The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

SERGEANT-AT-ARMS Mr. Speaker, the Justices of the Supreme Court have arrived.

MR. SPEAKER: Admit the Justices of the Supreme Court.


Mr. Speaker, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor has arrived.

MR. SPEAKER: Admit His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor.


Mr. Speaker leaves the Chair.

His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor takes the Chair.

SERGEANT-AT-ARMS: It is the wish of His Honour The Lieutenant-Governor that all present please be seated.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: May it please Your Honour: The House of Assembly, agreeable to Your Honour's command, have proceeded to the choice of a Speaker and have elected Harvey Hodder, Member for the District of Waterford Valley, to that office, and by that direction I present him for Your Honour's approval.


On behalf of Her Majesty, I assure you of my sense of your efficiency and I do most fully approve and confirm you as their Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Your Honour, having approved the choice of this House in constituting me as its Speaker, it now becomes my duty in the name of the representatives of Her Majesty's loyal subjects, the people of this Province, to claim respectfully of Your Honour their accustomed rights and privileges, especially that they shall have freedom of speech in their debates, that they may be free from arrest during their attendance in Parliament, and that I, as Speaker, may have full access to Your Honour's presence at all reasonable times, and that they have confirmed to them all their ancient rights and privileges which have been confirmed them by Your Honour's predecessors.

HIS HONOUR THE LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR: Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the tradition that goes back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, I do confirm this House on behalf of Her Majesty in the enjoyment of all of its ancient and undoubted rights and privileges.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the House of Assembly and people of Newfoundland and Labrador:

On the ninth of February, half a world away from his hometown of Campbellton, Notre Dame Bay, Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier proudly took command of the International Security Assistance Force in war-torn Afghanistan. Though Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the most peaceful and safe places on Earth, we continue to produce thousands of young heroes whose courage and commitment to peace and liberty are without compromise. Today, we especially remember one such hero, Corporal Jamie Murphy of Conception Harbour, who, on the morning of January 27, gave his life in defence of those ideals. He was just twenty-six. This tragedy has touched all of us very deeply. To the Murphy family, Newfoundlanders and Labradorian in every part of the Province extend their heartfelt prayers and their deepest sympathies.

Our Cultural Heritage

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

The first known reference to the presence of French fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador waters dates back to 1504. Five hundred years later, from Labrador West to St. Lunaire-Griquet, from Port au Port to the old capital of "Plaisance", Newfoundland and Labrador is celebrating a half-millennium of "French Experience." Celebrating our French heritage and ties helps define our strong cultural identity; it adds to our quality of life; it expresses our sense of inclusion; it expands our knowledge and raises our pride in who we are; and it contributes to our cultural and linguistic diversity, including Canada's two official languages. Our people share a common Acadian heritage with those in other provinces such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and with Acadians around the world. We are also celebrating the strong relationships we have cultivated with our French neighbours in Québec and St. Pierre and Miquelon. My Government commends the Fédération des Francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador for taking the lead in promoting this anniversary and drawing attention to our rich francophone cultural heritage, which has been so important in making all of us who we are.

Grâce à notre patrimoine français nous sommes plus forts. Cette année, nous vous invitons tous à découvrir l'histoire française de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador et à fêter notre patrimoine avec nous.

Translation: Because of our French heritage, we are stronger. This year, we invite everyone to discover the French history of Newfoundland and Labrador and celebrate our heritage with us.

In 2000, the world celebrated with us the millennial anniversary of the completion of "the Full Circle", the convergence of westward-moving Vikings from Europe and eastward-moving Aboriginal people inhabiting Labrador and the Island. In the centuries that followed this great convergence of east and west, Newfoundland and Labrador, as a strategically-situated trading state, came to embrace people from countries, cultures and creeds the world over.

Today, we are Aboriginal, French and English, Polish and Bulgarian, Irish and Scottish, Chinese and East Indian, Spanish and Portuguese and so many other ancestries - all of us Canadians - and at the same time we are all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That rich legacy of convergence is among our greatest strengths.

Among our greatest challenges is the need to bring about another kind of convergence - a coming together of what we are capable of accomplishing as a Province and what we are actually getting done. It is high time that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians started living up to their potential.

The New Approach

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

On the 21st of October 2003, the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador elected a new Government with a strong mandate to pursue a new approach to governance and economic self-reliance in our great Province. People voted for change, and my Government will deliver change for the better. The challenges confronting us did not occur overnight, and will not be solved overnight, but they will be solved progressively over time. The initiatives my Government is bringing before the people's House this year represent a strong new beginning. My Government is determined to deliver open, accountable, effective governance as we embark on a strategy for success: to spend more effectively the revenues we already receive, and to generate new revenues by promoting business growth, new investment and new jobs. My Government's policies are rooted in solid economic fundamentals. They focus on promoting medium- and- small-business development, better economic infrastructure, innovation and product diversification, expanding trade, sustainable resource management, a healthy environment, a highly-skilled workforce, a competitive tax system, and sound fiscal management. They focus on helping those who most need help to enable them to participate fully in their society by addressing the barriers that have marginalized women, persons with disabilities, people living in poverty, our Aboriginal people and the elderly.

My Government will be guided in all of its decisions by a strong social conscience and a clear understanding that Newfoundland and Labrador will make significant social progress through economic growth and fiscal health.

Three priorities will guide my Government's decisions for Newfoundland and Labrador over the coming year:

Firstly, to get our economy growing in a way that generates more jobs, investment, diversification and revenue here in our own communities;

Secondly, to use those revenues to finance low-waste, high-quality social programs; and

Thirdly, to improve federal-provincial relations in concrete ways that bring real benefits to the people, economy and Treasury of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That, Mr. Speaker, is my Government's new approach to governance and self-reliance in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sustainable Resource Management

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

Newfoundland and Labrador is blessed with a bounty of natural resources. Our natural environment is still our most important economic asset. Clean water and clean air are priceless natural endowments. The fisheries, forests, soil, wildlife and minerals are worth billions of dollars annually. My Government is determined to build on our traditional strengths by better managing the development of the resources on which vital provincial industries are based.

My Government has already established the new Department of Environment and Conservation and the new Department of Natural Resources, which will work cooperatively for the protection of our sensitive ecosystems and the sustainable development of our resources.

My Government will commence work to develop, within two years, a Sustainable Development Act that will ensure our natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, are developed responsibly in ways that maximize benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and protect and conserve our natural environment and our natural heritage. This Sustainable Development Act will be the legislative framework for a Strategic Environmental Management Plan, the purpose of which will be to achieve environmental and economic sustainability and a high quality of life for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. My Government will also enhance the strategic environmental review component of internal government processes to ensure that environmental considerations are fully appreciated and addressed in submissions to Cabinet.

My Government will also support the proposal before the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to establish in Corner Brook a Centre for Excellence in Environmental Research, Development, Science and Technology, which will partner with Memorial University and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College to make the Corner Brook area a national leader in environmental sciences.

Fisheries and Aquaculture

No industry is in greater need of the application of sustainable development practices than our fishing industry, one of the Province's largest private-sector employers. Entire regional economies are based on the harvesting and processing of fisheries resources. Our transportation, fuel, technology and service industries rely on the business the fishing industry generates.

While my Government is determined to better manage fisheries responsibilities within its jurisdiction, it is deeply concerned that Newfoundland and Labrador has too weak a role in fisheries management. Canada dictates resource allocations in waters within the country's 200-mill exclusive economic zone while the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, NAFO, decides allocations in waters of the continental shelf outside the 200-mile limit. My Government will pursue a Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries agreement to give the Province a greater say in fisheries management within Canada's economic zone and will also continue to urge the Government of Canada to impose custodial management on the continental shelf immediately outside Canada's 200-mile limit where such action is warranted to preserve fish stocks from international unsustainable harvesting practices.

Conservation decisions as well as economic planning decisions should reflect a broad body of scientific data, the findings of fish harvesters, and the interpretations brought to bear on that information by the specialists at the Fisheries Resources Conservation Council, FRCC. My Government welcomes the recent announcement by the Government of Canada that its fisheries management decisions regarding Gulf cod this year will be guided by the recommendations of the FRCC. My Government reaffirms the collective belief of Members of this Legislature that this fishery should be reopened.

While many of the world's wild fisheries are in decline, aquaculture promises to replace much of the supply. My Government is determined to increase the availability of raw fish product and to bolster our aquaculture industry by investing in a cod aquaculture development program.

My Government is also prepared to increase the return Newfoundlanders and Labradorians receive on the fish products they do produce by working, in consultation with the industry, to enhance the quality assurance program and to develop a comprehensive, long-term marketing program.

My Government is particularly concerned about the uncertainty that has gripped the industry's shellfish sector in recent years. To bring stability to the Province's fish processing sector, my Government has accepted in principle the recommendations of the 2003 Final Report of the Fish Processing Policy Review Commission, chaired by Eric Dunne, and will use this report as the foundation for a renewed processing policy.


Mr. Speaker, agriculture is another industry with phenomenal growth potential. Through value-added production, industry diversification, land development, technology and marketing, farmers and others in the industry are already beginning to take better advantage of the boundless opportunities for growth. With increasing emphasis among consumers on food quality and safety, new opportunities are opening up for agriculture and the preparation of specialty food products. My Government will help agricultural enterprises to access capital and to commercialize so they can take better advantage of opportunities for expansion and even greater success.


Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

Though Newfoundland and Labrador is an energy-rich Province, we will not be the principal beneficiaries of the revenues generated from any of our key energy projects - Hibernia, Terra Nova, White Rose or the Upper Churchill - under the existing fiscal arrangements. Returns from the petroleum sector are a particular source of frustration because, under the Atlantic Accord between our Province and Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador should be the principal beneficiary from the development of, and the revenues generated by, the oil and gas resources off our shores. Even following the full application of the Accord's twelve-year equalization offset formula, Canada will receive about six times as much in revenues from our offshore oil and gas projects as Newfoundland and Labrador will receive. Once these petroleum resources are gone, so too is the opportunity to benefit from their extraction and use. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Newfoundland and Labrador must not and will not miss.

My Government will not rest until we have reached, with the Government of Canada, an equitable arrangement on petroleum revenues that reflects the intent of the federal and provincial governments when the Atlantic Accord was signed. The intent was that Newfoundland and Labrador would be the principal beneficiary of such developments.

My Government takes tremendous encouragement from the support it has garnered from leaders across the country for a re-balancing of offshore revenues to the benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The New Economy

While offshore petroleum developments have not delivered the revenues to which our Province is entitled, they have nevertheless fostered increased self-confidence in our Province's business community. My Government believes, as do economic leaders and innovators, that the time has come for Newfoundland and Labrador to set its sights on other opportunities in the knowledge economy. Thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are employed in high-knowledge, high-skills jobs across Canada and around the world. They compete with the best and they perform with the best. Our younger generations are tech-savvy, bold and ambitious. They innovate with ease, they embrace change with confidence, and they seek new challenges that bring greater rewards. Unfortunately, too many of our youth have to leave the Province to find jobs that match their talents and skills.

My Government is determined to help our young people to achieve their career goals here at home so they can apply their talents in building a more prosperous Province.

My Government will begin work this year to develop a comprehensive innovation strategy that identifies and builds upon emerging opportunities in a wide range of disciplines: for example, information technology, engineering, marine science, and environmental technologies addressing climate change and waste management. Memorial University is already undertaking groundbreaking research and development in a wide range of disciplines and is opening doors to new kinds of careers. My Government will identify opportunities to best support post-secondary education and training to ensure that even more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are able to compete successfully for lucrative careers on the cutting edge.

In the past, many solid economic development opportunities in this Province have gone unrealized because of a lack of champions or a lack of coordination among departments and between the provincial and federal governments. Hundreds of long-term jobs can be created in such areas as agrifoods, waste management, mining, energy and tourism if government was to properly coordinate its activities in support of the private sector. To ensure that viable projects and opportunities move quickly from concept to reality, my Government will direct the Economic Policy Committee of Cabinet to take on the added role of an Economic Initiatives Committee. It will be charged with coordinating the efforts of departments and agencies, breaking logjams where they exist, and facilitating decisions. Government must support the private sector by playing an enabling role in the pursuit of new jobs.

The tremendous opportunities associated with the new economy serve to complement the incredible opportunities associated with our traditional or resource-based industries. My Government will work to identify new avenues for growth in mining and mineral exploration, oil and gas exploration offshore, forestry, wildlife, tourism and culture while preparing ourselves for opportunities on the cutting edge of technology.


Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

The fuel of the new economy is knowledge. Our young people are best prepared for emerging opportunities when our education system provides them with the skills they need to succeed. My Government will make world-class education among its highest priorities.

My Government recognizes that education is a lifelong process beginning in a child's earliest years. In order to reach students in their critical formative years, my Government will establish a Ministerial Council for Early Childhood Learning to foster comprehensive programs across all government departments and agencies that focus on the learning needs of children and their families. For students in the K-to-12 system, my Government will set achievement standards in core areas of school curriculum, including language arts and mathematics, and further develop a process for assessing and disclosing school performance.

My Government will also ensure the Province's school buses are safe and well-maintained and that schools are safe and conducive to learning.

Education does not end at high school graduation. Higher levels of education mean higher incomes for graduates and stronger investment opportunities for the economy. My Government will commission a White Paper on post-secondary education to examine post-secondary concerns, affordability and accessibility and to identify initiatives that will enhance the employment prospects of graduates. The White Paper will also examine whether our university and public college are meeting their potential to attract investment and generate economic development opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador. With their world-class instructors and technological resources, these public institutions are well-positioned to partner with industry and the community to conduct a wide range of basic and applied research that has strong economic development opportunities.

In order to better prepare students and lifelong learners to take advantage of the benefits education brings, my Government will initiate a more focused and coordinated approach to career planning. To encourage and enable more of our citizens to pursue a higher education, My Government has announced a freeze on tuition fees at both Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic for the 2004-05 academic year.


In order to attract new investment and to compete more successfully, Newfoundland and Labrador requires not only a well-educated work force but also a solid foundation of reliable infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure is one of the most effective ways governments can stimulate jobs creation in the short term and make the economy more productive and competitive over the long term.

Unfortunately, in many part of Newfoundland and Labrador today, existing infrastructure is deteriorating from the inability to service the many demands within available resources. Preventative maintenance is far less costly than outright replacement or extensive repairs down the road. Our Province will bridge the large gap between the infrastructure we have and the infrastructure we need only if we proceed strategically and progressively in accordance with a plan. My Government will develop a comprehensive infrastructure strategy to guide investments in public infrastructure in a manner that promotes growth. My Government will also work closely with the Province's municipalities to ensure that they are well-prepared to attract new investment and jobs.

A significant component of the infrastructure gap is the isolation of the entire Island and most of Labrador from the North American highway grid. Our people and companies are at the mercy of costly air and sea transportation links as a consequence of our disconnection from the highway grid. My Government, in cooperation with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, will conduct a pre-feasibility study to determine whether and how it is practical to construct a fixed link connecting Labrador and the Island.

My Government is determined to open up the new frontier of Labrador to new opportunities that will be of particular benefit to Labrador's communities, people and economy. To that end, my Government has just announced its intention to proceed this year with Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway construction project connecting Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright and thereby completing the highway from Labrador West to Southern Labrador.

A Pivotal Role for Labrador

For far too long, the people, resources and potential of Labrador have been ignored and excluded from the decision-making processes of the Province. We can no longer tolerate this atmosphere of exclusion. We must recognize that Labrador will play a pivotal role in the future success of this Province. We must create meaningful employment opportunities, optimize resource benefits and develop infrastructure that results in a stronger, more vibrant economy.


Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

My Government's goal is to make Newfoundland and Labrador a magnet for investment and a mecca for talent.

To this end, my First Minister will oversee a new Department of Business to facilitate growth and investment throughout rural and urban Newfoundland and Labrador. This year and in the years to come, my First Minister will meet one on one with many businesses operating in our Province - for example, oil companies, mining companies, paper companies, major retailers and small business owners alike - to determine what my Government can do to enhance business success and job creation in our Province. My Government recognizes and celebrates the strong role and tremendous successes of entrepreneurs and innovators in many sectors of our economy, including our creative and cultural industries which have helped to shape who we are. My Government also recognizes the vital role of workers, unions and employers in laying the foundation for business growth and job creation.

Not only will my Government consult with businesses currently operating in the Province about the environment they need in order to grow, but it will also aggressively pursue investors from outside the Province, encouraging them to establish and invest in operations throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of the contracts generated in the Province each year are publicly-funded. To enable businesses in the Province to compete fairly for public work, my Government will initiate a supplier development program to help local firms supply quality goods and services at competitive costs to government departments and agencies.

Economic and Social Policy

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

Economic policy and social policy cannot be viewed in exclusion of one another. They are indivisible. Investments in sound social initiatives promoting education, health and the welfare of our people generate economic activity both directly and indirectly while at the same time making Newfoundland and Labrador far more enticing to investors. At the same time, economic policies that get businesses growing and people working also generate the revenues government needs to finance further progress on social programs and infrastructure.

The Province fares best when its government's social and economic policies are designed to function in ways that complement one another.

My Government is particularly concerned about the challenges confronting our rural communities and the businesses that operate in them. It acknowledges, and is appreciative of, the contributions made to our Province and our communities by the volunteer sector, including a host of community service organizations, advocacy associations and regional development agencies. The time has come to build on these partnerships with concrete initiatives that produce measurable results. To that end, my Government has established a new Rural Secretariat as the focal point for government to work with local and regional partners to build strong and dynamic communities. The Secretariat will serve alongside the Departments of Business and of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development as a coordinating agent for rural renewal. It will embrace and build upon the work of the Strategic Social Plan. The Secretariat will be tasked with promoting the well-being of rural Newfoundland and Labrador through a comprehensive approach aimed at integrating economic, social and cultural aspects of rural and regional development. As well as working with local and regional partners to make sure the provincial government understands and acts in response to local and regional issues, the Rural Secretariat will help communities and regions identify and take advantage of growth opportunities. My Government will also support small- and medium-sized private enterprise and cooperative initiatives in all regions of the Province.


Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

The dispersal of our small population among hundreds of mostly-rural communities presents significant challenges to my Government, particularly with respect to the delivery of essential health services.

My Government is determined to ensure that all Newfoundlanders and all Labradorians will be able to access the essential health care services they need when they need them.

