DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS
Speaker: Honourable Murray Scott
Published by Order of the Legislature by Hansard Reporting Services and printed by the Queen's Printer.
Available on INTERNET at http://nslegislature.ca/legislative-business/hansard-debates/
Annual subscriptions available from the Office of the Speaker.
FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2003
|TABLE OF CONTENTS||PAGE|
|TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:|
|Health - Cancer Care Newsletter Report to the Community,|
|Hon. J. Purves||1929|
|INTRODUCTION OF BILLS:|
|No. 44, Chipman Corner Cemetery Company Act, Mr. M. Parent||1930|
|PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:|
|No. 36, Financial Measures (2003) Act||1930|
|Hon. R. Russell||1930|
|Previous Question Put||1930|
|Ms. Maureen MacDonald||1930|
|Mr. M. Samson||1937|
|Mr. Robert Chisholm||1954|
|Mr. R. MacKinnon||1967|
|Mr. J. Pye||1981|
|Dr. J. Smith||1995|
|ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Mon., May 5th at 2:00 p.m.||1999|
|NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULES 32(3):|
|Res. 1022,Graves, Joseph: Death of - Tribute, Mr. F. Chipman||2000|
|Res. 1023, Flinn, John-Patrick - Educ.: Commitment - Commend,|
|Hon. G. Balser||2000|
|Res. 1024, Sports: Amherst Renegades Ladies Team - Champs Congrats.,|
|Res. 1025, Wood, Amanda: UNB Dean's List - Congrats., The Speaker||2001|
|Res. 1026, Benjamin, Hollie: Springhill FD 25-Yr. Service Bar -|
|Congrats., The Speaker||2002|
|Res. 1027, Smith, Diane - Vol. Work: Honour - Congrats., The Speaker||2002|
|Res. 1028, Stevens, Anne: UNB Dean's List - Congrats., The Speaker||2003|
|Res. 1029, Stevens, Cody: Karate Medal - Congrats., The Speaker||2003|
|Res. 1030, Terris, Sara/Girls @ The Junction Prog. - Congrats.,|
|Res. 1031, Dunfield, Gary/Steeves, Andrew: Gaspereau Press -|
|Congrats., Mr. M. Parent||2004|
|Res. 1032, Agric. & Fish. - Inv. Co. Fishermen: Appeal - Support,|
|Hon. Rodney MacDonald||2005|
|Res. 1033, MacIsaac, Paul: Education Wk. Award - Congrats.,|
|Hon. Rodney MacDonald||2005|
HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2003
Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Hon. Murray Scott
Mr. Brooke Taylor, Mr. Kevin Deveaux, Mr. David Wilson
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We will begin the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.
HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the Cancer Care Newsletter Report to the Community for the year ended April 2003.
MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 44 - Entitled an Act to Amend Chapter 153 of the Acts of 1919. An Act to Incorporate the old Presbyterian Church Cemetery Company of Chipman Corner in Cornwallis, Kings County. (Mr. Mark Parent)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
ORDERS OF THE DAY
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would please call Bill No. 36, the Financial Measures (2003) Act.
Bill No. 36 - Financial Measures (2003) Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume debate on the main motion on Bill No. 36. With those few remarks, I will move that the previous question be now put, and resume my seat.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I rise in my place to speak on the Financial Measures (2003) Bill which, as we all know, is a companion piece of legislation to the government's budget. This particular bill does a number of things and there is at least one thing in this bill that I can support and agree with, and that is the increase in tobacco tax that the government announced back in January, I believe. When it took effect shortly after they announced it, that particular increase in tobacco tax was, I believe, the fifth increase in tax on tobacco products in the mandate of this government.
We all know that increasing the cost of tobacco has an impact on youths smoking. There's a fair amount of research that demonstrates that the price of tobacco products can be a deterrent to young people taking up the habit, so anything that can contribute to deterring youth is to be supported. However, at the same time, it's worth pointing out that this government has realized a fairly significant increase in revenue into the general accounts, as a result of the five increases in tobacco tax in this government's mandate.
I have been somewhat disappointed that the government hasn't seen fit to allocate a greater percentage of that revenue for tobacco cessation programs for people who are already addicted to this highly toxic substance. I take calls and e-mails from people not only in my constituency but in other constituencies as well and I've had contact from a number of people, particularly people who are seniors. This government likes to talk about how its focus is on deterring youth from taking up smoking and while that's a highly commendable objective, I think it's important to have public policy that is in the interest of all Nova Scotians, not just particular segments of our population.
I have to say that I feel a great deal of empathy for people who have been addicted to tobacco for a very long period of time. Sometimes seniors have been smoking, perhaps, for 30 or 40 years and they would really like to quit but have a very difficult time because of the extent of the tobacco addiction. The products that are out there, various pharmaceutical-type products, cost a fair amount for some people who may be living on fixed incomes, with a lot of other demands on those incomes and a lot of pressures. I've had seniors who have contacted me and asked me why this government doesn't allocate more of the revenue from tobacco taxation to smoking cessation, to provide seniors, for example, with an opportunity to participate in a 12-step type smoking cessation program, in acquiring the pharmaceutical aids that would assist them in quitting smoking. They say something could be established that would allow people a one time only opportunity to quit smoking.
I have a very good friend, a senior who is in my constituency, who will be 86 years of age in June, who is currently in hospital. She is currently suffering some illnesses and side effects from having been a smoker for many years. I know, through my visits to see her, that she has really attempted on her own to quit smoking, and it has been a very hard struggle for her. I think that if we had a greater allocation of the tobacco revenue, and we're talking about literally millions of dollars of additional revenue that this government has brought in but has failed to allocate a sufficient amount for the tobacco strategy.
We will continue to push this government to do the right thing with respect to the tobacco strategy and the allocation of revenues for no-smoking programs. Ironically, while you have this provision in the Financial Measures (2003) Bill to increase tobacco tax, this bill also has the provision that will exempt the casino from the municipal bylaws of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and of the Halifax Regional Municipality. In this caucus, we reject, entirely, that amendment in the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. We reject it entirely
for a variety of reasons, Mr. Speaker, which we have had an opportunity to discuss in the past week but are worth putting on the record again.
When this government brought in its Smoke-free Places Act last Spring, the casino was granted an exemption from the Smoke-free Places Act. We disagreed with the position that the government had taken at that time and the Minister of Health at that time, the former Minister of Health today, danced around any discussion of the casino contract. Perhaps he hadn't seen the contract and really didn't know. At any rate, he would not engage in a discussion about the contract at that time. Certainly the people coming before the Law Amendments Committee all raised questions about the exemption for the casino. Other bar and lounge and restaurant operators saw this exemption in the government's legislation as giving the casino an unfair competitive advantage. They, I think quite rightly felt that this was quite unfair.
At the same time, those groups that are very concerned about the health and safety of people who work in these settings, who are exposed to second-hand smoke and therefore open themselves up to a variety of illnesses and in some cases, extreme forms of illnesses leading to death, came forward and made very strong interventions at the Law Amendments Committee, asking for these provisions in the government's legislation to be re-thought and removed so that we would go to 100 per cent smoke-free public places in the province. The government did not have the courage to do the right thing, either for the health and well-being of workers or for the competitive interests of the industry, and used their majority to push through a piece of legislation that had that significant flaw in it. Even though one member of their own caucus was prepared to introduce an amendment to the bill to improve on it.
The government's bill did give municipalities the right to go further than what the government itself was prepared to do. Having provided that opportunity to municipal units, the HRM municipality and the CBRM municipality took the opportunity to do the right thing and to move in the direction of 100 per cent smoke-free public places and to remove the unfair competitive advantage that this government was giving Casino Nova Scotia, vis-à-vis other operators and owners in the hospitality industry.
Lo and behold, the second this was done, the Minister of Finance got a call from the Casino Nova Scotia operators and rushed to put into his Financial Measures (2003) Bill this exemption for the casino. Ever since that has occurred, the Minister of Finance has been trying to soft-pedal what in reality is an unacceptable and unfair piece of public policy. He knows it and members of the government benches know it, members of the government's backbenches know it, Nova Scotians know this.
We have recently seen a young woman, a very courageous young woman who worked at Casino Nova Scotia, leave her job for reasons of health and safety, apply for EI, refused EI, have the casino operators intervene in her hearing in front of the administrative tribunal that hears these cases and appeals, and yesterday Andrea Skinner's appeal was decided upon in a written decision. The board of referees for the EI process determined that in fact she was justified in leaving her job because of her fear that she was being exposed to second-hand smoke and that it could be hazardous to her health. They determined it was a justified fear and that in fact the evidence is there that exposure to second-hand smoke is hazardous to people's health.
Mr. Speaker, you will probably remember - I think you were in the Chair the day that Heather Crowe came to this Legislature - Ms. Crowe a former Nova Scotian, a woman who has been living in Ontario for a number of years, who currently lives in Ottawa, I believe, and she has worked in the hospitality industry for most of her life. She has been working as a waitress and she has never been a smoker but, sadly, Heather Crowe is terminally ill with lung cancer. The medical expert opinion with respect to her lung cancer is that in fact her lung cancer was caused by exposure to second-hand smoke as a result of working in the hospitality industry.
Mr. Speaker, when Heather came, she met with every Party caucus here in the Legislature, the government caucus, the NDP caucus and the Liberal caucus. She said she wanted to be the last worker to die from second-hand smoke. She really was pleading with us as people with the power to do something about other people in her industry who could end up like herself, a relatively young woman with children, with loved ones who are going to have to watch her die.
Mr. Speaker, many of us I think have had friends and family members who have died from cancers and particularly tobacco-causing cancers and it is a very painful and difficult thing to go through and I know of which I speak. I think that we have a responsibility to protect workers in this province and it's more than disappointing what this government has done with respect to the casino and the workers. I listened to a clip on CBC Radio this morning, the Premier talking about the Andrea Skinner decision yesterday, and I was horrified to hear our Premier, the most senior spokesperson for our province, say that it's a matter of choice that people working at the casino, it's a matter of choice whether or not they're going to be exposed to second-hand smoke, that's their choice.
I thought to myself how many residents of my constituency, Halifax Needham, have I talked to in a five-year period who worked at Casino Nova Scotia. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, I know a fair number of people in my constituency who work at Casino Nova Scotia and this isn't about individual choice, it's about going where the jobs are available to people. It's about having to put bread and butter on your family's table.
I have just been reading a chapter in a book that is in our Legislative Library that examines Westray and what occurred in Westray. That was all about government talking about jobs, talking about people's choice to work in these environments. I think we're seeing the same kind of cold, callous, disregard for the health and welfare and well-being for Nova Scotian workers that was a part of that disgraceful example in the history of this province and disgraceful because the political decisions from people who should have been acting responsibly were downright rotten, and there is no other way to characterize what went on there. In this situation, where this government is allowing workers to continue to be exposed to toxic and chemical substances that can lead to illnesses and even death, this is not a matter that people should be taking lightly. Where our Premier is a medical doctor, I find it incomprehensible that this government can put in this bill such a provision.
Mr. Speaker, this is the health piece of this particular provision. But what about the ongoing implication that treating the casino as a special place in the hospitality industry has. What impact does that have on other small establishments in this province, particularly in the HRM area? I can look in my own constituency at Jenny's Place on Lady Hammond Road or at Gus' Grill at the corner of Agricola and North Streets? These are small, locally-owned places, whose proprietors work very hard to stay afloat, quite often, and they are up against this huge powerful, influential operator and their own government that seems to be more concerned about dancing to the tune of the casino operators than providing a level, competitive playing field for our own home-grown business community. That's not fair and Nova Scotians recognize that that is not fair.
Another thing, Mr. Speaker, that I want to say is that the Minister of Finance, one day in this House, tried to pretend that the Government of Nova Scotia is not the owner of Casino Nova Scotia. But, in fact, that's not the case. The Gaming Corporation is in fact, through legislation, a corporation of this government and this is whom the contract, with the casino operators, is with. That's quite clear in legislation and in fact. So, I would suggest that this government cannot duck its responsibility in this matter.
They cannot duck this responsibility from the perspective of their ownership of Casino Nova Scotia. They cannot duck their responsibility with respect to the health and safety of workers in this province. They cannot duck their responsibility with respect to the fact that they empowered the municipalities in their Smoke-free Places Act to go further. The Premier stood in this House, in closing the debate on the Smoke-free Places Act last Spring and said, if the municipalities wanted to go further, well, fill your boots. He did, he said that. He stood there and he said that the municipalities were free to go further.
So the municipalities went further, and what does this government do? Tilt. We didn't really mean it. We're going to take back what we said. We're going to strip you from that legislative ability to go further, when they were prepared, really, to do what this
government didn't have the courage to do. Mr. Speaker, I think this is an amendment in the Financial Measures (2003) Bill that is unsupportable. It's unsupportable. We look forward to hearing, perhaps, from the members of the general public on what their ideas are about this amendment when we get to the Law Amendments Committee process.
Mr. Speaker, there are other provisions in this bill that are worth talking about and worth debating. I'm sure we will hear a fair amount about the tax cuts and the tax provisions, the so-called cut in taxes.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member for Dartmouth North would like to make an introduction, is that agreeable?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for Halifax Needham for allowing the introduction. Again today, in the east gallery, there are representatives from the RRSS, counsellors. Today, like yesterday, they will be rotating to watch the process of this Legislative Assembly. It is my hope that this Legislative Assembly will give them a warm round of applause. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: We certainly welcome our guests to the gallery today and hope they enjoy the proceedings.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, much has been made of the $155 bottle of rum that is contained in the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about this issue of tax breaks and tax cuts, and paying taxes and income taxes and consumption taxes. I think that it is true that taxation in this country has taken a real toll on families, on individuals in the last few years. I think if there's any tax and that has been a regressive tax, that has taken a huge toll on people in this country, it's the GST or, in Nova Scotia, the HST.
Mr. Speaker, every time you buy a good or a service in this province, you pay tax. That tax is the same rate of tax, whether you're rich or you're poor, and that's what makes it a regressive tax, as you know. The federal Liberal Government once campaigned in a federal election, which they won, saying that they would do something about the GST. Of course, they didn't do a darn thing about it. Canadians continue and Nova Scotians continue to be burdened by this particular tax. In Nova Scotia, we have a variation of the GST, an agreement which has harmonized the provincial sales tax and the federal goods and services
tax in a way that many things come under the HST, like taxes on children's clothing, like taxes on fuel, like taxes on electrical bills, like taxes on prescription drugs.
Mr. Speaker, there are many other kinds of necessities of life that people are paying consumption taxes on. This government could have done something about that in a way that those with the least amount of incomes in our society would have seen a bigger bang for their buck, and they failed to do that. What they've done, first of all, with this $155 tax rebate is, in fact, they have made sure that they will reward people who have the least need in some ways, for $155, than the people who need it the most.
I look at my community, my constituency, and I think about all of the people in my constituency who could use $155, who won't see a cent. Single mothers who haven't been in the labour force because they have young children and they're caring for them or they're in a community college program, and if they've paid no income tax in the last few years they will not see one cent of this $155 - and they could certainly use it.
The National Council of Welfare just reported their annual report for, I believe, the year 2002, and they show in that report that families in poverty in Nova Scotia are actually worse off under the Income Assistance Program in Nova Scotia than they were before this government took office. That reflects the finding of other researchers and it reflects what we know just from our common-sense, everyday understanding and experience; anecdotally, we know things have not improved for people who are the most poor in our community.
There are a number of people in our province who have disabilities, who would be on Canada Pension disability, who will not see any of this money. I was thinking the other day of all of the people in this province I know who have six-figure salaries - the president of Dalhousie University, my former boss, who has a six-figure salary, who lives in a house that's provided for by the university, whose children can go tuition-free to that university as long as he is the president of that university, is going to get $155 from this government. Yet the single mother on income assistance, who wanted to go to that university, has had that right taken away from her by this government, and she will not see one cent of the $155 in tax rebate.
This is the government that we have in the Province of Nova Scotia. This is the government that values dollars over people and is incapable of behaving in a fair way. They can't be fair when it comes to workers at the casino and they're not fair in the way they construct and deliver their tax breaks. They had options, they had different choices, they could have done something differently and they didn't, and they failed miserably in the way they've constructed this tax relief. I know that people could use a break. They could use a better deal. But this is not a better deal. This is not a better plan at all. In addition to the $155, there is an additional change in income tax and a reduction in income tax but, again, this will advantage people at the top end of the income scale and those at the bottom will be left not much better off.
I think that this Financial Measures (2003) Bill has many flaws that are so deeply flawed that it's not really supportable if we are to truly represent all Nova Scotians. If we really want to have the interests of all people represented in our province, we need to find ways in the financial measures of this province to address the things that really do need addressing for everyone. This particular budget, in the way that it has allocated tax relief, leaves an awful lot of people out. An awful lot of people will be left out. There are seniors who have been hit so hard by this government in terms of additional user fees and just this government's lack of action with respect to what the kinds of financial pressures that seniors are on, trying to get automobile insurance, trying to pay for fuel in a very hard winter where we saw fuel costs going up. How does this government respond to those things?
We see no action with respect to auto insurance, they're dragging their feet. We've had to push them and push them and push them, much like we've had to do in the long-term care situation. We've had to come into this Legislature every day and sort of embarrass them into taking some action and still the action they take goes only so far. In the long-term care, seniors in this province are going to have to wait until 2007, the year 2007, to have this government cover the health care costs for seniors.
Imagine. They're prepared to give away $68 million in $155 cheques, many that will go to people for whom $155 is meaningless, but they are not prepared to pick up the $35 million long-term care costs for seniors in nursing homes? That is a scandal, it's an absolute scandal. I'm telling you, Mr. Speaker, I welcome an opportunity to go out and knock on doors in the constituency of Halifax Needham and talk to people about what they think about this.
It can't come too soon because the good people of Halifax Needham are the most fair-minded and reasonable people I know. I can tell you right now they're just sitting there, rubbing their hands, waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate what they think about the four years of this bumbling, stumbling, mean, unfair government.
So, Mr. Speaker, with those few remarks, I will take my place and yield the floor to the member for Richmond.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for Halifax Needham for her comments on Bill No. 36. I did have the opportunity, as you know, to speak on the amendment previous to this. This is my first time to speak specifically on the actual Financial Measures (2003) Bill.
As you've heard from many of the previous speakers before me, quite a significant amount of concern has been raised, not only about the whole budgetary process this government has undertaken but, certainly, also in regard to the Financial Measures (2003)
Bill itself, which is the legislative power giving the government the ability to put in place some of the changes that they've proposed in the budget.
I'd like to take this opportunity to review some of the different items that we have learned as part of this session. I have to tell you, as I've said before, this is my first session as the Finance Critic for the Liberal caucus and what an experience it has been and the information that we have been provided with. So, let's go back.
First, we have a minister who comes in and tells us that he's going to provide a 10 per cent tax cut and he claims that this is part of his blue book promise, they're just living up to that. Then he tells us not only will there be a tax cut starting January 1, 2004, he's also going to give us a tax cheque mailed out some time in June in the amount of $155. So let's look at that particular item first. When you look at the budget of this year, we are told that that tax cheque which, our Leader has certainly termed a tax loan and a rum-bottle cheque, and you ask, why is it a loan? Well, what do we have in this budget? We have a government that tells us we want to give money back to Nova Scotians, but at the same time we want to borrow another $118 million.
So, Mr. Speaker, $68 million is the total price tag for the cheque that is going to be sent out to Nova Scotians and we're still borrowing another $118 million. One has to ask what kind of logic is that when a government is going out and saying I'm going to give you back money, but I'm going to have to go out and borrow in order to do so. Well, that's where this government has hit a fundamental flaw. Our Party has clearly said we support tax cuts. Tax cuts are a good thing and they're something that we should look forward to and that we should strive towards as a province and as a government, but to give a tax cut when you've got to go to the bank and borrow money, that's just illogical is what it is. It just doesn't make sense.
