UPDATED TO MARCH 16, 2017

Rules

Rules regarding Oral Questions are defined by Standing Order 26, here: http://www.assembly.nl.ca/business/standingorders/standing_orders24-35.pdf

Rules regarding Written Questions are defined by Standing Order 51, here, alongside other rules regarding questions: http://www.assembly.nl.ca/business/standingorders/standing_orders51-56.pdf

 

 

 

Question Period Dates

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Monday, March 21, 2016
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Monday, April 11, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Monday, April 18, 2016
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Monday, May 2, 2016
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Monday, May 9, 2016
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Monday, May 16, 2016
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Monday, May 30, 2016
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Monday, June 6, 2016
Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Monday, November 21, 2016
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Monday, December 5, 2016
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Monday, December 12, 2016
Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monday, February 27, 2017
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Thursday, March 2, 2017
Monday, March 6, 2017
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Thursday, March 16, 2017

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

My first question, in my first Question Period as Leader of the Opposition, is pertaining to a matter that’s very important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians today.

Mr. Speaker, the sterilization challenges at Eastern Health have gone on for weeks. Eastern Health has now moved to handwashing to sterilize surgical equipment. Some surgeons are refusing to perform some surgeries. I know as a surgeon, the Minister of Health would have performed hundreds, if not thousands – I know he’s very familiar with the processes involved in this. However, the minister has been silent, largely absent and has declined media interviews on this very serious issue.

We want to know, and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador want to know, if a risk assessment has been done to ensure that new processes in place are protecting patients and ensuring patient safety.

I ask the minister if he has confidence in the processes that are being used to sterilize equipment today.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This is my first answer in what I hope will be answer period.

First of all to the question about the ORs and the sterilization program at Eastern Health, certainly it is a concern for all of us on this side of the House, as it is for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I am happy to report today that all ORs are functioning and surgeries are proceeding. I did meet with the CEO yesterday with the minister and with officials of the department, I can assure the Leader of the Official Opposition that there is – the minister is certainly on top of this. The fact that he may not be out in the media every day, in the social media or whatever it is, I can tell you he is fully engaged with this. There are lessons that have been learned by similar events that have happened across the country.

The minister is engaged; we are very pleased. I will assure that this is a minister that has spent more time in the ORs than anyone else in this room.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition Leader

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

We acknowledge and we fully agree that there is one expert in the room who happens to be the Minister of Health. When it comes to this he is no doubt more knowledgeable and much more experienced than any other Member here in the House.

But, Mr. Speaker, the people of the province are asking for answers and the people of the province want to know what the status is. The people of the province look for assurance from our government to make sure that processes and procedures that are taking place within our health care system are safe for patients.

I ask the minister as well, Mr. Speaker, if he can tell me if there have been any additional impacts to the health care system as a result of delays in surgeries due to the sterilization issues. Have there been more backlogs? Have there been backups in emergency rooms? Are beds being occupied by patients that would otherwise be occupied by new patients if surgeries have gone ahead? What other impacts are in health care as a result of these delays?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I say to the Leader of the Opposition when you find yourself in the situation where you have surgeries that would be cancelled, there are obviously going to be people that would be impacted. I guess the only other option would be to go ahead and continue surgeries with equipment that is not sterilized. That is not an option for people on this side of the House. We take procedures and the safety of all our patients and the people that actually provide those services, we take that seriously.

There are certainly problems there; that has been recognized. There are mitigation risks that have been put in place to offset the challenges that our workers are facing today.

I’m very proud of the work that’s been done. This is three weeks in to a situation, just over three weeks in, this is something that has happened in other jurisdictions. The minister and the officials at Eastern Health have taken the lead on this and they’ve gone out, they’ve accessed the experts in this field. We are putting measures in place today to make sure that we can put this to rest.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition.

