PDF Version (Day)

PDF Version (Night)

May 17, 2016                    HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                    Vol. XLVIII No. 29


 

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): Order, please!

 

Admit strangers.

 

While I don't see them, I've been asked to welcome Tim Thorne and Tim Turner to the public gallery today. They are with the Murphy Centre, which is the subject of a Ministerial Statement this afternoon.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: For Members' statements today we have the Members for the District of Harbour Grace – Port de Grave, Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, Conception Bay South, St. George's – Humber, St. John's Centre and Baie Verte – Green Bay. 

 

The hon. the Member for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear! 

 

MS. P. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is with pride that I stand here today to recognize my friend and local artist, who you may have heard of, Bobbi Pike of Spaniard's Bay. Inspired by our scenic province and our people, Bobbi pours her memories and experiences onto canvass, creating her own version of the rock.

 

Newfoundland artist and now the author of the province's first adult colouring book, which is entitled The Colours of Newfoundland and Labrador, with her black and white sketches, she invites us to colour the coves, communities and small moments of daily Newfoundland life. 

 

Bobbi's talent is world renowned. Her artwork can be found hanging in homes, galleries and businesses throughout Canada, the United States, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Bangladesh, Germany and the United Kingdom.

 

Something interesting, in each of Bobbi's paintings you will find three crows. Some are easy to see and some are hidden in the scenery. The reason: Nicknames were developed in communities throughout Conception Bay North to distinguish families with the last surname. Bobbi's maiden name is Seymour, and the nickname is crow. Rumour has it that the first Spaniard's Bay constable was a Seymour. He was often seen patrolling the lanes and drungs, wearing a long, black cape and he became the first crow.

 

Colleagues, please join me in honouring hometown Spaniard's Bay girl, Bobbi Pike. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I rise to deliver accolades to Mr. John Kendell who has shown tremendous fundraising initiative through Cycling for Cancer, which has raised over $50,000 to assist local cancer patients in my area.

 

This July marks the 17th Annual Bay d'Espoir Cancer Benefit, where all residents band together to reinsure that cancer patients have access to funding and support. Through the efforts of volunteers such as John, this public fund has raised over $1 million since 1999, a true testimony of our unified fight against cancer.

 

Today, we thank and commend Mr. Kendell for his tremendous dedication which embodies the Benefit's spirit of giving and caring. John is an inspiration to all of us in our shared commitment of “People Helping People.” For nine years, he has led the Cycling for Cancer ride down Route 360 and his group's triumphant entrance to open the Benefit sparks the uplifting mood and spirit of generosity which carries throughout the entire event. 

 

I ask all Members of this hon. House to applaud Mr. Kendell and I encourage him to continue giving so whole-heartedly to his community. I also encourage more cyclists to join John on his ride this year and wish them great success in their fundraising effort.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. PETTEN: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize and celebrate the incredible contributions of our volunteers. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a rich history of volunteering and community involvement. They are on the front lines of all our community services from health care, disaster relief, volunteer firefighting, minor sports – the list is endless.

 

The work of the volunteer is essential work and is the backbone of our communities. These individuals, who give freely of their time through organizations or on their own, provide a foundation upon which the communities can grow and prosper. In turn, these stronger communities help build a more vibrant province and this can be seen in Newfoundland and Labrador, more specifically in the Town of Conception Bay South where I recently attended the annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony at the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre just last week along with the MHA for the District of Topsail – Paradise.

 

I want to thank each and every volunteer who has given their time and talent to make our communities a better place to live. Mr. Speaker, I ask all Members to join me in thanking all volunteers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for St. George's – Humber.

 

MR. REID: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize two recent recipients of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association awards for their work as educators.

 

Rob Matthews, from Massey Drive, is this year's winner of the Barnes Award from the NLTA. The Barnes Award is named after Dr. Arthur Barnes, Newfoundland and Labrador's first Education minister who in 1928 initiated a number of teacher conferences to promote excellence in education. The award was established in 1987 to recognize outstanding professional development service provided by teachers at the special interest council level. Matthews has been in the profession for 25 years and has spent most of that time as a school administrator.

 

The other winner from the Corner Brook area was Katherine Rowsell, a learning resource teacher at Corner Brook Regional High School. She is this year's winner of the Bancroft Award, recognizing outstanding service at the branch level of the NLTA. Katherine has been involved with the Humber branch of the NLTA since 1989 and she has filled a number of positions in that time.

 

I ask all Members of the House to join with me in congratulating these award winning educators.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'm so happy to celebrate one of our brightest literary lights. Megan Gail Coles is no stranger to either readers or awards panels, and she's having another large year.

 

In February, Megan was named winner of the 2015 ReLit Award for Short Fiction. If the hon. Members have had the pleasure of reading her book, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, they will understand how well-deserved this award and all the others it has won really are.

 

Her short story collection also earned Megan last year's BMO Winterset Award, the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award and one of five of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Five x Five award.

 

In 2013 she won the Rhonda Payne Theatre Award, recognizing her as an emerging female theatre artist. Her dramatic script Grace was a Senior Division winner at this year's Arts and Letters Awards.

 

Megan is a finalist for this year's ArtsNL CBC Emerging Artist Award, to be presented May 28.

 

Bravo, Megan Gail Coles for all you have done, continue to do and will do for our vibrant literary community. We are so proud of you‎. We are so proud of her.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. WARR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise in this hon. House to recognize the accomplishments of a team of remarkable young women from my district.

 

A group of 12 girls from a number of high schools on the Baie Verte Peninsula joined together to form the Baie Verte Emerald, the first club volleyball team from the Peninsula. While most of the girls were inexperienced at playing the sport of volleyball, you wouldn't know it at the Under-18 Girls Provincial Volleyball Championships that took place in April.

 

At that tournament, the girls overcame a rocky start to deliver a blazing performance in the semifinals and finals to clinch the championship. It was the first provincial volleyball championship for the area in such a long time.

 

The Baie Verte Emerald team members are: Tamara Jacobs, Vanessa Cosh, Michaela Shiner, Theresa Walsh, Kristin Budgell, Jamie Walsh, Mackenzie Andrews, Katie Knight, Kailey Gillingham, Abby Robins, Crystal Sacrey and Chelsea Ward. They are coached by Marc Toms, Ryan Saunders and Hayley Shave.

 

They are the pride of the Peninsula, and a credit to the great District of Baie Verte – Green Bay.

 

I ask all Members to join me in congratulating the Baie Verte Emerald for their championship victory.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

The Commemoration of the First World War and the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel

 

MR. SPEAKER: For Honour 100 today, we have the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will now read into the record the following 40 names of those who lost their lives in the First World War in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Royal Newfoundland Naval Reserve, the Newfoundland Mercantile Marine, or the Newfoundland Forestry Corp. This will be followed by a moment of silence.

 

Lest we forget: Francis O'Toole, Norman A. Outerbridge, Richard Owen, Walter Oxford, Patrick Palfrey, George Richard Pardy, Augustus Percival Park, Cecil Parmiter, Norman Parmiter, John Richard Parrell, Patrick Parrell, John Parson, Aubrey L. Parsons, Bertram C. Parsons, Charles Albert Parsons, Charles H. Parsons, Harry Parsons, Pierce Parsons, William Parsons, William Thomas Parsons, William W. Patey, Reginald J. Paul, Stephen J. Paul, Frank Payne, Naaman Payne, Stephen Payne, Archibald W. Peach, Henry W. Peach, Josiah Wesley Peach, William H. Peach, Hector Pearce, Samuel R. Pearce, Jacob Pearcey, Edward Peckford, Alec Peddle, Eli Peddle, Richard Peddle, Clarence Pelley, Cornelius Pender, Charles Pennell.

 

We will remember them.

 

(Moment of silence.)

 

MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated.

 

Statements by Ministers.

 

Statements by Ministers

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise today in this hon. House to speak about the recent Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting that took place yesterday, May 16, in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

 

The main agenda topics discussed included strengthening the region's economy, improving health care, enhancing energy co-operation and addressing climate change.

 

Mr. Speaker, our dialogue around strengthening the economy focused on population growth and workforce development as well as reducing red tape and barriers to business in the region to support economic growth. Premiers also discussed working together to expand access to high-speed Internet, particularly in rural areas.

 

It is important to highlight that with respect to climate change, Atlantic Canada is leading the nation in mitigating the impacts of climate change and our efforts will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

 

Mr. Speaker, health care was also top of mind with a focus on patient-centered care and improved health outcomes. Premiers discussed federal health funding allocations and the need to consider cost drivers such as demographics and prevalence of chronic disease in future enhancements to health care transfers.

 

I am pleased to highlight that the Atlantic Provinces are moving forward with joint procurement of anesthesia and ultrasound equipment. The estimated savings are approximately $6.1 million over the next three years, with more savings to be realized in coming years as governments work together to identify further joint purchasing opportunities.

 

Mr. Speaker, I was glad to participate in this productive meeting and to put forward the interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I thank the Premier for an advance copy of his statement today. We know co-operation amongst Atlantic premiers is important and benefits can certainly be born of these relationships. I do, however, find it interesting that the Premier's discussions focused heavily on strengthening the economy and population growth, certainly in stark contrast to the Liberal budget we've seen here in this province, the one that has smothered our economy, devastated our residents and shattered business confidence.

 

Hopefully, the Premier was able to borrow some good ideas from his counterparts in Atlantic Canada. The fact is people in this province see our government's budget as a population growth strategy. Unfortunately, it's not one for Newfoundland and Labrador; it's one for the rest of Canada because a lot of our residents are going to leave here and head to other provinces. We know the other premiers will certainly benefit from that. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I thank the Premier for the advance copy of his statement. I note the premiers discussed the federal health transfers, but I would have liked to have heard a strong call from them urging the federal government to move to a formula that doesn't hurt provinces with small and aging populations. We're waiting too long for this.

 

The discussion about strengthening the economy is rather ironic when this government is doing everything to weaken our economy and create barriers to business and jobs. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to highlight our government's support for mineral prospectors in this province and to inform residents of ongoing registration for the upcoming Prospectors Training Course.

 

The provincial government is partnering again this year with the College of the North Atlantic to offer the course, which qualifies those who complete the program for a Genuine Prospector designation under the province's Mineral Act. A Genuine Prospector can stake up to 30 claims a year without having to pay a security deposit.

 

The Prospectors Training Course is intensive and field oriented and provides training in prospecting and sampling methods, rock and mineral identification, basic geology and mineral deposit types. This year's course is being held at Bay St. George campus in Stephenville from May 30 to June 10. Applications are being accepted up to May 23, and I invite anyone who has a keen interest in prospecting to find more information on the Department of Natural Resources website.

 

By encouraging prospectors, our government is providing a basis for future mineral development. We support the mining sector through such areas as prospector training and mentoring, the Mineral Incentives Program, public geoscience, the core storage program, promotions and efficient and transparent regulation.

 

The mineral industry employs over 7,000 people in this province, a majority of them in rural areas, and there is significant investment in exploration, development and mine operations.

 

We are committed to achieving long-term sustainability in the mining industry. The Prospectors Training Course supports this goal by providing educational opportunities to encourage growth and development in the mining sector.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I thank the minister for the advance copy of her statement today. I, too, would like to bring attention to the upcoming prospectors training course and to encourage individuals with an interest in mineral development to register for the course.

 

Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to thank the program partner, the College of the North Atlantic, for offering the course again this year. This program has been educating prospectors for over two decades and interest in the program continues to grow.

 

We believe that investments in this program will lead to a brighter future for the mining industry in our province and there's lots of potential. However, I'd like to take a moment to note that it's been some time since the minister has given the people of the province an update on mining activity in the province, especially on activity in Labrador. So while the minister says that government is committed to achieving long-term sustainability in the industry, I respectfully challenge her to outline what actions she's taken since coming into office to support this commitment.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of her statement. It's good news that the program is being offered again. I hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this course. I also hope women will be encouraged to participate and that the minister has ensured resources are in place to encourage women into this typically male-dominated profession.

 

We are enthusiastic about the mining industry but it must be sustainable both socioeconomically and environmentally and must bring solid benefits to all the people of the province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to acknowledge the important work of the Murphy Centre.

 

The Murphy Centre was originally established in 1986 in response to youth whose educational needs were not being met in the traditional classroom setting. From the high school credit program, personal development and career services, to the Adult Basic Education program, this centre helps young people reach their academic goals and prepares them for future employment opportunities.

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the centre to meet with staff, students and teachers to discuss the centre's various programs and achievements over the past year.

 

From the time you walk into the Murphy Centre you become a part of the community. The compassion and interest in a student's development and achievement was evident in every teacher I spoke with.

 

We don't always know the life experiences that impact and shape a student's life. This September, the Murphy Centre will celebrate its 30th anniversary. I am very pleased that the provincial government continues to support the centre which provides alternative ways for our students to learn.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement. I, too, would like to extend my congratulations to the Murphy Centre on their 30th anniversary. They continue to provide valuable education service to the students as part of a community.

 

I had the privilege some 30 years ago to be part of the opening of the Murphy Centre and have seen first-hand over the last number of decades the great work they do and how they are a community when it comes to creative ways of providing education to people who have some challenges.

 

I, too, particularly would like to acknowledge the two Tims, the captains at the helm of the Murphy Centre, Tim Turner and Tim Thorne, who for decades have guided the Murphy Centre to where it is today.

 

On behalf of the Opposition, congratulations, and we wish them many more years of educating our young people.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. I'm delighted to congratulate the Murphy Centre on the 30 years of helping so many young people, including many who have gone on to achieve major academic career and life goals.

 

The Murphy Centre has proven time and again that alternative learning methods are of great value. Given its success, I ask government to actively encourage similar learning centres, with the Murphy Centre as a model, to operate in other areas of the province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Oral Questions.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, during the election campaign just a few short months ago, one of the Premier's many promises made was to turn an $8 million economic development investment into $78 million this year. He promised to sell government assets to raise $50 million.

 

I ask the Premier, if taxing and fees is the only new generation of revenue that this government will create. If not, when will you reveal your new revenue generation plan?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The election platform was one that we put out there. Of course, we still see significant opportunity within assets around our province that were future assets that really do not deliver any services to the people of our province right now.

 

It's important we get an assessment of where these assets would be, and in many situations work with communities because they could actually take advantage of some of the opportunities that would see in their communities to use these retired assets. In some cases it's just a matter of reducing the cost. That is a savings for the current government.

 

Unfortunately, what we've seen from the prior administration, they continued to ignore the stranded value or the cost that was costing our government for many, many years. Many of these empty buildings are sitting in many communities in our province right now that could add benefit to communities, but is no longer a benefit to government.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

So I guess the $8 million plan, the investment to create $78 million, is off the table and there is no other new revenue generation. We know there are only two options: one is to generate revenue and the other one is to reduce programs and expenses. We know we have another budget coming the fall.

 

I ask the Premier: Your plan still continues, I would think, to cut jobs this fall. When are you going to come clean with the public servants of Newfoundland and Labrador and let them know what's in their future?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It's interesting today that the former premier mentions the two options that you have, either to increase revenue or reduce programs or costs, as he mentioned, within government. It's unfortunate that he did not do a better job of that and just pretend the last 10, 12 years of his administration didn't exist, because that's what we've seen right now. The failure to actually plan and manage for the future of our province leaves us in the situation that we're in today.

 

The commitment that we've made to public sector workers, we stand firm to this, is to negotiate in good-faith bargaining. We value our public sector workers for the work that they do in supplying critical services to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Again, we have no answer from the Premier. Premier, economists are suggesting that to meet your Liberal target budget amounts and your promises from last year's campaign that substantial reductions in programs will have to occur.

 

If you won't tell me what the impact will be on public servants, maybe you'll take some time to explain what programs you intend on reducing and cutting further in the fall budget coming up.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Interesting the former premier mentions about plans and so on and how we would pay for those. In his own election platform just a few months ago that he said earlier, they had this long-term care strategy, as he called it, to put services in place in Newfoundland and Labrador. When you look for the budget figure on that cost, it was kind of cost neutral.

 

Well, I guess it would be very difficult to understand if you had a program and it would be cost neutral. Who, indeed, was going to be making the donation to actually provide the operations of that?

 

So these are some of the shortfalls that we've seen from the previous administration. For us, it is still good-faith bargaining, a fair negotiating process for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with our public sector unions.

 

It seems to me the former premier would want us to negotiate in the public. That is something that we are not prepared to do.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well the question was about programs, not about public servants, and the Premier still refuses to answer.

 

People stop me every single day, and they say: Why is it they won't answer a question you ask in the House of Assembly? They never do it. They never provide an answer, and we're seeing it again here today, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will try this with the Premier. Yesterday, the President of the Canadian Bar Association for Newfoundland and Labrador – when referring to court closures – said, “Closure of such courts works to undermine access to justice for residents of this province, and in particular the most vulnerable and impoverished residents ....”

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: If you're making decisions based on evidence and listening, why are you closing the courts when there's so much evidence saying you shouldn't do so?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

I'm happy to stand here and speak to this. Certainly, I did receive correspondence from the local president of the Canadian Bar Association. In fact, I'm looking forward to having a chat with them very soon to discuss this.

 

Again, as the representatives for lawyers in this province, I would certainly expect that they are going to contact us and talk about legal services and courts closing. I would expect no less.

 

The fact is we have to make very tough decisions. They are certainly not decisions that I like having to make but we have to make tough decisions based on the situation we find ourselves in.

 

It's not something that the Member opposite likes to bring up, but the fact is he actually closed circuit courts in many parts of rural Newfoundland when his government was in power.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

So the Minister of Justice and Public Safety rises and criticizes us for closing courts, and what does he do instead of fixing it? He closes more, Mr. Speaker. That's what we get from Members opposite. They dig deeper. He said what we did was wrong and he does even more of it. That's what their answer is over there.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the Premier this, or maybe the Minister of Justice will answer on his behalf again. Because people are going to be challenged in travelling the long distances to court – I'm told there are about 80,000. I think one of the Members behind you quoted, I think, 80,000 citizens utilize the court in Harbour Grace.

 

What programs and supports will you provide to the people who are going to be challenged with the need for transportation back and forth to St. John's to avail of court services? What programs and services will you provide for them?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

Certainly the first thing I would suggest to the Member opposite is that he at least get his math right because the number is certainly nowhere near 80,000. In fact, if this is the kind of inaccurate information that the Member opposite if going to put out, unfortunately this is going to do nothing but cause more fear amongst the public.

 

The fact is we've had to make difficult decisions but, unfortunately, they are not decisions that we haven't seen elsewhere. There are many individuals in this province that have to travel tremendous distances to appear in court whether it's at a provincial or Supreme Court level, people on the West Coast, people in Central. That's not something that we like. It's not something that I'm sitting here saying we need more of but the fact is we have to make difficult decisions.

 

When it comes to Harbour Grace the bigger decision is why was this historic courthouse left to rot and be placed in a dilapidated situation where it requires a fix of $5 million to $10 million?

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We're just quoting from Members on your own side of the House, I say to the minister, in information that we're hearing that they are sharing with their own constituents. In fact, Members in the back row have tried petitioning their own government, but the voters from their districts are wondering: Are the MHAs actually advocating for them or are they doing it just for show?

 

Now, just yesterday the MHA for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave, on plans to close the Harbour Grace courthouse, stated in the media that the facts are there, is what she said. Thousands of people in this region come through the doors of the courthouse annually.

 

So if you won't listen to the people, you won't listen to anything we have to say or ask, will you listen to your own Members?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, the fact is that many of our Members – and I don't think anybody is happy with a lot of the decisions that we've been forced to make, faced with the situation left to us by the former premier and his government.

 

The fact is we encourage these things. In fact, I encourage the Member to continue to work for that. I've had a number of conversations with her and a number of conversations with the mayor of that community. The fact is I don't expect them to like this situation, but we encourage them to put forward their views as opposed to the Opposition who, when they were in government, stifled any dissent. However, I did see one petition during Bill 42 that was signed by their own staffers.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, I look forward to the budget vote to see if they are standing with their people or with their government opposite.

 

We know the Canadian Bar Association has written the minister. We know a group of lawyers from that region have written and expressed serious concerns with the closure of the Harbour Grace courthouse in particular. It is not about the building; it's about the service provided to the people and access to justice provided to people.

 

He just said himself mayors are having difficulties with it and his own Members, his own MHAs, are saying it's wrong; it's not the right thing to do.

 

If you want to be a listening government, you say you're going to respond to what people say, Premier, why is it you're not listening to people when they're very concerned about the delivery of justice in that area?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I think that one of the things that Member opposite forgets is that in order to have access to justice, you do need a physical structure in which to have the court. The problem we're faced with in Harbour Grace is that the historic courthouse was left to rot and requires a fix of $5 million to $10 million. We are forced then to accommodate another building at a cost of $300,000 per year, which is just an extraordinary amount of money when looking at the other situation we're placed in.

 

In fact, I've been in touch with our Members and everybody else to say, look, we're always willing to listen to solutions to fix these problems. Of course I'm going to hear from lawyers in that area. This is something that is going to affect them and their clients.

 

Again, I look forward to having a meeting with that crowd as well to listen to their views, hear what they have to say and always work towards finding a better way forward.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island. 

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

We are hearing from many library users and librarians that the process used to select which libraries will be closed was flawed. Users in rural areas are baffled as to why their well-utilized libraries are now slated for closure.

 

Can the Minister of Education table the evidence used to select which libraries will close? 

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the board that was appointed by the previous government and, I guess, selected in other means across the province made this decision based on empirical evidence. We recognize, along with the board, that the libraries of tomorrow are different than the libraries that we've had in the past. That's why the board decided to move to a regional model as part of the Government Renewal Initiative.

 

If the Member has any questions – he has not contacted me, to date – I will provide him with a response, as I have, with single member of the public who has contacted me about this to date.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bay Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the minister continues to blame the volunteer board. I spoke to the library board and was told that they were presented with five scenarios by the department and that government – through the removal of funds – forced the library board to select the best of the worst scenarios.

 

Can the minister confirm that this is true? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I can confirm that is not true. As part of the Government Renewal Initiative all departments, agencies, boards and commissions of government were asked in January to find up to 30 per cent savings because of the fiscal cliff that we going over as a result of the wasteful spending of the government that was here previous to this one.

 

As a result of that process, the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board submitted four presentations to government – the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board submitted four presentations to government, one of them was about the closure of somewhere in the order of 70 community libraries. The officials in the department worked to refine the fifth proposal.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: I make note to the minister that it was his department who forced the libraries board to use a process that was good for them. The president of the Newfoundland Federation of School Councils stated in the media that full-day kindergarten shouldn't be rushed through at the expense of the education of older children.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have no trouble tossing away other promises they made. Why are they pushing through now on the backs of older children?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador is the last province in Canada to implement a full day of kindergarten. We are the last province in Canada to implement a full day of kindergarten.

 

Last week, we had three people come to the province from British Columbia, from Ontario, from Nova Scotia to do professional development with senior administrators in the province about the benefits of full-day kindergarten. We have talked about the research here at length. I won't recite all of that because I really don't have enough time in my response. However, we are going to be ready for this program in September and have made significant investment in it thus far. It makes absolutely no sense, considering the return on investment, to reverse direction now.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: Apparently only the minister thinks that this is the right move at this time.

 

Instead of increasing class cap sizes, introducing combined classrooms and reducing intensive core French, I ask the minister: Will you consider postponing the implementation of all-day kindergarten?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I encourage the Member opposite to read the weekend The Telegram on a regular basis. There was an editorial or – there was an opinion piece in there last weekend at around 300 or 400 words from Dr. David Philpott, who's an expert in early learning and special education and affiliated with the Jimmy Pratt Foundation. It's a local philanthropic organization that has been advocating for better early learning and care for years. Also by Margaret Norrie McCain who is with the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, another philanthropic organization that has pushed the previous government into implementing full-day kindergarten.

 

There are plenty of voices in favour of it. I get emails on a regular basis and calls from people who want to move ahead. So I don't know why the Member wants to pull the rug out from under their feet.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: I guess when the time is right I'll share the tens of thousands that I get about people who are saying we shouldn't move forward right now with that – tens of thousands.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: We'll have a good debate come budget time.

 

This past Saturday, I attended a large rally at Riverside Elementary. It was organized by parents and students upset with the recent decision to axe the planned expansion of the school.

 

Why was that much-needed project axed by the Liberals? Parents, students, teachers, even the local MHA want to know the answer.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: I'll tell you the answer, Mr. Speaker. Despite having access to some $25 billion in oil and other royalties and income, the previous government waited until they were on their way out the door last year to announce several hundred million dollars' worth of infrastructure.

 

Now I don't know why modular classrooms are no longer suitable to the Official Opposition because during the time that they were in government, actually over the past six years at a cost of about $18 million to $20 million they employed – they put in 41 modular classrooms at schools across the province.

 

Holy Trinity Elementary in Torbay has eight modular classrooms and I never heard the Member for Cape St. Francis ever say a word about that being a bad direction to go in.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, obviously I need to clarify to the minister that modular classrooms are a good tool but in our administration we built 38 new schools. We renovated 42 other ones to ensure people – 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: – had the proper learning environment, Mr. Speaker.

 

The MHA for Terra Nova is now writing me to find out the status of work completed on Riverside Elementary.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Can the minister advise the House of Assembly and his own caucus Members, what work has been undertaken to support renovations to Riverside Elementary prior to taking office in December?

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I could report that the previous administration did very little work on preparing for the extension to Riverside Elementary – very little work. I would say that it was such a pressing issue, why is it they waited until the dying days of their administration to do something?

 

As I said before, modular classrooms were used over a period of six years by the previous administration. They put in 42 modular classrooms. Villanova Junior High had five put in; Paradise Elementary had four put in; Dorset Collegiate had four put in, and I could go on and on about this. With the five modulars that are going to be added to Riverside Elementary, we don't see there being any school capacity issues in terms of enrolment going up to 2021. After that, the pressure is even less, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Again, Mr. Speaker, I'll explain to the minister that the modular classrooms while necessary were a temporary fix. We were moving forward to enhance learning and the environment for students to learn productively. 

 

Five schools are slated for closure, three have had construction delayed and three have construction deferred indefinitely.

 

I ask the minister: How do you expect thousands of our students to continue in overcrowded schools while various educational programs are being cancelled due to lack of space?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: It is interesting that the Member opposite gets up and talks about overcrowded schools. I was at a public meeting in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's just over a year ago where that Member guaranteed parents, teachers and students in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's that the new school they promised for years was going to be ready for this September.

 

Well, that Member was minister of Transportation and Works. As a result of his incompetence in that position, that school is not going to be ready for this September; in fact, it will not be ready for another full year. Then he has the gall to stand up and complain about overcrowding.

 

You should have done something about it when you were over here. Don't complain about it now.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: I'm asking all Members of the House, when a Member is stood and recognized to speak that we respect that Member's right to speak. Both sides of the House, I'm asking again today to respect the Member that's stood and recognized to speak.

 

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Yesterday, the Premier sent out a news release with other Atlantic premiers talking about economic growth. Here at home, the Liberal budget will grind our provincial economy to a halt.

 

I ask the Premier: How can you suggest that you're focused on growing the economy when your budget does the opposite?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'm sure the former deputy premier would know that if he went back over his own budget documents for several years now, you would see that the trending in terms of the economy in our province – all the economic indicators were pointing downward for this period of time. It's unfortunate that the former deputy premier did not plan for where we are today because in the anticipated deficit that we are – oil, which is what they built their whole administration on, it would have to be at $148 a barrel to actually get us to a balanced budget right now.

 

There are extreme difficulties and fiscal challenges that we're facing within this province. I would just wish that we were in a situation today that there had been better planning for the economy in our province. I can assure you right now that we will put corrective measures in place and we will get the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador back on the right track.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, we had a plan and we were honest about it.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: We grew the economy while his budget will shrink the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has been in office for almost six months. All we hear are vague statements. All we see are broken promises.

 

I ask the Premier: What specifically has his government done to diversify and grow our economy?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, it seems to me the former deputy premier wants to stand by his own economic plan for the future of our province. As an example, one year ago they were predicting the deficit in our province would have been just shy of $900 million.

 

In actual fact, as a result of the work of their administration, which was dreadful at its best, and I can assure you now would have gotten a failing grade by anyone who would have assessed it, we would have been not a $900 million deficit but, indeed, it would have been a $2.7 billion deficit.

 

I would ask the former deputy premier when he stands up again: Is he satisfied with a $2.7 billion deficit, asking future generations to pay for the things we enjoy today? Is that still his position?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: I'll tell the Premier what I'm not satisfied with. I'm not satisfied with his lack of leadership, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: His budget will shrink the economy. His budget will drive young people away from Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: His budget will drive people in this province into poverty.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: I ask the Premier: When will you start taking responsibility and showing leadership? Where is your economic plan?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

First and foremost, we have to make responsible decisions. Something the former deputy premier did not do. Accept responsibility for your own actions and stop pretending that the last 10 or 12 years didn't exist under your administration.

 

We are taking corrective measures today. It starts with getting your own fiscal house in order. It's something we had to do. We've had to make some tough decisions, Mr. Speaker, I would say. We know that and we understand that, but you can never create an economy, never get your economy back on track, first and foremost you have to get your own financial house in order. That is the corrective measures we've taken. In doing so, we've protected seniors in our province, low-income earners in our province and the most vulnerable.

 

We will continue to do that. We will work with the business community in our province to make sure we do have a strong economic future.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, lots of blame and no plan.

 

The Atlantic premiers talked about the importance of population growth in growing our economy. The recent budget in this province will shrink our economy and drive young people away.

 

So what is our government doing to support growth in this region? Is the Premier actually supporting his Atlantic colleagues by driving people out of our province and into theirs? Is that part of his plan, or does he have a plan at all for the economy, Mr. Speaker?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, in Budget 2016-2017, there are significant investments that would create many hundreds of jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador – infrastructure investments, nearly $570 million worth of infrastructure investments over multi-years. We've worked with many associations within our communities that actually drive much of the work that occurs there. This creates economic activity. Mr. Speaker, in doing so, we will always protect the most vulnerable in our province. 

 

Full-day kindergarten is another example of investments that we are making in young families in Newfoundland and Labrador. So inside this budget, there are certainly many different things that will actually spur the economy and create economic growth; infrastructure spending is just one of those.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, is the Premier actually suggesting that this budget which will grind our economy to a halt, is he actually suggesting that it's going to grow the economy?

 

For 10 years we grew the economy. Now, six months in, the Premier continues to demonstrate that he has no plan and he has taken no action.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. KENT: He won't answer my question, Mr. Speaker, so I'll ask him again: What is your plan to grow the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador? You've had six months, still no plan.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Well the former deputy premier talks about the last six months and no plan. What we saw for 12 years was one plan, single focus, nothing but oil. Once oil fell off and the production declined and price declined, the economy stalled. The economy was brought to its knees.

 

What they see for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador is continue to borrow, create debt and let debt be the second biggest industry in our province. That's their administration. That was their plan; continue to borrow so the next generation will pay for the benefits that he wants to enjoy today.

 

Ask your kids how much are they prepared to pay on your behalf, I'd say, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Before I recognize the hon. the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi – I'm not cutting into her time; they will get their five minutes. The level of noise in the Legislature during question and answer period is not acceptable. I've allowed some chirping back and forth, without loud or continuous heckling. I'm getting to the point that that is going to be cut out completely as well.

 

If I can't hear the speaker who is recognized to speak myself, neither can anybody else.

 

The hon. the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi. 

 

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

 

This government promised to take politics out of government appointments to agencies, boards and commissions, but last night in debate on Bill 1, the Independent Appointments Commission Act, this same government voted against an amendment that would have seen the commission selected by an all-party committee of the House rather than by Cabinet.

 

I ask the Premier: How does keeping control of the makeup of the commission in Cabinet's own hands lead to the less partisan system they promised?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Independent Appointments Commission that will be established in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think is a great step forward in putting people, individuals, in Newfoundland and Labrador that are merit-based, has the technical experience, to help make the decisions that we must make in Newfoundland and Labrador. These appointments, which are really something that we have never seen in our province before – as you know, prior administrations, even some NDP administrations that we see in other provinces, have not taken the proactive measures that we've taken to put in place.

 

What you will see here is there will be a resolution with the commission's names that will come to this House. They will debate it here and then the committee will be put in place. We will use our Public Service Commission; unlike we've seen in this Legislature or in this province any time in the past.

 

So I'm looking forward to seeing some fantastic names, and I encourage all Members in this House to reach out into the community, engage Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in some important work that needs to be done in our province.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I ask the Premier: How does a body that merely makes non-binding recommendations to Cabinet or to a particular minister and is itself selected by Cabinet be named an Independent Appointments Commission?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, the self-selection that the Member refers to – actually, the names will come through a resolution in this House of Assembly here and then she will have the opportunity to have her say.

 

I'm suggesting – and I will predict something – that she will actually support and endorse those names. I think she'll be very proud and when she's asked by the media to respond to this, I believe that the Member opposite will be supporting those names. That's what I'm suggesting right now and predicting.

 

Added to that, the people that will be serving those boards, we will be reporting to the House of Assembly on the people that would be doing the work that is required and we are going to be asking them to do. I think that it would be very fair to the individuals that she may know that would be interested – I would suggest that you go out and get those people in Newfoundland and Labrador that can add that valuable contribution which is required.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I ask the Premier: What process will we use; they would not vote for an all-party committee, so we aren't allowed to tell them who to put on the commission.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I think there's probably a step in the process that the Member opposite has forgotten about: the Public Service Commission. Resumes and people that are interested will feed into the Public Service Commission. They will be screened and based on the experience and the technical ability that they would have to be part of some of our valuable boards and agencies that we would have in our province, then that would be taken to the commission that I am sure the Member opposite will be supporting in the next few weeks.

 

With that, the names will be selected and the Independent Appointments Commission, we will use that process. We will put some great people in Newfoundland and Labrador, people that we have not seen. It will not be based on political patronage, as the Member opposite is suggesting, but we will have Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the right place doing the great work that I'm sure they're interested in doing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women: Did she ask the Women's Policy Office to analyze and apply a gender lens to Bill 1, An Act to Establish an Independent Appointments Commission. If so, will she table that report?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as the minister responsible for the Women's Policy Office, I can assure the Member opposite that office was engaged in the construction of the legislation that we debated in this House last night. I'm very proud of the work that has been done by that office.

 

I'm even prouder of the fact that, from an operational perspective, we've already begun conversations with important stakeholders to make sure that the opportunity for women to participate in the Independent Appointments Commission process is one that is taken advantage of by every woman in this province that wants to do that.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The time for Question Period has expired.

 

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

 

Tabling of Documents.

 

Notices of Motion.

 

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

 

Petitions.

 

Petitions

 

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

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

WHEREAS as a result of Budget 2016, X-ray services at the Bonavista Peninsula Community Health Centre will be closed after 4 p.m. until 8 a.m.; and

 

WHEREAS this will mean that anyone needing an X-ray after 4 p.m. will have to travel elsewhere via ambulance; and

 

WHEREAS as a result of Budget 2016, laundry services will also be cut resulting in laundry being transferred to St. John's;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to immediately direct Eastern Health to reverse cuts to X-ray and laundry services at the Bonavista Peninsula Community Health Centre.

 

And as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, we're hearing from concerned people right across Newfoundland and Labrador. I've been hearing a lot from people on the Bonavista Peninsula. Today's petition is signed by residents of Port Union, Bonavista and Catalina. They're very concerned about cuts, not only to health services but to other services in the region as well.

 

In fact, there's a story in the media today featuring a community activist who is so concerned about cuts to the AES office that she used her own vehicles to block the doors of the office. It's a sign of desperation, Mr. Speaker.

 

People feel they're not being heard. They're not being listened to. They don't have a voice. So we will do our best to ensure people, no matter where they live in the province, no matter what district they find themselves in, that they do have a voice.

 

Specifically to the health services, there are many concerns being expressed by residents of the Bonavista Peninsula. One resident wrote me and feels that physicians will no longer want to come here to work, with no diagnostic testing available on evenings and weekends. Locum physicians will also be reluctant to come here during physician shortages.

 

Nurses are already working tremendous amounts of overtime and extra hours. The lack of X-ray services will result in increased workload with transfers to other facilities, usually double time for travel, increase stress for nurses monitoring patients who do not have a diagnosis. It's a major patient safety issue. X-rays are used to rule out many different types of potentially life-threatening conditions. This will affect Port Rexton, Trinity, the Southern Bay down to Bonavista.

 

Mr. Speaker, people have real concerns. They want answers on how any of this will actually save money and they want answers on how it will impact their safety and their lives on the Bonavista Peninsula.

 

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to raise these concerns in the House of Assembly on behalf of those residents.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WHEREAS the Deficit Reduction Levy is an extremely regressive surtax placing a higher tax burden on low- and middle-income taxpayers; and

 

WHEREAS surtaxes are typically levied on the highest income earners only as currently demonstrated in other provinces as well as Australia, Norway and other countries; and

 

WHEREAS government states in the 2016 provincial budget that the personal income tax schedule needs to be revised and promises to do so;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to ensure that the Deficit Reduction Levy be eliminated and any replacement measure be based on progressive taxation principles and that an independent review of the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial income tax system begin immediately to make it fairer to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians;

 

And as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Once again, Mr. Speaker, I bring another load of petitions into the House that have been sent in by people who are just absolutely, totally concerned about what's going to happen to them when all the different measures that are in Budget 2016 are put in place, the levy being one of the big ones that really concerns them.