The structure of our health system was designed thirty to fifty years ago, at a time when the population was concentrated in different regions, when the average age was much younger than today, when technologies were less expensive, when highways were less developed, and when telecommunications did not offer the same advantages. Changes in all these areas have created a need to reassess the structure of health care delivery throughout the Province. We need to ask whether the current structure is overburdened with administration at the expense of front-line services. We must ask that our access to physicians and other health professionals can be more stable in rural communities. In a time of fiscal restraint, we must ask which services can be made more efficient without compromising accepted standards of quality. The answers to these types of questions are the key to making our health system more sustainable over time. My Government will pursue solutions in the health system which promote quality, access and effectiveness.

My Government is particularly concerned about the provision of community mental health services, especially in rural areas. With this in mind, my Government will therefore develop and implement a new mental health plan.

My Government is also concerned about the care available to our seniors. To that end, my Government will establish a Division of Aging and Seniors in the Health and Community Services Department and also a Ministerial Advisory Council for Aging and Seniors to ensure that the needs and concerns of seniors are properly understood and properly addressed. My Government will establish a strategy for healthy aging in the seniors´ population.

My Government is working to develop a comprehensive long-term care and supportive services strategy to address the whole continuum of service, including home support, supportive living, personal care homes and nursing homes, for a full range of individuals, such as seniors, persons with disabilities, and children with special needs. Within the context of such a plan, my Government will pursue strategic investments to ensure the right levels of care are available for the changing needs of the population.

Children and Families

Poverty remains a significant concern in our Province. According to the National Council of Welfare, Newfoundland and Labrador's level of child poverty is the highest in the country. Poverty is often associated with poor nutrition and poor health. Hungry children who cannot focus on their studies at school often face poor career prospects as a consequence. People living in poverty are denied many opportunities to reach their potential for self-reliance, and for this reason, poverty takes a significant bite out of the Province's economy while profoundly affecting the lives of those it directly touches.

My Government is determined to facilitate a progressive reduction in Newfoundland and Labrador's rate of poverty until we achieve the lowest rate of poverty in the country. To help our most vulnerable citizens, my Government will act to reduce the burden of taxation, taking measures to alleviate poverty and ensuring that children and families receive appropriate support.

People living with disabilities sometimes face considerable employment challenges that leave them frustrated as well as impoverished. My Government will expand the supported-employment program for people with disabilities to facilitate their full participation in the work force. My Government will also establish an Equal Opportunities Committee of the House of Assembly to monitor and report on equality issues and promote mainstreaming of equal opportunities in the House of Assembly and throughout government.

Justice and Safety

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

For decades, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have done an exemplary job of protecting people and property throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. My Government is cognizant of the difficult conditions under which our police officers have sometimes worked and is determined to enhance public safety by making sound investments in policing.

In order to ensure there will be more officers available to patrol our streets and protect our families, my Government will contract with Memorial University to train seventy-five new RNC cadets over the next three years and thereby create forty-five new RNC positions and replace thirty officers who will be lost through attrition. An additional four RCMP positions will be created for Labrador.

My Government is following with deep interest the inquiry by retired Chief Justice Antonio Lamer into the administration of justice in the cases of Gregory Parsons, Randy Druken and Ronald Dalton. Though the inquiry has not concluded, my Government is learning from these proceedings and is preparing to act decisively and effectively on the inquiry's findings and recommendations to restore faith among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the integrity of their justice system.

Violence and the threat of violence, sadly, continues to be a major issue for many women in our Province. My Government is renewing its commitment to address this and other issues of special concern to women in order that our people may share equitably in the social and economic benefits of our Province, irrespective of their gender. My Government will work to ensure that women's voices are heard and that women's needs are addressed.

Aboriginal Communities

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

My Government recognizes the aspiration of Aboriginal communities to exercise genuine control over their own affairs. My Government will work in partnership with these communities and with the Government of Canada so that our Aboriginal people can realize their desire to become more self-reliant. My Government is pleased with the progress that has been made to date and is looking forward to further progress on several initiatives involving our Aboriginal communities, including the ratification of the Inuit land claim, negotiations on the landless band concept for the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, reserve creation at Sheshatshiu, and reserve expansion at Conne River. My Government will also work with the Labrador Métis Nation to understand the implications, if any, of the recent Powley decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

No institution in this Province has a greater impact on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador than this House, their Legislature. It is here, in the people's House, that policies are applied, legislation is passed, supply is sought, taxes are imposed, petitions are heard, questions are asked and information is provided. It is here, in the people's House, that all the operations of government find their foundation. Nothing my Government does is beyond the power or influence of this Legislature, and nothing this Legislature does is beyond the power or influence of the people of the Province. Yet still, far too often, people have expressed a sense of alienation from the institutions that have governed them. A Legislature that alienates its people loses its legitimacy. Therefore, my Government will restore the House of Assembly to its rightful place as "the people's House" by significantly strengthening its role.

My Government has championed, Mr. Speaker, the first election in this Province of an independent Speaker, a member who will not sit in the caucus or be eligible for a Cabinet appointment during the term of the Legislature over which he or she presides.

My Government will ask the Legislature to adopt a strict code of conduct for all members, to be enforced by the Commissioner of Members' Interests, emphasizing members' accountability to the wider public interest and to their constituents, and emphasizing the need for openness, honesty and integrity in their dealings with the public, with their constituents and lobbying organizations.

It will ask the Members of the House of Assembly to adopt new procedures to provide for the proper auditing and disclosure of members' expenses. It will amend the House of Assembly Act and the Elections Act to require elections at fixed four-year intervals and to impose a tighter timetable for byelections when seats become vacant. No district should again be left without representation for an unreasonable period.

Far too often in government, the will of the people is sidelined by special interests. My Government will introduce lobbyists legislation to reduce the influence of money and special interests. My Government will also proclaim new access to information and protection of privacy legislation and require public institutions to function more transparently and accountably. Moreover, my Government will regularly release information of its own accord in the interest of transparency and honesty. Knowledge is power. By empowering people with knowledge about their public institutions, my Government will address the problem of alienation and better enable the people of our Province to become masters and commanders of their own destiny.

Effective and Efficient Government

Everyone knows by now that Newfoundland and Labrador faces profound fiscal challenges that cannot be ignored.

My Government is determined to restore the integrity of the Province's finances responsibly and progressively over time in order to place the Province in a stronger position, both fiscally and economically, to take on the challenges ahead. My Government will maintain its commitment to fiscal discipline to ensure the Province begins to live within its means.

My Government is working cooperatively and constructively with our public sector unions to negotiate new collective agreements that, to the greatest extent possible, meet the aspirations of our public employees within the context of the Province's fiscal means. My Government's commitment to positive labour relations and harmony in the workforce is solid. While there are short-term challenges that cannot be ignored, my Government is working with our public employees to identify long-term solutions that will bring greater rewards down the line.

No government has all the answers. Good government is about developing solutions through constructive partnerships. My Government this year sought the direct input of public employees in the identification of efficiencies in the operation of government. Almost 900 submissions received to date are now being evaluated, and those that are prudent will be considered for implementation. Already, my Government has restructured and streamlined departments and other public entities to ensure they function effectively within fiscal constraints. My Government stands by its commitment to avoid massive layoffs in the public service while taking advantage of opportunities to achieve savings, where possible and prudent, through attrition.

These are the choices a government faces when fiscal resources are severely strapped. It is important that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have access to timely and accurate information about the state of the Province's finances so they can understand the nature of the fiscal constraints under which the government must operate. This fall, my Government will introduce a new Transparency and Accountability Act to adopt formally the more-accurate consolidated accrual accounting for budgeting, to require three-year forecasts for significant initiatives, and to require a semi-annual economic and fiscal updates. It will also adopt a more rigorous standard for releasing and acting upon the reports it commissions.

My Government is determined to ensure that public money is not being squandered. To that end, it has directed the Government Purchasing Agency to administer public purchasing decisions in a way that will get maximum benefit from the taxpayer's dollar while promoting business opportunities for companies in Newfoundland and Labrador. The agency will be given greater autonomy to assess bids and recommend purchases in accordance with fair and objective criteria. In addition, my Government will take a hard look at public expenditures on such things as cellular telephones, government-owned vehicles, and leased or owned office space to ensure that scarce tax dollars are not being wasted. My Government is determined to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government to ensure it extracts from the provincial economy no more in taxes than can be justified.

A Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Partnership

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

Newfoundland and Labrador is proud to be a partner in the Canadian federation. However, my Government is deeply troubled that our Province, so rich in resources and opportunities, continues to lead the country in its unemployment rate, has suffered protracted periods of population decline that are expected to continue, and has a significant number of children living in families with low incomes, despite having led the country in economic growth in recent years. What does equality in principle mean if it does not enable us to achieve fairness and equity in fact?

My Government is determined to forge a new future for Newfoundland and Labrador in the Canadian federation - a future in which the principles of equity and fairness are put to work for the greater benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador.

My Government will establish a Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Federal-Provincial Relations in Ottawa in order to give our Province a stronger, more-assertive, more-effective presence in the nation's capital. My Government will be right there, imaginatively and aggressively focusing attention on Newfoundland and Labrador's concerns about equalization, health and social transfers, oil and gas revenues, Canada's share in Hibernia, fisheries management, infrastructure, Churchill Falls, military training at Goose Bay, and the numerous other issues, big and small, that affect the people and economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. Our overriding focus will be on enabling Newfoundland and Labrador to achieve its full potential within the Canadian family.