So then we start digging a little bit deeper, as I have said, and the question becomes, why? The Minister of Finance tells us, well, we want to put money in the pockets of Nova Scotians right away, $155, pay no attention to the fact we're borrowing the money, but it is going to stimulate the economy. Is it going to stimulate the economy? Well, we started asking who came up with this idea? Did they have some sort of a financial report or an economic forecast, or a thesis paper, or something that the Minister of Finance relied upon to say if I sent out $155 to put $68 million into the economy I want, it's going to grow the economy of Nova Scotia. When we asked was there any of this? No. Who made the decision to send out this cheque, the Cabinet made the decision. So our wonderful Cabinet Ministers in all of their fiscal wisdom, who have added $0.5 billion to the debt in four years, said here's our solution, we're going to grow the economy by mailing out cheques to Nova Scotians for $155. That's what we can rely upon for the sound financial advice that this government received on this decision.
Now, at the same time, Mr. Speaker, here is the minister who's adding $118 million to the debt while handing out the cheques and saying that he's a prudent fiscal manager. Again, if we're going to be injecting $68 million into the economy and the Minister of Finance has said what a wonderful thing it will do for this province, show us what facts you have based this upon. Show us what reports, what studies that you have which would show this is going to have the intended effect that you have said.
Mr. Speaker, I don't think that's unreasonable to ask, $68 million of taxpayers' money. What sound fiscal advice was this based on? I would submit this was a political decision not a fiscal decision. It was made by Cabinet which is clearly a political body not an independent body. Was it endorsed by any Chamber of Commerce, or financial group, or any other body that said yes, we think it's a great idea? Not one. So what does that tell you when no one comes out and says yes, we think this is fiscally a very wise decision. We think that you giving $68 million, when you're borrowing $118 million is a wonderful idea. Why has no one come forward to say that, an independent source? Because no one agrees, no one at all.
No one at all has come out and said the Minister of Finance's plan is great and is based on sound fiscal advice and sound fiscal planning. I can tell you that that is clearly not the case. This was a political decision and done at a time when the government knew it wanted to go to the polls and it said, well we can't get away with the rum bottle any more, we can't get away with the ladies' stockings or with chocolates, so we're going to send out the old rum bottle, a $155 cheque in this case.
What is really sad is that at least before. Nova Scotians could say it was the Tory Party paying for the bottles but in this case it is Nova Scotians, themselves, who are paying for this. You have to ask yourself, the $155 you receive today, how much is that going to cost over time for the government to pay back, that $68 million being added to our debt? It is almost outside the realm of reality when we are in here talking about these millions of dollars. When we were talking about the pension funds, we were talking about billions of dollars. These are not sums to be taken lightly, yet the government doesn't appear to be concerned at all.
I can tell you what the people from Richmond County and what the people from the rest of the province are saying. They are saying, $68 million. How many roads would that pave? How many nurses would that hire? How many hospital beds would that open? How many teachers would it put in our classrooms. How many additional education programs would it provide to the Strait Regional School Board, who more and more has to rely on distance education, rather than having teachers in the classroom teaching programs? That's what they're saying. They're not saying, I can't wait to get my $155.
What is the other thing we've learned? I can tell you, more and more, when I get the notes and messages coming back from my constituency assistant, who is doing a wonderful job, it's showing the names of people who have been calling to ask if they're going to get that cheque. Do you know what? Out of all the calls that have come to date not one is going to receive that cheque. Yet, are these people undeserving? Have they not contributed to the economy? If you listen to the Minister of Finance you would draw that conclusion. He basically says, if you don't pay income tax you're a drain on the system and you don't contribute to the economy, that is basically the message.
Yet, for example, seniors on fixed incomes who worked all of their lives, they provided for us, they allowed many of us to be where we are at today because of the work that they did, are they a drain on the system? Are they not worthy of receiving some relief under this government's theory? They continue to pay the high costs of home heating fuel, if they're fortunate enough to have a vehicle, they pay the high costs of gas, they pay the high costs of insurance. This is the government that doubled their Pharmacare premiums and their co-pay and who benefits from this? It's the Minister of Finance and it's under these types of schemes that in 1999, the total revenues for the province were forecasted at $4.6 billion, that's a lot of money.
Today, four years later, because of user fees, because of higher taxes under this administration, under this Minister of Finance, his forecast is now $5.6 billion. That is $1 billion more, per year, in revenue, than what was there before this government came into power. So like I said before, we're talking about big numbers here. In four years you got an additional $1 billion to play with. Did the Premier, in 1999, when he gave us his blue book, believe that he would have this much money to play with? I would submit to you he probably didn't, because he told us in 1999, in the blue book, that the $4.6 billion that is here now I can live within my means. Health care doesn't need more money, it needs better management. I can fix health care, he said and then he then went on to say that health care, in fact, needs a cut in administrative fat, there's too much waste going on in the bureaucracy.
So you don't need more money for health, he said he could live within his means and on top of that, he gets an additional $1 billion a year in revenue. Well, under his plan one would have to assume we should be having tremendous surpluses every year - if John Hamm had been able to keep his word. Yet, Mr. Speaker, what does the record show? One billion dollars more in hand and $0.5 billion more in debt - that is what we have as a situation here. How could that happen? How could that happen? The Premier's plan in 1999 was based on $4.6 billion of revenue per year, and it said, Page 1, right there, I believe that my government will "live within its means". It went on to say - and I've repeated it so many times I almost know it by heart, it's too bad the Premier doesn't, but I appear to know more about his blue book than he does, other than what Mr. Batherson sends him in for some briefings periodically - I believe the practise of borrowing is nothing more than mortgaging the future of our grandchildren and children.
Those are his words and that is what is so painful to this Premier, to hear his own words being thrown back at him, and to be held accountable for his own statements. What does he do? Does he stand here and say, well, maybe I was naive, thinking I could live within my means with all the promises I made, maybe that was naive, so I apologize, I meant it at the time but obviously I wasn't able to do it. Has he said that? Not at all, Mr. Speaker. Instead, the Premier continues to want to have us believe that he's a man Nova Scotians should look up to and the Tory Party is so proud of, yet day in, day out we put the words of the Premier back to him, his own quotes, his own statements, and he has to stand there. Rather than just say, look, I was wrong, it didn't work out the way I hoped - no, we don't get that, that would be responsible. So we're not going to get that, instead he's going to give us a political spin.
That's why the other day we heard that pensions are $1.5 billion underfunded, unfunded liability, we find out the government has borrowed $0.5 billion more in the debt, we find out they want to put another $118 million on the debt this year, and we then find out they want to borrow until 2013. When asked, the Premier said all is well, the finances are great. We have everything under control, we have a plan, all is well and everything is perfect. Mr. Speaker, I couldn't help at the time but say, my God, what a wonderful place this imaginary land our Premier lives in, where all is well and everything is fine.
Mr. Speaker, the reality is Nova Scotians realize that things are not well. I would submit to you, two years ago, three years ago, there was little or no talk about the debt of this province. Why? Because the Minister of Finance was hoping - and the House Leader, the whole crew over there was hoping - this debt, no one can see it, it's not like a building you can go visit and say there's the debt of the province, they can't go and say, oh, look, I can see the debt is getting bigger because it's increasing in size and I can touch the debt or it's going to burn my hands. That's not the case and they're hoping, well if we don't talk about it and they can't see it, they will forget about it.
Mr. Speaker, that's like asking Nova Scotians to forget about their own mortgages, forget about their debt, oh, it's not many of us, we probably wish we could forget about it but that would be irresponsible. It would be irresponsible for us as individuals, and there are significant consequences to individuals who forget about their payments, who forget about what they owe, and who are not responsible with their finances. We all know what those are, and yet, because this government is so large and because it's a public institution, it can get away with being fiscally irresponsible - but only up to a certain point, until the bond-rating services starts to lower our rating. You might think, under the Premier's answers he has given in this House, everything is so well, everything is going fine, we must have a wonderful rating here in this province. We must have.
So, again, what have we been able to uncover in this session? Nova Scotia has the second-worst credit rating of any province in this country. I don't hear the Minister of Finance jumping to his feet or reading resolutions to say what a wonderful thing this is. But
again, what are their answers? Are their answers, we are concerned about this, this bothers us? No, no, the answer is aw, it's okay, Dominion Bond again, those are people you can't see, they're away, pay no attention to those guys. Mr. Speaker, when you ask the Minister of Finance why, he grew up in an administration that had that same belief: don't worry about the debt, don't worry about spending too much. At least what he has come out with now, he says, okay, the yearly deficit, that's a bad thing to show that on the books. So, what can we do? Well, let's change the accounting principles so we don't have to show the deficit on the books, we'll just add it right to the debt.
Everyone in this province who has watched the finances of this province, and I believe even the member for Halifax Fairview in the NDP caucus has said it several times himself, if the old accounting rules that were used in 1997 and 1998 were in place, this government's budget would have a significant deficit. That's the reality. They have changed the accounting rules to suit their purposes. What they have hoped, through their spin doctors, is let's just convince Nova Scotians that if you balance the budget, everything is fine. Everything is fine. For those who criticize us for borrowing money and adding to the debt, that's when you start getting the Minister of Finance - and yesterday the Minister of Education, in one of the most ridiculous statements I've heard yet in this House, said that our Leader would not build new schools under his plan. Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you that was a pure sign of desperation, but coming from a member who won by 16 votes, I would expect nothing less than to make the statement, if you're not adding to the debt, you're not building schools.
Now, what kind of logic is that? What kind of a statement is that? Is that something that is supposed to be truthful and accurate to give to the people of Nova Scotia as a statement? Not at all. The purpose of that was not to provide accurate information, it was nothing more than propaganda, to say if the Liberals don't add to the debt, they won't build schools, they won't build hospitals, they won't pave roads. Well, what kind of respect does this government have for the intelligence of Nova Scotians when they come out with statements like that?
Mr. Speaker, I can tell you, Nova Scotians are clearly saying, we have given this government an opportunity. We've given them four years to be able to live up to the promises they've made. In 1999, John Hamm said he could do all of this with $4.6 billion, which was the annual revenue we were getting at the time. So now Nova Scotians are saying, well, we gave them four years, he said he could it with $4.6 billion, to make it even better he now has an additional $1 billion a year, so he must be able to live up to those commitments. What has happened at the end of the day? The Minister of Finance stands up, his colleagues applaud him and what does he do? He adds another $118 million to the debt. Now, up comes another issue. Will it only be $118 million added to the debt? I would submit
to you that with some of the other fact-finding that we have been able to uncover that that number may increase sooner than later.
Mr. Speaker, what we have asked for, and I wrote to the Minister of Finance and I asked, could you tell us what the state of our pensions are? We had seen where Dalhousie University had suffered major losses. We had seen where the Province of New Brunswick, the City of Saint John had suffered significant major losses - in the millions of dollars - we have seen Quebec's plan, Ontario's plan, Public Service plans. I think one of them in Quebec lost over $1 billion. So naturally, being responsible members we said, well, will the Minister of Finance indicate to us where we are at? We know the markets haven't been very good. We know that we probably haven't been sheltered from some of the market downfall that there has been, so just show us, tell us where we are at, give us an idea, put Nova Scotians' minds at rest, let them know that things are okay.
Mr. Speaker, we asked that in February. The Minister of Finance said, I'll have it to you by the end of March. At the end of March I stood in this House and asked where are they? He said, I'll have them mid-April. Okay, mid-April I asked where are they now? He said, the end of April. Well, if I'm not mistaken, today is May 2nd, still no report. When the deputy minister came here before the Public Accounts Committee he said, well,
it now looks like it will be June before we can give this information.
There are different conclusions one can draw from that, Mr. Speaker. One can draw the conclusion that, yes, maybe yes, this is legitimately taking them this long, nothing to be concerned about, don't worry. The other conclusion is, is the minister intentionally holding back this information for fear of what reactions there will be amongst Nova Scotians if they are to see the true numbers? One could say, oh, that's just grandstanding posturing. Is it? During the Public Accounts Committee the deputy minister told us that he had a report. His last report on the state of the pensions was November 30, 2002. At that point, November 30, 2002, our pension plans administered by the Minister of Finance and which our teachers rely upon for their retirement, our public civil servants rely upon for their retirement, as of November 30, 2002, they were underfunded by $1.5 billion.
Mr. Speaker, that's a lot of money. Nova Scotians technically, no matter how the Minister of Finance wants to try to spin it and put a rosy picture on it, are on the hook today for at least $1.5 billion. Then ask yourself, that was in November 2002, where are we today? Has it gotten better or has it gotten worse? I think that's a legitimate question to ask. This is a lot of money. You have thousands of people who rely upon this. Not only that, at the end of the day this is every single Nova Scotian's money in these funds. They have a right to know that this is being properly invested, that this is being properly maintained. Yet rather than wanting to come to this House and say, look, I want to put everyone's mind at ease, here is the latest, most recent information I have on the state of the pension funds and here is why I tell you you should not be concerned. He tells us I need the actuarial report. Does he? The
deputy minister told us at the Public Accounts Committee that they receive - I believe the statement was quarterly - updates on the health of the pension plans.
Now, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I do come from a legal background, not a financial background, but if the last report was in November 2002 and they receive quarterly reports, in my own math that would tell me that by May 1st we should have gotten another report somewhere in there, one, if not two. Yet does the minister stand in his place and say, look, the member for Richmond has raised a significant issue, something I take seriously, I want to put Nova Scotians' minds at rest that, you know, we don't have to worry, things are going well here. Here are the reasons why I've chosen not to put money into the plans to help stabilize them like so many other jurisdictions have. Here is the financial advice I'm relying upon on the decision made by the government just to ride out the market, hoping things get better. He doesn't come with anything.
So what conclusion are you left to draw but to say that there's something they want to hide and guess what's coming up, Mr. Speaker? Well, we know there's an election on the horizon. If this information were to be made available, I would submit to you that the information we got at the Public Accounts Committee was damaging enough to this government. I would submit to you that the numbers are not better. The numbers are probably worse and that's why the government is in no rush to give us those numbers. I will submit to you right now and I will make the prediction that Nova Scotians will not see those numbers as to the state of the pension plans until after the next election. I guarantee you that they will not because if it comes out, we will see that this province, the health of our pension plans is not where we would like them to be, and it will cast doubt as to the Minister of Finance's budget. That is why this information will not be shared. Again, the minister has been given ample opportunity to address this issue and he has chosen not to.
Mr. Speaker, we talked about two of the plans, the Public Service Superannuation Plan and the Teachers' Pension Fund. There are other plans. There is, I believe, the retiring Justices' pension plan, there is a deputy ministers' pension plan, there is the Members' Retiring Allowances and I believe there's at least one more or a few of those plans. As I said before, I don't come from a financial background so a lot of this stuff is new information to me in adjusting to it, but listening to the deputy minister tell us, for example - I believe it was the deputy ministers' pension plan - that plan requires $397 million in order to meet the needs required today if everyone who qualifies for that were to draw. So it's $397 million and we ask, okay, that's what you need, what is the value of the pensions today for that fund?
What was the answer? Zero, no value, and for some of the other pensions it was close to being no value.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I don't want to stand here and raise the alarm, but I can tell you that doesn't seem to be a good situation to me that you need $397 million and the value of that particular plan is zero, something's wrong. So, that is just but one issue that we've been able to uncover here and it continues to be a mystery to Nova Scotians because the
government refuses to provide us with the information that they have. We know they have that information now just by what we've been able to uncover.
I've said it before and I'm going to say it again. When this government came forward with the cheque plan, they didn't say this is a decision that was made by Cabinet. They were asked questions about why they didn't just put in a tax cut for July 1st of this year. Well, the messages that were coming, can you even change the tax midway through the year? Then you were starting to hear them talk about, well, how much time would you have to give the feds? The Minister of Finance says, no, we've never said that, I've never even given that indication. Yet, when our Leader said that he would not support a tax cut on January 1, 2004 and would, in fact, reverse that and leave it as it is, right away the Minister of Finance was the first one off the bat to say, no, no, no. He needs to give Revenue Canada all of this notice and he'll never have time to do that, Danny Graham should go do his homework because we know that you need to give this much time. They seem to have known all along the rules of Revenue Canada.
That's why, when we checked with Revenue Canada, hold on now, that this government's saying that they had to send out a cheque because you guys couldn't change the rate, they said that's not true, we could change the rate July 1, 2003. How much notice did we need? We would have preferred to get notice by April 15th, but if it were a little later, we could have worked with that. Keep in mind, Mr. Speaker, that's April 15th for a July 1st change and there's flexibility with the April 15th date. I believe the budget was tabled April 3rd.
So, at that point, all of a sudden they started changing the message. No, stop talking about Revenue Canada, the Liberals are on to us, we need to change the message again. All of a sudden that's when the Minister of Finance started saying, no, we made the decision to send the cheque. When we kept asking, who, who's we? Is it the Department of Finance, the senior officials who have tremendous experience here in the finances of the province? Are they the ones who suggested this? Not at all. It was Cabinet. The most political body we have here in this province is the one that made this decision. Was it based on sound financial advice on studies or anything? Not at all. It was pure politics.
So, at that point the Minister of Finance stopped talking about Revenue Canada completely and we found out when he was saying that Danny Graham cannot reverse the change, that in fact, there was lots of opportunity to reverse that change before January 1, 2004. So then what's the spin? Well if he reverses the change before January 1st, the change hasn't taken effect, he's going to be raising taxes.
Again, who does he think he's fooling? Do you think any Nova Scotian is going to buy that? The effect doesn't kick in before January 1, 2004 and anyone who keeps the system as it is now is raising taxes? This coming from the same minister who failed to decouple the federal tax bracket when the feds lowered their taxes. In front of the media he had to admit,
yes, by doing so I raised taxes. Under his own logic, he raised taxes. So for a government that said they would not raise taxes, first we know they did by adding 2 cents to gas, that brought them $25 million in one year - it still amazes me. Now the Minister of Finance had to admit, I also by continuing bracket creep, I in fact did raise taxes, yes.
Now, Mr. Speaker, they're coming back and saying, well the Liberals wanted us to put an end to bracket creep and their message is mixed. Not at all. When the issue of bracket creep came up, the Minister of Finance was telling us, we're living within our means. The finances are great. I don't need to borrow. I'm doing exactly as I said. So we said, if that's the case, if we are to believe you then why don't you end bracket creep and decouple the taxes.
At the end of the day, we were basing that, ourselves, on false assumptions because we actually believed the Minister of Finance when he told us that our finances were healthy. We were duped by him into believing everything was well. Now he comes back and says, the Liberals wanted me to do this and I was borrowing money and their message is mixed.
No, it's not. We made the mistake of believing the Minister of Finance. Of believing him on what our financial health was, where we now know it wasn't what he claimed it to be. Now he uses it as an argument to say we're sending mixed messages. Not at all. The only problem, the thing we did, the naïveté, I have to say that we had, was in believing the Minister of Finance. For that, we certainly learned from that, it won't happen again, I can assure you. Oh yes, we believed him. We thought, hey, maybe this guy has learned from the error of his ways and maybe we should believe him. Now he turns around and says that the Liberals are sending mixed messages. Coming from that government and I can go into so many issues.
Sunday shopping, how many messages have we gotten on that? First the Premier says he only buys his paper on Sunday. Then he says, he's not going to talk about it. Then he says he went around the province, he listened to everyone and the Minister of Justice at the time stood up and said, we're not talking about it until 2005, don't bother me any more. Then the Minister of Energy comes out and says, no, no, we're going to talk about it again. All of a sudden the Premier says, well, I'm going to go on my barbecue tour again and I'll listen. Then he comes back and says, no Sunday shopping, that's it. Now, all of a sudden, after our Leader, Danny Graham, made it clear that our Party would support Sunday shopping, with certain restrictions as to the time and the impact on workers and that, the Premier all of a sudden says now he wants to talk about it.
Mr. Speaker, I get the Minister of Health rushing in here and telling us, don't go to Toronto. By the end of the day, 12 hours hadn't passed, 24 hours hadn't passed, she's then back in the news saying, no, no, go to Toronto, pay no attention to what I've said. Yet, on the
debt, the same thing, I can list so many more examples and this government says that the Liberal caucus is sending mixed messages. Well, my, my, it takes quite a bit to keep up with where this government is going, as they change by the day, to try to suit their political needs.
