The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we get to the routine proceedings, I would like to welcome today to the gallery, twenty-seven Grade IX Social Studies students from St. Paul's School in the District of Virginia Waters, accompanied by their teacher, David Brown.



Statements by Ministers


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

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House of Assembly that financial assistance is now available, or being made available, to municipalities to enable them to purchase and install new information technology systems; in other words, computers. This is a cost-shared initiative, 60 per cent provincial and 40 per cent municipal, to a maximum contribution by the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs up to $10,000.

I am pleased to say that the department is providing $500,000 in financial assistance to eighty-eight communities. Under this computer technology acquisition program, the grant ranges from $1,184 to a maximum of $10,000, an average grant to each municipality of $5,656. The aim of this program is to facilitate more efficient and effective local government through the application of modern technology.

Mr. Speaker, many of our municipalities today are using antiquated systems to keep track of their financial records and their administrative affairs. While this is attributable primarily to the lack of resources on their part, it is, nevertheless, unacceptable in this modern age. The department has therefore decided to assist those municipalities which, on their own, cannot afford to purchase and install the type of technology that would be required into the Twenty-First Century. This program, when fully implemented, will result in the establishment of electronic communication links between our municipalities and the department.

The department also introduced a new municipal budgeting format last year. Together, these initiatives will serve to enhance both the monitoring and reporting of municipal finances. These initiatives are in keeping with the new direction that is being established for Municipal and Provincial Affairs, one that will see the department ensue a more pronounced role in the professional development of municipalities.

We are confident that these initiatives will have the positive effect of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of local government throughout the Province. It is anticipated the program will be fully implemented this year.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to thank the minister for providing me with a copy of his statement earlier today. I want to say to the minister that anything that can help municipalities do their work, do it in a more timely and a better fashion, of course we on this side of the House would support.

I guess with a lot of our municipalities, Minister, having some of the difficulties that they are having in financing and so on, anything that would benefit them, to try and keep themselves in line, we would certainly welcome that news.

On that note, thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Oral Questions


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

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: Prior to the House opening, the Premier, on behalf of his government, announced a framework agreement with respect to the development of the Lower Churchill. One of the features of that agreement outlined clearly the joint development between Hydro Quebec, representing the Province of Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, representing Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the features indicated that the joint development would look at a two-third/one-third arrangement in terms of the development of the river.

Would the Premier be able to answer this question: What proposals, if any, were made to the Government of Canada that it participate in the financing of this project so it would not have not been necessary for another province to take any ownership stake in perpetuity of our resources in this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada has indicated very clearly that it is not pursuing a policy of developing, as they say, mega-project development at this time or any time in the future.

The Government of Canada has very clearly indicated publicly, not only privately, that it does not have an interest in this kind of project as the hon. Leader of the Opposition describes; but, more importantly than that, there are features of this project that the Government of Canada could not bring to the table. If the Speaker will bear with me for a moment, I would just mention quickly three of them that are absolutely vital for Quebec's participation; actually, four:

1. The Province of Quebec is the only partner who could waive recall provisions on the 300-megawatt block of power which, in fact, have been waived and such power given to us, and the money from such power flowing into our accounts since the day of the announcement.

2. It is the Province of Quebec, not the Government of Canada that can negotiate with us a guaranteed winter availability contract effective this November, which will flow another $1 billion to our account. (3) It is the Province of Quebec that can divert two rivers to the Upper Churchill to create another thousand megawatts of power - this cannot be done by the Government of Canada, it can only be done by Quebec - sixty-five percent of which, even though we pay nothing for the diversion and nothing for the upgrade, will come to our account another $1 billion.

Finally, it is the Government of Quebec and Hydro Quebec that is providing the roll-in which will pay the cost of $3 billion-worth of transmission line upgrades. This, too, cannot be done by the Government of Canada because that roll-in is, in effect, an extra charge that will accrue to every ratepayer in Quebec to pay for the cost of upgrading transmission lines, not only in Quebec but also in Newfoundland and Labrador. Indeed, that national newspaper - which is a great fan of mine - the Globe and Mail, in noting such a roll-in, said that they thought it was unfair - although I disagree - to the ratepayers of Quebec. So these are all features of the deal which can be provided by nobody but the partner in fact that we have chosen, the Province of Quebec.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, the Premier did not answer the question. I understand the features he has talked about, and those are discussions, and questions will come on those features at another day.

Historically, the Premier knows that there is not any other province in this country that has ever developed its resources that has had to give up any part of it to any other province to assist in its development. The Premier also knows, Mr. Speaker, that historically, the federal government in other provinces dealing with energy matters has come to the table financially to help other provinces develop its energy. The only question I ask of the Premier, which he did not answer: What proposals has his government made? Did he make any to the federal government prior to entering into negotiations with Quebec to assist in the development of this very important project - as he would agree - in the development of this important project so that at the end of the day 100 per cent ownership of this Lower Churchill development would belong to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador? That is the only question I ask the Premier: What proposals, if any, has he made to the federal government of Canada?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, it is interesting if the position of the Conservative Party is that they would cancel such a deal and they do not support the deal, then I would invite the Leader of the Opposition, in the interest of clarity, to make clear his position on this deal. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador need to know where he stands.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to answer the Leader of the Opposition's question: Has the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ever asked the Government of Canada to finance Lower Churchill development? Mr. Speaker, the answer is `yes'.

The government, the previous Administration of Premier Wells, put a proposal to Prime Minister Mulroney, the Progressive Conservative Government of Canada. I am sure the Leader of the Opposition knows this, and they asked that the Lower Churchill Development Corporation be used as the funding vehicle to develop the Churchill River Power Projects. It would work this way: Newfoundland and Labrador would own 51 per cent of the LCDC as it is currently constituted, the Government of Canada would own 49 per cent, not 100 per cent, as the Leader of the Opposition is saying, but the Government of Canada would provide the financing, and the guraranteed financing to allow the funds to be raised for the development.

Mr. Speaker, the Progressive Conservative Government of Mr. Mulroney said `no' to 49 per cent, so the question has been put, the answer has been given, the PC Party of Canada said `no way'.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, the Premier cannot have it both ways. This is the first Question Period and the very first question I have put to him on the Lower Churchill. Two weeks ago he was complimenting me on how responsible I was in terms of asking the fundamental questions in this Chamber so people in the House could get it. The very second question I asked of the Premier, he wants us to clarify our position.

Premier, our position will become clear -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, our position will become clear when we start to get some answers as we ask the questions with respect to development.

I say again for the record, that I am not prepared today to stand in this House and condemn this deal, neither am I prepared to stand in this House today and embrace it.

The Premier and government have had at least eighteen months to negotiate -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary, I ask him to get to his question.

MR. E. BYRNE: - we have had less than two weeks to really look at it; all I am asking for is some clarification.

Mr. Speaker, let me ask the Premier this: With respect to -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: He did not answer the question. Former governments both Liberal and Progressive Conservative in the federal House, of which he used to be a part, have said `no' to assisting this Province with that development. All I am asking is a simple answer, Premier: Did you, as Premier, before entering into discussions or negotiations with Quebec, speak to the federal government with respect to being involved in some way, shape or form with the development of this project? Did you? If you did, what was the answer you received?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, it must be absolutely clear to everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador, the very uncomfortable position the Leader of the Opposition finds himself in, trying to straddle the fence, and a very sharp fence it is, on this issue. Mr. Speaker, we have not seen this kind of performance, but apparently it is a function of that job since they gave us their very clear position on education reform. I must congratulate his predecessor. At the end of the day, his position was clear and he took it without fear in this House and outside this House.

I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that he is asking a question about whether or not the federal government wants to finance this project. The answer to that question is no. He further asked: What have we put to the federal government? We have asked the federal government to be involved, to assist us once the analysis is completed; if all of the facts sustain the viability of the project, as we believe they will, to assist us perhaps in financing the interconnect to the Island to help build an 800-megawatt line to the Island of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Prime Minister of Canada has agreed to our request to enter into with us a series of studies to look at the technical, the financial, and the environmental feasibility of such an interconnect.

That is what we have asked for. I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that we feel strongly that the agreement we have negotiated with Hydro Quebec, with the Province of Quebec, is a very good one for Newfoundland and Labrador. We are prepared to defend it in the House, we are prepared to defend it outside the House.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, I do not mind him asking questions, that is his role and right, indeed, it is his responsibility; but I say to the Leader, trying to have it both ways, trying to ask hypothetical questions, fearing laying down a straight position, fearing coming clean with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, lacking the clarity to state where you stand, this will not win you any votes or any support.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. FITZGERALD: Maybe the Premier should send the questions over he wants asked.

MR. E. BYRNE: Yes, that might be a little bit more comfortable for the Premier, I am not sure - a good point, I would say. Mr. Speaker, we are at a time historically with this resource that is critical, no question about that. Thirty years ago in this House one Premier stood and said `aye', and every member, Opposition and otherwise, stood and said `aye' with him, and look where we were then as a result historically.

That is not going to take place with respect to this agreement. I have made a commitment to the Premier, to the House of Assembly, to the people of the Province ultimately, to ask the questions that deserve to be asked. At the end of the day when I, as Leader of the Opposition, representing my colleagues on this side of the House, am satisfied with the answers that we have, and if we believe it is a good deal, we will join with the Premier and say it is a good deal. If it is not a good deal, in our estimation, for the Province -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: - then we will not join with the Premier and we will fight the Premier in -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary. I ask him to get to his question.

MR. E. BYRNE: - in any way, shape or form with respect to this agreement. That is all. It is fairly cut and simple.

Mr. Speaker, the last question I have for the Premier is this: Obviously something must have been signed with respect to Quebec,

that outlined the framework that was released publicly; a letter of intent, a letter of agreement of some nature. What is the form and nature of what has been signed, and if it has been signed, why has it not been made public, and will you make a commitment today to make that public?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I know the Leader of the Opposition follows what is being said closely. He is a diligent member of the House. He knows that I said prior to any announcement, I said at the time of the announcement, and I am happy to repeat now after the announcement, that Newfoundland and Labrador has signed absolutely nothing. There is no legal obligation on the part of the parties at this stage, Mr. Speaker. What we have done is made public a proposal. At this stage there is no obligation, no legal obligation whatsoever, on the part of either party, either Hydro Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, who are negotiating on behalf of both provinces.

What we have is a process. A chief negotiator has been put in place, Mr. Speaker. It is our intention to have a letter of intent - and this is the specific question of the Leader of the Opposition - in place by this fall. This fall we will once again take all of the information available to the people of the Province, we will ensure that what is negotiated, in fact, is consistent with what we have announced, and we will then go ahead and sign a letter of intent. That would be my preferred course of action.

Now, if the Leader of the Opposition, at that stage, wants to argue that the deal, having had some months to study it, is not a good deal, or wants to argue that it is something that ought not to be ratified by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and if there is a genuine debate in the Province, I have said many times so there would be no surprise, I would be prepared to take this agreement and put it before the people so that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have the final say.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: I agree totally that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should not find out after the fact, they should know up front. That is why we have made everything public now.

Mr. Speaker, if there is a consensus in this House or in this Province, that we need an election, we will have an election and the people will have the final say.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of certainties in politics. Taxes are one and elections are another one. So whenever the Premier wants to call an election, that is his prerogative; no one else has the prerogative to do that.

The question I asked the Premier is not with respect to: Are we committed to anything? Because he has made a public commitment to the Province that we are not obligated in any way, shape or form until the negotiations ultimately have concluded and until it is put before this Legislature for ratification.

The question I asked the Premier was not with reference to that. The question I asked was: Based upon what you have put out so far, the package that outlines the framework agreement, was there an agreement on an agreement? Was there an agreement on a process that was signed off by either yourself or by yourself and the Premier of Quebec - not that it obligates us, not that it commits us, but was there anything signed to this extent today that would set this process in motion? If it was, all I am asking the Premier is, can he fully disclose what that was for public viewing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: No, Mr. Speaker, neither I nor the Minister of Mines and Energy, nor the Minister of Finance, nor any member of the Cabinet, nor any member on this side of the House, nor anybody on my behalf has signed anything. There is no legal document. There is no binding document. What there is is a public declaration of the terms and the form and the shape and the intent of what has been negotiated. There is now a mandate given to Mr. Jim Thistle, our chief negotiator, and his team, to translate all of that with the advice of lawyers and accountants and all of the experts that we require, into a Letter of Intent. The intention would be that the Letter of Intent would be available by December 15 and I would assume if it is available by that date or perhaps early in the new year, then some time next year we would be in a position to sign that Letter of Intent. If the Letter of Intent is something that is supported by the Leader of the Opposition and generally by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, then we would sign it without any fanfare but if there were a genuine division and debate in the Province then, Mr. Speaker, we would put it to the people and let the people decide.

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

MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions were for the Minister of Human Resources or the Minister of Finance. In their absence, I shall ask the Premier.