Three Priorities

My Government is prepared to take full responsibility for obligations and opportunities within its jurisdiction irrespective of the actions of the Government of Canada or any other party. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians elected a working government that will deliver what it has promised. Over the course of the year ahead and the remainder of the term that follows, my Government will take action on its commitment to a new approach by developing initiatives to grow businesses and jobs in order to generate the revenues we need to deliver top-quality social programs. Again, that is the new approach. Only through cooperation and hard work will Newfoundland and Labrador be ready and able to seize control of its own destiny, to chart a course to greater economic prosperity, and to realize our true potential within Canada.

In summary, Mr. Speaker, three priorities will guide my Government's decisions for Newfoundland and Labrador over the coming year:

First, to get our economy growing in a way that generates more jobs, investment, diversification and revenue here in our own communities;

Second, to use those revenues to finance low-waste, high-quality social programs; and

Third, to improve federal-provincial relations in concrete ways that bring real benefits to the people, economy, and treasury of Newfoundland and Labrador.

My Government is ushering in a new era of good government and genuine economic growth in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is delivering on its commitment to be, at all times, open and accountable to the people for what it does on their behalf. It is delivering on its promise to consult before it acts and to be inclusive when it consults. It is delivering on its obligation to make decisions that are in the best long-term interests of Newfoundland and Labrador, even at the expense of short-term political gain. My Government recognizes and celebrates the tremendous opportunities now before us and is prepared to be bold and ambitious in preparing our Province to capitalize on those opportunities. Throughout the year and term ahead, my Government will set its sights high and settle for nothing less than the best that can be achieved through hard work and an unshakable belief in ourselves. That is the new attitude - the new approach - that is going to begin turning things around for the better throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the words of that great Newfoundlander, the poet E.J. Pratt:

"Here the winds blow, / And here they die, / Not with that wild, exotic rage / That vainly sweeps untrodden shores, / But with familiar breath / Holding a partnership with life, / Resonant with the hopes of spring, / Pungent with the airs of harvest."

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly:

Estimates of expenditure will be laid before you in due course and you will be asked to grant supply to Her Majesty.

I invoke God's blessing upon you as you commence this new Session.

May Divine Providence guide you in your deliberation.

His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor and the Vice-Regal party leave the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker returns to the Chair.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

The hon. the Government House Leader.

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

Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I shall ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act," Bill 1.

Motion, the hon. the Government House Leader to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act," carried. (Bill 1)

On motion, Bill 1 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor has been pleased to make a Speech to the members in this General Assembly. We shall take a few minutes to distribute the Speech to the hon. Members of the Forty-Fifth Assembly.

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On behalf of all members -

MR. SPEAKER: Before we move to the formal proceedings, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to all members the Pages that we have in our House. I would like to introduce Ms Christine Callahan, Ms Mary Ryan, and a gentleman who is returning with us, Cameron McKay. I wonder if members could welcome them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I should inform all hon. members that these young people are students at Memorial University and are in various stages of their program of studies.

The hon. the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Once again, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On behalf of all members, I would like to thank His Honour for delivering the first Speech from the Throne for the new government. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend His Honour for the initiatives he has taken since being appointed Her Majesty's representative in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are particularly impressed that His Honour has provided the public with greater access to Government House and has taken steps to preserve the historic colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which are deteriorating. We extend to His Honour our best wishes, as He and Her Honour continue to carry out their duties on behalf of the Crown.

On October 21, the people of Trinity-Bay de Verde elected me to represent them in the people's House of Assembly. I want to thank my constituents for entrusting me with the responsibility of standing up for their concerns and aspirations, and I assure them I will leave no stone unturned in working to build a brighter future for Trinity-Bay de Verde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: I was also privileged, on October 21, to become the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly. Relatively few people in their early twenties are elected to serve in public office on behalf of their province. Indeed, far too many people in their twenties are wondering whether they will even be able to remain in their province. Many of my friends have left in search of jobs while many others who have stayed behind are struggling.

Nevertheless, ask most young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians whether they believe things are destined to be that way and they will tell you: No - they are not pessimistic about their Province. Rather, they are passionate about their Province. I am passionate about our Province, which is why I entered politics.

Young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understand that this Province stands at a fork in the road. On the left is the pathway towards further decline; and on the right, the pathway towards a brighter future. They are well aware that the right-hand path is a much steeper climb, but they would rather fight for a brighter future here than resign themselves to some other future in a place far from home. Young people are not naive enough to believe our decades-old problems will be solved overnight, but neither do they believe the problems are beyond solving. They are looking for the kind of aggressive, imaginative, skilled leadership that can turn golden opportunities into good jobs right here at home.

As a young person, I welcome our government's focus on getting greater benefits from our traditional industries, such as the fisheries and agriculture, while also pursuing new opportunities at the cutting edge; for example, in information technology, engineering, marine science and environmental technologies, which is my particular area of concern and experience. With my educational background focusing on forestry and environmental engineering, I appreciate the importance of sound environmental policies in ensuring we develop our renewable resources sustainably. I am delighted that our government will be developing a new Sustainable Development Act to ensure our resources are harvested responsibly in ways that maximize benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. If we have learned anything from the closure of our ground fisheries in the nineties, it is that no one benefits when our resources are mismanaged to the brink of collapse.

As a member representing a rural district, I am particularly impressed with our government's emphasis on rural renewal and small business growth. The Premier has adopted a hands-on approach to business growth and rural renewal, taking for himself the portfolio of Business and creating a new Rural Secretariat as a focal point for government to work with local and regional partners to build strong and dynamic communities. This is the kind of approach that I believe will get things moving in rural communities - get people talking, get investors listening and get parties cooperating for the greater good of the community.

As a young person who spent a considerable amount of time in recent years as a post-secondary student, I am very appreciative of two initiatives in this year's Throne Speech - namely, the continuation of the tuition fee freeze at Memorial and CONA, and the commissioning of a White Paper on post-secondary education to examine affordability, accessibility and opportunities to enhance the employment prospects of graduates. Not only does a high-quality education make young people far more employable, but having a well-educated pool of human resources is a prerequisite to attracting certain kinds of investment that our Province badly needs. Investing in post-secondary education means investing in the future of individuals, of communities, of industries and of our Province generally.

I am standing here today, not only as a young person, a former student and a champion of rural renewal, but also as a woman. It was not so long ago that women could not even vote in Newfoundland and Labrador, let alone seek office. We have come a long way as a society, but we are not there yet. Today, many women continue to face many challenges. Women are more likely to be abused, assaulted and threatened. Women are less likely to be financially self-reliant. Many women do not have a voice, but our government intends to do a better job of listening and a better job of meeting the particular needs of women. Many women are raising children in conditions of poverty, and for that reason, I am very delighted that our government has gone on record with a goal of turning the Province with the highest rate of poverty into the Province with the lowest in the country. We will not get there overnight, but we are taking concrete steps in the right direction.

In conclusion, I would again like to thank His Honour for his attendance here today, and I move that a Select Committee be appointed to draft an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.

Thank you very much.

Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Lake Melville.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to second the motion that a Select Committee be appointed to draft an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great honour to be standing here in this House of Assembly, representing the proud people of Lake Melville in Labrador. I want to take this opportunity to certainly thank them for their support in my recent election.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how many people in this Chamber today, or in the gallery, or watching by television, have had the opportunity to experience Labrador for themselves. It is a place quite unlike any other - breathtaking in beauty, blessed with natural resources, rich in legends and culture, huge in size and populated with some of the finest people anywhere on the face of the earth. Those of us who call Labrador home are Labradorians for life, because it will always be a part of who we are, no matter where we are or where we go.

I am proud to be part of a government that believes Labrador can and will play a pivotal role in our Province's future and is prepared to work with Labradorians to make it happen. Labrador, for too long, has been treated as someone else's repository of resources, ripe for the picking. For too long, Labradorians have watched while others have benefitted from local resource developments, and we all know about Churchill Falls. For far too long opportunities, have gone unharnessed because of a lack of infrastructure and investment.

Mr. Speaker, our government is prepared to ensure that positive changes will and are taking place. I am absolutely delighted that our government has just announced its intention to proceed with Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway, connecting Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright and thereby extending the highway from Southern Labrador to Labrador West. Those who enjoy highway infrastructure may not fully understand just how the lack of a paved continuous highway is an impediment to development. Canada, a single united country largely because visionaries saw the value of investing large sums in transportation infrastructure. Those initiatives have returned dividends far, far greater in magnitude than the original investment, and I believe our Province, and indeed all of Atlantic Canada, will reap similar dividends by the completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway in Labrador.

Labrador, or as many call it "The Big Land" is a unique place for a host of reasons, one of them being the vast untapped natural resource potential of its forests, rivers and minerals. At Voisey's Bay, we witnessed the uncovering of one of the richest cobalt, copper, and nickel deposits anywhere on the continent. At the Lower Churchill, we are looking at one of the continents greatest untapped hydro-power resources. Labrador West remains one of the Provinces wealthiest mining regions because of its iron ore. Investors and explorers have only begun to scratch the surface of what Labrador can offer.

Our government is eager to work with Labradorians to find new ways to harness Labrador's strengths and turn opportunity into prosperity and jobs. We believe the Trans-Labrador Highway will be a vital factor in making that happen. But we also believe that open dialogue and cooperation with Labradorians is indispensable.