Mr. Speaker, what else have we found out? Well, we knew all along that the costs, each year, of servicing the debt of this province were quite high. We had statements from the Premier, I believe in 2001, where he said look, it's too high, we need to get control of this. We're spending more on debt servicing than we will soon be spending on education, because the debt servicing doesn't put more teachers in the classroom, it doesn't build more schools, it doesn't buy more books, it doesn't buy more supplies. We need to get control of this. That was a couple of years ago. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that the debt servicing at that time - I don't have the numbers right here - but I believe at the time when he made this statement, the debt servicing would have been in the range of the upper $700 million a year, so it is just a little under what we spend on education. So, the Premier says he has got great control over debt servicing, he realizes how important this is and he's going to get control of it.
Under this year's budget, Mr. Speaker, here is the control the Premier has gotten on debt servicing: the estimate for 2002-03 on the debt-servicing charges - now, just before I go any further, again, debt-servicing charges - where does this go? Does it go to help homeless people? Does it go to help students? Does it go to help seniors? Does it go to help the poor? No. It goes to banks. It goes away, it goes out of the province. We see no benefit from this. This is Nova Scotians' hard-earned tax dollars that they paid to this government through user fees, through taxes on goods, it's gone out of the province. So how much? Well, in 2002 the Premier said this was very serious, it was in the range of $700 million at the time.
So, here is what their plan is. This is how they have gotten a grasp of this. The estimate for 2002-03, $890.3 million goes out of the province to the banks. Yet, the estimate for 2003-04, $892 million is what the estimate is. Then they go on to say, that hasn't increased too much, so one would think whoa, maybe we've gotten a bit of control of this. Well, hold on, Mr. Speaker. It said that the estimate for 2004-05 is going to be $977.2 million per year, under this Tory plan. Then does it stop there? No. The estimate for 2005-06, $1.020 billion. A billion dollars of our money is leaving this province under this Tory Government, that is their vision, that is their plan? A billion dollars is going out? Does it stop there? No, 2006-07, it is anticipated at $1.046 billion. It's not going down, it's going up. How can that be?
The minister says we are now under GAAP, everything is fine, the Premier says all is well. How is this going up? Every single year under their plan, a billion dollars, within a few years, is what's leaving this province. Imagine what you could do with a billion dollars. What could you do? You could pave every road there is in Richmond County. You could probably pave them with gold and still have money left. How many nurses could we hire? How many more hospitals could we have, or better hospitals, enhanced hospitals, better
equipment, more physicians wanting to come to this province because of the excellent health care we have, fewer waiting lines? A billion dollars, Mr. Speaker.
So under this government's plan they are taking in, in revenues, which is the taxes all of us pay, and the user fees, and the increases on all of the goods that we pay, they have a budget forecasted this year of $5.6 billion. What we now know is that within a couple of years, $1 billion-plus of that will be going away to banks outside this province. Is that acceptable, Mr. Speaker? Not only is it not acceptable, that is the fundamental failure of this government and of this Premier. This is a Premier who said on Page 1, my government will live within its means. Not only have they not lived within their means, they haven't come a country mile close to living within their means. Yet, they would like us all to believe the budget is balanced, all is well.
What the Dominion Bond Rating Service has said about our budget, they have called it an adjusted deficit, because they said at the end of the day, this budget is at a deficit but they've adjusted it under GAAP to make it look like it's balanced. These are the people who rate the credit of this province. If we were to believe the Minister of Finance that his balanced budget and his efforts are successful, then we would not be rated the second-worst province in the country.
I have to tell you, we hear the sounds of Spring in the Legislature under the Tory Government amongst us today, the protesters are outside. Are they protesting about something frivolous or just an issue that they thought up? No, these are workers who work with some of the most special people we have here in this province, who are out here on the picket line because this government won't sit down and negotiate in good faith and put some real money on the table. Yet, they're to be told there is no money. We cannot put any more money on the table, yet from 1999 to today, $1 billion in additional revenue. Who has that come from? I bet you these workers have contributed to that. They've paid their taxes, they've paid the HST on gas, they've paid the HST on home heating oil, they've paid the skyrocketing insurance rates. Yet, what are they told by this government? There's no money, there's no money for you. Go back to work, we're not budging.
Yesterday, I met with one of the workers of the Regional Residential Services Society who is a native of Richmond County, we went to university together. She couldn't believe it. She said, how far will this government take us? I said, I would love to tell you that this government recognizes the importance of the service you are providing and that it's bothering the Minister of Finance and it's bothering the Minister of Community Services, and it's tearing the Premier apart that you guys are out on strike and the impact this is having on the clients. Mr. Speaker, I had to tell her, I would be lying to you if I said that. I wouldn't be giving you a true assessment because, unfortunately, their record speaks for itself. This is a government that brought our paramedics to the strike line. This is a government that brought our nurses to the strike line. And now it is a government that brought these workers,
who work again, with some of the most special people in our society, they brought you to the strike line.
Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you, even with an election looming, the gall of this government appears that they're more than happy to go to an election without taking care of the situation and allowing the situation to deteriorate and I say shame on them for that fact. First paramedics, then nurses, now residential workers, my God, who's next? That's what you've got to ask, what Nova Scotians should be asking. Can they sink any lower? Is there a more cherished group that we as Nova Scotians have that this government hasn't picked on or that this government hasn't brought to a strike? They're running out of options, I have to tell you, but they're working their way down the list one at a time and shame on them for that and the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. They've got the residential workers on strike now - what is it, three weeks, almost a month? - and it's not going anywhere.
Yet, Mr. Speaker, one phone call from the casino and we have a bill in front of the House - here - we've got to take care of this right away. They wait out a month, they've been on strike for a month or more, and no, no, you know, we can't take care of this problem. Yet the casino comes calling and right away the next day we have a bill in front of the House. Now, that is how Nova Scotians will judge the priorities of this Premier and the priorities of this government. When you've got residential workers asking for fairness, they don't have time for them. The casino makes one phone call and they're tripping over themselves to try to accommodate every request. That speaks for itself and, again, it's another example of how in this session we have worked to try to let Nova Scotians see the quality of the Premier that they have. How have we done that? Is it by hurling insults at him, by making statements which aren't correct?
Not at all, Mr. Speaker. What has the Liberal caucus done? We've gone back through Hansard. We've gone back to the media. We have looked for quotes of the statements made by the Premier and we say let us judge the Premier's statements by his actions and what have we done? We have stood in this House, I have done so repeatedly, and said, Mr. Premier, on this day here is what you said, how do you explain what you said and what your actions are? I have got to tell you there is no doubt in my mind why we now have over 80 questions that have been asked of this Premier which he has refused to answer. Why? There is nothing worse than having your own words thrown right back at you and that your actions go completely against the words that you told Nova Scotians. That's why the Premier doesn't want to answer. That's why Mr. Batherson and others are telling him, no, no, no, deflect it to the Minister of Finance, he's not running again. Let him answer it. Let him holler at them and let him avoid the question, but save yourself and protect yourself.
You know, Mr. Speaker, we even have I believe here, it's somewhere in my desk, we have the advice to the Premier from Mr. Batherson where he even admits that the Premier's comments on the debt are problematic, the commitments that he made. He is saying the Liberal caucus has got you, they've clearly exposed that your statements and your
commitments have not been fulfilled, they have not been kept. Here is what you should say to try to deflect that. Does it say in the briefing notes, yes, I was mistaken in saying that I could live within my means and that the debt would not grow? It doesn't say that. It says talk about this and talk about our plan and talk about all that.
It fails to address the fundamental fact our Premier on the first page of the blue book made a fundamental commitment to the people of Nova Scotia and he broke it. But then again, this is the same Premier who says we did nothing wrong in the paramedic strike. The same Premier who said Bill No. 68 wasn't a bad thing, we did nothing wrong to the nurses. The same Premier who said we are treating the residential society workers with great respect and we're showing them the utmost of respect and we're doing a fine job in our negotiations with them.
Mr. Speaker, as I've said many times, the mask is coming off and the veil has been lifted and Nova Scotians will not be fooled by this Premier any more because they are now seeing the true face of the Premier. I have to tell you what many people in Richmond County tell me - it's not a pretty sight in many cases - and I will tell you there is more to come. Whether we go into an election sooner or later, we will continue to let Nova Scotians see exactly what the Premier said and what he has done and yet, you know, in true Tory fashion, when your back is against the wall, when someone is clearly showing that you've failed to keep your commitments, do you admit that you've done wrong? Do you address it head on? No. We have a Premier who keeps referring back to 1993, 10 years ago. A Premier who has enjoyed a majority government for four years, an unprecedented growth in the economy during those four years, and yet he wants to compare that to 1993. Nobody is buying it. You can't compare it. He has $1 billion more in revenue, an unprecedented economic growth, and yet he says that he should be able to compare his government of today with the government of 1993.
Mr. Speaker, that's clearly unacceptable. I have to tell you one thing, and we know in this bill, how quickly they've come to trip over themselves to accommodate the casino, although there has been no sign of that in the casino plans on acting on this. They're changing their spin on this by the day. I want to give you a bit of a history lesson because many of the members here weren't here under a minority government of 1998-99 - when I hear the Minister of Justice and I hear the Minister of Finance get up and say, why didn't the member for Dartmouth East introduce smoking legislation during the minority government, let me bring you back just a few seconds - and I'm sure the Minister of Justice will be quite familiar, because the Minister of Justice was about the only fellow in the Tory caucus, which I think had 10 members at the time - there was a coup d'état taking place in the Tory caucus, a very public coup d'état.
You had the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley calling the press, talking like Elmer Fudd, saying that was it, they were going to get rid of their Leader. All of the other members were lining up like soldiers, getting ready to get rid of their Leader. Who was their Leader? Who is Dr. John Hamm, now the Premier? Who was the one lone soldier who said, I'm going to stand by my man? None other than the Minister of Justice, who, right away, one could see, when the coup was over and the Premier was saved, the Minister of Justice was plunked right next to the Leader of the Third Party at the time. Yet I can tell you, he had a sore neck, he had a very sore neck, because most of his time had to be spent turned around to watch the Premier's back for the ones who were sitting behind the Premier, to see if the knives were still out.
And yet they have the gall to stand here and say, why didn't the member for Dartmouth East bring in smoking legislation, we would have supported it. They couldn't even support their own Leader, and yet they wanted us to trust them. They were all lined up, ready to put an end to the political life of their own Leader, and now they have the gall to stand here and say, you guys should have passed smoking legislation.
Now, Mr. Speaker, if I have misspoken, if I have in some way not given an accurate portrayal of the facts, let them stand and say, it's not true. Yet they don't, because they realize it is true. They realize, those who were there, and I would submit to you, other than the Minister of Justice, I would find all of them guilty of the efforts of sustaining a coup d'état against their own Leader in a minority government. Imagine now, when you're to the point where you have an elected Member of the Legislature calling the media and talking like Elmer Fudd, and then they're telling us, you should have trusted this gang and you should have passed legislation when you were in the minority government.
Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotians will judge those statements for themselves. Again, what is it? It's a sign of desperation. It's a sign of desperation for a government that realized that their own smoking legislation is being trumped by every municipal unit around this province. Most of them have already taken that action. The Minister of Tourism and Culture doesn't need to be reminded of that. He knows that in the Strait area, every jurisdiction has gone further than this government has, every jurisdiction. Yet he stands as the Minister of the Office of Health Promotion and says, what great legislation we've passed. Well, if it is so good, why is every municipal unit going further than the government has? Because it's a fundamental flaw.
Rather than admit, look, we've done wrong with our bill, they now resort to saying, the Liberals should have brought it in under a minority government. Mr. Speaker, nobody's buying that. Nobody is buying that at all. They realize this government had an opportunity, they had the support of our caucus, fully, I believe they had the support, for the most part, from the NDP, they could have brought in stronger legislation, yet they caved in once again. Overall, if you look at the theme of my discussion in the last hour, what does it bring altogether? The theme is the same for whatever subject it is when it comes to this
government, and that theme is missed opportunities, whether it be in the finances, whether it be in smoking, whether it be in Sunday shopping, whether it be in treating the workers of the Regional Residential Services Society appropriately, whether it be putting Nova Scotians' priorities as number one-missed opportunities.
Yet I go to you again, Mr. Speaker, and say if this government could have stood and said, look, the economy was bad and things weren't good, we just couldn't live up to the expectations that we had created, but that's not the case. We know they've seen unprecedented growth, and we know they've achieved an additional $1 billion yearly in revenue on the backs of Nova Scotians. They've pretty much doubled every user fee there is. Someone has coined the phrase: the Tories have got you from conception to death, because they have you from the birth certificate to the death certificate and everything in between - they have increased the fees on all of that.
Yet, Nova Scotians have said time and time again that if you're putting in what you call a user fee and you're saying this is a fee that users are being charged in order to provide the service, I think most reasonable Nova Scotians will say, if you can show me that the cost of giving me my birth certificate justifies charging me $20 to $25 for that birth certificate, well then maybe it is an appropriate cost. When this government has been asked to table in this House, when they've increased their user fees, show us on what basis this increase is being made and what the cost of the service is to the delivery of the product, have they done that? No, they haven't done that. When they increase fees and we ask well, show us, show us where the cost is, show us why the $5 increase or the $20 increase is justifiable, they won't provide the numbers.
Now what does that lead you to conclude? That the increase is not to reflect the cost of providing the service, the increase is to reflect the desire of the Minister of Finance to take more money out of the pockets of Nova Scotians, for the budget. I give you a modern-day example, something we've talked about to quite an extent here in this House, the additional charges, the hikes, the unprecedented hikes made to the freedom of information system. We've continually asked them to show us the cost of administrating the program, and then tell us how you achieved the new fee that you're charging. Now, that's not unreasonable, Mr. Speaker, that's what we, as responsible legislators, should be asking and should be seeing from a government that takes in $5.6 billion a year in revenue, yet they won't provide us with that.
The Minister of Justice then wouldn't do it and the Minister of Justice now won't do it. Why? Because the fee increase was in no way to reflect the cost of administrating the system, the fee increase was meant to discourage Nova Scotians from applying for information from this government and when you'd ask, why is that? Because time and time again, between our caucus and the NDP caucus, this government has been continually ridiculed and embarrassed because of the information they've hidden from Nova Scotians, rather than coming out and sharing it. So that was their response, we have to put an end to
this, we have to stop the Liberals and the NDP from getting all this information - and the average Nova Scotian too - they're coming out and finding all sorts of stuff we don't want out there. That was the reason for that.
Mr. Speaker, a tax cut at a time when you're borrowing just doesn't make sense. One person has likened it to going and paying your mortgage with your Visa. Yes, you've made your mortgage payment, but at the end of the day you're still going to get a bill from Visa for the money you owe. That is what the cheque that's being sent out is, that is what the 10 per cent tax cut is - it is a loan, because the day that it's going to need to be cashed in, that it's going to need to be paid is soon coming. The Dominion Bond Rating Services and all the creditors are only going to let this government go so far until they say enough, you have one the highest debts per population, if not the highest in the country. It's going to come to the point where they're going to say that's it, enough, we're going to cut the credit card.
Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what our caucus and our Leader is saying, that Nova Scotians need to cut the credit card and get control again of our finances. Clearly, this administration has failed to do so. We cannot continue to pay mortgages with Visa. We can't continue to be sending out money at a time when we are borrowing. They say they're good financial managers, and I have asked in this House - we've seen over $700 million in commitments being made by this government, whether it be Stora, whether it be the new Civic Centre in Port Hawkesbury, whether it be the new jail in Yarmouth, the new courthouse in Port Hawkesbury, the new courthouse in Lunenburg County, all of these projects and many more, they're all worthy projects - where is the money? Where's the money for them? Show us in the budget where the money is?
The answer is, the money's not there. These are promises being made beyond the mandate of this government. Somebody else will be responsible for trying to keep the funding commitments made because the money is just not there. When I asked that, as Finance Critic, show us, where is the money? Well, again, you want to talk about the ridiculous? We don't hear him talk often, we certainly hear him barking often enough, but the member for Yarmouth gets up and says, by asking where the money is, that means the member is against the new jail in Yarmouth. Well, how more ridiculous can you get than for a member, an intelligent member, to make such a statement.
As Finance Critic it is responsible to ask where is the funding for this. The people of Yarmouth, the people of Port Hawkesbury, the people throughout this province that have been promised these projects have a right to know and be comfortable in knowing that the money is there. That this is not just an election promise. That here they can point out clearly where the money is and that there's no fears they will not get this money. They have a right to know that. Yet this government cannot give them that commitment because the commitments being made are well beyond their mandate.
I will give you another example. The Minister of Education, on the eve of an election, will come out and announce a new school capital construction program. He will go to communities and he will promise them new schools with great fanfare and great hoopla. You have to ask yourself, how much money is in this budget to pay for these schools?
I believe the answer was, there's some planning money. Is there money for bricks and mortar and drywall and paint? No. There's none. In fact, the new schools that this government will promise, they won't even start to be looked at until 2005, which is clearly beyond the legal mandate of this government. So, that's what Nova Scotians need to realize.
Again, I go to you, Mr. Speaker, Page 1 of the blue book where the Premier says, in the last election the Liberals cynically tried to buy your votes with $200 million in commitments. I will respect voters, I will live within my means. Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you, $700 million-plus is what this government has now committed to. There's no end, expect more. Expect more. They will soon reach the level of commitments - that they're making on borrowed money because it's not there in the budget - they'll almost reach the $1 billion mark which is a good reminder of the fact that under this administration, they will soon be paying $1 billion of our hard earned money that will be sent outside this province. That is one of the fundamental failures of this government - they've added $0.5 billion to the debt, now they want to send $1 billion of our money out to the banks, year in year out.
That is just not acceptable. That is not what John Hamm told us he would give us in 1999. They have unprecedented growth, there is no reason that this incompetence has taken place, this fiscal mismanagement. Nova Scotians clearly will pass judgment on this government and are clearly saying, enough is enough. You were given your chance, you have failed to do so. Sending us out $155 will not buy our votes, we will not accept such irresponsibility for our finances and it's time to give room for another administration to come in.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to working with Danny Graham, our Leader, and with all of my colleagues in giving Nova Scotians that option and preparing for the opportunity to take over the next administration here in this province. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise and speak again on Bill No. 36. I spoke earlier this week on this bill as it pertained to a motion that had been put on the floor to hoist the bill for six months. At that time I spoke about the bill in relation to the budget and this government's fiscal strategy and what they were trying to achieve with this budget and what the implications were of the fanfare around a "balanced budget".
I talked at that time, Mr. Speaker, about the lack of investment in so many other areas, the serious deficit in capital construction in the education system, the $20 million or more millions of dollars necessary to bring special education support in the education system up to scratch, the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to be invested in our roads and bridges in the Province of Nova Scotia to bring them up to a standard where they're not jeopardizing lives and property. I talked about that it was perhaps an argument that had a little more of a long review to it, but I think the problem that we've gotten into in this country - probably not just this country - over the past decade or so, is that we set these budgets to go in three or four year stints, basically just over an election cycle, and what they fail to do, is all they're trying to achieve from one budget to the next, from one annual budget to the next, is to get the government of the day through that particular period of time so that they can say look at what we have done.
In this case, the government has said that we are in a surplus situation on the books as it relates to accounting practices, that we are not running a deficit, and that has been the goal. When you think about it, and that's what I was trying to argue earlier this week, when you think about the real problems that we have in our province and in our community which requires investment of tax dollars and of energy, this goal of having a surplus on paper is a pretty mediocre goal at best, Mr. Speaker, and serves no one's interest other than the perceived political interest of this government.
Anyway, I canvassed that area and that theme in my last intervention. This time what I was thinking about was, because Bill No. 36, the Financial Measures (2003) Bill is put here before us and it is the legislation which supports and enacts the budget that we voted on earlier and, in thinking about this Financial Measures (2003) Bill, if you're voting for it or against it, you're voting for or against the budget. So I thought about this Financial Measures (2003) Bill in relation to what does this budget do for some of the challenges that are facing the people of my constituency of Halifax Atlantic. Does this budget, through the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, deal at all with some of the significant challenges facing the people of Halifax Atlantic?
So I want to take some time this morning, if I may, Mr. Speaker, to cover some of that territory. I think the logical place to start would be with the $155 tax rebate that is being provided to 430,000-odd Nova Scotians. Some have referred to it as a rum bottle on paper. Others have called it other much more disparaging things but, nonetheless, 433,000 Nova Scotians are going to get a cheque for $155. Frankly, $155 is nothing to be sneezed at. People have talked about it in relation to what they can buy, a couple of pizzas, a few cases of beer, maybe some flowers, maybe a new shrub for the garden, maybe a toy for your child.