In his Budget on Thursday, the Minister of Finance increased social assistance payments by $3 million but it trickles down to a 2 per cent increase. The government's own agenda here, the government's own table, shows that a single employable person gets $130 per month right now. We have seen the appalling housing that these people are forced to live in. Today, I ask the Premier, how much better does he think their living conditions will be with that extra $2.60 a month? If they cannot find better living conditions on that extra $2.60 a month, let him use his imagination; I ask for some suggestions on how that person would spend that $2.60 a month.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, we have given an increase and guaranteed an increase to individuals on social assistance of 7 per cent which is equivalent to what has been negotiated with the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees and indeed with CUPE as well. I might add, I might note, that we are very encouraged to see that the majority of the bargaining units thus far have ratified this offer. So what we have offered -

MR. J. BYRNE: What does that have to do with the question?

PREMIER TOBIN: So, Mr. Speaker, what we have given to people receiving social assistance is an increase equating to what has been given to our own public employees. Mr. Speaker, I would be a very happy individual if the Province were in a position to be able to do more, but specifically, with respect to the question: What other assistance may be offered? Mr. Speaker, the member knows there has been a restructuring of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources and Employment; the member knows that the National Child Benefit is being introduced this year; the member knows that $10.15 million-worth of new program measures, which will be specifically aimed at low-income families, families with children, are going to be introduced; and finally, the member should also know that there will be another round of RRAP again this year which will be administered by the minister responsible for housing in this Province. Mr. Speaker, we will do everything we can to see that the greatest amount of benefit is provided to the greatest number of families but nobody in this House has a virtue of concern for those who are poorest amongst us, Mr. Speaker, not the member, not me, we do the best we can in the financial circumstances in which we live.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's West.

MS S. OSBORNE: That still does not answer my question on what that person will do with his extra $2.60 a month.

However, I would like to speak now about the National Child Benefit. Through an agreement with the federal government it is being clawed back from the social assistance recipients. That is a new twist when the government gives to the poor by taking from the poorer. I am surprised this government has allowed this to happen.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS S. OSBORNE: No, they have no social conscience.

The $10.5 million is supposed to be put into family resource centres, child care services, regional youth service network, etc. Can the Premier tell me how many jobs will be available for the Province's thousands of social assistance claimants? If there are no jobs available for a recipient, then does this incentive to find work act as a penalty against those who live in areas where there are no job opportunities?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the member should know that the National Child Benefit and the way the program is going to work is a national program, and indeed, governments of provinces, whether they are New Democratic Party governments, Progressive Conservative Party governments or Liberal Party governments, are all taking roughly the same approach, and that is -

MR. J. BYRNE: (Inaudible).

PREMIER TOBIN: The member is asking questions, but her colleague is shouting down the answer.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the member is asking a question. The short answer is this. Every single person in the Province who receives social assistance today will receive more, not less. Nobody will receive less. Everybody will receive more. Those families, poor families, working poor, and people on social services with children, may receive considerably more, for a variety of reasons. First of all -

MR. FITZGERALD: (Inaudible) difference in 2 per cent of your salary and 2 per cent of a (inaudible) -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I am willing right now to offer up another 2 per cent of my salary if every member opposite will offer up another 2 per cent of theirs, and to direct it to the Department of Human Resources and Employment.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, let us put our money where our mouth is. I make that offer right now on behalf of myself.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS S. OSBORNE: Count me in. I will be very glad to. Now, you just said that the hon. (inaudible) -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

A supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's West.

MS S. OSBORNE: The Premier just said they would receive considerably more, and in the words of the Minister of Finance, they will receive the same amount. Now, these family resource centres, child care services and regional youth service, they are fine. The people who live in rural communities who are having their social assistance clawed back to the same amount as the child tax benefit, will they all have family resource centres, or will they have to pay for the people who have the family resource centres? They have lost their National Child Benefit to pay for services they will never receive. Does the Premier think this is fair to these people?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the hon. member's question is. The fact of the matter is, we have just had a budget introduced which offers for the first time in quite a long time, an increase, and a projected level of increase over the next three years, to people on social services. We have just had the largest single increase in programs assisting the poorest amongst us in this society for many, many years.

Rather than standing and acknowledging a step in the right direction, the member opposite stands and tries to take what is a positive development and a positive evolution in our social policy and somehow find fault with it. I do not mind the member providing the critic's role and genuinely offering advice as to how things could be done differently, but simply to stand and pretend that anybody is going to get less when the reality is that everybody will get more, I think is unfair.

The reality is everyone on social services in this Province will receive more money, and those with families will receive considerably more. In particular, those who live in rural areas, where most of the few dollars for job creation we spent over the last year, including, by the way, dollars utilized by the member opposite, have been directed.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's West.

MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, they will all receive more. I think the most a family of four will receive is $6 every two weeks. That is considerably more, I suppose. I am back to the question I asked you. The family resource centres and the youth services that are going to be provided by the claw-back of the National Child Benefit for the low-income families and social assistance families, what is clawed back is supposed to be used for family resource centres. What about the people who live in rural communities who do not get a family resource centre? Do you expect them to pay and not receive anything, and if you do, do you think you are being fair, please?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I have to assume that the member is confused because I would otherwise have to come to the assumption that the member is deliberately misleading people and, of course, I know the member would never do that, so I will say the member is confused.

The statement, that the most that any family would get is an additional six dollars every two weeks is absolutely, totally, completely and unequivocally false. It is not true, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the provisions in this Budget will allow families and in particular, families with children, low-income families, to receive considerably more than that. There are a variety of measures all the way from increasing the exemption, Mr. Speaker - $400,000 is dedicated to a new $150 per month cost-of-living allowance for families with dependent children, Mr. Speaker, living on the Labrador Coast. That is a special feature for people living in rural Newfoundland, and this time, Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, a $500,000-pilot project will be conducted to explore means of support such as day care, that will enable single parents collecting social assistance to maintain employment. Mr. Speaker, the monthly earnings exemptions for families with dependent children on income support will be increased from $100 to $150. Mr. Speaker, there are a variety of measures here, they represent more money for poorer families; I wish it was more but the member should acknowledge that everybody will be better off, not worse off, because of these measures.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question today is for the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

Minister, we were all very saddened this weekend to learn of the death of one of the workers injured at the recent Come By Chance fire, and we felt it very appropriate on Friday that the Fire Commissioner has been commissioned to do a thorough investigation of the incident and the conditions at the refinery, in co-operation with the police, and Occupational Health and Safety and various government agencies.

Would the minister indicate the extent of his investigation by the Fire Commissioner, and, will he ensure that the report is made public immediately upon its receipt by government?

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

MR. A. REID: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I made a statement in the House on Thursday concerning the three injured workers, one of whom has since died. I will say that, on behalf, I think of all of us, we offer our condolences to the Mercer family from Bay Roberts and all I can say is, offer our prayers up for this particular family at this particular point in time.

Mr. Speaker, on a twenty-four-hour every-day basis since the accident occurred, both my department, Mr. Langdon's Department of Environment and Labour and Government Services and Lands and the Fire Commissioner, along with a forensic expert, Mr. Tupper, whom we brought in from Nova Scotia, who has done a number of investigations, not only for us in that area but also for the company, and they have made recommendations to the company. We have been on top of it. We are trying to ascertain, first of all, why this accident occurred, but while we are doing that we are doing an investigation around the area, to do our utmost to make sure that such an accident does not occur again.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next question is for the Minister of Environment and Labour.

Minister, we note that under Section 63 of The Occupational Health and Safety Act, the government has the authority to commission a public inquiry into such circumstances, and we note again the very serious nature of this incident.

Has the government ruled out calling a public inquiry into this very serious matter?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, we have not ruled out or ruled in a public inquiry. What we want to do now, is allow the Fire Commissioner, the officials from the various departments who have responsibility, the RCMP, to conduct the investigation. It is now being conducted and when that investigation is complete - and I am sure the hon. member would agree - only at that stage when we have all of the facts will we make any decision about what kind of inquiry ought to occur with respect to this accident.

I think every member of the House shares in sending condolences to the family, whose head has been lost, Mr. Speaker, because of this terrible tragedy, and send our concerns as well to those who have been injured. Mr. Speaker, that being said, I believe it is important - and I appreciate the tone of the member's questions - that we allow all of the facts to come out in the kind of investigation to be completed prior to coming to any other conclusions.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is for the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General. It is with respect to the Whitbourne Youth Centre. The Inkpen Report, Mr. Speaker, indicates in recommendation number one, that the youth corrections secure custody has the difficult task of balancing two distinctly different responsibilities, the protection of society and the rehabilitation of youth in trouble with the law. I emphasis the word `rehabilitation', Mr. Speaker.

We saw the other day a news release from the Department of Justice which indicated that there was now planning with respect to a new Youth Remand Centre. I understand there are now some $300,000 that have been allocated for the planning and design of the Pleasantville Youth Centre. That is fine, Mr. Speaker, that deals with facilities.

I now question the minister with respect to the actual recommendations as found in the Inkpen Report, with respect to the issue of rehabilitation and preventative measures that are being taken in the youth centre while a young person is incarcerated. What specifically are the steps that are being taken, Mr. Minister, to deal with the rehabilitation of our young people who are experiencing serious problems?

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

MR. DECKER: I thank the hon. member for his question, Mr. Speaker. He is quite right, Dr. Inkpen did point out that there is always a balance between rehabilitation and, I suppose for want of better words, keeping offenders locked up.

I can tell the hon. member that there has never been any doubt in my mind as to where the emphasis must be. We must always emphasize rehabilitation. Any child who comes into contact with the court system and is sent off to a secure facility, it is the duty, it is the responsibility of the state, to attempt to rehabilitate that child.

I think the hon. member will know - I don't know if he has visited the facility in Whitbourne or not - but we don't have to take second place to any facility in the country. We have been so dedicated to rehabilitation that we have had a couple of close calls, as the hon. member knows. This is where you have to take chances on people. You try to nurture your offender along until you give that person extended time off, permission to go home with the family for the weekend, whatever the case might be.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to quickly conclude his answer.

MR. DECKER: Once or twice in the institution they have erred on the side - maybe they were not cautious enough, Mr. Speaker.

The rehabilitative programs in that institution are second to none. As a matter of fact, we have had people from other provinces who have come down and actually looked at that institution. Some of the Members of Parliament came down, Mr. Speaker, and did a tour.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: I invited the hon. Member for St. John's West to go out and tour the facility, and I will be glad to take the hon. Member for St. John's East out, because it is second to none in the country and I am quite proud of it.

MR. SPEAKER: The time for Oral Questions has elapsed.


Presenting Reports by

Standing and Special Committees


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

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am please today to present the annual report on the administration of the Pension Benefits Act, 1985, for the year ending March 31, 1996.

Thank you.

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

MR. WOODFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my pleasure today, Mr. Speaker, to be able to present the report of the Select Committee to Review the Property and Casualty Insurance Industry of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I would, first of all, like to thank the members of the committee, who have put a lot of work, time and effort, into this particular committee; the Member for Bonavista South, Vice-Chairman, the Member for Labrador West, the Member for Twillingate & Fogo, and the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's. Mr. Speaker, they put an awful lot of time into this particular job. It was a fairly extensive and exhaustive review of the property and casualty insurance industry in the Province, and something that has not been done, Mr. Speaker, from what I have been told, in the history of the Province. It has been done on an ad hoc basis over the years with regards to amendments and so on, but never an extensive review.

I would also be remiss if I did not thank the two members of the previous committee, the Member for Terra Nova and the Member for Trinity North, with whom I served as vice-chair. The terms of reference of that original committee, Mr. Speaker, was to look into some type of no-fault insurance in the Province, to see if it would be something that would be reasonable and practical to institute here in the Province. However, everybody in this House knows full well that was changed after the election in 1996 to improve and to expand the terms of reference to include all property and casualty insurance, the industry, in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that we had to address, one of the biggest problems in the Province with regards to insurance - and the committee's research shows - the primary cause of increasing premiums in recent years is largely related to the increase in the cost of third-party liability insurance; specifically, liability insurance as it pertains to bodily injury claims, Mr. Speaker.

(Inaudible) this problem appears to be primarily confined to the St. John's area. As a result, in order to address one major issue which is dominant in one specific area, it seems logical to reform rather than abolish the present system by focusing on its weaknesses. The tort system has strengths which should not be overlooked, such as providing an individual the basic right to sue for losses incurred. The right to sue is intrinsic in our current system and should not be disregarded.

So, Mr. Speaker, from the outset I would like to make it quite clear that one of the main recommendations of this committee on whether we should go with some type of no-fault system in the Province or stick with the tort system we have, albeit, is bringing in some type of reform.

In doing that, one of the biggest problems was third-party claims in the Province, especially in the St. John's area, and one of the areas we had to look at was contingency reform; contingency reform with regards to the fees charged by law firms in the Province; contingency reform with regards to deductibles, for argument's sake. We have that addressed in our report. Those are two of the main things.

