piece, looking at their purchasing power and consumption.  Did the Department of Finance do any type of thorough analysis on this particular piece?  Also, pointing out the threshold that it gets reduced by 5 per cent as it goes past the $30,000, but at what point?  Is it like the federal government, once it gets over $50,000-something of an individual or net income, that there is absolutely no HST rebate paid?  What is that threshold that is put forward where people will get absolutely no benefit, yet will be dinged by an HST increase? 

 

I put forward those questions to the Minister of Finance, and hopefully he will be able to answer those.  I have many others, but I will give you the opportunity to answer those that I have put forward. 

 

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

 

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

To answer his question, as a concept the 5 per cent rate does fall off the end.  I will get the exact number for you, but it does fall off.

 

The issue around the analysis that was done – there was a sensitivity analysis done.  Because of the increase in 2 per cent, going from 13 per cent to 15 per cent, those individuals who were going to be impacted by that with an income level of less than $30,000; we wanted to make sure that we are going to take away the impact that was going to have on that low-income level by having that $300 rebate.  That is where the fear came from. 

 

We wanted to neutralize the impact that we would have to have by having that increase.  Keep in mind the previous income level was $15,000.  So we took a 2 per cent increase and added what we would need to do to increase the income threshold, together with the dollar of the credit, to ensure we negated the impact of that 2 per cent increase on low income.  That is where the two numbers came from, both the $300 and the $30,000 level. 

 

That is the analysis that was done.  There is data that profiles a percentage of income that people will pay for HST relative to their income.  We have data with respect to tax filer information on income levels.  With that kind of sensitivity analysis, those two figures were arrived at.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

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

 

I was pleased to hear earlier in the discussion today about this particular bill that the minister clarified the 127,000 filers.  As most people in this House of Assembly would know, the Budget documents that were released as part of the Budget many weeks ago actually referenced, I am assuming in error, a phrase that said 127,000 families.  Certainly that created a lot of questions when we were in the lock-up with reference to the information.  I am very grateful that the minister has clarified that in fact was an error of 127,000 families and that in fact it was 127,000 filers. 

 

One of the questions that we did ask, as part of the Budget lock-up in the subsequent days, was around the breakdown that the minister just referenced in a sensitivity analysis, particularly around the number of individuals who are in each of the categories between the $15,000 and the $30,000 range.  We wanted to get an appreciation for how many individuals would actually be qualifying and at what particular annual income.

 

As many of us in this House have seen regularly, in talking with our constituents throughout the Province and talking to seniors groups, the annual income of between $26,000 and $28,000 certainly falls – there are many, many people in the Province who are in their retirement years, certainly seniors who are in that age bracket.  We would certainly like to get a little bit more detail from the minister if he is able to provide it tonight on the data points that he mentioned, specifically between the $15,000 and the $30,000.  How many of those 127,000 filers, as opposed to families, are in that particular area?

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North. 

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

I go back to the first time when I had spoken.  The Minister of Finance, I guess in part, answered some of the questions that I had.  I am looking for the details of the 5 per cent, when it gets actually cut off, the figure where the income threshold is where you would get no particular credit, as well as the sensitivity analysis. 

 

If the Minister of Finance could either table that sensitivity analysis or make it publicly available through the Open Government Initiative and provide that information out there showing that government had done due diligence on this particular matter, or if there was a consulting report, or if somebody like Dr. Wade Locke was consulted on the particular report as he has been doing taxation mechanisms for the provincial government.  I had the opportunity to say hello to Dr. Wade Locke yesterday actually in the building. 

 

When I look at the question that I had pointed out previously around the quarterly reporting, HST or GST gets paid quarterly when it comes to aspects.  Why isn't that an option, when you look at this credit, to mitigate the cost, the impacts of raising the HST?  I go back to point out for the viewers who are watching at home that the government in this year's Budget is putting the 8 per cent back immediately in July on home heating.  So in January, that power bill will be 10 per cent more expensive. 

 

If in the course of that year from January to December a consumer spent $3,000 on electricity, it would be $250 a month.  So that basically equates to your $300 full credit of HST rebate.  That is above and beyond anything that exists now because right now there already is a credit.  It has been enhanced to mitigate these consequences. 

 

If you are a consumer who is making under $30,000, or a family that is earning under $30,000, well then if you spend $3,000 a year on home heat under this year's Budget, that is going to take everything and more of your HST credit.  Then if you are purchasing things like gasoline or consumer goods and services, paying your phone bill or your cable bill, all these things are going to have an extra 2 per cent charge.