 

As I've said before in this House, whether it's people who are here in St. John's, people who are in Wabush, Labrador, people who are down the Southern Shore, from all over the province I have petitions today, Mr. Speaker. These people are really worried, both about and about others. Low-income people and low middle-income people are going to be severely hit by this budget, and government continues to refuse to recognize what's going to happen.

 

Middle-income people have proven to us that they are going to be losing a good $3,000 to $4,000 from their pocket. Money they don't have, Mr. Speaker. They are concerned also about people who are lower than they are. People who are living on $20,000 a year and less do not have any extra money in their pockets, Mr. Speaker, to pay the rise in the HST, to pay another 18.5 cents on every litre of gas that goes into their automobiles.

 

We're going to see a rise, Mr. Speaker, in people lined up for food banks in this province. I hope this government will be happy when they see more people lined up for food banks in this province. If the Premier likes to say – to me when he stands on his feet – I'll be happy with what they come up with, the commission. I'm going to tell him, I'm not going to be happy when we see what happens with this budget.

 

Thank you very much. 

 

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

 

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

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

 

WHEREAS our province's seniors deserve quality care and assistance when residing in long-term care facilities; and

 

WHEREAS our province is currently experiencing an escalating shortage of long-term care beds;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to explore all options, including partnerships, to create new long-term care beds in the province.

 

And as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I guess this is an issue that's been talked about at great length over the last number of years. Everyone knows long-term care is one of the biggest issues facing our seniors in the province. As we all know, we have an aging population. Seniors have been a great topic of discussion.

 

The previous government made great strides toward trying to deal with the long-term care shortage in the province by moving forward on some new strategies and creating more long-term care beds; but, as we know, the current government decided to go another route which we've yet to see the alternate plan outside of closing Masonic Park.

 

Mr. Speaker, seniors need our attention. They are asking for us to speak up for them, which is what we're doing here now. Long-term care is a real issue. Sound bites are great but action is better.

 

The closure of Masonic Park is – even though a net gain, net loss. We're being told there was no loss in beds but regardless, the beds that were lost at Masonic Park are still lost through the system. 

 

When you have our hospitals being occupied now by seniors waiting to get into a long-term care home, it is a real issue, Mr. Speaker. I deal with it in my own district. I have several heartbreaking stories of seniors trying to get into homes, trying to get with their spouse. We have a real shortage.

 

We're still waiting on the current government to follow through on some of their commitments. As I said before, you live in hope and die in despair, but I hope it is a hopeful thought.

 

We need to find ways to make progress. Find new innovative ways to deal with the real issue being experienced by real people in this province, Mr. Speaker, and they are seniors.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WHEREAS government has once again cut the libraries budget, forcing the closure of 54 libraries; and

 

WHEREAS libraries are often the backbone of their communities, especially for those with little access to government services where they offer learning opportunities and computer access; and

 

WHEREAS libraries and librarians are critical in efforts to improve the province's literacy levels which are among the lowest in Canada; and

 

WHEREAS already strapped municipalities are not in a position to take over the operation and costs of libraries;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to keep these libraries open and work on a long-term plan to strengthen the library system.

 

And as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

I think, Mr. Speaker, our celebrated writer Kevin Major probably, most accurately in one line summed up the reaction of the people of the province to this announcement of library closures. He wrote: Today I was humiliated by my government.

 

I believe that is an accurate reflection of how so many people feel because people can't grasp – how can they do this? To what end? Really, to what end has government done this? What do we get from it? It's a movement that actually impoverishes the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Some people talked about feeling like Newfoundland and Labrador has been made a laughing stock. We've heard from the Faculty of English at Memorial University, academics. We're hearing from people who use the libraries. It's not just about the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable people; it's about all the people of the province.

 

If we can't afford to keep our libraries open, what is this all about? To what end? We know we have the lowest literacy level in the whole country. We know that people use our libraries in our communities. In some of our communities, the libraries are sort of the heart of the community. People use them as meeting places. People use them to enhance their literacy. People use them for library access.

 

The ones on this side, the Official Opposition, already had closed a number of community access offices. So already people were reeling from that, and now to close our libraries with no consultation. Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador said there was absolutely no consultation with them. This is a regressive move backwards.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

WHEREAS the people of Bell Island deserve to have access to services that will assist them to gain employment and education; and

 

WHEREAS these services have provided proven results to the people of our province; and

 

WHEREAS decisions made in this budget by the current government have removed the Advanced Education and Skills office from Bell Island;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to reinstate the office of Advanced Education and Skills on Bell Island.

 

And as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege over my career, for a number of years working in the management field, of going back to Bell Island, my hometown, to work in the AES office.

 

I think a little bit of history for people when it comes to the importance of the AES office. Coming from a community that was a one-industry town, a very vibrant one, the second largest populace in the province next to St. John's, and in the '60s when that all fell apart, obviously, people who were based on a particular skill, a lot of it around labour intensive work, had to concentrate then – if there was no employment in this province at the time. In the mid to late '60s things weren't exactly booming in this province. People were stuck there with minimal education levels and minimal ability to gainfully find employment. So they had to rely on Income Support and social services of the day.

 

That office was integral over the last 40 years of giving people a hand up – and not a hand out – of finding ways to better engage the citizens, give them access to upgrading their education. The Adult Basic Education program – going back 30 years when the college system still existed there, before it was cut by a former Liberal administration – was very important in giving people the ability to get their high school equivalency, but also to get a trade.

 

Next to CONA at the time, or CNA campus here in St. John's, Bell Island had the largest campus. Five hundred students would go there every year from all over the province. It gave an opportunity for those who were on Income Support to be assessed and provided services.

 

As we move forward over the next generations, we found a different way of engaging people. The old days of the make-work projects – the make-work projects were important because it gave people a sense of pride; it gave them an ability to give something back to the community. Most of our communities were enhanced by the investments we did. It also got people into a routine of figuring I'd like to be able to go to another level, either upgrade my education or find some enhancement around employment.

 

The AES office as we know it now has evolved to a point where it's a support mechanism for people who come there, single parents who come there, older workers who come there, young people who have struggled in the school system and those who want to get back into the workforce. That process has been used to support people. Taking that away right now is detrimental to rural Newfoundland and Labrador and particularly Bell Island.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I call Orders of the Day.

 

Orders of the Day

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I would call from the Order Paper, Motion 16, I would move, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, May 17.

 

Motion 17, I would move, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 10 p.m. today, Tuesday, May 17.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would move, seconded by the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, for leave to introduce a bill, an act entitled, An Act To Amend The College Act, 1996, Bill 29, and I further move the said bill be now read the first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded by the hon. the Government House Leader that Bill 29, An Act To Amend The College Act, 1996, be now read a first time.

 

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

 

All those in favour?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Those against?

 

Carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The College Act, 1996,” carried. (Bill 29)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The College Act, 1996. (Bill 29)

 

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 29 has now been read a first time.

 

When shall the said bill be read a second time?

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Tomorrow.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

 

On motion, Bill 29 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, at this point I would call Order 4, second reading of Bill 27.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Today, I'm here speaking to Bill 27, which is An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly.

 

I would move this, seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that Bill 27, An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly, be now read a second time.

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly.” (Bill 27)

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'm getting ahead of myself here today. It's almost like we had a late night here or something. I am standing here to speak to Bill 27, An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly.

 

I guess the precursor to this – this, in many ways, is a companion piece of sorts. As we all know we debated Bill 1 which has now passed third reading for the Independent Appointments Commission, which is a commission now which will govern all bodies, agencies and commissions in this province. That includes what we call our statutory offices here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

We have six. We have the Auditor General, which is pursuant to the Auditor General Act; the Citizens' Representative, which falls under the Citizens' Representative Act; the Child and Youth Advocate under the Child and Youth Advocate Act; the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which falls under ATIPPA, 2015; the Chief Electoral Officer, which falls under the Elections Act, 1991; and the Commissioner of Legislative Standards, which falls under the House of Assembly Act. I would point out that number five and six are the same individual.

 

The fact is that we have these statutory offices, and I don't think I need to get into a very lengthy debate about the importance of each one of these offices which have all evolved over the passage of time. For instance, when you talk about our Information and Privacy Commissioner – in fact, in doing this, I went back and looked into a bit of the history. The Information and Privacy Commissioner actually came to place back in 2003. Actually the first commissioner was a gentleman named Wayne Mitchell who actually came into place prior to the act being enforced. So in the grand scheme of things, we are not talking about a significant amount of time when it comes to that particular piece of legislation or officer. 

 

When we talk about our Commissioner for Legislative Standards and our Chief Electoral Officer, that's an office that's been in place since 1993, a bit longer history. The Citizens' Representative is an office that's been around since 2002 and the Child and Youth Advocate is an office that's been around since also 2002.

 

Finally, the Auditor General is an office that's actually been around – our first Auditor General was started in 1898. So in terms of seniority, the Auditor General would be at the top of the list.

 

Now each of these offices has a very important role. I guess if we want to talk about them in layman's terms, the Information and Privacy Commissioner obviously – and we've heard a lot about this office, especially over the last number of years. They deal with the right of access to information for people but also the protection of people's privacy when it comes to release of said information.

 

The Commissioner for Legislative Standards and Chief Electoral Officer, this is the individual that handles elections in the province but also ensures that all Members follow – and again, we swear an oath and we have rules that we need to follow and these are handled by this individual. I will point out that that individual is a gentleman named Mr. Victor Powers who actually is moving on and has given his notice to retire.

 

We wish him well and thank him for his service to this province. He has done that role actually since 2011. It has been just about five years in that position and it is a significant term. That's an office that there will be a vacancy in very shortly.

 

The Citizens' Representative, we've had three individuals doing that role and actually that's held now by a gentleman named Mr. Barry Fleming. The Citizens' Representative is an ombudsman whose role is to represent citizens when it comes to issues of – that can fall under just about anything.

 

Every year their report is actually tabled here in the House. I always take an opportunity to read the report and talk about issues that are brought forward by citizens in this province where they feel they may be aggrieved or have issues that are not being addressed properly, whether it's a case of discrimination, they haven't been treated properly.

 

Again there's a process in place where complaints come in, they're investigated and, in some cases, the commissioner does a report. It's another important role that's done on behalf of citizens of this province.

 

The Child and Youth Advocate has been around since 2002 and currently it is serviced by Ms. Carol Chafe who's been in that role since 2010. I think when we talk about – again, it was certainly before my time here in this House, but there is no one that questions the role and the duty done by these individuals when it comes to the protection of children and youth in our province. We've had some sad episodes in this province when it comes to things that have happened here, when we talk about things like the Turner inquiry, just absolute tragedies that have happened in this Province.

 

It is one of the things that our Child and Youth Advocate have taken on. In fact, it led to – and I believe it was created by the previous administration. The Department of Child, Youth and Family Service came out of this as well. I mean, there has been a definite move towards increased protection, increased awareness when it comes to the protection of children and youth in this province. We all know the stories that go around. It's a very tough role and, in fact, we have an independent individual as well as we have that department.

 

Finally, we have the Auditor General of the province who, again, I'll put it as basic as you can get it. This is the person who looks at the books of the province. We have had a number of these individuals over the years. We have had a gentleman named Mr. Terry Paddon who's been in that role since 2012.

 

I found it interesting actually that the first Auditor General in this province – I presume a gentleman. It says F.C. Berteau. That person held the role for 36 years, 1898 to 1934. There were no terms or defined periods of time you could serve back then. He had 36 years serving in that role, which is absolutely amazing. Generally, right now, as it relates to the Auditor General, that's a 10-year position.

 

I've laid out the statutory offices were discussing here. I'm sure the Members opposite will have an opportunity to talk about their opinions on the offices, the individual's role and the work they do.

 

The purpose of this was that in looking at these pieces of legislation and these offices, the fact is they've evolved over a number of years and in many cases – I guess the intent of this piece of legislation was to bring a sense of uniformity to this. We have differences in terms of the length of time they can serve, differences in terms of the salary, differences in whether they can be reappointed or not, differences in how one would remove an individual from the office if there was cause or no cause. So there are a bunch of differences in these offices.

 

That's standard when you have offices that are created individually as opposed to being created the one time; you're going to have these differences. So what we've decided here is we wanted to bring some level of uniformity to make sure that – there is no one who is more important than the other. They all serve tremendous roles on behalf of the people of this province. They're all individuals who are independent of government. They fall under the House of Assembly. So what we've tried to do here is bring a sense of the same terms, conditions and when it comes to some idea of the expectations and what can be done for each of these pieces of legislation.

 

That's what we're talking about here. We want to standardize statutory offices. Some of the things we're talking about are the manner of appointment, the term of office, removal, suspension, salary and interim appointments. All of this is done in light of the fact that we've brought forward Bill 1 which was the Independent Appointments Commission, which all these offices will now fall under.

 

Previously, an individual would be selected by Cabinet, there would be a resolution brought to the House of Assembly and then debated on by all Members and a vote cast to appoint these individuals or not. As it was said before, the fact is I don't know if anyone has ever been turned down once a resolution has been brought forward. I know is some cases, it's certainly not unanimity. It's not always a unanimous vote. There have been cases where the Oppositions have voted against the resolution appointing certain individuals.

 

In this case, that's going to change now. What's going to happen is it's going to be the same thing, done through the Public Service Commission. We go through that process now where there's scrutiny, making sure we're taking into consideration all the different factors as we've discussed. Once it gets to that process and a person is deemed appropriate or – I guess that's the best word is appropriate – whether they meet the criteria to fit the bill for one of these offices, then it would go to an Independent Appointments Commission, which will then look at the individual submitted and select a roster of three names which will be submitted to Cabinet.

 

Again, I don't want to get too much into that process. I think we had a pretty lengthy debate here in this House on that process, whether you agree or disagree. Certainly, we think it's a step ahead of where we were, but what I want to talk about is why we're doing this. What we're saying is if we are going change the process for the appointment of these individuals, we should also standardize each of their offices and their roles so that there are some similarities there because they should be treated similarity. Each one is an important role.

 

The other thing I would suggest is that there's one change here. The Information and Privacy Commissioner, that one is a bit different; that one was dealt with in this House last year through the new ATIPP Act, 2015. That position is also filled by the LGIC. It is done on a resolution of the House of Assembly, but the process that was adopted in that piece of legislation that was decided here in this House of Assembly is that there was a selection committee that would submit a roster of candidates. The Speaker would consult with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and Third Party, and then the resolution would be put forward naming an individual, one individual on the roster. That would be confirmed within 10 days of the appointment.

 

So with this new legislation, the appointment of all officers will be subject to the IAC, except for the Information and Privacy Commissioner at this time. This office will be required to be filled within the next few weeks and the IAC will not be in place by that time.

 

So the fact is we have four of these offices that are coming up to be vacant this year. We know the Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner of Legislative Standards has indicated his retirement. We know that the access to information, IPC, Information Privacy Commissioner is actually, I think, due for June. I believe the Child and Youth Advocate is some time during 2016. I think it might be December of 2016. So that is actually four those positions there.

 

Right now, the Auditor General is a 10-year term, so Mr. Paddon will be in that role till 2022. And the Citizens' Representative has till, I'm not quite sure – I'll get into it; I have some notes here.

 

But the fact is that none of the current individuals will be affected by this. This is moving forward as opposed to being retroactive, so each of these individuals will not be affected. What it is, it's going to handle each vacancy as it comes open, going forward. It's just that we know that some of these are soon and we don't know that the IAC will be in place by that time, which is why we had no choice. In this case, we're also discussing interim appointments because we need to have a plan in place. We cannot have vacancies in these offices; you need to have them filled.

 

As I said earlier, the Information and Privacy Commissioner will follow the process set out in section 85 of the ATIPP Act, and I do have a copy of that here. This will be filled by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, so it will be filled by Cabinet on a resolution of the House. There is a selection committee and on that committee, it actually will comprise the Clerk of the Executive Council, Clerk of the House of Assembly, chief judge of Provincial Court, the president of Memorial University.

 

The selection committee will develop a roster of candidates and will publicly invite expressions and will submit that roster to the Speaker of the House, and the Speaker consults with the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition and will place a resolution in front of the House.

 

That's how that works. We feel that since that hasn't been used yet, we don't want to take out a process that we haven't even had a chance to follow through on. That's why that one will be left the same. We do note that that act has a five-year statutory review; as well, this act will have a statutory review. That will be looked at later on.

 

Like any piece of legislation that's dealt with in this House, you may have to reassess them, to look at them, to determine whether they should be changed, modified because you want to have the best piece of legislation forward. We've seen that in the House in the past, we've seen it here in this session and we'll see it going forward. That's how it works. Legislation becomes outdated, practices change and we need to have best practices.

 

Terms of office: Currently the Citizens' Rep, Child and Youth Advocate and Information and Privacy Commissioner are six-year terms, renewable once. The IPC's reappointment must be approved by a double majority vote. The AG is a one term, non-renewable, 10-year term; and the Commissioner for Legislative Standards serves a five-year term with unlimited renewable terms, while the Chief Electoral Officer's term has no expiry. Obviously you can see some significant differences there between these statutory offices.

 

With this legislation that we're putting forward, we'll see five statutory officers appointed for a six-year term, renewable once, with the exception of the Auditor General who will continue to serve a 10-year, non-renewable term. I believe that is actually in line with all the other provinces. I think when that was discussed, it was the purpose of when you have a 10-year term it allows you to have some continuity to ensure – again, when we're talking about the financial operations of a province, I think that's necessary. I don't think there is any issue or any conflict with that. 

 

Now, one of the issues that are discussed in this piece of legislation is removal when the House of Assembly is sitting and removal when the House of Assembly is not sitting. There was some discrepancy here amongst these statutory offices. So the language ranged, depending on which office you talked about. The Auditor General, Citizens' Representative and Commissioner for Legislative Standards may be removed for cause. The Child and Youth Advocate and IPC may be removed for incapacity, neglect of duty, or misconduct. So you have some significant discrepancy there in what would constitute a reason to have somebody removed from that position.

 

The purpose of this legislation is simply to standardize the process and the language. In this case, what will happen is an individual can be removed by the LGIC on resolution by the House of Assembly, passed by a majority vote of Members actually voting, and statutory officers may be removed for incapacity to act, misconduct, cause or neglect of duty. In this case, it's a standardization of the process. It will encompass all offices so that one office is not treated differently than another.

 

We have the same terms that can be applied to ensure that if this situation – again, that's a situation that we hope we never have to deal with in this province. We don't want to see a resolution put forward in this House asking for the removal of an independent officer of the House of Assembly. It's one of those clauses where you have it. It's better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it. In this case, certainly we don't want to see it but you have to be prepared for it.

 

Now, that's when the House is sitting. When the House is not sitting there's no provision in place for the suspension of the Chief Electoral Officer or the Commissioner for Legislative Standards when the House is not sitting. There are variations for suspensions for the other four statutory officers. The AG, the Child and Youth Advocate, the IPC and the Citizens' Rep may be suspended when the House is not in session, although the Citizens' Representative also requires a recommendation from the Management Commission. Only the IPC and Citizen's Representative specify that the suspension cannot continue beyond the end of the next sitting of the House of Assembly.

 

Again, these are the things that happen when you have offices created at different times, not at the same time as each other. You're going to have some differences in the legislation and in wording. We feel it should be – as we move forward here, as we bring in a new process, that we should have standardization. Through this legislation, the LG in Council may suspend any of the statutory officers when the House is not in session for incapacity, neglect of duty, cause and misconduct; however, the suspension cannot continue beyond the end of the next sitting of the House of Assembly.

 

We had to have those provisions there. The fact is that this House sits on – I guess if you look at our history, we sit usually twice a year. There have been times when the House comes back in session for an emergency session. So the fact is you need the opportunity to be able to make significant decisions like this, especially ones where you're talking about a resolution that's brought forward for something as serious as misconduct or cause. We need to have that ability there.

 

That would lead us to interim appointments. These are obviously important positions. They cannot be left vacant. Right now there are considerable variations between the pieces of legislation for the different stat officers.

 

The legislative amendment we're putting forward here would allow for an individual to be appointed by the LG in Council on recommendation of the Management Commission on an interim basis. In the event a person is unable to perform duties, the office becomes vacant or an officer is suspended.

 

In the case of the Commissioner for Legislative Standards, there is no legislative mechanism to appoint someone on an interim basis and we need to fix that. We actually know that right now the position is going to be vacant, number one. An interim appointment section will be necessary for this position. This term expires May 31.

 

So if the IAC is not in place by May 31, we have a situation where we do not have a Commissioner for Legislative Standards. I don't think anybody in this House would suggest that is something we want to happen or can allow to happen. We need to ensure there's somebody put forward in an interim position, knowing that going forward these individuals will go through this new independent appointments process and go through the Public Service Commission as well.

 

We need to have someone acting here. I don't know how long this process will take. I don't know how long the IAC will take to be put in place. Obviously, given what I've said here in this House, we have a number of vacancies, a number of positions that need to be filled. These stat offices are very serious ones that we need to have filled.

 

I don't know how long the work of the IAC will take. It's an independent group. I don't know how long that process will take. These are things we'll figure out as we move forward with this newly created group. There will be an interim appointment, the person is put in and then the permanent person will go through this new independent process.

 

I would move forward to discuss salary. We want to talk about consistency in the salary provisions for all statutory officers. This will be decided by the House of Assembly Management Commission which does have representation from all parties. They will be consulted.

 

Salaries will be set by the LG in Council after consultation with the Management Commission. I would note, and I think this is important, salaries will reflect the province's current fiscal situation. That's something we all face as MHAs, we face as Cabinet ministers. I think statutory officers should face this as well. You don't want to have a case where there's a significant yo-yoing of salaries. I don't think that's what anybody is suggesting. The fact is we need to ensure that they're commensurate with the place that we currently occupy fiscally.

 

When it comes to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, that's one change we will be putting forward when it comes from the ATIPP Act. Just to provide that information, when it comes to the IPC, the act currently states that the next salary for the Information and Privacy Commissioner shall be 75 per cent that of a Provincial Court judge. A Provincial Court judge right now is in the range of $215,000. So if you want to bring in that 75 per cent there, that will actually place that individual higher than the other statutory officers.

 

We all know it's been debated in this House, that right now an independent tribunal has actually recommended a raise for our Provincial Court judges in the range of $32,000. If we continue as is, using this legislation from 2015, that would raise the judge's salaries up to the $240,000 range, and then it would be 75 per cent of that. You would have a person doing a statutory office, similar to the other offices, getting paid a significant amount more and one that's actually contingent on when it comes to the judiciary.

 

What we're suggesting in our case here – we want to suggest both consistency and we want to suggest fiscal prudence. We are going to suggest an amendment to ATIPPA, 2015 so that the IPC compensation is in line with that of other statutory offices.

 

We do have some other amendments here. I don't think these are contentious by any means. The statutory officers will not be eligible to be nominated for election. I don't think anybody is going to disagree with that. They're not eligible to sit as an MHA. I think that would create a whole number of problems right there.

 

They can also not hold another public office with the exception of the Chief Electoral Officer who can also hold the role of Commissioner for Legislative Standards. That's been happening currently. I don't see there's any issue with that. I don't think you're going to hear any objection to that. So that would be the exception to the rule and vice versa. If you're a Commissioner for Legislative Standards you can be the Chief Electoral Officer.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. A. PARSONS: That's right.

 

The other thing is they cannot carry on a trade, business or profession. This is their role and it's a high standard to maintain one of these offices. These are things that are put in to protect and to safeguard the integrity of these offices, which I would also note there's certainly nobody saying here – these offices are held in high regard by everybody in this province. In fact, we've been very lucky to have individuals in these roles that, when they speak, there's respect given and we listen to what they have to say. There's no one questioning the integrity and we need to do everything we can to protect that and uphold that.

 

An amendment here again, uniformity. Statutory officers may resign in writing addressed to the Speaker. When it comes to pension benefits, the Public Service Pensions Act, 1991 will apply to statutory officers if they were subject to the PSPA before their appointment. If the Statutory Officer was not subject to the PSPA prior to their appointment they will be paid for contribution into an RRSP in an amount equivalent to a contribution to the PSPP. If they were a civil servant before, there may be a different route that's taken other than an individual that comes from outside.

 

I think that I've laid out the changes here that we're suggesting. The bill is not significant in size. It's not a huge piece of legislation. I think what it's doing here – I know I am repeating myself, but I have to get across here. We're moving forward into a new process for appointment. These offices will be subject to that. So if we're going to do that, this is a great opportunity to standardize this legislation and take these offices, which are very important, do great work for the people, and provide some uniformity here so they are treated equally. That's what we're looking forward here.

 

There are a couple of small discrepancies, as I've outlined, for reasons that I've outlined here. I think this is a good piece of legislation. I would like to thank – I think sometimes I forget to do this and I know everybody in this House, having seen the work. I have to thank the people who draft these pieces of legislation. It's a significant amount of work that goes into this through Legislative Counsel, and all the people who pass on their thoughts and their input – and not just for this bill, for any bill.

 

At the end of the day, we're debating legislation that's going to govern the people of this province. So I'd like to thank those individuals who take their time to do this. They work very long hours. I know Members on the other side know the work they do. It's tremendous work. I'd also like to thank them for the time they put into giving the briefings to Members opposite.

 

When I was in Opposition, I don't know if I ever went to a briefing where the people who answered the questions weren't forthright, would give you answers, would you give you all the time they had to. I'd like to think that's continued now. That there's been no change in that, because at the end of the day, as legislators, we have to stand here and speak to legislation and we have to know everything that goes into it. So I'd like to thank those individuals for the time they put into this.

 

I'm going to take my seat now. I know Members opposite will have an opportunity to speak to this during second reading. I will listen to that and make notes. I know when I get a chance to close this piece of legislation, or during the Committee stage, I will have an opportunity to answer questions that may arise.

 

Thank you for the opportunity, Madam Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER (Dempster) The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

 

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Madam Speaker. 

 

I am certainly glad to rise and speak to Bill 27. I recognize that the Government House Leader went through in detail the provisions of what's being proposed here in regard to Bill 27, respecting the statutory offices of the House of Assembly. And as has been said, talked about a number of acts basically standardized in the language and process around the manner of appointment of a number of these statutory offices that report to the House of Assembly and to look at the various manners in regard to the protocol for these statutory offices, things like appointments, term of office, removal, suspension and salary of statutory officers.

 

There are various pieces of legislation or statutes here governing the particular offices: the Auditor General; Child and Youth Advocate; Citizens' Representative; Elections Act; House of Assembly Act; the Commissioner for Legislative Standards only; also the act, Bill 27, will also amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in order to make the salary provision consistent with other statutory offices.

 

As well, the Government House Leader mentioned Bill 1. The legislation will come into effect, I understand – we were briefed – at the same time as Bill 1, the Independent Appointments Commission. Bill 1 discusses as well the appointment process and Bill 1 includes these offices in the schedule of appointments.

 

The Government House Leader did recognize those folks that put the legislation together and the time they spent. I also know our staff was briefed by officials as well. I want to recognize the information that was relayed to us in the briefing and the work that was done.

 

I will just touch quickly on a couple of those components in the statutory offices and what this bill is looking to amend and proceed with. With the Privacy Commissioner, we were briefed that the Government House Leader may make an amendment to remove the Information and Privacy Commissioner from Bill 1 Schedule. The reason for this is that the ATIPP Act, 2015 already has built within an independent recommendations committee consisting of the Clerk of the Executive Council, the Clerk of the House of Assembly, MUN president and chief justice.

 

What would happen, the committee would prepare a roster of recommendations and submit to the Speaker. The Speaker, in consultation with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Third Party, would make a recommendation here to the House of Assembly.

 

Section 2 of the bill makes changes to the ATIPP Act, 2015, and these were referenced just earlier by the Government House Leader, changes to the salary of the Privacy Commissioner from 75 per cent of a Provincial Court judge to a salary fixed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, after consultation with the House of Assembly Management Commission.

 

The fixed salary clause is found in most of the statutory offices. With the passage of this bill it would streamlined to be the same throughout all. I guess that's what we're talking about here in regard to the various statutes for these offices. It's about streamlining and making consistency throughout the statutory offices and the operations, especially related to those that are appointed to carry out the duties of the particular statutory offices. It's certainly important to note that the terms of the – and I think this was mentioned earlier – Privacy Commissioner will expire, I believe, in June 2016.

 

We look at some of the other statutory offices that are in this bill and would be part of Bill 27: the Auditor General, Child and Youth Advocate, Citizens' Representative, Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner for Legislative Standards. It's about standardizing the language with respect to the appointments, and as I said before, term of office and those other elements in regard to that whole particular office for these entities.

 

The highlights of the standardization going on with these particular officers and those that are appointed – we look at appointment, term of office, removal and suspension, acting officers, salary and pensions and benefits. With the appointment of these offices with an appointment to an identified person to fill such a vacancy, the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the Cabinet on resolution of the House of Assembly – so it would come here. This would occur after the IAC conducted a process and made recommendations to the House. Then you get into issues like terms of office.

 

The Auditor General right now is 10 years, not renewable, the same as AGs across the country. So there's some looking at obviously cross jurisdictional and what the issues are and trying to be consistent. All others would be six years, renewable once, for a maximum of 12 years. This is a change with respect to the Chief Electoral Officer. Previously, there was no limit on that particular tenure. This is an example of where it would be drawn into consistency with the other statutes and in regard to terms of office.

 

So we'd look at in the bill removal, suspension and acting officers. Again, there have been some amendments made in regard to consistency and streamlining of those particular areas. Suspension by Cabinet, a majority recommendation of the House of Assembly – that would occur, obviously, when the Assembly was in session. If the House is not in session, Cabinet can suspend, but it will only be in force until the next sitting of the House. Obviously, at the first opportunity it would be brought back to the House of Assembly if it was not sitting at the point related to that decision was made.

 

The Lieutenant Governor in Council, on a recommendation of the commission, can appoint someone acting. So in that particular case there could be someone removed and, with the Lieutenant Governor in Council on a recommendation of the commission, there would be someone appointed in an acting role. Then, when the House of Assembly reconvenes, the resolution will be brought to the House to permanently fill the position.

 

In regard to salary, fixed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and Cabinet after consultation with the House Management Commission. A note on that one, the Auditor General portion of the bill does not say House Management Commission, it only says commission. So we'll have a few questions maybe in committee in regard to Independent Appointments Commission or the House Management Commission. Then it goes on, Child and Youth Advocate, Citizens' Rep, the Electoral Office all say House Management Commission. So maybe in committee we'll ask a few questions and clarify that.

 

The other area of standardization that this bill will look at is regard to pensions and benefits. The language here is similar to the ATIPPA, 2015. If the officer was a member of the Public Service Pension Plan they can also continue. If they're not, my understanding is they can take a pension contribution and roll it over into an RRSP. That gets to the compensation piece and as well brings some standardization to the various statutes and how they operate the various acts. 

 

As I said, it's a piece of legislation that I think is certainly worthwhile. It looks at bringing various aspects of statutory offices and the legislative framework to operate those. It brings consistency to them. The minister when he was up, the Government House Leader, outlined in detail the particulars of that.

 

As we move to committee, we may indeed have some questions in regard to clarification on actual particular things but I think overall on first review and some of the information we see, I think it is well intentioned. It certainly makes sense in terms of standardization and bringing those things together.

 

We'll look forward to further discussion and hear what Members of the House have to say on this particular piece of legislation. When we get into committee, if there are things that come up in discussion and debate that we think need to be clarified, that we have questions on, we'll certainly bring those questions up in committee.

 

I am sure the minister and House Leader will be quite eager to answer those questions and, no doubt, we'll have further discussion as we move forward.

 

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Green Bay.

 

MR. WARR: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure to rise today in the House and speak to Bill 27, An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly. My comments, Madam Speaker, will mirror some of those already stated. I guess that's what happens when you speak a little further down the line. Nevertheless, I'll take a few minutes and offer some comments. I, too, certainly want to congratulate the minister and his department and staff for their due diligence, and for giving us the opportunity to sit with them in some explanations and some briefing notes concerning the bill.

 

Madam Speaker, the Citizens' Representative, the Child and Youth Advocate, the Auditor General, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner for Legislative Standards are absolutely vital to the democratic process here in our province. Each of these statutory offices plays a critical role.

 

The Auditor General, for example, provides independent oversight over financial expenditures made by government. With a budget in excess of $8 billion, the Auditor General's role as an impartial reviewer becomes much more clear. The Auditor General provides government with suggestions for ways that we can be doing things better. There's always room for improvement, Madam Speaker. We can spend public dollars with a greater degree of confidence knowing that we are in compliance with the Auditor General's suggestions.

 

The Child and Youth Advocate is another good example. Newfoundland and Labrador youth in care deserve a voice advocating directly on their behalf, a voice that is independent of the department. The individuals who have been serving in these statutory offices have been serving Newfoundlanders and Labradorians very well. We certainly thank them, Madam Speaker, for their service.

 

What we are proposing here today will impact future appointments not for the people who currently serve in these offices. The amendments will modernize and standardize the appointment process here in our province. It will also ensure that equitable decisions are made in appointing new statutory officers. It will ensure, Madam Speaker, consistency across the board when it comes to appointment, removal, suspension and salary for all statutory offices. This is in keeping with our commitment to openness, transparency and everything we do as a government.

 

This consistency will be established in a number of ways. All future statutory officers will serve a six-year term that is renewable once. The explanation to this, which is included in the legislation, is the Auditor General who will continue to be appointed for 10 years. A 10-year appointment is consistent with other provinces in Canada and other parliaments around the world, Madam Speaker.

 

The reason this exception is included is because it is important for the Auditor General to be able to serve a longer period of time for the purposes of institutional memory and in recognition of the fact that change to policy and practices may take a few years to demonstrate and impact once they are implemented.

 

These statutory officers won't be eligible to be nominated for election to sit as a Member in this hon. House, to hold another public office or to carry on in trade, business or profession. The reason this is being written into the legislation is to avoid the obvious potential for a conflict of interest.

 

It is an amendment, Madam Speaker, that acknowledges that statutory offices are positions of great trust. Trust that is a two-way street between the officer and government. It protects the statutory officer from any allegation of potential conflict. It's a necessary and worthwhile amendment to the existing legislation.

 

They will be eligible to receive the same level of compensation as a deputy minister. These are offices that entail a huge amount of responsibility and require an immense time commitment. In view of this, it is important they are compensated properly in acknowledgement of the duties they carry out.

 

Madam Speaker, the amendments also give government the ability to appoint statutory officers on an interim basis, a necessary provision that will allow for circumstances that prevent an appointee from completing a full term of service. The existing legislation contains considerable variations between the parameters of service of the various statutory officers when it comes to a point in an interim.

 

For example, in the legislation respecting the Commissioner for Legislative Standards there is no mechanism for appointing an interim officer. The amendments we debate here today will standardize the interim appointment process ensuring that we are able to fill a vacancy quickly so that the best interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to be served.

 

Their appointments must be confirmed by resolution in this House of Assembly. This is an essential part of ensuring transparency and consistency, and allowing the appointment to take place in the people's House, Madam Speaker, in view of all their elected representatives and the province as a whole.

 

This is a very timely piece of legislation and I am happy to speak in favour of it. Four of our current statutory officers, the Child and Youth Advocate, the Commissioner for Legislative Standards, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Information and Privacy Commissioner will conclude their terms this year. This means, Madam Speaker, that the new standards we legislate here today will apply very shortly to the new statutory officers that will be appointed by this hon. House later this year.

 

Many of the objectives achieved by these amendments are in line with government's firm policy on openness and transparency in whatever we do. We have been debating this Legislative Session in the creation of an Independent Appointments Commission, which was our signature piece of legislation and the very first item on the docket as we convened this spring.

 

We proposed the creation of the commission for the purpose of taking the politics out of government appointments. We wanted to empower an independent commission, Madam Speaker, to select the best candidates for the job in the interest of transparency.

 

The Independent Appointments Commission will hold public competitions to recruit candidates for further statutory officer appointments. Madam Speaker, this suite of amendments to the existing legislation on statutory offices will serve to ensure that the Independent Appointments Commission is able to function with the force of a strong legislative mandate behind it.

 

With that, Madam Speaker, I'll take my seat. I thank you for your time.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

Thank you to my colleague as well. I want to just speak very briefly to this bill today. It's An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly. I think it's a sensible and logical piece of legislation, so I really can't add a whole lot to what previous speakers have said.

 

What government is attempting to do here is make changes to a number of acts to really bring some standardization around language and processes related to how officers are appointed, their terms, how they get removed from office, what happens if they should be suspended and salaries. We're talking about the Auditor General Act, the Child and Youth Advocate Act, the Citizens' Representative Act, the Elections Act and the House of Assembly Act as it relates to the Commissioner for Legislative Standards. There's also an amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015 in order to make salary provisions consistent with other statutory officers.

 

There is a connection, interestingly enough, to Bill 1 which we spent considerable time debating yesterday. It will be interesting to hear – perhaps when we get to the Committee stage – the Government House Leader talk to us a little bit more about how that connection works with Bill 1.

 

As I said, this bill addresses the appointment of these statutory officers of the House, their terms of office, trying to bring about some consistency. It talks about how acting officers will be handled and the removal and suspension of officers. It talks about salary and that needs to be addressed.

 

There's also reference to pension and benefits. The language there seems to be similar to the language in the ATIPP Act whereas if the officer was a member of the Public Service Pension Plan, then they can continue and if not, they can roll a contribution into an RSP. I won't get too technical on all of that. We'll have an opportunity to review some more of those details at the Committee stage.