One, on the contingency fee, is that we put in a clause and a recommendation that states, if the defendant should make a so-called early offer in a case then the plaintiff can accept that, regardless of what the figure is, but they cannot be charged a contingency fee by a law firm. That puts more money in the consumer's pockets. It takes away from probably a higher cost of third-party claims, because the severity of claims is another example, the high cost and the severity of claims in this area.

The deductible is another one. I will not explain that because you can spend a day explaining those things, but I want to make it quite clear that those two main recommendations with regard to tort reform are based on non-economic damages. Everything else is looked after under the regular system and it is optional. Those people do not have to take it. If the defendant wants to make an offer, it does not have to be accepted by the plaintiff. It does not have to be accepted at all. If they do, if they go over and above, say, $50,000 or $60,000, that is all the law firm can charge them. They cannot charge a contingency fee on the early offer.

Another thing, Mr. Speaker, wage loss gross versus net. We have seen, in the admissions and submissions made, that a lot of the reports and awards were based on gross rather than net. Why should someone get more when they are home, hurt, for whatever reason, than if they were working? That, according to some of the reports by different people and different submissions, would save approximately 5 per cent to 7 per cent on premiums in the Province.

Structured settlements, we touched on them, Mr. Speaker, and made recommendations. Another important one is interim payments by order of the court. We have a lot of people waiting around today for payments to be made, and finding it very tough.

Rating territories, we addressed that. We looked at rate regulation. The present benchmark system, by its very nature, contributes to some degree to high insurance rates because of the presence of a minimum benchmark. So, as evidenced by the number of filings - twelve in the past year, Mr. Speaker - it is evident that the minimum benchmark is not, in all cases, (inaudible) of the level of premiums necessary to maintain solvency of companies.

So what we are recommending, Mr. Speaker, is that we go to a file-and-use system of ratings in the Province, and that would be in line with the rest of Atlantic Canada and other jurisdictions in Canada. We have looked at other jurisdictions, and it has shown that any other jurisdiction that has a file-and-use system does have lower rates. We are not saying it is the only problem here. We are saying it is part of the problem, so that is one of the areas that we will be addressing.

One of the concerns was about local companies. We are one of the few places in Canada that has a few local companies, but there are twelve companies that have filed for rate decreases below the benchmark rate this year. It is funny; we only have three local companies, but two of the people who filed for rate increases below the benchmark were two local companies. So that says something for our local companies in this Province as well. Yet, we have some of the biggest companies in Canada today that did not file below the benchmark in Territory No. 1 in this Province.

We once had graduated licensing. The insurance companies will tell us that for young drivers - if you have a son and a daughter today in the same household - for the son you pay dearly. For the daughter, it is not so bad, you are pretty good (inaudible), but if you have a son today, it is ridiculous to say the least.

Mr. Speaker, in order to address that, and looking at the pros and cons and historically what happened across our nation, across North America, and in other jurisdictions like Australia and New Zealand, the graduated licensing scheme shows, definitely shows, a reduction. Ontario, I think, is 36 or 54 per cent, or something like that.

We are the only Province in Canada where a sixteen-year-old cannot get a permit to drive. We are a bit hypocritical about it, because we will give a sixteen-year-old the right to get a motorcycle licence, but we will not do it with another (inaudible). The big problem is inexperience. If a person goes out when he is seventeen years old, and gets a licence a week or two after, he has no experience. They take the car, the truck, and they drive it - they have absolutely no experience - in all weather conditions.

So we are recommending that a sixteen-year-old be able to get a permit to drive, the same as a seventeen-year-old can today, albeit in level one; very important. They can only get out of level one into level two if they take part in a safe driving course or a defensive driving course. And then, and only then, can they get into level two at the early age of sixteen years, nine months. That is the earliest. It would be three months less than what it is today, but it would give them an extra nine months minimum of driving experience. Then they go into level two, which will give them another twelve months. And there are restrictions in level one and level two. You cannot drive between twelve o'clock in night and five o'clock in the morning, for argument's sake. You must have someone with you all the time in level one, another driver. So there are different things to look at there.

Capital requirements for companies increased from one million to three million, and any companies in the Province that are there now will be grandfathered.

Facility Association, we addressed that under underwriting. We addressed the underwriting problem. Most of the complaints we had from consumers were pertaining to underwriting problems, and that is another area that we looked at with the possibility...

Under underwriting we are asking - we would be only the second jurisdiction in Canada - that underwriting practices and principles be regulated. How far we are going to get with that, I do not know, but we are asking that be done.

Those were the most complaints we had, Mr. Speaker, when dealing with consumers across the Province, and I think it was only incumbent upon us to address it.

There are all kinds of other recommendations. I haven't time to go through them here this evening. I would also like to thank all the people who made submissions - the witnesses and the organizations, the Law Society and IBC, the insurance adjustors and brokers and so on -, who took the time and effort to make a submission to this committee, to try and make it something that we can show the consumers of the Province that if there is any way of reducing premiums, we can do it with this report.

I think it can be done. With what is going on today with major companies across Canada, with direct selling, telephone adjusting and so on, we have to look at that. That is in there. We have to look at it because of what is happening with CIBC and the big banks and the companies today. They are buying up and going into the property and casualty insurance business.

Just today in the Telegram it says a couple of insurance brokerage houses in Ontario merged. They merged because they want to fight those bigger banks that are getting into the property and casualty insurance industry. Most of it is direct selling, going to be done by the telephone, and we have to make sure our consumer is protected when they are dealing with claims.

Once again, this will be available for public consumption this evening, and I am sure there are going to be a few questions asked on it; that is for sure. If not, then I can say as a committee member that we have done something wrong.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the few extra minutes to try to explain some of it, and I look forward to the rebuttals in the future. Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South, by leave to comment on the report.

Does the hon. member have leave?


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just like to add a few words as brought forward in response to the chairman of this particular committee. I must say, I was very happy to have been associated with this committee. The Member for Humber Valley, the Chairman of the Committee, the Members for Twillingate & Fogo, Labrador West, and Placentia & St. Mary's, put in a lot of time and effort. I think we had in excess of sixty meetings, coming together here and going around the Province and giving everybody an opportunity to come forward and voice their opinion. In fact, some of those people who had concerns were invited back a second time, and we always made ourselves open for them to be able to come forward and express their views.

If I was to express one satisfactory recommendation here in this report, I would have to single out the graduated licensing program. I think that is something that is going to have a big influence on our younger drivers, and I believe that is the time to make the difference, when they are becoming new drivers, to teach them the rules and regulations.

I must say, in conclusion, that this was a committee that was far different from the last committee of this House of Assembly on which I sat, when the Government House Leader was a member of a particular committee, and the Member for Eagle River. They used their confrontational, objective, subjective ways in being obstructionists in everything that was brought forward. There was none of that. There was no partisanship in this particular committee, and it was a unanimous report. In fact, this committee, I think, put forward so much influence that we saw recommendations brought forward even before the report had been presented here today.

I would plead with the government, I would plead with the Cabinet, to take this particular report and not let it gather dust, to act on it, to bring it before the House in the form of legislation where it is needed, to bring in rules and regulations in order to implement some of those - or all of those hopefully - recommendations and suggestions. I think if we do that then we are going to have a much better insurance industry in this Province with more acceptable rates than we have seen in the past. After all, insurance is compulsory, something we must have, and I think it is something we should keep to a minimum price as much as possible, while offering coverage that is desirable and needed in order to drive on our highways here today.

In conclusion, I would also like to thank the researcher and writer, Mr. Gerard Griffin, who works with the Minister of Government Services and Lands, and the Assistant Clerk herself, who attended every meeting as well, and added much to this particular document that we have here. So I plead on government to accept this document, look at its recommendations and to implement them in a timely manner.

Thank you.

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

MR. WOODFORD: If I could, by leave, just for a few seconds, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. WOODFORD: I want to apologize. I forgot to mention, I want to thank the Clerk, Elizabeth Murphy, who acted as Clerk on our committee, and Mr. Gerard Griffin, who did a yeoman service in this particular committee. I forgot to mention their two names and I wanted to make sure, for the record, that they are there.

Thank you very much.




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

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition that was given to me probably three-and-a-half to four weeks ago. It reads:

To the hon. House of Assembly in Newfoundland in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned parents and concerned citizens of Green Bay South and area;

WHEREAS we the undersigned are opposed to further cutbacks in the education of our children; and

WHEREAS we were promised that a restructured non-denominational system was supposed to mean better schools and better programs in our area; and

WHEREAS we have closed four elementary schools and amalgamated our high schools to make better use of our resources; and

WHEREAS now we are being told that we have to endure further cuts in teaching units and support staff, resulting in program losses and more multi-grading than ever before; and

WHEREAS enough is enough, we have given up our fair share and will not tolerate any further cuts;

WHEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to stop any further cutbacks in the education of our children.

Mr. Speaker, about four weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting with a parents' group in the Springdale - Little Bay Islands area who gave me this petition to present in the House. They asked me to talk about it, to say that it was an area that supported the restructuring of our school system, that supported a non-denominational approach, and did so, Mr. Speaker, with the knowledge and the commitment that at the end of the day such an approach would mean a better system for their children in the area; it would mean programs and services in that area that were not being offered before; it would mean programs and services, with respect to curriculum, a greater level of service, a greater level of curriculum that was being offered.

The parents' group I met with are very, very concerned that as a result of further proposed reductions in teaching units, what they were promised and actually what they are going to get will be two different things.

It was striking to note what one of the parents talked about: that at one of the schools, as a result of the reductions that are forthcoming, some of the programs and curriculum that are being offered actually will be reduced to the extent that high school biology in the school may not be offered next year; and that as a result of that science not being offered in the high school level, it would disadvantage high school students coming from that area into post-secondary education; that as a result of not having that foundation of curriculum that is available to many other students in this Province in many other areas, particularly in the urban areas, that people coming from outlying and more rural parts of the Province would not have the same opportunities as were provided to others simply because of where they live, no other criteria, other than the fact of where they live; and that, as a result, somebody from high school in that area could end up coming into Memorial University or to any other post-secondary institution, whether it be in the public system or private system, and not have that basic foundation, that equal access to curriculum, that other students enjoy, and that other students not only enjoy but other students have come to rely upon as being basic, as being something that all should have.

It is the concern of these parents, Mr. Speaker, that I present here today. There are some, I believe, 970-odd people from the Triton area, from Robert's Arm, from Brighton, and they ask for nothing more than what other students in other areas are receiving. They are not questioning the restructuring of the system - they support it, they have supported it - but they ask simply for the opportunity to have the same level of curriculum and services provided to them as are being provided to other areas of the Province.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Windsor - Springdale.

MR. FLIGHT: Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to respond to that petition.

Let me say first, that I support any position taken by my constituents in this House of Assembly, Mr. Speaker - if it is reasonable, I will support it - and I support the prayer of that petition.

Now, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that I appreciate the tenor and the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition in presenting the petition, because this could become highly political, as he well knows. At the time that that petition was drawn up and presented, I myself, as the member for the district, was away, out of the Province altogether, Mr. Speaker. I was not aware that the meetings were going on.

Now, the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Baie Verte will also know that some of the concerns expressed in that petition were 100 per cent, at the time, a rumour. I came back to Newfoundland, sat with the very people who were responsible for that petition, and talked about what their concerns were and they readily admitted that they did not have the facts as to exactly what would happen: How many teachers would they lose? What was the situation? They did not know, but they were being fed, they were getting rumours and getting comments and letters and advice from school boards and other people who had a self-interest in what would happen down the road and they were saying: If this happens, this is what will happen to your child, and they are right, if this happens.

If the sky falls today, the ceiling will crash - if it happens, and the funny part about it, Mr. Speaker, as the Leader of the Opposition will have to acknowledge, is that, within a couple of weeks of his receiving that petition, when the Minister of Education was in a position, he announced at least a 50 per cent reduction to the number of teacher cuts that the people from Triton, Brighton, Robert's Arm, Pilley's Island and Green Bay South were concerned about. And already they know, if you just use it in relative terms, that their fears are cut by 50 per cent, so, Mr. Speaker, that petition was based on a 400-teacher cut in the Province, approximately. The reality now, as the Leader of the Opposition knows, is that it is not 400 anymore it is around 200, and that is open, by the way, to negotiations from various areas depending on the special needs and other things that the school board can make the case for, or the parents and the schools concerned make the case for, or the community concerned makes the case for, to the Department of Education.

So, Mr. Speaker, I support the prayer of the petition. I have discussed the issue with the Minister of Education, with the school board and with the parents concerned. There is no question that they see, as very positive, the announcement made by the minister here a week or so ago, indicating that the reduction in teachers will be at least not more than 50 per cent of the concerns of the parents who signed and supported that petition and other petitions around the Province like it. So one can presume, Mr. Speaker -

AN HON. MEMBER: He just made the announcement or what?

MR. FLIGHT: No, the minister made the announcement two weeks ago. It is the announcement the minister made that takes away the basis for that petition.