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

Well, the question was: What other impacts in health care? We realize there are patients who have had their surgeries postponed. The question is: What other impacts have occurred in health care as a result of these delayed surgeries? We look forward to receiving some more information on that from the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, regardless of political stripe, we can all agree people come first and our number one goal is the success of the province. We are at a critical time as a province. The people in Newfoundland and Labrador are looking for leadership, a plan of action to deal with the fiscal crisis, and even Liberal insiders are publicly crying out for this administration to get on with it. To act sooner rather than later, and are saying 15 months is too long to wait.

I ask the Premier: When can the people of Newfoundland and Labrador expect a clear plan of action to address the current fiscal challenges?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This party and this government will be very proud to put a clear plan in place, one that was quite different than the plan we saw and we updated the people of this province on back on December 22 of this year. If we had continued on the plan the past administration had put in place, the people of this province would be faced with unprecedented borrowing, deficits of nearly $2 billion a year.

A plan will be put in place. What’s important is the election of November 30 saw the mid-year update coming out on December 22 and a plan will be put in place that will be called Budget 2016-2017. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, it will be much clearer than the plan that was announced in this very House less than a year ago.

By the way, the Budget for the previous administration was announced last year late in April, and that was after years and years of an administration with no Budget guidelines in place when they left their office. We had to start and get to a very good start line, and we’re getting there, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Premier and his Cabinet and his caucus were elected to govern, and governing includes making decisions and showing leadership. Instead of taking action, this government has wasted time. They continue to kick the can down the road at a very crucial time in our province’s history.

The lack of action is causing people of the province concern, and as I said, Liberal Party insiders are on the record of expressing their concern of the lack of action and decision making. Fifteen months is too long.

I ask the Premier: When will he show leadership, and when will he demonstrate to the people of the province he is willing to take action on the fiscal realities? Do we have to wait for the budget? Can he be making decisions today?

He said yesterday in the Throne Speech he is very proud of the decisions they made. What decisions have been made? When is he going to get on with it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, when you make a decision, there are a couple of critical components you must do when you make a decision. It impacts people in Newfoundland and Labrador. I am very pleased today that the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board made an announcement, which was $70 million, to support core funding for a number of associations in this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: I want to go back to decision making. Different than the previous administration, we believe in listening to people. We do believe in consulting with people in Newfoundland and Labrador. That will inform the budget process.

We’ve been just over 80 days as government right now. There’s quite a bit of work to be done.

We inherited a situation where there were absolutely no budget guidelines. Normally, these guidelines are in place in September. In October, the previous administration did nothing of that. So the first week in January, that was the starting point for us. We had to make sure number one, the borrowing aspect, getting long-term borrowing in place. It was in a desperate situation in this province.

We’ve done quite a bit of work already. It will lead up to Budget 2016 and 2017and the forecasts there beyond.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, right now we will be listening. We’ll continue the consultation and you will not have to wait 15 months to see it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition.

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

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has stated their government will be smarter and watch every dollar spent.

I ask the Premier: What savings have been achieved since announcing in December changes to hiring practices and discretionary spending? What is the dollar value of those savings?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m certainly excited to stand and answer a question on behalf of the Opposition here today. I believe the number is somewhere in the vicinity of about $100 million, which is substantially more than the former administration’s discretionary spending freeze that took place over the course of a much longer period. I’d be happy to provide the Leader of the Opposition with the exact details, and also be happy to provide that to the media.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition Leader.

MR. P. DAVIS: Well I thank you, Minister, for that – thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for that. We look forward to the details of that information.

Mr. Speaker, we’re hearing a lot more from government about cutting. Yesterday, in the Speech from the Throne, it was stated that “everyone will have to accept some level of sacrifice in the months and years ahead.”

Mr. Speaker, we had a plan to reduce the size of the public sector through attrition with minimal impact on employees. In the fall, the Premier touted during the election campaign that cutting jobs is not part of their plan. He also said that under a Liberal government, public sector jobs are safe.

Now, we know that jobs are on the table as part of everything’s on the table.