But $155 is $155, and shouldn't be sneezed at. People are responding to the $155 as a cynical ploy to buy their votes. That is what people find so distasteful about this strategy. They're going to take the $155 and spend it, they're going to go out and buy dinner or pay a bill, pay their phone bill or whatever, but it's certainly not going to have any impact on whether they vote for this government. Alternatively, what it may do is encourage people not to vote for this government.
The other part about the $155, which is interesting, is the number of people who are actually excluded. The government says, look at this, we're given Nova Scotians back some of their money, we're going to give them a cheque for $155, it's an indication of what good money managers we are and we think Nova Scotians should get back some of their money. Well, what Nova Scotians are saying, instead of giving me $155, while I appreciate that $155, it's not an insignificant amount, I would rather see you do with it things like repairing the health care system, providing more supports in our classrooms for children with special needs, repairing the roads. There's a whole host of things that many Nova Scotians who have talked to me, my constituents and others, would like to see the government invest that money in.
That's why we pay taxes and that's why most Nova Scotians believe they pay taxes, they pool their money together, as taxpaying Nova Scotians, they elect a government to then deliver the programs and services that we as a population, as a society decide are important. Anyway, they're giving us back this $155, but, as I said, it's 433,000 Nova Scotians of the age to work, who file income tax, who make enough money that they can file for income tax or have to file their income tax. There's also 300,000 Nova Scotians of working age, 300,000 of working-age Nova Scotians who don't get the $155, because they don't make enough money.
So here is this huge benefit that the government talks about, this great thing that they're doing, giving Nova Scotians back their money and so on, and there's 300,000 Nova Scotians, and let me tell you, there are some people in my constituency, the constituency of Halifax Atlantic, who do not make enough money to have to file for income tax purposes, and they will not be eligible for that $155. It's like 60 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia are worthy of this little bit of sweetener from the government, but 40 per cent of Nova Scotians don't rate this kind of treat, this kind of largesse.
When you think about returning benefits to Nova Scotians, the government is distinguishing between the deserving and the undeserving. Of course, once again, the hands of this government, the undeserving tend to be the most unfortunate, the ones who are earning the lowest incomes in the Province of Nova Scotia. That's the $155.
There's also a provision that there will be a 10 per cent income tax cut in January 2004. Once again, I just talked about 433,000 Nova Scotians who file for income tax, and 300,000 who don't. In order to get a 10 per cent tax cut, a 10 per cent cut on your income tax,
you therefore have to be a filer. Again, those 300,000 are not going to be eligible for this tax cut that the government has announced with such fanfare of the 433,000 who are eligible for the 10 per cent tax cut, you know and I know, Mr. Speaker, that it's the ones near the top, the small percentage of maybe 5 per cent to 10 per cent of those 433,000, that are actually going to recognize any difference in the tax that they pay. The people who are close to the $300,000 are going to recognize it in terms of cents and in terms of dollars as they move up the income stream.
So, again, this government is setting up two classes of Nova Scotians - the deserving, those who are making more money and the undeserving, those people who don't earn enough money even to file income tax and who make increasing amounts of money, but will receive less and less from this government. That's the consequence of two of the big parts of this government's budget, the $155 and the 10 per cent tax cut, and let's remember the other side of that equation and that is that this represents over $200 million in lost revenue, in lost revenue to the Government of Nova Scotia, revenue that will not be available to pay for the programs and services that are already in desperate shape in the Province of Nova Scotia.
So invariably it's people who don't earn enough to be in a position to file an income tax form, Mr. Speaker, and those who are just above the threshold, people referred to as the working poor, working poor families in the Province of Nova Scotia, who are going to be doubly affected. Not only are they not part of the deserving class that this government has set up, but they are also going to be further punished by being part of not only undeserving, in terms of not getting any benefits from the tax cut, but undeserving in that their programs, or the programs and services that many of them depend on are going to be cut or going to be reduced even further.
So let me look at some of the issues again in Halifax Atlantic and certainly there are many in those 300,000 and some of those people at the lower end of the income scale who do file income tax, that are going to be affected in Halifax Atlantic, Mr. Speaker, but who else? What else does this budget actually deal with? Does this budget and through the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, does this budget actually allow the government to pay a fair wage to the women and men who work as counsellors in small options homes for employers such as RRSS? Does it permit the government to provide a fair wage and to properly support these programs for the intellectually disabled?
Well, I think you and I know the answer to that. All we've got to do is listen to what's going on outside this Chamber and we've listened day in and day out now for three weeks to women and men who have given their lives to the service of the less fortunate, the most vulnerable in our society, and they have basically watched while this government has thumbed their noses at them and the people that they serve. So this government does nothing in terms of dealing with issues of providing a fair working wage to the people who deliver such an important service and that certainly involves people in Halifax Atlantic.
You know that the family benefits in the Province of Nova Scotia, with the shelter component, the housing component and the personal component has continued to decrease, that the level of funding for family benefits for people living in dire poverty has even failed to keep pace with inflation. Let me tell you, there are people living in dire poverty, men and women and children, families who come to my office in Halifax Atlantic, in the Captain Spry Centre, and try to get us to help them resolve their problems. How do they make ends meet when the resources that they receive from the Province of Nova Scotia continue to decrease? It's extremely difficult. Does this budget help those people in any way? It doesn't help them in any way. It further penalizes them for being poor. In fact, they don't even get the $155.
What about affordable housing? There are thousands on the waiting lists in the HRM waiting for affordable housing units, including many in Halifax Atlantic, who have been on those waiting lists. Now what happens to those people, those families, those women and men and children, individuals subject to, I would suggest to you, less than honourable landlords, they are subject to conditions in the private sector that are less than satisfactory because they can't get into affordable housing units provided through metro housing. There needs to be the provision of more affordable housing units in the Province of Nova Scotia, in Halifax Atlantic, throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality. Does this budget deal with that issue at all, Mr. Speaker? Not a bit. It doesn't address that problem at all for the constituents in Halifax Atlantic.
There's a seniors' building in Halifax Atlantic called the Captain Spry Lodge. It's one of those two-story units. There is a number of them throughout the province, a couple of them in industrial Cape Breton, as you probably know. There is no elevator in this unit, so you have seniors, who are maybe a few years from nursing homes, seniors who are trying to live independently, who go and get groceries and come back to where they live up on the second floor, and have to climb two flights of stairs, fully loaded with groceries. That's the challenge they face. Some of them, as a result of that impediment, not having an elevator, not having a lift of any kind to get them to the second floor, have had to go into nursing homes, increasing the costs to the Province of Nova Scotia, but also increasing the costs to those individuals, and I'm going to talk about the cost of nursing home care in a second.
Is there anything in this budget that provides that there will be a lift constructed, there will be an elevator provided for the people in the Captain Spry Lodge, Mr. Speaker? In spite of the commitment by a previous minister to those residents, there is nothing in this budget. There has been no indication to those residents, whatsoever, that there will be an elevator provided, even though one had been committed to them as recently as last Fall.
Nursing homes, let's talk a little bit about nursing homes, let's talk a little bit about the fact that this government requires seniors who go to nursing homes to pay the full cost of their health care when in nursing homes. If they go to the hospital or if they're in the
Captain Spry Lodge and they require health care services or services through the health care system, those services are paid for. If they, let's say, because they can't get to the second floor any more with their groceries and there's no units on the first floor available to them, they have to go into a nursing home. They suddenly have to start forking out for the cost of health care.
The government has acknowledged that is wrong. That it's unfair, inequitable, discriminatory. Have they done anything about that in this budget? Have they done a single thing in this budget? No, they haven't. They're going to deal with it, they tell us, by the year 2007. We're in 2003, in case anyone has forgotten, the government is going to deal with something that they admit is wholly inequitable and discriminatory and wrong, they're going to deal with it in 2007. In 2007.
The only hope that the people of Halifax Atlantic have is that an NDP Government will be elected in the next election and that problem will be resolved immediately. Immediately, Mr. Speaker, because that has been a commitment by our Leader and by our caucus.
So, what other problems, what other challenges are we facing out in Halifax Atlantic? Well, you've heard me talk at some length in this House over the past couple of years about a construction and demolition debris-recycling project out in Harrietsfield. It's a community out past Spryfield where this company is receiving, collecting and transporting construction and demolition debris. They sort it, they pile it and the stuff that they can dispose of through recycling strategies, they do so. But they have also now applied to have an opportunity to dig holes in the ground and dispose of and dump construction and demolition debris that they can't recycle.
This is in a residential community and in the middle of a very sensitive environment where local wells and watercourses are very much endangered as a result of this particular development. Have we been able to get any support from this government for those issues for inspectors, for testing and so on? No, we haven't. In fact, that's been one of the communities that has had their water quality and wells already affected as a result of arsenic and uranium that exists.
You know what they have to do? Each one of those property owners who have a well have to get their well tested by themselves. They have to take the test and send the water samples to a private lab here in Halifax that does the analysis for a cost - for basic testing - $125 and for a couple of other items to be tested, upwards of $180. So here you have families in Harrietsfield whose water is already under some threat as a result of circumstances there. In order to stay on top of it and make sure that the quality of water is safe for their families, for their children, they have to do the individual testing themselves.
On top of this, now, there is a commercial operation, whose very activity is going to further threaten the quality of the water in those communities, and what does this budget do to deal with that? Does it provide subsidies for water testing? Does it provide any substance to the supposed water strategy that this government has for the Province of Nova Scotia to help those property owners, those residents in Harrietsfield deal with this issue? Not a thing. There's not a thing in there. Does it increase the capacity of the Department of Environment and Labour to monitor, to inspect, to enforce its own legislation so that the environment and the health of the people in Harrietsfield are not jeopardized further? Nothing. Not a thing. Not a thing.
In the face of questionable decisions, a questionable process, followed by the local municipality, the HRM, this government hasn't been a responsible recourse for the residents of Harrietsfield to go to to help them, as a higher level of government that in the face of a decision which many feel is wrong-headed, will they help correct the problems? They haven't been there. They haven't been there, Mr. Speaker, for these residents and it's a problem. On top of this, this operation, this commercial operation in Harrietsfield results in an extraordinarily increased traffic level of huge tandem trucks, loaded down with debris, travelling on roads that are, at best, in terrible condition. They drive through, they drive right beside and . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order, please. There's far too much noise in the Chamber. The only person who should be heard is the member who has the floor.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the highway that travels through Harrietsfield, on which these trucks filled with construction and demolition debris are pounding the daylights out of a highway that's already in terrible condition, also travels beside an elementary school, with young children walking to and from school, walking along the side of that road. It's dangerous for the residents of Harrietsfield. It's dangerous for the people who drive through there, in terms of the number of large trucks that are on that highway. It also results in the increased and rapid deterioration of a highway that is also poorly maintained by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
Is there anything in this budget, is there anything addressed in Bill No. 36 that in any way helps the people of Harrietsfield, Williamswood deal with this problem, with this situation, this multi-faceted issue? Not a thing, Mr. Speaker. It's extraordinarily and irresponsibly silent on that issue, as it has been on many other issues.
There's also a problem in Halifax Atlantic, not just Halifax Atlantic but throughout what is seen as almost uncontrolled, I have to say uncontrolled development. There are housing developments going up in a fashion that has absolutely no planning attached to it. Wherever a developer acquires land and decides they want to build houses or apartment
buildings or condominiums or whatever, that's where it happens. All they have to do is get it through the planning department of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
In spite of the fact that there hasn't been a municipal planning strategy for this area since 1987, Mr. Speaker, the municipalities themselves have changed - let alone the usage, the density level, the traffic patterns, the development. There have been so many changes over the nearly 20 years since that last municipal planning strategy was developed and yet development is occurring at an increasing rate and it's happening without any plan, without any input from the local area.
Do you know, Mr. Speaker, that there is a development that has been recently approved, a large development of housing units, upwards of 1,200 to 1,400 units, for this piece of property that is right plunk in the middle of an environmentally sensitive area, has the potential - it's on rock, they start to blast - to interfere with a whole chain of watercourses there. To impact on Colpitt Lake and Williams Lake, the MacIntosh Run. To interfere in the environment right down through to Herring Cove. The decision to approve this development was made in the face of overwhelming opposition at public hearings and it was made by two councillors, neither of who live in the vicinity, neither of who represent anybody in the area affected.
Now how is that allowed to happen? If it was a meeting of full council, I mean that's a very important decision that's being made. It could be, not only devastating to the environment out there, but it also will create great demands and stresses on an already overstressed transportation system out to and through Mainland South. This very controversial decision was made by two councillors, 2 of 4 councillors, neither of whom represent the territory involved whatsoever. It's an absolutely shocking circumstance when you think about it, Mr. Speaker, and I'm sure that Mainland South or Halifax Atlantic is not alone in terms of that kind of a development happening.
My point of raising it here in relation to this budget is that is there anything in this budget or is there anything in this bill that ensures that this government will have some influence on that kind of municipal strategy or lack thereof? Is there anything in this budget that will ensure that the Minister of Environment and Labour and his officials have the staff and resources necessary to be able to provide the kind of protection that these residents and future generations deserve? You know the consequences, Mr. Speaker, are going to be not just now but for many years into the future. Once that granite is blown up, once the water courses are affected, once the trees are ripped down, once the soil is contaminated, then that's it and it will take many generations if any government is in a position or has the courage to try to correct the problems created.
Is there anything in this budget that gives the residents of Halifax Atlantic and Mainland South some solace, some comfort, some confidence that that problem will be addressed? Absolutely none, Mr. Speaker.
Before I go on to another issue, let me just talk about that issue of development a little bit longer. You know, Mr. Speaker, that there is a development project in Mainland South - and I understand that this is not a unique situation - where infill is required for a development and it was identified that this infill that was used in this housing development was significantly contaminated. We have that information in writing and we will bring it forward at the appropriate time. The officials of the Minister of Environment and Labour have confirmed that the soil was contaminated, and the developer was given an ultimatum to clean up this mess on February 9th. Has anything been done to resolve that issue? Has anything been done to try to deal with the fact that we have contaminated infill moving around, passing from one site to the next, unless it's detected, throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality? Is there anything being done? Is anybody watching? Is anybody ensuring that the environment of this municipality is being protected? What is the Department of Environment and Labour doing?
Is there anything in this budget that provides the Department of Environment and Labour with the resources to be able to resolve those kinds of problems, to be able to inspect, to monitor and to enforce when there are infractions? Mr. Speaker, there's nothing there; there is absolutely nothing in this budget whatsoever.
Let me move now to another issue. Since I was elected in 1991, Mr. Speaker, I have had a host of women and men come through the door of my constituency office to talk to me about problems that have resulted through an injury at work. This problem is in dealing with the Workers' Compensation Board, a problem that has been exacerbated by successive governments.
The Liberals changed the law in the face of overwhelming opposition back in 1995, I believe it was, which tightened the eligibility or made it more strict, made it more difficult, created a waiting period, and created other circumstances which meant that fewer people who had been injured at work would be eligible for workers' compensation. It reduced the level of income that would be replaced for those people who were injured at work through no fault of their own, simply as a result of going to work and trying to earn a living, and there continues to be problems of people who are eligible for compensation, of people who are unable to work, who continue to be injured, of being badly treated by the workers' compensation system.
There was an inquiry, a commission established, the Dorsey Commission, which made a report and recommendations of things that needed to be done in order to improve the system, in order to make it more accountable, in order to provide benefits for some who had been excluded by the government, and most people had recognized that those exclusions
were unfair. Is there anything in this budget which helps the people of Halifax Atlantic who are on workers' compensation, who are eligible for workers' compensation, who would benefit from the implementation of the Dorsey report?
Mr. Speaker, is there anything in this budget which helps resolve those difficulties, those challenges, which helps make life somewhat easier for people who are injured and unable to work through no fault of their own?
AN HON. MEMBER: Nothing there. Nothing.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Nothing, nothing. I spoke to a man the other night when I was out canvassing, a man whose back had been ruined as a result of his workplace back in the early 1990s, and I had worked with this gentleman on a number of occasions to help overcome problems in workers' compensation and so on. He's a young man in his mid-50s, his back is a mess. He can't work and he continues to be called in by workers' compensation to explain why he's not doing this, or to explain what his problems are, to go to doctors, as if he somehow is trying to squeeze an inadequate level of income, as it is, out of the system instead of going to work, which is ultimately what he would like to do. His life has been ruined as a result of his injury. Has workers' compensation, a system set up to properly replace the income lost by injured workers, has it helped this man and has it helped thousands of others? No. Does this budget and Bill No. 36, do anything to solve his problem and to solve the problem thousands have encountered as a result of the weaknesses of the workers' compensation system? I'm afraid that they do not.
Insurance rates. I talked to a number of people in a trailer park in Harrietsfield the other night about the problem of insurance rates. You know the figures - I don't need to tell you, but I'm hearing it right on the doorsteps. I'm sure every member in this House is hearing it on their doorsteps. We are getting the results of studies in here which show that there's an increase in drivers on the highway who have no insurance as a result of the skyrocketing rates of insurance in the Province of Nova Scotia. That jeopardizes you and me and our families and every other Nova Scotian who is driving.
There are vehicles parked in the driveways of thousands of Nova Scotians because of the fact that they cannot afford to pay for their insurance. They cannot afford to operate their vehicle. Let me tell you that when you're living out in Harrietsfield or Williamswood or Sambro or Ketch Harbour and you don't have a car, let me tell you life is tough. I mean that it's difficult for people living in any part of rural Nova Scotia if you don't have a car. If you don't have a vehicle to transport yourself, how do you get around? How do you get to work? How do you go to medical appointments? How do you go to a hospital? How do you look for work? You can't.
There's a lot of Nova Scotia that doesn't have public transit. There's no bus that travels the loop around Harrietsfield, Williamswood, Sambro, Ketch Harbour and up to Herring Cove. There's no public transit there. So, not only is the whole business about insurance a discrimination that's occurring at the hands of insurers, cutting people off and the unconscionable jacking up of rates, not only does it hurt people in the pocketbook, but it's actually having a material impact on their lives by taking away much necessary transportation which I will talk about a little more as I understand a member wants to make an introduction.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester North.
MR. WILLIAM LANGILLE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for allowing me to make this introduction. Today in the Speaker's Gallery we have 15 students from the Cobequid Educational Centre and they are taking Grade 11 Canadian History. They are accompanied by my son, Robert Langille, Peter Keaveney and Brent MacPhe. I'd ask that the House extend them the warm welcome of the Legislature. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you for the introduction. Yes, certainly, welcome to our guests in the gallery and welcome to all our guests in the gallery today. The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic. You have approximately 15 more minutes in time.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Thank you. So, the issue of insurance rates is a very serious set of circumstances as it affects people in Halifax Atlantic. Let me tell you, I have spoken to dozens over the past week who were absolutely exasperated by increases of 30 per cent, 40 per cent, 50 per cent, that are coming in the face of good driving records, good driving history, maybe as a result of age or the age of the vehicle, but as a result of decisions that have absolutely nothing to do with the individual.
Nova Scotians, people in Halifax Atlantic, understand that what's happening has more to do with the investment decisions that are being made in Toronto by the insurance companies, or in Geneva, Switzerland or in Hartford, Connecticut or wherever the head office of these international conglomerates actually exist that are setting the insurance rates that are so punishing to the women and men in Nova Scotia who need vehicles to drive.
Is there anything in this budget that deals with that issue? Is there anything in this budget? Is there anything allowed for in Bill No. 36 which will stop this gouging, which will stop the punishment that Nova Scotians are feeling as a result of these insurance rate increases? Nothing. The people of Halifax Atlantic, in the face of these kinds of extraordinary changes, the extraordinary costs, what they hear from this House are not answers, not solutions from this government, but they're told, you know, it sounds like a tough situation and we agree, we have to pay the rates too and it's tough. We would like to
do something about it, but we really don't want to know - you can almost hear the wringing of hands - and there are going to be some plans.
Some people said to me this week when I was canvassing, is this government not doing anything about escalating rates because they are sucking back millions of dollars in added tax as a result, HST as a result of the increase in these rates? That's what Nova Scotians are asking me. Does this government not care, because they are actually getting their piece of me through the extra tax that I have to pay on these increased rates? People are feeling that way because they're not hearing anything from this government other than platitudes about we feel your pain and we would like to be able to do something but you know, like the casinos, the insurance companies are big and tough, they won't like it very much if we treat them in a manner that is disrespectful.