 

I want to join the Opposition House Leader in just raising a couple of issues that really we're just looking for some information on. We can definitely address it either when the minister closes debate or when we get to Committee. This seems like a logical and sensible piece of legislation which I believe we can support. It would be helpful if the minister could tell us a little bit more about how the bill fits with Bill 1. That would be helpful in us gaining a more complete understanding of the legislation.

 

When it comes to the salary issues, I would assume the House Management Commission would have input on all the salaries. So we'll get some clarification on that because the Auditor General portion of the bill doesn't actually specifically state the House Management Commission. I suspect that's what meant by Commission because in the Child and Youth Advocate Act and the Citizens' Rep Act and the act related to the Chief Electoral Office; they all refer to House Management Commission. I imagine the intent is to make them consistent.

 

The minister may also want to comment on term limits. I believe there will now be term limits put in place which affects, I guess, the Chief Electoral Officer's term because I don't believe there's a term in place for that role at the moment. In terms of retirement benefits, I'm also curious: Do these officers retain their health benefits upon retiring? Those are just a few information questions that we have. I'm sure the Government House Leader can help clarify those matters.

 

It seems like a good piece of legislation. I'm happy to have had the chance to rise and say a few words about it today.

 

Thank you.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Stephenville – Port au Port.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FINN: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

It's a pleasure to rise and speak today to Bill 27, An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly, as the Government House Leader introduced earlier today. We are just looking at streamlining some of the processes here. Part of that is a direct result of the bill which saw its third reading last night, Bill 1, the Independent Appointments Commission.

 

As the Government House Leader alluded to as well, there are basically six offices we're looking at kind of streamlining right now. The whole reason behind that is because they came into act at very different times, with the Auditor General dating back to 1898 to the ATIPP officer to 2015.

 

So at various times these pieces of legislation were introduced. Right now, the whole objective is just to look at streamlining some of the provisions in those pieces of legislation, particularly around the terms of office, removal, suspension, salary, as alluded to, we're looking to streamline as well. Currently, each separate piece of legislation addresses each statutory officer, but it's the various provisions which change in each piece of legislation.

 

Right now, this is something we're really confident in doing. We also expect a great deal of co-operation from the Members opposite, as well as Member of the Third Party. The Member for Mount Pearl North just mentioned one or two questions there around some health benefits. I feel quite confident the Government House Leader will have some answers to address that as well.

 

Again, in an action of openness and transparency, we're basically just looking to streamline all these pieces of legislation to make sure they're in line and that one different act doesn't take away from another, particularly around terms of office, salary and appointments. And right now, again, in particular, due to the implementation of Bill 1 which just passed for third reading last night.

 

I don't have much more to add, other than generally thanking the individuals who serve in these roles. These are very important roles that provide different, unique services to the people of our province, whether that's the Child and Youth Advocate office or the Auditor General as well.

 

In terms of each of these areas, the whole role of advocacy, the Office of the Citizens' Representative, the Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner for Legislative Standards, these are very important roles and they need to be treated with a high degree of integrity. We certainly respect and appreciate all the hard work that these individuals do and now with this piece of legislation we're streamlining it so that they're treated fairly as well.

 

Other than that, Madam Speaker, I don't really have much more to add to the bill. As I briefly mentioned there, I believe we are expecting a great deal of co-operation, as Members opposite have indicated as well.

 

With that, I will thank you for having the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill 27.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi.

 

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

 

Yes, I'm pleased this afternoon to stand and speak to Bill 27, An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices of the House of Assembly. Basically a housekeeping act, but a very important housekeeping act dealing with one, two, three, four, five, six of our statutory offices. Making sure that we have conformity with regard to the manner of appointment, the term of – not conformity with regard to the terms of office because they have different ones, but certainly the manner of appointment, the process for removal from office and the salary of the officer, to have clear regulations that are the same for all of these statutory offices.

 

As has been explained by the minister in presenting the bill, some of these bills have been in place for many years and some are brand new such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015 but the Elections Act was 1991.

 

What we have is that over the years things evolved, and one of the things that evolved that the bill is picking up on is the way in which salaries are set for the different officers. Before, very often, the salary was set by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Sometimes it was not.

 

With regard to the Provincial Court, for example, Clyde Wells prescribed 75 per cent of the salary of Provincial Court judges in his legislation. When he did the review of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act he actually prescribed what should happen with regard to Provincial Court judges. But this bill changes what was in Wells's legislation and makes sure that the salary is fixed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, but after consultation with the House of Assembly Management Commission.

 

I think what the general public would not know – we know here in the House of Assembly, but the general public doesn't know, Madam Speaker – is that the House Management Commission, when it was put in place –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. MICHAEL: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

One of the things that, as I was saying, the general public may not know is that the House of Assembly Management Commission is not just responsible for the elected Members of the House of Assembly.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. MICHAEL: The House of Assembly Management Commission is also responsible for the statutory offices. For example, at budget time, when the statutory offices put their budgets together they actually come to private meetings with the House of Assembly Management Commission. We sit with them when we go through their budgets line by line. I'm a Member of it right now, that's why I'm saying we.

 

The House of Assembly Management Commission is responsible for holding the statutory offices accountable for their expenditures and for any increases that they may need in their budget. So then we're the ones who actually, at the level of the House of Assembly Management Commission, approve their budgets. As I said, that's something people would not know because that's not something that's done in public. Things that deal with money in the House of Assembly Management Commission, the discussions happen in private, but then we come publicly and declare what it is that we have approved.

 

The change that this bill is recording here is noting something that has changed in practice because of the House of Assembly Management Commission having been put in place in 2007. It's important then that the pieces of legislation referring to these six offices reflect the reality of what it is that happens.

 

I do have a couple of questions for the minister to consider. He may answer them today or when we go into Committee. Now that the Independent Appointments Commission is approved – and I don't know when Royal Assent will come; I presume Royal Assent is going to come quickly because of the vacancies that exist. But now that the IAC will be put in place and all of these statutory offices will come under the IAC – except the access to information does not, all the rest do.

 

Because of that, I'm wondering – and again I'm hoping the minister can answer this. I have two questions. My first one is with regard to the vacancies that are going to be filled on an interim basis. I wasn't clear what the minister meant, so I'm just going to ask him to clarify so I'm sure I understand.

 

There will be interim appointments because I suspect the process has to take at least some time because the commission has to be put in place. After the commission is put in place, I presume they have to be notified of the vacancies then they have to start the process with the Public Service Commission to have the Public Service Commission begin the process of searching for people who can be considered to fill the vacancies.

 

When the minister spoke about the interim appointments, I wasn't sure if he meant that people in those positions would then automatically become part of that process and be considered for the permanent position, or are they out of the picture? I wasn't clear about the situation, so I'm asking the minister to clarify that for me.

 

The other thing, it's more a long-term thing. Right now we have a lot of vacancies. I would hope that with this new process in place, with the IAC in place, that we would see better efficiency with government with vacancies not being as frequent and not be there for a long time. So I'd like the minister then – he's nodding at me over there, so I'm right on that point. So then I'll be asking him to tell us – I presume it is going to be the Lieutenant Governor in Council's responsibility to notify the commission of vacancies.

 

I'm interested in that process. How is that going to happen in such a way that things will happen in a timely fashion so that we don't have long periods of time with vacancies? I would like a bit more detail on that from the minister.

 

I'd like an explanation too from the minister, the rationale with regard to the pension. Basically, what it comes down to is two positions: one is the Citizens' Representative and the other is the Auditor General. What is going to happen is if somebody is hired from outside the public service in one of those two positions, they would not be part of the Public Service Pensions Act. Only if somebody is hired from within the public service and who is under the Public Service Pensions Act – only if somebody like that is appointed to one of these two positions, will that person continue with their pension.

 

If somebody comes in from outside to be appointed to one of those two positions, they will not come under the Public Service Pensions Act. Instead, they will receive an equivalent amount of money that they then can put into a private plan. It won't be a pension; it will be a private investment plan.

 

I'd like to know from the minister what the rationale is for that. Why wouldn't they become part of the Public Service Pensions Plan? I really am interested in the rationale.

 

Having said that, Madam Speaker, obviously, we're going to be going along with this bill, it's an essential bill to make sure things are in good order. As we go on with our discussions this afternoon in second reading and in Committee, I'll be interested in hearing the minister's explanations around those three points that I've made.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl – Southlands.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

Let me say, first of all, what a pleasure it is to stand here in this House of Assembly and have a few words on Bill 27. It seems like a long time since I've stood up and actually spoken on something.

 

Today we're going to be speaking to An Act to Amend the Law Respecting Statutory Offices. I think pretty much everything has been covered. Of course that's always the challenge when you get up to speak a little bit later, is that everyone else has already said everything and you try not to be too repetitive.

 

The points that have been made here, first of all, I think it's important to note – as has already been noted, but it's important to note again that this legislation does tie into Bill 1, which was passed last night. While I didn't have the opportunity to speak to Bill 1, because quite frankly I spent most of my time in the Chair, I think it's important to note that Bill 1 that did pass last night was a good step forward, there's no doubt.

 

There's also no doubt that the Opposition parties did raise some points and there were some amendments made. There were some things that didn't pass. There were some things that were ruled out of order, but I think they did make some points and some valid points, nonetheless. As time goes on, hopefully we can see improvements to Bill 1. I'm sure we will.

 

One of the things that did come out of the discussion around Bill 1 last night, which was raised by the Third Party, was the whole concept of putting a diversity lens on these appointments. I think it is important just to note – as we are talking about some pretty significant appointments here that would be doing important work for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I'm sure the minister will agree and I'm sure it will happen.

 

I think it is important to note, in the spirit of what the Third Party was saying last night, that we do put a diversity lens on these appointments, particularly these new people who are going to be retiring and so on. As we look to replace those people, it is important that we try to be reflective of the society in which we live in. I think everybody here would agree with that, regardless of what side of the House of Assembly you are on. I think it's an important point to make.

 

Madam Speaker, again, as it comes to this particular bill, really what we're doing is we're taking a number of acts, we're taking the Auditor General Act, Child and Youth Advocate Act, Citizens' Representative Act, Elections Act and so on, and we're standardizing those acts. The rationale of course is all of those acts pertain to important positions within the province that do important work for the people and to standardize those acts because they were created at different points in time in history, therefore they're not necessarily all consistent. What we're trying to do here is to bring consistency to it.

 

Of course, the positions we will be talking about have been mentioned. We're talking about the Chief Electoral Officer; the Commissioner of Legislative Standards, that person is one in the same. We're talking about the Auditor General. We're talking about the Child and Youth Advocate. We're talking about the Citizens' Representative. We're talking about the Privacy Commissioner.

 

I would assume when we have legislation come into this House of Assembly around the office of the seniors' advocate, I would assume at that point in time that legislation would also mirror the changes we're seeing in these acts as well. That would certainly make sense to me. I would assume that's what's going to happen. It is important to do that. It's important to bring consistency.

 

The things we're talking about are the terms of appointment, the removal of somebody from office, interim appointments, suspensions, salaries and so on. If you look at the acts that I referenced, and it's all covered here in Bill 27, the various acts, you will see that when it comes to a number of these things around salaries, appointments and so on, they're different for different offices. You have different terms. You have different salaries and so on, and different means of removing people or reasons for removing people. We're just standardizing it right across the board so that it's consistent for all. I think it's important to do just that, Madam Speaker. 

 

I could go on and on, but I don't really see the need for it. I've got a feeling; I've got a strange suspicion this is going to pass unanimously. I really think that's going to happen, and that's obviously a good thing. We don't see that happen all the time, sometimes we do.

 

I've heard the Opposition say, and certainly when I was in Opposition I would say the same thing, if you bring forward good legislation that makes sense then there's no reason why everybody wouldn't vote for it. I've got a feeling this is a piece of legislation that's going to do just that.

 

So I encourage everybody to support this legislation. It's a good piece of legislation, and I thank you for your time. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: If the hon. the Government House Leader speaks now he will close debate. 

 

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

 

I am quite pleased actually with the second reading on this piece of legislation so far. Although if I wanted to be facetious, responding to the comments from Mount Pearl – Southlands, I could say there's lots of legislation we brought forward that makes good sense that the Opposition just doesn't agree with. Again, I'm just being facetious there.

 

I get what the Member is saying in that. The fact is even though it's an important piece of legislation – I agree with the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi – it's housekeeping in nature and it's not changing their roles or the work they do. What it's doing is standardizing it. Again, I certainly appreciate that.

 

What I am going to do, I will try my best to respond to the questions raised but we will be going into committee. So if I didn't answer it or if I forget it, please make sure you take an opportunity to stand and ask again. I have gotten the answers. Thankfully, that great staff I referenced in my first comments have been getting in touch with me to help clarify it. I think I knew a few of the answers, although some of them, particularly the health benefits, I wasn't quite positive, but we have staff who do a great job of making sure the information is there.

 

In no particular order, I think one of the comments from the Opposition House Leader was about the commission. I think that's actually – it is the Management Commission. What is it, it is actually referred to earlier in the act as the Management Commission under the definition side. So that's why when it goes to the section you referred to under the Auditor General Act and just says commission, it is Management Commission. That would clarify that aspect.

 

I think the Deputy Opposition House Leader talked about health benefits for statutory officers. What I would say is they are not addressed in this particular piece of legislation. A response has actually been sent to Members of the Opposition and their staff. So everything I'm saying here now should be clarified in writing. I have no problem standing and speaking, putting it on the record.

 

A link was sent setting out revised Treasury Board policy respecting criteria related to the eligibility for other post-employment benefits. These changes stem from the Other Post-Employment Benefits Modifications Act which was passed by this House in December 2014, which is listed below.

 

In order to qualify for group health and life benefits pass retirement one must: one, be in receipt of a pension from a defined benefit plan, whether it is PSPA, TPA, et cetera; two, have 10 years of service; three, retire immediately with no deferral of benefits allowed.

 

That's the criteria. I believe it has been sent out. If there are still any questions that Members have, I'm sure they can raise that and I will try my best to answer. I think that's something that in fact, it might even be better talking to the individuals in the Finance Department because they are certainly more qualified to answer that than I am.

 

One of the questions from the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi was talking about the internal appointment process, and would an individual that is appointed under an interim process be precluded from being able to apply under the full process. I would say no. I don't believe that's the case.

 

I don't think there's anything that can stop an individual. Now I think most individuals who would do that would likely not be interested in doing it in a full-time manner but I don't think there is anything that stops them from going through the process established and having their name considered for that position. That's my understanding of how that process will work. Again, it goes to the recommendations and everything else.

 

We may see that very soon because, as we know, the Commissioner for Legislative Standards and CEO or Chief Electoral Officer, I think that's May 30. So I can say, obviously, we would like to see Royal Assent for this bill. We would like to see the resolution brought to this House soon and we'd like to see them get up and running.

 

I may have heard this wrong, you can clarify if I am wrong. We talk about the vacancies, and what are we going to do to make sure they are filled and done on a timely basis. I can say from my very short time here – and I think the problem may exist on a number of levels. I think in some cases when you go through these processes, whether it's the Public Service Commission, just the shear amount of work that's there can delay these things.

 

Again, I've seen that, maybe not so much in the appointment process, but in the natural job process when it comes to positions within the civil service. In fact, you see people applying for a position, they go through this process, then they're wondering where am I in this process and they're waiting to hear.

 

I think sometimes that can get backed up there. I don't think that's a new issue. I think that's been there for some time, but I'd like to think that the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, who handles the Public Service Commission, I'd like to think that we can try to make this work faster because it's tough for two reasons. Number one, if you have a vacancy, you want it filled. You want the work done. Number two, the person that is applying for a position, they want a job and if they're qualified, the quicker we can make these two things come together it is better for everybody, so I'd like to think it's going to happen. 

 

The second part of this we're talking about is sometimes in the appointments process I think you have to want to get it done. I'm talking about the appointments. So right now, under the process that I would have come into, but I haven't, I step in and there's X number of A, B, C's that may fall under the Department of Justice and Public Safety. So you're trying to learn what they are, who's there, who's expired and there's a number of them that are expired. Number one, I can say that I've gotten numerous letters from the heads of foundations, pre-existing members, or people who are responsible saying fill these positions, get them done.

 

I've had to write back and say no, I can't do it; we have to wait for this process. Normally, if this process wasn't put in place, I could just fill them and get them done. I could have them done as quickly as I wanted to do them. Why weren't they done? I can't answer; I have no idea. But I'd like to think that if I'm going to stand here and talk about how important it is to fill it, I'm going to do my best to ensure that it gets done as soon as possible.

 

So the power has been taken away from me in some cases. Under the tier twos, the names will come through to me and I can't act until I get the names. Once I get the names, it's my duty to get these filled as soon as possible as soon as I get those names.

 

Under the IAC, I'd like to think – and I don't want to prejudge it; I don't want to place undue expectations on these individuals that will fill that role. But I'd like to think that they're going to have to move fast. And there's that fine line between due diligence, no different than anybody. If I run a business, I have a job vacancy and people put their resumes in when they come in, I want that job filled because I need that work done. But I'm going to give it the time that it needs because if I make a bad hiring decision, I'm going to cause myself a lot of problems down the road. And we've seen that in government, we've seen that in private service and we've seen that everywhere.

 

If you don't have a good hiring process, you can get yourself in trouble because once you take that on then there comes a whole new set of responsibilities, employment and law labour. So I'd like to think that there's a fine line where we want to move it quick but, at the same time, that responsibility will come down to Cabinet as well. We all know that the names are put forward to Cabinet. Cabinet is to appoint. If we delay it, then we're causing our own problem.

 

I know that might not be a satisfactory answer. I think we have to see where we are. It is like anything new, you assess it after a period of time and gauge where you are. Are there things that can be done – is it working smoothly, swimmingly? I hope that's the cause.

 

I'd like to think that it will be very streamlined. I'd like to think that, and I have no reason not to think that. If there are issues and they are identified, we have to do our best to make sure that they are addressed as well.

 

I think I've covered off that but, again, if I've missed anything, I know that the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi will stand up and ask in Committee and I'll do my best to get those answers.

 

On that note, I will sit down now. I would like to thank Members opposite and on our side for their contributions to this debate. This is a good piece of legislation. It's a necessary one, and I think it is in the best interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

On that note, I will stand and close second reading and look forward to the Committee stage of this process.

 

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House of Assembly. (Bill 27)

 

MADAM SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole?

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Now.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly,” read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave. (Bill 27).

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Madam Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Education, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 27.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that I do now leave the Chair for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider the said bill, Bill 27, An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly.

 

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

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

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

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Lane): Order, please!

 

We are now considering Bill 27, An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly.

 

A bill, “An Act To Amend The Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House of Assembly.” (Bill 27)

 

CLERK: Clause 1.

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

 

The Chair recognizes the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's East – Quidi Vidi.

 

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

 

The question I have is to continue a conversation with the minister over an answer he gave to me, because it covers sort of all of the bill – there is no other place for me to stand and ask it. It has to do with the appointments by the commission.

 

Really, what my question was, Minister, I'm talking about prior to vacancies happening. For example, if the Cabinet knows there's a position coming up that's soon going to be empty because of retirement or something, it's something they're responsible for; or if you, as the Minister of Justice, know there's something coming up that you're responsible for, is it not true that you then are the ones who have the responsibility to notify the commission that this may be coming up?

 

That's what I'm looking at. Sort of prior to the commission having the stuff in their hands, who lets the commission know that there are vacancies coming up in the 34 agencies they're going to be responsible for?

 

CHAIR: The Chair recognizes the hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I will lead off by saying, obviously, that's not – I'm not saying I'm not going to have a chat about it, but that's not part of this. I would suggest with these ones here, that would be the House of Assembly's responsibility I would assume to notify the commission, given they are statutory offices of the House of Assembly.

 

As it relates to your question when it comes to tier one and tier two, it's my belief that depending on which department the board, commission or agency falls under, yes, you would make the commission aware of what is there, what is vacant. If I came in, I learn what is there then we have to make them aware so they know, so it can be advertised as well.

 

I would assume that the Public Service Commission will have to be – probably more importantly, the Public Service Commission, rather than the IAC, because the IAC – I might have this wrong. I'm just sort of thinking out this in common sense way. There's probably somebody smarter who knows the answer to this. The Public Service Commission – who are the ones that are going to advertise this, put it online, make it accessible – are obviously going to need to know, who are all the different groups? I think that's all going to be put online, every one of them: vacant, non-vacant, eligible, non-eligible. It has to be put online, as well as the process for one to apply.

 

If I have, for instance, the Law Foundation Commission, then it would be my – and I'm getting requests to make sure that's filled, then, yeah, I might have a conversation with the PSC to say, look, this is the group here, make sure they're online. There are vacancies coming up, make sure we get the ads out so that people from all over can apply, put their resumes in, go through that screening process, then put it in front of me so I can make that decision.

 

I might be wrong, the PSC has to be that group. The IAC, I would assume, is only going to respond to information that is forwarded to them by the PSC, because everything the IAC sees has to be pre-screened by the PSC. Everything has to go through that process. The PSC, which is also going to be responsible for the advertising side or I guess the publication or notification of the information, that's where that would be handled.

 

When it comes to the statutory offices we are debating here now, I would assume the House of Assembly would obviously make sure the PSC knows that, look, these are the offices here. These are when the due dates are coming. So that we can have – I think, obviously, you need advance notice. If we know an individual or a spot is going to be open in X-amount of time, then let's do the work beforehand if we know an individual is moving on.

 

I will just use the example that we know of right now. Mr. Powers has given notice that he's going to retire. If we had known all this before – just assume everything was in place and that was in two months' time, then why would we wait until the actual retirement date when you can do better succession planning and have that put forward so we can try as best as possible to (a) avoid an interim appointment, and (b) have a gap in the amount of time in which one of these positions is vacant.

 

That's my take. If I get any contradictory evidence to that, I'll certainly pass it on during this committee.

 

CHAIR: The Chair recognizes the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's East – Quidi Vidi.

 

MS. MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Those who are listening back in your office and looking up stuff, I know they'll get the clarification. It seems to me, though, when it comes to appointment of these six, it's actually the LGIC who does the appointment. They don't consult with the House of Assembly Management Commission.

 

We take care of financial stuff, but the appointments happen from council.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MS. MICHAEL: Yes.

 

My question, what I'm trying to get at, with the commission in place who's going to coordinate to make sure the appointments are happening, that there's a notification? Because I'm assuming that somebody must coordinate now for the Cabinet. Is it the Executive Council, do you know? That's what I'm trying to get at. Who will do that coordination?

 

CHAIR: The Chair recognizes the hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I believe that would be the Clerk of the Executive Council who will take that role in ensuring all this is put forward, and through the PSC and through all the process that's going to unfold. That's my understanding, it is the Clerk.

 

CHAIR: Seeing no further speakers, shall clause 1 carry?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clause 1 carried.

 

CLERK: Clauses 2 through 8 inclusive.

 

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 through 8 inclusive carry?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clauses 2 through 8 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 Law Respecting Statutory Offices Of The House Of Assembly.

 

CHAIR: Shall the long title carry?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

On motion, title carried.

 

CHAIR: Shall I report the bill without amendment?

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

Carried.

 

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

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I move, Mr. Chair, that the Committee rise and report Bill 27.

 

CHAIR: It has been moved that the Committee rise and report Bill 27.

 

All those in favour, 'aye.'

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay.'

 

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

 

MADAM SPEAKER (Dempster): The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl – Southlands.

 

MR. LANE: Madam Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report Bill 27 without amendment.

 

MADAM 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 27 without amendment.

 

When shall the report be received?

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Now.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Now.

 

When shall the bill be read a third time?

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Tomorrow.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

 

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

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Madam Speaker, I would call from the Order Paper, Motion 1, the Budget Speech.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS. PARSLEY: Good afternoon, Madam Speaker.

 

It's quite an honour to stand here today and speak on this budget. It's an honour anytime we have to get up and speak on Members' statements or whatever we have to do, but this is an honour for me today.

 

We all came here as newly elected Members to government to make Newfoundland and Labrador a better place. It's unfortunate our province is in such a mess. We have to be strong leaders and head us out of this fiscal crisis which we are now facing.

 

I came from a rural district which serves over 10,000 constituents with many needs. As you know, I have a strong background in municipal affairs. As you can tell, the parts of this budget, municipal governments are going to benefit from this. I'm hoping to meet with most of them in the coming weeks and be able to announce what we have planned.

 

On behalf of my colleagues in the government caucus, I am pleased to offer my perspective and ultimately my support for this piece of legislation. It has now been over three weeks since Minister Bennett presented the Budget Speech in the hon. House. During that time the budget has been examined, picked apart by the Opposition, in the media and by our own caucus Members alike. I won't deny there is much in this budget that I don't like. I won't deny that my constituents are flatly against the budget.

 

I've attended many events in my district since April 14 and I have fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of calls and emails from the people who reside in the Harbour Main area. Again and again I hear from constituents how difficult the revenue measures in the budget will be on them. Again and again I hear the hardships that Budget 2016 will cause in communities around our province. I'm standing here and speaking in favour of this budget, but I am not deaf to the issues and problems that the budget will cause around Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I will come back to the reason I'm supporting the budget in the face of widespread outrage from my constituents, but first I have talk about the outrage itself. Because people out there every day are exercising their democratic rights to have their voices heard through protests and civil action. There are many people marching on Confederation Building and rallying by the hundreds and thousands in protest of the budget. There are dozens of calls on the Open Line shows and the panels. There are frustrated interview subjects on the news.

 

People have taken to social media in great numbers to protest the 2016 budget. They have made their voices heard in almost every possible way. There's a mood of frustration in the province right now, Madam Speaker. While this budget has broken into focus, I believe it's a mood that has been in the back of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians minds for years and years.

 

Everyone has a reason to be frustrated, but we need to be truthful and factual of the authors of this frustration. As tempting as it is to blame the people who wrote up the documents that Minister Bennett presented on April 14, they are simply the messengers, and so are we. We are messengers. The news in this, after 12 years of incompetence, arrogance, mismanagement from the Tories, we are broke. We're worse than broke; we are faced with a debt crisis that far exceeds any other jurisdiction in the country, including Quebec.

 

Madam Speaker, it is not even breaking news; the PCs had full access to the province's Treasury for 12 years. They had Newfoundland and Labrador's chequebook in their own hands. They had our financial presents and future in their hands and what they chose to do with it was take out an enormous mortgage to win points with voters and vested interests.

 

They took out this mortgage on our future with a care-free ease of spending someone else's money. As long as resource revenues were pouring in, they could continue pushing the debt crisis towards future governments, future generations to deal with. The province's resource revenues allowed the PCs to continue riding the fiction that under their stewardship Newfoundland and Labrador was now an economic powerhouse.

 

Madam Speaker, it's true we have more money flowing into our Treasury than ever before in our history, but the only thing we were was a powerhouse that was ringing up debt and causing instability, public spending that would prove to be vulnerable to the slightest hiccup of the global commodity prices. It's been said by my hon. colleagues but it bears repeating once again by me: The Tories squandered what should have been a birth right for our province.

 

Madam Speaker, they blew nearly $30 million and we have nothing to show for it but an economic public debt, an unfavourable economic future and an unhappy population who is sick of being let down by their elected leaders.

 

When I say they're writing a fiction, a false narrative of prosperity, I really mean it. It was such an effective fiction that we all bought at least part of it. We believed we were hearing that Newfoundland and Labrador was finally a province that we are now the masters of our own destiny and the days of hardship were behind us, but the definition of fiction is a story that isn't true. What the PCs were telling us and what we were mostly happy to believe was simply not true. It could have been if they had spent those dozens of billions wisely. Because they were reckless with revenues, their story was false. We began to see just how untrue their story was when the bottom fell out of the oil market, very rapidly the whole narrative collapsed as well.

 

I mentioned that the mood of frustration has been lingering in people's minds for years and years. I think that's true. Even during the heights of the boom there were only certain areas of the province, economically, that benefited. People who worked in the oil patch were doing all right. Madam Speaker, people who worked in the construction sector were doing all right. People who sold houses or trucks were doing fine. Of course, the PC appointees to the cushy positions in government were doing all right.

 

The boom made things harder for lots of people in Newfoundland and Labrador. The boom drove up housing prices and rent. It drove up the cost of consumer goods. It widened the divide between the have and the have-nots here at home. Remember, even at the height of the boom, employment spiked in certain areas, namely the Avalon Peninsula, but other parts of the province still suffered from some of the highest employment rates in the country.

 

All of this economic inequality persisted through the boom. The people it affected had to endure hardships the whole time. Those people have been frustrated now for a long time, and there are more of these people than the PCs would have us think. Then the boom collapsed and even the people who benefited started to suffer.

 

Fort McMurray started sending its unemployment back home to Newfoundland and Labrador. People here in the province lost the oil patch or construction jobs. The real estate market has tanked too. All of this adds up to a recipe for serious popular outrage. 

 

Madam Speaker, do we feel good about having to implement such a tough budget? Absolutely not, but we simply have no choice. We either act now and start to correct Newfoundland and Labrador's finances, or we give up and give in and keep our spending at a similar level. If we give in, then the economic prosperity that we had a taste of will never be ours again. So that's why I'm supporting this budget.

 

I hear the frustration and outrage from my constituents and from Newfoundland and Labradorians across the province. I share it, but my outrage is directed at the crowd opposite who have placed us in this position. I'm supporting the budget because I know it contains a credible and workable plan to correct the province's course.

 

Nothing in this budget is left to chance or wishful thinking. It's simply a reduction of spending and a structural increase in revenue that will – over time – result in a return to surplus, and not even over a long period of time. According to the financial projections, if we follow the measures outlined in this budget, we will certainly return to a surplus in seven years. That's with fairly pessimistic resource price projections. If resource prices recover sooner, we will return to surplus sooner. Surplus is the key to bettering our financial position.

 

And now the boom is on the horizon and we're sailing towards it. We may not reach it this year, or next year, or even in five years' time, but we will reach it. And if we have our financial house in order, next time we'll be ready for it and we will not fail, as the PCs have done. That's why I'm supporting the budget because this is a necessary step along the way to prosperity, because what we were told was prosperity under the guiding hands of the Tories was actually a detour into a debt crisis with no easy solution.

 

I will conclude my remarks by citing a few of the positive aspects of the budget, apart from the fact that it's the first step into fixing things. For one thing, the budget invests over $75 million in new spending to protect the most vulnerable in our province. There's a Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement that will go towards easing the financial burden of the new revenue measures for the most vulnerable in our society. There are enhancements for the existing seniors. So for the most vulnerable in our province, the low-income individuals, families and seniors, there is help and we're committing to taking care of them.

 

Another thing to remember is that the newer levels of taxation that are implemented, even with all the increases, our people will still be paying the same level of taxes they did in 2006-2007.

 

Madam Speaker, this $570 million in infrastructure spending – we recognize that infrastructure is an investment in our province – will go to provide value for our citizens for years to come.

 

Before I close, Madam Speaker, I would like to comment on some of the things I have been asked. What are my issues on – personal things. What are my issues on mental illness, people in old age homes? I think our government has already proven that we are trying to take care of them the best way we can. That's why a lot of the supplements were done.

 

A little while ago the Member for Paradise was interviewed by The Telegram. He had said in this comment, we have never seen so many emails as we've seen in the past weeks and months since this budget came down. Well, I say to them, if I were on the spending spree and the shopping spree that ye were on for the last number of years, I wouldn't receive an email or anything towards it.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS. PARSLEY: Because, as we all know, we all have vacations, but when we come back from a vacation we have to put our fiscal house in order. In order to have our house in order, we have to go on. I know what that's like as a single woman today. I know what it's like to deal with things like mental illness, autism and personal care homes, because I've been through it all.

 

As far as our health care system, when my daughter walked in a few weeks ago with my grandson for an MRI and she's up waiting to get her instructions and he says, mommy, do we have to pay? And the lady says no – because she's always trying to teach him about money, you can't be spending, we can't – and the nurse says no, you don't have to pay, it's free.

 

Walking away myself, last week, after spending a day or two at St. Clare's and getting the treatment that I got, I know what it was like to be able to walk away and not have to worry where my money was going to come to pay for those bills.

 

I think as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians today, I know there's a lot in this budget that's harsh. I know there are a lot of other things, but I think when illness strikes there's nothing can compare to that, nothing in this whole world. If we can walk in and out of our health care systems and be treated as individuals 24-7 and not have to worry, like a few years ago when I had an accident in Florida – and I won't repeat the words my husband said to me what we were after the accident. I couldn't go to a hospital and have my MRI done because I wasn't sure what the insurance would cost, but here in Newfoundland and Labrador we have a first-class medical system. I know we have to wait, but in life everyone has to wait.

 

I will conclude by saying thank you for the opportunity that I had today to speak and let's move forward with this budget.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS. COADY: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.

 

It is my honour to stand here in this hon. House today and speak in favour of the main motion on the budget.

 

Madam Speaker, I first of all want to say that I'm very proud of the team we have on this side of the House. I'm very proud of the depth and the strength they bring to this hon. House and their work ethic and their intellect, their integrity that they bring to this House of Assembly.

 

When I look around at my colleagues here gathered, I see the former Chair of the Canadian Medical Association. I'm a former Chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I know the Premier is the former head of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association. We have business leaders, we have teachers, we have lawyers. We have so many professions and people who have contributed to the communities, mayors and councillors.

 

There are so many people gathered in this hon. House. I think it's been difficult over the last number of months to listen to some people who have been taking personal exception to the people on this side of the House because of some of the difficult decisions we were forced to make.

 

I also want to say thank you to the people who support government, the people who – what I mean by that is I meant the – I beg your pardon, Madam Speaker. The people who support the work that government does. I'm talking here about the bureaucracy. We have a tremendous number of people within the organization, within government who have spent countless hours.

 

Madam Speaker, I know you've been witness to some of those countless hours of people who have had to stay working late, away from their families, because they too are very interested in ensuring that we have the best budget to address the concerns we have financially for this province.

 

Madam Speaker, you've heard repeatedly from all sides of the House how difficult this budget is. There is no doubt, it's challenging. It's frustrating, quite frankly, Madam Speaker, that we, as a province, find ourselves in this situation.

 

We had peak oil price back in 2007, we had peak oil production. We've taken in approximately $25 billion in new money – new money, Madam Speaker. Not what we normally would get in the day-to-day activities of government. We're talking about new revenues to this province. Over the last decade with peak oil and peak oil production, we've taken in the most we've ever taken in in the last decade.

 

Yet, during that time of what I'm going to call prosperity – because when you take in that much new money, all my colleagues would agree, everyone in this House would agree, that's a prosperous time. You know, in the last six of the 12 years of the previous government we ran deficits, Madam Speaker. Very, very difficult.

 

We placed last in economic growth over the last seven years – last in economic growth over the last seven years, Madam Speaker. According to Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research, “He left the province with a structural budget problem that is going to be difficult to fix.” There's no doubt about that.

 

Madam Speaker, if we did nothing – you heard it time and time again. If we did nothing, our deficit this year would have been $2.7 billion. We were able to get it down to $1.8 billion. Now, that is still a tremendous sum of money.

 

Just so that we can get our minds around how big is a billion, if we look back a million seconds ago, that would have been 12 days ago. If we look back a billion seconds ago, that would have been 31 years ago. A million minutes would have been a year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago. A billion minutes would have been the time of Christ.

 

Just to give you the difference between a billion and a million, because of course we talk about these large numbers. We throw around billions and millions as if they mean something, but you really can't grasp how big a billion really, really is. Now we have an $8.48 billion budget.

 

Now, Madam Speaker, to talk a little bit about our debt. It took us 66 years in this province to amass $11 billion in debt. That's all the hospitals, all the roads, all the schools that we developed in this province over the last 66 years came to be – our bill came to $11 billion.

 

Now, Madam Speaker, if we do nothing in the next five years, if we did nothing under this budget, if we kept on going the path that the former government set us on, in the next five years we would have doubled our debt. Now think about that. It took us 66 years to accumulate $11 billion in debt, but if we had followed the path that we were on under the former administration, in the next five years, we would have doubled the debt. Madam Speaker, that's very, very difficult. We would not have been able to sustain the services in this province.

 

If you took you look since 2004, if you take into account our Crown corporations, the former government actually doubled our public sector debt to a record of $15 billion. Madam Speaker, that's a heck of a lot of money. That's a heck of a lot of money.

 

I read with interest the article that was in The Telegram most recently written by Des Whelan, the president of the Board of Trade. He talked about how the health care budget has increased 142 per cent. It has gone from $1.2 billion to $2.9 billion. That's quite an increase; 142 per cent over the last 12 years.

 

The Fraser Institute put Newfoundland and Labrador last in Canada when it comes to value for money. So we're doing something, Madam Speaker, that is increasing our costs but not getting the level of services that we require. The Education budget has increased – I see the Minister of Education here – since 2000, 71 per cent. Yet, we have had a 36 per cent decrease in enrolment over the same period of time.

 

The Conference Board of Canada in 2014 ranked Newfoundland and Labrador a D overall. Madam Speaker, change is required to this province, definitely. Over the last decade government spending has been as high as 36 per cent per capita higher than other provinces. It's astounding, Madam Speaker.

 

Now, in preparing to discuss the budget, I went back and I said well, the Auditor General must have had something to say about this over the years. Surely the Auditor General must have pointed out to the Members opposite, the former government, that while the times are prosperous and while we have some windfalls with regard to the oil and gas and while we had peak oil and while we had peak production, times were good, but surely the Auditor General would have pointed out that there are concerns.