Mr. Speaker, our government is particularly intent on working with our Aboriginal peoples to help them achieve their goals in this Province. Both the Innu Nation and the Labrador Innuit Association have taken giant steps on the path towards self-reliance. We recognize the desire of our Aboriginal communities to exercise genuine control over their own affairs, and we want to work with them in bringing their dreams to fruition.

We are delighted with the progress that has been made on the Innuit land claim and are very pleased with the constructive discussions we have had with the Innu Nation. In Labrador, our government is also working with the Labrador Métis Nation to understand the implications, if any, of the recent Powley decision. On the Island, our government is working with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians on negotiating the landless band concept, and we are working with the people of Conne River on reserve expansion. Our Aboriginal communities have faced considerable challenges over the years, and we applaud them for the initiatives they have taken to face down those challenges to build a brighter future for their people. Our government will work with them to help them achieve even greater progress in the years ahead.

The announcement of additional police officers may seem like a small deal to someone living in a larger centre, but to the people living in a smaller Labrador communities, that announcement is a significant one and one I know will be most welcome.

Mr. Speaker, I was proud to have had the honour to serve several years as a mayor and councillor for the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador - a town with a host of good things going for it, but until just recently, a whole lot of uncertainty. Nothing defines our community quite like the base at 5-Wing. It has put Goose Bay on the map and has brought a great many people to our region from around the world. Their presence has changed us as much as we have changed them, and it has proven to us that even a relatively small, isolated municipality can reap tremendous investment dividends when it is plugged into a larger network. I am delighted that the future of 5-Wing seems more secure now than it has for months, with the announcement that the future of the base is secure. I applaud our government for taking a very strong role in fighting for our base, and I commend our Premier -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: And I commend our Premier for his leadership in championing the fight.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Mr. Speaker, I believe great things are in store for our Province, and indeed Labrador, and not because Labrador has so much potential, but because we have a government that is willing to do what it takes to achieve that potential. I believe great things are in store for our Province and Labrador, and I believe that Labradorians are speaking up with more vigor than they have in a long time, because we have a government that is genuinely listening and paying attention. There are significant challenges in Labrador that cannot be overcome overnight, and there are significant opportunities that cannot be fully exploited overnight, but we can make real headway if we open our eyes and ears to see the potential in Labrador and to hear what Labradorians have to say about how to best develop the "Big Land" and the place that we all call home.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is a great pleasure to make a few brief comments, I am sure everyone in the House of Assembly and our special guests would be pleased to know, at the opening of this First Session of the Forth-Fifth Assembly of the House of Assembly here, the General Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As I begin, I would like to start by offering, again in this Legislature, congratulations to yourself, Mr. Speaker, as the first elected Speaker in the House of Assembly, in the history of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contrary to what the Throne Speech said, Mr. Speaker, a great Liberal initiative -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: - which we put in place in the last term of office and changed the law and changed all the rules so that, in fact, you could be sitting there today having been already elected by procedures that we put in place about a year or so ago, and actually there was quite a bit of it. I was pleased today to see the continuation of quite a number of wonderful Liberal initiatives that this group has now looked at and has decided to continue on with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: I am very, very pleased to see those initiatives and, as well, to look forward to seeing the things continue to develop over the next little while.

Again, Mr. Speaker, congratulations to all MHAs here. We have all been done a great honour, and it is a great privilege to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador by being elected to this Legislature. To many people here for the first time, a special congratulations. It will be a great experience, I can tell you, from this being my fifth election and fifteen years in this Legislature; a great privilege, a great experience, a great honour to actually have the opportunity to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: In fact, I would like to say thank you again to the constituents in Exploits District who have shown their confidence in me one more time.

To His Honour on the Speech today, I congratulate His Honour with respect to the delivery of the Speech from the Throne. Also, congratulations to the mover, the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde, and the seconder, the Member for Lake Melville, in their moving and seconding that we strike the committee of Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne. We look forward to participating in the debate on that.

A special thank you today for a special guests both on the floor of the Legislature, in the Speaker's gallery and in the public gallery, for coming to join on what is a very auspicious occasion, especially now with a change of government for the first time in fifteen years and a new approach that people voted for, that we understand and accept and that we all look forward to.

Our role is one now of being the Official Opposition, and we understand that to be really one that entails three different parts that we intend to put forward and uphold as part of our duties, hold the government accountable from our perspective as members in the Opposition, to provide alternatives where we think there are good alternatives to what is being discussed and debated, and we have had our first bill tabled here today, that we will study through the weekend, I am sure, and start to prepare for debate next week - we look forward to that - and give voice to use our place in this House to give voice to groups and individuals who would like to have their views expressed on their behalf in this Legislature, because of the fact that they are not here themselves but they would like to have this public Chamber hear their voice and hear their concerns. You will see that from us, Mr. Speaker, as will all Members of the House of Assembly and the general public in the next little while.

In the Speech today there was a phrase that came to mind, because we have had almost some six months of experience with a new government before coming here today to hear this Speech from the Throne, and it reminds me in a little way of, I guess, a lot of these ads that are around and are very popular these days for health and fitness aids that are supposed to give you a trim tummy and lose inches in weeks and all of that kind of thing. There are these diet fads that are around, that you see on television and in the papers, where if you take this you are going to change dramatically overnight, but there is always a little rider and a little caveat that says: results may vary. Mr. Speaker, that is what I think, unfortunately, we have seen a little bit so far in the first four, five or six months of the new government.

The new approach that people voted for and acknowledge that they did vote for in big numbers - we understand and accept that - but they are not sure it was this approach so far. That is why, with the Speech today, it reminded me so much of a Blue Book that we saw back during the election, many of the same initiatives restated. They were stated then, there was hope, there was confidence, there was optimism and there was enthusiasm to embrace a new government that would take this new approach, and by now we should be starting to be prosperous. Already -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: That is the feeling of a lot of people, it should already have started. Again, as the caveat and the rider shows: results may vary, results may differ.

So far, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, and I am not going to speak negatively today - I might have to a few times in the next couple of months or so here - but there has been some disappointment and some disillusionment with the people who wanted a change and looked for a new approach. In fact, they would hope that the same kinds of things that were referenced and profiled in the Speech today, that there would be a focus on growth, revitalization, jobs and a new Newfoundland and Labrador, but we unfortunately have not seen much of that, much talk of that, much action with respect to that in the first few months.

I guess the government feels necessary an obsession with the fiscal circumstance, and it has been described by different reports as being a choice at looking at a circumstance where we do have an issue that admittedly must be dealt with. You will never hear me, or this Opposition, say anything differently. We do need to live within our means as a people in a Province. You will never hear us say anything other than that, but how you go about it is something else, Mr. Speaker.

There was one report at least that said that it is a matter of whether you look at a glass at being half empty or half full. What we have seen so far is a pessimistic group on the other side who want to try and convince everyone that not only is it half empty, it must be nine-tenths empty, it is worse than we ever thought, worse than you could ever imagine, which unfortunately is not the case as we know it but we will have lots of time to debate that, Mr. Speaker, in the days and months ahead.

There are issues to be dealt with. I have heard the Finance Minister, whom I have great personal respect for - we have to do that, we help each other shovel our driveways sometimes. When you shovel snow together, living next door to each other, you have to have great respect for each other. He has always asked that at least we deal with the issues truthfully. I could not agree with him more. The only thing I know is that he cringes sometimes when he sees his leader use different words than he does. We will deal with that over the next few days as well, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the issue that does need a lot of attention and I am sure will be the focus of much debate.

If I could just point out, before I do conclude, because I do not want to take a long time today, Mr. Speaker, it is not the right day for it. It is a great day for a new government with a Throne Speech, and I think we should relish that. We should in fact celebrate. That is what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want to do, and we all should, but talk about the disillusionment and the disappointment. Let me just give you two examples.

Yesterday, I happened to attend the meeting with 300 or 400, I guess, members of the Public Service Pension Plan here in St. John's. They talked, in their session yesterday, about the fact that members opposite, now the government, when they were in Opposition, used to rally with them, used to grab the microphones and say how much they stood up for the pensioners and how much they deserved to get something different. One of the members even, during the election, I understand - we have the transcripts that we will produce later on - even said that he had checked with the leader, who is now the Premier, and not only were the pensioners going to be assured of the increases they received, but they were likely to get them retroactively back to 1989. That is the kind of stuff that was talked about during the election and in the lead up to the election. As soon they become the government and get into office, what did they do? They rolled back the increase, the first increase they received in fifteen years.

Yesterday, unfortunately, because there were a couple of members there from the Opposition - I give them credit for being there and showing up. I was there, the Leader of the NDP was there - the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi - and many others were there, obviously 300 or 400 of their members. In fact, they used language, unfortunately, they felt like they were betrayed and deceived - not my words. Not my words, but pensioners who spent thirty to thirty-five years working on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, who admitted that they voted for the members opposite. They voted for the change, they voted for the new approach, but, like results might vary, they did not think that was going to be the result. That is what they said yesterday in big numbers. I guess at least one of the members, as I understood it, the Member for St. John's Centre, when questioned, said that he was going to be a champion for them and try to get the government to change its mind. I give him credit for saying that because he did say during the election that he was on their side and he said it again yesterday. We know there is at least one voice inside that caucus that believes that the pensioners deserve what they are getting and they hope that this rollback that is being talked about will not occur.