I ask the Premier: How many public sector jobs do you anticipate your government is going to eliminate?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the Members on this side of the House have committed to is a process of fair negotiation. We’ve been meeting with our labour leaders. We’ve had many meetings with our labour leaders. So right now, the primary way to reduce the size of the public service would be attrition.

I remind all parties in this House of Assembly that in the election platform, both the Official Opposition and the Third Party had attrition as part of their election platform, I say, Mr. Speaker. So it will be a fair negotiation.

Right now, realizing the significant impact that we have in our province right now, debt servicing, as it exists right now, would be somewhere around $824 million, based on the plan that the previous administration had put in place. If that was left unchecked, you would see that debt servicing raised to over $1.4 billion.

I can tell you, if there’s a way to cut the public service it is increase borrowing, keep having to pay debt servicing, then we will have no choice. Someone else would make the decision for us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Minister of Finance has stated time and time again that everything is on the table. In the Speech from the Throne yesterday, the Liberal administration committed to proceeding with full-day kindergarten and also tourism marketing, both were announced to confirm just a couple of days before the Minister of Finance stated that everything was on the table. They did that to safeguard some things, and we understand that.

Did the government really not see fit as well to include safeguarding such services as child protection, health care and our hospitals?

So I ask the Premier: Is everything on the table or are other matters and others parts of government going to be protected?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What I said back a few minutes ago, when it comes to making decisions, we had made a commitment to full-day kindergarten. That’s a commitment that we stand by.

When you look at the way you offer services to people in our province, no matter what those services are, we always look for the most cost-effective way to be able to do it, because when you do that in the most cost-effective way, it’s the way to make sure that your services and programs are sustainable. That’s what we want to do. So in order to protect those services, it’s important now that we listen to the people who actually use those services.

When you look at things like public safety, you look at things like health care, you look at things like education, these are things that we’ve had significant discussion on and we will continue to that. Because, as I said in the speech yesterday, if we simply do not change the way we do things, change the way we make decisions, well I can tell you what, you will see programs that someone else will make a decision for because it will be unsustainable.

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

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

The Premier is on the record as saying they have a plan. He has said: We have a plan and people are going to like it. The Minister of Finance is on the record as saying she wasn’t sure which parts of the public service she would eliminate until she saw the books.

So, Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Can you tell the people of Newfoundland and Labrador which health clinics, which schools in rural Newfoundland and Labrador are on the chopping block? Is this part of the plan that people are going to like?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you there was one plan that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador did not like and they voted on that on November 30th –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: – because that plan led to many closures of health clinics. It led to many closures and loss of services in a lot of areas in this province. The plan that the previous administration put in place, that we reported on, as I said earlier, on December 22nd needed to be changed. It was not sustainable. It would not lead to increased services or better services for anyone in this province so we’re happy today to be able to work on a plan that will be sustainable, that will be viable and that will continue to supply and provide sustainable services to the people of our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Yes the people of the province did elect the members opposite as their government. They did choose their plan. They went to the people of the province with what they said they had a plan. For two years the premier has been saying he had a plan and they elected him on the basis that they had a plan. I just heard the premier say we’re working on a plan.

Is the premier now saying today that they didn’t have a plan when they told the people they did and now they’re only working on it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you put in place a plan, as I said earlier, the important piece is to get to a start line. It’s to understand where you are when put in place things like budget. What I did in September 28, 2015 is I wrote a letter, it wasn’t a long letter, it was pretty concise quite frankly to the former premier, the now Leader of the Official Opposition to two things that I was looking for, an update on Muskrat Falls, which was subsequently provided by the Oversight Committee. I looked for a fiscal update in the affairs of this province. Well quite frankly for some reason I did find out on December 2 what that reason was, because that was just after the election, when I had access to much more information.