 

Madam Speaker, I went back to 2006. I looked up what the Auditor General said. In 2006 – I am quoting now from the Auditor General report. “… we must not lose sight of the Province's enormous debt, related debt expenses and the fact that oil is a non-renewable resource with a limited life.” We have the highest net debt per capita of any province in Canada, our debt expenses totalling $947 million. Debt expenses from 2006 are close on $1 billion – the highest interest costs as a percentage of total revenue of any province in Canada.

 

In 2006 the Auditor General said that. Well, did the Auditor General say anything else? So I skipped ahead three years. We are at peak oil production, money was rolling in, maybe they're addressing the problems so I went to 2009 and I read – and I'm quoting now from the Auditor General's report from 2009: “'Although recent surpluses may be perceived as being an abundance of money available for Government programs, Government will continue to be challenged to meet the expenditure needs of the Province, as well as the need to address its significant debt.' In particular it was noted that for each dollar of revenue in 2008, approximately 57.0 cents was allocated as follows: 10.5 cents to pay the interest on our debt (also known as the 'interest bite'); 16.6 cents spent on education, and 29.9 cents spent for health and community services.”

 

So in 2009, we're reminded again by the Auditor General that things aren't so rosy. I skipped ahead to 2012; I'm quoting from the Auditor General's report: “Since 2003, the Province's expenses have grown from $4.7 billion to $7.8 billion in 2012, an increase of $3.1 billion, or 66%. Per capita expenses in Newfoundland and Labrador are the highest in Canada. Furthermore, per capita expenses are approximately 50% higher than the average of all other provinces.”

 

Our colleagues opposite like to talk about well, they weren't here then; some of them weren't here then. Well, I'm going to go to 2014 and 2015. The Auditor General's report: “The 2014 provincial budget presented a three year outlook which forecasted a deficit in 2014-15, followed by small surpluses in 2015-16 and 2016-17.” Well, we know that that didn't happen.

 

I'm going to go on to quote: “The inherent volatility in commodity prices is highlighted by the current downturn in oil prices. While there is no certainty that oil prices will remain low, it does point to the risk to provincial revenue and the overall impact ….”

 

Again, in 2015 he goes on to say – the Auditor General again, Madam Speaker, “… shows a deficit for the year of $986 million, the largest in the Province's history ….”

 

Madam Speaker, year after year – and I could have quoted the whole 15 years of reports – the Auditor General raised the alarm, said to the former government, said to the people of the province: We're in trouble here. You better start addressing the serious situation of increasing cost, decreasing ability to pay for the cost, and, Madam Speaker, we find ourselves in this year – we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. We find ourselves in an intolerable situation because, of course, when you look at your own household finances, we know that if we've over-borrowed and we can't pay our debts, what happens.

 

Madam Speaker, we've had to make some very, very difficult decisions. One of those difficult decisions was the temporary levy. I want to speak to the temporary Deficit Reduction Levy. No one likes it when taxes rise. Of course no one does, no one in this province – an unenviable position that we are in, but I want to remind the people of this province that the levy is temporary. We have drawn it out and drawn attention to it so we would be held accountable to making sure that it is temporary.

 

Now, Madam Speaker, when I look at a comparison, and I read to you the Auditor General's report from 2006, I showed you what the Auditor General was saying. In 2006 – I want to do a comparison of the income taxes then and the income taxes that we've had to put in place, including the levy. I want to just do a comparison.

 

In 2006, before the former government decided to decrease levels of taxation, the personal income tax rate was 10.57 per cent for income up to $29,590. Madam Speaker, today, with this government, the income tax on up to $35,000 would 8.7 per cent. If we look at income between $29,000 and $59,000, in 2006 it was 16.16 per cent. If you look at it today for incomes between $35,000 up to $70,000, it's 14.5.

 

So what I'm illustrating, what I'm saying, what I'm telling the people of the province, the people who are listening to us, is while it's difficult, it's not impossible. We've been here before. This is a circumstance where we have to – as my mother used to say – cut the cloth to suit the garment. We've got to start reining in our expenditures, making sure that we are spending on what's essential, what's important, what is required by the people of this province, and we have to make sure that we have the revenues to fund that.

 

I think the people of the province understand when I say that while we are experiencing a difficult situation today, if we continue on a secure path forward we can get things under control, we can improve the fiscal situation, we can enjoy the incredible opportunities that this province has.

 

Madam Speaker, just this week I had the opportunity to meet with a number of ambassadors from the European Union. They were visiting. It was an incredible opportunity to meet with 24 ambassadors from all over Europe that came to St. John's to hear about the opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador. I had the opportunity, Madam Speaker, to talk to them about the incredible things that are happening in the mining industry.

 

So, as I said in this House on April 28, when I gave a Ministerial Statement where I talked about some of the things that are happening, Canadian Fluorspar, the expansion of IOC into Wabush 3, some of the things that are happening with the underground mine in Vale. I was explaining to them some of the incredible opportunities. Madam Speaker, in this budget we did allocate money to continue to do the geological survey of the province, and some of the opportunities that there are in gold and other types of mining around the province. They were very interested and enthusiastic, actually, in the opportunities that abound.

 

Then I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with them going over the prospectivity of our offshore oil and gas. They were amazed to learn that we have 350 leads in our offshore; that we have developments in the Jeanne D'Arc basin; that we have opportunity in the Flemish Pass basin; that we had interest of about $1.2 billion last year in terms of work commitments in offshore oil and gas for offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

They looked around our province and they saw the wealth and opportunity that's here. Madam Speaker, I can tell you I am enthusiastic. I am not just enthusiastic, I am hopeful, I think we are blessed to live in this province.

 

I know, Madam Speaker, you have to look towards the Member opposite who's making some interesting remarks across the way.

 

Madam Speaker, we should be hopeful in this province. When I look around the globe, and I've been fortunate to travel a little bit and have the opportunity to visit other countries. It is amazing the opportunities that lie in our province. The wealth and abundance of natural resources, the ingenuity of our people. We are known globally for a lot of innovation around cold water, harsh environments, around ocean technologies. It is astounding some of the work that is being done here.

 

Madam Speaker, there is a lot of opportunity and future prosperity and wealth in this province. We just need to harness that energy. I'm not just talking now about offshore oil and gas. I'm talking about the energy of the people. We could do so much in this province.

 

We're talking about the budget. I know in the Department of Natural Resources, for example, Madam Speaker, we've made some investments this year to ensure the mining industry. We have added to the Mineral Incentive Program with an additional $100,000 for the Junior Exploration Assistance program for the next three years. We want to make sure and encourage the continued development and growth in the mining sector.

 

I announced today in my Ministerial Statement how we're doing a prospectors course. I also want to point out, Madam Speaker, in this budget we've allocated money for a province-wide geological survey. We've been doing this for many years. We are going to continue to do this because that's what brings opportunity to this province.

 

We also invested in orphaned and abandoned mines. Last year there was precious little, but we think it's very important in this province to make sure we have a safety program for the environmental protection and for public health and safety. We've allocated $300,000 this year in a $2.4 million program over multiple years to make sure that we have orphaned and abandoned mines are well secure.

 

Madam Speaker, what I'm saying, that I want to point out, is how much we've invested in this province and how much we're going to continue to invest in this province to harness the activity, to harness the potential to ensure the ingenuity of our people.

 

This budget may be difficult for people, but it's not impossible. This budget may cause people to pause and say, oh, I don't want to go back to a 2006 or a 2007 tax level. But we know we can get through this, Madam Speaker, and we'll be that much better off.

 

I also want to point out some of the other – oh, I see my time is running out. I'll have to take a future opportunity to talk more about the opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the hon. Member her time for speaking has expired.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.

 

I'm proud to stand to talk to the main motion of the budget; proud of the thought and the effort that's gone in on behalf of caucus and Cabinet to craft what has been a difficult budget. There's no doubt about it.

 

To start to deal with some of the comments from the opposite side, there is a vision in this budget, contrary to what some would say. The problem has been there are none as blind as those who will not see. There is also a plan to achieve that vision, despite the comments to the contrary. That vision is quite clearly one of fiscal sustainability. The plan is a seven-year plan to get from the mess to there.

 

We had – as my colleague pointed out a few moments ago – a period of peak oil production and a period of peak oil price, 2006-2007. Both have passed and will not come this way again. You only have to look to the situation in the Middle East to realize that our contribution to the global oil market is not going to make a significant difference in prices. We are subject to the whims of what is essentially a volatile market. We need, as a province and as a government, to move away from reliance on volatility and volatile commodities.

 

We also have to reverse a culture of spending, which has seized the previous administration, and avoid the sprees like we saw in the period of 2006 to 2015, when like a bunch of drunken sailors on Water Street at night, they managed to get through $25 billion in 10 years.

 

Budget '16 sets out the road to a balanced budget in seven years. It restores confidence with prudent management and sensible spending. The credibility of that plan has been acknowledged by independent voices, contrary, again, to what the Opposition parties would have us believe. The Member for Stephenville – Port au Port made great play of that in his eloquent speech on the subject.

 

The independent voices are those of the bond-rating agencies and the syndicates that lend money to provinces. Had the province not acted in a decisive and clear way, the penalties would have been swift and severe. You've seen the consequences for dilatory action in places like Alberta. We have need of a certain sum of money and we need to pay as little as possible for it. By providing a clear plan and a way forward, we have achieved both of those, the ability to borrow what we need and at rates which are competitive and affordable.

 

Having said that, we still in the abysmal situation, left from the previous government, where we actually have to spend $983 million in this coming year just simply to service the debt, to pay the interest on the mortgage that they took out on behalf of every man, woman and child in this province.

 

The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune said, well, why don't we go and borrow like the feds? I would point out that some simple arithmetic would point out that the $30 billion debt she proposes for Canada would be spread over a population of 35 million people. We currently have a debt somewhere in the order of 80 times that magnitude already, and she's proposing to suggest we borrow more.

 

The Third Party had a suggestion that we should increase borrowing by 100 per cent over what we have suggested. These are totally unrealistic and unsustainable ideas. So we have to find what we can afford, what we need and what we can get in terms of value for money.

 

We go back to the debt; $983 million in debt costs this year, whereas we can only afford $890 million on children's education. The level of taxation has been a stick they've tried to beat us with, but essentially it goes back to those levels before the spending spree began in earnest.

 

In actual fact, given the magnitude of our debt, it's not unreasonable. What is unreasoned and unreasonable has been the cherry-picking we've seen in the debates and in Question Period when the media are here to highlight the weakness of their previous planning and try and cast the blame for the financial mess on to this side of the House when we are actually doing a really creditable job of dealing with it.

 

The tax package has been dissected. It has been taken apart and they have tried to portray each of these components as evils when, in actual fact, the sum of these components is greater together than the component parts. Taken together, it's a comprehensive package. Not like the utopia party over there would have us do, which is to borrow another 100 per cent on what we have already, with no plan as to how to spend it reasonably and no conceivable way of ever paying it back.

 

It's a comprehensive policy based on taxation levels that are realistic, given our level of revenue. The temporary levy, which they love to decry, is part of a package; it goes straight on the deficit reduction. That's what it's there for. It goes straight to that and not into the pot of general revenue. It's pitched specifically – contrary to the information opposite – to exclude the lowest 38 per cent of incomes in this province. Of those people who do pay, 43 per cent of them would be paying less than $1 a day.

 

In 2018, it will go down. It's in there. It's in the plan. It will be gone by the end of this seven-year plan, at which point we will be in balance and fiscally sustainable, because we're not going to make the same mistakes they made, spending money we haven't got and can't afford to borrow.

 

Contrary, again, to what the Members opposite would have you believe, that is clear. It is open. It is in the budget document. It's there in Estimates. Again, none so blind as those who will not see.

 

We have taken, in addition, specific measures to deal with the challenges that vulnerable groups are presented with in life. We have new supplements for seniors and for low income. It depends on taxable income, not gross, as the folk on the other side of the House would try and make out. The supplements are phased out at income levels which start to reflect the cost of living, again, taxable income.

 

The problem has been, there has been so much obfuscation and disinformation propagated by the Members opposite, who throw out incomes and dire predictions. These measures are robust and the fog they create over there is deliberate and based on laziness when it suits their political short-term goals.

 

The Minister of Finance has responded to their half-truths with facts. Yet, they choose to be hard of hearing when it comes to those facts. They talk of $3,000 extra in taxes. They pull these figures out of the air. Well, $3,000 extra in taxes, Madam Speaker, equates to purchasing $150,000 of HST liable purchases in a year. Alternatively, it's 24,000 litres of gasoline or three million litres of aviation fuel. I'm not sure that a typical expenditure of anybody in this province.

 

The measures are crucial in terms of taxation, but equally crucial are expenditure measures. Long term, the very nature of expenditure measures is that they are slower.

 

The Members opposite, particularly the Third Party, went to town on the subject of rationale. Well, rationale, as I said the other day, is the exposition of reason. It's a very topical word from them, but the rationale here – the exposure to reason – is the fact that our books have not balanced and could not balance with the policy of the previous government. They do and they will with this. My grandson is not going to be saddled with $53,000 on his head, along with every other man, woman and child in this province because they could only think about spending and borrowing. It won't happen. 

 

Spending wisely is often spending less. So, as a government, we were put in power to make some decisions. We have a responsibility to decide what is it we need, what is it we want and what is it we can afford. Those three pockets meet together in a venn diagram, and in the middle is determined what we as a government can do as policy. We're not here to talk about frills. One could argue on a philosophical basis whether that's the role of government too.

 

Progressive program spending has not really been addressed or critically reviewed in any serious way over the last few years. We've heard from the Minister of Education and the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, and every department about the challenges they were left with.

 

Over the last decade programs have been added willy-nilly, without any thought and with absolutely no evaluation built in. My own department consumes currently 38 per cent of the provincial budget; 38 cents of every dollar, Madam Speaker. It is simply not sustainable, yet the interesting thing is when I went out to visit the regional health authorities at the beginning of this year, sat down and talked to them about what their challenges were with a group of trustees in every board who were time expired and were serving until replacements could be produced through the appointment system we agreed on yesterday, these members of the board could not recall ever having seen a Minister of Health. They have been in post between three and six years. They could never recall being asked or invited by a Minister of Health, as board of trustees, to meet with the Minister of Health, none of them.

 

So doing business the same way simply because we've always done it doesn't make sense. Indeed a famous scientist once said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a form of insanity.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Looney.

 

MR. HAGGIE: Yes, thank you. 

 

My argument is within my own department, and I hear it around discussions I have with colleagues, is why on earth do you keep doing things, not only when there is no supporting evidence, but there's actually evidence to the contrary that these things are potentially ineffective. It's become a part of the previous government's culture that you simply do not do anything critically; you simply get in there, spend first and think later. My own department had an advertising campaign which cost $200,000 and was predicated on dancing mammals actually attracting people to use a health line. As the people concerned said, Minister, that really wasn't our demographic, I think, was the kindest way of putting it.

 

We had the wonderful example of a come-home campaign to repatriate Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, vast amounts of money put into it and then someone thought that perhaps airing it in Newfoundland and Labrador wasn't going be terribly productive and the whole thing was canned. Money spent, money wasted, no gain. Spend first, think later.

 

The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune loved to castigate me over changes to the provincial low-risk breast cancer screening program. My response to her and my response to them is still, why when the previous minsters of health, some of which sit on the opposite side – the previous ministers of health had access to the same information I had for five years. For five years, Madam Deputy Speaker, they choose to continue to fund something for which there was no evidence.

 

We have to examine what we do through the lens of what is needed versus what we want, what we can afford and what we can't and where the evidence lies. So folk over there would have you believe that this is not a budget with any investment. That is simply not the case. We have an investment for seniors and aging in this province. We have a sensible plan to look at long-term care as part of an organized, programmatic approach based on placements, not knee-jerk, let's build some beds.

 

We had a plan that was derived when I was in another capacity –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker is having trouble hearing the Member.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. HAGGIE: – through Central Health, for example, which had an integrated, long-term care strategy for aging in place, rehabilitation and all the services were needed. Yet because it didn't fit with the ideology opposite, no one did anything with it. They went out to some buddies and said let's have a tender to put some long-term care beds here and here. It was flawed from the get-go. One of our first decisions as government was to take that off the table and try to find the money to make sure that we did it properly this time, instead of as a knee-jerk.

 

We have a need for community programs to support those things so that people can age in place and we can reduce the demand for the high-level, specialized long-term care that is the goal or had been the goal of the previous government, and the only answer. We put money in the budget for new drugs, but I challenge the Members opposite – that money has been going in for years – what's ever come off the formulary? Nothing, it just got bigger and bigger, and no one has done any due diligence about what is it we need, what is it we want, and why we are spending our money on stuff that is outmoded and no longer best practice.

 

In health, we know that more care is not better care, it is simply more care, and it's more expensive and nobody gains. We have to engage with the patients of this province, the people of this province and with the care providers to work through practice issues. What is appropriate care? What is appropriate use of diagnostics? Those are areas, for example, in which there is a vast literature already there where we could save 25 to 35 per cent in diagnostic imaging and laboratory services alone, Madam Speaker – just those two areas. That may not result into any immediate savings, particularly with diagnostic imaging, but it would abolish the wait-list in any substantial way. Yet again, none of that has been addressed.

 

So in terms of investment, there were comments again made on the other side about a lack. But again, there are none as blind as those who will not see; $574 million of money into infrastructure, we're leveraging from the federal government. This will generate 1,000 jobs a year over the next four years. Could we have done more? I doubt it. The important thing is that we have not done less. We have penny-pinched and saved where we could, and we have put money into things that will generate revenue and work for this province in difficult times.

 

So again, Madam Deputy Speaker, I just reiterate the fact that this is a difficult budget, but contrary to what the Members opposite would say, there is both a vision of where we need to go and a plan to get there. The facts of the case are that cherry-picking on the other side does not make that any different.

 

So, Madam Deputy Speaker, from my point of view, I ask for the support of the House in this budget, which I think is a very creditable performance, given the abysmal mess we were left to face.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BYRNE: Well, there you go. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.

 

I'd like to take the moments I have available to me to introduce to the House a very important budget item that was in Budget 2016, which is the $8.5 million that was allocated for the completion – not the continuation, but the completion of the Western Memorial Regional Hospital planning study.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BYRNE: Madam Speaker, it cannot be left unsaid that there are concerns on the West Coast of exactly what is the status of this particular project. In fact when the people consider that over $50 million will be spent by the end of this fiscal year on planning or site preparation for a hospital design which is not even ready to tender as of yet, it is only fair and reasonable that there would be questions.

 

Well, Madam Speaker, those questions are shared by everyone on this side because, of course, as we went into this, in the lead up to the election campaign, there was no signs that there was any troubles or issues; in fact, the former government simply said that the construction of the Western Memorial Hospital was on track and on time and on budget. It was probably the 25th or 26th time that they had said that, but nonetheless there was a commitment that was given that all was well.

 

Madam Speaker, when we formed the government on December 14 and were able to look at some of the documentation, some of the issues, some of the evidence surrounding exactly the status of this hospital and the $42 million that had been spent at that point in time, we knew all was definitely not well. In fact, Madam Speaker, we discovered very quickly that there was no capacity for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to proceed with a tender, to proceed with a build opportunity to get the project, to get steel in the ground as a former member from my district once said, in a timely fashion.

 

By the time this is all said and done, $50 million will be spent; $25 million approximately on site infrastructure, which many affectionately call one of the largest dog parks in Western Newfoundland because there is no particular function for it at this point in time, and $25 million on studies. How did we get to this point?

 

Well, Madam Speaker, I'll attempt to walk you through some of that particular narrative, some of those facts and some of those inalienable truths. On October of 2007 the Williams government announced that Corner Brook would benefit from the construction of a full service replacement hospital for Western Memorial. Now, in October of 2007, the reason why that decision was taken presumably was because the current hospital was in a state of disrepair; that was nine years ago. With no hospital available to replace it, it is in a greater state of disrepair. The need could never be better or greater.

 

An interesting element of that particular budget decision in October 2007 was that government announced a total budget envelope of $142 million to achieve the project, to achieve the goal. Now, Madam Speaker, anyone would know that at $142 million this was woefully inadequate and underestimated the actual cost of the project.

 

It is an important and relevant point, because from that moment onward the PC government was engaged in an exercise to try to put the toothpaste back into the tube. They knew that at $142 million, the project could not be completed as budgeted. They had to – in their own words – rightsize it. We know what that means.

 

Two years later, in January 2008, there was some progress when AMEC consultants were contracted for site evaluation at a contract cost of $120,000. By April 30, 2009, Hatch Mott MacDonald and Agnew Peckham consultants were contracted to product a master plan, a functional plan, which would be followed by a predesigned series of studies for the future of the hospital. The contract price of that contract: $1.6 million.

 

There was a hospital master plan that was delivered by those consultants in late 2009. There was a functional plan that was delivered in 2010. Then there was an estimated project completion cost, which was kept relatively secret, tagged at $800 million – not $142 million, $800 million.

 

In September 2010, the government, however, asserts that construction will indeed begin in 2012 and will be completed in 2016. Now when you're $668 million short in a budget which represents five times more expense, you can understand why there might be some concerns; however, those concerns were never adequately voiced to the public, or for that matter to themselves.

 

With that as a backdrop, concern mounted and in November 2011 a second set of engineers was then hired. Stantec Consulting engineers were brought in to do due diligence work on the Hatch Mott MacDonald's $1.6 million worth of work. This contract cost $177,000 extra. Stantec offered up a series of redesigned considerations and suggestions.

 

In August 2012, Stantec was called in again to redesign and redeliver a brand new master plan. Contract cost for that particular initiative, an additional $205,000. However, government put this aside as simply saying we are confirming the hospital, we are just simply rightsizing it.

 

In March of 2013, Stantec delivers a new master plan for the Corner Brook hospital that includes 160 acute care beds – which is down from the 199 which are currently in the building – 100 long-term beds, plus 48 hostel beds. Anticipated construction cost by this engineering firm comes in, not an exact figure but a range. They suggest it will cost $588 million, give or take 30 per cent either way.

 

So in other words, either $411.6 million or $764.4 million. In reply to this figure the Premier announces $227 million is in Budget 2013 to build a hospital, which is already known internally by the government to have a construction cost of $411 million or $764 million, or somewhere in between. Stantec is then contracted to deliver a second functional plan for the hospital. The contract price for this: an additional $1 million.

 

By September of 2013, government decides to proceed with a specific development program called the design-build approach. Transportation and Works is directed to develop two separate packages for construction. Package one being a long-term care facility, and package two an acute care facility. A wise path to take, given the fact that alleviation of the long-term care concerns and needs would go a long way in being able to deliver a functional and highly efficient and effective acute care hospital.

 

Package one is to consist of 120 long-term care beds in a design-build approach, which specifically, Madam Speaker, would include facilities for a food service kitchen, with capability to provide food services for both the long-term care and the acute care hospital. It would include restorative care units, a rehabilitative care unit and a palliative care unit, which obviously have a direct connection and synergy with a long-term care facility.

 

Now bear in mind, Madam Speaker, a restorative care unit, a rehabilitative care unit, and a palliative care unit – both very important and essential, publicly available, publicly-funded health care units and facilities would be part of the long-term care facility in the PC's September 2013 plan. Then an acute care hospital would take up phase 2 with a 48 bed hospital attached.

 

December 28, 2013 – I understand to be the date – Transportation and Works issues a request for qualifications and a request for proposals on a design build based on the above, with those specific publicly-funded, publicly-available and public administered health care facilities of palliative, restorative care included.

 

Madam Speaker, we're already getting into a time when there is an expectation growing within the people of the West Coast and all those who would use the hospital, that a PET scanner, which is the emerging technology for diagnostics and selected radiation and cancer care treatments, should indeed be included in the facility. The PET scanner and radiation therapy debate goes to a head from July of 2013. It escalates right to the point of the issuing of the RFP in December and continues on until April of 2014.

 

Madam Speaker, may I simply point out as a matter of record, that the hon. Member for Humber – Bay of Islands was a key proponent of these facilities and really brought this debate to its head. He was the one who really took charge and identified not only the need but the technical feasibility to this initiative and this endeavour.

 

In August of 2013, however, the Health Minister of the day did not agree. Instead, suggesting that radiation therapy as proposed, that would be offered in Corner Brook, would result in patient harm. Radiation therapy would result in patient harm.

 

The Official Opposition, however, providing evidence led by the hon. Member for Humber Valley at the time, and the hon. Member for Bay of Islands at the time, put forward the notion this was misguided in its rhetoric and that such facilities are becoming standard model for inclusion in smaller, progressive secondary health care institutions, and models were given. It resulted in the government reversing itself and announcing the inclusion of select radiation therapy, and the Health care minister was shuffled.

 

Government, however, after having announced this, proceed with hiring an Alberta consultant to investigate the feasibility of the decision they had already taken. So the government announced a $500,000 contract to an Alberta company to investigate whether or not indeed radiation therapy was feasible, after announcing that it would continue to occur.

 

Now, progress was being made in July of 2014, Madam Speaker, with the Corner Brook Care Team. The CBCT joint venture was awarded with both the design-build development packages, with an initial consulting cost of $12 million. CBCT is a joint venture between B+H Architects, Montgomery Sisam Architects, PCL Contractors and Marco Construction, Madam Speaker, for the record.

 

In July of 2014 to April 2015, CBCT focuses on the design-build package for, number one, the long-term care facility, with an understanding that the long-term care would be first out of the gate. Again, this includes a food service kitchen large enough for both the long-term care and the acute care facility. It also was to include restorative care, rehabilitative care and palliative care in the long-term care facility.

 

Madam Speaker, this is where it really, really gets interesting, because again the PC government then reverses itself in April of 2015 for yet another time. It reverses itself and decides to proceed with an RFP on a design-build-operate for the long-term care package only. Now, this has a significance and relevance because of course what is in the privately design, build and operated facility, what is designed to be in that institution, but rehab, restorative and palliative care.

 

So with that said, the Corner Brook Care Team is ordered to stop planning the design build of the long-term care component of their contract and change orders, I understand, are issued to direct the Corner Brook Care Team to redirect and concentrate on the acute care package exclusively and to reincorporate previously removed project components of food services, rehab, restorative and palliative care.

 

Now, Madam Speaker, this is all occurring at point when Intermediate crude was still trading at $110 a barrel. Following the review of the functional plan by Western Memorial's department heads, other changes were also then incorporated, including location of the intensive care and the footprint of the diagnostic imaging centre.

 

This new direction means that, Madam Speaker, additional redesign work would be required to reincorporate these services, those important publicly available health care services, back into the acute care plan. These change orders result in additional redesign and additional consulting costs, but the end result is that the government goes away from offering additional funds and simply scales back the product that the Corner Brook Care Team was to provide and it goes from being a detailed design package to a schematic design only.

 

Now, this is an important point, Madam Speaker, because when they do that by going to a schematic design only, that's where the capacity to be able to go to tender is functionally stopped. That occurred prior to March 2015. Yet, in the Budget 2015, the PC government puts out the following message to the media and to the public and registered on the public website of the Department of Health: Question in its FAQ section: Will the continuation of the Corner Brook hospital be impacted by declining oil revenues? Answer: The decline in oil revenues will not impact on the continuation of this project. Government has committed to constructing a new hospital in Corner Brook and we will deliver on that promise.

 

There is just one problem, Madam Speaker, what they did not inform any of us, anyone in the public, was that all future funding for the Corner Brook hospital was removed from the multi-year fiscal forecast in Budget 2015.

 

The PC government continues to insist that the hospital is proceeding. In the course of the election of 2015, the PCs promised the hospital is still proceeding. It is still going to be built, they stated during the election campaign. It wasn't until quite after the election campaign in January 2016 in an interview with, I believe, The Western Star at the time, the now Opposition Leader, former premier, criticizes the Liberal government for consideration of proceeding with Western Memorial at a time when oil revenues are so low.

 

Madam Speaker, this is where we are today. We have a design schematic only. We do not have something which can go to tender. The entire fiscal framework, the entire funding for the project was removed from the budget in 2015, without any announcement or public acknowledgement. We went into the summer and fall and into the general election with the former government stating – as if it were a statement of fact – this project is proceeding regardless. Never saying, never telling, never informing that they had removed from the fiscal framework all funds related to this project.

 

Then we have them going into the election campaign saying it's business as usual. Then in January 2016, there was a revelation that the current administration should never ever consider doing this project because oil revenues are so low.

 

Well, Madam Speaker, we can inform this House – as we did the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and in particular to the users of this facility that need it so badly – it was needed in 2007 when the decision was taken to replace it. It had issues back then. It is now nine years later. It has even greater issues today. We allocated $8.5 million to be able to complete this project. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is not a simple continuation of the same old, same old. It is not a continuation of planning; it is a completion of the plan.

 

Madam Speaker, that story had to be told on the floor of this House, and I appreciate it very much. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

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

 

Given the hour of the day, with the consent of the opposite House Leaders, I would suggest we recess for supper. 

 

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

 


May 17, 2016                  HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                  Vol. XLVIII No. 29A


 

The House resumed at 7 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

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

 

I would call from the Order Paper, Order 3, Concurrence Motion, Report of the Social Services Committee.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Deputy Speaker.

 

MS. DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'll speak for a couple of minutes to Concurrence on the Social Services Committee. I got a little enthusiastic earlier this week when I tabled the motion and I proceeded into the details at that time. I'll take a little more time right now to explain the process maybe to some of the people who are listening.

 

I was responsible to Chair the Social Services Committee. There are three. There's the Resource Committee, Social Services Committee – what's the other one? I'm just forgetting. I'm looking for someone to help me out here. Resource Committee, Social Services Committee and there's one more, Mr. Speaker.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Government Services.

 

MS. DEMPSTER: Government Services. Thank you, I say to my hon. colleague.

 

On the Social Services Committee, I will read the Members. They certainly all played a valuable role. It's a very time-consuming process but a very necessary, important process. On the Social Services Committee was the hon. the Member for Topsail – Paradise, the Member for Burin – Grand Bank, the Member for Mount Pearl – Southlands, the Member for Harbour Main, the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, the Member for St. George's – Humber and the Member for St. John's Centre.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Social Services Committee is responsible to oversee the budget Estimates process for eight departments. Those eight departments are: the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Fire and Emergency Services, the Department of Health and Community Services; the Department of Justice and Public Safety, the Department of Municipal Affairs, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, the Labour Relations Agency and the Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

 

Each year after the budget is brought down, no matter who the government of the day is, we go through a process for the next number of weeks in the Chamber called the Estimates process. That's where the minister comes into the Chamber with his senior team of officials and the Opposition and the Third Party get to go through the budget process line by line and ask questions.

 

Often, there might be discrepancies or differences maybe from a 2015 budget to a 2016 budget. In a certain department, you might see a difference of $700,000 or $800,000 or $2 million. Because we are all here representing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, just a voice for them, and because the finances that go through this House of Assembly are taxpayers' money, it is very, very important that we be transparent and very important that we be accountable. So that's the democracy that we live in. They ask questions and the minister answers as best he can.

 

Normally there are three hours allotted for the Estimates process, but it can be longer. I mentioned earlier the night that we sat for Justice and Public Safety I think we maybe went close to five hours –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Four hours.

 

MS. DEMPSTER: Four hours, was it? The minister was very gracious in answering the questions that were asked of him.

 

In addition, Mr. Speaker, to the Members that sit in the Chamber, that make up the Social Services Committee, I must mention the Broadcast Centre downstairs. We don't see them, but every single day they are doing very valuable work. They are recording the things that we do in Hansard. Everything that comes out of our mouth is recorded forever in this place, which sometimes can be a scary thought. They do a great job down there, so I want to thank them as well.

 

My first time – I had been a critic the last couple of budgets, Advanced Education and Skills and some other areas, but it was my first time chairing. We try to be as fair and non-partisan as we can and ensure that everybody gets their questions asked. I want to thank my fellow Committee Members. They did a great job showing up and if they couldn't, they took responsibility for ensuring that they had a substitute in their place.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Estimates of 2016 was all about the budget that was brought down on the 14th of April, a budget with a revenue of $8.48 billion. We've been hearing a lot about the very difficult budget that was brought down and there's no doubt, but I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that significant funds are still going into investing in providing services in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was certainly pleased to see a healthy portion of that coming to continue to build vital infrastructure in the part of the province that I call home, continuing on with the Trans-Labrador Highway, some repaving or levelling of Route 510 and a number of other things.

 

That's all I'm going to say, Mr. Speaker, in Concurrence about the Estimates process. It's a very important process. A friend of mine, a former MHA from this House, Sammy Slade for Carbonear – Harbour Grace before the electoral boundary reform, always used to refer to this place as the people's House. Absolutely, it is the people's House and we need to remind ourselves of that on a daily basis. Indeed, the work that we do here is the people's work.

 

It was a privilege for me to Chair the Social Services Committee and work through the Estimates process with my colleagues, Mr. Speaker. I'm happy to stand in my place any time as well and represent the people of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair. I look forward to continuing to work hard on their behalf.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

It's, indeed, a pleasure to get up here tonight and talk a little bit about the social services sector. The part that I'm going to speak a little bit about tonight is Municipal Affairs, where I'm the critic for Municipal Affairs.

 

First, before I start off my speech tonight I'd like to congratulate Shayne and Amy Meade, the newest married couple in Newfoundland and Labrador. I performed the ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Middle Cove beach where they just got married. I'd like to congratulate them tonight.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: It's going to be a surprise for a lot of the members of the family, so I hope there are not a lot of them that are watching this tonight. I may ruin their surprise. I hope there are not a lot watching. I think I'm okay. I really do think I'm okay.

 

Mr. Speaker, that's a young couple that's starting off in life. I wish them all the best. Newfoundland is a great place to live and grow. They're in the best spot in the world as far as I'm concerned.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: When I look at the budget – this is, I don't know, how many times up now speaking on the budget. Our leader asked me to be a critic for certain departments. Two departments that really touched home with me was the fishery – because I do have allegiance with the fishery. I grew up in it and my family's involved in it. We're still involved in it.

 

Municipal Affairs was important to me also because being a former mayor – I can remember the late Jack Byrne called me one day. The municipal election was coming. Him and my father – I wanted to run to be a councillor, the two of them wanted me to run to be the mayor. I argued, and guess who won? The two of them decided afterwards and I ran to be the mayor. That's how I became the mayor of Flatrock was because of the late Jack Byrne, the Member that preceded me before I came here. He was a great Member and a great man in the district. He was a good friend, too. He got me into municipal politics.

 

The one thing I'll say to every municipal leader out there, everyone that's involved in council – and I know there are lots of Members here, there are former mayors here in the House of Assembly with us now and people who ran. It's unbelievable the satisfaction you get from doing things right in your own community. It's hard; it's not easy. It's a hard thing to do.

 

Municipal leaders, the decisions they make are so close to home because the decisions they make are involved with their neighbours. To be a volunteer and have to make a decision whether they're going to be able to let them build a shed or build a house or put a road in, and you're dealing with your neighbour. It's hard because that's your neighbour and sometimes you'll disagree.

 

I'll always remember the first decision I made. It was a friend of mine and we argued whether a road had to be paved in a subdivision or not. Anyway, I won. It got paved, but it was difficult. We really got to applaud our municipalities in this province because for the most part they're volunteers. They put so much time and effort into it.

 

If you look at small communities, like I do in my area, you'll see the people on the council are also involved in everything else, from minor hockey to Girl Guides to everything else that's in that small community because they're the true leaders of the whole community. I really applaud the municipal leaders who are in.

 

I'm very happy – I said it in Estimates, and the Member for Lab West said to me after how good it was for Municipal Affairs. There are a lot of good things that happened within Municipal Affairs. I'm very pleased to see they have the 90-10, that didn't get cut, and the 70-30 and the 80-20, because it's important to the small towns.

 

Again, going back to my days as mayor of Flatrock, we were looking to get a fire truck. At that time there were seven applications in. I said this before, but back then it was 50-50 funding. None of the small municipalities could afford it. To go out and tell a municipality, listen, $125,000 of our budget is going to go towards paying for 50 per cent of a fire truck. They couldn't afford to do it.

 

This change we did over the last couple of years, it's great. It's fantastic what we did for the small towns. Then the mid-size towns, if you look at towns that were over 3,000, they are on the 80-20 split, which again is very – and it makes sense, they got more revenue coming in – and 70-30 for the larger towns. So it was a great thing and I'm glad that you kept that ratio there.

 

Also, last year another thing we put in was the sustainability plan for municipalities to give them some extra money. It was an extra $22 million, and that stayed the same the year. Our operating grants, I understand they stayed basically the same, too, for the towns. So it's huge. That's great, because you know what? I said it here – so many times I said it here.

 

When you download things to municipalities or you download from us down to them, at the end of the day there's only one person that's going to pay. We only got one taxpayer in our communities, and that's what we got in small communities. No matter if they give it to the provincial government or to the municipal government, there's still one person who got to pay those taxes. I was pretty pleased with that, but I talked to the municipal leaders in my area and those are the good things.

 

Before the budget came down there was nothing good in the budget. The Minister of Finance said there was absolutely nothing good in this budget. It was a bad budget, and there was nothing good in the budget. Well, I just gave you three things that were good in the budget, okay. So it wasn't all bad. That's a good thing. I know you're agreeing with me.

 

In the budget, you've got to understand with municipalities, they have small budgets and they got to be balanced. At the end of the day, they can't run deficits, they can't run surpluses. At the end of the day, they've got to be able to balance the sheets. They got to know this is the number of dollars we're going to spend and this is what we got coming in. So it's got to balance.