Just like workers who don't want to work in a smoke-filled environment, don't want to have to jeopardize their health, they want to work - they have to work to support their families - at the casino, they want to work in a smoke-free environment, just like every other worker in the Province of Nova Scotia. But no, no, this government says insurance companies, casinos, Michelin, Sobeys, all these big companies, these big corporations, these friends of this government, we have to create exemptions for them. We have to give them a special deal. We can't be too hard on these people, Mr. Speaker. We can't be too hard on these people.
So if you work in a casino and you're sucking back tons of smoke, second-hand smoke that we know causes cancer, too bad. We don't want to tick off the insurance companies. If you're a counsellor who works to provide important care, support and services to intellectually-disabled Nova Scotians in small options homes and you want a fair wage, tough bananas. This government can't afford it. If you are a worker in the Province of Nova Scotia and there is a problem with violence in the workplace, this government has regulations in the minister's office to deal with these issues that haven't been brought forward by this government or successive governments. Sorry, sorry, we can't afford to bring in those regulations, those protections for you in the workplace, we can't afford it.
We have to make sure we have a balanced budget. We have to make sure that come Budget Day we can table a document outside and inside this House that plays that game of saying, we can manage our finances. All the while, $500 million deficit in capital construction for schools, our roads are deteriorating in Harrietsfield, in Sambro, throughout Cape Breton and Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, the water systems are deteriorating and workers are not getting a fair wage. How can the government in all conscience say that it is providing leadership, that it is solving problems, that it is managing in an even-handed and balanced way the finances of the Province of Nova Scotia, when that's what is really happening? This budget doesn't do a thing to deal with those whole host of issues that are facing the people of Halifax Atlantic.
Do you know what's interesting, Mr. Speaker? It is almost like this budget exists and this place almost exists in a different world. This government doesn't seem to even have any relation to much of what's happening out there in the Province of Nova Scotia. So in light of the fact that this budget doesn't deal with the real issues facing Nova Scotians, every day in the constituency of Halifax Atlantic, you have people who work at the Captain Spry Centre providing important community support, recreational services, library, social services and other supports to the people of Halifax Atlantic. There is a board of directors there that meets and has representatives from throughout the constituency, who meet on a monthly basis or more, depending on the issues and they work together to bring people together to solve problems.
There's a teen health centre, one of the first in the province, it started out in Halifax Atlantic back in the early 1990s. It has become so successful that it is a model for such centres in high schools throughout the province. It has now even expanded its service to the community with a storefront operation in the local mall called, Teen Scene. These are examples, Mr. Speaker, of ordinary Nova Scotians working in the face of incredible odds and obstacles created by this government, with no help, no support. In spite of it, the people of Halifax Atlantic recognize that the problems have to be solved, the supports have to be in place and they are going to do it in spite of this government.
The Chebucto Boys and Girls Club, with a very few dollars and a lot of support from the community, this organization's chapter in Halifax Atlantic, which has existed on a shoestring for a few years - one year it is funded, the next year it is not, the next year it is, the next year it is not - has gotten support from the community through fundraising activities and others to where it is now stable, not entirely dependent on the government and is providing an important service to children and youth in Spryfield.
The Urban Farm Museum is a not-for-profit society that is set up in Halifax Atlantic and is working with people in the community who are uncovering, developing, exposing the history of the community, working with other groups to develop a community garden so that
people can learn how to raise their own food and provide land and support. These are examples of community-based activities, community-based organizations of women and men working together in their community to make it a better place.
It's too bad that we didn't have a government that recognized that with a little support, with adequate funding and education to provide special education - J.L. Illsley High School, for example, together with St. Paul's Family Resource Centre have provided education support for people needing the opportunity to bring up their education level through GED, the equivalency exams and so on. For people who had gone through high school, who were older, mature students went back to J.L. Illsley through St. Paul's and with J.L. Illsley, worked together to take different courses. They had a business course, a very successful business course out there for a number of years that was very much a part of the
community where older people who had already graduated or who had already left high school and were in the 20s were able to come back and get some skills, develop some skills.
Mr. Speaker, that program is no more, it has been gone for a year now. This government failed to support it. The adult literacy programs at St. Paul's Family Resource were cut and are now over as a result of the lack of support of this government. Now, in spite of the obvious success of some of these programs - these community-based programs - this government has failed to support some of these issues. I guess the point I want to make, and I have to wrap up, I only have a couple of minutes, is that this budget is woefully inadequate in addressing some of the significant challenges that have faced communities in Halifax Atlantic. It may solve this government's budget issue but it doesn't solve the budget issues facing many families, many individuals, many community groups in Halifax Atlantic.
It's woefully inadequate, Mr. Speaker. So while the government wants to pat itself on the back, the people in Halifax Atlantic are saying, this government is not doing anything for us, not me, they're saying, not me necessarily as an individual, but us as a community, as a family, as a group of people who are working together to make Halifax Atlantic, to make Mainland South, to make Spryfield, Sambro and our communities better. This budget is not helping us, this government is not helping us. We will continue, they will continue to do what they do, what good people, what people of good conscience - people of the kind of character that people outside of Nova Scotia have come to expect of Nova Scotians - will continue to do what needs to be done to make the community a better place. All they ask from a government is to recognize the need to provide some leadership, to pay attention to what's happening in the community and to support that community.
This budget does not do that, Mr. Speaker. For those reasons and others that I've cited, in other instances that I've intervened, is why I voted against the budget and why I will be voting against Bill No. 36.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and make a small number of observations on the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. I suppose if one where to start, perhaps even to pick up from where my colleague, the previous speaker, in making reference to the amount of money that the government is making on hidden revenue through the insurance premiums that are charged to Nova Scotians.
Mr. Speaker, last year the government, I believe, collected somewhere in the vicinity of $35 million in hidden taxes on insurance premiums across Nova Scotia. This year, with the spiraling rates, they will collect $48.5 million. That's an increase of $13.5 million over the previous year. With the insurance companies just announcing that there will be further
rate increases, which by the way I find a little suspicious that they all seem to be making these public pronouncements on or about the same period of time, it's almost as if they pretty well know that if they raise these rates collectively, it's very difficult for Nova Scotians to criticize an individual company and that way their market shares and their clientele will essentially remain the same.
Mr. Speaker, the disappointing part about the government's action to date on this I think can certainly be linked to the fact that the government will collect $48.5 million this year in revenue through insurance premiums. I would be willing to bet that many Nova Scotians aren't even aware that they're paying a provincial tax on their insurance premiums, whether it be automobile, home, their business, their life insurance, or what have you. (Interruption) Well, it's a hidden tax. Any time you go to pay your insurance premium, that does not show unless you read the fine print. You pretty well have to read the fine print on those documents to realize that you're being charged a 3 per cent tax on insurance premiums and why did the government do that - so as to collect as much money as possible with the least amount of resistance from the general public. So perhaps this is one of the reasons the government is not moving ahead on doing some reform with the insurance industry and the spiraling rates.
Mr. Speaker, I had one constituent just in the last several days, a senior citizen, she was on a payment plan and she was paying for her auto, never had an accident in her life and she's nearly 80 years of age now, she was paying $55 a month, it doesn't sound like a lot, but you extrapolate that out, that's a fair bit of change over a one-year period. Her rate went from $55 a month to $118 a month for no justifiable reason that she could see. She had no accidents. I mean she never lost her licence. I don't believe this lady even had so much as a parking ticket in her lifetime that we could ascertain. So what's the rationale, you know, why is she paying so much more and why is the government saying absolutely nothing on it. Well, why would they? They just doubled the amount of tax that they have collected from this lady.
So, Mr. Speaker, perhaps this is the reason why the Minister of Environment and Labour is not taking action. He's trying to support the Minister of Finance who has been gouging the consumers and the people of Nova Scotia for four years. It's a little disappointing because the government says we're going to give you a 10 per cent tax break. Well, let's look at that. Are they really giving you a 10 per cent tax break? There are a number of aspects to this. Number one, in the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the government decoupled its taxing system, provincial tax, from the federal tax. So what that means in simple terms is that when a Nova Scotian would receive a tax break from the federal government, it would automatically, before the decoupling, receive a decrease in tax at the provincial level and what did the province do? They said, no, no way, no way are we going to allow that to happen. So we're going to break away from the federal system because it was on a percentage basis, I believe 45 per cent to 55 per cent, and I could be off a few points on this, but essentially the message is there.
So what the provincial government did is they decoupled and the tax break that they got from the federal government, they stuck it to the consumers and to the taxpaying citizens of Nova Scotia so they didn't receive the break that the federal government gave them. The provincial government surreptitiously removed that with no consultation whatsoever, and they continued to do that every year for the next three years. This year they're going to say, we're going to give you a 10 per cent tax break, you should thank us, re-elect us and everybody will be happy.
But it doesn't stop there, Mr. Speaker. It doesn't stop there. (Interruption) It's good to see there's some life on that side of the floor. They imposed over $0.5 billion in user fees since this government came to power - $0.5 billion, that's over $500 million more in user fees on top of those tax increments over the last three years. This 10 per cent tax cut that they're talking about, this $155 rebate that they're talking about, doesn't even scratch the surface of what they've done to the people of Nova Scotia. I will give you an example of how the people of Nova Scotia have been misrepresented, not only at the governmental level, by those in government who work for this Conservative Government.
Several weeks ago we had a representative from EMO come before the Public Accounts Committee, and one of the questions I asked was, would he be kind enough to provide us with a list of the 911 fees that Nova Scotia has in relation to all the other provinces. Yes, true to his word, this particular gentleman was kind enough to supply that particular piece of information. That's not the discouraging part; it's the fact that this gentleman, in my view, deliberately and methodically did not provide the latest, up-to-date information, he provided information that was three years old in a deliberate attempt to make all Nova Scotians believe that we had the lowest 911 user fees in this country, and I will table this document when I'm finished.
Mr. Speaker, a cross-Canada comparison of 911 user fees as of July 2000. My heavens, I only asked this gentleman three weeks ago, so I would suspect that we would at least have 2002 figures, if not 2003 figures. That was a deliberate attempt to mislead this House, because at the very bottom he had two notes: Four Provinces have call answer fees in place and a 5th Province, (PEI) is establishing such a fee - point number one. Point number two: Nova Scotia's fee, @ 36 cents per month (net) would be the lowest of the four that are in place. The four that are in place, as of July 2000, were Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec. They ranged from, at that time, 37 cents for Alberta, 40 cents for British Columbia, 41 cents for Quebec, and 43 cents for Saskatchewan and then there would be the administration fee by the telephone company.
Mr. Speaker, we don't pay the lowest fee in the country, and I will prove it to you and I will also table this. This is a copy of a telephone bill for this month. Nova Scotia 911Emergency Service, 19 cents - that's the fee that the telephone company charges - and for the Nova Scotia Government 911 Fee, 43 cents. Why. in the name of Heaven, would that public servant deliberately and methodically mislead this House? He knew exactly what I
was asking for - the latest, up-to-date information. Why is this government allowing its civil servants to continually mislead members of this House and mislead Nova Scotians? You wonder why we don't trust this budget? You wonder why we don't trust what the government is saying when we have public servants coming before this House, deliberately and methodically misleading and misrepresenting the facts? I will table that.
Mr. Speaker, that's not the first time this has happened. The facts are, we have the highest, we don't have the lowest, we have highest user fees in the country. We have the highest. When you take the administration fee from the telephone company plus the 911 fee that is going, we now have the highest and this public servant sent us a document, as of this morning, saying we had the lowest. Why? Why do we have public servants coming and misleading this House and we're asked to protect the interests of our constituents? How can we do that when we can't even get the facts? We can't even get accurate information. Then they have the audacity to publish all the vulnerable communities in this province that are at risk by saying which ones are the most prepared for a disaster or a terrorist attack or any type of misdeed. The minister would stand up and expose the vulnerability of all these communities, whether it be Goldboro, you know with the gas plant down there; or Stellarton, with the power plants; all these types of issues. The minister would rather self-gratify himself by publishing this in the media to make it look like he's on top of things.
Well, what has he done? He has not only exposed the vulnerability to the undesirables of society, but he has allowed his public servant to come before a committee of this House and misrepresent the facts. Does he not at least review some of this information before it is supplied, or is he sitting quietly as a partner, as members of this Legislature are deliberately and methodically being misled with obsolete information? Mr. Speaker, it has to stop. It has to stop.
That's why we can't support a budget when the government says, ferret it out. I mean, this is not an Easter egg hunt. This is not a game. If the government is looking for support, give us the facts. We're reasonable people, we can analyze it. (Laughter) Well, the member for Shelburne laughs. Maybe he does find it funny. He sits on the Public Accounts Committee, maybe he finds it enjoyable that the Opposition members and the people of Nova Scotia are being hoodwinked into dealing with obsolete information every day.
If we think that's something, Mr. Speaker, there is more information coming from Public Accounts that will show that a Minister of the Crown has misled this House on several occasions on a very important budgetary matter. I will table these documents when I'm finished, they should be public to any member of the committee. We recall the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation. I think all members would be familiar with that, members of the committee at least. It kept showing up as a line item in the budget for three years consecutively as a $2.5 million charge to the department. When questioned on that, the minister indicated well, this was an amendment after the fact. This was an amendment after the budgetary process was concluded.
Well, what do you do? You take him at his word. So we asked a witness who came before the Public Accounts Committee for the documentation to verify what the minister was saying. By golly, she was good, she was very good, she provided that. But what she provided, Mr. Speaker, was not what the minister said. It was totally contrary. For the first two fiscal years that this organization was up and running, the minister, according to these documents, had clear evidence, had a submitted budget proposal that was submitted by the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation. I will just refer to the two referenced documents. The budgets for the year 2000-01 was submitted at the cut-off date. It was submitted to the deputy minister and to the minister. Clearly, the minister had that information before his budget was prepared. The submission was for a $5 million charge to his department. It's here in black and white. So why would the minister stand in his place and say, oh no, that was an afterthought.
But you know what's even more disturbing? In these documents - and I can see why the minister didn't want to talk about it because it refers to the fact that it will put pressures on other issues in the department. In other words, they're going to rob Peter to pay Paul. That's what they're going to do. And, that's what they did. That's why the minister was so calm about it. He's now the Minister of Justice, but you can forgive and you can understand for one year. I could certainly understand, let's say it was an oversight. But two years in a row? Two years and the documentation was submitted on time by the representative of the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.
The document and the request, the budgets even for this particular fiscal year, the one we just concluded, for the 2002 fiscal year and the one beyond that. they're there and they were all submitted before the deadline, so how could the Minister of Health who is now the Minister of Justice, have stood in his place and said, that was an afterthought. Clearly, the correspondence was sent to his office. Why would he do that? Why would he put members of the Opposition - it doesn't matter which Party - why would he put the people of Nova Scotia in such a misrepresented position? I'll table this. I see a very perplexed look on many of the faces on the government benches.
HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I don't know what the honourable member is talking about, but I expect it's the 10th time, maybe 15th time we've heard it from him in this House and I was wondering if he was going to get on to new information which I think is required. (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I understand the rule of repetition, thank you member for Preston. I think as long as he's still focussed on the Financial Measures (2003) Act, and is still focussed on a specific issue that he's not repeating consistently on this particular issue, then I think he's well within his rights to speak on the issue. The member for Cape Breton West has the floor.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The minister wants evidence. Well, let me refer to one letter that was sent to the minister and it was signed by Colleen Clattenburg for Hugh Gillis, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation. Would the minister who was in the department at that time, would he have the vaguest, the vaguest recollection of receiving any representation where they submitted not only their formal request for that year, but also for the following year - that request was October 11, 2001, and the next one was February 12, 2002. Is that the documentation, is that the evidence he's looking for? Maybe he didn't get a chance to read the paperwork in his own department when he was there. With that, I'll also table, for the minister, a copy of the budget proposals that were submitted to his department at that time. If that's the evidence he's looking for, that's as clear as I can make it. If he's still having a problem understanding that, is it little wonder that members of the Opposition would not want to support this budget?
The minister, by his own admission, can't even recall the issue being before his department. He can't even recall the official representation that was made to the honourable James Muir, Minister of Health.
AN HON. MEMBER: The former minister.
MR. MACKINNON: (Interruption) Well, at that time he was the minister. If he's looking for new evidence, that's as clear as you can get it. My suggestion is don't focus on Health issues anymore, because you've done enough damage.
Mr. Speaker, it's an issue of confidence, it's an issue of trust, it's an issue of really getting down to believing whether the government has really put its true agenda on the table. We've seen where the government was able to come up with $2.5 million - and by the way I would ask if the Page who was kind enough to get a copy of those documents for me would also get a copy for the Minister of Justice, even though he's not in Health anymore, he wanted the evidence, the Health Research Foundation, it's important that he at least get the information that was sent to him, albeit it's a year or two after the fact that he's looking for this evidence. That might help him a bit.
Mr. Speaker, that's why we're suspect. We had the Deputy Minister of Finance come before the Public Accounts Committee days ago, and I believe the summation was that we have a debt of approximately $11.6 billion, maybe $11.7 billion, and then we also have the unfunded liability of all the different insurance programs for the Public Service and other agencies in government, the Teachers Pension Fund and so on. We're still waiting for some clarification as to whether that $1.5 billion is included with the $11.6 billion or $11.7 billion. If it isn't, we're looking at well over $12 billion, almost $13 billion. That's serious. That puts us in a far worse position than the rosy picture that was being painted by the Minister of Finance over the last number of months.
Mr. Speaker, borrowing $118 million to give a rebate of $68 million, what we've done is we've increased our debt. The higher the debt, clearly demonstrated, the lower the credit rating, and the higher the interest charges, because our ability to borrow is restricted so we become a high risk, so high risk clients generally pay a higher premium. Why would the government, why would the Minister of Finance want to further put Nova Scotians at risk? Simply because they're trying to court some favour in an election. That's not the way to do it anymore. Those John Buchanan days are gone.
Mr. Speaker, look at it issue by issue. Now we have the debt services of the province, in other words the cost of our borrowing, that has now gone from where it was at one time, perhaps one of the lowest in government, and I know this has taken quite a few years. Even since this government has taken over, it was the number three budgetary item as far as expenses. The Department of Health is number one, that's pushing close to the $2 billion mark. We have Education which is somewhere in the $900 million mark. Now we have the debt-servicing charges pushing the $1 billion mark. It has exceeded Education.
I know the minister has made reference to sinking funds and so on, but there are a lot of appendices to the issue that the Minister of Finance has spoken on. You can't just allocate it to one issue and not the others. If you appropriate that equally then, still servicing the debt is the number two item on the budgetary scale. We see what's happening with these health care workers outside of Province House, and I think we would be remiss not to acknowledge the reality of the situation. The question I would have is what's the real cost, not to the government and not just to the health care workers, or to the individuals, but what's the cost to these special needs Nova Scotians? What's the real cost of having them in such a state of turmoil and uprooted from their homes and a very conducive and loving and caring environment, I would suspect, without any hesitation on that.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Community Services indicated earlier today that there is additional money in the envelope other than what's on the table. I think if the Minister of Community Services had provided the employer with additional monies that don't seem to be on the table, he has an obligation to stand up and clarify his statements: placating those who ask the questions in such a half-hearted fashion does not answer the issue at hand. I think we have to know what's on the table. If the Minister of Environment and Labour and the Minister of Community Services, or indeed if the Premier feels that they are being paid enough, I believe that's what the Premier was saying, that they believe that they're being paid a good, fair wage presently and they're quite content to accept that, the Premier and the government. If they feel that strongly about it, why don't they just bypass all these little stations and go right to arbitration?
AN HON. MEMBER: Binding arbitration.
MR. MACKINNON: Exactly. Mediation obviously hasn't worked, you know, arbitration, you're just upping the ante a little, go to binding arbitration. Mr. Speaker, what was the whole purpose of this Kendrick report? Was it for the minister to have some after-hours reading and muse about what he might do on a future day? No, this was a report that was commissioned by government to take some specific action for the special needs citizens of this province and he's not doing it and then on a previous day he will stand up and boast about, well, you know, we did receive $11 million from the federal government for housing, we only spent $2 million and we're not quite sure what we're going to do with the other $9 million. Why not? It's not your money. The federal government sent that down to help the citizens of Nova Scotia, not for you to play politics with it. Help Nova Scotians, just don't sit there as if they're tone-deaf to reality of what the people of Nova Scotia are saying. People need help and they need it now. These health care workers will do far more for Nova Scotia when they're back at their work stations where they do what they do best.