 

If you do your overall cost analysis, or you look at that impact, that is going to add up to money as well.  That is extra cost, extra taxes, and extra fees.  When you look at the credit that is being put forward of $300 – I am just pointing out very clearly that there are so many things in the Budget of 2015 that was passed by this government across the way – the $300 is not going to be sufficient to mitigate against the overall cost. 

 

Mr. Chair, $300 is going to be something that they are not getting until October 2016, yet they are going to be taxed on power from July right on up to October before they ever get any type of cheque in terms of a rebate credit.  So that is money that is going to be out the door, out of the pocket. 

 

We are talking about the 127,000 tax filers.  Not all of those tax filers would be under the $30,000, I am assuming.  The Minister of Finance, maybe he can clarify that.  My take on this is the 127,000 tax filers would be up to and including the full and in part as to who would be receiving $300 or $60 if they are married or attached.  Then there would be some people who would be receiving in part.

 

Could the Minister of Finance put before the House and really be open and transparent, and clarify how many people fit each range, under $30,000; and the spousal amount of $60?  How many households are getting a $360 credit as a total?  That will be $30,000 or under.  Then how many households would be, as you go 5 per cent above that and keep going and break that down, because that is really valuable information.  That is worthwhile to find out the reason why.  It would actually allow us to make sense of the income levels that are there.  That information the Minister of Finance says he has, that they have that valuable information. 

 

In doing so, I think the Minister of Finance should put before the House, before we can pass this particular bill – because I have questions on this.  I am asking about it because I have a lot of people in my constituency who would be making $30,000 or less, or making $40,000 or less, who would qualify for such a credit.  When I go and connect with them in the community and they talk about this year's Budget and how the power is going up and how this government – every member on the other side voted for that, in favour of adding 10 per cent to power bills. 

 

Then also voting to raise the HST and put more on every bill and every goods and service they buy that has tax on it.  Well, then a $300 credit, if you can get it in full – which is only small potatoes compared to what you would have had before.  You are taking way more of their disposable income out of their pockets.  That is exactly what is happening.  I do not feel the sensitivity analysis will show that there was enough mitigation for those who are the most vulnerable in society to offset that cost. 

 

I have clearly highlighted that just based on the cost of electricity, on home heating.  That if somebody spends $3,000, with a 10 per cent increase that is $300.  It takes away the full credit.  It is quite concerning, and all of these members across the way are going to have to clearly explain this to their constituents when they go back to the community.  When they say we voted to put 10 per cent back on the power bills, and we say 2 per cent up on HST, and we are going to give you $300.  Well, they were getting something previously.

 

My colleague, the Member for Mount Pearl South, clearly stated that this is some feel good legislation.  Unless the Minister of Finance can table and put forward a sensitivity analysis to back up that case, I have to side with the Member for Mount Pearl South.  I think he is right.  I completely think that he is right.  I would like to see that breakdown.

 

I will give the Minister of Finance an opportunity to answer those questions.  If not, I will have the opportunity to get up and raise a number of other questions.  There are many clauses and pieces here, sections and sections that I have questions about.  Maybe he will have that opportunity to get on his feet, or else I am sure another member of my caucus will stand and ask a question.

 

Thank you.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

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

 

We will give the minister a moment to get the information to answer the question for my hon. colleague.  I will move on to maybe the other part of the bill which is around the new Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit. 

 

One of the things that was certainly evident when we had the briefing – and I want to take again the opportunity to thank the staff who provided the briefing.  Those of us in the House who have read the legislation, we see language such as, “'eligible corporation' means a corporation which satisfies the conditions prescribed in the regulations.”

 

The legislation goes on then to say in another section, “'eligible project' means a project of an eligible corporation to develop an eligible product which satisfies the conditions prescribed in the regulations.”  The legislation continues to read, “'qualifying expenditure' means the eligible proportion of salaries and remuneration paid by an eligible corporation for or during an eligible project as prescribed in the regulations.”

 

Mr. Chair, one of the things that I think I asked in the briefing – and let me be clear, certainly the investment in the technology sector and encouraging entrepreneurship in that sector is very important.  We have huge opportunities in this Province to do that.  One of the things that surprised me is when I asked the staff around what exactly were the regulations governing this particular tax credit, I was not able to get the answers. 