 

The difficulty that municipalities – and I asked a question on this the other day to the minister. The difficulty they're concerned with and they're really concerned with – and if you look at the release at their symposium they had out in Gander last weekend it was very clear how concerned they are, because the added taxes and fuel costs, for example.

 

I know the Member for Topsail said that CBS, I thought, told him that because of what's happening in this budget – it's $250,000, or was it $300,000?

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

 

MR. K. PARSONS: It's $350,000 extra that it's going to cost that town. So you've got to understand where they're coming from. While the 90-10, the 70-30 and those things are great, that town did their budget last year. So they got their budget all ready for this year. Once the 16 cents comes in on a litre of gas, they've got to figure out, okay, what are we going to do? What services are we going to cut in order to be able to pay for our gas bill? Because they can't run a deficit. Insurance costs, where are they going to get the money for insurance costs?

 

The biggest thing, when they really got looking at things – the Minister of Municipal Affairs, again he got up and I asked him a question on the libraries. He said he never spoke to MNL about the libraries. I'll tell you, maybe he didn't but MNL are really concerned over that because that's the start. That's where they see a start of this downloading that they're fearful of. They really are. They're really scared, because what's going to happen is – I'll give you an example.

 

In my district, the Town of Pouch Cove, they have a wonderful library down there. The usage is over the top. The town itself in the last two years invested an extra $8,000. They put in their budget, the last two years, $8,000 to run an after-school program because there was that much interest there. The libraries board gave them so many hours to operate their library and they did that from in the morning. After school the library was closed, but there was an interest in an after-school program.

 

Council voted on it and they all voted to take money out of their budget to be able to use this after-school program. This is what they do for their – there's no rent going into the library. The library is in the building, so they don't have to pay anything for the building. The light bill in the library is paid by the town and the town pays for the cleaning of the place and everything else. There is no snow clearing. The town takes care of all the snow clearing. So the librarian is basically the cost of what it is for the library.

 

Now we're going to tell that town that's after doing its part, as far as I'm concerned, really after doing its part, that now they have to come up – if they want to keep the library in their town, if you want a library in that town, then they have to come up with the money to pay for the librarian. I believe they are really doing their part.

 

I think we really have to look and see how important libraries are to small communities like Pouch Cove. There are a lot of people who go to the library that use it for the Internet. They go and they do some research. There are a lot of children who use it. They go there and they study in the evenings.

 

There's some tutoring that's getting done. There are some kids helping other kids. Libraries are great resources in our community. There's a program there in the morning for the tots, reading to children. Those are services that we –especially in communities like Pouch Cove and all over the province where they don't have the big centres like we do here in St. John's and areas like that. It's an important part.

 

I know every one of you guys and ladies over there on the other side, small libraries that are getting cut in your areas are important to those communities. There's none of you who can get up and say, no, we didn't want that library, or there's no municipal leader who'll come in and say, listen, that library means nothing to us, we don't want it. We don't want that library, take it back. They're important because they're an important part of the community.

 

I don't believe we should be downloading to the volunteers in municipalities who are working hard. Most of them that are in municipal buildings, the town does their part, like I just named, the heat bill and different things like that. We can't be downloading this stuff to municipalities. If you read their release, they're wondering what's going to happen in October. If this is the start – is this what you're starting to doing to us?

 

There are good things in the budget, like I said earlier. I named off three to start off – three good things in the budget. But there are a lot of things in this budget that's going to affect municipalities right across the province. It's going to make it harder for them to give the services that the people in their towns deserve: the snow clearing, the garbage collection and all the street lighting. They do a lot of small things in the area.

 

Even when you look at 50-plus clubs – and I read a thing last night about 50-plus clubs and how concerned they are about the budgets. Our town councils are key to keeping our communities together.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Go ahead. Say what you have to say there.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: We call them (inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Okay. I don't understand what he's saying anyway. It doesn't make any difference. It didn't make any sense anyway.

 

I'm trying to talk about small towns like you have on the Northern Peninsula, how important their town councils are and why we should be supporting their town councils. That's what I'm talking about.

 

I'm talking about how many libraries you are losing in your district. It's zero. You're happy; you have a smile on your face. Talk to the fellow from Catalina that's losing his, talk to people that are losing their libraries. You're happy that you got zero. Talk about all of them because we're not happy about losing libraries. Communities are not happy. Town councils are not happy.

 

Mr. Speaker, I'm here tonight talking about municipalities in this province. I'm talking about how important they are to the people of the province, how important they are to the constituents, what they do for small towns, what they do for large towns. They're volunteers. They're people that come out and give freely of their time. In some cases, they do over and above everything.

 

They'll be out doing maintenance. Go to a Santa Claus parade in a small community and see, probably, who the Santa Claus is. It's probably the mayor. It could be the deputy mayor. But you can mark it down that they're there and they're involved. Go see who is running the Girl Guides; go see who's running minor hockey. They're volunteers. They're the heart and soul of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we have lots of them out there. We have to support them.

 

While this budget did a few good things, they're scared and they're nervous and they're afraid of what's going to happen in future budgets coming down the road in the fall. What else is going to be cut? What else is going to be downloaded? You may think the libraries are a small, little thing, but they're afraid that it's just the start – the added cost of gas.

 

They're human, too, because I guarantee you they're the ones that are emailing you. They're the ones that every time you go to one of your functions that are talking to you and saying what effect this budget is having on their towns, what effect it's having on their neighbours, what effect it's having on the seniors, what effect it's having on people who are on fixed income in these small communities.

 

That's who is talking to you; I know they're talking to you because they tell me. They're talking about effects that this budget is having on normal Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, on hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our seniors. This is the effect it's going to have. As you download services and make the towns' costs go up, they're the ones going to be paying the taxes there too and they're afraid of that.

 

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to just touch base today – I heard lots of speakers here today and it was interesting to listen to them all. The Minister of Health said we spent like drunken sailors. Well, I'd like to ask the Minister of Health to go to the Town of Gander and ask them about all of the investments that were done in there in the last 10 or 12 years and if they considered the fire departments, water treatment and everything else that was in the Town of Gander spending like drunken sailors, because that's not what happened. 

 

Let me tell you, when you look at this budget today, you guys are going to spend more money than we spent last year. You're spending more money. You talk out of both sides of your face because one time you got up and you talked about how we're spending like drunken sailors, yet your investments in towns, roads and everything else, the same as we did – we invested in communities. We invested in communities in the roads, infrastructure in the communities. We invested in building town halls, more fire trucks than you could ever imagine in this province –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Yes, but do you know what? That's a good thing.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Part of the reason we ask those who are identified to speak to address their comments to the Speaker is so not to engage other Members directly in debate. I'll ask the Member to address the Speaker with the comments and not directly engage other Members in debate, and I'll ask Members opposite to respect the Member that's been identified to speak.

 

The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

 

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

 

I'll address you now because I don't want to get that crowd going again.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, we've done a lot over the last – I'm going to talk about small communities right around this province. We've invested – like I said to you earlier about the fire truck for the Town of Flatrock where it was 50-50 and now it's 90-10. Now there are about 30 applications in for fire trucks. That's because of smart investments we made in small communities right across this province.

 

The Department of Municipal Affairs, there are some great people in that department, running that department. They do great work; they're on the ground – listen, we still have a lot of issues in this province. We've got a lot of issues when it comes to water, we've got a lot of issues when it comes to waste water, and it's going to take investments. There's no doubt about it. I hope that you do invest in Municipal Affairs and I hope you do invest in the towns in our province. It's important that we do. Like I said, the people that are running our communities, our mayors and councillors, are the heart and soul of all our communities and we deserve to be able to be there to support them.

 

Mr. Speaker, the biggest thing that people in this province want is to be able to have some hope. Today I listened to a lot of speakers get up – there were four of them got up in a row – and I don't think either one of them had anything they could say to somebody, hope that there's a positive – everything was just so negative, and it was doom, gloom, doom, gloom.

 

The reason why that is – and we asked the questions here today in the House of Assembly. They don't have a plan. They've got no plan. The only plan they've got is to tax, tax, tax, tax and cut, cut, cut. Today I think there were probably about five questions asked to the Premier of this province. What is the plan you have for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador? Each time he got up he blamed us. It is our fault that he doesn't have a plan. We hear it day after day, they get up, you don't understand. Well, the people of the province do understand. They do understand. If you talk to them, they'll tell you. I understand they've got no plan.

 

One of the Members said today – I'm not sure which one – something about lazy. I heard a lot of people, Mr. Speaker, describe this budget as a lazy budget – a very lazy budget. They went and they took every line and said, okay, we're cutting there, we're cutting there, we're cutting there. That's all they did. We're taxing here, we're taxing there, we're taxing there. Where was the plan? What are we going to do in the future? Where's their plan? They have no plan. And that's the whole problem; they never had a plan coming in.

 

They were about a week before election day before they hauled their book out and tried to say that we have a plan now. I think it was a week before the election. The day before the advance poll they came out with a plan, and then we heard what the comments were on that. There were really scary comments on that. People looked at it and thought it was a joke. I guess now it's no joke because we saw the results.

 

I've got one minute left and I really want to just say that this budget really does affect the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I listened to everyone over there today. I listened to the Member for Harbour Main, and I really felt heartfelt for her because she knows. She has listened to it in her district. She's hearing it every day. It's hard to go back to your districts and do what you have to do. It's hard to be able to talk to people and take what it is, but let me tell you, those people do understand.

 

What's happening in this budget is an attack on people who are hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and there's no need of it. There's no need to do what you're doing. There are better ways to do what you're doing. If you had a plan in the first place, it would be a better way to do it, but what's happening here is low-income, middle-income and hard-working seniors and people who are on fixed income are paying the price of what you're doing over there today.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WARR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

As always, it's a pleasure to rise in this hon. House and have an opportunity to speak to Concurrence. I, too, like my hon. colleague, would like to speak to municipalities in my district and speak a little bit about what I've been hearing throughout this budget process, this budget debate as well.

 

Before I do it, I want to say how much of an honour it is for me to again rise and represent the good folks of Baie Verte – Green Bay. It's a fabulous district. In my first address to the budget, I was reminded by my colleague opposite about the – he has respect for MHAs who operate in larger districts. My district is one of those districts, Mr. Speaker.

 

We were formerly the district known as Baie Verte – Springdale. We're very happy to have the fine people of Green Bay South join us in the new District of Baie Verte – Green Bay. Mr. Speaker, 42 districts representing a wide range, and certainly hard-working and industrial people. I'll get to that in my notes, but I want to say it's been a pleasure in the first five or six months here in the House of Assembly to represent these fine people.

 

Before I forget it, Mr. Speaker, the last time I rose I had the opportunity of recognizing nurses' week and I got a good pat on the back for doing that. So today I want to recognize National Police Week.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WARR: Mr. Speaker, I look around this House of Assembly and I see my good friend up in the Chamber, and I see my good friend the Sergeant-at-Arms, and I see my good friend the former premier of the province, who were police officers like myself in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. I just want to take the opportunity to wish all my friends on both sides of the police forces that we have in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, both of them with the prefix royal. I think my hon. colleague mentioned that in one of his speaks.

 

I think there are only four or five police forces in the world with the prefix royal and we have two of them here in Canada, Mr. Speaker. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and I'm pretty proud of that.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: There are seven of them.

 

MR. WARR: What's that, seven? Seven. Thank you.

 

So I'm pretty proud of that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I just want to talk about the first time I had an opportunity to address the House, Mr. Speaker, I talked about two things that my grandfather used to say, and that was never put off for tomorrow what you can get done today, and look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves. I want to add one more to that tonight, Mr. Speaker, and that's waste not, want not.

 

Mr. Speaker, I've never been in the blame game. I say things for what I mean. If I come across as blaming people or a group of people, that's not my style. I'm not in the blame game. I think we own this. As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians we own this collectively. We have an issue, let's fix it.

 

Budgets, Mr. Speaker, are about choices. We have one of two choices, as far as I see it. We either choose to remain status quo or we choose to do the job we were elected to do, and that's to operate this fine province that we all live in.

 

The hon. Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi, in one of her talks, asked about what values did we base our budget on. I think that was a question the hon. Member asked. Well, I'm going to take the opportunity to answer that, Mr. Speaker. We based our budget on honesty, responsibility, accountability, good sound management and concern for the well-being of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WARR: I just want to go back to another comment that was thrown from across the House, Mr. Speaker. I can't remember, and it doesn't really make a difference about who said the comment, but the comment was with regard to the budget. I took great exception with the Members opposite who made a comment that we made mean-spirited decisions when we chose to release this budget. I don't think they're mean-spirited decisions whatsoever. I think they're good, sound decisions. There's nobody has any more empathy for the people who will find themselves with difficult times.

 

We all see this budget as a difficult budget, but I was given the opportunity – contrary to what was written on my Facebook last week, I ran on my ability to manage. That's what I ran on. I ran on my history, and I ran on the fact that I've lived all my life with budgets.

 

Like the hon. the Minister of Natural Resources mentioned today about the team we have here. She talked about boards and commissions, and people on this side and on the other side as well. We've got a great group of people in this House of Assembly.

 

I, too, Mr. Speaker, had the opportunity to lead. I sat as chairman of the board of directors of the Canadian Regional Hardware Association. I sat as chairman of the board of the Castle Building Centres, which was a national board. I sat as chairman of the board of Atlantic Building Supply Dealers Association. So, Mr. Speaker, budgets are not new to me.

 

I spent the last 28 years operating a family business. Budgets are not new to me. We've had some pretty trying times over the years as well, but do you know what. The hard work and the dedication to steering the ship in the right direction, the dedication that we had paid off certainly in the end.

 

I want to talk about my hon. colleague, the Member who just spoke from Cape St. Francis – talked about the fact that they spent a fair amount of provincial investment in all of our communities, and yes they have. They did, Mr. Speaker. That same Member made a comment – I think it was the Member made a comment – that what we were doing as a collective body here with this particular budget that we had brought down, his comment was too much, too fast. I say to my hon. Member, with respect, that works both ways because we spent too much too fast as well. I just wanted to make that comment and I make it with the utmost respect, Mr. Speaker.

 

The other thing that was said was we've never seen anything like this before – the hon. Member said. That's because we've never been in this financial mess, not to this extent, Mr. Speaker. We've got to work our way out of it. I would suggest that we're on the right track.

 

Mr. Speaker, while I'm missing my good friend from Labrador this evening –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Torngat.

 

MR. WARR: – the hon. Member for Torngat Mountains, I want to talk a little bit to the Member for St. John's Centre who made a comment today with regard to Kevin Major, a well-known writer. He talked about the fact that he's ashamed in this province, Mr. Speaker. I take great exception –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. WARR: Pardon?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: He was ashamed of (inaudible).

 

MR. WARR: He was ashamed of being a Newfoundlander. What was the comment?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. WARR: Never mind, Mr. Speaker.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, there was a comment and ashamed was in the comment.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. WARR: I took great exception to it anyway, when you talk about this great Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity, when I was home a couple of weeks ago, to see a CBC newscast called Because News with Gavin Crawford. You would all know Gavin Crawford. The headline says: “It's brutal news: Rick Mercer on Newfoundland library cuts.”

 

Mr. Speaker, back on December 6, 2001, there was an amendment made to the Constitution of Canada. That amendment included our good friends in Labrador. I took great exception to what was written here.

 

Mr. Speaker, Labrador gave a part of my family in Happy Valley-Goose Bay an opportunity many, many years ago. Those people are still there today and certainly been very, very successful business operators in Labrador. Labrador gave my daughter, when she graduated from Memorial University, in Natuashish her first job. I take great exception with Rick Mercer, who we all have the utmost respect for. I mean Rick Mercer is a great Newfoundlander and Labradorian.

 

Mr. Speaker, when I look at this, “When news broke that over half of Newfoundland's libraries … no panellist was more upset than Newfoundland's favorite son … Continuing Newfoundland's war ... This is killing me as a Newfoundlander ... If you want to destroy rural Newfoundland ….” And the list goes on. “Estimates are the average Newfoundland family ... News is making an effort to keep Newfoundland reading ... We want you to take a work of fiction and add some Newfoundland to it.”

 

What happened to Labrador, Mr. Speaker? What happened to Labrador in this news article? I'm appalled that Rick Mercer, given the type of person Rick Mercer is – I know deep down Rick Mercer is a true Newfoundland and Labradorian but he didn't prove it in this document, Mr. Speaker, and I take great exception that he never included our Labrador friends when he addresses us as a province.

 

Mr. Speaker, I just want to – before I do that, I want to turn to, because I was surprised that this article didn't come up in this House of Assembly. It was written by Paul Lambe. Paul Lambe is from here in St. John's. The article was saying: “To those thinking of leaving N.L.” I just wanted to highlight some remarks in his letter.

 

His first was, “I encourage young people to take a break and wait for things to turn around … It will not be long and things will get better, unlike what these ‘bleakers' (those with only bleak outcomes) say. They find it too easy to complain.

 

“The situation is as it is because of a collective will and responsibility. Whether it's you or some of your family or friends, or others you know, you have to take responsibility for all the past, the politicians that were elected, the policies in place, the waste that occurred. If you did not stop it, you were a part of it.”

 

I go back to my comments in the beginning, Mr. Speaker. That was a wonderful letter that I thought Paul addressed the province in the media. I thought it was well written and some really good commentary.

 

Again, Mr. Speaker, I'm referenced because I pride myself here in this House of Assembly of paying attention to what's being said. My hon. colleague across talked tonight about being positive and I certainly agree with the Member, Mr. Speaker. I want to talk about some of the positive things that are happening in the good District of Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

First of all, we had a company in Springdale – Springdale Forest Resources; a great company under great management. Actually, they picked up the contracts for cutting the lines across Newfoundland, the Island portion of our province, for Nalcor and put a lot of people to work in my part of the district.

 

I want to say, Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity last week to talk a gentleman in Triton. I won't get into names, but I will tell you that the good news is the marine centre, which was one of the most premiere marine centres in Newfoundland and Labrador building fishing vessels, has recently reopened in Triton. It's doing all kinds of refit work on vessels.

 

He just hired six new journeymen welders and just received his first contract, a 55-foot fishing vessel from Boston, Massachusetts. We want to talk about good news, let's talk about the fine country of the USA bringing their work to my district, Mr. Speaker, for quality work.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. WARR: Thank you.

 

Mr. Speaker, as we're talking into boat building, I want to talk about three manufacturing facilities that we have in the district: Green Bay Fibre in King's Point, coastal marine in King's Point and Atkinson & Yates in Springdale. I've had an opportunity to talk to three of those owners and I'm happy to stand here and report today that they have a full contingent of workers in their shops. You're on a waiting list to get a boat built in these three manufacturing facilities right now. The business has never been any better. This is good news.

 

I want to talk about Modular Homes in La Scie. It's probably one of the few modular home-building businesses on the Island, Mr. Speaker. Things continue to go well for them as well.

 

I want to talk about Duralite drills in Triton. Mr. Speaker, a manufacturer of drills – I'm just lost on the wording. Anyway, this company now is talking about shipping their drills as far away as South America. So there are good things happening in this province and there are good things happening in my neck of the woods.

 

My colleague, the hon. the Minister of Natural Resources, today talked about the good things in the mining sector that's happening on the Baie Verte Peninsula with Rambler and Anaconda. I just want to remind everybody that the mining conference will be held in Baie Verte on the 3rd and 4th of June this year.

 

I want to talk about another comment that came across from the Member, and I agree with him. The comment was we're just a small player in the fishery, so said the Member. I say that's so unfortunate when we have the best product in the world off the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador. It's so unfortunate.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, this is a tough budget, but I want to take the opportunity – all of our districts have been affected. I know the good Minister of Municipal Affairs is going to open the purse strings, hopefully sometime soon. I want to talk about things that are needed in my district. We have roadwork in Seal Cove and Wild Cove. We need roadwork in Coachman's Cove. I want to talk about the La Scie highway.

 

The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune mentioned in her speech that she has $200 million worth of product coming up over her highway. Well, I say, Mr. Speaker, I have $500 million coming up over the La Scie road. Even though there was 10 kilometres done on that road last year, there are lots to be done.

 

We're talking about the brush cutting and roadwork in Westport. We're talking about the roadwork in Middle Arm, Burlington and Smith's Harbour. We're talking about the roadwork in King's Point and the community of Rattling Brook. We're talking about the roadwork to Little Bay and Beachside. We have issues with the water supply in Woodstock. The list goes on. Not to mention the health services in La Scie and Triton.

 

I can't leave without talking about the resettlement of Little Bay Islands. The people of Little Bay Islands have been waiting for an answer. I assured them last week that the minister is working on the resettlement policy.

 

Last but not least, Mr. Speaker, we're talking about pavement. I want to talk about the unpaved roads because I have three of them: Purbeck's Cove, Nippers Harbour and Snooks Arm road. We're talking about replacing pavement. These people have never seen pavement.

 

I see my time is up. I'll take the opportunity to thank you for your time. I look forward to the opportunity to rise again.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It's a pleasure to rise –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. PETTEN: – and speak on resources. The Labour Relations Agency falls under my critic roles, and I thank the Minister of Environment and Conservation and his staff – it was short, but I appreciated their input.

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to start off, I made a conscious effort, I said I'd like to try to speak to the facts about my district, how it affects my district when talking about the budget. Sometimes we get lost when talking about the big picture. I've got to commend the Member for Baie Verte – Green Bay. He spoke very passionately about his district for most of his speech. I've got a lot of respect for that.

 

As my colleague for Cape St. Francis gets up, I admire any Member in the House who gets up and speaks with passion on their district. I think there's a lot to be said for that. Those are the people who put them there, and it's refreshing sometimes to see they get up and they go back to their roots and the reason we're all here. I just wanted to commend them for doing that. I think it's very enjoyable to listen to. I've got to say, I sit down and enjoy any Member that gets up and speaks to the facts like that. As a matter of fact, that's something that I'm going to try to do, stick to the script here tonight, Mr. Speaker.

 

My district, CBS, as a lot of people may know, may not know, it's probably the second-largest municipality in the province. We're not sure on the numbers; I guess we'll find out with the census this year. It's quite a beautiful district that's been rapidly growing, expanding. As a matter of fact, I guess our growth outdid our infrastructure, is what happened, really, because the town just exploded and we never had the infrastructure to deal with the demands. A lot of young families, a lot of home-builds – we're averaging 200-250 a year for a number of years, which was rapid now. I know Paradise, my neighbouring – my colleague for Topsail – Paradise's district, that's taken off too.

 

When I hear Members opposite sometimes reference the spending, waste of money, and I suppose we've wasted a lot of money. I do take some exception to that, because my district in particular, it's almost 27,000 people, and I tell you there are not many of them people in that district would say any of the investments that were made by this government in that district were a waste of money.

 

We have a new arena. We have an outdoor soccer, AstroTurf field. We have a new Manuels River – beautiful facility, it's used by everybody, university programs there. It's a first-class operation right on the Manuels River. It's world renowned, the Manuels River. And there are many other infrastructure – recently myself and the Minister of Municipal Affairs were up to the opening of the new fire hall and town.

 

This is a fast-growing town and all these things were needed. I don't think for a second any of those investments – and there are others – would I constitute a waste of money. You have a district that's servicing possibly in the vicinity of, I don't know, maybe – it's a service centre for, I'd say off the cuff, maybe 50,000-plus, 60,000 people which brings me to a point.

 

During the government's budget consultations, there was one I attended at the Manuels River Centre. It was hosted by the Minister of Education. There was a good turnout. Every table in that room talked about the need for regionalization. There's no better example when you look at the metro area, moving outside the city, of an area that can foster in the regionalization. You look at the surrounding communities which brings me to another point, actually.

 

I listened to the Member for Harbour Main, this evening, speak on the budget. I want to commend her. She did a great job. It's never easy getting up in the House, as I'm learning. I keep saying if I keep practising, I'll eventually make it perfect. The more I stand up, I get more comfortable.

 

I want to commend her, and this is not meant to be a slight because myself and the Member for Harbour Main do get along great. I have a lot of respect for her. I'll say it because I've lived in CBS all my life; she has quite a beautiful district. I was kind of wishing that she would talk more about her district. I kept saying you should talk about your district.

 

She has one of the most beautiful districts in the province arguably, a lot of activity. It's a rapidly growing town. The Marine Institute has a first-class facility up there. We have the Historic Sites in Cupids; you have the squid-jigging grounds. It's just quite a beautiful town.

 

I just wanted to put that in because it's a neighbouring district of mine. As a matter of fact, there was a time, up until 2007, that my district used to take in Holyrood up to the North Arm Bridge. I have a lot of family, actually, in the Member's district so I know that area quite well. Actually, I have a lot of family in her district.

 

I just wanted to highlight that. I do have a lot of respect for the Member and she did a great job, but I just wanted to point out about her district because I think she does have quite a beautiful district.

 

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague for Cape St. Francis pointed out, this budget – the Minister of Finance stated there was nothing good in the budget and that was her prerogative. I do agree that there were a lot of good programs, existing programs that are still in the budget that were brought in by this former government. He's highlighted some and I highlighted some investments, but some of the hard-core areas – like the Town of CBS, the town themselves are looking at an increase in cost when you look at insurance, gas for their vehicles and whatnot. They're looking at a $350,000 increase.

 

In the recent municipal budget in CBS there was a lot of controversy because they actually increased property taxes. They stopped the seniors' discount, and there were other unpopular decisions, fees and stuff like that. There was a lot of public outcry in my district over it. Their words were they cut a fine line to get their budget balanced. Now they're faced with this extra burden of $350,000. That's an approximate figure, Mr. Speaker, it may go higher. When you look at the budget implications, that's not a big town.

 

We know the City of St. John's obviously is facing a bigger burden, and we know what just happened in recent months out in the city with their budget. You have a problem. There's a download on municipalities, as my colleague stated. Those towns and cities already have their budgets done. Under legislation, they have to be balanced budgets. Now they're faced with this extra burden. So where does that go? Unfortunately, it's going to go on the taxpayer. It's going to go on the people, the residents of the province who are every day – I mean every day and every hour of the day – crying out. Because of this existing budget, they don't know how they're going to do it.

 

It's a two-pronged approach, because the provincial budget is coming at them with all the tax increases, the levies and you name it. Then, indirectly, it's coming at the municipalities. Now they have to kind of tighten their belts on the town. So you're getting it coming from your provincial and your municipal level. That's pretty tough on a lot of families.

 

As I speak of the budget – like I say, this is coming from a resident in my district. I've had this in front of me now for a couple of weeks actually. It was on April 18 I got the email. It was a paragraph she wrote that really hit, when I read it, I circled it. I have a lot of emails that I can – I have more than that, that's just a few I printed off. There was one there that I was – 

 

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

 

MR. PETTEN: There was one comment, and I'll just take a paragraph. It hit home, and I'm sure Members opposite probably can appreciate it.

 

She says: I'm a mom, a wife, a manger of a retail chain. My husband works slightly above minimum wage, full-time job. I'm a breadwinner – and trust me, when I say bread it's not plentiful. This budget scares me. We live penny to penny. I already removed $70 extra tax from each pay so that I have that lump at the end of the year to put towards unexpected bills we accumulate through the year. I have lived here for eight years and I've never been able to afford to leave this Island. Why is this allowed? Why must we pay a membership to live here? Are welfare receivers looked up legitimately? Are people who avoid taxes being addressed? Are cash jobs being ditched? Unemployment –?

 

Do you see the frustration of this lady? It's a lash out at people who are struggling. It just shows the anger; a budget that's almost pitting one group against another. She's just screaming out.

 

When you read in the context, this is a real person. There's no one in this House can deny this person is struggling and they don't know how they're going to make it. So with the download on municipalities, as I said, and the provincial budget, it's going to be very tough for those people to survive.

 

To my district again, as I say, I have 13 personal care homes in the boundaries of my district. They provide a great service. As we know, long-term care beds – we have a shortage. Those personal care homes have been around a long time. I've been in every one of them. I know a lot of the owners, actually. They work very hard and provide a great home for those individuals. They're some of the more unfortunate people. They're given a good life but they struggle. I know personally, and some of them are very sad stories, but they are quite happy. The surroundings those home owners have provided them is quite pleasant actually.

 

In saying that, Mr. Speaker, I have gotten calls from numerous owners in my district and their concerns are very well founded. As a result of the budget cuts on over-the-counter drugs – we have residents who are getting $150 a month. They have to pay if they need winter boots, a winter coat and other things. That's their coffee money if they go to the store, whatever. That's their pocket money for a month. You take that in 30 days; it's not a lot of money, $5 a day.

 

If they need Aspirin or if they need – apparently alcohol swabs won't be covered because there's a better way of doing it. I'm not opposed to that. I'm waiting on some information from the parliamentary secretary to Health. I'm having trouble with some of the names of the districts, Mr. Speaker.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Virginia Waters – Pleasantville.

 

MR. PETTEN: Virginia Waters – Pleasantville. Thank you very much.

 

Those personal care homes are calling and saying, these people with $150 a month, we don't know where they're coming up with money to pay for those needs they have. Whether that be Tylenol, an Aspirin, like I said, a cotton swab. I don' know, maybe vitamins. People take these medications for whatever purposes. It could be, I don't know. I'm not a person who takes vitamins but for those residents, it becomes part of their life.

 

If you go in those homes, they know their medications better than anyone working there or anyone. They look for certain things. They need them, they want them. Whether they need them or not, they believe they need them. It's part of their life. So now you're going to say if you need this, you're only going to have this much money a month, which is pretty well nothing. That's the stuff that really hits the core.

 

I'd like to also tie that together with seniors. I speak with seniors a lot because I do have a lot of seniors in my district. When you go and knock on doors during an election you realize just how many retirees and seniors are in your district.

 

One thing stuck out to me during my time knocking on doors, Mr. Speaker. I saw a lot of struggling seniors. I've had the fortune of being able to assist a lot of them and help them with different programs and avail of different things. It has worked out good, even with the municipal government. I found that really enjoyable. I enjoy helping. I enjoy doing what I can because it's not a matter of me being special it's just directing them in the right way. They don't know where to find the services in government.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Lane): Order, please!

 

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

They don't know where to find the proper services within government. So you just lead them to the right program and they've been very appreciative.

 

Those same seniors have made references to me in the last number of weeks. With this added burden, they don't how they're going to make it. I know first-hand because I dealt with a lot of them on different applications, different things. I wonder how they're going to make it, too, Mr. Speaker.

 

Seniors in my district – I have a lot of seniors. I don't know if there's a Member in this House who don't have a lot of seniors in their district. This is not party stripe stuff; this is the bread and butter. This is the main – again, I always come up and I don't play on words when I say this. I try to be as genuine and sincere as possible. I try to speak from the heart. We get back in our tangents back and forth but ultimately, Mr. Speaker, I was elected by the people in my District of CBS. I told them I'd represent them. I told them I'd be their voice and that's what I try to do every day in this House.

 

The Minister of Health said today the definition of insanity. I use it a lot in my terminology sometimes, too. Sometimes I wonder, you're getting up here and you do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I feel like that some days here because you keep trying to put personal stories – we can talk about pie in the sky stuff and the stuff that doesn't really matter to people –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker reminds all hon. Members I that I realize you have very, very pressing conversations but if you could have them outside, if you must.

 

The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

 

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I try to put it as personal as possible because hon. Members opposite have the same people in their districts – we all do. We all have the same concerns whether they are more or not. Be sincere, listen to what people have to tell you, try to advocate on their behalf.

 

Mr. Speaker, most Members in this House, every day outside of whatever we do in this House I think, ultimately, our role is trying to help the people in your district, trying to help people in the province. Ministers try to help and do what's best in their portfolios. It's what we're all supposed to be doing here. But if we do that in isolation of what people are telling us, the people on the street, whether it's emails or phone calls, when you run in to a coffee store – there is not a place in my district I go and this conversation don't chime up.

 

I don't think a lot of people are really going – they're upset and they're nervous. There's a lot of concern. All I can tell them, as a Member, is that we'll bring your concerns forward. We all individually get up here and we all speak sometimes in generalities and whatnot, but we're always talking about the same thing: It's about the people. I don't say that lightly because I really, truly believe it. Without the people, none of us would be here today. I keep saying that over again because it is true.

 

We all ran on a platform that what we were going to do was the best for our district. I won't even go there, but I do understand some of the – on that side of the House. I understand politics. That's something that they will deal with and I wish them well. From my end of it, and really when we stand up here, all of the Members, the Third Party included, they get up and they speak passionately about their district or they speak passionately about issues and they should be listened to. I think it should be given some more credence because those are real people. That's what we're all elected to represent. They have real concerns.

 

When I read out that email – anyone is welcome to it; I'll keep the lady's name – I've had emails: I'm crying as I write this email. I have no doubt they are. How do you respond to that? I write back and say I feel sorry for you. I never get into the bashing of the government. Actually, some Members opposite, I've cc'd the Premier on emails. I made that clear in my email. This is not about picking sides. I understand where you're coming from. I support your cause but, ultimately, it's the government's decision. It's heart wrenching, but it's real.

 

Maybe that's the sober thought everyone in this House needs to have. You have a budget that's arguably one of the toughest budgets we've faced. Getting up every day and blaming the former administration – that plays well in some avenues. Fill your boots; I guess that's their prerogative. I can't control what someone else says. But that's starting not to wash in the public. The public are, kind of, come on, will you get on with it. What's your answer to the question, what are your issues?

 

I have schools in my district – teachers, parents, principals: they're all concerned about the multigrades, the Intensive Core French and the class size, but nobody is listening to them. I'm one person. Yes, I come in and I sit and stand in this House as one of 40. I'm one person. I tell them every day and I try to do my best. If I'm not speaking individually to one of the Members opposite or ministers, I'm here stood on my feet or I'm emailing or phone calling.

 

I'm one of 40. Actually, there are seven here, of 40, and two there. There are nine of 40 that I think are doing what they can to represent their districts. It's not a finger-pointing thing across the way; there are good people over there. Like most Members, we're all in this for the same reason. 

 

I see emails that come in to all sides of this House. Some of them are pretty desperate and some of them are not responded to. I think we can park the budget for a second and if you look at the realistic view, the realistic point, all the rest of it is smoke and mirrors. It's about the people. Until we all take that sober second thought – people are not protesting, people are not having these meetings; people are not emailing hundreds of emails per day for something to do.

 

People are very concerned, Mr. Speaker. I really and truly, from the bottom of my heart, wish people would listen – the government would listen to those people.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. TRIMPER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I guess staying on the social theme – this is my third time speaking to the budget. On the theme of Concurrence, I was just asking my colleague exactly the nature of what I should be talking about. So I'm going to pick up from my critic from across the way and the idea of social themes, the presentation that we made together with the Labour Relations Agency, Francophone Affairs and then we'll go through the next 20 minutes or so on social themes.

 

In staying with the social theme, if I may I'd like to just take a personal second and apologize to my father- and mother-in-law. I mentioned them in my maiden speech. I thought we had an hour and a half and we did have an hour and a half for a break. I thought it would be sufficient. Anyway, my wife just picked me up and we went back over to their place. They used to run Hong's takeout. He was cooking up a big storm and at about 10 minutes to seven, I realized I had to go. So they've got a great scoff going over there and I'm back here with all you fine folks.

 

Anyway, I'm back here, and the chicken was great. I had a chicken leg that was great. Anyway, if he's listening, they're listening, I apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Hong.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: They're eating your food (inaudible).

 

MR. TRIMPER: That's right.

 

Staying on the theme of social affairs – we don't get to talk about them too much, but I did want to just have a little mention, take a couple of minutes to talk about the Labour Relations Agency – an extremely important organization. I must say, it's not a lot of people in there, but a very impressive calibre of folks that are there. They've got an interesting record running – I'm not sure how long it's going to last this year, but certainly for the last year, and I estimate we're probably on about month 15 now, we have not had a legal lockout or strike in this province.

 

I would give a lot of the credit to the people around Mr. Geoff Williams and his team. I get a regular report from these guys, and each Friday I get a summary of what's going on in the province. There is a lot of tension, there's a lot of challenge, but when you have good people calming things down at the table and getting people to work together, I must say it's just a joy and a pleasure to work with a good calibre group of folks like that.

 

Another great group that we don't get to speak a lot about, but is going to enjoy tremendous profile here in the province in just about one month from now is the Office of French Services. That's the Francophone Affairs Department. I'm lucky enough to speak some French and can carry on with these guys. Jim Prowse and his team run that operation.

 

In about one month from now on the 22nd and 23rd this province will be hosting the Canadian Francophonie, so all of the territorial, provincial and federal ministers responsible for French Services will be in our fair city. Yours truly and the federal minister, Joly, will be hosting a day and a half examining how this province and how the rest of the country can do what we can to fulfill obligations regarding the francophones of this country.

 

We have, for example, in Newfoundland and Labrador about 3,100 people who identify themselves as mother-tongue French, and frankly that is my responsibility to make their life as smooth as possible and provide them an opportunity to enjoy and live in this great province in their own language.

 

Staying on the social themes, what I wanted to go to is just talk about how we made some priorities and choices. Certainly the Finance Minister and President of Treasury Board has talked at length about the efforts we took around the Cabinet table to ensure the most vulnerable in our society were protected. The last thing on anybody's mind, whether it be in Cabinet, in caucus, or I'm sure, in this House, wanted to do was to have the most vulnerable folks pushed to a point of being even more vulnerable. That was so not our mission. I'm very pleased to say that after a lot of hard work we managed to accomplish that with initiatives, and we've spoken about them at length – I've spoken about them at length – the enhanced Seniors' Benefit and our signature piece in the budget, that $75 million, $76 million that we took and created into a Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement, specifically targeted at those most vulnerable and making sure that they were protected.