Mr. Speaker, just yesterday we had the auto insurance issue released by the government after their study. During the election again, following the news this morning, everybody in the Province was reminded by the CBC Radio reporter that there was a commitment to a cap and there was a commitment that the discrimination based on gender and age would disappear, and all of a sudden we are the only province in Canada now without the cap. Instead of a cap we have a deductible, a new concept that the minister, when asked to explain this morning: Where did that come from? - because nobody heard tell of that before, that was not discussed, that was not in the Blue Book - she said: a few of us sat around and had a chat and came up with idea. I think that is the exact quote from the radio this morning. The insurance representatives on just after said: We never heard tell of it before. The first we heard of it was yesterday as well - a brand new concept, right out of the blue.

The early analysis, even just a day later, not even twenty-four hours later, is that it will do nothing with the rates because all that will happen is, whatever the deductible is, the history will be the claims will go up by that much, it will actually be higher, the cost will increase after a year of a freeze, and this initiative is going to be a huge colossal failure.

What it will show, and I will predict this today, Mr. Speaker, is that the legal community involved in that will be very happy, and they might be reporting profits if they did publicly like the insurance companies just did, next year this time, because their work is going to get bigger and better. The insurance companies themselves will probably have another pretty good year, and the consumers are going to pay through the nose. They are not going to get the kind of reductions in the rates that were talked about at all. On those issues, we will have lots of time, because I am sure - I understand there is going to be legislation brought in with respect to that as well. We have not seen it yet, but we do look forward to the debate.

A couple of other things, Mr. Speaker: There were issues that were not mentioned specifically today in the Throne Speech, but were mentioned very specifically in the Blue Book which I understand now is being described as the blueprint. It is the same document now with the word book changed to print. The blueprint talked about more doctors and nurses in rural areas, hard to serve areas, more diagnostic equipment, reducing wait times to standards that seem to be appropriate by doctors. I guarantee you, and we heard today, we are going to find out because times have changed and population shifts have occurred, and we are going to find out which services are sustainable, and we are going to have a new modern system that meets the needs of today.

I tell you, the Member for St. George's-Stephenville East, and the Member for Port au Port have already found out which ones are sustainable in Stephenville; that is, the ones that are in Corner Brook. The services in Corner Brook are sustainable because the ones in Stephenville are not. That is what they have found out already, and we are going to get that confirmed, I am sure, when we get to the Budget, so that is the kind of thing we can look forward to. We see it as our role and our job, to make sure we are a voice for these issues because we believe there is another approach that can be taken and we look forward to doing it.

There were also statements about - there was not much said today about education, not a lot said about education. There is going to be a study on the post-secondary side. There is going to be a freeze for a year at the university again. Not much else said about it, but there were very specific statements in the Blue Book, which became the blueprint before, that were not restated today, like reinvesting the education savings back in the system. We will see if that happens in the Budget. That was clearly in the Blue Book, the Blue Book, which is the blueprint. We did not hear it today, and we will find out whether or not we hear it in the Budget some time in April, when it finally occurs. More services for special needs students and so on, we will find out if those things actually happen.

With respect to our own dealings in the House of Assembly, I am pleased to hear of a code of conduct for members. We are all expected to be hon. members in this particular Legislature. We spend the people's money and we are expected to be accountable for it, and we should lead by example. I would suggest that in the next few days - I can also point out to the government and to the Premier, Mr. Speaker, as the leader of the government, that a code of conduct for his own ministers might be a good place to start, because there has been some questionable conduct that we have raised publicly, and we intend to raise again in the next little while as we move along.

Again, I do not want to be negative today; I do not want to be long-winded. I point this out, Mr. Speaker: The people of the Province have given us a very important role in this particular government, in this Legislature, to hold the government accountable, to look out for the interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as an opposing party. We will look at the issues as they come forward, but let me say this on behalf of all the members of our caucus, in the Official Opposition.

On the issues that were raised today, with respect to growing our economy, getting a greater share, a better fiscal relationship on the federal-provincial side, securing more benefits from Ottawa, greater control over the fishery, I can tell you today without equivocation, this group that I lead will stand four-square with the Premier and the new government without any hesitation, without any reservation. We are for that kind of progress. We are for those kinds of initiatives, and anything that we can do to add to the voice and to be helpful, you only need ask. I can tell you this for a fact, that in Newfoundland and Labrador today, the people, as I see it, want this new government to succeed. We want this new government to succeed. It might not sound like it everyday because of our role, but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador need this new government to succeed. Any time we see initiatives that is headed in that direction - and I know the Premier, himself, and his government are committed to not resting until it is done. I believe there was a quote very similar to that today. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of this caucus, that we will fully support the Premier and his government, and I am sure we will get the same support from the rest of the members of this Legislature on those particular initiatives, because we do owe it to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, as forty-eight MHAs in here - forty-seven with you as the Speaker - to do our darndest to make sure that Newfoundland and Labrador is a better place, tomorrow, the next day, and the day after, if we can possibly do it at all.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is certainly a real pleasure to speak on this Opening Day of the Forty-Fifth Assembly. I have had the privilege of sitting in this House of Assembly for thirteen years. I am now in my fourteenth year; five General Assemblies. This is the first time that I have seen a change of government. So this is a pretty special day for this House and for the Province to see a changeover in government and a new regime in charge, who have created great expectations amongst the people of Newfoundland and Labrador; expectations and responsibly that they now bear.

I want to say, first of all, that this is an opportunity, not to be terribly partisan on Opening Day, although I will have a few points to make, as do the Leader of the Opposition. First of all, let me congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your election as Speaker of this House, the first-elected Speaker of the House. It is a tribute to the high regard in which you are held by hon. members on all sides of the House, that no one dared run against you. Obviously, your reputation and people's understanding of your fairness and knowledge of the rules, and willingness to be fair and evenhanded, regardless of the fact that you are elected under the banner of one particular party, bodes well for the future, and I congratulate you on your election.

Of course, for some reason, I would like to recognize that the Lieutenant-Governor is a great reader. He is able to read and present the Speech from the Throne in a very dignified manner, and certainly that tradition should be followed here. The new Lieutenant-Governor has represented the Crown very well today. As the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde has said: has distinguished himself in the Office of the Lieutenant-Governor since he has been there.

I do, also, want to commend the mover and seconder of the motion to draft an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde and the Member for Lake Melville. It is nice to see that the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde is anxious and eager to speak in the House of Assembly the first opportunity that she gets. Obviously, for an introductory speech, a first speech by both members in this House of Assembly, they both have to be commended on their presentation today and the points that they addressed.

I will say to the hon. Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde though, that this notion of the left and right road being all one way or all the other is not something that I would recommend that she continue to use. Perhaps during the course of debates in the House she will learn some things that the left, or those who are considered to be on the left, have brought to this country and this Province by way of equality seeking, by way of social programs, by way of medicare, by way of better working conditions and safety, and all of the things that I am sure she, and many other people in this Province, recognize as near and dear to the hearts. So, that is just a little gentle chiding on opening day for the new member, and I want to congratulate her on her election.

As a young person - one of the biggest challenges, I think, for all of us as politicians, is to understand and recognize that many young people do not even exercise their franchise and vote. I think that is something that we, all of us here, ought to think long and hard about and wonder what it is we need to do to change the attitude towards our democratic institutions to ensure that there is an opportunity to participate so that young people do not feel the kind of alienation that the Speech from the Throne refers to in talking about our democratic institutions.

I will say that when the Speech from the Throne talks about democratic reform and a more significant role for the House of Assembly, I do not see the substance there. It is great to have in a code of conduct - and we all should behave properly and be accountable, et cetera, but I think we need to hear more about what this government is prepared to do to increase the significance of the role of the Members of the House of Assembly; perhaps by having committees of this House have a more significant role to play, by giving the public greater access to these committees by having hearings and dealing with substantive issues, and giving people, the public, more direct access to the process. That is what alienates people, I think, that they do not feel they have access to the process of democracy. We should be thinking about alternatives, such as a proportional representation and other means of involving people in the activities of the House of Assembly, and of politics in general. So these are some of the things that I think we will be hearing more about in the weeks and months to come.

First of all, I want to say, too, congratulations to the government and to the Premier on the election. Obviously, it is six months later and great expectations have been created. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, there may be some early disappointments, but we do wish - and I wish as a personal friend of the Premier - him every success in his endeavours to increase the revenues of the government, to invigorate the Province's economy with job creation and economic development. The Premier brings a considerable energy and ability to his role. I want to wish him every success in doing those things that he has set out to do by way of increasing economic development, negotiating better arrangements with Ottawa, and other areas that his government has set very high standards and ambitions for itself.

Many people know, of course, that the Premier and I have been business partners and law partners for many years. Some people wonder: Well, how can you fellows be both in the House of Assembly? You are going to be a critic, you are going to criticize him. I have no difficulty with this role. The Premier and I, I think we have mutual respect for each other. I just complimented him on his energy and ability in the area that he is bringing to government. We both worked on many projects together over the years in the legal profession, but we are different. We are in different political parties for a reason, because if we did see eye to eye politically we would be in the same party and he would be over here with me.

AN HON. MEMBER: He would be the Leader.

MR. HARRIS: He might even be the Leader, or I would be over there with him.

I do not know what he said the other night - I heard he was on TV the other night. Someone told me that Rick Mercer asked him the same question about: How does he feel about his former law partner being on the other side of the House? I understand he said some nice things about me, so I thank him. I am still waiting for the transcript, but I thank him in advance for that.