MR. HARRIS: Is the minister supporting the petition?

MR. FLIGHT: I am supporting the petitioners.

MR. TULK: Absolutely.

MR. FLIGHT: Definitely.

MR. HARRIS: Will they get a new school?

MR. FLIGHT: They are not asking for a new school. Why do you not listen to the prayer of the petition? I can see why Andy Wells had no trouble, Mr. Speaker. I can see why it got easier and easier for Andy Wells as they went down the road.

Am I supporting a new school for Green Bay? Let the word go out that the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi wants to know: Am I supporting a new school for Green Bay South? We are closing three schools in Green Bay South, we do not need any new schools in Green Bay South.

MR. TULK: Shows how much he knows, `Graham'.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

MR. HARRIS: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi, on a point of order.

MR. HARRIS: During the course of the member's remarks, I asked him whether or not he supported a new school for the petitioners and he said `yes', and then, he tried to get out of it by trying to pretend I did not know what I was talking about. Now, Mr. Speaker -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HARRIS: - either he supports a new school for the petitioners or he does not.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Windsor - Springdale.

MR. FLIGHT: Mr. Speaker, I support the petition. The petition does not ask for a new school. The petition, I think, basically asks that the level of services be maintained, that the quality of education for their students based on the courses they think are necessary be maintained, and be maintained in the face of the reductions that they were hearing were going to happen. Now they know, Mr. Speaker, that the reductions will not be nearly as great as they thought they would be.

I support the petition. I also support the right of the parents, Mr. Speaker, to continue to dialogue with the minister and the school board to make sure that the level and quality of education in Green Bay South are maintained.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of a number of -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I thought the hon. member was rising to speak to the petition.

MR. HARRIS: I thought there had already been two speakers.

MR. SPEAKER: No. There have only been two speakers.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I ask the leave of the House just to make a quick response to what the member said, if I may, because I met with the parents' group concerned -

MR. SPEAKER: Does the hon. member have leave? The hon. member has already presented a petition, but does he have leave to comment again?


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. E. BYRNE: I will only be a few minutes. The member is absolutely right. I was in the Springdale - Little Bay Islands area and a request was made of me to meet with a parents' group while the member was indeed outside the Province. I do not present the petition in any way today to reference the fact that I am doing it and not the member. I want to make that clear for the record, because that certainly is not the intention. It was a request made to me of a parents' group, and as an elected member of the House and Leader of the Opposition, I felt an obligation to do so.

I just want to say this to the member, that he is right in terms of what people were feeling was coming at the time, that there were a number of rumours in terms of the number of teachers that would be cut that has not come to pass to the extent that they felt it would come. As a result of what has happened and the announcements by the Minister of Education and decision taken by government, those reductions actually were half of what were anticipated or expected.

The real question - and I think it is the heart of the matter with respect to the petition - is that as a result of that reduction, half of what was expected, has that meant that those parents' concerns have been alleviated? Has it meant that the same curriculum offered in that area will be offered everywhere else? Does it mean that high school students will still have access to basic courses in sciences, like biology, that will be acceptable and available everywhere else? Because that is the concern of the parents, and it is a legitimate concern, that if students at the high school level are denied access to basic programs and curriculum, based upon the fact of where they live only, Mr. Speaker, then we have a problem. I think this is the point that I would like to reiterate to the member, putting it into context of where the petition came from.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of a number of residents of the city of St. John's, of Mount Pearl, Bay Bulls, Conception Bay South, St. Phillip's and Killigrews.

Mr. Speaker, these petitioners are petitioning the House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland to direct the government to establish a universal, comprehensive school lunch program for every school in Newfoundland and Labrador, to help end child hunger and give our children a better chance to learn and participate fully in the benefits of education.

Mr. Speaker, this is one of dozens and dozens of petitions, and I think there will be hundreds more to come. Because, Mr. Speaker, the people of this Province recognize that unless and until we have a universal school lunch program, the needs of children in this Province, to be adequately nourished and fed, to be able to participate fully in the educational opportunities of our schools, will not be met.

I was delighted to hear about a small step taken by government the other day. We are not fully understanding yet what the consequences of it are, but the allocation of what was called a $1 million endowment to the schoolchildren's food foundation, Mr. Speaker, was certainly a significant step taken by government to ensure the ongoing viability and permanence of what government had been referring to, upon until that point in time, as a pilot project.

Mr. Speaker, I suspect if they use the term endowment, that means we are not going to see $1 million at all. What they might see is the income or the revenue produced by that $1 million in some sort of endowment or trust fund.

Mr. Speaker, at today's interest rates - and I am not talking about investing in one of these mutual funds that are advertised at 25 per cent or 30 per cent annual increase in value. I am talking about the type of conservative investment that an endowment fund might participate in, guaranteed investment certificates, or some other such activity, mortgages or whatever. The kind of return on that might be somewhat less significant than that, maybe somewhere between 4 per cent and 6 per cent or 7 per cent, if we did really well, 7 per cent or 8 per cent.

We are talking here about an annual amount, and being very generous, Mr. Speaker, of perhaps $70,000 or $75,000. That would be a very generous return at today's interest rates. I know that certain government bonds, Canada Savings Bonds, certainly do not pay that much. We will expect that a certain amount of money will be made available.

I like the idea that it gives some permanence to the School Children's Food Foundation, but I think the need is far greater than has been promised so far. The report of Dr. Patricia Canning has indicated that some 50 per cent of our schoolchildren are at risk from suffering in school performance as a result of issues related to poverty. We know that children are going to school hungry. It is sort of a hidden problem because people do not like to talk about it. The parents do not like to talk about it, the children are ashamed of it, and the communities themselves in some cases do not even want to admit that they have a problem in their community.

I heard the other day from a chair of the board of one of our school boards who indicated she was aware of a community in Central Newfoundland which turned down a school lunch program when it was offered to them because they were afraid that their community - when they found out that their community would be identified as a community with a school lunch program, they felt the community would be stigmatized. Instead of having a school lunch program and feeding their children, they turned it down and said: We will do without it.

Mr. Speaker, that is an example of why a universal program is needed. Not only should it not stigmatize individual children who are hungry and need food, but the danger of a program such as that put forth is that whole communities feel stigmatized and are prepared to turn down programs that would feed their children rather than engage in a school lunch program.

The second biggest program with this program is its voluntary nature and the need for the communities to fund-raise. The communities that need these programs the most, the communities whose children are the hungriest, are the ones who are least able to mount a volunteer effort or to raise the funds necessary to have a school lunch program. It has to be a government program, it has to be a universal program. I am encouraged by the small step - some might think it a big step - but an important step that government has taken in the Budget, but I would like to see, and these petitioners would like to see, a universal, comprehensive program which would ensure that every school in the Province had a school lunch program, not just the 10 per cent that have them now. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to support the petition put forward by the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi, and note that this is the eighteenth time he has made that petition to this House, and it is the eighteenth occasion of which I have responded or supported that particular petition as well.

I, too, noted with interest the comments made by the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board in the Budget Speech the other day, talking about the $1 million as an endowment fund towards the school lunch program. I am anxiously awaiting the details. We are anxiously awaiting to find out exactly how that is going to be used.

We listened today in the House as the hon. the Premier, in talking about the child tax benefit, wanted to make it quite clear, he said, that nobody would receive fewer dollars as a consequence of the introduction of the child tax benefit. Of course, he is right. What he forgot to say was that for some people, who are the very poorest of the poor, all they will receive is the 2 per cent that is talked about in the general increase that will go to people with social services benefits.

What he did not say was that there would be two groups of poor people. One is the poor people for whom the child tax benefit will be clawed back. These are the people who cannot find jobs. These are the people who are unemployed. They have been unemployed for a long time and, Mr. Speaker, for these people there will be no decrease. What will happen is, they will get the child tax benefits but then their social services benefits will be clawed back dollar for dollar for dollar. So what we are talking about here is the fact that the $10 million that will be clawed back from the very poorest of the poor, from the mouths of the children who go to school hungry every day, from their tables, you will take back, in total, $10 million. And that $10 million will be used to fund programs for people who are working for minimum wage, and people who are the very essence of the working poor.

Now, Mr. Speaker, who should fund the programs for the working poor? Should it be the corporate people in the community? Should it be those people who are at an income level to pay 50 per cent of their total income on income taxes, or should it be the people who are dependent entirely upon social services?

Mr. Speaker, what we have heard today is the Premier admit that the programs we are going to use to subsidize those people who can get a job at minimum wage are going to be subsidized by taking the money from the very poorest of the poor children, and the poor families of this Province. Therefore, what we are saying is that we will still have these families sending their children to school hungry. There will be no food to put on their tables, nothing extra for them. We talk about stigmatization!

I tell you, as a former teacher, as a school administrator, I have seen - and every teacher who sits in this House has seen - the real effects of poverty and what it does to children.

Patricia Canning identified poverty as the number one barrier to educational achievement. We try to ignore it, but it is the number one barrier to educational achievement. It was identified in the Williams' Royal Commission. It was identified in studies done by the Department of Social Services, and studies done by the Department of Health. Every single social service oriented department - whether it is health, whether it is education, whether it is social services, whatever that department is - has said in repeated studies that child poverty is the biggest barrier towards child achievement in the school system.

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about children going to school hungry, you have to remember that these children have real faces, and when they miss the opportunities in their environment today they cannot get ahead. We are, by our lack of action, telling them that they themselves will follow the cycle of their parents, that they will not have the opportunities to move forward with their lives any more than their families and their parents before them had an opportunity. So we are essentially sentencing children who are born to poor families to be forever poor. We are not doing anything to break that cycle whatsoever.

So I support entirely the petition put forward by the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi. We have to address the issue of child poverty -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. H. HODDER: - and we had better start doing it very soon because the consequences of not doing it are so catastrophic to the very youngest of our population.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, Mr. Speaker, today I have a petition about Sunday shopping;

We, the residents of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, being families of retail workers and citizens, do hereby petition the hon. House of Assembly to rescind the amendment, to repeal the legislation. It causes extreme difficulty for the retail workers and their families, and they see no benefit that will come from it.

I have petitions. There are this many people and they live in somebody's district. I have received letters from people. This person here is afraid to sign his or her name for fear of losing their job. This person wonders about Victoria Day, May 18. Why did we move the holidays to Monday, like for May 24, for St. George's Day, for the rest of them, June 24? Why did we move them to Monday?

AN HON. MEMBER: You will have to ask Brian Peckford. It was done when he was the Premier.

MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, I tell you what now. What you might as well do with that is change it, because that was implemented to give people a long weekend or a two-day weekend. That is no more. How about the mothers who have to get up from the table on Mother's Day and go to work? How about Easter Sunday?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) last year or the year before. (Inaudible).

MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, that is right, and some of us will be home. I will tell you now what I propose, and what has been mentioned to me by a lot of people. It was open for convenience. Why can't you get your car licensed on a Sunday now? Why can't you go and buy some liquor on a Sunday? Go to the Newfoundland Liquor Commission out there on Kenmount Road and pick up your bottle. You don't need to pick it up on Saturday now, you can pick it up on Sunday, right?

AN HON. MEMBER: Can you buy sandbags on Sunday?

MS S. OSBORNE: Can you buy sandbags on Sunday out to Kent's, I wonder? Barrels and barrels of sand?

I have been following this. It is not open on Sunday. It should be. We did open the stores for convenience. We opened the stores for the convenience of people because ten hours a day, six days a week, was not enough. If that is not enough, then thirty-five hours a week is certainly not enough to get your car licensed, or go buy your liquor.

The grocers did not open. We thought maybe Sobeys or some of the bigger grocery chains were behind this. They didn't open. They are now because they were forced to buy into Sunday shopping. When this was legislated it was said that it was all choice. Sure, it is a choice, but when competition starts to dictate then how much choice do we have? Grocers forced to buy, bowing to competition from Costco, the big people, in eroding the way of life of Newfoundlanders.

What I have here as well is a project from a little girl. This little girl says the face behind the counter is real. She doesn't work on Sunday, she plays sports on Sunday, and once upon a time her mom and dad used to be able to accompany her. She lives out in Topsail, and she said her mom and dad used to always go to sports with her on Sunday. Now they go to work. She says: People who work in retail have families. Put a face on the person who is selling you that washer or TV or sweater. It seems that some people think the people behind the counter have no lives and are there to serve. They have families.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to rise today in support of the petition on Sunday shopping. I notice the Minister of Education is shaking his head, but I say to the minister, that my stance on Sunday shopping has not changed, Mr. Speaker, since last fall. My opinion on Sunday shopping has not changed. Every so often I still receive phone calls from people and one of the issues I have raised -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FRENCH: That is true, Sir, that is true. As a matter of fact, I say to the Minister of Education, on Thursday or Friday of last week I had discussion with somebody who works in that very industry concerning Sunday shopping, and how this individual had to go to work on Sunday and her disappointment with the fact that she had to work on Sunday shopping.