 

Switching over and staying with the vulnerable, I also wanted to make a little comment because I've been subjected to a series of interviews just in the last week and a half regarding the cancellation of a job-owned program that's been going for years in the Department of Environment and Conservation. I wanted to comment on it because we felt, and I felt, in Environment and Conservation back in January when we were tasked with this need to see what we can do to contribute to the resolution, to the solution that we needed to come up with in our budget, we had to look at, okay, what's most vulnerable in terms of the scope and mandate of Environment and Conservation, and what can we do to contribute again to the solution.

 

So core programs such as endangered wildlife populations, drinking water quality, protected areas, wise decision making around the environmental assessment process, these are some examples of some of the key things that we wanted to preserve and, in fact, enhance in our program.

 

Strategies and techniques and so on were in a particular package in Environment and Conservation. There was some $300,000 worth of savings amongst a variety of initiatives; some of which included a program that's been going on for years. One involved a collection of coyote carcasses that's been going on – I indicated in a response to some questions the other day – and people have a lot of perceptions, I would suggest, about this animal – it is a predator that is here to stay.

 

We have been paying $25 a carcass for the last many years and in the rate of collecting some 1,000, 1,100 carcasses a year, we are actually bringing in thousands and thousands of carcasses. We do examine them. We have been examining them. I would suggest that the point of collecting more data around what is happening with coyotes is well passed.

 

So some of these decisions, while people may, on the outlook, say why are you doing that and how come you're pulling this back, now what's that going to mean, we're going to have coyotes in the street, in fact, we've collected a great deal of information. We understand a lot about this animal and that's just part of the wise decision making that we're implementing in this province now to catch up, frankly, with the rest of the country.

 

Another one that's out there is in jawbone collections. I've think I've done four interviews so far. I have two more tomorrow, one of which is with The Wall Street Journal, of all places. So it is getting a bit of attention. I look forward to talking to those guys about moose and jawbones, but I just wanted to put a few thoughts out there because people are saying what a travesty this is that we've scrubbed this program.

 

As I said, we have already collected a substantial amount of information. Jawbones were collected to provide an age as to the animals that hunters select when they're in the field. So there is a bit of bias there. Also, they have been used in some research applications in terms of measurements. We're talking measurements of millimetres, thereabouts, as an indication – it has been suggested – of the quality of the habitat that these animals occupy.

 

I would suggest to anyone who's listening – I'm sure I'm holding everybody fascinated here – that why not just study the landscape itself as opposed to trying to say, well, let's measure a jawbone and if it's getting bigger or smaller, maybe that might infer what's going on in the habitat. I would suggest that perhaps a more appropriate way to do this is to just go out and understand what's going on with the landscape.

 

In fact, that's what the Wildlife Division and Parks and Natural Areas Division have been doing and we're shifting more and more in that direction. I look very forward to seeing some great insight coming forward as a result of frankly using a lot of the information we've already collected, but using it in a wise way, with a lot of the computer modelling techniques that are out there and available.

 

There is a theme here running through my presentation: staying on social issues. Like many of us do here, we check up on what's going on outside of this amazing room. I just decided to cast on to Facebook. Well, what a sobering thing that is to do sometimes. I've decided I'm just going to let people fly on my Facebook site. I've decided I'm not going to block, so there's quite a litany of goodies in there; some complimentary, some not so complimentary. But anyway if people want to vent, let them vent away. One thing I've said – this is my third time speaking to this budget – is that if everything that was being accused of us was true, I think I would be holding my head in shame. But I'm very pleased to say there is a lot of good news in this budget and there is a lot of good, wise thinking in how the decisions were made.

 

I feel that's always important to talk about, so here I go with my third kick at this. I wanted to reach back to Labrador because I just saw some postings about how little money was being spent on highways up there and so on. On one hand I understand where the venting and the frustrations are coming from because, boy, we're just hacking paths and roads out of pure wilderness. In many cases, as my comrade from Baie Verte, the Member for Baie Verte – Green Bay – which by the way we were just talking about what an oxymoron that is, Baie Verte – Green Bay. It's like Baie Verte – Baie Verte, but anyway. He made a comment that folks hadn't seen pavement. Well, we haven't even seen a road in many locations, so we're happy to see progress.

 

I was extremely pleased. Of all the needs in Labrador, there's no question that a consistent ask of so much of the Big Land and, frankly, of so much of Newfoundland, is to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway. By complete, it means pavement and an efficient, safe highway with support along the route. We're talking hundreds and hundreds of kilometres. There's still a lot to do. A lot has been done by the previous administration and a lot more to do.

 

In these times of trying to find money, it's amazing that my colleague, the Minister of Transportation and Works – and through his team and his effort and listening, frankly, to the four of us from Labrador, the Premier and the rest of caucus – was able to come up with $63.7 million for continued activity on the Trans-Labrador Highway. That's primarily what we call the Phase III and that's going to be a huge boost.

 

The other exciting thing about this announcement is – and I'm not sure if it's out there in the public, so I won't make it here tonight in the House – the federal government is also getting ready to make a contribution to that same project. They also understand the importance of it. I would see substantial progress being made on that highway this year.

 

So when I hear people say you're only doing 17 kilometres, folks, you're following snippets of thoughts and maybe some deliberate misleading that's going on. Mr. Speaker, 17 kilometres refers to the amount of pavement on the Phase III that wasn't completed last year; therefore, it's carried over this year. So we have 17, plus $63.7 million from the provincial government, plus a substantial amount from the federal government, plus many other paving projects.

 

I met with the Minister of Transportation and Works just the other night here in the House and looked at some of the other great projects. My colleague for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair has a lot of great projects going on in her area this year. That should go a long way to helping some long-needed problems in terms of just moving around. It's very good to see.

 

Another project that I'd like to talk about in terms of money – and yes, it's under infrastructure development, but I can tell you when you're connecting communities, it's all about social connectivity. Labrador has an interesting characteristic with it.

 

I think it was just two Sundays ago I was still snowmobiling in Churchill Falls. We do like to say we get 10 months of winter and two months of bad skidooing. Snowmobiling is really important. It's long been talked about that the Member for Torngat Mountains – that is how he travels. Wintertime is when he does get around to see people. I think a lot of folks in this province would see winter as a time to cluster around the fireplace, stay warm, and maybe we'll see our neighbours and friends in the summer.

 

In Labrador, it's the opposite. That's when you get out and about. You're starting to see great people and friends, and to see some $730,000 maintained for the Labrador teams. We also have a substantial amount of money, a similar amount of money, for the grooming subsidy. This is a highway of snow and ice and it's extremely important for bringing all those communities together.

 

I'm sorry, it's $351,000 for the Labrador grooming subsidy and $730,000 for that travel subsidy for those Labrador teams to travel back and forth.

 

Another very important project that's going on off the North Coast – again, speaking of vulnerability and important social issues – is within the territory, the self-government of Nunatsiavut. Nunatsiavut is a very proud area. We've just marked recently a 10th anniversary.

 

In the community of Hopedale is a former American base. It was the satellite station, a radar site, and, unfortunately, when they pulled out they left a bit of a mess, which is typical, frankly. I find within the Department of Environment and Conservation we are dealing with a lot of legacy and it's a main preoccupation of so many people. Nevertheless, we're getting to the bottom of it.

 

To that end, and further about the most vulnerable, we decided we needed to maintain the clean-up activity that's going on around that base at Hopedale. To date, the government has spent in excess of $12 million. It's primarily around the remediation and cleanup of PCB contaminated soil. That work is going to continue and we've allocated some $1.46 million to carrying that on.

 

I guess I need to also think about the rest of the province, which I do. I'm just being a little facetious. I have to say, I think I was maybe two hours on the job on the 15th of December in my office sitting in a boardroom and I understood there was a large demonstration up on the Terra Nova River with the trestle that was going on.

 

The Member for Terra Nova and his colleagues in the area and so on were on the phone, were meeting with me right away about the urgency and the importance of fixing and finding a solution for a trestle that, frankly, our department has basically condemned. It's not in a great state. We don't believe it's safe.

 

We are enjoying good co-operation with the local population. This is a facility they use extensively. I'm very pleased to tell the House we have allocated substantial monies that we hope to match with perhaps some federal partners and perhaps some other partners, and we look forward to proceeding with this project this year of renovating, perhaps replacing that trestle.

 

Plus, it's important that with such a long facility such as is the abandoned – sorry, not the abandoned, but the former railway that was the Newfoundland Railway. We have some 130-plus overpasses and we are concerned about their integrity and so on. So we've allocated another substantial amount of money, in the vicinity of $250,000, that will start feasibility work on those that are the most vulnerable.

 

So we have vulnerable infrastructure, but, of course, we're concerned about human safety. We also get the point that these pieces of infrastructure are very important for the connectivity of people that are travelling between communities. That ATV trail has become very popular and I'm very pleased to see our government moving in a direction to support it.

 

I also want to talk about good things that are going on. I'm going to make a plug right now. If you want to see and talk about social and economic activities coming together, that is happening. The Member for Baie Verte – Green Bay mentioned the upcoming Mining Conference that is hosted every year in their community in early June.

 

I know about this event every year. I must say, I've never been to it because I've always been one week later in Labrador, in association with what used to be called the Voisey's Bay and Beyond Conference. Now we refer to it as Expo Labrador. This is a real coming together of promise, optimism, plans, ideas, networking and business dealing around three or four days in Central Labrador, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

 

I would refer to my colleague from Baie Verte – Green Bay, that often I find the delegates from his conference – because it's mining and so much about Labrador is mining – off they come to Goose Bay. They've got a pretty busy month between his conference and the one that we have in Lake Melville. It's great to see the province come together around the importance of mining. In Labrador, we've got other things going on of course, but Expo Labrador is a wonderful showcase for it.

 

Finally, I wanted to come back to just a final plug around the budget and the importance of understanding that we listened. We heard that whatever we're going to do with this budget and these decisions, we've got to make sure that those most vulnerable are not feeling any more threatened. In fact, I'm pleased to be part of a government where – I have to tell you, we went in on a Sunday and we came out on a Thursday. It was a marathon session of decision making and so on, a lot of camaraderie, a lot of understanding and a lot of working with department officials. But to see the work that went into making sure the allocation of the monies that we had would go to those most vulnerable, it was uppermost in everybody's mind, and we had to keep going until we got it right.

 

I got to say, we went back to the drawing board many times, but I'm very pleased to see how it did turn out. I'm very appreciative now that you can go online and look at the calculator, and understand – for those who are most concerned – how much more benefit they will receive as a result of the budget and as a result of the facts that the government that I am associated with was actually learning, listening, thinking and moving forward.

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, some-20 seconds left, perhaps I'll say thank you very much and maybe we'll see at the next budget.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker recognizes the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's Centre. 

 

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

 

I am very happy to stand and to speak this evening on Concurrence. Because of our small but mighty caucus, my colleague for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi and I share all the critic areas between the two of us. I must say, we are very committed to that. We are very happy to be able to work like Trojans in order to be able to cover all these critic areas. We have the energy, we have the smarts, we have the spunk and chutzpah to be able to do this. So I'm very happy.

 

Mr. Speaker, the first thing I'd like to do tonight is I would like to do a favour for my colleague for Baie Verte – Green Bay. I would like to take a few minutes of my time to kind of help him and do him a favour. He misquoted the amazing Kevin Major in the House, and I know that wasn't his intention so I'm going to try and help correct him so that he can save face and so that it can be recorded in Hansard.

 

Now, what my colleague for Baie Verte – Green Bay said, he said that Kevin Major said he was ashamed to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, that he was ashamed. He said that that's what I said. What I would like to do is I would like to correct it for him so that the next time he sees Kevin Major he will know that it's been corrected and he will know what Kevin Major, in fact, did say.

 

What Kevin Major said after government closed all the libraries, he said, this week – listen carefully now.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: I ask my colleagues to listen carefully because we don't want anybody misquoted in this House. He said, “This week I was humiliated by my government.

 

“These are the most troublesome words I have written in a very long time. And I have written many words in my time, most all of them about a homeland that I care for deeply.

 

“It is a homeland I wish to see grow spiritually and intellectually, one I wish to see prosper. As do you, I do not doubt.

 

“But taxing books and forcing a mass closure of libraries is absolutely not the way to go about it.

 

“The citizens of Newfoundland –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, oh!

 

MS. ROGERS: I would wonder if my colleague for Mount Pearl North, he probably wants to hear this as well because I know he's a fan of Kevin Major.

 

MR. KENT: (Inaudible) sorry.

 

MS. ROGERS: I know he's a fan of Kevin Major, so I won't repeat what I just read because I know that you have listened very carefully before. You probably read this letter.

 

“But taxing books and forcing a mass closure of libraries is absolutely not the way to go about it.

 

“The citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador are in a financial quagmire, and, true enough, it is not the present government that put us there.” – Kevin's got the picture – “But it is the members of this government who must demonstrate our priorities as a society as we struggle out of deficit and debt.

 

“Literacy must be a priority.

 

“Safeguarding easily accessed, knowledge-based resources must be a priority.”

 

This is an interesting few lines coming up now, Mr. Speaker. “There are some belts that as citizens in a civilized, forward-thinking society we refrain from tightening. The belt that preserves and protects intellectual well-being is one of them, especially in light of the small fraction of the overall budget represented by this tax and these cuts.

 

“I urge you all to reassess and reevaluate the choices being made.

 

“We, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, need the conscientious, enlightened judgement of you the women and men elected to serve us.

 

“in outrage and in hope, Kevin Major” – who happens to be the author of 18 books, a lot of them about Newfoundland including: As Near to Heaven by Sea: A history of Newfoundland and Labrador, No Man's Land, Hold Fast, Blood Red Ochre and The House of Wooden Santas.

 

This, Mr. Speaker, is not a man who is ashamed to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. This indeed is a man who is incredibly proud to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, incredibly proud of our heritage, incredibly hopeful. This is a man who has written a letter because he has hope.

 

He has hope in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and he is challenging every one of us in this House of Assembly. He is challenging us to be forward thinking. He said that not everything is one the table; that is what he is saying. So I hope that my colleague for Baie Verte – Green Bay sees that, in fact, Kevin Major is not ashamed. He is angry, but he is hopeful. That's what we're hearing from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: That is what I believe every one of us in this House is hearing from our constituents. We are hearing anger, but from many of them we are also hearing hope. They know that a budget is all about choices. They know that; everyone here knows that. Every single bit of that budget is about choices. Again, as our Minister of Finance told us, she went line by line by line making choices. Although again, I would like to say that's not what a Minister of Finance does, goes line by line, but comes up with a bigger vision. Then it's that bigger vision that influences every single choice that is made in a budget.

 

I can't figure out what kind of choices she has made. I just went through the Budget Speech again and I looked for indications of what that big picture is, and all I could find was the Minister of Finance constantly going back to fiscal realities or the bottom line, or the debt or the deficit, which is all part of a reality; but when Members of government keeps standing up in the House and referring back to the Official Opposition who, not so long ago, were occupying their seats and constantly blame them for the situation that we're in – well, we all know that. But how do we move forward? That's what we should be talking about. Now the blame back and forth but how do we move forward.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

That's exactly what Kevin Major was talking about. I urge you all to reassess and re-evaluate the choices being made. We, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, need the conscientious, enlightened judgement of you, the women and men elected to serve us. He wants us to move forward.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, I was looking in this budget again. I was going to go through critic area by critic area, department by department for Concurrence. But when I was hearing some of my colleagues from government speaking, I kind of thought, okay, maybe we're getting it wrong. Maybe they do have a big vision. Maybe there is a vision beyond just picking people's pockets and taxing everybody. Maybe there is a vision.

 

I kept looking through here, through the budget and I can't find it. Mr. Speaker, I want to find it. I want to find the big vision. I want to find that overarching vision that guided every single choice that was made in the budget. I couldn't find it.

 

The opening statement by the minister in her speech is: “Mr. Speaker, today, in our government's first budget, we are laying out a fiscal plan that allows our province to regain control of government finances.” So not about pulling us forward or not about harnessing the energy or leading the people or looking at diversity. She says: “It is a credible plan, with clear objectives, transparent goals, and targets to which we will hold ourselves accountable. It is critical that we do so.”

 

Then she blames, again, the government: “The uncontrolled growth in expenditures, the dramatic fall in revenues and oil production, exacerbated by poor decision making by the previous government – have produced a serious and unsustainable imbalance that must be corrected.” These are the words of an accountant; these are not the words of a visionary for our province. I'm concerned about that because that's what we need right now. We all know that we're in a really tough situation financially. We need to be able to get out of this tough situation, absolutely. But how is it that we do that? Is it just by expecting everybody to tighten their belts?

 

I kept wondering, what is this government's vision for Newfoundland and Labrador right now. What is that overarching plan? Where does government want Newfoundland and Labrador to be in the next few years, aside from just talking about debt and tightening our belts? I'm not naive; I know that the debt is considerable, that we have $14.7 billion in debt and that our deficit is $1.8 billion. I know that's really important and I know that has to be dealt with. But I'm not quite sure they have done it adequately in this budget. I don't know that there's any forward thinking that's pulling us out of it. I looked for some stimulus spending and I looked for ways of diversification and, again, I couldn't find it.

 

The other thing I found curious is that climate change is not even mentioned in the budget at all, which I find quite interesting when it's such a big issue, and it's not in the budget. But I did find a return to addictions in this budget that the only thing really that – there are temporary tax measures and there's tax fairness – although I don't think the way they're doing the taxing is very fair at all. Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador don't think it's fair either, most economists don't think it's fair, and labour doesn't think it's fair. I'm not so sure how they arrived at the fact that they think it's fair, but I don't think it's fair. It's really, really regressive.

 

What I did find, really, what they're doing is just hoping that oil prices will come back up again. The main goal here is taxes and hoping that the oil prices will come back up. Then on page 5 of the budget – I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth noting again. They're saying beyond 2016 – so this is the economy and where we're headed. The topic of this particular section is: Where we are headed. It says, “Beyond 2016, economic growth is expected to be curtailed by a combination of factors, including declines in capital investments as major projects move beyond peak development and the requirement for further provincial deficit reduction measures.” So we all knew that. We knew last year that that was going to be happening.

 

“Most main economic indicators are expected to be lower in 2021 than current levels. Several major economic indicators like employment and real compensation of employees will be lower by 15 per cent and over 22 per cent respectively when compared to 2015 levels. Provincial deficit reduction measures …” – so that's what government is doing, what they're doing to reduce our deficit, reduce our debt. So the measures they're doing, it's the Government Renewal Initiative measures, which is GRIM. I would like to say that the GRI, the Government Renewal Initiative, add that “m”, measures, is GRIM.

 

“Provincial deficit reduction measures are estimated to account for 40 to 50 per cent of predicated declines in these broad measures of economic activity.”

 

Now, that's concerning. I would think that's concerning to the government. That's concerning to us. It's kind of a bleak outlook. So I don't know – I went through a number of the pages looking for the actions of what government is going to do and it ends up: “Mr. Speaker, I can assure the people of the province we will not stop until we have our province back on stable financial footing and we have restored confidence in the fiscal future of this great province we are proud to call home.”

 

Mr. Speaker, I'm not quite sure how they're going to get there, aside from the taxing. They're hoping the price of oil will go up and that will be their saviour. Now, the other thing I found kind of interesting is that the DBRS, which is a bond-rating agency, said in an interview with CBC in April '16, about Newfoundland and Labrador and about this government's budget, “The more substantive proposals for restructuring programs and reducing spending are still being developed and will not be presented until the fall.”

 

That's kind of scary, Mr. Speaker, because basically what this bond-rating agency is saying is that –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: – maybe they've been speaking with government. I don't know, but somehow they've figured that there's going to be more restructuring. So the grim exercise, that grim approach that government is going to lay on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, they're waiting to see these further cuts.

 

Then they're saying, “As major investment projects near completion (e.g., Hebron and Muskrat Falls), the economic outlook is only expected to deteriorate further. The province expects a prolonged period of adjustment characterized by years of economic contraction, declines in population and employment, and for unemployment to rise to nearly 20%.”

 

I tell you, Mr. Speaker, the government's grim initiative paints a grim picture, so I don't see how this budget – even though they're taxing people in different ways, particularly with that levy and it's not fair progressive taxation, and they're hoping on oil prices going up, but the outlook is bleak. The government is saying in their own budget that outlook is bleak. This DBRS bond-rating agency is saying that the outlook is bleak. So what is government offering us? A very bleak picture, something that's very, very grim.

 

Again, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador expected something better, expected something different. And government cannot just keep saying to the previous government, well, you made a mess and we're in a mess because you're in a mess. They've asked for the job to lead us out of this, so they have to stop complaining about that because that's tired now.

 

So they are the leaders. They are the ones who supposedly will lead us out of this. They are the ones who are going to – but we haven't seen that plan yet. All we've seen is cut, cut, cut, line by line by line, and we haven't seen an overall, overarching plan and vision of how to stimulate the economy because they're saying that their grim measures, measures that they're doing through their Government Renewal Initiative is actually to slow down the economy and it's going to create unemployment, that unemployment is going to rise –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: – and they've also got verification from the bond-rating agency that they're right about that. So the bond-rating agencies got it figured out as well.

 

It's no wonder at times government bristles when we try and raise these issues because it's not looking good. They don't have a plan. They haven't developed a plan that harnesses the resiliency and the willingness of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS. ROGERS: – to help get us out of this situation that we're in.

 

Mr. Speaker, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are willing to roll up their sleeves. They're willing to help work. They're willing to get us out of this situation. We have to have progressive taxation. We have to have an overarching vision that stimulates the economy, that harnesses the natural resources of our people, that creates that real diversification that gets people working because our crisis is an unemployment crisis. That's what needs to be addressed, and that's not what this government addressed.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker reminds the hon. Member her time for speaking has expired.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Before the Speaker recognizes the hon. Member, the Speaker would remind all Members that while single conversations may not seem too loud, when you have a number of them going on at the one time it is very disruptive to the House. I would ask that you take your conversations outside.

 

The Speaker recognizes the hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'm delighted to have an opportunity to rise in this hon. House today to talk about the tremendous work being done in Newfoundland and Labrador toward ensuring the well-being and protection of children and youth. Each one of us here today agrees that our children and youth are our most valuable resource. Our hope is that they are given the opportunity to grow, thrive and succeed.

 

As a mother of two children, I certainly share the sentiment of wanting to ensure safety and protection of our children and youth. Our government remains committed to continuing to build a revitalized child protection system that is responsive to the priority needs of our children and youth, as well as continuing to make significant progress in creating a culture of accountability, excellence and consistency across all programs in all regions.

 

Our government also shares the philosophy which resulted in the creation of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services to address systemic issues identified through internal and external reports, in particular, the Clinical Services Review, 2011. Recommendations of the Clinical Services Review continue today to serve as the department's guiding framework.

 

Undoubtedly, since the department was created, a number of significant milestones have been achieved, which enhance the services and care provided to children, youth and their families. Every accomplished milestone can be credited to the input, hard work and co-operation of Child, Youth and Family Services staff throughout our province who are committed to making a positive difference and significantly impact the lives of our children and youth.

 

We continue to move forward with a focus on further enhancements to child and youth care. That is why budget 2016-17 continues the support of these efforts with an investment of approximately $150 million for child protection. Mr. Speaker, $150 million for child protection: this is what Government Renewal Initiative is. This is what GRI is.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: This continued support will help us to drive change that results in the best practices and enhanced approaches to supporting children and youth in need of protection. While I've only been with this department for five months, it was immediately obvious how passionate employees are about what they do on a day-to-day basis.

 

I've also experienced the high level of professionalism in which the work concerning the areas of child protection, youth corrections and adoptions is conducted. It is within the context of this professionalism that many difficult situations and decisions are encountered on an ongoing basis.

 

The assessment of risk is a major component of the duties performed by many professionals, including social workers on a daily basis. Social workers regularly work with families receiving services from the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services to deal with a variety of risk areas as a result of the action or inaction of a parent or parents.

 

These risk areas for children include examples, such as: physical and emotional harm; sexual abuse and exploitation; inappropriate supervision; substance abuse or other abuse. All matters are taken very seriously, as well as the well-being of children and youth is our primary focus. While cases can be extremely complex in nature, the department's role is to protect the best interest of children and youth who are or are at risk of maltreatment.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services continues to succeed in laying a strong foundation to address the systemic issues in child protection services in the province. Since the creation of the department, programs and program delivery are constantly being evaluated to ensure they are as effective and as efficient as possible. We are all aware of the difficult decisions our government was forced to make because of the unprecedented financial situation we inherited.

 

Mr. Speaker, on June 15, 2015, the Member for Mount Pearl North acknowledged that their administration also had to make difficult decisions with their budget. The Member said, and I quote, “We had very difficult decisions to make in this Budget process, as you know. We have made them, we will defend them, we will stand by them, and we will live with those decisions.”

 

As we lay the foundation to regain control of government finances, we are guided by unwavering values and we will take care of the most vulnerable in our province. That is why, despite the difficult fiscal realities facing the province, budget 2016-2017 reiterates our government's commitment to ensuring the protection and well-being of children and youth.

 

We have made every effort to minimize impact on our front-line services as we navigate through these difficult financial times. That is why our government chose to amalgamate Child, Youth and Family Services sites where we could not have any impact on client service or impact on our staffing model.

 

The closures affected Gambo and Port Saunders. But the previous administration, with the minister of that time – the minister who was the MHA for Terra Nova – closed three offices on the West Coast of this province. The previous administration closed Piccadilly, Stephenville Crossing and Burgeo. However, it is important to note that the closures from this previous government and the past did not result in any layoffs.

 

Port Saunders had a caseload of six. The quota is one staff to 20 children. That's what we try to maintain. It was one to six in Port Saunders. This one affected employee had the option to continue employment at Roddickton's site. Child, Youth and Family Services will continue to be provided for the area through our Roddickton office. In terms of Gambo, there are currently 91 cases and 13 foster homes. A total of eight positions will amalgamate with our Gander office which has 20 positions.

 

It is our belief that the closure of offices will consolidate staff and enhance the effectiveness of child protection services through strengthened teams for case management. It was also the previous administration's belief. It will result in more social workers coming together in one site to help make decisions based on greater input.

 

We remain committed to the approved organizational structure of one to 20 and team structures. Safe and sustainable communities are an important focus for our newly elected government, and child protection is an important aspect of this focus.

 

Like every government department, we had to do our part to help keep our deficit under control. For Child, Youth and Family Services it was important that we find a way forward that allowed us to continue to meet our mandate and commitments without any direct impact on our service delivery. I feel budget 2016-17 has helped us, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, achieve that objective.

 

Despite the difficult fiscal realities facing the province, budget 2016-17 reiterates our government's commitment to ensuring the protection of our children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is particularly important when you understand the context in which these services are delivered.

 

While the population of the province continues to decline, the number of children entering into care continues to rise. However, Mr. Speaker, it appears that over the last couple of months that number is stabilizing, finally.

 

We currently have approximately 1,000 children in our care, with another 5,000 involved with our Protective Intervention Program. Of those in care, approximately 60 per cent are in sibling groups and 33 per cent are of Aboriginal descent. We recognize we still have challenges in many of our remote Labrador communities. We will continue our focus on improving caseloads in these areas.

 

In terms of foster care, we have approximately 975 children including our Level 4 staffed residential placements and out-of-province placements. We constantly hear the old adage: It takes a village to raise a child. Well, this is also very true when it comes to child protection.

 

Our government understands the importance of working together with stakeholders as a cohesive group. We are focused on working in tandem with all of our stakeholders and others interested in ensuring our children and youth receive the best possible care. At the end of the day, we all collectively share in the same goal, namely the safety and well-being of children and youth in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Our government's continued investment in Budget 2016 clearly articulates our ongoing commitment to improve and enhance service coordination and delivery in all regions of our province.

 

Our government is continuing to move forward to enhance the lives of young people in a variety of ways. We are addressing poverty, violence and mental health issues, enhancing education, working collaboratively and effectively with Aboriginal communities, improving services for persons with disabilities and enhancing health care and wellness.

 

As I stated earlier, the children and youth of Newfoundland and Labrador should have an opportunity to grow, thrive and succeed in a safe and nurturing environment.

 

This is about our children and youth. They deserve nothing less, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker recognizes the hon. the Member for the District of Topsail – Paradise.

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I was caught a little off guard there. The hon. Member had some time left so I wasn't expecting her to sit down as quickly as she did. I appreciate the opportunity to speak in Concurrence here tonight and have a chance again to speak to the budget.

 

One of the challenges we face every day is based on the response we receive from people in the province and have been continuously receiving from people of the province. We try to pick through the material and say where do we best use our time, what is best to discuss and what matters should we raise, because there is so much the people of the province are responding about. There are so many different areas and so many different topics that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are writing us about, calling us about and stopping us on the street about to say their view and their opinion on the budget.

 

We spend – it's amazing, I laugh at it. I shouldn't laugh, I suppose, because it's a pretty serious matter, but it's kind of humorous in a way. We're saying where are we going to go today or what issues will we raise because there are so many people asking us to raise so many matters on a regular basis. If it be education – education is a key one of late because parents are just starting to realize and understand what the impacts of some of the decisions are on education. They're becoming concerned. What a lot of people can't understand is why you have programs that have been proven to be beneficial and provide a better quality of education, where available for students – why some of those programs are being reduced.

 

I don't know how to tell it to people only to say, well, they're saying it's tough times, a tough budget and they have to make cuts. Then, the next question is why are they creating a new program, an additional service, an additional program, when they can't fund the good programs that are there today? Intensive Core French is a significant one.

 

I had a parent contact me the other day who told me that there were two students in the class who didn't make the draw for Intensive Core French. So out of this whole school and these classes – and kids are going to school together and going through year by year, and now a group of them want to go to Intensive Core French – there were two of them. She said my daughter came home in tears – in absolute tears, in no other way but absolute tears – and upset; why can't I do Intensive Core French with my friends, Mom.

 

Now, how do you tell the child that? Two children in the school who got missed out on the draw and yet, at the same time, they're beating the bushes and doing all the work to bring in full-day kindergarten. Why can't they postpone it? If they're in such difficult times, instead of bringing in a new program or a new service, why can't they postpone full-day kindergarten?

 

There's no doubt full-day kindergarten has proven to have good results; no doubt about it. No doubt about it at all. But as Members opposite have said many times, you can't be all things to all people. I've said it when I sat over there, you can't be all things to all people. You can't. Why would you put more pressure on a system, a higher demand, a new program, a new service that is, yes, a good program, but you decrease the good programs while you're doing that. It just doesn't make sense to people. It certainly doesn't make sense to me.

 

I know the Minister of Education, when he was Opposition critic, talked about it before and criticized us for making cuts in education. Fair enough. That was his role; it's our role here today. He's minister opposite over there now and he's the minister in charge.

 

He criticized us. He criticized us last year when we increased the cap sizes for classes. He criticized us right here in the House of Assembly. He talked about what's wrong with you guys over there in the government. Families and teachers are raising red flags, is what he said here in the House, Mr. Speaker. He said they're raising red flags already. He used words like students and teachers have taken another hit on the reductions that they're doing.

 

The Minister of Education stood in his place here in the House and he said, look what you did. It was bad and wrong for you to make cuts in teachers, increase class sizes; bad for you to do it but we're going to do more of it. And people are saying how did he square that. How does a government square that by saying what the previous administration – which Members opposite like to talk about all the time.

 

That's their strategy. They're calling us the former premier and former – that's all their strategy. Fine enough, that's the game they want to play. If they want to recognize us in our place here for what we represent or who we are, that's up to them to do that. We'll continue to represent, call them by their proper titles and respect their position here in the House.

 

When they were here, they criticised us for doing these things. And then they do more of it. The Member opposite just here tonight talked about how we closed offices. I think she was referring to AES offices. We closed AES offices, a bad thing for us to do. When they were the government they closed AES offices – bad, bad. It wasn't a good thing for them to do. Fair enough.

 

Just like they are today, we had tough decisions to make. As a matter of fact, the minister of Education last year, in responding to the current Minister of Education, in one of his comments he said: Mr. Speaker, I think everybody in the province is well aware of the fiscal situation of the province and the commitment that we have to look at all of our processes.

 

As a matter of fact, the Education critic at the time, currently the Education Minister, criticised us and said: You're reducing programs before you've done your full assessment on the value of what programs are good and what programs are not – criticised us. And now they're doing exactly the same thing. Not only doing exactly the same thing; when it was bad for us to increase the cap size, they've done it further. When it was bad for us to close an AES office, they've done more.

 

So these are the kinds of things that people are saying to us, Mr. Speaker. These are the kinds of things that people are talking to us about. I talked today in Question Period about the courthouses. I talked about the Harbour Grace courthouse at some length. I know the area well, I have family there. Lots of people live in the area. It's a booming area; lots of new housing, young families and lots of pressure on municipalities for enhanced services. It's a good area, lots of good people out there and so on. We talked about this today, as I said, in Question Period.

 

But they're wondering – so we asked a petition to come in and the Member brought in a petition. It's against the decision of the government; we're going to vote for the budget. What that means is I'm against the decision that government made, but I'm going to vote in favour of it. Now, each individual Member has to sort that out themselves; every Member in the House has to sort that out themselves.

 

I had a Member opposite in a conversation there since the budget who said, I remember when – they talk about Bill 29. Everyone remembers Bill 29, and then we took action to fix it because we agreed it was the wrong thing for us to do, we got to fix it. They hung us out on it over and over and over, and they still bring it up.

 

People have said, and the Member opposite has said, do you know what? This budget is our Bill 29, because people are not going to forget it. It's not going to go away and people are not going to forget it. I don't believe it is.

 

I know Members opposite are being told, just ride it out. The days are going to get easier. The days are going to get better. We know that. I would expect the leader to be telling caucus members: Settle down, it's the right thing to do. These are tough decisions. This is what leadership is about. You upset people, that's it.

 

We heard Members opposite say it's not about votes. If they don't elect me again I'll have a clear conscience, I did the right thing. There might be no one to elect them again because there'll be no one else to vote for them because they're all going to be gone. That's what's going to happen. We hear it from people.

 

I got a letter from a lady yesterday. She talked about how she's a young woman, her and her boyfriend and how they got through their education. She even joked and talked about how she is supported by the food bank. Now, she joked about it because she said it's the mom and dad food bank. My mom and dad look after us. Lots of times we get leftover meals and so on from mom and dad and that helps us out.

 

This year she was looking forward to buying a vehicle and touring the province. She talked about how she went from a substandard, or not ideal basement apartment, to a rental property now that's above ground and how that's a big step for them.

 

Actually, she wrote the Minister of Finance. I was sent a copy of it since. She talked about all of that and talked about it at length. She talks about: Why should I stay here when everything I'm trying to save and do, and everything I'm trying to do to move myself forward is being taken away in a tax or a fee?

 

Now, the Members opposite were quite clear last year on taxes because they beat us over the head day after day on the HST increase and made clear commitments, it was bad and it was wrong. The Premier himself talked about how it was a job killer. He talked about it over and over. He said it's going to crush the economy and it's bad. Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't do it.

 

We were standing in our place saying, we're in a tough fiscal spot. We've got to roll in our spending. We've got to adjust our taxation. We can't keep going the way we're going. I was the worst in the world for doing it, Mr. Speaker. I was the worst son of a gun in the world for taking that position.

 

The former Leader of the Opposition – that's the way he likes to reference ourselves in the House, so maybe I'll use that. The former Leader of the Opposition, the Premier of today, stood here and talked about budget documents. He talked about Japan and their own budget document. In that country consumption fell drastically. Their economy went stagnant. Future tax increases were postponed for fear of prolonged economic difficulties. The research is clear: An increase in HST is a job killer. Those are the words the Premier used.

 

Well, if only it was the HST that they decided to do. How much further ahead would we be today than we actually are if it was only the HST increase that they decided to do? But it's not what they decided to do. They did much more than that, and that's what people are concerned about.

 

If you take any part of the budget in isolation – you take a little piece of it in isolation – people would say, that, by itself, I can understand that; I can understand increasing fees or I can understand them trying to make adjustments in some programs or services. But when you put it all together, people are saying – their position is you can't move in the province without the negative impact hitting you.

 

I've asked the Premier here in the House about what the impact is going to be on HST on the cost of groceries. He said there's no HST on groceries. That's not the point. The point is that it's going to cost more to cause those groceries to be available on the shelves in stores in our province.

 

I would suggest and suspect, Mr. Speaker, that the more remote and more challenging the transportation needs are of a particular community, the bigger the impact is going to be because now we've got increased costs for fuel. It's significant for gas; less significant for diesel, but a significant cost for fuel, plus the HST.

 

We've got taxes now on insurance, which it's going to cost more to operate vehicles. That's not just the vehicles to deliver produce – fresh fruit and vegetables and so on – to grocery stores. That's also when the grocery store picks up the phone and calls the local electrician and says: I have a problem with my cooler, can you come over and fix it. His costs are more to operate his business, so he's going to pass that on to the grocery store too. When he brings that truck down to the local service station to get it fixed, it's going to cost him more to fix that as well and to have that repaired as well. He's going to pass that on to the grocery store as well. And on it goes.

 

My question was about what analysis has been done to determine what the impacts are going to be on the cost of food for the people of the province. I don't believe they have it. At least they haven't shared it yet, anyway. When all this rolls out, if we can look into our crystal ball and look forward six months or a year or 18 months down the road, what's going to be the impact on goods and services? One of those obvious that we all need is affordable and good-quality food purchases at grocery stores. What's the impact? They don't know what it is.