 

I cannot imagine, with the competent public sector we have, that there has not been some work done on the regulations governing the Digital Media Tax Credit.  I am wondering if he could enlighten this House on just maybe the flavour of some of those regulations, when those regulations will be ready, and when they will be communicated to the business community so the business community understands what those regulations are. 

 

The benefit of the tax credit is only truly a benefit when an entrepreneur can actually take advantage of the credit.  In the absence of the regulations, it is very challenging for business operators and innovators to be able to take advantage if they do not know the rules that they have to play by. 

 

While I understand from the staff that this tax credit was an announcement made as part of this Budget, actually executing the tax credit in a business environment would require that the regulations also be ready.  I am assuming the minister may have some information to provide some clarity on that.  I look forward to hearing that.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Before I go back to asking more questions around the HST, because I have more around that, I want to pick up where my colleague, the Member for Virginia Waters, had just taken off.  Absolutely, businesses and entrepreneurs want confidence and they want predictability.  Whenever a tax credit or an incentive is provided there should be particular regulations that are outlined; that are stated.

 

Actually, what is very interesting about this one is that this credit has been made available back to January 1, 2015, well before the Budget was passed or put forward.  Even those companies that are established, if they qualify –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: – under what this act is stating, it is giving the framework and it is allowing a company, even prior to this legislation, to qualify. 

 

The Official Opposition, we have not seen the regulations that are being put forward.  There are some definitions and some clauses here that set up the parameters and the framework for establishing such a tax credit but we would like to know who was engaged, who was consulted in the process.  Was NATI, for example, consulted?  Others in the tech sector, those that are in the gaming and digital media, as well as composers and artists, were they engaged and consulted upon?  What type of jurisdictional scan was taken to arrive at the current tax credit? 

 

The dialogue, based on the budgeting process, I am sure the Minister of Finance could share some of that information because in this year's Budget $1 million has been allocated for this particular rebate.  In doing so, there would have had to have been some type of consultation.  If the Minister of Finance would like to clarify for this House what activity was taken to arrive at the $1 million and how that analysis came about, because he has not yet shared with me the sensitivity analysis to arriving at the HST. 

 

If we go back looking at the HST piece, as I was pointing out previously, is $300.  Well, if somebody who collects HST or is eligible but they pass away, based on the federal regulations then they are no longer eligible to collect that credit.  How does that impact a spouse who would have only gotten $60?  Will they qualify then for $300? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: We would not want to see somebody who would be lost in bureaucratic red tape that would exist, who is of a low income, who would have been taxed and taxed and taxed from July onward until the following October when it comes to home heating of 10 per cent.  Then also being taxed on every consumer good that would have HST, from phone bills to cable bills, to all of these things.  Would they then qualify for the $300 should their spouse pass away in that time frame?  Because it clearly states that if somebody passes away, then they are not eligible for HST. 

 

This is a tied amendment that states $300; $60 for a person who is a qualified relation.  We all have to look at when the filings were made and what would happen.  The product obtained, when $60 is multiplied by the number of qualified dependants of the individual for that year. 

 

Also, when we look at this particular piece, we would like to know when it comes to the $360 per couple with dependants, is there any type of cap, I would say to the Minister of Finance, on the number of qualified dependants that anyone can have?  Is there a particular cap?  That would be something that would be of interest to me.

 

I will leave it at that to give the Minister of Finance – because I have asked a number of questions in my last time that I stood up and I have not received a response.  So I will keep asking them as long as there is an intervening speaker.  I will go back and repeat – should I have to – until I get an answer. 

 

Thank you. 

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

Mr. Chair, I move, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, that the Committee rise and report Bill 8, and also report Bills 9, 12 and 14 and ask leave to sit again for those three bills. 

 

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise and report Bill 8 and ask leave to sit again for Bills 9, 12 and 14. 

 

Is it the pleasure of the House? 

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

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

 

MR. SPEAKER (Cross): The hon. the Member for Port de Grave, Chair of the Committee of the Whole.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report Bill 8 without amendment and ask leave to sit again for Bills 9, 12 and 14. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report Bill 8 without amendment and ask leave to sit again for Bills 9, 12 and 14.

 

When shall the report be received? 

 

MR. KING: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: When shall the said bill be read a third time? 

 

MR. KING: Later.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Later.

 

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

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 9, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act. 

 

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

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.