We do have a different point of view. I do not have any difficulty being a critic in this House and in public, of the Premier's policies of what he intends to do that we do not agree with. I have never, in the fourteen years that I have been in this House, engaged in personal attacks or attacks on a person. So I have no difficulty playing the role that I have been elected to play and that I am committed to playing as Leader of the New Democratic Party.

Just as the Official Opposition has said - and we say - where the government is doing things that are positive and we want to encourage, we will be there to acknowledge that and to support it. For example, the decision made the other day by the Premier and his government with respect to the choice of a route - for the road through Southern Labrador. The Premier sent a very strong signal, I believe, to people in this Province, that this government is going to examine carefully the environmental impact of its activities and that the so-called conservation route was chosen over the perhaps slightly cheaper route that was on the cards for the road through Southern Labrador, and we hope that is a sign of positive things.

I want to say I am very pleased to see that this government, in its Speech from the Throne, has highlighted the concerns about poverty in this Province, and the rate of poverty that we have. I do not know if we have seen that in the Speech from the Throne before. I think that it does send a strong signal, but we will be looking, as a New Democratic Party, to what we regard as being required as an extremely aggressive approach in dealing with these problems that cause such terrible hardships to people in this Province and lead to less opportunity to enjoy life and to see that your children are able to obtain the benefits of living in this wonderful country and wonderful Province that we do live in.

We want to see some specifics. We have not seen that today. We would like to see some targets, some goals. The goal of being the lowest poverty rate in the country is very laudable. If I asked anybody what their time table for that was, I am sure it would be very, very long range. In the short range there are very specific things that I think we can do which will help to alleviate poverty in this Province. Increasing the minimum wage to $8 an hour, for example, is something that we have championed and we think would work very quickly to eliminate and increase the ability of people to enjoy life and to contribute to their families well-being.

Again, the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde talked about the wages of women. Unfortunately, in this Province, 50 per cent of women in this Province earn less than $12,400 a year. In fact, 31 per cent of women employed full time, year-round, make less than $15,000. The minimum wage, unfortunately, will not deliver a poverty level wage in this Province. That is something we would like to see changed, and changed dramatically over the next little while.

In the area of education; one of the great opportunities, one of the great equalizers in society is a good quality education for young people. In the K to12 system, we commend their interest in ensuring that we have high standards but we also want to see and ensure that we obtain and get the benefits of that education reform that we went through in the last number of years. That was excruciating for some people, who gave up what they felt was an important right and an important part of their tradition. They gave it up in many cases because they believed that this was going to deliver a better education; that neighbourhood schools would be able to be preserved. We have some debates on that right now in the City of St. John's. That community schools were going to be able to be preserved in rural Newfoundland, and that is something we intend to talk about vigoroursly here.

Post-Secondary education; extremely important. Extremely important because today post-secondary education is as necessary as high school education was thirty or forty years ago and ought to be accessible and available without a burden of significance. The significant debt that young people feel and end up leaving the Province because they feel they are forced to do that. We want to see a commitment. It was talked about, the public system, in the Speech from the Throne. We want to see a commitment to renew and strengthen, increase and enhance the public educational system in the Province, a rebuilding of that.

In the last ten years the budget for the College of the North Atlantic, for example, has gone down from $87 million to $62 million. A decrease in excess of 28 per cent of more than $25 million. We want to see that improved, and the Minister of Education will be sure to hear from us in this House of Assembly on that issue.

There are many, many issues, of course, that have been dealt with in the Speech from the Throne and it is an opportunity to bring forth strong statements in a general way. We support, obviously every person in this Province supports, and this House supports the notion of us getting a better deal from Ottawa, a better stake in our offshore resources. The transfer of the federal government interests to Newfoundland and Labrador in Hibernia, for example, is part of that. We also have to look at the whole issue of how we are extracting benefits from our offshore. You know, we talk about Newfoundland and Labrador being the principal beneficiary of offshore resources as if it was a competition between the federal government and the Province, and it is, because the federal government, as the Speech points and as we pointed out on many occasions, receives up to ten times what this Province receives fiscally from projects such as White Rose, Hibernia and the Terra Nova project, and Voisey's Bay, for that matter, and we have to see some changes in that.

The principal beneficiary now, Mr. Speaker, of the offshore is the oil companies. I will not go into a lot of statistics, there would be a lot of room for debate here, but I will tell you that in the first quarter of 2003, a year ago, the Terra Nova project, for example, produced over 14 million barrels of oil worth $671 million. Of that $671 million, the return to the oil companies, after production costs and royalties, was $618 million. The return to Newfoundland and Labrador in the form of royalties was $6.5 million. Of that $6.5 million, of course, there was the equalization clawback so that we received less than $4 million for our share in royalties of the $671 million of oil. That was when the production costs at Terra Nova were $3.35 a barrel. They are now down to around two dollars. We really need to look at what it is that we are getting as opposed to what the oil companies are getting in term of royalties. That is something that has to be addressed, too, because we, as owners of the resource, should indeed be the principal beneficiaries of that resource.

These are some of the many issues that we will be debating in this House. I just want to assure the government that we will support the things that we believe are good for the Province, and we will challenge them on issues that we believe they are going down the wrong road, or disappointing people, as I believe they did, for example, in the insurance initiatives that were announced yesterday. You can count on us to continue to champion the cause of a public auto insurance scheme for Newfoundland and Labrador because we believe that is the one that can deal the best insurance program at the lowest cost without reducing people's rights. You can count on us to continue to support the development of Newfoundland and Labrador Public Energy Corporation, which includes Newfoundland Hydro and Newfoundland Power. The government's energy program is similar to ours in many ways, but we would want to see it a complete program with Newfoundland power as part of that program.

We will, of course, support increases in the minimum wage. We want to see the pay equity for women in both the public and private sector in this Province, and we also want to put this government on notice that we will vigorously defend the right, not only of current public employees but also past public employees who are pensioners, to ensure that they do not bear the burden of the fact that governments of the past have not perhaps taken all of the steps that should have been taken to put in place a pension plan. In fact, for the first twenty-five years almost no steps were taken to ensure that the pension plan that was promised in legislation to employees was going to be there when it was needed. Some steps have been taken with the last government; further steps need to be taken. As I said to the pensioners yesterday, the money that is unfunded liability, the question is, where is the money? The money is in the roads, it is in the bridges, it is in the water and sewer systems, it is in the schools, it is in the public facilities, the hospitals that were paid for out of that money, and all of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador use those services. All of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have benefitted from the expenditures that were made, and all of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have to bear the responsibilities to ensure that what is owed to public servants and former public servants, as pensioners, that they are entitled to, that they should receive. We will be here to defend that, Mr. Speaker, along with all of the other issues that we have brought forward.

It is disappointing to hear some of the things that were said today, and I am not going to get too partisan because I tried to be as positive as I could, but I have to say that when I hear not only the Speech from the Throne, but the Member for Labrador say, for example, that with respect to the Labrador Métis people, that they will work to look at the implications, if any, of the Powley decision with respect to the Métis Nation in Labrador, that coming from a government who, when they sought government, promised and recognized and said, in writing, that they had studied this decision, that they were prepared to recognize that it applied to the Labrador Métis nation, to hear these words today is a great disappointment, and I am not surprised that it is with great shock that the Labrador Métis nation heard these words today, and heard them before from this government backtracking on what it promised when they sought election.

There are going to be very difficult moments in this House when we are called upon to do our duty in this democracy to challenge this government, to challenge ministers, to challenge the Premier on issues that we believe are important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but we will do it in the spirit of democracy. We will do it within the traditions of this House, and we will do it as vigorously as we can, knowing that everybody who came here to this House, and everybody who was elected, all forty-eight of us, are coming here doing what we think is right for the people of this Province. We will have different views but we will all present them as strongly as we can and the public will decide, based on the arguments that are made, who they wish to support on a particular issue.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I do wish the government - the government has achieved a mandate from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They deserve an opportunity to implement their program. They will do their job, we will do ours, and I hope that the end result will be in the good tradition of democracy that we have developed strongly here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Fellow Members of the House of Assembly and fellow government members, I would like to rise this afternoon to thank His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor for this passionate and his effective delivery of the government Throne Speech today. Indeed, I want to thank Their Honours for bringing Government House to the people of our Province.

I also want to extend my personal thanks to the mover and the seconder of the motion for the Address in Reply. I am very proud to have both these members, and indeed all government members, as part of our team to take Newfoundland and Labrador forward.

Thank you all.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I also want to thank the Opposition Leader and the Leader of the New Democratic Party for their remarks. In particular, I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition for not being negative today. I would not want to see him on a bad day, but thank you very much.


PREMIER WILLIAMS: I feel I must remind the Leader of the Opposition that it is not the new approach that is the problem. It is the old approach that, in fact, created the problem.


PREMIER WILLIAMS: I also want to thank my former colleague, the Leader of the New Democratic Party, for his very kind and positive remarks. I am encouraged by the fact that he his wearing a blue shirt and may want to come over here . There is comfort in numbers, Jack, so any time you are more than welcome to come across.