 

We had chosen a plan over the last number of years that was going to be smooth and it wouldn't shock the system, was words I've used in the past. We didn't need to shock the economy and shock the province. As a matter of fact, if you look at core government – and I stand to be corrected. I'm sure the Minister of Finance can correct me, but if I remember correctly, the number of public servants in core government today is less than what it was prior to 2010. I think 2009, but 2009-2010, and since that time the number of public servants in core government – again, I stand to be corrected, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize if it's not right, but that's my recollection on it.

 

It has continued to decrease in slight numbers. The reason why people might be surprised to hear that is because it was done over a period of time where it wouldn't have a big impact on the people of the province. People wouldn't see and feel those particular hits.

 

Mr. Speaker, when you go from here to here overnight, that has a big impact and people feel it. It's hard for them. They don't have a crystal ball to look into to say what's the impact going to be in six months or a year down the road? That's why we hear the government talk about evidence-based decision making. That's good policy for them. They're going to make evidence-based choices. Good for them.

 

To do it as a campaign promise as part of their commitment and so on, I'm perfectly okay with that. That's a good way to do it, to say we're going to do this through an evidence-based process. We're going to analyze. Now there is in business, of course, what's known as analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis, it's a term known in business and it brings businesses to a halt. When businesses over-analyze and don't take steps to rectify their business operations or to take steps to – businesses are in business to make profit and to do business, and they don't make those steps. They analyze too far and they can't move fast enough and change fast enough.

 

We've seen that in big industry. We've seen it in airlines, as an example. When you have a few days of bad weather, Air Canada takes weeks to catch up. They say, well, that's part of the – they've been too lean. They try to get too lean but when they're analyzing their issues, they spend so much time analyzing they can't fix the problem.

 

We don't want government to do that. Government has been criticized for being over-analytical and doing too much of that red tape in the past. We reduced a lot of it, and we know this government is committed to reducing red tape and it was talked about with the premiers today.

 

Mr. Speaker, the point being is that if you create all those hardships and you haven't analyzed the impacts, then they're very dangerous decisions to make. We've seen that, and we're seeing that now with this budget. We're seeing this now with the decisions that are being made by this government.

 

Mr. Speaker, the part of the government that is also creating – or the decisions and process the government is doing that's creating a problem for people in the province, is people are saying, look, it's the spring of the year and I was going to replace the windows in my house, but I don't know if I'm going to have a job in six months and I'm waiting to find out what's going to come in budget number two in the fall. This is having a big impact on spending in the province. This is having a big impact on investment.

 

When businesses are saying we're trying to figure out where the province is going. The picture painted by the government has been one that's doom and gloom. The Budget Speech itself, and the lead up days before the budget was it's doom and gloom and there's nothing good coming out of this, and part of the budget is how much the population's going to decrease and how much it's going to suffer for businesses and so on. So we heard all of that leading up to the budget. People are now going, oh, what's happening?

 

Well, one of the interesting things that's taken place over the last few days is they've really changed their messaging. They came in here and said things are so bad, we got to bring in a bad budget. Well, people weren't accepting of that. They say, well, decision making and the budget, there are choices that you make as a government.

 

Of course, Members opposite said it's the previous administration, previous administration. I'm going to tell you, Mr. Speaker, I've said it before in this House and I couldn't be more sincere when I say this. More than anything else I hear from people of the province is they're sick and tired of hearing those words, the previous administration and the blame. They are sick and tired of hearing it.

 

I can't be more serious or more accurate or more genuine or more sincere by saying everybody who has a problem – if someone has a problem with education, they'll raise it. If someone has a problem with health care, they'll raise it. If someone has a problem with taxation and fees, they'll raise it. People in all spectrums are raising it. They're raising it broadly, but that's a tactic the government decided to use. That's a tactic they're using and they continue to use it.

 

Of course, there's a right to use whatever strategy they want, but in the last few days we've seen a change. Because the budget they painted as being so bad, now they're starting to talk about good. We said since day one, there were some good things in the budget. I was glad when things weren't cut. I was surprised when I heard things like courthouses – which is where I started my comments this evening – were being cut, because I don't think they've done any analysis to determine what the impacts are going to be.

 

Just last year the Minister of Justice stood here in the House and criticized us over the family violence court in Labrador West and was looking for commitments that we were going to put it in place. Now he's shutting the court down completely; shutting it down completely.

 

Harbour Grace is the one that comes back to quite regularly, because Harbour Grace is probably the busiest court. Whitbourne, Placentia court closures feed in there. Now, the Members opposite are going to get up and say, well, you closed Whitbourne and you closed other courts. Well, yes, we did. They're going to criticize us for doing it, but as they've done with other things, they're doing more cuts and reductions the same way. It's a busy court, it's a big court.

 

I know the Member for the area is gravely concerned about it. I believe she's sincere in her concern. I believe she's hearing it from people. Mayors are talking about it; the justice community is talking about it. They're talking about the denial of services and justice services for the people in that region.

 

I think that's a very important matter and I believe that's an error the government has made. It's unfortunate because they talked about that they will listen to what people have to say and people matter and people are important, but they're not responding to the concerns expressed by the people. That's also a feedback we're receiving from people around the province.

 

Mr. Speaker, my time has quickly run out. I didn't want to use a speech. We know Members opposite are reading prepared texts that are being provided to them. I've decided not to do that. Members over here are not doing that. We're talking about the experiences we're having and what we're hearing from people in the province. We'll continue to do that right up until the last vote that we have on this budget.

 

We'll continue to make and share the concerns expressed by people. We'll continue to share the concerns and ask for changes and why can they make those decisions –

 

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): Order, please!

 

The hon. Member's time has expired.

 

MR. P. DAVIS: We'll continue our work as an Opposition.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'm glad to get up and have a few words to say about the Concurrence on social policy. I presented our department's Estimates at this meeting of Education and Early Childhood Development. I want to say thank you to all the officials in the department. I keep saying to the officials in Education and Early Childhood Development that I drew the long straw when it came to senior officials in the department. I have to say, they are amongst the most professional and competent people that I've worked with in my 45 years, so hats off to them.

 

They say there are always brains behind an operation. They are definitely the folks who are giving us very wise advice. They have been very co-operative and understanding as we try to pull the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador back from the fiscal cliff that the previous government thought they'd just drive us all over and there would be no impact, other than when we hit the bottom.

 

With respect to education in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think it's important for people in the province to have an understanding of a few key facts. We've heard a lot of rhetoric and then there are the facts. We just heard a lot of rhetoric that time, which I'll easily be able to rebut in a minute.

 

There are a lot of facts. One of the facts is that from 2004 to 2015 – so over the course of 11 years – the budget for the Department of Education increased by nearly $300 million. Over the course of 11 years the previous administration increased the budget for the Department of Education by $300 million almost. But, at the same time, there was a steady decline in the number of students in the province. We know the demographic challenge that we have. Our population is aging. People are having smaller families and that's a fact.

 

Over the course of time that the previous government increased education, K to 12 spending, by some $300 million, the population of students that the system is to serve declined by over 12,000 students. In fact, it was closer to a 13,000-student reduction. The number of schools also, likewise, declined from 303 schools to 262 over that 11-year period.

 

So you have to wonder how it is that we were increasing by that significant per-student amount when the enrolment was going down so much. You wonder about what it was we got in return. If you look at certain test scores and student achievement in schools under the current administration's supervision, then there is cause to question what it is we got for that money.

 

One of the things that has been raised here in the House of Assembly in Question Period and with me – and I have lots of emails and telephone calls and have had lots of conversations with students. For the information of the Member for Conception Bay South, I'm not sure where it is he gets his information, but I have diligently responded to every person that's gotten in touch with me. If he has some information that's contrary to that, if it isn't just a cheap shot that he decided to throw out here on the House of Assembly floor, I encourage him to back up the evidence with what he said today. Otherwise it is just a cheap shot and that's all it is.

 

One of the things that's going on, Mr. Speaker, is the allocation of teachers has been provided to the system by the Department of Education. The Department of Education doesn't do the deployment. There's about $550 million, about 60 per cent of the budget for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development that's represented by teacher salaries and benefits. When we do a calculation in the department on what it would cost for a program, the figure that we input for a teacher's salary and benefits is $89,500.

 

The other day the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island talked about wanting to get rid of multigrading and to have some additional 500 teachers as a result. If you do the math on that, times $89,500, you see the kinds of numbers we're talking about.

 

The allocation has been provided to the school districts and the largest one being the English School District. Now that's working its way through. Schools are finding out they have been reduced some portion of a teaching unit, one or more or partial units. What is happening is that principals will now get back to the districts to give them an update about enrolment or programming or what have you. The district will then see if there are opportunities to adjust, provide additional teaching allocations to the system in order to keep up. Then, at the end of the summer, there will be a further adjustment which will help ensure that schools have what they're entitled to under the teacher allocation formula.

 

Like I said, in response to a question in Question Period from the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, the English School District, as I understand it, will be advertising for more than 200 teaching positions this summer. There will be more than 200 teaching positions, new positions advertised for this summer.

 

One of the reasons why is we are following through with the commitment that three parties in this House of Assembly made. Now two parties, the Opposition parties, have decided to renege on their promise to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to have full-day kindergarten. That's their decision because there will be generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and families who will remember that. I'll be sure to remember them. I don't plan to fade away any time soon.

 

Basically, Budget 2014 committed over $30 million over three years for full-day kindergarten. Now that was infrastructure and programming. In fact, the French system in the province, the five French schools – the Francophone schools in the province – they've always had full-day kindergarten. There have been schools that have been offering full-day kindergarten within the teaching allocation that they were given. What we're doing now is implementing the full program.

 

The Leader of the Opposition got up a few minutes ago and said: Why are you getting rid of a proven program? I'm not sure of the language he used, something about research. I'd like to see the research evidence that he's talking about on Intensive Core French. I'd like to see the research on Intensive Core French because I'm not aware of what he's talking about. If he has some data, empirical evidence on that program here in the province, I'd like to see it. We do know the benefits of full-day kindergarten, there's no question. I've gone over that time and time again.

 

So just to give him a bit of information about how many people are impacted and then he can judge the proportionate impact. Now I understand, before I go on, that there are families, students and teachers who are disappointed that the province can no longer provide a full teacher unit for a partial class of Intensive Core French. I know that's disappointing. I've talked to many parents who are disappointed by it and I'm disappointed by it, but it's not a practice we can continue.

 

Intensive Core French; the decision to limit the offerings impacts 14 schools, 20 classes and approximately 140 students – 20 classes in 14 schools. Full-day kindergarten impacts 185 schools, 370 classes and 4,750 students. We're talking 20 classes of Intensive Core French versus 370 classes of full-day kindergarten.

 

I know that likely comes as no consolation to parents who are bitterly disappointed about the change in Intensive Core French, but that is really the proportionate difference. A program for 4,750 students or a program for about 150 students; a program that has reams and reams of evidence conducted here and elsewhere and not so much on the other end of it. In fact, there are quite significant reductions in the number of students who are taking French immersion in senior grades. There's quite a lot of attrition. I'm not sure if the Member opposite has research conducted on that he'd like to get up and tell us about.

 

One of the things that has come up – it came up here in the House today – was the whole question of school infrastructure. It was interesting. The PC Party, the Official Opposition, sent out a press release yesterday saying that the Member for Terra Nova had to vote against the budget now because they're going to be using modular classrooms for Riverside Elementary. As I said in Question Period today, over a period of six years the previous administration put 41 modular classrooms in place in schools around the province in order to deal with enrolment capacity issues in school.

 

Dorset Collegiate, Pilley's Island, had four modulars added. I never heard the Member for Baie Verte – Green Bay, I never heard of him voting against the budget because those modulars were added. I didn't see that happen here. That cost the government $2 million.

 

Paradise Elementary had four modulars added to a new school. I didn't see the Member for Topsail – Paradise or the Member for Mount Pearl North vote against the budget that put those modular classrooms in place. Villanova Junior High had five modular classrooms put in place, and I didn't see anyone vote against those budgets.

 

Holy Trinity Elementary has eight modular classrooms behind it – eight – and I never saw the Member for Cape St. Francis get up in the House of Assembly and vote against the budget that put those eight there. That cost $4 million.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: How much?

 

MR. KIRBY: Four million dollars for Holy Trinity, but overall it was about $18.5 million for 41 modulars. Now if this was not an acceptable way to deal with a short- or intermediate-term capacity issues, enrolment capacity issues, a capacity to accommodate student enrolment numbers in schools, than I'm not sure why the previous administration put 41 of them there, why they spent $18.5 million on it and why we didn't see Members for their own districts voting against their own budget, as now they're demanding the Member for Terra Nova should have to do. So it's completely hypocritical. It's the essence of hypocrisy, basically. So there's that.

 

Again, like I said, the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island is out decrying overcrowding at Beachy Cove Elementary. I was out at a public meeting there last year where he guaranteed that the school would be open for this September, this coming September in Beachy Cove, in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, to deal with school capacity issues. That's not going to happen.

 

What happened was the previous administration promised to build these schools on an accelerated schedule that did not reflect what the understanding is within government in terms of the length of time that it takes to build a school in the province. On some of the schedules they announced, I'd say you'd be challenged to build a house in the length of time, but they were going to build schools in it. Now the schools are not ready, and that's somebody else's fault. We've not been here for six months and now, all of a sudden, these schools they failed to plan for are not our fault.

 

Similar, the Member for Mount Pearl North, he's complaining that the extension is not going to be on St. Peter's Primary in time. I say if he wanted that to be done sooner, he should have asked his own government to do it sooner because he was at the Cabinet table. That didn't happen. Then he got up in the House of Assembly on a petition one day and said: Oh, you've got – I don't know what he said, four or five – a number of vacant classrooms down at Mary Queen of the World, I think he said, and you can send French immersion students down there.

 

So I got on the email and I contacted the school council chair out there. I said the Member for Mount Pearl North is standing up in the House of Assembly saying we should start busing your children in French immersion down to the other school on Topsail Road. Is that the position of the school council? They said, no, we haven't had any conversation with him about it. If we were going to make decisions based on what the Member for Mount Pearl North is saying, then I think we'd probably get in a lot of conflict with parents because it's not something that he's even brought to the school council. And I suggest that's probably an appropriate way to deal with things.

 

Despite all the challenges, there are good things that are happening. Like I said today, the previous administration had access to some $25 billion over the course of their term of office from various royalties and so on to the province. They chose to spend it whatever way they did.

 

In the end, on the way out the door, they had a budget where they promised hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of infrastructure that you just can't deliver on, not unless you just put it all on the credit card. That's basically what they're suggesting, I suppose, and we just can't do that. So some of these projects have been delayed, and they're going to be priorities for us once we get this fiscal ship righted. But right now we're dealing with a mess and we're trying to do the best that we can.

 

While doing the best we can we're actually spending, this year, $106 million on a number of different school infrastructure projects. Mr. Speaker, $106 million this year on school infrastructure projects: on new school constructions, on school extensions, on repairs and maintenance – $106 million. So the suggestion that we're not doing anything to address capacity issues is not true.

 

Again, these involve schools that were promised on an accelerated schedule that could not be met. There was the Portugal Cove-St. Philip's one the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island guaranteed people just over a year ago that would open. The school in Torbay, a similar situation, was promised. It won't be delivered on the schedule they promised. The Octagon Pond school in Paradise is going to be finished; the Gander grades four to six school; the new school for Conception Bay South; and the Virginia Park School, which has been something that's been out there for quite a long time and still not finished, we're going to finish it. There's also the extension and the renovations for St. Peter's Junior High. So there's quite a bit going on. There are other projects I could talk about as well, but there is quite a lot that is happening.

 

Another thing that has come up is the issue of busing. I empathize with families who are going to have a change to their routine as a result of the changes in busing. We have the Member for Cape St. Francis – he was out at a public meeting last night making absurd claims about government's position. That's not a big surprise to me. But he was out at that while we're sitting here in the House of Assembly trying to deal with the Independent Appointments Commission.

 

Mr. Speaker, basically it boils down to this: over $50 million is being spent right now, this school year, on busing. And, the projected expenditure for the next school year is almost $60 million, a tremendous sum of money on busing. The preference for the school districts, and certainly for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, is to spend our money, to focus as much of our expenditures as possible on our core mandate, which is teaching and learning, investments in the classroom. So we're trying to bring the busing costs down.

 

What are they doing? You'd think they were doing something draconian to students the way you hear the Member for Cape St. Francis talking about this. It's going to cause people to have their schedules changed, and that's difficult for people to deal with. But in the end, we have had double runs for busing in the province before. It's pretty consistent with the district's policies in other areas of the province. It does lead to changes in the opening times for schools. That's to allow for the additional time for pickup and drop-off of students. It's fairly easy to understand. As a result of the changes that the district is making this year, there are 37 fewer buses that are going to be used – 37 fewer buses.

 

The Opposition would prefer to have that money spent on those 37 additional buses. But it's like everything they say here in the House of Assembly, it's only a million dollars, it's only $25,000, it's only $50,000, it's only $100,000, it's only $5 million –

 

MR. KENT: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North, on a point of order.

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: I'd ask you to state the Standing Order.

 

MR. KENT: No problem, Mr. Speaker.

 

Standing Order 49. The Minister of Education just referred to a Member being out of the House last evening. He's well aware that's unparliamentary and I would respectfully ask him to withdraw.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, it's well known the Member was on Twitter. His picture was all over the Internet that he was out of the House.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

It is unparliamentary to refer to a Member as being out of the House.

 

MR. KIRBY: Oh, I withdraw, Mr. Speaker. I saw it on Twitter and I thought it was appropriate. I will sit down now.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask the Member to withdraw unequivocally.

 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I withdraw unequivocally, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you.

 

The hon. the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi.

 

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

 

It looks like I'm going to be the last speaker in the last Concurrence debate of Budget 2016.

 

So much has happened since April 14, it's hard to know where to start, Mr. Speaker. So much has been said in the House, but so much has been said elsewhere, completely all over the province.

 

What's disturbing for me here in the House is that when we stand up and speak as Opposition, government mocks us. They say we don't know what we're talking about. They say that we don't have facts, et cetera, et cetera. I'm getting a bit tired of that. That's why I have decided that for the rest of the debates I'm going to do a lot of letting other people speak, and let them tell their constituents and my constituents that they don't know what they're talking about and that they don't know reality.

 

I'm going to start tonight with one of my own constituents. This is somebody who does not want to be identified, and I will honour that, of course. I will never say anybody's name here in the House who hasn't asked that their name be said.

 

This is a constituent who wrote me early on, actually, after the budget came down, on April 18th. The writer says: I am a lawyer, a recent grad and one of your constituents working in St. John's. I'm writing to share my fear and anxiety about the budget with you.

 

I graduated from a good law school outside of Atlantic Canada in 2013 with $100,000 in debt. I moved home out of dedication to family and to my home. The salaries here are not competitive with where I studied – I'm protecting the person by not mentioning the province. Despite the fact that I am a lawyer, a job typically associated with at least having enough, I live paycheque to paycheque – and I hope that the government side of the House is hearing this.

 

I have played with the numbers in the budget. It seems to me a single person without dependents will have to pay around $3,300 with the $600 levy. Mr. Speaker, $3,300 is more than three loan payments. I don't know how I'm supposed to bear this unless I reduce my loan payments, but I am unwilling to do that. I have worked hard for my whole life. I got an education that was extremely inflated in price compared to my colleagues from even 10 years ago and it's only getting worse for the following years.

 

I am unwilling to take on more interest in my presently $85,000 of student loans because the previous governments mismanaged the resources and the money they had. In fact, my unwillingness goes to the fact that my partner and I will likely be leaving. We don't own a home. How could we? We don't yet have children. Having either of these things here is not in our plans now, given these outrageous fees – and I hope we're listening to this. This is only an example. I have many like this.

 

On two other notes, I state that my nephew was behind in school living in a small rural community – the MHA of which is here in this room. The combined classrooms and/or reduced classroom size will mean that a child like him – so capable of being bright, you should see how deep his curiosity runs – will be pushed along in a school system that is too bogged down to even keep a child back a grade anymore.

 

Finally, my sister was mentally unwell for a long time. To see the closure of a section of the Waterford today broke my last stable straw. This is too much to take emotionally; it's too much to take financially. Please give my concerns a voice if it's possible.

 

I communicated with this person about an hour ago to let her know that I was reading this. I got a real big thank you from the person because that person wants everybody in this room to know what this budget is doing to her, one of our young, bright people: a young lawyer ready to commit to this province and is not going to be able to do it.

 

I have a number of letters like this from people starting out, middle class, and really believing they can't stay. This government is really doing things backwards. The Minister of Education talked about facts. Well, there are facts and there are facts, I realize that. If I tried to spend time trying to untwist the way some of the facts have been presented by the government, I'd use up all my time plus by 1,000 times. I don't intend to try to untwist the facts that they're presenting here. I want to present other facts which are facts.

 

There is fiscal and economic policy and there are principles in fiscal and economic policy. Surely, the government side, the Minister of Finance and the Premier, everybody else in Cabinet and the backbenchers should know that those policies exist.

 

One of the really basic economic policies has to do with the employment impacts of spending cuts. This government started from the worst possible place in doing cuts because, in actual fact, it's in our social programs that we get most employment. Cuts in social programs give us greater unemployment and a drop in the GDP. That is an economic fact.

 

If you did economics 100, that's what you're taught. And believe it or not, even though we talk about economists on the left and economists on the right, et cetera, if you go into an economics classroom you're getting a neutral course; a course that's teaching you economic policy, no politics involved. In such a course you would be taught exactly what I've just said.

 

So when we look at industry, when you do cuts in industry you affect employment. Now here's the important thing in this fact: for every $1 million, you can estimate how many cuts it would mean if you lose a million dollars invested in a certain industry.

 

I have the list here. It's a very typical economic list. What is the industry that creates the greatest number of jobs per $1 million? It's the educational services. If you put a million dollars into educational services you get 20.54 equivalent jobs. I mean that's how it's worked out. So education is number one. That's the highest employer when it comes to jobs per $1 million invested in the industry.

 

What's the next one? Accommodation and food services. That makes sense. It's 16.25. What's the next one after that? Health care and social assistance. If you invest in that industry it's 15.54 equivalent jobs.

 

Here's the really interesting thing. Guess which industry that happens here in this province that creates the smallest number of jobs per million dollars. Guess what, the oil and gas. The oil and gas extraction, for every $1 million you get 0.38 equivalent jobs. That's a fact. That doesn't mean that we don't have oil and gas. Of course we're going to have it, the same way with mining. The second lowest is mining when it comes to the creation of jobs. So they get the money but we don't get the jobs. That's the reality. They get the money but we don't get the jobs.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker has stood on several occasions and asked Members of the Legislature to respect the person that has been identified by the Speaker to speak. I will ask one final time. If we have continued interruptions, whether it's tonight or tomorrow, the person who's interrupting the person identified to speak will not be permitted to either ask or answer questions the following day.

 

The hon. Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi.

 

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

 

I will respond to what was shouted out across the floor to me because I don't want anybody in Lab West saying that I want their jobs gone. What I'm pointing out is that if you're going to do cuts in a budget, you look at what creates the most jobs. The government doesn't get to do cuts in the mining industry anyway.

 

We are happy to have the mining industry and we're happy to have the oil and gas industry. We want them to thrive here, but we have to remember that when it comes to our overall economy – the overall provincial economy when it comes to job creation – the job creation comes from educational services, accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance. Arts, entertainment and recreation is number four. What's the message? Where this government – if it were really interested in job creation, it would see money going into those top four industries as real investment that's going to create jobs. They've done the opposite, Mr. Speaker. They've done the extreme opposite.

 

The other proof of this that would fit into the educational services – or could be in social assistance – is child care. Child care was really proven in Quebec when they brought in the child care program; the jump in the economy in Quebec for no other reason but there being a child care program. So what have they done? They have cut services in the areas where jobs are going to be created.

 

That's why they have had to recognize in their budget that there is going to be an increase in unemployment because of the budget. There's going to be an increase in unemployment for a number of reasons, but this budget is going to contribute 40 to 50 per cent of the increase in unemployment and 40 to 50 per cent of the decrease of our economy.

 

I still can't figure out, and neither can any economist that I've spoken to – neither can any person in this country who has a thought in their head – figure it out how they think things are going to turn around as they continue down that road. It can't. It won't happen.

 

They've put their hopes in the price of oil going up again. They actually say that in the budget. That's actually in the budget as well. What is the sign of hope? Not that they have great plans for job creation, it's that they're going to get more revenue because oil is going to go up and there is more exploration.

 

The point I was making, when I was interrupted some minutes ago, is that it will be great to have revenue coming back to the province if oil goes up to $50, which is probably the max that it will happen, but we're not going to get a lot of jobs from it. We need jobs, and that's another economic fact.

 

A main factor in having a good GDP in a province or in a country is employment. Our unemployment is going up. None of that is making sense, Mr. Speaker, and all of that is factual.

 

I will not have the other side of the House tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I've spent 40 years as a teacher, as somebody out working in the community with people doing community development, as a researcher in international economics, I'm not going to be told I don't know what I'm talking about. Neither do people who have been writing letters in the paper, sending emails to us, et cetera; neither do they want to be told they don't know what they're talking about.

 

Let's take one example, the library cuts. I'm sure they're saying oh, no, not again. Well, do you know what? Yes, again because over half of our libraries being closed in rural Newfoundland and Labrador is not acceptable.

 

There was a wonderful letter on May 4 in The Telegram. It came from a person who is a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. I can say the person's name because she signed her name to a letter in The Telegram. She currently lives in Germany, but she wrote this letter because she's so upset about the library cuts. Let's listen to somebody else, somebody who knows what she's talking about.

 

“Library cuts a staggering blow to rural NL. Several years ago I had the great honour and good fortune to work as a Community Access Program IT trainer in a rural Newfoundland public library,” – I suspect she's saying rural Newfoundland because it was on the Island of Newfoundland, before somebody jumps up and says she didn't say Labrador as well – “located in a village school building. It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

 

“I had grown up in a larger urban centre where the library was usually a fairly quiet and deserted place. Here, by contrast, there was always bustle: the local people, and in particular the children, read voraciously. Every lunchtime and after school the children would stampede into the library to choose new books and would often discuss books that they had just read with the librarian or with me. If the librarian had not constantly urged the children to bring books back before taking out new ones, the library's stocks would have been depleted within a week. My impressions have been confirmed by the release of the extremely high circulation figures for this particular library.”

 

She doesn't name the library. She does point out though, at the end of her letter, that the library is one of the ones being closed.

 

I'd like to point out to the Minister of Education that the library being described here is not from 1896. It's from the last few years. So I don't know when the Minister of Education was talking about: libraries aren't the same, libraries are different. Well, we're talking about a library here in rural Newfoundland, on the Island, in this decade; children rushing to read books, children wanting to read books. 

 

She goes on, “As a result of all this reading of library books, the children had an astounding depth of general knowledge and interest in world affairs. Notably, the boys were as much involved in the library as the girls, and it kept them actively engaged with their education. For children whose families were unable to provide them with books at home,” – this is very important, families who did not have the money for books at home – “the library filled the gap. Some of these children have demonstrated continuing high academic achievement, as I was delighted to observe last Christmas at the school prize-giving ceremony”

 

Not last century, last Christmas. These children are some of the highest, academically achieving kids in our province, in a small rural school on the Island with this dynamic library, and this library is being closed.

 

She goes on and talks about everything else that went on and goes on in that library. You have a program for preschoolers. Apparently, parents come – most likely, I would imagine mothers, because there's no daycare provision in the village. She keeps calling it the village. “The books on child rearing and child psychology were also extremely well-used. Puppets were available to the children outside of storytime for spontaneous dramatic play.” And she goes on and on.

 

I encourage people to look up the May 4th Telegram article and read all that she says. The end of it, she says – it's a beautiful letter. I don't have time to read it all, but at the very end she says, and I'm reading it out for her. “I implore Mr. Ball to reconsider this irresponsible and ill-informed decision –  

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the hon. Member that it's unparliamentary to refer to another Member by name.

 

MS. MICHAEL: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. SPEAKER: It's unparliamentary under any circumstances to refer to another Member by name.

 

MS. MICHAEL: (Inaudible) when I was quoting from something directly that it was all right. I will repeat –

 

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the Member to withdraw.

 

MS. MICHAEL: I implore the Premier – yes, I'm very sorry, I didn't realize.

 

I implore the Premier “to reconsider this irresponsible and ill-informed decision – a decision which will undermine the education and ambitions of children living in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.” Isabel Taylor.

 

I will continue doing this for the rest of the time we have to speak to the budget in the legislation that we have to try to get this government to hear educated, intelligent people with experience from our communities saying to them what the real impact of this is. I implore the Premier to take back this nonsense of the closing of the 54 libraries in this province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I'm not sure how long I have to speak to this, Mr. Speaker. I have a minute. Well, let's see if I can't condense it down into a minute.

 

I'm just honoured to be able to stand, and I'll be sitting very shortly. This was my first opportunity during the Concurrence debate to sit on this side and answer questions. I will get an opportunity to speak to the budget as I will be introducing the main motion back for debate now shortly.

 

Thanks again for this opportunity.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the report of the Social Services Committee be concurred in.

 

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

 

All those in favour?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Those against?

 

Carried.

 

On motion, Report of Social Services Committee, carried.

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I call from the Order Paper, Motion 1, the Budget Speech.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fogo Island – Cape Freels.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAGG: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It's a privilege to get up here this evening and speak on the budget. I only wish I had a little better handwriting.

 

There are a couple of things I'd like to start off with the budget. One thing that we started off with is why couldn't we be more like Alberta? Alberta has a little debt and we have a lot of it. We had a $2 billion cheque that was put our way, and that's the easiest way to put it. Alberta has very little debt and we're up to our eyes in debt. We had a $2 billion cheque that came to us. They put it in the pension plan and then they forgot all about the pension plan until last year. So we have to fix this fiscal crisis and we have to do the job fair.

 

It was quoted by the Finance Minister a while ago that she's after signing 9,500 mortgages for $200,000 or more. That's a bit shocking. We have to put a plan in place and we have to do some long-term planning. There's no point to be on a big spending spree when you don't have a lot of money to spend. We're going to try and control that as best we can.

 

In my district, as everybody knows, it's probably one of the hardest hit districts out there; the loss of seven libraries, two clinics and a school. That's basically because of the overspending and not having the foresight to see a plan for the future. That has been a big issue for me in my district. Over the next coming days I will have a petition I'm going to present on behalf of one of the clinics and maybe some of the libraries – I know there have been libraries there.

 

Social media is another thing I'd like to touch on. Social media has encouraged us so much over the last few days how bad this budget was, but a lot of it is getting the message out there. The levy; 38 per cent of our residents will pay nothing on the levy, while 43 per cent will pay less than $340.

 

A couple of weeks ago it came up about the fees. I was sitting down with a couple of people and I said how about the fees? They couldn't come up, because I had the full sheet there. The only fees that they could see they were going to be hit every day – as we always hear talk of the low-income people. What fees they're going to have to pay basically would be – the registration and their insurance would be the main fees they were struck with. And on the other thing was the 2 per cent on the HST. So it's not a full 15 per cent on everything, it was just 2 per cent. A lot of people said my driver's licence is a fee, but it's only every five years you have to pay that fee.

 

People were calling me. They were saying gas, 16½ cents, how ae we going to do it? Well, in 2013-2014 gas was $1.44 a litre. This morning when I checked the pump it was 99.9 here in this city. So the 16½ cents on top of that will still be a lot lower than the $1.44 that we paid two years ago.

 

Then we talked about the cost to municipalities. Municipalities can apply for a refund for their gas that they spend; 16½ cents, actually, they can apply for. Plus, they can apply for 100 per cent of the GST on all of their gas sales. So at the end of the day they are not really paying the pump price, they're getting a refund from there.

 

It's fair to say, yes, in this budget everyone is being taxed. My good friend here from Central talked about it the other day, everyone is taking a burden in this – and we are. Everybody is being taxed on this and that's how it should be. A lot of the times you say that we're taxing the poor and we're not touching the rich.

 

Anyone who would have read The Telegram last week would have seen that 10 per cent of Canada – not only Newfoundland, 10 per cent of Canada – makes over $80,000. In this province 12 per cent, according to the journalists – 12 per cent of the province pays 54 per cent of the income tax of this province. I'm only basing that on an excerpt from The Telegram. So through all that, I think the tax of this – no, it's not great, but it's the best of a bad situation.

 

I was over to the hospital a couple of weeks ago. I went up to visit my daughter who worked upstairs who, I'll be honest, would rather not say that I'm the MHA for our district right now. Anyway, I went and sat down while I was waiting for my friend. I had a coffee and I sat with this older gentleman. He had no idea in this world who I was, so I said, Sir, how's everything today? I struck up a conversation like I normally would. You wouldn't know I was home, but that was fine.

 

He said what do you think of the budget? I said it's funny you say that; I'll ask you what do you think of the budget. He said it's that levy, b'y, that gets me. I said, Sir, if someone told you that levy was to keep this place open – and I looked all around the Health Sciences. I don't know if I'm allowed to say Health Sciences or not. I looked all around the hospital where I was and I said, Sir, suppose this levy was to keep this open. He said to me: Young man, I would pay double.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Young man?

 

MR. BRAGG: That's what he said. No, he didn't know how old I was. The man was a bit older than me.

 

Anyway, through that, I reached out my hand and said: How do you do? I'm the MHA for Fogo Island – Cape Freels. Just like that. So it's perception. Yes, they're getting a lot of mileage out of the levy, but the thing is, if we tell people what the levy is for – it will keep open the hospitals. It will keep open the schools. It will keep the highways going. It will keep our ferries going. It's all the services it will go through.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. BRAGG: Exactly. So we started it off – and I'm off my notes here now.

 

I have to say, in the beginning I looked at this and I sat here and I was shell-shocked, is the word I would use, when it came out. But the more I'm here the more I understand the need and the urgency of this situation, the magnitude of it all and the importance of us to do the right thing.

 

It's easy. On Facebook people say vote no. Vote no means you'll sweep the problem under the rug, ignore it and next year it gets worse. I don't think that's what we signed up to do. Someone said it right. If we're only here one term and that's what comes out of one term that we did the right thing, well, you know what? We'll hold our heads high when we walk about the door.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAGG: I looked into the budget and if you look at it, we have $570 million that can be spent in infrastructure: $63.7 million on the Trans-Labrador Highway; $62 million on our provincial roads. Everybody is always asking for pavement. Everybody says: Do you know what will get you elected? Pavement.

 

Honest to God, someone told me in my district: You do twice as many kilometres of road as what the last MHA did and you're safe to get in again. I said, Sir, how much would I have to do? He said two kilometres. Mr. Speaker, I have a bigger district now so I can only imagine I'm going to have to look for more pavement in a bigger district.

 

There's $23 million for the Team Gushue Highway; $8.13 million for wharfs and terminals. I can tell you right now from where I stand wharfs and terminals and ferry infrastructure are a very important part of my district and for the travel of this province. Here we are now we have a beautiful big boat –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Where's she to?

 

MR. BRAGG: – which is hanging out down at the waterfront. I mean we spent, is it – someone can correct me – $50 million or maybe $49.9 million on that boat. Right now we've had no service. For me, for the service that we're offering right now, if there was no money in the budget we would not be able to have an enhanced crew on the Fogo Island – Change Islands run, we would not be able to provide the service.

 

So as bad as it is right now, we're moving the people off those islands. That's with a boat that is now half the size of the one that sits idly down to the waterfront. The Minister of Transportation did a little scrum today he told me. He said we were given a lemon to make lemonade. I know where there's a thruster that can stir it up, I can tell you that, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAGG: And it isn't on the run across from Fogo Island to Change Islands, Mr. Speaker.

 

You look at my district. My district is a fishing district traditionally. I went down last week. I had to go to a graduation so I always leave a little early. I always drop into a different gas station every day when I'm moving to get gas.

 

There were eight or 10 men in the gas station. I walked in the door and knew what I was facing. They all came and almost rolled up their sleeves, but I was cute enough. I was driving a Honda Civic at the time. I went in and I just parked underneath a couple of the bigger vehicles. So they got in and they told me about how bad this budget was, what should be changed and it was too much, too fast, and they went on. So I gave them their say and I sat back. Now, I said: Gentlemen, you give me a minute of your time and I'll explain to you what I know about this budget that we're doing.

 

It's a necessity. This budget is not something we have that we're enjoying putting out there. And I said it before; there are no high-fives on this budget. It's a budget of necessity. I explained to him the levy and the importance of the levy, the gas up 16½ cents and where that was all to. I went through the whole gamut of that.

 

One guy said: I make $35,000 a year; I'm going to have to pay about $5,000 extra because of the changes. I said, oh, well you must be making a lot more than that. I said if your light bill is $300 a month for 36 months, if you do the math on that, the extra 2 per cent is $72 on the year. I said that's the most expensive thing that comes into your house. I said I see what you're driving outside, so the 16½ cents in the gas should be of little worry. I said you probably burn more starting your vehicle than I'm going to burn going down to the run.

 

Anyway, I made light of it and I explained it to him. When I left, each one of them when I went in that door – had this illusion that we were doing this horrible thing – reached out and shook my hand. They said do you know what? You do what you have to do. So I thought it was a good move.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAGG: I'm really glad, actually, that I had the time to sit back from my position back here, sort of elevated over everybody else. Some people might say in the backbench, but it's a great seat to see what goes on and listen.