Mr. Speaker, I'm just absolutely amazed, especially in and about metro here, at the Tory backbenchers who sit in total silence. I don't know, it's almost like somebody took invisible masking tape and put it across their lips. They're not allowed to talk.
AN HON. MEMBER: Toeing the Party line.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, maybe that's just what they're doing, they're toeing the Party line. Politics comes before people. I would hope not. I know some of these ladies and gentlemen. They are fine people, but why don't they stand up for the constituents who sent them here? Why aren't they, why aren't they standing up and voicing their opinion on this piece of legislation? Why aren't they standing up and speaking on behalf of the health care workers and the families and the special needs citizens?
Mr. Speaker, they all can't get in Cabinet. They all can't get in Cabinet and they become dillusionary if they think that they're going to, you know. I listened with interest this morning as the member for Preston went on about a great concern about the dumping of garbage down in his constituency. Very good. The only reason he spoke up is because the local councillor decided he was going to do something.
AN HON. MEMBER: He did nothing.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, he brought it to the attention of the people in the Department of Transportation and Public Works 20 times, which is 19 and a half more than you did. You came in a day late with too little. We'll supply you the garbage bags if you want to go out and start working at it. He's been here for four years and he did nothing on the issue, because if he did, it wouldn't be on CBC. Simple as that. The local councillor, Councillor Colwell, would not have to be doing what is obviously a provincial responsibility.
MR. SPEAKER: Order. I'm giving the member for Cape Breton West a bit of leeway, but I don't know if the issue of a dump in the riding of Preston is directly related to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. (Interruption) Well, if it is, the member maybe can help explain to us how that's connected to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. Thank you.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Very easy. They're not tone deaf any more so now I can tell them how it's related. Because the communications director within the Department of Transportation and Public Works indicated that it would cost between $60,000 and $70,000 to clean up that mess, that's how it's related. It's a budgetary matter, and it's on provincial lands. The member for Preston says that he's been on top of the issue. Well, what has he done? What has he done to get that $60,000 from the Department of Transportation and Public Works to go out to Preston and clean up that mess?
Now, that's a fair question, that's related to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. Never mind picking on the councillor because he's out there doing something. You join hands with him and go and get the job done, too. You have the wherewithal to do it. You're in government, on that side of the House, you can tap the Minister of Transportation and Public Works on the shoulder and say, get that mess in my riding cleaned up and get it cleaned up now because it's on provincial property. If that was on my property or the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley or the member for Truro, if it was on their property the Department of Environment and Labour would have them charged in no time. What's he doing? That's a fair question to ask, why isn't he doing something? Yes, it is related to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill.
So, those who have come alive with glee, thinking that I was off base, are soon to discover that it is a budgetary matter.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The member for Preston has worked very diligently on this, both during his municipal career and as MLA. I know he gave me a personal tour of the area, explained many of the things he's done and he is doing in the community. So I think for the honourable member for Cape Breton West's information, he'd be very pleased to know the honourable member for Preston is doing a great job. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. Order, order. That wasn't a point of order, in case someone might have thought it was.
I recognize the member for Cape Breton West.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge what the minister has put on the floor here for the members of the Legislature. If he's been doing such a great job, why is that so many people are upset and why is it that officials within the Department of Transportation and Public Works are saying they're not going to do it because they don't have the money to do it? We don't want him waxing any more eloquence, he can't even look after things in his own department because we have strikers in front of Province House to prove that. So don't get up and wax that type of diatribe in my view.
If the member for Preston was getting the job done I'd congratulate him. Let's talk about taking a tour of the site, Mr. Speaker, look at the log book for the number of flights that were taken by government in the last year. They're travelling around - my heavens, the Department of Environment and Labour only logged 21.6 hours for the entire year. That's out of nearly 1,600 hours of flight time at a cost of anywhere from $300 to $800 an hour. Why wouldn't some of that money, close to $550,000 go towards cleaning up that site in Preston rather than flying around looking at the sights? We're not interested in having aviation tourist Cabinet Ministers, we're interested in cleaning up the site in Preston. Maybe the Minister of Community Services would be well-advised to encourage his Cabinet colleagues to redirect those dollars from the air to the ground to clean up the mess.
That's what I would do. Never mind flying around the province taking tours and charging more money to the taxpayers. So maybe the Minister of Community Services would engage in a rather lively debate about how that money could be better spent to help his colleague from Preston. I think that's fair. The member for Preston, he knows that I would stand here, gladly, and congratulate him if I thought he played an active role in cleaning up that mess. He knows that, and I'll be the first to admit it. But he hasn't done it, because if he had done it, the mess wouldn't be there, and if it's a more systemic problem, as he suggests, then obviously his preventative measures haven't worked either, and I think that's a legitimate concern.
Never mind spending $550,000 - I'll table that for members of Cabinet who may not have this information, this vital information - it seems as though we have to be providing them with the financial information so they know what's going on in their own departments. Like the Minister of Community Services, you won't have to worry about his flight plan, the logs, because he didn't even get off the ground. That's the only department that didn't charge anything to the plane service. Either he used a bicycle or he drove out, unless the member for Preston took him out and that's great, maybe he could take him to some other places, maybe he could take him to some of these special needs' homes where these special needs' Nova Scotians are looking for some leadership.
If he says there's extra money in the envelope, what extra money is he talking about? I was absolutely astounded to think that the Minister of Community Services would actually engage in that type of debate outside the collective bargaining process. I think he realizes that he was over the line on that, but it's now public record, so you can't take it back. It was his
own choosing to put that issue on the table. He's the one that said there's more money in the envelope. How much money is in the envelope over and above the 2/2/2 that the minister referred to? And it is his own admission to the media here this morning on the steps of the Legislature that there was more money in the envelope that was provided to the employer. Well, where is it and how much is it?
That is a budgetary item. That's related to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. How can we support something when he won't even tell us what we're supposed to be supporting? And it's not just blind faith, you know, in the final analysis, tell me one Nova Scotian, if you gave them $155 who wouldn't take it if they felt they more than paid for it. They'll take it; they deserve it. If I had my way, I'd try and put more money in their pocket. It's not easy - it doesn't matter what side of the House you're on - there are a lot of pressures, but it's the process and the methodology that's behind it, which is what's really turning off an awful lot of Nova Scotians. They're not duped by this kind of politics anymore.
Although I will say, Mr. Speaker, that the Premier, upon election, indicated that in year four - and I don't have the document here in front of me, but I'm going by memory and one of the ministers can correct me - There would be some relief. (Interruption) Yes. I believe that's correct - and true to his word. But he didn't say that he was going to go and borrow $118 million. How can you say you have a balanced budget if you went and you borrowed $118 million? In other words, we spent $118 more than we took in; that's not a balanced budget. I don't care, they can call it whatever they want. They can call it a balanced-balanced budget, they can it balanced a 100 times, it doesn't matter. If you spend $118 million more than you collect in taxes, that's not balanced. That's what the people of Nova Scotia will be looking at when the candidates starting going door to door. They will be asking some serious questions. Why would the Opposition not support this? Legitimate, that's a legitimate thing.
As a matter of principle, the history of this Legislature pretty well demonstrates that Opposition would generally oppose the budget for a number of reasons. One, because of the varied philosophies on how to appropriate the resources of government, the tax dollars, on different programs and so on. Our priorities would be slightly different. It's not that we oppose a rebate to Nova Scotians, per se, not at all, it's also an issue of the fact that the government has gone out and borrowed the $118 million, like I've indicated, to pay back $68 million.
The debt is going up, our interest charges are going to go up and all these right-wing Conservatives on that side of the House who came here in such an altruistic fashion, saying, we're going to live within our means, you're not living within your means by doing this. The Financial Measures (2003) Bill, Mr. Speaker, speaks very clearly to the departure of what they said they were going to do and the reality of what's happening. That's reason number two, why the Opposition opposes the budget that was put forth.
The people of Nova Scotia have had quite a bit thrown at them in the last few years, and even by previous administrations. It was pretty tough for them, because, albeit the argument as to when deficits really started or the debt really started to grow or not, it really spiraled under the John Buchanan Administration, from 1978 to 1992, when he made an unceremonious departure.
Mr. Speaker, that's when we almost went to the verge of bankruptcy with Nova Scotia Resources Limited, the Workers' Compensation Board, the Nova Scotia Teachers' Pension Fund, and you name it, just about everything in government. They spent money like drunken sailors. They did, I've never seen anything like it. The Savage Administration did get a handle and took it from the brink. We were moving along quite nicely and then all of a sudden we're back here.
The bonding agencies now have us rated as the second-lowest in the country. Newfoundland is the only province that has a credit rating worse than Nova Scotia. Only Newfoundland. We can understand, because of the history and the difficulties that Newfoundland has experienced over the years. But if we're doing that great, why have we slipped? Why have we slipped, Mr. Speaker?
We've slipped because the government keeps borrowing money every year, it has borrowed in excess of $100 million more than it took in in taxes or got from the federal government every year. It's not a balanced budget, a truly balanced budget. It's not. It is not, I will debate that with anyone. You don't have to be a chartered accountant or a whiz in math to figure out that when you have to go to the bank and borrow $118 million to be able to meet all your financial obligations, you've obviously spent more than you've taken in. Simple. It's as simple as that.
All those Conservative backbenchers who are over there, sitting so quietly, are not doing anything about it, which brings me to a slightly different issue but, yes, Mr. Speaker, related to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and that is the article that was in yesterday's Daily News, or Wednesday's, I suppose. It's called Reflections of a Proud Monarchist by the member for Kings North.
Mr. Speaker, that is a deflection away from the real issues that we have to debate on the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. This is a distraction for all members to have to be looking over our shoulder and competing with that type of issue. One week he wants to jump outside of his skeleton and criticize everybody in here on all sides of the House. The next day he wants to be an MLA. We need members like the member for Kings North to stay in here and debate the issue such as the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, get on his feet and explain to us why he votes for this budget, defend it. Stop musing about everybody else's capacity, professionally, personally, historically, whether they're monarchists or they're not, and
musing about all these things. We need members like the member for Kings North in here to enter into a dialogue, a debate on the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. We cannot have those types of political distractions because that takes away from the process. This is an extremely important document - the Financial Measures (2003) Bill.
Mr. Speaker, we have flooding problems down through the Valley in that member's very own constituency. They need help. They don't need resolutions alone, just congratulating them about selling tickets on a quilt or a tapestry. They need leadership. That's what we're elected for. We're MLAs in this Legislature to do our job for Nova Scotians, not to muse about other MLAs on a daily basis. The Financial Measures Act is the most important signatory of any government and we need every MLA to participate. We don't need half-hearted cheerleaders irrespective of what their political philosophy is and given the sheer mounting evidence demonstrating quite clearly that members on this side of the House, both in the Liberal and the NDP caucuses, have been misled on numerous occasions by representatives from different departments, by ministers in this House, how can we have any confidence that what's in that document is really what they say? There are too many questions, too many questions and, yes, not enough answers.
Mr. Speaker, I pointed out on a number of occasions the importance of providing accurate and timely information so that all members could be able to draw their own conclusions and, you know, we will listen to let's say, for example - let's pick a department - the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and the minister boasts about all the extra millions of dollars that have been put into the budget this year, well over $105 million or $106 million, up from $60-some million when they first came to power. What he forgot to say is what percentage of that is federal dollars and why hasn't the Tory Government laid out this road plan that they said that they were going to do in their blue book? You don't see them referencing the blue book the last few days because the more we get into the meat of this budget, the more we see that they have deviated away from their master plan. Do you know why? It doesn't match with their political agenda. (Interruption)
Mr. Speaker, the minister is complimenting me on my speech and I appreciate that.
He's a fair-minded man.
Anyway, I don't want to be distracted by rabbit tracks. I know my colleague, the member for Dartmouth East made an announcement earlier today and I certainly want to go on the record as indicating that I'm very proud to have served with the member for Dartmouth East. (Applause) I'm still on a waiting list, I'm still asking him to get me some help over the years, but he's still working on it. I'm very proud, he's made invaluable contributions to Nova Scotia, particularly through the budgetary process in the Departments of Health, Justice and a number of other departments. His care and compassion for Nova Scotians, particularly the disadvantaged, his record is unblemished. I think many Nova Scotians and many Nova Scotia politicians can be very proud of the track record of Dr. Smith and the dignity which he brought to this House. I know he's been very much aware of the
situation that's happening with the RRSS workers and every day he's constantly coming up with some different ideas on how we might be able to help not just the workers, but, indeed, those special needs residents.
The government, I think, has been a little unfair. They have this divide and conquer philosophy. I'm not going to be repetitive on that issue too much because I made reference to the fact that some Nova Scotians will get the rebate and others won't. But let's look at it from a slightly different perspective. The majority of these health care workers that are protesting outside the Legislature, they're women. Many of them are not full-time workers so they won't benefit from an RSP process at all, this retirement savings plan that the minister waxes eloquence on. It's just not there.
If you look at the latest report from the Workers' Compensation Board, do you know that the percentage of women that have been injured in the workplace has increased over the last year? It's gone up from 33 per cent to 35 per cent. It doesn't sound like a significant number, but when you're dealing with tens of thousands of workers in Nova Scotia, that's a significant increase. What we saw down at the Casino Nova Scotia just in the last few days is just an example. That's like a snapshot in time of what's happening. It demonstrates the somewhat patronizing attitude that the government has on women's issues in the workplace.
Two years ago I raised the issue of workers' safety at the casino, two workers who were forced to quit because they refused to work in a smoking environment. I tabled those documents. When they filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour, they were cut loose. They were cut loose. Those two cases that I raised at that particular point in time, they're as real today as they were two years ago. I wasn't surprised to hear about that ruling. Not one bit. That's indicative of what's happening.
Yes, the number of injuries to female workers in this province is going up, and do you know where it's going up? In the health and social services sector, in particular, that's where it's going up. That's on Page 36 of the latest report from the Workers' Compensation Board. Clearly, there is considerable stress and pressure on many of these health care workers that has not been there before. I would submit - and I just have this one year, here, which gives you a two-year projection in time - these women, I'll bet you, if we were to look at the other reports, there's been a significant increase over the last number of years. This will continue to happen, there'll be more and more injuries in the workplace with the female workers because of the pressures and yes, because of the strains that are put on them because of the low pay and the working conditions. I think it's unfair.
So the government, by the way - and talk about a budgetary item - I'm just absolutely astounded as to why this government would allow Mr. David Stuewe to be exiting from the Workers' Compensation Board, a CEO who has brought the unfunded liability from 75 per cent down to 24 per cent, or reverse, 76 per cent fundability or 75 per cent fundability. That's a phenomenal job. Is it because this government wants him out of the way because he
wouldn't go along with any attempt by this government, since they put it over on their policy and management board through the Financial Measures Act as you will recall when they did their realignment of government departments?
That's opening the back door so they can get in and do what John Buchanan's era did, manipulate the rates and you'll see. I'll make the prediction today as I did two or three years ago, you're going to see the unfunded liability go back up and you're going to see this government in an effort to curry votes with the electorate. They're going to try to manipulate the rates and use it for political gain. You know what, we'll be back worse than we were before. The deputy minister has indicated that we have $1.5 billion in unfunded liability in pension plans. We can't afford to go back and have the workers' compensation bank account purged again by another Tory Administration. We can't have it.
Mr. Speaker, I realize my time is getting short, I have one minute? (Interruption) I think many of the points that I've made clearly demonstrate why we on this side of the Legislature are somewhat suspect of some of the issues in the government. There are some good issues in this budget, there are, and I'll be the first to say it, but there are a lot of other issues. As ministers can appreciate, when we have public servants come before this House misleading elected representatives, whether it's for political purpose or whatever, that's why we have lost confidence in this government and the process by which they're trying to achieve the success of the Financial Measures (2003) Bill.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak on this bill.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, before I get into the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, I just want to acknowledge the honourable member for Dartmouth East as well. The honourable member for Dartmouth East, I believe, I first met in 1988 when in fact I was a member of the Dartmouth City Council. The honourable member for Dartmouth East certainly visited the council chambers from time to time on a number of important issues that he felt were pertinent to the City of Dartmouth. I want to say that I acknowledge the tremendous work that the honourable member for Dartmouth East has done on behalf of his constituents, on behalf of the City of Dartmouth and on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia.
I think there's a lot to be said with respect to those of us who enter public life. We often get a lot of criticism but the tremendous hours and time and work that we have to put in to serve in public life is often forgotten. For that particular reason I want to acknowledge the member for Dartmouth East on his retirement, certainly wish him the best in future years in all of his endeavours and I know that he will succeed on that. (Applause) I certainly know he will succeed in whatever he does because he's the kind of individual who makes sure he succeeds.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin where I actually left off, I believe it was Tuesday evening, April 29th, when I adjourned debate on what was then called the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and there was an amendment to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and it was an amendment called the hoist. The hoist would have allowed this Financial Measures (2003) Bill to be set aside for a six-month period, to set it aside for a six-month period so that we could go across the province and discuss the items that were a part of this Financial Measures (2003) Bill with all Nova Scotians, and all Nova Scotians would have the opportunity then to participate in the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and to provide input.
Mr. Speaker, that didn't happen and I must say that I guessed that that would not happen. Consistently year after year since I've been here, in the last five years the same approach has been taken to hoist the Financial Measures Act and then to put it on the road, and each year the government has voted the six months hence out and they did that again yesterday as a matter of fact. So today we're back in return on the actual bill, on the bill that's before us, the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, Bill No. 36.
Mr. Speaker, I was hoping that I would get some pertinent information from the member for Kings North when he spoke in late debate about the government's tax relief meeting the criteria for social fairness and economic effectiveness; certainly that didn't happen as well. The member for Kings North spoke on the issue, but he certainly skirted the issue of how the government set out the criteria for social fairness and economic effectiveness. I would want to say that it was a lesson in itself, because it dealt with respect to the $155 that those 433,000 Nova Scotians will get once this Financial Measures (2003) Bill is passed, but what it didn't do is it didn't deal with the $155 that will not be given to the 300,000 Nova Scotians who will not benefit from opening up their mailbox and receiving a cheque.
Those 300,000 Nova Scotians, each and every one of those members who represent the constituencies on the government side will certainly meet some of them, there's no question, and who makes up those 300,000 Nova Scotians who will not receive that $155 cheque? They will be seniors, persons on disability, persons who are receiving income assistance and even those who are working poor who will not have paid $1 into the provincial government's tax in order to be a recipient of the $155. Those are the individuals, Mr. Speaker, who will not benefit from this, and I have always said that when a government balances budgets and creates surpluses, all Nova Scotians should be the benefactor of that, should be a recipient of the spoils of government by bringing that forward.
Mr. Speaker, it's most important that we look at today's families and make sure that today's families benefit from that $155 tax benefit, not only a certain segment of today's families, but all of today's families. That means single parents, seniors, the working poor, all those are a part of today's families, and if in fact certain individuals are going to be the recipients of the $155 tax rebate that's coming in the mail, then everyone should.
I must say first of all, I don't know if in fact the Minister of Finance made this decision on his own, if it was a Cabinet decision, or if caucus had a role to play with respect to this $155 cheque that's coming out. I think possibly around election time, that being this June - I think the government has actually mentioned that the cheques are hopefully coming forward in mid-June, I think that has already been mentioned in the Legislature, and if that's the case, I would like to know if in fact this was a Cabinet decision, if caucus played a total role in this and if caucus didn't play a total role in this, caucus should have played a total role because they will meet the constituents out there who will not be the recipients of this cheque in the mail.
Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, one would have thought that the Minister of Community Services would have certainly played an important role in the government's divvying out of the surpluses to those Nova Scotians. The government can rightly say that it is meeting one of its mandates in the blue book, but the government also knows that everyone should benefit the spoils of a tax surplus. I will tell you that many of the individuals who will not benefit from this will remember, and those individuals who will benefit will think that this government is taking a crass approach to politics and has decided to buy their vote. I think, in both ways, this government loses.