I would also like to extend a warm welcome to our invited guests. There are some familiar faces which I do not get to see as often as I did in a previous life. Welcome to the Chief Justices who were with us before, and fellow Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Court of Appeal and the Provincial Court, and to our esteemed heads of Church and State. Welcome also to the leaders of our Armed Forces and our police forces, and special recognition to those women and men of our Armed Forces who serve around the world to promote peace and democracy, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Mr. Speaker, we also welcome our labour leaders, our business leaders and our municipal leaders. Also, a warm welcome to other distinguished guests, including former Lieutenant-Governors, members of this hon. Legislature, and former Premiers. A warm welcome to my family, who have also paid a sacrifice for public life, to members of the media and, most importantly, to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who are with us in this Chamber today or viewing us through the televised proceedings.

Indeed, there is no more important institution in Newfoundland and Labrador than the people's House of Assembly. We operate under a parliamentary system which is adversarial in nature, founded on the conviction that governments operate best when they are under constant scrutiny and must defend what they do.

We look forward to vigorous debate from the two parties opposite throughout the term ahead. We also look forward to the contributions of our own members and, indeed, the general public. The better the input, the better our policies will be.

The course of the term ahead will be determined, not by what advances me or our party, but what is in the best interest of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I have said many times that the overwhelming reason I sought elected office was to help foster the kind of strong economic growth in Newfoundland and Labrador that brings real jobs to our communities.

We want new investment, new business expansion, new kinds of industries, and new revenues that can pay for high quality social programs and infrastructure. I am sick and tired, as are indeed all hon. members, of seeing so much of Newfoundland and Labrador's massive potential wealth moving outside the Province, along with so many of our young people. I am not willing to sit back and accept this situation any longer, so my colleagues and I have set out to apply a new approach to governance that will lead progressively towards self-reliance. On the twenty-first of October the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador affirmed this new approach. People voted, not for miracles, but for a meaningful way of addressing the challenges that confront us.

This year's Throne Speech, Mr. Speaker, represents our government's first efforts, under challenging fiscal circumstances, to move forward on our agenda. The Throne Speech outlines three priorities that will guide our government's decisions for Newfoundland and Labrador over the coming year:

Firstly, to get our economy growing in a way that generates more jobs, more investment, diversification and revenue here in our own communities;

Secondly, to use those revenues to finance high quality social programs; and

Thirdly, to improve federal-provincial relations in concrete ways that bring real benefits to the people, economy and treasury of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is our government's new approach to governance and self-reliance in our Province.

We have talked at length about our economic agenda. So let me focus on one concrete social policy priority that is right at the top of our agenda for our time in government. That is to turn Newfoundland and Labrador from the Province with the highest rate of child poverty into the Province with the lowest rate of child poverty.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: And I know, Mr. Speaker, that is something that is very, very dear to your heart. I have heard you speak eloquently on that issue in this Chamber. This is a very ambitious goal. However, we, as a government, must strive for nothing less than the best for our children and our grandchildren.

In an effort to begin addressing the consequences of poverty for children, for their families, and for many seniors, we will announce concrete measures in this year's budget to index both the National Child Benefit and the Low Income Seniors' Benefit. This represents new money in the hands of some of our most vulnerable and impoverished citizens. Hand-in-hand with these initiatives we will implement tax cuts for low income earners.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Obviously, Mr. Speaker, this is not an overnight solution to the scourge of poverty but it is an important step in the right direction. Our government is also committed to recognizing the special and unique issues related to the women and the young girls in our Province. We must address issues that marginalize women and more effectively deal with the special circumstances and issues which face women everyday; including violence, child care, housing, wage disparity and discrimination, among others.

At the root of poverty is the decline in opportunities, particularly in our rural areas. Our government understands that there is an intimate, complex relation between economic policy and social policy. Just as economic decline has brought with it a host of social policy challenges, so too economic resurgence will bring a host of social policy opportunities to generate new revenues for better programs. As we invest in social programs we are creating jobs, promoting the conditions for investment, and benefitting our economy in a host of other ways.

While we advance the argument for greater fairness nationally in correcting regional economic disparity, we will also work for greater fairness provincially, Mr. Speaker, in addressing the economic inequity that underlies the overpass syndrome.

Many of our greatest development opportunities are in rural centres, or centres quite distant from the capital city. We have only scratched the surface of our potential in the fishery, aquaculture and agrifoods, for example. Then, look at the opportunities associated with research and development regarding sustainable resource management. I am proud of the community-driven efforts of several partners who are aiming to establish in Corner Brook a Centre for Excellence in Environmental Research, Development, Science and Technology.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: This is the kind of investment, Mr. Speaker, that reaps dividends far greater than the initial layout. It is the kind of investment that my government is proud to support.

Look at the opportunities in relatively new sectors such as energy, information technology, engineering, marine science and environmental technologies. There are ways that have not even been imagined yet to bring opportunities for new growth to rural communities throughout the Province, particularly now that the information superhighway is tackling many of the distance barriers that separate us. Broadband will be utilized wherever possible to create jobs and employment in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let us just look at the opportunities in Labrador. By moving ahead with Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway we are investing and opening doors to further investment. For example, mineral exploration, ecotourism development, forestry, archeological initiatives and hydro power developments, just to name some of those opportunities.

A new strategic plan will be created for 5 Wing Goose Bay to secure its future in a modern military world.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: We are especially delighted to be making progress with Aboriginal Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We are eager to work with Aboriginal leaders, the federal government and others to reach agreements that enable all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to realize their dreams and their goals in our Province.

We are also committed to drawing upon the ideas and experience of our business and labour communities and leaders. We will dare to try new and innovative things and take calculated risks to achieve great results.

One reason that we have to be so imaginative and aggressive in fostering economic growth is that the Province can only continue to provide adequate social programs under current fiscal circumstances if we generate new sources of revenue.

Federal changes to transfer programs over the past decade have left our Province with billions less than we should have been receiving and we are expecting to receive for health care, post-secondary education and social services. The shift from needs-based funding to per-capital funding has hurt us more because it does not account for the added expenses associated with a dispersed and an aging and a diminishing populace.

We will work with the revenues at our disposal to ensure the integrity of our health, our education and our social services systems. We will find ways to spend smarter, particularly in finding solutions, by listening to the front-line workers who understand the demands that are placed on the system, but we will also focus on growing those revenues so we can afford to do more of the things that indeed make a difference.

One of the things that we want to do this year to make a difference is to develop a mental health strategy to ensure that proper services are available to those who need them. We are also moving ahead to establish a Division of Aging and Seniors in our health department, and a Ministerial Advisory Council for Aging and Seniors to ensure that seniors' concerns are heard and addressed effectively.

We will also create four new RCMP positions in Labrador and train seventy-five new RNC officers over the next three years. These initiatives, Mr. Speaker, make a real difference in people's lives, particularly in the lives of children throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: The government's relationship with its federal counterparts in recent years has been confrontational and disruptive. Fostering our relationships with Ottawa and our fellow provinces is a key priority for our government, particularly as we understand how much hinges on decisions that involve Ottawa or other provinces. These relationships are key to addressing challenges at the federal-provincial level, including fiscal transfers for health, education, social services, equalization, offshore revenues, fisheries management, sustainable development, transportation infrastructure, regional economic development and so on. It does not do our Province any good to be out of the loop or weak in the face of these issues. So my government will move ahead and establish, in Ottawa, an office of federal-provincial relations where we can focus on these issues right there in the nation's capital where so many of those decisions are made.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, we will continue to push the federal government for a more fair and equitable deal for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, specifically on the Atlantic Accord and our offshore revenues. We cannot, and we will not, accept anything less than 100 per cent of those revenues. I will continue, myself, to take the lead in this relationship as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are not looking to their government for miracles. They are looking for strong leadership that listens, gets all the right information, makes strong decisions and moves ahead progressively towards concrete goals. They are looking for a government that will work on their Province's behalf, creatively, constructively and compassionately. This is a difficult year for all of us, fiscally speaking. We are going to work like never before over the coming year and term to identify opportunities for investment, expansion, job creation, and revenue growth. Those returns we will use to enhance our health system, our education system, our social programs and the infrastructure that we need to attract further investment. It is a shift in thinking, away from managing decline, towards managing and fostering economic growth.

While we implement our agenda for economic growth, job creation and a better future, we simply cannot afford to ignore the very serious fiscal situation in this Province. We have inherited the largest deficit in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador and now we must deal with it, and my government will deal with it, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: This will take time. It will require cooperation and partnership among government, business, unions, stakeholders, and every person in our Province. However, this government will lead us through the fiscal challenges in a planned and strategic manner with little impact as possible to vital social programs and services.

Mr. Speaker, we ask for your patience, and with your patience and cooperation we will deliver results that will protect the future of our great Province. I stand humbly before the people of Newfoundland and Labrador today, very thankful of the strong mandate that you have given our government, and I assure you that we are dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly to turning things around throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. With your cooperation and input I am sure that we can reap successes and make advances that those before us have only dreamed of. My colleagues and I will do our best because Newfoundlanders and Labradorians demand it and they deserve it, and they should accept nothing less.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that a Select Committee be struck to draft an Address of Thanks to be presented to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne with which he is pleased to open the present session of the House of Assembly.

The members of the Select Committee will be the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde as the mover, the Member for Lake Melville as the seconder, and the Member for Port de Grave.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded?

I declare the motion carried.

Notices of Motion

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I giver notice that I will on tomorrow move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole on Supply to Consider Certain Resolutions for the Granting of Interim Supply to Her Majesty. ( Bill 2)

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

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

Before moving adjournment I want to move notice that the House do not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. nor at 10:00 p.m. on Monday.

I move for adjournment of today's sitting.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Monday, at 1:30 p.m.