 

I'm really glad we've had a month almost now to talk about the budget. It seems like a lot longer than after going all last night. It is the people I talk to – to be honest, everybody's views have changed. It's changed to the point that people are understanding right now. People know what we have to do and see where we have to go.

 

Someone said everybody is going to leave Newfoundland. Who's going to leave for $72 on their light bill a month? Nobody that I know of. Who's going to leave for 16 cents on a litre of gas? Nobody that I know of.

 

Right now and I had it here – I'm a fan of a singer downtown. I wish I could find it, but my papers are gone everywhere. He says in a song: I was born in this place, grew up in this place and here is where I want to be. I think nothing says it better than every one of us that's in this room here this evening, everyone who sits in rural Newfoundland and in urban Newfoundland and wherever they may be, this is where you want to be.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: And Labrador.

 

MR. BRAGG: And Labrador, too. I'm sorry. I haven't been to Labrador yet. We'll fix that.

 

We're making a move here so that we see this longevity for us, for our kids, for our kid's kids and go on down the line. I live in rural Newfoundland; everybody can talk about out-migration and where it's going. We all realize it as the generation gets older.

 

I grew up in a generation that a lot of us stayed home. From the time I finished school, a lot of everybody in my area have all moved on. Yeah, Fort McMurray fires last week. There's not one person here who didn't know someone who moved to Fort McMurray. They did not move because of the levy or the 15 per cent on the taxes, they moved because they wanted to make a better life for themselves. Some moved out of necessity, but they moved. Some of us stayed where we are.

 

I drive around rural Newfoundland. It's good and I'm as proud as anybody can see. I look at my district. It's a huge district, no doubt. I look at the businesses in my area. If you come down through Hare Bay there's a fabrication shop and a leather shop. We have a woodworking shop. We have a place for Indian Bay Frozen Foods and Fiberglass Works. The hon. Member for Baie Verte – Springdale was talking about everything in his district, and I took a few notes.

 

Wood-Pick, smoked salmon and sea urchins; we have Beothic Fish in my area, hiring anywhere from 300 to 400 people directly. I have no idea how many fishermen are in that area. They do crab and groundfish. Crimson Tide, in Dover, they employ 200 to 300 people. We have Hodder's in Stoneville who does sea urchins and the Co-op on Fogo Island that does most anything that comes out of the water. Change Islands, there's a company that does sea cucumbers.

 

Now, if you add to that, there are numerous grocery stores, hardware stores, banks, two hospitals, cottage hospitals I might add. A brand new one out on Fogo Island and one of the oldest cottage hospitals and well-maintained is the Brookfield Bonnews. Then we have nursing homes and seniors homes.

 

We have three stadiums in the district: one in Centreville-Wareham-Trinity, one in New-Wes-Valley and another one out on Fogo Island. Numerous walking trails – we have so much. I've said it for years. I live in an area that has four seasons. You can do anything at any time. There is always something to do.

 

We have historic sites and homes. There is an old courthouse in Greenspond – excuse me, I was all choked up because I was going back home then – the Barbour site in Newtown. The historic places that are around my area are amazing.

 

I would not be here wanting to do anything that would damage that in any way, shape or form.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAGG: It's like I said, I was born in Greenspond and I don't want it to be yet, but when the time comes that I have to go, may it be in Greenspond.

 

Mr. Speaker, it was a great opportunity to stand here this evening. I thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker recognizes the hon. the Member for the District of Placentia West – Bellevue.

 

MR. BROWNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker,

 

I can assure Members of the House, I'm far less animated than the Member for Fogo Island – Cape Freels but I share certainly in his passion for Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BROWNE: I think it's a wonderful place to grow up and live and to stay and raise a family. Someday I'll come to Greenspond to visit the Member.

 

Mr. Speaker, it's a privilege to rise once again in this hon. House, as it is every time when we rise. But particularly, I'm pleased tonight to rise and speak to the budget which we have now spent a month debating, believe it or not. It feels like it was just yesterday. Actually, it feels like it was a year ago. It's been a great discussion on both sides of the House. I thank all of my hon. colleagues for their candor and their commentary.

 

I also want to say thank you, Mr. Speaker, to my constituents. As all Members would know, we were in here until 1 o'clock last night and we were in here fairly late. We start around 1:30 every day, to those watching at home. So it gets fairly difficult when you're trying to return calls to your constituents. It takes a little while to get back to people.

 

I thank people for their patience and their understanding. Anyone who has written me an email or an inbox message, they've all gotten a reply back. I phoned probably close to 300 people back that have asked me to do so and that I've offered to. I think it's very important that we have that kind of communication with our constituents. I want to thank them for their understanding and their patience.

 

Speaking now to the Opposition and the Third Party, we may not always agree on a direction for our province, and we may not agree that Budget 2016 is the right document to move us forward, but I believe each of us comes here to fight for our constituents. I applaud them for their outspoken feedback on behalf of their districts. That's what this process is all about. It's a true honour, certainly, for me to join them here in the House of Assembly.

 

I'm also here to speak on behalf of my district and my constituents and on behalf of the province as a whole because Budget 2016 concerns every single one of us. It concerns the people of Marystown, the people of English Harbour East and the people of Bellevue, the people of Monkstown. I met with people from all communities in my district and I've heard their concerns and thoughts about the budget.

 

Similar to the Member for Fogo Island – Cape Freels, how many people have I sat down with, have I actually gone to their House upon their request, have I ran into at an event, have I spoken to on the phone or replied to an email and they've almost come through the phone at me, Mr. Speaker. But then at the end of the conversation, they have a greater understanding of the measures that we're taking.

 

In fact, I had one call come to my office from the community of Petit Forte, a lovely, beautiful community, picturesque community on the Burin Peninsula. He was rip roaring through the phone, no doubt, Mr. Speaker. When I asked him to provide me with line 236 on his income tax return and we put it into the income calculator, it turns out he stands to benefit hundreds and hundreds of dollars from this budget. He was very appreciative of that.

 

I certainly heard my constituents' feedback and I've relayed it to my colleagues in caucus and in this hon. House. The people I talk to, they're frustrated. They're frustrated that we're in this mess. That $25 billion worth of oil royalties were spent and now we're left in this position, we're a new government, we have to come in and we have to take measures that are extremely unpopular and measures that we don't want to take, Mr. Speaker.

 

There's no one here on this side of the House, certainly, that would want to bring in a budget like this. I sit behind the Finance Minister; it gave me no pleasure to sit and listen to her 55-minute speech, that's for certain, I tell you. Not because of its length, although brevity is always something I value. But certainly, I can say there are measures in this that are unpopular, that we understand and we want to remedy as soon as we can, as conditions allow.

 

The people I've been talking to have been waiting a long time for a government to come in and do what needs to be done. After observing over a decade of reckless PC spending, over a decade of short-sighted actions conducted without a guiding long-term plan, people saw this day coming.

 

We're hearing the negative feedback. No one likes paying more taxes. No government likes raising them. It's a financial strain on an already strained populous. But without implementing the measures that we've taken, we would abandon our province to a debt crisis that could place our current level of services and supports in serious jeopardy.

 

The situation is bad, Mr. Speaker. There's no getting around that point, but there is hope. I do truly believe there's hope for Newfoundland and Labrador. We are a place abundant of resources, abundant of people with ingenuity that I believe will lead to brighter futures moving forward. We have hope because we have an opportunity here, Mr. Speaker. It may well be one of our last opportunities, but it's clearly there just waiting for us to take it.

 

We still have the seeds for success sewn all over our province, from the vast mineral wealth of Labrador to the billions of barrels of oil off our coast. We have a creative population, an increasingly world-class tourism industry, competitive post-secondary institutions and the potential to be once again global leaders in the seafood industry.

 

We have a strategic location that means we're poised to become a key player in arctic commerce. And for now, we still control our financial destiny but if we falter in this critical moment, then the opportunity may vanish as quickly as the oil revenues did under the PC stewardship, or lack thereof.

 

Unlike the price of oil, we may never bounce back from that, Mr. Speaker. We are already spending more on servicing the interest of our debt than we are in providing our children with education. This is a point I emphasize everywhere I go, and I've travelled through over two dozen communities in my district since the budget, every weekend. Like so many Members on both sides of the House, we return to our districts and spend the weekends often attending functions and doing meetings with people.

 

I say to them, yes, it is tough. Yes, this budget is grave, but we are currently spending more on interest payments than on the education system here in this province. That is a very concerning fact, Mr. Speaker, extremely concerning for the future of this province. So I ask Members and I ask the people watching at home to think about that for a second. That is good money heading out of our Treasury and into the pockets of the people who own our debt.

 

We hear lots of commentary coming from the Opposition about the increased spending this year. Well, a large portion of that was for increased debt-servicing costs because of the inaction and the results of their mismanagement, Mr. Speaker. We don't want to put this province in a position where we are spending more and more and more on debt servicing. It means it's money we can't spend on roads or bridge repair or putting broadband in communities – which, by the way, we invested $2 million in this budget for the broadband initiative here in Newfoundland and Labrador. It's money we won't have to invest in our post-secondary institutions or our municipalities.

 

The interest we owe on our debt has the power to dictate many of the actions we take as a government. If we continue to add the principal of our debt, we run the risk of having our debt-servicing obligations overwhelm us. Imagine if we had to spend more money on interest than we did on health care. We're already spending more on interest than we are on education. Continuing on this path, Mr. Speaker, we would eventually eclipse health care, and that is extremely concerning.

 

Imagine if our number one concern at budget time was how we are going pay off our creditors rather than supply the necessary and vital services that we do to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Would we be able to provide anywhere near the level of services we provide now if that reality comes to pass? No, Mr. Speaker.

 

It's basic math – something that the former Finance minister from the other side admittedly wasn't good at, and there's only so much revenue that comes into the province. If we don't have enough revenue coming in to cover our expenditures, then we have to borrow the money. Borrowing the money increases our debt load, meaning our interest payments are even larger.

 

Having a higher amount of interest shakes the confidence of the people we would borrow from, meaning we would have to borrow at higher interest rates and our debt quite literally, Mr. Speaker, could drag us into a situation where our creditors would own us and the only alternative to that would be bankruptcy. We are committed to making sure that we are never on a path to there. Do any of us want this reality? Absolutely not, and I think that holds true for all Members of this House, no matter of political stripe.

 

I don't think there's a soul out there who would like to see that happen to our province. There's not a person in Newfoundland and Labrador who would like to hand our descendants the keys to a province on the verge of repossession by financial institutions. As we have stated, our budget contains the necessary adjustments to our taxation scheme to start the process of preventing this nightmarish scenario from becoming a reality.

 

We regret that we are in this position, to have burden our people and our constituents with increased taxes and fees – we truly do. Given the choice between sharing around the burden of recovery and allowing Newfoundland and Labrador to become irretrievably burdened with debt, it was a tough decision to make, but the necessary one.

 

Our budget presents to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and to our creditors a workable plan for returning to surplus in just seven years. The creditors have already responded favourably to this, Mr. Speaker. Seven years may sound like a long time, but considering that the PCs left us with a structural annual deficit of nearly $3 billion is an incredible accomplishment that we can say that we will be moving this forward to get rid of and erase our debt.

 

The easy way out, Mr. Speaker, would be to continue on as the PCs had by mortgaging Newfoundland and Labrador's future for the sake of winning political favour. There's no better example of that than the fact that just last year, I believe, there were 19 out of 20 fire trucks put out into PC districts. If we were motivated in the same way that our predecessors were motivated, then that's what we'd be doing. We would be mortgaging our future and we would continue to offer people unsustainable and ill-advised take breaks and giveaways.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I've said here in the House before, the District of Placentia West – Bellevue is a very big district. It's very large. It encompasses great industrial areas, as I liken it to be the industrial heartland of the Island portion of Newfoundland.

 

We have the Marystown Shipyard which, Mr. Speaker, as people in my district would know, is facing some difficulty at the moment. I want to inform my constituents that the federal Member of Parliament and I met with the Marystown town council last week, along with representatives of the union. The Premier will meet along with a working group of the town. We're going to work for the people of Marystown. We're going to make sure that we do our part as a government to bring work to the area because that sustains not only the Burin Peninsula, but the entire province.

 

We also have Bull Arm, which is operating at peak of over 3,000 people, generating revenue for the province, I should add, not only in taxation but direct revenue. We have Long Harbour with the Vale site there. And, of course, we have the Come By Chance refinery, which is a wonderful example of what a diversified economy looks like – all in my district. We're very proud people and we're very welcoming people. We take people from all parts of the province, employ them and we're very happy to do that.

 

In addition to these industries that we have I know, certainly, I work with my colleagues – particularly the Member for Burin – Grand Bank who is my neighbour to the south, and we're working as we move forward every day, Mr. Speaker, to bring more industry and more economic development to the Burin Peninsula and to my district that extends onto the Avalon Peninsula as well. This is something we work very hard for and it's on the top priority.

 

If we were like the Members opposite, we'd continue to ring up the public debt for the sake of approval ratings and short-term electoral favour. And we would squander the fleeting opportunity to halt Newfoundland and Labrador's descent into an inescapable debt crisis. If we were concerned only for our own political survival, like the Progressive Conservatives who came before us, then that is what we would do; and history would remember us as a government that came into power and instead of doing what was right, sat by and let our province's destiny slip through our fingers and into the grip of lending institutions.

 

I'm proud to say that we will take the less travelled road, Mr. Speaker, and we will make the decisions that are right for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That does not mean that we are deaf to the concerns of the people. Every day that I listen to my constituents and hear the concerns they're bringing forward, I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and the Members of this caucus know that I, along with all my colleagues, we bring forth the concerns that we hear to our caucus, and we are genuinely and actively listening to the people of our districts to make sure that decisions we take as a government, that we respond to them appropriately and we respond to them in time when we can take the measures to correct some of the tougher decisions that we have made here. In due time, we will, Mr. Speaker.

 

We are asking people to help us take the necessary measures to halt our slide. We ask this because we see the opportunity to bring Newfoundland and Labrador back to prosperity. And it's not some imaginary prosperity, Mr. Speaker, like the kind the PCs sold us; true prosperity like our oil-producing neighbour, Norway, across the Atlantic.

 

I mentioned before, Mr. Speaker, that there's hope. And I believe if we all join together to get our Treasury back in order, we will be poised to seize a future of unlimited potential. Imagine what we can do with the oil revenues when we diminish our debt servicing obligations to a manageable level. Those revenues will return. It's more or less a market certainty.

 

If we have control of our debt load, then we will no longer have to use these resource revenues as collateral when that day comes. We will be able to harness them to shape the future that we want for ourselves and for our people and our constituents. It isn't a hypothetical future, Mr. Speaker, that's predicated on the type of wishful thinking that got us into this mess, as the Member for St. John's Centre said today that we're banking on oil – it's not true at all. This is a future that we can ensure for our people. And if we take the steps today that will get our financial affairs in order, it will bear fruits for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Before I finish up, Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on some of the commentaries that have been made here tonight about the lack of hope. I believe there is hope, and I believe there's a lot to stay here in Newfoundland and Labrador for. I spoke at the Tricentia Academy graduation in Arnold's Cove on Friday night, and I said to the graduates – these were all 18 year olds about to embark upon going into the workforce.

 

MS. DEMPSTER: (Inaudible.)

 

MR. BROWNE: Not far off my age, the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair reminds me.

 

They're about to embark upon going into post-secondary or into the workforce. I said to them, there's a lot of negativity out there – some of it unfounded, in my opinion. There's a lot of negativity. And now as young people entering into the workforce and into society in a new stage in their lives, it's up to them now to cut through that negativity and find a path forward. There is a path forward here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I hear Members opposite say the young people will go. Well, as a young person myself, I see ample opportunity here and I see lots of reasons to stay right here in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BROWNE: I would suggest: What legacy are we leaving the young people of this province by kicking the can down the road and leaving them mountains of debt, Mr. Speaker? These are tough decisions, but necessary ones, given the mismanagement the former government made.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BROWNE: This budget is a blueprint for the future. Although it is tough, although it is hard, Mr. Speaker, we as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have to pull together, we have to come through this and we will come through this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it requires us to come together and pull together.

 

We've come through rough patches before. When we work together, when we collaborate, we are stronger. I do not see the point of spreading negativity for its own sake. I believe there is fear out there because it's being promoted to be there. I think if we collectively and resoundingly join together, we can come through this. We will come through this; I am convinced that we will.

 

For all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, whether you are young or old, rich or poor, we will work through this together. We will be a government that represents all people. We will be there to listen and to serve because this is truly, as the Member said, the people's House where we do the people's work. This government will listen and we will respond.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker recognizes the hon. the Member for Virginia Waters – Pleasantville.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. B. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I'd first of all like to say I'm not as elegant a speaker as the Member for the District of Fogo Island – Cape Freels. He did an excellent job and I'd just like to say congratulations on that.

 

I'm pleased to stand here in this hon. House as the representative for the Virginia Waters – Pleasantville District. The situation that we've been faced with this budget is difficult at best, no doubt, in relation to the previous mismanagement by our previous administration. The budget, while it's difficult to deal with, is our best –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker wants to remind all hon. Members that there have been several warnings given. It was said earlier by the other Speaker that if this persisted, we would be naming Members and they would not be recognized tonight and they would not be recognized tomorrow to ask questions or to answer them.

 

This is the final warning. If there is one more outburst, that's what's going to happen.

 

I recognize the hon. the Member for the District of Virginia Waters – Pleasantville.

 

MR. B. DAVIS: Thank you for the protection, Mr. Speaker.

 

This budget, while it's a difficult one, is our best shot to try to right this financial ship that we've been left with. I've heard the concerns of my constituents and expressed them to our government Members with respect to several issues, the temporary Deficit Reduction Levy being one.

 

No one likes the situation that we've been placed in. I brought these concerns forward on numerous occasions and we're trying to work through those. But let us not forget that the reason why we instituted this temporary levy was a direct reflection of the financial disaster that was left to us by this previous administration.

 

Let's take a second to talk about this temporary levy. Mr. Speaker, 38 per cent of the taxpayers will not pay any of the temporary levy and almost 43 per cent of the people will pay less than $340 per year on this levy.

 

Let's be clear, the hon. Member for Cape St. Francis last week mentioned that the temporary levy was based on income. I wanted to clarify that it's based on after-tax income so people can understand that if someone is making $30,000 in gross income, that's not necessarily what they take home. I just wanted to make sure that the hon. Member for Cape St. Francis understands that because there was a little clarity problem last week.

 

The hon. Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi talks about us not taking care of our seniors and low-income individuals and families. So I just want to take a second and go through some of the things our government has put in place to bolster this area in our province, to help these most vulnerable populations.

 

We have announced approximately $3.5 million to support the placement of select individuals with enhanced care needs in personal care homes; $250,000 towards starting a new seniors' advocate office. This is not a luxury, like the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune says it is. I believe the seniors' advocate will help identify ways to better assist seniors and face the reality of providing the best possible care we can to this aging population.

 

There is an additional $300,000 to the Seniors Resource Centre to enhance information and referral systems; $300,000 for age-friendly transportation services; $100,000 in support to continue development of age-friendly communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. These measures will go a long way towards ensuring some of the seniors in our community are protected during these tough economic times.

 

So I ask the Member for St. John's East – Quidi Vidi, is this not support for seniors and low income? Is it enough? Absolutely not. But given the horrendous financial situation we've been given, this is a great start.

 

One of the policies that I'm most excited about is our homes-first policy that encourages support to let seniors age at home, where they are not only more comfortable, both physically and emotionally, but it also gives us an opportunity to allow people to receive the best possible care where and when they need it.

 

Another measure that will work specifically to protect seniors in these tough economic times is the $12.5 million investment that our government has ensured to the enhanced Seniors' Benefit. This will give seniors a steady, reliable income that will help them contribute more to society.

 

We must also protect those low-income earners and families who struggle to make ends meet. That is why we've created the Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement. We have an obligation to put in place revenue measures that address the deficit, but we also have to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected and helped.

 

The NLIS will come into effect on July 1, around the same time as the revenue measures outlined in the budget will come into effect. The first quarterly payments will be disbursed in October, and that will be a double payment. This supplement will be automatically applied to individuals whose income tax is below the threshold of $40,000. The only requirement is that they have to file their income tax. This will greatly reduce the stress of having to navigate through additional red tape in the system.

 

Mr. Speaker, two features in our plan to stabilize the economy are diversification and selling government lands to raise revenue. The Department of Transportation and Works is working hard on this file with the Real Estate Optimization Plan. Once we have this plan, we will determine the parcels of land and buildings that are best assets for our government to divest and find opportunities to sell. This plan has to be done correctly for the long-term viability of this process and we're going to do that.

 

As I've mentioned previously, already in my district there are opportunities coming forward to look at developing farming operations which will bring much-needed revenues to our province as well as employment. In my district in Virginia Waters – Pleasantville, you don't think of farming when you come to that district for sure. There are lots of other areas in the province that have a lot better situations for farming, but there are a couple of areas in my district that are great opportunities for farming operations and we're looking at a couple of those. Some people have come forward looking for that.

 

Increasing the number of farming operations in our province makes good sense for a lot of reasons. Obviously it helps diversify and strengthen the economy, but also to shore up food security, which is always an issue when you live an on an island like we do. Mr. Speaker, while streamlining this process may take some time, I'm confident that we can facilitate some innovative, excellent projects in my district in the near future.

 

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned that the Rowan Centre program was closed. This is true. But the program only served 65 people in the entirety of 2015. Simply put, the resources were very underutilized. Those resources, including 2½ full-time equivalent positions, will be redeployed to better help the people struggling with mental health and addictions issues in our region.

 

I take great exception to the comments that the Leader of the Opposition made. He had the opportunity to make these changes, but decided not to. He and his party chose to kick the bill to the kids. We, and I, are not prepared to do that. Tough decisions needed to be made and his former government never had the intestinal fortitude to do what was necessary.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have had numerous requests from the Third Party to have dealt with our budget the exact same way as Alberta did their budget. They seem to think that Alberta dealt with their budget better.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. B. DAVIS: Several economists have come forward. Ron Kneebone, an economist at the University of Calgary said, and I quote: “Newfoundland's interpretation of the fall in the oil price is that oil not going to come back any time soon.”

 

“So rather than accumulate a whole bunch of debt, waiting, hoping, praying that oil prices will come back, they decided to take action to close the deficit.” Alberta, the NDP's province –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: It was an economist, right?

 

MR. B. DAVIS: An economist said this: “Alberta seems to be deciding to do the opposite.” When you have decided to do that, are oil prices going to come back any time soon? There's a very high risk when you take that chance.

 

Robert Kavcic, a senior economist for BMO, said also: There's zero appetite for Newfoundland's debt. The budget makes Newfoundland's bonds more saleable. It makes economic sense from their standpoint. I'm not economist, but that's two economists.

 

Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to take a second to speak about Virginia Park Elementary. It's in my district. It's one of the major projects that we're doing that's going to change the outlook of this schooling in the district. I've held meetings upon meetings with the people in the district, the stakeholders, the school councils, the Department of Education, obviously the Department of Transportation and Works, as well as the school council there and the parents and teachers. It's important that we keep an open dialogue going. That's one of the things that was lacking in the previous administration with this project.

 

This project obviously was very difficult from the start. It's done on the former dump site for the American base and obviously there are a lot of issues that came along with it that drives costs up. We want to ensure, Mr. Speaker, that the school is safe for the children. That's why we've put the due diligence in place and we're going through this process of making sure they're involved in every aspect, step by step.

 

So we're very close to that right now. The tenders went out; we're getting close to having a bid awarded. I just want to ensure to the people in the community that we're going to make sure this project is a great thing for the future of our community and make sure that our kids have that safe opportunity to get a great education.

 

They already have great teachers, faculty and staff down there and they get great outcomes. What we want to do now is give them the building to match their capabilities, so it will give an opportunity to succeed even further. I know the hon. Member that used to represent that district before will agree with that statement for sure.

 

I'd just like to clue up there now. I'm excited to see the continual progress of this project. I want to address a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition who mentioned that our budget went up. That, again, is true. He should know; his government is the reason for the increase. The increase is related directly to debt-servicing costs incurred by the previous administration and payments directly to the Teachers' Pension Plan. These are both decisions that they made and were caused by failure for them to plan. We need to look at this for the future.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I'm happy to stand here this evening in this House of Assembly and speak to the main motion of this budget. I was hoping to speak to Concurrence earlier, but fortunately, or unfortunately, we had so many people that wanted to speak that I was unable to. But I am happy to be able to stand here and speak again to Budget 2016.

 

The first thing I would like say is that during the Concurrence, that would have been a good opportunity to discuss the Estimates process that we went through with the Department of Justice we did here one evening. I think it might have been a Wednesday. Certainly, the Leader of the Official Opposition was there, the Member for St. John's Centre was there, and I thought it was a good session actually in terms of Estimates.

 

I've been on that side asking questions. I've had some very good sessions and I've had some that weren't so good in terms of answers. I tried my best to provide every answer I could. Certainly, I had some conversations with Members who said that in terms of back and forth, they thought it was productive, so I appreciate that. And I have to thank the staff that was with me at that time because they make up this department. They are the people who make the department go around. I certainly think I might be interchangeable. I could be taken out, but we still have a very strong core for the Department of Justice and I'm very happy to be a part of that.

 

Now, speaking to the main motion of the budget, certainly there's been a significant amount of debate over this. The budget was brought down April 14; we're here now over a month later speaking to it, going through the regular routine of any budget. The fact is that there's been a significant amount of debate, commentary, questions and issues with this budget, as there should be.

 

This budget is not the same as many of the budgets that we've seen from the previous administration. I guess there's a similarity in that there's a deficit, but there's not a similarity in the fact that – in this case, this budget was driven, in many ways, by the choices that we wanted to make, but certainly by the choices that were made by a previous administration.

 

I will point out the irony that many Members on the other side have stood up and said, well, they talk about what we did and talk about the future – they talk about what we did. But I was over on that other side when I heard about Liberal decisions in the '90s and Liberal decisions in 2003. In fact, I heard many Members on that side say since 2004.

 

I think I heard one Member opposite say, you can't have it both ways and you can't speak out of both sides of your mouth. I say, you're saying it right there. One minute you stand up and you can't be blamed for everything you did in the past. Then, the next minute you stand up and you defend those decisions that you made.

 

One of the pieces of commentary that they put forward was what shouldn't we have done. There are a number of things that I don't think we, or I, would have done. It adds up. I think the Member behind me for Baie Verte – Green Bay said earlier you start with $50,000, you start with $10,000 and a million dollars, it all counts and it all adds up.

 

One of the things they talk about – and I've heard some criticism of the process. I don't think there's anything wrong with scrutinizing every department, looking at it. One of the things that we did notice was the significant amount of government public money spent on advertising. The amazing part that I really noticed was how in some departments the amount spent in last year's budget, the budget leading up to an election, actually doubled. They doubled their communications budget in an election year and they're proud of that. That's one of the things that I would not have done.

 

I want to talk about the Department of Justice and Public Safety because that is the department which I'm happy to represent on behalf of the Premier. I want to respond to some of the comments by the Leader of the Official Opposition or the former premier or whatever the term is. The fact is he is the Justice critic as well. He's made some commentary tonight and in the House during Question Period and I want to respond to that.

 

He says: What wouldn't you have done? One of the things that I probably wouldn't have done is I probably wouldn't have ignored the courthouse in Harbour Grace. I probably wouldn't have let it rot to a state where it's actually a hazard and you couldn't actually go in there. It's hazardous to people.

 

I wouldn't have allowed the historic courthouse in Harbour Grace to rot and be dilapidated and unavailable for use by our Provincial Court. Let it rot to the point where it actually requires multi-millions to fix. That's what I wouldn't have done.

 

Now, that's some of the stuff I wouldn't – it's funny because the Member opposite takes the opportunity to stand up sometimes and say this is what they should do. I say, you worry about the decisions you made and worry about the decisions you make on that side. I don't think you have to worry about what decisions we're going to make on this side, including all of our Members, it doesn't matter who you are.

 

One of the points he said was, well, the Member for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave brought in a petition about the courthouse. He said, you brought in a petition, but you're going to support the budget so that's a contradiction.

 

I say two things to that. Number one, we're all elected on behalf of our constituents here. We have to do what we think is in the best interests of our constituents. So if a Member wants to bring forward a petition and present it here in the House of Assembly on behalf of their constituents, then that's what you're doing. That's your job.

 

Now, it's not going to be like the past where I know Members on the opposite side got petitions but those petitions, I don't know, they might have went in the shredder, they might have went in a cupboard somewhere, but they certainly didn't get presented. So I have no problem with the Member bringing a petition.

 

We've had a significant number of meetings since that time. She's not happy. Do you know what? Neither am I. I don't like the fact that we were presented with tough choices that we had to make. They say you can't blame us. Yes, we can. We can certainly blame you. Do you know what? We formed government December 14 and it was only a few months before that – the Premier spoke about it earlier today – $900 million deficit projected. That was the deficit that was projected when this crowd went and had their negotiations with the independent tribunal on judges. Now, that's something I'll get to in a second as well, but these are the numbers they had.

 

Of course when we get in and we actually look at the books, it's almost triple that. So I don't know if that's just not knowing the difference, if it's incompetence, not wanting to put the information out there. I just say it is what it is. We take over and this is what we have. So do you know what? Yes, you can certainly share in some of the blame.

 

I've got to digress for just a second, because it reminds me – the Member opposite actually said tonight, well, if you're in such difficult times, why are you doing this, why are you doing that? I think you might have been talking about full-day kindergarten. If you're in such difficult times – again, as if he doesn't know that we are, because he put us there.

 

I can't take credit, but it reminds me of a story I just read recently. In the story – actually it was a politician that took over a very similar situation to us. The politician took over a huge deficit and, again, getting some blame for that and having to make difficult choices based on that. This was actually around 2008-2009.

 

This crowd is saying, well, they would have us go back and do the same things that they did. They would go back and question the policies. So here we are – and in this story he talks about how basically he is there with the mop. We're all busy with the mop. We're mopping up the mess that was left to us. The crowd that created the mess is over on the side saying, you're mopping up too fast. Oh, no, you're not mopping up quick enough; hold the mop differently.

 

So I would say to the other side, pick up the mop and help us clean up the mess that you left us. That's what I would say to the Members on the other side.

 

That's the funny part here is the crowd that created the mess sits back and criticizes the steps that you have to take and they put you in that situation. Actually, that's a story from an American politician. In that case it was President Obama took over from the significant financial mess left by previous administrations to him, whether it was Bush. So in that case, it was amazing when I read it, and it just struck me. My God, there were such similarities to what we're dealing with here.

 

Now, I'm going to go back again to the courthouse in Harbour Grace, because I've got to correct – some of the issues that I have here, again, I have no problem. I've been on the Opposition side. I know they're going to put forward concerns. I know they're hearing it. So have I. We've all heard it. There's no doubt about that.

 

Some of the problem too is that the Members opposite put out information that's just factually incorrect. I have to go back to Question Period today where the Leader of the Official Opposition, the former premier, talking about the courthouse in Harbour Grace saying it services 80,000 people – 80,000 people. That's wrong – that's wrong. That information is incorrect. So I'm going to say, if you're going to put out some information, just try to make it factually correct. Please do us that favour.

 

Again, I have no problem with asking a question, that's a fair point; but if you're going to ask the question, stick to the facts when you do that. He's not isolated in that because we've seen that from multiple Members on the other side when they ask questions – multiple Members.

 

We've had questions about the courthouse in Harbour Grace. Do you know what? I unfortunately don't like the decision, but I've had meetings with the mayors. I've had conversations with solicitors. I've had meetings with the MHAs and we're going to continue to talk to them. We're going to continue to talk to the judiciary. We have to continue to figure out these issues.

 

The Member opposite doesn't like when I bring up the fact that he did very similar things just a couple years back. In fact, in 2013, what they did to the Department of Justice was absolutely amazing.

 

The other side, too, that I haven't heard much of is that there were some good things announced in this budget when it comes to Justice and Public Safety. One of them is the significant investment in the Family Court here in St. John's. We know that caseload is growing. We're going to put the money into the infrastructure to ensure that we can accommodate this.

 

There's money going to go into a review of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. That's a very sad story we all heard. Actually, I was dealing with it just after Christmas where we had some issues. It is issues that we've seen persisted over time. These are issues that you inherit.

 

It's funny actually, I go back to a great interview I heard this evening with the Minister of Transportation whose frustration, I think, is showing when he's talking about the problems that he inherited that he has to deal with. I think he has done it with a tremendous amount of class and work ethic in handling these problems, taking what was left, talking about the boats that were bought and the significant overruns putting in the docking system, I think it is.

 

It's a decision that was made. We see what the results are and here we are dealing with it. Do you know what? That's what we wanted. We wanted an opportunity to deal with these issues. We wanted an opportunity to come in and to right the wrongs. Come in and fix a lot of the mistakes we have seen over the past 12 years.

 

Now, the unfortunate part is that in many cases – it's funny because they mentioned the fact of the deficit and about taxing and spending. The leaders of both Opposition parties are on the record in the last six months saying they would have done the same thing. No, they would only do the popular taxes. They wouldn't have made any bad cuts.

 

That's on the record. The Leader of the NDP, the Leader of the Official Opposition, they say the same thing. They would have had to do it. They talked about the plan – well, I can't get into that plan because we saw that plan. The plan was outdated within months because it was based on faulty information.

 

Going back to it, they want to talk about people that you hear from. The fact is, yeah, we've had to make some decisions that are certainly tough and are certainly unpopular. At the same time, I've heard from some people. In fact, it was shortly after the budget that I went to a fireman's ball down in Margaree, a local service district in my community. You go down, people were expressing their concern over it and I've been speaking to people. So when I went down to this, you don't know what you're going to expect.

 

Actually, the first person I walked up to – he came up – I didn't know what I was going to get. He came up and he grabbed me by the hand. He said: Thank God somebody had the guts to do it. That's what he said to me. He said: All I'm hoping is that when you get this righted, when you fix this, don't forget us, the people of this province. That's who we don't want to forget. We don't want to forget the people of this province that are making these decisions.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: We don't want to forget the children that will grow up and will inherit what is left to them. We want to do what is right to make sure they are left with something that is better than what was left to us. That's what we would like to do.

 

The fact is that this is a budget that we had to make a lot of difficult decisions. But I'm willing to say that even if they're tough, I think the benefits will be seen over the long run. Sometimes we don't talk about it, but there are a significant amount of good things in this budget.

 

I've heard the term “austerity” tossed out. But as the Member for Cape St. Francis tossed out tonight, he said, you guys spent. And we did. There was a significant amount of spending in this budget; $8.4 billion if I'm correct. I might be off a little bit, but I think that's the number. There was a significant amount of spending.

 

I know the Minister of Municipal Affairs has gone out and worked with his federal counterparts and worked with his department. I think the number I've got is $570 million –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: It's $350 million (inaudible) $575 million infrastructure.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, $575 million in infrastructure spending. Do you know what?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: And $350 million Municipal Affairs.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: And $350 million in Municipal Affairs. That's a significant amount of money that's going to go into communities to provide the infrastructure and services, to provide jobs. These are the things that are happening. In fact, I'm happy to see this because my district has been Liberal for some time and we've done without.

 

In fact, it was only last year that I think the biggest municipality in my district, Port aux Basques, got the grand total for capital works of zero dollars. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: What? 

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Zero dollars.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: The fact is do you know what? Right now I'm happy to see that there will be infrastructure investment in my district, in districts on both sides of the House of Assembly, because decisions had to be made that are in the best interests of people regardless of political stripe.

 

The Minister of Transportation is going to make sure again – there was a politician once that used to say about taking the politics out of pavement. I don't know who that politician was, but that's what he's done.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) fire trucks.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I'm not even going to talk about fire trucks. I'll leave that to the Minister of Municipal Affairs to talk about fire trucks, but the fact is we are seeing investment. We're seeing investment in roadwork. We have the Burgeo road which in December of 2014 collapsed.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: What? 

 

MR. A. PARSONS: It actually collapsed. Now, unfortunately I stand here, it's May of 2016, and that road is still collapsed. It was not fixed. I know direction was provided to say fix this because this is a health hazard, and for whatever reason previous ministers didn't want it done. So I'll leave it to previous ministers of Transportation and Works to talk about why that bridge – one where an employee of Transportation and Works almost died in that accident.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Actually, I just got a message from him last night talking about the treatment he's still going through and he's hoping to get back to work again next year. That's not fixed, but I'm glad to see that work is going to be done this year. It's going to be done. It's going to be starting, hopefully, in the next month.

 

I'm going to see investment in health care. Every Member here has had an opportunity to talk about their district. Did we all see what we wanted? You better believe we didn't, but we did see investment because we have to continue to have investment, and that's what's going to happen in this budget.

 

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to say that I'm looking forward to standing here this year talking to this budget and speaking to next year's budget and the ones after as we move forward in providing a brighter path, one that we were not on the right track for with the previous government. The fact is that sometimes you have to have these budgets which are not popular, but which are necessary steps. It's a correction to previous administrations and making sure that we do the right thing.

 

On that note, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to stand here and speak to this budget.

 

To conclude, I would also say now given the hour of the evening, I would move, seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources, that this House do now adjourn.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the House do now adjourn.

 

All those in favour?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Those against?

 

This House now stands adjourned until tomorrow, Wednesday, being Private Members' Day, at 2 o'clock.

 

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Wednesday, at 2 p.m.