This government had the opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to make sure that everyone would be a recipient of those tax dollars. Better still, the government could have decided that rather than give a tax break, that it forgo that commitment in the blue book and that it would look at the programs and services that it would provide to Nova Scotians, particularly those Nova Scotians who are less fortunate. The some $68 million that has been allocated for this $155 cheque in June could have then been set aside to enhance some programs and services.
Obviously, Mr. Speaker, the minister must have been aware that there would be collective agreements coming forward and there would be the need for negotiations, and that there would be the need to set money aside. The Minister of Community Services must have informed his government that there were a number of contracts under his leadership that would need to be addressed. I'm talking about, particularly, the strike that's occurring out there now, the strike by the RRSS. They're going into their fourth week. We know the job that they do. The government is aware of the job they do. It's a job that neither you nor I nor anyone else would be prepared to commit to, every day, seven days a week.
These individuals are truly dedicated to that job, and all they're asking for is a fair wage for the job that they do. Is there anything wrong in that? I see nothing wrong in requesting a fair wage for the job you do. The Minister of Community Services and the Minister of Finance could have very well said, look, here's a special service to our most vulnerable Nova Scotians, those family members and friends who have intellectual disabilities, who we know need the programs and services that should be provided to them by government, therefore, we're going to set aside the dollars that are needed to make sure that this collective agreement sets forth.
Neither the Minister of Finance nor the Minister of Community Services is willing to budge on this item, yet $68 million has been set aside for the $155 tax rebate. I would say that many Nova Scotians would appreciate or certainly hope the government would move in the direction of making sure that our most vulnerable benefited before a tax break was set forth. The counsellors of RRSS who are strike provide the kind of valuable service that both this community needs, the family needs, and we know that they rightfully deserve.
I know there is some pressure being placed upon the counsellors of RRSS, those individuals who are on strike now, and it's being placed upon their shoulders by the family members, some family members, according to yesterday's newspaper article. I want to say that that may be somewhat unfairly placed, because now the family members certainly understand the kind of dedicated services that the RRSS counsellors have been providing to their family members and those individuals with intellectual disabilities. They understand how difficult it is to do that job, and what they don't understand is why government won't move to provide those counsellors with wage parity or a fair salary for a job well done. Unfortunately, some of that pressure is coming on to counsellors. The counsellors out there on strike are feeling that pressure because they really don't want to be there. They know that through this Financial Measures (2003) Bill the government could set aside the dollars, put those dollars forward to the board of the RRSS, that volunteer board that must negotiate with those counsellors, and make an attempt to resolve this strike.
They don't want to be there, the family members of those with intellectual disabilities want them to be back to what they call home. They want to be back with those individuals who have provided the services to them, and some of them have been there for 10, 12 years. Despite the talk about a revolving door, there are those who have been there for 10, 12 years. Whether you are there for one year or you're there for 10 or 12 years, you are providing a dedicated service that you are committed to. Those individuals are compassionate, caring individuals who look after those family members, as I've said, without being repetitive, time and time again.
The Financial Measures (2003) Bill, if in fact the government, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Community Services would have sat down and discussed how best they could have meted out these dollars, the surplus that this government has benefited from, they could have sat and they could have discussed how much money, how many
dollars should go into sustaining social programs, making sure that those programs are enhanced, and making sure that the employees who would benefit from those social programs rightly benefit from them.
Mr. Speaker, it's not only the RRSS individuals, but in the whole Department of Community Services there are some areas that truly need to be looked at with respect to additional dollars. Those additional dollars, instead of going into the hands of some Nova Scotians who least need those dollars, could have been turned back into social programs which would have benefited many more Nova Scotians.
Mr. Speaker, what comes to mind, for example, are transition homes and women's centres. There could have been additional dollars there. Many of the constituency representatives, Members of the Legislative Assembly, who serve on that side of the Government House know full well that they're being taxed to provide services and programs on a very limited budget. We know that. The government knows that. Yet nothing is being done. Some of that $68 million could have very well been set aside for those sorts of programs.
Also, in the Child Protection Services, we have a report that came forward called, Caseload-Overload. Mr. Speaker, it demonstrated to this government just how much the social workers are overloaded with the number of clients they have, the responsibility that they have to paperwork, to prepare for each and every one of those clients, the visitation of those clients services. They can't possibly meet any of those demands, and yet government has done nothing with respect to this report nor have they set any money aside for hiring additional social workers, particularly in Child Protection Services. There's a number of areas which this Financial Measures (2003) Bill hasn't addressed. That in itself is one.
I want to come back to the $155 because that is an issue that's extremely dear to my heart. It's an issue that says that government demonstrates the direction in where it's going to go. It's going to make sure that those most affluent will benefit from the spoils of government and those less fortunate will have to fend more for themselves than ever before.
If we don't believe that's the case, all we have to do is remember the report from the National Council of Welfare and welfare incomes in Nova Scotia in 2002. That report says, those people on social assistance, income assistance in this province, have been worse off under this government in the last four years than ever before. It's consistently dropping. This government is very much aware because we know that there's increases to the food banks and some, even many, of the members have food banks in their constituency. Rather than declining in this province, they're actually increasing. They can't meet the demands of the community out there. As a matter of fact, we have moved not only from food banks, we have moved to clothing depots, to furniture depots. We have moved in a direction where Nova
Scotians, the most vulnerable and the poorest Nova Scotians, are not benefiting from a balanced budget in this province.
We can continue in this direction, but the costs will continue to mount as well. The government may be able to show on the books that it's doing a balanced job, but what about the human deficit, the deficit in providing services and programs to those individuals who we are responsible for making sure that they have a better quality of life in our society.
They're the ones that members of the Opposition are going to have to meet on the doorsteps. They're the ones, those 300,000 Nova Scotians who you won't escape, those 300,000 Nova Scotians who will know that there is no cheque coming in the mail to them. I don't care what constituency you represent, whether you represent an affluent constituency or not, there will be those in your constituency who will recognize that they're not going to be the beneficiary of the spoils of government and a balanced budget.
It's those individuals whom I stand in this Legislature for, it's those individuals who need the voice. It's unfortunate that I'm not on the government side of the floor today, but there will certainly come a time when we will be on the government side of the floor and we will introduce policies that will make sure that all Nova Scotians and today's families benefit from a balanced budget and a surplus. Not just those who will spend the money outside this province and who will spend this money on items that will mean absolutely nothing to those poor Nova Scotians.
I want to say that when we look at how the budget has been crafted, we need to constantly remind the government that it's important that all Nova Scotians benefit from this $155 rebate or refund called the Nova Scotia taxpayers' refund is going to come to them. We also need to know that the Nova Scotians after the year 2004, who will receive the 10 per cent tax cut, will be those individuals who will not benefit from that 10 per cent tax cut. So if you're earning $100,000 a year, under this 10 per cent tax cut, you'll be able to walk away with $10,000 which you will be able to spend wherever and however you want. If you earn $10,000 as an income, you will walk away with $1,000, a significant difference, but there will be many, many Nova Scotians and there will be 300,000 Nova Scotians who will not receive any break as a result of that 10 per cent tax cut.
Mr. Speaker, we need to know how government determines or sets criteria for how it decides to spend the taxpayers' surplus and I believe that all the taxpayers must benefit from this surplus. Those individuals who go out there and have to pay for children's clothing, children's medication, those seniors who have to pay for home heating fuel, long-term care, those individuals who have to pay for auto insurance, all of those could get a tax rebate through the HST by a reduction in the HST. That's how this could happen and this government has a role and responsibility to make sure that everyone benefits from those dollars.
Mr. Speaker, I know that there's no budget item within the Financial Measures (2003) Bill with respect to the Capital Regional Transportation Authority, but I do know that that is a committee that has been spoken about in the Speech from the Throne, but yet no budget item has been placed on it and the Capital Regional Transportation Authority is something that's of keen interest to me, what the structure will look like, what the makeup will be, if in fact it will dissolve the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission and if, in fact, how much money is going to be set aside, what kind of input the provincial government is going to have, or if this is going to be a joint committee with the Province of Nova Scotia and the Halifax Regional Municipality because this Capital Regional Transportation Authority, in my opinion, is probably going to deal with a myriad of transportation issues within the metropolitan area.
One area in particular which is of concern to me is in fact the expansion and the growth of the Burnside Industrial Park and the need, Mr. Speaker, to have an appropriate transportation system because of the population in that surrounding area, also, the access to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge. I have to say to you we need to know what direction this government is going with respect to the Capital Regional Transportation Authority and how much money the government is going to allocate, if any, to that Capital Regional Transportation Authority.
I know that most recently I have been trying to find out just exactly what's going to happen, but there has been no way of finding out because the minister responsible for that says that there are still ongoing discussions, that we haven't decided the structure of how this is going to work and in time that will come out, I certainly want to be able to know, Mr. Speaker, because it's important to know. As a result of my conversation over a year ago with the then former minister and the Chairman of the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission and the general manager of wanting to have some responsibility of whose role it is to maintain the street networks to the gateway of the City of Dartmouth, which comes through the A. Murray MacKay Bridge, is significantly important - I need to know where that's going to stand in the future and how that's going to be funded and who is going to be responsible for it.
Also, Mr. Speaker, although not in the budget, there had been some talk about the extension of Burnside Drive into Sackville and that it might very well be a tolled highway and if that's the case, Mr. Speaker, I have some concerns because not only do the people from Sackville, Truro, the Eastern Shore, Porters Lake, Musquodoboit and the surrounding area, Bedford and the surrounding area, not only are they employed there, but now they will be expected to pay a toll to come to their place of employment. I'm certainly hoping that that doesn't happen. I'm certainly hoping that under the Capital Regional Transportation Authority, that the minister - if, in fact, the government is going to set some money aside then we have to know how that money is going to be spent and where it's going be spent and if HRM is obligated to put dollars in as well. Since this is going to be a joint venture, from
my understanding, although the details haven't been out yet, we need to know if those kind of things are going to happen.
It is a very serious issue with respect to Victoria Road, the Bedford Highway, going between Dartmouth and Bedford and the traffic jams that are there now as a result of people trying to move out during rush hours. Many people spend half an hour to 45 minutes during those rush hour traffics and even longer trying to get to Sackville, Bedford and even to the inner city of Halifax and Dartmouth as a result of the lack of highway improvements in that area. All you need to do is take a drive over there and you certainly would know. Hopefully, within the Financial Measures (2003) Bill which deals with the budgets of this Legislative Assembly, we would certainly see that this government is moving in the right direction and moving in the direction to address that.
It's an important issue because it's long overdue with respect to how to address the transportation problems within the metropolitan area. Simply because of the constituency that I represent, Dartmouth North, there is a tremendous need to develop a traffic pattern that is going to ease the pressures off the residential communities that surround the Burnside Industrial Park and the harbour-oriented activities along Windmill Road.
To me and to the residents that I represent, it's extremely important to know just exactly what the Capital Regional Transportation Authority's role is going to be. I certainly hope it's a role that's going to be positive, I certainly hope that the government is going to play an important role and I mean the provincial government is going to play an important role and not just simply leave it totally to the municipality and ask the municipality to finally set up the organization. We need to make sure that that's in place. If that's not in place then we're going to be in trouble. Although it's important that the government does say when this committee is going to come forward and when it's going to be formed, as well.
I want to talk about the issue of housing as well, Mr. Speaker. The Financial Measures (2003) Bill with each and every budget within the Legislative Assembly, and Housing Services is no different. Housing Services has not spent any money on housing since 1993 in this province with the exception, as I've said before and I'll say again, the 15-unit complex that's being built in Middleton and a contribution to the homeless units that were built on the corner of Gerrish and Gottingen. That's been the extent of this government's involvement in housing.
There are some 1,300 people the metro housing authority has on a list waiting for housing. Unless those 1,300 people get housing, the problem is going to become even worse, particularly in the metropolitan area where the vacancy rate is down to some 2.7 per cent. It's impossible for those individuals to find decent, affordable housing. The government must get back into the housing market and it must be prepared to address that very crucial area. Particularly in the metro area, as I've said, in the Antigonish area, the Kentville, Yarmouth area are some areas which are in need of housing. We need housing that will benefit those
individuals out there who need housing, and we're talking about housing stock for seniors, dwellings for single family members, dwellings that will meet the needs of disabled persons, and we're talking about housing that will meet the needs of persons with environmental illness.
All that has not come to the fore under this government. This government has been in office for some five years. The previous Liberal Government had not attempted to address the issue of housing and that's why we're in the sad state of housing in this province. There's a need to communicate, to talk to the advocacy groups once again and to keep in constant contact with the advocacy groups on the housing need. There are many individuals who are experts in this particular field who can certainly direct the government on how best to put those dollars to use in housing.
I know the provincial government, the Minister of Housing signed this agreement in September of 2002. The minister has not decided where that $37.2 million is going over the five-year period. There certainly is a need for us to know and we need some sense of direction as to where the minister's going to spend these dollars. We also need to know that there is the issue of disabled persons, and I know that the Disabled Persons Commission, along with LEO, has consistently asked the Minister of Community Services to provide for a pilot project on technical aids. I know that my Leader and myself and other members of this caucus have consistently asked the government to work on a pilot project for person with disabilities, to provide them with technical aids and even to allow them to be a participant and administer the program. It would be an opportunity for employment as well, as they would best know what kind of programs and services to provide.
I can tell you that has been a request on the books since I've been here. There's also a request on the books since I've been here for additional projects on homes for independent living. I do know that there's one pilot project of the Homes for Independent Living, but that's been going for some 10 years and the government simply funded that although there has been requests for additional projects in that particular area. That has not come to the fore yet and I don't even know where that is in the government's agenda, or even if they've contemplated it being placed somewhere on their agenda.
There's a whole host of needs around housing. We can talk about housing for persons with environmental illness. I do know that in Ottawa - I don't know if it's a 20-unit project that's underway, and it's underway in co-operation with those individuals who have experienced environmental illness. There are some 20 units being designed because of the varying degrees of environmental illness and the number of groups and organizations that are involved came together with the government in Ottawa to do a project with respect to those individuals with environmental illness.
I want you to know that there have been a number of requests here in the metro area and in this province for persons with environmental illness to have the kind of shelter that they can be assured will not affect their health. We do know that there are a number of those individuals who, in this province, have varying degrees of environmental illnesses, and they've come together to ask the government to look at this issue. I believe, right now, there is a committee talking with the general manager of housing for the capital region. I do know that they've tried to make some inroads with respect to that, I don't know how far they've gotten. I haven't heard of anything with respect to commitments to the housing plan in this province. I don't know if there is anything at all on the board.
The minister of housing services says that he will be making those announcements as time progresses. Well, that simply isn't good enough for those individuals out there who are waiting. My colleague, the member for Halifax Atlantic, had indicated the number of seniors' housings that have two and three storeys that do not have elevators, and the kind of problems that poses to seniors who live in those seniors' housing complexes. It's just simply another one of those issues that government hasn't addressed.
My Leader, the honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, has made requests with respect to Circassion Drive, to have an elevator installed in the two-storey seniors' complex there. It has not happened yet. Under the Financial Measures (2003) Bill there is probably nothing in the budget. We don't know. We don't know what's in this budget. If there was a way to ferret it out, we might very well be able to find out, but we don't even know that. The only other way we would know that is if in fact we had a line-item budget book. The line-item budget book is not likely to come before this Legislative Assembly.
We have to sit back and we have to wait for the government to make these particular announcements as to when and how it's going to mete out this $37.26 million. I would say to you, Mr. Speaker, the time is now, not during election time, to make those announcements on what it is going to do with respect to housing in this province. The government also knows that there is a need to address the rental supplements, and the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, as well. Many of these programs here, both the rental supplement, the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program and the emergency fund, the dollars run out before it even comes to the purse.
Unfortunately, when people make requests, they tell them the money is not in the budget. This is consistently happening, year after year. There need to be additional dollars put there. We don't know how many additional dollars will be put into additional rent supplements in this province. We don't know where they're going to be. I have said to the minister, we need to know. We need to know so that Nova Scotians, particularly in the metro area and in other areas where there is a very low vacancy rate, know what they can rely upon their government with respect to housing, be that rental supplements, be that affordable housing.
Again, Mr. Speaker, is the issue around the Family Modest Housing Program. I must say that I'm pleased to see that the minister of housing services has actually provided every member of the Legislative Assembly with a copy of the Family Modest Housing Program. It's the first time it's been done. It shouldn't only end up in this Legislature, the Family Modest Housing Program should also end up in the community where organizations and advocacy groups act on behalf of those Nova Scotians needing shelter, so that those Nova Scotians who know that they might be able to access this Family Modest Housing Program can have access to it. I was appalled, when, last year, the former Minister of Community Services actually sold two of the modest homes rather than renovate them, repair them as housing stock and put them back into the housing stock for the Family Modest Housing Program.
It's only in this way, Mr. Speaker, that we're able to address the real issue of housing shortages in this province. We need to know how much money has come from the province since 1995, to this province, from the bag of money that's come down from the federal government when it got out of the housing business, and where that money is being spent. I've asked the minister for that information. It is yet to be forthcoming.
We need to know where the government is going, and what direction the minister is going to be taking with respect to new housing stock. I believe, under the agreement, there was a commitment made that there ought to be some 1,500 new units built in the Province of Nova Scotia. Now this $37.26 million is spanned out over a five-year period. When you look at how little that $37.26 million will do, we need to say, look, this won't even address the issues of housing in the metropolitan area, let alone address the issue right across this province. As more and more people migrate to the metro area, purely because of economics or purely because of the downturn in the economy in other parts of the province, and people migrating to where they know the best opportunities for employment are, then that's going to happen and it's going to put those pressures on.
We can see, in the outlying areas of this municipality, the tremendous growth that is taking place in housing. But it doesn't address the needs of those individuals on low income. Back in 1993 - I remember back further than that, actually, in 1988, when there was a move by municipal governments and provincial governments and the federal government to get out of the housing business. In fact, it said that the private sector could best provide the housing stock that was needed. The private sector hasn't been able to provide that housing stock, but there's absolutely no reason why we can't work with the private sector in building affordable housing stock for the community. We can certainly do that, but government must be the leader and it must be prepared to give direction on how we want the private sector to participate in the housing stock in this province and housing redevelopment.
I think there's an opportunity there for a partnership, providing, as I've said earlier, that the provincial government and the minister of housing services take the initiative to do that. If we see this continuous growth out there and the continuous pressures being placed
on individuals whose budgets are fixed, both the seniors who are on a fixed income because they receive an old age income or a Canada pension, and those persons who are on income assistance, because the budget is already allocated and slotted out to how much they will be able to pay for shelter based on the family size and based on one's disabilities, some of the criteria that we know is out there. We do know that causes the pressures upon these individuals to compete in the housing market out there, to actually purchase shelter.
Consistently, this is a very serious problem, and until we address this issue under the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and through the departments' budgets, then I don't think that we're going to go very far on it. Certainly, another issue that comes to mind under the Financial Measures (2003) Bill, again, is the government's intent to amend the Municipal Government Act of 1998 to deal with the casino issue on smoking.
Mr. Speaker, when the former Liberal Government of the province decided that there would be a Municipal Government Act, an Act of good government in Nova Scotia, it decided that it would allow the municipal government, even though it's here by the grace of the provincial government and it's not enshrined in the Charter, to have a recognition that, in fact, it has some autonomy by allowing it to introduce bylaws that would have some strength and power. As we know, most recently, the Halifax Regional Municipality Council had taken advantage of that by introducing a bylaw for the cessation of smoking and that meant that there would be a total ban on smoking in workplaces and in public places throughout the entire HRM.
The Minister of Finance was quickly made aware that this would have an impact on the financial ability of the Halifax Casino, so intervened in introducing a piece of legislation through the Financial Measures (2003) Bill to deal with smoking cessation. The minister knows very well that the harmful toxic and chemical substances that come from smoking is just one of the very reasons why many Canadians today, and particularly Nova Scotians, want a smoke-free environment. They want a smoke-free environment, Mr. Speaker, because they are more concerned today with the health and safety of their own physical well-being as well as other Nova Scotians.