I asked the question in the House here last year: Who drove the bus on this one? I could never get an answer and still, there is no answer today; and it is very interesting -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) Sobeys.

MR. FLIGHT: Well, it certainly was not Sobeys. Mr. Speaker, every once in a while somebody puts a quarter or a half-dollar into the member over there and he chirps in, chimes in, he comes to life. We thought, until this session of the House, he was actually sitting in his seat `dead', until he spoke. We thought he was gone.

MR. J. BYRNE: (Inaudible).

MR. FRENCH: Oh yes, well, that is about it. They certainly do not get their fifty cents worth.

So again, I have to support this petition. My calls, I say to the Minister of Education, I do not know how many he had in favour of Sunday shopping, but I certainly have not been getting them.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FRENCH: Isn't there?

AN HON. MEMBER: They go to Grand Falls.

MR. FRENCH: Oh, very good, and I trust the minister goes to Grand Falls to do his shopping.

AN HON. MEMBER: Absolutely.

MR. FRENCH: Absolutely, and I trust he goes to Grand Falls to play his golf. I guess, Mr. Speaker, that goes without questioning. If his Sunday shopping interferred with his golf, Sunday shopping would certainly be cancelled, I say to the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Absolutely.

MR. FRENCH: But, Mr. Speaker, there are families - and I mentioned this last fall, I mention it again today - who are paying the price because of this legislation. Time that was family time is no more and we have one or two parents working; their days of the week that they were off, the one day that they could be assured of, as my colleague just said, was Sunday; that is no more. We could now find people shopping at various times. It would interesting, I suppose the 24 of May will be - I wonder, will that be called a public holiday on Sunday? Will we be shut down on that particular Sunday so that everybody in this Province can enjoy the 24 of May?

I have to wonder why, we ever had this particular piece of legislation, why we ever had it in this House, Mr. Speaker? I suppose some day we are going to find out why. Why was it introduced? Who wanted it passed? Did it involve contributions to political parties? Was that the idea, Mr. Speaker? Because if it was, then it was wrong. It was certainly morally wrong and certainly of no benefit to the people in this Province who are suffering time away from their families, time away from their friends which they could take on Sunday that they cannot take anymore. I wonder if we made the Minister of Education work every Sunday - I really and truly wonder what he would really think of this particular piece of legislation if he were legislated to work as I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that he does not work every Sunday. He certainly does not work every Sunday in the golf season; I know him well enough for that, you will not find him during the golfing season. Well, you can find him, I can tell you where to find him.

But seriously, Mr. Speaker, I am still opposed and if there were another vote held in this House tomorrow, I would certainly vote against Sunday shopping.

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a very brief comment with respect to the petition relating to Sunday shopping.

I would expect, Mr. Speaker, and we will check at the appropriate point in time, that because the Members of the Progressive Conservative Party who continue to bring petitions to the House with respect to this issue and speak so strongly against the notion, if the whole group feels that way, we would fully expect that, in the Blue Book for the next election, there will be a statement that says: `If we are elected to form the Government in Newfoundland and Labrador' - which is a big if - `we will do away with Sunday shopping.' It is one thing to stand up and speak to a petition but the proof will be in the pudding, to see if they really believe what they are saying as to whether or not it shows up in the great Blue Book as a policy of this particular Progressive Conservative Opposition that, if they are going to put a statement in, then Mr. Speaker, I, like others in the Province, might believe that they are sincere about this and they really plan to do something about it if they ever get the chance.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition to the hon. House of Assembly in Newfoundland in legislative session convened. The petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland:

WHEREAS many public service pensioners who spent a lifetime contributing to their society are now slipping deeper and deeper into poverty;

WHEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to ensure public service pensioners receive a raise in their pensions whenever public servants receive a raise in pay and to reverse the policy of clawing back Canada Pension Plan benefits from public service pensioners.

Mr. Speaker, last week we had the opportunity to present a private member's resolution on this very important issue, an issue which represented the interests of some 11,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, who are recipients today, of what is called a meagre public service pension and they are looking to this government to find ways to resolve that particular problem. Sadly, in the Budget of last week, there was no attention given to the plight of the public service pensioners, their wants went unnoticed; however, at least the issue was raised in this House and it was important, I think, that their representations be brought forward.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, what was presented did not receive the support of members opposite and the particular resolution was defeated. However, the issue continues, the serious concerns. The fact that many of our public service petitioners are living well below the poverty line, is a very real concern, a very real problem for so many thousands of our public service pensioners. So, Mr. Speaker, I present this petition on behalf of their interests and once again, members in this House have to be reminded that there are indeed thousands of individuals who have given their lives of public service, their years of work and toil and effort to the various governments of this Province and it is, therefore, with pleasure that I present this petition on behalf of those individuals who, again, asked this government to give their concerns due consideration and hopefully changes be made to honour the problem that they now find themselves in.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in support of the petition presented by the Member for St. John's East and I want to join with him in speaking up on behalf of the some 11,000 public sector retirees, and in some cases, their dependants, the survivors of these retirees, many of whom are suffering badly. I heard a lady this morning speak on the Open Line Program on CBC and she indicated that she was a widow of a person who worked in the Auditor General's Department for many years. She was now living on the survivor's benefits of a pension that her husband had earned while working for many, many years in the Auditor General's Department. She said, for the first time in her life, she is living below the poverty line. She said it is not a very pleasant thing. It hurts people's dignity - it hurts people's health - it hurts people's outlook on life, it causes depression. It causes damage to people's health. It will shorten people's lives, Mr. Speaker, and it is a serious situation.

There are lots of other serious situations. I do not think this is the only one. We see what the government is doing or not doing with respect to child hunger in the Province. We see what the government is doing with respect to clawing back the child tax credit that the government of Paul Martin was making available to children but this government is taking away from children on social assistance. But, Mr. Speaker, at the very minimum, the minimum position clearly must be that the pensioners, the government pensioners and their dependants, receive an increase in their pensions equivalent to that of the public sector workers who have negotiated an increase.

Now, Mr. Speaker, that may not necessarily be all the pensioners. I think if we are dealing with a situation of hardship or below the poverty line or some way of cutting it off - I do not think a person who may be earning a big pension of $50,000 or $60,000 - and we do have a number of them, Mr. Speaker, earning -

MR. NOEL: One hundred and six thousand dollars.

MR. HARRIS: Well, if the Member for Virginia Waters would support me on this, if there is somebody making a pension of $106,000, I do not think that person needs to get an increase based on some across-the-board assistance to pensioners. That person does not need it. But, Mr. Speaker, there is a point at which government ought to intervene when its pensions for its own employees puts people below the poverty line and does not help them in any way to get out of that circumstance.

So there ought to be, Mr. Speaker, a cut-off of some sort. I am not proposing exactly what it will be here today but if someone is receiving a pension, and is maintained well below the poverty line, then there obviously has to be some response by government to that. A lot of these pensions, Mr. Speaker, were earned in a time when inflation - before inflation had seriously eroded the amount of money they were receiving, there had been a history and a practice, Mr. Speaker, of providing an equivalent increase to pensioners as was provided to public sector workers, either negotiated up through the senior levels of government - by government on an ongoing basis.

The Liberal Government, when it came in, in 1989, stopped the practice. There has not been an increase since, and I call on this government now to recognize the needs of all of our pensioners who have, by their working life, contributed to the benefit of the Province and are now, in many cases, in hardship circumstances. All members have received communication from their constituents and from organizations. I received a number of letters - people letting me know exactly how much they are making, what their budget is, how they are trying to cope with a very decreased circumstance, Mr. Speaker, in their later years. It is a matter of this government trying to be more flexible with its budgetary provisions.

We saw in the Budget the other day that this Province will probably be the envy of most provinces across the country, Mr. Speaker, when we see a reduction in the actual public debt. The direct public debt has been decreased by - I have not worked out the exact number, Mr. Speaker, but it looks like about 15 per cent. A 15 per cent decrease in the direct public sector debt in this Province, in the last three years.

The Reform Party would go bananas if they were here, Mr. Speaker, and say, `Oh, this nirvana, this is heaven.' We do not need a Reform Party in Newfoundland, Mr. Speaker, we have the Liberal Party. They have gotten rid of the public debt to the tune of 15 per cent in three years. Never mind the deficit. A $10 million or $20 million deficit does not make a difference. We have paid off, in Newfoundland, $900 million. Preston Manning would say, `Who needs Reform in Newfoundland, we have the Liberal Government.' We do not need Reform here. That is why you do not see anyone going around campaigning for Reform, unless Sue Dyer is leaning that way.

What we have here, Mr. Speaker, is a government that has not used the financial flexibility that it has to increase programs, but in fact has paid down the debt. There is an opportunity here, Mr. Speaker, to be fair to the 11,000 pensioners and survivors who are dependent on public sector pensions which have been eroding away just as surely as the social assistance payments, just as surely as the public sector workers who are negotiating the 7 per cent increase, while at the same time perhaps benefitting from step increases for the last number of years. They have been standing still in terms of basic wages. Many of them have been moving forward in step increases, so some of them are a little better off. The 2 per cent is on top of that.

The Public Service pensioners, on the other hand, are at a fixed income. That fixed income has not increased in the last eight years, and it is time, Mr. Speaker, that this government responded to their need.

I support the petitioners, I support the remarks of the Member for St. John's East, and I hope that, despite the Budget, government responds to this petition.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have a few comments with respect to the petition. Very few are needed, because the issue, as the members don't need to be reminded, was debated in full during a private member's resolution less than a week ago.

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the hon. member who just spoke, being a representative for the New Democratic Party, will never get to lead anything in Newfoundland and Labrador. He was going to leave the party because he said he was tired of being a voice in the wilderness, and wanted to try to run something, to try to run City Hall, but he didn't quite get the chance. All I can say is, thank God he didn't get a chance to run the Province. Because if what he just proposed in speaking to this particular petition is any indication of how the New Democratic Party would run the Province, then we would have a real problem.

He is even suggesting he is objecting to a government that has managed to pay down debt. Because the advantage of paying down debt obviously is that if you have less debt, then a smaller portion of your annual operating budget goes to servicing debt, and therefore frees up more of your annual operating monies, Mr. Speaker, to bring in some programs, which are the kinds of things that happened in the Budget just a few days ago.

Mr. Speaker, there is no other way to describe it, the myth with respect to public sector pensioners, the myth of the hon. Member for St. John's East in presenting the petition, and the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi in supporting it, that these people deserve an increase. Mr. Speaker, the whole nature of pension plans is, briefly, as follows. You pay a premium while you are employed. While you are employed, it is described to you which benefits you will receive when you retire. In the Public Service pension plans of Newfoundland and Labrador, all of the workers when working have had opportunities to come forward to the government and include a provision for indexing the pension after they are retired. It has been repeatedly discussed, year after year after year.

If you want indexing, Mr. Speaker, you must pay an enhanced premium while you are working. The workers over the years, who are now retired, chose, while they were working, to not pay an additional per cent, or a per cent and a half, or 2 per cent. That is what they would have had to pay for their five, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen or thirty years of service in order to get an entitlement to an indexed pension. They chose, Mr. Speaker, of their own volition, while working, not to pay for it.

The previous Administration, Mr. Speaker, prior to 1989, when the Liberal Administration stopped the practice, for seventeen years under successive Conservative governments, had actuarial studies done of the pension plans, all of them, that said: You should not index the pensions on an ex gratia basis because it is not calculated for in the premiums that are paid. It is not funded. You should stop the practice.

Willy-nilly, Mr. Speaker, like they did with the rest of the finances of the Province, they ignored the advice of all of the people who studied and administered the pension plans and they gave increases anyway, which were not paid for when the people were working, and which were putting the pension plans in debt, to the point now where there is altogether just about $2 billion worth of unfunded liability in the teachers' plan, the Public Service plan, the uniformed services plans and other plans. Because people, for seventeen years at least, used to get an increase on their pensions which they never, ever paid for while they were working.

The offer stands today, Mr. Speaker, from this government and has repeatedly since 1989, that any group which wants to come to this particular government and pay for indexed pensions while they are working, we will gladly engage in the discussion. If you are going to pay out extra money without putting extra money in, all you do, Mr. Speaker, is increase the unfunded liability to $2.1 billion, $2.2 billion, $2.5 billion, $3 billion, and you make a bad situation, which we are now trying to correct, even worse.

We do understand, as was discussed in the debate last Wednesday, Mr. Speaker, that there are some pensioned seniors who have some hardships, but it is not the role of the pension plan, which is currently underfunded and under great duress and in danger of bankruptcy in the case of the teachers, to fix that problem. It is the wider range of programs for the whole of the government that takes care of anyone who has trouble making ends meet, whether they are pensioners, children, teenagers or working adults.