The former premier made a decision not to answer that letter hid the information from the people our province. Right now the stark reality is the circumstances in our province right now are quite different than they were last year at budget time, the premier decided not to answer those letters, decided not to inform the people of our province the realities of where what we face today in our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, it certainly sounds like the premier is now saying they didn’t actually have a plan at that point in time. Well maybe they did, Mr. Speaker, because at that point in time, last year we had anticipated a $1.2 billion deficit, at the same time that the now premier was saying that he had a plan.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: If you had a plan for $1.2 billion, well where is that plan? At least you should have that plan to be able to present to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, number one, on November 30 of this year the people of Newfoundland and Labrador made a decision to give this party a mandate for the next four years. Part of that mandate included a $1.2 billion plan. It is not a three-month plan, or a four-month plan, it’s a four-year mandate for us to deliver that mandate. We will put together – it will start with Budget 2016-2017.

I would say to the Leader of the Official Opposition that after ten, twelve years in government I am surprised when you look at the significant deficits we’ve seen that this previous administration with $25 billion in oil royalties and money from the Atlantic Accord. The fact is, are they actually proud of the record that would lead to $15.4 billion in borrowing for the people of this province at an unprecedented time setting revenues at an all-time high in this province? This is what we get after ten, twelve years of this administration?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Now, from that answer, based on the question that was asked, it almost sounds now, well, maybe he did have a plan – because earlier he said he’s working on a plan, now he says maybe he did have a plan.

I ask the Premier: If you did have a plan for $1.2 billion, will you table that plan here in the House?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think it’s still on the website there, so he can just do his research (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition Leader.

MR. P. DAVIS: I guess, Mr. Speaker, he’s referring to the rhetoric that was combined in his Liberal Red Book, I think what he’s referring to today, because we know how academics and we know how professors at the university felt about their plan. We’ll be asking lots of questions on their plan, I can assure you, in the coming weeks.

Well, Mr. Speaker, one of the matters I mentioned earlier, and it’s very important to the people in our province, is health care.

I ask the Premier: If he can confirm the tender to construct Green Bay Health Centre has been cancelled?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The tender for the Green Bay Health Centre came in way over the amount of money that was allocated. It has been deferred and is being reworked to be resubmitted.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I will ask the Premier: Did he consult with the people of Green Bay before he decided to cancel that tender?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We consult with all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, unlike the previous administration. He talked about a plan. Maybe it’s appropriate right now that I use my time, and the few seconds that I would have, to talk about a long-term care plan that the previous administration, which would be – I’m sure the people in the Green Bay area would be interested in knowing.

In the previous premier’s plan – talked about a long-term care plan. It was actually cost neutral. So when we went looking after the election to determine how this would be paid for, guess what, Mr. Speaker? There was no money allocated.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We’ll go down that road in the coming weeks as well. We’re starting to get some information from the Premier, information that we didn’t expect to hear, that’s for sure. I can tell you that we have some further questions that we’re going to pursue on that matter.

On the Green Bay Health Centre, Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite, the Premier and his government like to consult. They haven’t consulted with people before they cancelled the tender.

I wonder if the Premier can tell us: Will you consult specifically with the people of the Green Bay area on what services will be eliminated from the Green Bay Health Centre clinic as you re-scope that project?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Mr. Speaker, perhaps I didn’t make myself understood. The cancellation of the tender has not actually occurred. It’s simply being withdrawn, deferred while it’s being reworked. It’s still there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the premiers of the other oil-producing non-equalization receiving provinces, Brad Wall of Saskatchewan and Rachel Notley of Alberta, are fighting for infusions of federal funding while oil revenues are down.

Will our Premier join these premiers in fighting for fairness so our people will not have to endure deep cuts while revenues are drastically down?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you go looking for information, what’s appropriate and timely is to actually read all the documents. Stop just reading headlines, read everything that’s in the information.