That in itself, Mr. Speaker, should send a signal to this provincial government that they better move forward with the times and they better move forward to thinking of what the majority of Nova Scotians are saying with respect to a total ban on smoking, both in the workplace and in public places. If we don't recognize the problems that smoking creates, all we have to do is go to the palliative care unit in any particular hospital here across the province. If we go to a palliative care unit, we will see the problems that smoking has created for those individuals. We will also see the kind of cost that it has produced to Nova Scotians through the health care budgets. If we want to decrease the cost of health care in this province, we need to think about just exactly how we're going to do that and one way to do
that is simply by cessation of smoking. If we can get our public to cease smoking, and we're certainly going in that direction because I think it's the fourth or fifth time that the government has increased the cost of tobacco in this province.
I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that in itself has had an effect because a number of individuals who have quit smoking, that figure is on the rise, and that in itself will in the future save taxpayers' dollars as a result of their health care budget. It will make people healthier. It will prolong their lives and it will indeed save tremendous dollars in health care. The government, I guess if it's concerned about this particular issue, then it needs to err on the side of Nova Scotians and not on the side of the casino.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to talk about Nova Scotia Power. I know the provincial government has talked about Nova Scotia Power with respect to the Financial Measures (2003) Bill and this was a commitment based on the equalization payment under the former Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations and that was a way to provide the equalization payment across this province. Nova Scotia Power, as a matter of fact, although it was endorsed at the time by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities as this was the way to go to provide - rather than the government put up front, additional dollars to equalization payments to the municipalities, that the government would, in turn, seek more grant dollars from Nova Scotia Power which is a private corporation. Although it doesn't pay real property tax, it pays a grant in lieu of and the grant in lieu of apparently, according to the government, is supposed to somewhat reflect the real property tax that Nova Scotia Power would pay.
Having said that, they're going to take this money and mete it out across the province to those municipalities through an equalization payment. On the other hand, those municipalities who are the host communities of power plants such as Point Aconi, the former City of Dartmouth - now the community of Dartmouth - I've always been a firm believer that the host community should be the recipient of the tax dollars from the corporations, particularly property tax dollars. This is what I'm talking about, Mr. Speaker, is the property tax dollar.
Dartmouth has never received the benefit of those real dollars and I can tell you that they would benefit the HRM now - in fact, if HRM were to be the benefactor of those additional dollars. I don't know what that in turn would mean to the Halifax Regional Municipality in additional revenue, but I think it's safe to say it's somewhere around $2 million to $5 million additional dollars that would go into the coffers of the Halifax Regional Municipality as a result of the Nova Scotia Power, if the corporation were to pay real property tax and pay it to the host community in which it exists. Here again would be additional dollars that would be able to be used and spent, spent by the host community that has a power corporation in place in its area.
While serving on Dartmouth City Council, I've consistently argued that the power corporation should be paying real property tax and that it should not be paying a grant in lieu of and now that it's a private corporation, that's all the more reason why it should be paying real property taxes. It's all the more reason why that real property tax should be paid to the host community. Host communities would benefit greatly. I'm not sure that the Town of Guysborough would appreciate, if we were to collect tax dollars from the fractionation plant and the gas plant in Guysborough and mete it out through an equalization payment over the entire province. I'm sure that would not be something that they would appreciate. Rightly so.
I don't think that's the way to go. I think the way to go is when you have the opportunity to extract tax dollars from a real property base, as a municipal unit, you should be entitled to do that. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening and I see this is going to increase over the next few years up until 2004, 2005. It's going to increase by an additional $10.7 million starting January 1st and again on January 1, 2004 an additional $15.5 million. Those additional dollars will be put into the government's purse to provide for an equalization payment.
Again, I think that there's certainly something wrong with this direction. My understanding is that there may be some municipalities who are members of the UNSM who might very well be opposing this direction. I'm not sure, but they're certainly seriously considering the thinking that government shouldn't get back into the business of providing the equalization payments and that the host communities be the recipient of the Nova Scotia Power corporation dollars.
Also, the budget hasn't stated or done much with respect to the Department of Natural Resources and why we are not benefiting from mining resources, the forestry and the offshore oil. It's time that Nova Scotians benefited from those particular natural resources. It's unfortunate that I can sit at my home in Dartmouth North and watch a train travel from the gypsum area through to Wrights Cove and I can watch those train loads of gypsum go through to Youngstown, Virginia and it's about twelve cents a ton under an agreement. Then it's sent back to us as a manufactured good in the form of sheetrock, which every one of us uses to build our homes with. I find that a most unusual way to expend one's natural resources, where we don't get the value added by generating a plant here in Nova Scotia, creating employment for people and, in fact, making sure that we have that value-added process here. There's no reason why we can't do that.
I believe that it's also happening by Georgia Pacific on Cape Breton Island as well. That in fact the gypsum is being shipped out to parts of the United States, being manufactured and sent back to us as a manufactured good. Each of these natural resources could generate additional dollars for the government, that would not necessarily have to turn around and impose user fees and place the unnecessary burden upon those individuals who can least afford to pay the taxes.
Mr. Speaker, in my last few remaining minutes, I want to go back to the $155 that's going to come through the mailbox of many Nova Scotians. I just want this government to realize that there are some 433,000 Nova Scotians who will benefit from that $155 tax rebate. There will be some 300,000 Nova Scotians who will not benefit from that $155 tax rebate. Those 300,000 Nova Scotians would have done a much better job of making that money flow through the economy, because those individuals would have spent that money in the local businesses. The local businesses would then have been able to generate and sustain themselves and pass those dollars back on to the provincial government in the form of tax dollars. The cycle of those dollars would have been much better spent by making sure that more money had gone into the hands of those Nova Scotians who can least afford to spend those very few dollars that they have now.
It's that, Mr. Speaker, that we need to think about when we mete out taxpayers' dollars. If we are going to mete out taxpayers' dollars and everyone is going to benefit from the spoils of this government, and making sure that we see a balanced budget, then we need to make sure that everyone benefits from it. Every one of us, there are 52 Members of the Legislative Assembly who will be going out on the doorsteps this year in an election campaign. You can rest assured, when we hit the doorsteps, each of 52 Members of the Legislative Assembly will have to answer to those 300,000 Nova Scotians who will not see a pay cheque coming through their mailbox. We need to know that.
We need to know that in rural communities, where there are many people on fixed incomes live, and many people who are seniors, many people who receive disability benefits and so on, and live in those rural communities, who will need those additional tax rebate dollars and will not get it. When those Members of the Legislative Assembly canvass in those rural constituencies, they better be very much aware that Nova Scotians know that they will not be the recipient of those individual tax dollars. Mr. Speaker, I know my time has come to an end.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill No. 36. I was greatly honoured by caucus and all the fine words that are being said on my retirement. (Applause) Thank you again. I don't recall that sort of a reception when I was elected, but as soon as you announce retirement, then you become a senior statesperson and all. Seriously, if I could, I would just express my appreciation for the kindness of all members of the House this morning. I would like to particularly thank the member for Dartmouth North for the kindness of his words. I'm going to cut out Hansard and hold that forever, and visit him in Dartmouth North once in a while, with all the nice things that he has said about me.
So I won the prize, really. I get to stay to 2:00 p.m. today and speak for our caucus. While the pleasantries were exchanged, rise really. I get to stay until 2:00 p.m. today and speak for our caucus time. So while the pleasantries were exchanged, then it seems like, although you're not supposed to mention the absence or presence of members of the House necessarily, or particularly the absence, so I shan't do that, but I have inherited the clean-up spot for us today.
So I will make a few general comments on second reading of this Financial Measures (2003) Bill, this enabling legislation for the budget. This is sort of a kingpin, a fulcrum point for the budget to turn on to enable the budget to achieve the goals which some people - we had a debate, Mr. Speaker, I think you were in the Chair at the time, the other evening on April 30th, where we did debate the social fairness, the tax relief program, a particular part of this Bill No. 36, the section that deals with tax relief, we debated the social fairness and the economic effectiveness of that tax relief.
But the bill, itself, is enabling legislation that deals initially with the apprenticeship issues that are so important in the trades and qualifications Act in the first section. We have expressed our continued concern about the increased fees for training, examinations and for certifications within the apprenticeship programs, but at the same time paying tribute to the great work that is being done within the community college. Certainly it was a priority of our government prior to this government's mandate and they have continued, and in many ways, particularly under the strong leadership of the community colleges, we see I think not only a well-functioning community college system - because we had a lot of catching up to do throughout this country - we have been able to address the needs such as the offshore, that it has changed. So while a lot of the programs were more traditional and at a trades level now, they're highly skilled, you have people with university degrees who are going into the community colleges.
So our plea is that we just don't price that group. I think many of those people are more vulnerable in many ways than the university group. We see many people not able to reach, due to financial reasons, the university level and they are capable of doing that, but for financial reasons are unable to access a university education. We don't want to see that happen at the community college level and those involved with apprentice programs. Many of them are single mothers who have come back into training programs. They've gone through upgrading and they are the more vulnerable of our society and we must support that. So a few hundred dollars in some of those programs could make a big difference, Mr. Speaker, as you well know.
Then moving along, we talk about the equity tax credit in Part 2 - and I will try not to be too specific - the area that catches attention, particularly this week with the judgment coming down under the EI Program with the second-hand smoke ruling that has been
addressed by other members of this Legislature this week, the Gaming Control Act under Part 3 of Bill No. 36, the Financial Measures (2003) Bill. I think this has really highlighted the changing times.
The government continually speaks in terms of our government not moving forward and there are things that we wanted to do, particularly in a minority government, that we never really had the permission of the other groups in the Legislature to do and to bring forward the legislation that may be on the cutting edge. Recognizing the workplace issues, the decision of EI, I hope it's a message that rings through other areas of health and safety that will not override that decision that this is a recognized health issue that is a workplace issue.
Prior to the announcement of this decision this week, we particularly had a group of
particularly vocal physicians and other health care workers in the Cape Breton area who really spoke out very clearly in asking this government not to use Bill No. 36 to override a bylaw of the municipal units, in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the Halifax Regional Municipality, not to override the legislation. These two communities, particularly Cape Breton, have led the way with 100 per cent banning of smoking in public places, and have really spoken out. They are creatures of the province. They can be impacted very easily, their own legislation can be overruled by a stroke of the pen here in this Legislature, by this government.
On behalf of those physicians like Dr. Andrew Lynk and others in the Cape Breton, who have spoken out so clearly, we add our voice and we thank them for their crusade. This is not something that is fly-by-night, they have visited here in the Law Amendments Committee and they have spoken out clearly. They brought the message from their own community, that the people in their area are very supportive. They've shown the way on the anti-smoking campaign and education and public awareness issues. They want support.
They don't want this part of the bill to be used to overturn bylaws in the municipal unit. We know, from the contract at the casinos, that smoking is not mentioned; that's been very clear. So while it's pretty clear that it could well be used for that, our concern is not only on the smoking issue, but it may well impact on other bylaws that the city itself may want to bring in that would impact on the casino as well. We don't know. It's open-ended, it's far too wide. It would be ill-advised to cave in and wave the white flag. Already the Finance Minister has spoken in terms of a material breach and given the signal that this government is prepared to lay down, under the section Operator Termination Events, and go and sort of give up the government's position, telegraph it out initially, and cave in to the operators of the casino.
What on first blush may look like strategic legislation, Mr. Speaker, it is really very basic to the rules of governance and who is responsible, that the bylaws of the HRM and Cape Breton area have spoken clearly. They're trying to do what's right. They're trying to
do what's right for workers who are in the workplace, the same as if their safety harnesses or other matters were faulty and were threatening their lives. It's now pretty clear, research has spoken and it's clear that there is no question anymore, it's not open for argument, that second-hand smoke kills.
We're now seeing, bit by bit, appeal decisions and decisions rendered. Times have changed dramatically and the people deserve and they want protection in their workplace, and children and others need it in their homes and in the automobiles that they drive in. Those are matters where there's still lots of work to do. As I said, times have changed, even over the last couple of years. The courts have spoken in many areas relative to the habits and the works of the large tobacco companies. I don't think this government needs to be partners with the large tobacco companies but I'm sure the large tobacco companies are very pleased to see this legislation here under Part III, the Gaming Control Act. It's really enabling legislation that will allow this government to allow the abuse of workers in casinos and probably other areas as well that would be allowed to have unhealthy workplaces.
They say, the Sydney doctors particularly have spoken out and they asked the province to stand up and be counted, and not to be pushed around or intimated by big tobacco companies and casino operators. Dr. Lynk himself said the medical staff in Sydney believes the province will not be defeated in the courts or suffer financial penalties by doing the right thing and protecting Nova Scotia's health. When you do the right thing, experience in this Legislature and other places will tell you very clearly that in the long run, if you're doing what's right, it will see you through. That is clear.
We have the physicians who are speaking out. I know that several months ago Dr. Lynk took time off from his busy practise to appear before the Law Amendments Committee. He was joined by others here, respiratory specialists, that very graphically showed us slides of the damage that can be done by smoking, cancers that often occur. So the message is clear. It's fine to blame the contract that was signed by a previous government. I think that on the surface that can seem to be smart politics, but it's not the way to do business. This government has a responsibility to the people of this province to challenge the operators, to prove that there's a negative impact on it and just to call their hand and see what sort of a game of poker they are playing. The feeling of the physicians, that this government would win in the courts, should it find it's way there. It probably won't even find its way there.
I'm getting some signals that maybe it's time to. . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. A motion to adjourn debate would be in order.
DR. SMITH: I move adjournment. If you would accept that, I so move.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. The motion is to adjourn debate on Bill No. 36.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The honourable Government House Leader on Monday's hours and order of business.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: I move the House do now rise to meet again on Monday at the hour of 2:00 p.m. The House will sit from 2:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. and the order of business following the daily routine will be Public Bills for Second Reading, commencing with Bill No. 36 and then carrying on with Bill No. 1, 2, et cetera. (Interruption)
If you wish, certainly. On Tuesday we'll sit from 12:00 noon until 8:00 p.m., and Thursday we'll sit from 12:00 noon until 8:00 p.m., and on Wednesday we'll probably sit from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., unless the Opposition would like to give us additional time.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is the House adjourn until 2:00 p.m. on Monday.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The House is adjourned until 2:00 p.m. on Monday.
[The House rose at 1:58 p.m.]
NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULE 32(3)
RESOLUTION NO. 1022
By: Mr. Frank Chipman (Annapolis)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas on April 27th, our community of Annapolis County lost a tremendous individual, one Joseph Freeman Graves, at the age of 98; and
Whereas Mr. Graves of Port Lorne was a farmer and raised sheep since he was only 12 years of age and contributed significantly to his community through a variety of organizations and roles throughout his life; and
Whereas one of his tremendous records in agriculture, as noted by his family, was the fact that his turnip seeds were entered in Toronto's Royal Winter Fair for 45 years, taking first prize in all but two of those 45 years;
Therefore be it resolved that all the members of this House salute the life of Mr. Joseph Graves and his contributions to his community and the agriculture sector, and send our condolences to his family on their tremendous loss.
RESOLUTION NO. 1023
By: Hon. Gordon Balser (Agriculture and Fisheries)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas John-Patrick Flinn of Islands Consolidated School in Freeport is considered by his educators to be an exceptional student who has through consistent and conscientious efforts excelled in his academic endeavours; and
Whereas Mr. Flinn has demonstrated exceptional scholastic ability and it should be noted that he contributed to the success of the Grade 7 and Grade 8 team project on parabolic microphones which included a parabolic dish mike, which won at the recent Science Fair; and
Whereas this student willingly encourages and works collaboratively with his peers to support their efforts which enhances their opportunities;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House commend this young man for his generous and supportive manner with his peers and applaud his personal commitment to education.
RESOLUTION NO. 1024
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Heather Trenholm of Springhill, Nova Scotia, did participate with the Amherst Renegades Ladies Slo-Pitch team in the Maritime Ladies D Slo-Pitch Championship; and
Whereas Heather and the Amherst Renegades did win the Maritime Ladies D Slo-Pitch Championship; and
Whereas Heather and the Amherst Renegades Ladies Slo-Pitch team were awarded with certificates during the Mayor's Awards commencing the Winterfest;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Heather Trenholm and the Amherst Renegades Ladies Slo-Pitch team on being the Maritime Champs and we wish them continued success in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1025
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Amanda Wood of Springhill, Nova Scotia, is one of 14 Cumberland County students who have been named to the University of New Brunswick Dean's List; and
Whereas Amanda was one of six students who were honoured in the faculty of nursing; and
Whereas Amanda earned the distinction by maintaining a grade point average of 3.7 or above which equates to an A;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Amanda on being named to the University of New Brunswick Dean's List and wish her continued success in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1026
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Hollie Benjamin of the Parrsboro Volunteer Fire Department was recently honoured; and
Whereas Hollie Benjamin was presented with a medal for 25 years of service to the department; and
Whereas Hollie Benjamin was thanked for the 25 years of exemplary service and dedication by the Parrsboro Fire Department;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Hollie Benjamin, thank him for his dedication and service to the fire department and wish him all the best in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1027
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Diane Smith of Parrsboro was recognized by the Municipality of Cumberland County and honoured as a volunteer for her work at the Adult Day Care Cumberland Community Care Centre; and
Whereas Diane Smith has helped the program in every area from cooking to recreation and has done so for nearly 16 years; and
Whereas Diane brings warmth, kindness and compassion and is always eager to assist in any way she can;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Diane Smith on being honoured for her volunteer work and wish her all the best in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1028
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Anne Stevens of Oxford, Nova Scotia, is one of 14 Cumberland County students who have been named to the University of New Brunswick Dean's List; and
Whereas Anne Stevens is one of five students who received the designation in the faculty of education; and
Whereas Anne Stevens earned the distinction by maintaining a grade point average of 3.7 or above which equates to an A;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Anne on being named to the University of New Brunswick Dean's list and wish her continued success in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1029
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Cody Stevens of Williamsdale, Nova Scotia, recently competed in a karate tournament in Amherst; and
Whereas Cody, an orange belt, won gold in KATA and KUMITE disciplines; and
Whereas Cody trained with the Springhill JKA Karate Club under the instruction of 4th Degree Black Belt Dave Wilson;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Cody for working so hard and earning this gold medal, and wish him continued success in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1030
By: Hon. Murray Scott (Speaker)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Sara Terris along with a group of girls from West End Memorial and Junction Road schools received a lesson in empowerment when she and the others participated in the Girls @ The Junction program; and
Whereas The Junction included topics ranging from drugs and alcohol to peer pressure and dating; and
Whereas Sara Terris and the Girls @ The Junction group celebrated their participation in the program by completing a mural and donating it to the Springhill Library;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Sara Terris and the Girls @ The Junction group on participating in such a great program, completing and donating the Celebrate You mural and wish them all the best in the future.
RESOLUTION NO. 1031
By: Mr. Mark Parent (Kings North)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in 1997 Kentville residents Gary Dunfield and Andrew Steeves followed their dream of becoming book publishers by founding Gaspereau Press; and
Whereas Gaspereau Press' seven full-time staff, in addition to part-time staff, publish eight to 10 books a year with commercial printing and design and one book on their antique letterpress; and
Whereas George Elliot Clarke's award-winning Execution Poems brought further recognition to the budding publishing company;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House join me in congratulating Gary Dunfield and Andrew Steeves on making their dream a reality with Gaspereau Press and wish them continued success as they grow their business.
RESOLUTION NO. 1032
By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (Tourism and Culture)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Inverness County fishermen have always been proactive in their approach to conservation; and
Whereas Inverness County lobster fishermen are expressing their displeasure with the latest management plan released by the federal government; and
Whereas fishermen are requesting that the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans drop the "window size" on lobsters for a year so more scientific studies can be performed;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House support Inverness County fishermen in their appeal to the federal government.
RESOLUTION NO. 1033
By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (Tourism and Culture)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Nova Scotia has celebrated Education Week since the 1930s, this year honouring the province's educators at an awards ceremony to be held at Sackville Heights Junior High School; and
Whereas 23 teachers received a nomination under this year's theme, "Physical Education: stimulating the mind and body", all having made significant contributions in the area of physical education; and
Whereas Paul MacIsaac of Bayview Education Centre is one of these skilled educators making inroads with Nova Scotia's youth;
Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate Paul MacIsaac on receiving one of this year's honours and wish him continued success in the future.