So, Mr. Speaker, it is incorrect, it is the wrong approach, to suggest that arbitrarily, when there was no provision for it while the workers were working - and particularly that only the Public Service pensioners should be given an increase when, in the case of my own district, Mr. Speaker, those who were pensioned from the mill do not get an indexed pension. Who is supposed to give them an increase in their pension? Those who are pensioned from other companies that operate in Central Newfoundland and in Exploits district who had pension plans, do not get an increase in their pension. So, why should the few people who worked for the public service, and who did not pay for indexing while they were working, arbitrarily be given an increase just because the people who are working are finally getting a raise after seven years?

When the representatives of the public servants working for the Province, Mr. Speaker, want to come in and negotiate a paid-for, purchased indexing plan, we will gladly entertain the notion.

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

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

I rise today to present a petition on behalf the Holy Cross School Council in Holyrood, and the petition, of course, is from people in the Holyrood - Avondale - Chapels Cove - Harbour Main area which, of course, the Holy Cross School services. Of course, their main concern is to stop the cuts to education, stop the cuts in teacher allocations.

We get used sometimes to telling the Minister of Education, because he is a former hockey player, that he is pretty good at stick-handling. He probably did one of the best stick-handling jobs in the history of our Province a while ago when he announced some 400 teachers would be laid off and then he cut it back to 200, which I am going to suggest is probably where he wanted it to be in the first place, and really had no intention of probably letting 400 go. He talked the other day about some of us using scare tactics. Might I suggest that that was a pretty good tactic on his part.

Mr. Speaker, this `stop the cuts to education' points out some very serious flaws in the Holy Cross School in my district. First of all, the non-teaching principal has had to teach to keep some of the programs that this school offers on track. The school council has hired an assistant of course to help in their library and their computer lab, to make the program more effective. Teachers spend most of their time setting up those computers and so on. Again, they ask this government to stop the cuts to education.

The school council, of course, is a council that was formed under the government's direction. They are certainly doing their part, Mr. Speaker, in aiding the students in their school. They are (inaudible) status as an environmental green school, and they are a stellar school. In other words, a high-speed educational network. They have again, and I repeat myself here, Mr. Speaker, asked this government to stop the cuts to education in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think they have gone far enough and it's time they were stopped.

So, I present this petition today on behalf of the Holy Cross school council.


Orders of the Day

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

MR. TULK: Motion No. 1, Mr. Speaker.

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole on Ways and Means to consider the Raising of Supply to be Granted to Her Majesty.


Committee of the Whole


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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise to share a few words with respect to last week's Budget as it was introduced by the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. There are obviously a great variety of issues that can be discussed, issues with respect to social concerns in our Province; issues as they relate in particular to health and education and social services changes; issues as they relate to post-TAGS, and what benefits may or may not be in store for so many thousands of Newfoundlanders who are dependent upon a system of compensation as a result of the failure of the fishery.

Mr. Speaker, it may be called a social budget. However, when one hears the term "social budget," obviously one would think that there would not be words like claw back. One would think there would be significant assistance for those people within the health system, and for significant improvements within the education system in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, the Budget has been described by a variety of commentators as a budget where there is something for everyone. It's a document which attempts to press all the buttons. However, when you look closely and attempt to analyze exactly what's there, -

MR. J. BYRNE: All fluff and no stuff.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: - we find that, as my colleague for Cape St. Francis says, it is a budget which may be aptly referred to as a budget which is all fluff and no stuff. Thank you, I say to my colleague.

Mr. Speaker, on the surface, and on quick reading, it appears this Budget attempts to be a remedy, a panacea, for all the social ills in this Province. It mentions social sectors like health, education and social assistance. It mentions the resource sectors like fisheries and forestry, and in passing, believe it or not, mentions the word mega-project. Mr. Speaker, notice I said "in passing." There is hardly any reference to our mega-projects in this Province. It is unbelievable that a lengthy budget document could be presented with hardly any attention being given to those projects which presumably will be the safeguard for our Province in years to come.

Mr. Speaker, it mentions the infrastructure area of roads and ferries. It appears to be positive. It appears to be uplifting in tone. However, there are many things which are being overlooked, and I would like to just briefly review some of the areas where, essentially, in the government's attempt to address social issues, it has overlooked some very fundamental issues as it relates to social concerns in this Province.

Let's begin with: The social sector is suffering cuts; that the child benefit deducted from social assistance; school closures. We have a breach of a commitment, Mr. Speaker, to Memorial University of Newfoundland, where today, Mr. Speaker, there is much less, being give to our University then was committed in the Budget Speech of 1997. And the hospital wish - there are so many issues. Despite the fact it is been labelled as a social document, when one carefully analyzes exactly what is in the document, there are many omissions, there are many sectors of society, which are being overlooked.

The resource sector is left floundering completely. The resource sector has been virtually avoided by this government. It has attempted to deal, Mr. Speaker, with social issues and social issues only. But the very heart and soul of this Province, namely, its natural resources, has essentially been neglected and overlooked.

Not enough money, for example, for silvaculture, not enough money for concrete actions and new developments and innovative thought with respect to our fisheries, nothing, has I have indicated earlier on the Mega Projects, but there will be!

The infrastructure sector, Mr. Speaker, is coasting on federal dollars for roads, and what one finds somewhat amusing is the fact when we read the specifics in the Budget Speech with respect to expenditure on roads and our highway system in this Province, it is virtually close to one hundred per cent with federal dollars.

In a Provincial Government Budget, in the Budget that was handed down in this House of Assembly last week, a full section on road infrastructure and improvement -

MR. J. BYRNE: How much?

MR. OTTENHEIMER: The full amount, was it $152 million or was it $162 million, I believe?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: That is correct. Ninety per cent, at least as a minimum - ninety per cent of the funding is federal government funding, Mr. Speaker. That is the kind of announcement, that is the kind of information that was brought forward in a Provincial Budget last week which relies solely on federal government dollars.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: It could be said that the Budget is a betrayal of the reality because again it is labelled a Social Budget, it is labelled a presentation which will in due course do nothing but only help Newfoundlanders in every way possible. But again upon close analysis that is not the fact. Why would a government present a Budget that goes on with pages of rhetoric, which are normally reserved for Throne Speeches. In fact, Mr. Speaker, when I first read the Budget, last week, we had the opportunity to be in what is known as the - lock up - just for a few minutes prior to the delivery the of Budget -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: It read, Mr. Speaker, much like a Speech from the Throne. It was general, it lacked specifics and it essentially did nothing only relay what government wishes to do, what government aspirations are for the future. It read much like a Speech from the Throne. It lacked the detail and it lacked the substance which one generally finds in a budget document.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: It is a perfect sample, Mr. Speaker, this Budget document is an example of government thinking that it can just say enough things and it can sound good. It can be a touchy-feely document that people will be distracted from knowing essentially what is found within. Again, Mr. Speaker, no substance. I would like to use the analogy of the forest in certain areas. It is like a forest; all along the highway, one can see beautiful trees. But if you venture from your car and you walk perhaps six or seven feet off the highway, you see nothing.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: You see the result of a devastating forestry policy, you see the result of a government essentially trying to be full of frills and full of gloss and glare, when again upon close scrutiny there is very little.

Where is the substance our Province needs as it faces the new Millennium. In less than two years, Mr. Speaker, we enter a new Millennium, and one has to ask: Where is the substance? Where are the goods? Where is the real basis upon which the future of this Province is going to be founded?

We were promised, Mr. Speaker, a three-year fiscal and economic plan. Where is it?

Mr. Speaker, one of the most serious problems which we face in our Province today, and it has been a problem, of course, that has existed now for a number of years, in this Province, is the very serious problem of out-migration. It is a sad reality, as to what is happening in rural Newfoundland, when we go to communities and we look at houses boarded up, one after another. We see industries dying. We see people, Mr. Speaker, with absolutely no hope, no faith in the future, having no recourse but to load up pickups, to buy plane tickets for Fort McMurray, to leave the Island, to leave the Province which they love and where they want to stay. That, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, is the reality of the situation which exists in our Province.

It would not be, perhaps, quite so serious and quite so tragic if we could just point to a small number of communities where this reality is, in fact, the case, but this problem is universal. Mr. Speaker, this is a problem which has affected all communities in our Province, from the smallest to our largest city here in St. John's.

Just let me give an example of some statistics, Mr. Speaker, where this is the case. I want to refer to the ten new school districts in our Province. The Avalon East School Board, which covers the capital city and the area immediately surrounding the city, has a decline of some 850 students, a percentage change of 2.5 per cent. Now, it is true, Mr. Speaker, that there is obviously another factor above and beyond the out-migration, and that is the low birth rate. However, if the confidence were in the communities, and if the people of this Province felt that this were a place where one could live and live comfortably, the likelihood is that if the out-migration issue were resolved the issue of population growth would resolve itself as well.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Well, what would happen, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that the confidence and the integrity of the community in which one lives is reinforced by the fact people simply want to stay. People want to make their community a happy, healthy and productive community in which to live. So, the out-migration issue is, I would argue, fundamentally the more serious or more critical of the two problems.

The Avalon West School Board has a decline of 670 students. This is in one year now, Mr. Speaker. This is a breakdown of the declining student population in Newfoundland for 1997-1998. The student population has declined, the total, Mr. Speaker - and this is quite a statistic - the total, 4,500 students less in our schools in Newfoundland and Labrador next year than we have this year; 4,500.

In 1971 our total student population in this Province, from Kindergarten to Grade XI, was approximately 165,000 students, some twenty-six, twenty-seven years ago. Since that period of time we have increased our school system by one year, so we now have from Kindergarten to Grade XII. Next year we will have a total student population, from Kindergarten to Grade XII, of less than 100,000 students, a drop of approximately 65,000 students in a twenty-six or twenty-seven year period.

Mr. Speaker, that is a sad statistic, when we have 65,000 students less in a public school system, in a twenty-six or twenty-seven year period, in a society which presumably is hoping to develop and prosper. It is a sad statistic. That is with an additional grade, Mr. Speaker. That is with the addition of Grade XII, which, of course, was only introduced back in the 1980s.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to that, one could make a further commentary, and that is the number of school-age dropouts in the 1970s was significantly higher than in 1996, 1997 and 1998. So, really, if we had the retention rate in our school system in the early seventies that we have today, that number could easily be 20,000 to 30,000 higher. It is a sad reality, and it is something that this government ought to obviously take very seriously.

Just to review the others: the Clarenville - Bonavista board, a reduction of 320 students, 5.8 per cent; Burin, a decline of 400 students, a decline of 7 per cent; Lewisporte - Gander, 600 students, 5.8 per cent; a decline in Baie Verte - Central Connaigre, 610 students, 5.7 per cent; the Stephenville - Port aux Basques board, 283 students, a decline of 3.8 per cent; Corner Brook - Deer Lake - St. Barbe, a decline of 500 students, 5.5 per cent; Northern Peninsula - Labrador South School Board, a decline of 215 students, 5.3 per cent; and the Labrador School Board, 134 students less, a decline of 2.3 per cent. A sad reality, Mr. Speaker, as to what is happening in both urban and rural Newfoundland today.

The population shrank, Mr. Speaker. The population in this Province shrank by 3,128 in the quarter ending October 1, 1997. July, August and September of last year, 1997, over 3,100 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians left their homes, left their communities, for greener pastures, mostly in Central and Western Canada. The previous record was for the three months ending July 1, 1997, when the population shrank by 2,126 people.

How long can this trend continue, Mr. Speaker? How long can a society continue when we are losing the very essence of that society, our people? The cultural cost, the cultural deficit, is alarming. Yet it does not appear, Mr. Speaker - certainly from the Budget documentation that was released last week - that it is an issue which is seriously being addressed.

We have a sad decline in the numbers of students in our schools but the reality is, in addition to that, a sad decline in the numbers of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who, although they want to stay in this Province, feel they have no option but to leave.

Mr. Speaker, the trend continues and the situation is worsening. When there is an analysis done on a quarterly basis, the numbers leaving increase each quarter. It is a trend which is a most unfortunate one. What will happen? I referred to it the other day in the House and it was responded to by the Minister of Education, that our Newfoundland communities are becoming communities of senior citizens. It now becomes unusual to see young children playing in fields and gardens and on the side of the road in this Province. It is unusual to see a school bus drive through the communities of our Province, dropping off and picking up children at the various bus stops. It is becoming unusual. The children are there no more. So what future does this hold with that sort of reality facing government? What is reflected in the Budget document, Mr. Speaker, to address perhaps what is the most serious social problem, and perhaps indeed political problem, definitely cultural problem, that we have in Newfoundland and Labrador today? What is being done?

Ireland has addressed the issue, it appears. Ireland has appeared to, through educational initiatives, concentrate on IT development and IT initiatives. Ireland has introduced new labour laws which welcome labourers and individuals from other Western European countries and from North America as well. It is in a position where it can now prosper, and its economy has developed to where it is now one of the top and leading economies in all of Western Europe.

So, Mr. Speaker, perhaps we have something to learn, but it is a sad lesson. It is a lesson to which this government has to give serious consideration. There have to be ways, creative ways, Mr. Speaker, to find solutions to a very real problem, because if it is not addressed we will not need a government in Newfoundland and Labrador simply because, Mr. Speaker, there will be no people to govern. Yet, its absence is deafening; no particular attention being addressed, no particular attention being given to the fact that we suffer serious out-migration, that our communities are bare. And as the problem continues and as time continues, and as our older population either move or die, there will essentially be nobody left. Communities will have to close up and we will be left with ghost towns, one after another.

Mr. Speaker, it was to me most unfortunate, upon reading the Budget Speech, that out-migration issues were not addressed. We have other societies which have addressed it and have addressed it successfully. This Province and this government have failed to realize that if this situation continues we will be suffering a crisis situation in this Province. It is as simple as that.

Our schools are being diminished in number. The numbers of students who attend these schools are being drastically reduced. The people who live in rural Newfoundland, numbers are declining. The volunteers upon which we rely, for example, for our volunteer fire departments, for our service clubs, for even a Santa Clause parade, we cannot find the people any more who ordinarily, if they were there, would be more than willing to do anything to enhance the culture and the feeling and the sense of camaraderie that would exit in their community. But no, Mr. Speaker, we are void of a population.

We have never been blessed with a significant population, certainly in recent years hovering around one-half million, but when we lose 3,000 and 4,000 in a particular quarter, totalling 12,000 to 15,000 in a particular year, how long can it continue? When we look at the nature of those individuals who are leaving, it is those people with children, preschool age, young children. So obviously the very institutions that are required in our various communities to allow a community to continue to exist, they are no longer necessary, and the institution and the very fabric of our community is a thing of the past.

Mr. Speaker, the Budget Speech, as mentioned earlier, also lacked significant reference to our mega-projects; for example, Hibernia, Terra Nova, Voisey's Bay, Churchill Falls, essentially omitted. There is nothing wrong with attempting to pay some tribute and attention to social programs and to some society reform. It attempted to do that, it said it would do that, but in reality it failed to do that.

Mr. Speaker, surely, if there has to be any sense of hope for Newfoundland and Labradorians, it must rest on what are called our mega-projects. It must rest on the development of an oil industry. It must rest on our Labrador resource at Voisey's Bay. It must rest as well, as was discussed today during Question Period, on Churchill Falls development. Without that hope, that very problem which I addressed a few minutes ago in terms of people leaving will only quadruple. Yet, despite that reality, nothing was found in the Budget Speech; nothing was found.

The Atlantic Accord of 1984, which was introduced by this government, attempted to provide hope for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who would, in partnership with other Canadians, develop a mega-resource and a mega-industry. It was attempted in the 1980s and it was the philosophy of, at that time, a Conservative government which felt that we would work in partnership with other provinces and our federal partners, but there is not any reference to that in the Budget Speech of last week. There is no indication that this government wants to share in development with any partner, simply because the mega-projects and the resources upon which they rely were not found in the Speech of last week. I say, the Budget Speech was a lot of rhetoric and very little substance.

In addition to those few points, Mr. Speaker, we have the whole issue of rural renewal. What is happening in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, we see street lights being turned off; we see councils resigning; we see roads being swallowed up by pot holes; we see people hungry for work but unable to do so and very often, what the case is, those who stay in their communities have to resort to social welfare benefits. The Province, in its attempt to develop rural Newfoundland, set up economic zones. However, again, where was the attention given to rural development in this Province? Regional plans have been developed throughout the Province for decades but yet, are they being fostered, are they being developed in a positive way? And again the answer, upon close review of the Budget, is simply not present.

Mr. Speaker, if you look closely at the Budget and in particular page 30, I would just like to look at page 30 where it talks about Rural Revitalization. It mentions about seven projects and perhaps, Mr. Speaker, they are the only seven projects, therefore, they were worthy of mention, and I will just refer to them: "Eighteen of the twenty Regional Economic Development Boards have developed their strategic economic plans. The Cabinet Committee on Rural Revitalization has met with seventeen of them to determine the top five development priorities in each zone and work on real opportunities for growth.

"These have included:" and they list them because, Mr. Speaker, they are perhaps the only ones, so they had to list something. Here they are: "snowmobile trails on the Northern Peninsula to extend the tourism season; a rural information technology Centre of Excellence in Clarenville; eel aquaculture in Robinsons; pharmaceutical applications for seaweed in Isle-aux-Morts; small-scale manufacturing in Bishop's Falls; technology applications for mining in Labrador West; and, trade opportunities at Gander International Airport."

This is government's commitment, Mr. Speaker, to rural revitalization, providing opportunities for people in rural Newfoundland. This is it. This is the list, they have exhausted the list and yet, it is this Budget Speech which presumably is to give the people in this Province, particularly in rural parts of our Province, the confidence upon which they ought to stay. Mr. Speaker, the people require more, the people demand more and the people were sad to see, that in this Province there could only be a handful of examples given to the people of this Province with respect to Rural Revitalization.

Equally, Mr. Speaker, post-TAGS. The real possibility continues, Mr. Speaker, that in the absence of a post-TAGS implementation program for the benefit of our fishermen and our plant workers, anything which is in the Budget Speech will not fly, Mr. Speaker, simply because the Province will not have the resources upon which to do anything for the people. There will be certainly no benefits for health care, no benefits for our educational facilities, no benefits for social reform of any kind because, in the absence of a system in place, a fair and honest compensation system, which identifies the needs of our fishermen and our plant workers, in the absence of that, any budgetary process is completely inappropriate. But yet, where has government seen fit to ensure, and again, to give the people of this Province the reliance upon which they can develop their futures? Where will the funds simply be, where will the public expenditure be rooted if in fact, there is no plan in place in conjunction with the federal government? Again, the Budget is absent; no reference, Mr. Speaker, no indication whatsoever that the people of this Province are going to be protected.

Mr. Speaker, I will not be much longer, because I understand my colleague, the Member for Baie Verte, is quite anxious to get on his feet. In addition to the issue of migration, perhaps one of the, I would say, equally important problems in this Province today is the issue of student debt. We had an opportunity during the last sitting of the House to debate the issue of student debt as it relates to our post-secondary students. It was in the form of a private member's resolution. In the Budget that was brought down by this government last Thursday, March 26, there was no reference to student debt. There was no indication whatsoever that this government is even aware of the fact that we have thousands of young people who are saddled and burdened with insurmountable debt.

How is this issue going to be resolved? How is this problem going to be answered? In Newfoundland we have the average tuition and fees of over $5,000; room and board for the average student who comes into St. John's or goes to Corner Brook, or another centre of higher learning in the Province, averaging over $5,000; books and supplies averaging $1,500; for a total cost yearly - this is an annual average - of $12,374.

In Prince Edward Island, the tuition and fees is $3,000; room and board, $5,000; books and supplies, the same, $1,500; with the total average cost annually to post-secondary students of $10,500. In Nova Scotia, the total cost annually is $10,100, New Brunswick, $7,960, Quebec, $7,000, Ontario, $9,000, Manitoba, $8,000. But in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we have a total cost averaging in excess of $12,300, the highest in the country.

Students who attend Memorial University, or what is now called the College of the North Atlantic - which has also kind of surprised me. In the year of Cabot 500, when everything was Cabot this and Cabot that - if you wanted cheesies you ate Cabot cheesies - we had a Cabot college, but in the year of Cabot 500 we changed the name. We had a Cabot college, and it was a name everybody seemed to be happy with. It rested easily with all students, administration, but again, it is a label. It is an indication, or at least it attempts to give an impression that something is happening. So, in the year of the Cabot 500 celebrations we changed the name of Cabot College to the College of the North Atlantic.

We have students who attend what once was Cabot College, we have students attending University, and we have students attending our private colleges. They spend, on the average, over $12,000 a year, the highest of any Canadian province. Yet in last week's Budget, no reference whatsoever.

In the federal Budget, adults returning to school were able to withdraw up to $10,000 a year tax-free from RRSPs to a maximum of $20,000 over a four-year period. All withdrawals had to be paid over ten years. Now, can you imagine that the federal government is saying to young people in this Province who have reached adult age, or adults who want to return to school, that they are able to withdraw up to $10,000 from their RRSP? The obvious question to anybody is, who in this Province, as a young adult or as a person who was working and wants to return to school, is in a position to resort to their RRSPs to withdraw up to $10,000 a year to a maximum of $20,000 a year over a four-year period. That is the exclusive club, Mr. Speaker. That is reserved for the elite in our society, and nobody else. Yet, this was the federal government's approach to dealing with student debt. This was the federal government's answer to dealing with the many problems which plague our young people today.

Starting in 2000, over 100,000 students will get scholarships from the $2.5 billion Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

MR. E. BYRNE: Equivalent to the size of the student population of the University of Toronto.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: I say to my colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, as he said to me, the equivalent of the size of the student body of the University of Toronto. That is how many students in this country will receive a direct benefit from this program once it commences. It has not even started yet, and it will be another couple of years before it does start. So, that is the student population. That is the number of young Canadians who will derive a benefit from this great implementation. We are talking about the student population of one university in one city in one province.

Students will be able to claim a 17 per cent federal tax credit on the interest portion of payment made on federal and provincial students loans. Mr. Speaker, the question that has to be asked there is: What about the loan itself? What is being done to assist students in easing the burden with respect to student loans?

Parents saving for a child's education will get a 20 per cent grant on the first $2,000 they contribute to a registered education savings plan, which means up to $400 annually. Even with this gesture, Mr. Speaker, the question has to be asked: In the long term, how does this assist a young person in Canada or a young person in our own Province of Newfoundland who, having completed a three or four or five year course, will graduate with a student debt of $35,000? How is that person assisted by such meagre attempts to deal with student debt problems?

This was the federal government. One thing, at least, can be said about their federal cousins, Mr. Speaker; at least they addressed it. At least the federal government was prepared to recognize that student debt exists. However, Mr. Speaker, that cannot be said for this government. A total absence, Mr. Speaker, a total avoidance of a problem.

All we have to do is talk to any young person who attends a post-secondary institution in this Province today, any young person. Their problem is: How do they service a debt? How are they going to service a debt, Mr. Speaker, which they will be facing upon graduation knowing full well that the likelihood of a career or a job in this Province is non-existent, and in all likelihood the requirement of having to leave? How do we tell a young person in this Province that there is hope for him, or there is hope for her, when upon graduation that same person is faced with a debt of $30,000, $35,000 and, in some cases, even higher.

Mr. Speaker, what many young people are being forced to do these days - and I have heard it discussed by young people who are approaching graduation in the various post-secondary institutions in our Province. They are talking about bankruptcy. So, can you imagine, Mr. Speaker, you have a young person, eighteen, nineteen, twenty-two, twenty-three years old, approaching graduation, realizing that it is going to be difficult to service that $25,000 or $35,000 debt, and they are talking today about bankruptcy? They are talking today about declaring personal bankruptcy, as an alternative to facing their debt obligations.

It is a sad reflection, Mr. Speaker, when a young person today has to even consider that, when a young person today just embarking upon a new career, embarking upon a new stage in his or her life, is giving consideration to the possibility of the declaration of personal bankruptcy; and it is happening. Receivers in bankruptcy are getting applications today from people twenty and twenty-one years old who say, `Listen, I owe such-and-such a school or I owe such-and-such an institution $25,000 or $28,000. I do not have any money whatsoever and what is worse, I have no prospects of having any money to satisfy this debt.' We see receivers in bankruptcy today with files on their desks from people who are twenty and twenty-one years old having to deal with this very serious problem. What is happening is, bankruptcy courts are listening to them, because once a person reaches the age of nineteen they are of the age of majority. They have reached the adult stage in their life. They are then legally in a position that they - they are of the legal age to contract. They are of the legal age to deal with their own financial affairs. They bring these applications to court and judges will then make a determination as to whether or not that proceeding ought to continue.

Mr. Speaker, in most cases involving the Canada Student Loan Program, the court is unwilling to grant what is known as an absolute discharge from bankruptcy except in the most deserving cases where repayment of any part of the loan is next to impossible. The rationale for this tendency is that the program is a worthwhile one that should be preserved for future generations. So courts are loath just to grant absolute discharges. However, the fact that a young person has no recourse but to seek bankruptcy as an alternative is a sad reflection of where we are today.

Again, I ask the question, where is this problem being addressed? Where is this issue given serious consideration? Can you imagine how depressing it must be for a young person who is full of energy, full of enthusiasm, cannot wait to embark upon a new career, finds that he or she is saddled with insurmountable debt and has no recourse but to consider bankruptcy as an option? It is most unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, and it is an issue in which governments of all provinces, governments federally obviously, and certainly the provincial government here in Newfoundland and Labrador, ought to pay serious attention to what is happening to our young people. Their energy is being drained. Their enthusiasm is being diminished and it is all because, Mr. Speaker, we, as a society, and we, as a government, have failed to recognize that their needs ought to be uppermost. It is not being done and a Budget which does not address student debt is a Budget doomed for failure, Mr. Speaker, because the very people that any Budget ought to encourage and ought to be a basis of some hope ought to be our young people and it is simply not there.

Mr. Speaker, with respect to another educational issue, I will ask the Minister of Education - maybe I have just missed it - the post-secondary indicator is ninety-six, I am wondering, has that been released? The post-secondary indicator is ninety-six. Maybe the minister can just nod if he hears the question. The reason I asked the question is because it is my understanding that there is some very useful information with respect to the post-secondary indicator as ninety-six and it has some very interesting things to say about the concerns of our post-secondary students. I say to the minister that it is quite possible it has not been released. I think it is most unfortunate that it has not been released because this is a document, once again, a public document that the people of this Province are entitled to review. It is a document, Mr. Speaker, which will address where the Department of Education is going. It is produced by the department's Division of Evaluation, Research and Planning and includes information which generally is of great benefit to not only those within the education department, obviously, but to the public-at-large. But the question is, Mr. Speaker, where is it? I am sure there is information there which would be of interest to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as it deals with the concerns of post-secondary students in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, the issue of student debt is one which cannot be treated lightly. It is one which, if any member in this House is not dealing with it directly, I can assure most of us deal with it indirectly. It is one which the majority of our constituents deal with directly, because it is their children and grandchildren that are facing serious financial crises in their lives.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Students, in the fall of 1997, Mr. Speaker, attempted to bring forward resolutions to this outstanding concern. It attempted to bring forward to both the Liberal and Conservative caucuses ways and means to deal with the concerns of post-secondary education, specifically as it deals with student aid and student aid reform.

Some of their suggestions included the following, and it is important, I think, that we look at these very closely: harmonizing the federal Canada Student Loan and the provincial Newfoundland Student Loan programs, which are currently administered separately under differing rules, which obviously do nothing but confuse students, the administrators of the program, and the banks themselves.

When a student gets a pay-out of a loan, or gets a statement of the status of a loan, the student gets this confusing document - Canada Student Loan, Newfoundland portion - and in the interest of simplicity and administration, why is it that such information cannot be codified and organized in a way which is simply straightforward for the student? A very simple recommendation being made by the Newfoundland Federation, it is one which obviously the Newfoundland division of Canada Student Aid should look at very seriously.

Review the recommendations in the student assistance reform initiative released last year by seven national post-secondary organizations. Namely, to provide special opportunity grants of up to $3,000 for high-need first-year students and single parents. Obviously, these are the people within the system who require priority attention. Secondly, to provide deferred grants to graduates in the form of extended interest relief. Thirdly, creating employment programs for students. Fourthly, the implementation of tax measures such as making student loan interest payments tax deductible. There has been some minimal action taken by the federal government in this regard in last year's Budget.

At least there are some sound recommendations being brought forward by the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Students which again, sadly and unfortunately, were missed, omitted, and simply ignored in the Budget document of last week. The government talks about social reform and attention being given to the social programs in this Province. The government talks about $50 million for school construction and school renovation. If the reality were known, if the truth were known, that $50 million which has been allocated for school renovation, repair or construction will largely go to clean our schools so that the air quality of every school in this Province will be such that a child and a teacher can live their day there safely. That is where that money is going.

It is not going into program development, it is not going into the enrichment of programs which will benefit our teachers and our students. It is not going into curricular development. No, that $50 million will go into a school in Notre Dame Bay, out in Central Newfoundland, on the Great Northern Peninsula, and in the City of St. John's, to simply make it safe for a student to breathe there on a day-to-day basis. That is where the money is going, that is where the $50 million is being spent.

It is not being spent on sound recommendations which have been brought forward by our young students who say: Please help us, please deal with student debt, please deal with us on a day-to-day basis so that we can go to school and go to university, or go to a post-secondary institution and get an education which will be meaningful so that we can do it with a safe mind and a clear head, knowing that the debt is not going to be simply unreachable upon graduation.

The federation also suggested, Mr. Speaker, the implementation of a new two-component student assistance program. One, a debt-remission component applied to each period of study, that a student could either deduct from the loan principal before loan payments are calculated, or else divide to help cover loan payments. Two, a tax deduction for loan payments similar to capital investment tax deductions.

The Province's current student loan remission program is too restrictive and, I say to the Minister of Education, it ignores graduates whose debt load is beneath $22,000 because there is a $22,000 limit; it ignores graduates who could not complete their program within one year of the specified, normal completion period because of parental responsibilities; and it ignores students who fail to graduate because of either disability, sickness, or financial difficulty.

So clearly, if a student loan remission program is going to be put in place, Mr. Speaker, it has to be a meaningful one. It has to be one which directly impacts upon the vast majority of our students. It cannot be a remission program which, by its very nature, excludes the vast majority of our students. It must be a program which is workable, and it must be a program which welcomes students to bring their concerns to them to ensure that they can carry on with their education knowing full well that at the end of the day there is, at least, some redress to the very issues which preoccupy their existence day to day.

The student federation continues to state: let us give students the option to classify themselves as dependent or independent, since many dependent students cannot rely on their parents to contribute.

I think it is essentially a fact, a reality, Mr. Speaker, that young people, more and more, must find it necessary that they do it on their own. They are paving the way for their future, and what happens is that they go to those parents, their parents, who equally cannot afford the burden with which their son or daughter is burdened. The parents are not in a situation and not in a position to help, Mr. Speaker. There has to be some flexibility with respect to the rule governing dependency and independence as it relates to the definition under the Student Loan Act.

A further recommendation: To deduct no more than 20 per cent of pre-study, discretionary income from allowable loans. The current situation is that the government deducts 80 per cent of discretionary income from the total allowable loan. Discretionary income is determined by subtracting a living allowance from the student's net income.

It states a further recommendation: Increase the weekly living allowances to the pre-study period to better reflect costs such as housing, food and clothing. The living allowance now used to calculate discretionary income is unrealistically low. If we learn anything from the Irish experience, Mr. Speaker, the simple lesson that we glean from that experience, is that the better educated our society, the more prosperous the society.

Why is it, Mr. Speaker, that when there is an educational opportunity being made available to our young people, it is being thwarted by the very policy which is in existence by both federal and provincial levels of government, and it disallows our young people to make a success of their post-secondary educational experience because of the very problems which exist.

What an investment it is, Mr. Speaker, to the young people of our Province when we can turn around and say to them: We will do for you everything possible. We will not obstruct your development, we will not restrict your ability as a student to be successful, we will help you. We will find regulations, we will find ways, we will find and develop guidelines which we can put in place that will help each and every one of you so that you can be a significant contributor to this society, and so that you will, voluntarily and of your own accord, want to stay in this society, and be a contributing and prosperous member of it.

That is the message that any government ought to be suggesting, that is the message that ought to be developed, and that is the message that any government ought to send to every single young Newfoundlander and Labradorian. That message is not there. In fact, the whole reference of helping our students is not there. It is not in the Budget. The hope is simply not there, and it is most unfortunate.

A further recommendation is to regularly increase allowances for compulsory fees, like tuition and books, to better reflect costs. The tools of the trade for a student would obviously be a book, materials, and equipment necessary to develop in a particular course. Such a straightforward recommendation, such common sense associated with it, but yet totally disregarded by both levels of government.

Another recommendation is to increase the maximum allowance loan limit to better reflect rising education costs. Just a moment ago, I indicated that in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador we have an annual cost to each and every student, on an average basis, of $12,374, the highest annual cost per capita in any province in Canada. Yet, we have a Budget Speech which does fail miserably in recognizing that a problem even exists.

Finally, the Federation of Students report recommends that we provide a cost of living subsidy to students whose program of study is not available at home. Of course, this really impacts upon the majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who obviously find it necessary to, number one, leave their community obviously, in many cases leave the region of their Province, and in many cases - and unfortunately, more and more cases - leave their Province. There are as many high school graduates, I would suggest, from the West Coast of this Province who pursue a post-secondary education outside the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the surface, there is obviously nothing wrong with that. I mean, in pursuit of an educational experience outside one's home province is, in and of itself, not necessarily a bad thing. However, when the student is forced to go, then it becomes an unfortunate situation. When a student from Stephenville, or the Port au Port Peninsula, or the South West Coast of this Province, says, `It is cheaper for me to go to St. Mary's University in Halifax, or the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, or the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton...', if it is cheaper for that Newfoundland student to actually do that, that is most regrettable. That is happening; students are selecting, for financial reasons only.

As I have indicated, if a student of his or her own free will wishes to pursue a course of study outside the Province, fine, I support that. I did it myself when I studied law. It was necessary to leave this Province. Many of us in this House, I am sure, have studied outside this Province. However, we should be very concerned about the fact that we are losing our students simply because it is cheaper to study outside the Province.

Again, I pose the question: Where is the answer, and where is the issue even addressed? Where are the needs and concerns of our post-secondary students even raised in the Budget Speech of March 26, 1998, in this hon. House of Assembly? It is not there, and it is most unfortunate when young people realize, Mr. Speaker, that their government have failed them miserably in answering their concerns and addressing their issues.

Mr. Speaker, there are a few more comments I wish to make in a general sense. We talked a bit about out-migration and how that, along with the student debt issue... Perhaps if I were to sort of number them and give them a sense of priority, I guess out-migration would have to be number one simply because it impacts upon all of us. But, I tell you, a close second is the very real problems that exist in our Province today with respect to student debt.

Mr. Speaker, the Budget attempted to deal in superficial ways with social reform. It talks about recognition being given finally to the Canning Report, which was released some two years ago. Last week this government found it necessary to address some of the concerns as were found in the Canning Report. It said seventy teachers are now going to be a part of this system to deal with the special needs of our children who require those special needs. That, in and of itself, is a positive move; that, in and of itself, is a move forward. However, the question that I have to ask is, why has it taken so long? A full academic school year has gone by, Mr. Speaker. The academic school year from September, 1996 to June, 1997 is gone. There was absolutely no reference to the Canning Report. There was no attempt by government members opposite to consider this support as a serious and important piece of work which deals with the special needs of our young people, again completely void. We have wasted a full year and I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, if you have a six-year-old who is suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder or if you have a thirteen-year-old who is suffering from behavioural problems and behavioural disorders, rather than have that person end up in the very institution that we spoke about earlier today, namely, the Whitbourne Youth Centre, it would have been incumbent on this government to recognize that a special need of this government was to deal with the special needs of our young people immediately and not to wait eighteen months. To have it is fine but I say, Mr. Speaker, too little too late.

The transfer of child protection. Mr. Speaker, a lot has been made of this shift in responsibility from one department to the other, where now we find child welfare issues, child protection issues, open custody, as it relates to those people who have been sentenced in court - however, not incarcerated - and youth diversion issues. Much has been said, Mr. Speaker, as to this great cosmetic move, this great cosmetic shift from the Department of Social Services or Human Resources - whatever it was called - now to the Department of Health. The question has to be asked, Mr. Speaker, what does this cosmetic change mean to the very people for which this change was developed? What does this change mean, Mr. Speaker? How are young people going to be developed? How are young people going to benefit simply because of a cosmetic change? Mr. Speaker, we hope that this government will certainly do much more than just have a cosmetic change, a cosmetic shift from one department to another.

The welfare of our young people has to be amongst the priorities of this government. The best interest of our young people has to be amongst the priorities. We had completed some while ago, the study with respect to children's interest, in fact, my colleague here, the Member for Waterford Valley, refers to it frequently, and he was a member of that Select Committee, Mr. Speaker, that dealt with the concerns of young people and children in our province. Most of the recommendations that were found in that particular study have not been adhered to, have not been followed, have not been recognized and equally, have not been addressed in the Budget Speech of last week.

MR. TULK: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Mr. Speaker, I think the Government House Leader has basically indicated, he has heard enough for the day. I know there is a lot that he is going to have to give consideration to this evening. He has made notes. I understand that tomorrow there will be, during debate, an opportunity for members on both sides to discuss many of these issues.

Mr. Speaker, one of the principle recommendations found in the report with respect to children's interest was the fact that we have in our system a serious gap, and that gap is with respect to those children between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.

Under child welfare legislation, child welfare ceases to have jurisdiction over a person, once that young person turns the age of sixteen. It has often been referred to in this Province as the school-leaving age, and often you have young people who threaten to leave school, say to their parents, well, when I turn sixteen I will do just that. I will leave school.

Certainly, in our judicial system, Mr. Speaker, we do not become adults until age eighteen. So we have that gap. We have a young person who has fallen between the cracks. That young person between age sixteen, does not have the jurisdiction under child welfare legislation, and that young person who has turned eighteen is then caught within the jurisdiction of being an adult.

Mr. Speaker, I understand it is time to adjourn debate. I will do that, but we will continue with this great Budget Debate tomorrow.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: When we start tomorrow we will begin on the second half of page 2.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, let me just say to the hon. gentleman that we will all be awake tonight. I will guarantee him that tomorrow, as soon as they are finished presenting petitions over there, we will call the Budget Speech for him to wax eloquent again.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the House adjourn until tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2:00 p.m.