What the Member is referring to, there’s been no special or unique circumstances or money that’s been allocated by the federal government to Alberta and Saskatchewan or to Newfoundland and Labrador. What’s been announced is a $1.4 billion fund. Mr. Speaker, $400 million, I’m proud to say, will be for Newfoundland and Labrador –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: – less than $400 million for Saskatchewan and the remaining goes to Alberta. In actual fact, I think the Member opposite should know that it’s not even new money that we’ve heard so far.

We’re all looking forward to March 22 when we’ll see the federal budget that will come out. It is then you will tell what programs are in place for this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, he’s exactly right, it’s not new money. It’s the New Building Canada Fund that was signed in 2014, that originally when it came out, they were talking about new money for infrastructure. So it’s not new money, it was money that was approved by the prior administration in Canada to renew the Building Canada Fund.

Mr. Speaker, the principle of equalization is entrenched in the country’s constitution. Quebec will get $10 billion to help it cope with the (inaudible) shortfall this year; Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, $1.7 billion; Ontario, $2.4 billion as examples.

How can everything be on the table when our Premier is not advocating for a change to federal policy and additional revenue for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: I can tell you one thing that Members on this side of the House are advocating for and that is going looking for the money that has already been announced and available to you like the Small Communities Fund, $34.9 million that this previous administration just left there, never even used the $60 million that was available, which they spent literally, or made allocations or commitments to in two years, missed the significant opportunity to use a leveraging opportunity on $34.9 million, did not even take the time to sign the agreement.

We have done that. The Minister of Municipal Affairs right now, I am very proud to say we got on that right away. That will be done. It will be available to the people of our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Here in the House of Assembly yesterday, I asked the Minister of Finance, and she stated without qualification, that their government has, since December, achieved $100 million in savings from the reduction in discretionary spending and travel.

I ask the minister: Can she assure the House of Assembly today that her statement and answer given yesterday, that they’ve saved $100 million since December, is accurate?

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

The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have plenty of portfolios; thank you for not assigning another one.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to answer the Member for Topsail – Paradise’s question. I’m proud to stand in this House of Assembly and confirm that, through the work of this government in just 88 days since taking office, we have identified more savings of $97.5 million for 2015-16.

These savings, which include discretionary savings, have been realized through things like no reallocation of dropped balances or savings, the reduction of parliamentary assistant salaries, the reduction of political staff, restrictions placed on hiring, restrictions placed on consultants and the elimination of discretionary travel as per the directive our government issued back in December.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. C. BENNETT: I have the document here, Mr. Speaker, that I’m happy to table at your discretion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Member yesterday said that it was roughly in the vicinity of $100 million that’s been saved since December. When being pressed by reporters outside the House yesterday, she went on to explain this $100 million was annualized.

Mr. Speaker, annualized means year-over-year savings and I’m sure she can explain some of that. She talked about travel and discretionary spending, quite often, has to do with purchasing of furniture, such as a chair. If you purchase a chair or don’t purchase a chair for $200, you’ve saved $200.

How do you annualize the savings of the purchase of such things as furniture? How does that become a year-over-year savings when once you’ve saved it and never made the purchase, you’ve saved it?

Can the minister explain that accounting to the House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, some of the furniture that was taken out were the seats in this House of Assembly. In response to the Member opposite’s question, our measures go further than the previous government. We have realized more savings in a shorter period of time.

I remind the Members of this hon. House that the Member opposite announced on November 27, 2014, that measures they had undertaken in a full six-month period, I believe, they anticipated to save $90 million. In the short time we’ve taken office we’ve found almost $100 million, as I said yesterday, and we’re not done yet.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

And so they should save more, because the circumstances in the province are much worse than they were on November 30, on election day. As a matter of fact, the Premier himself is on the record as saying hundreds of millions – he said $400 million at one point in time – worse than it was when they took office in December; $400 million additional debt put on our province since they took over. So not buying shares and utilizing resources and abilities to cut is a good thing for them to do.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister of Finance one more time: How do you annualize a trip you didn’t take? How does that get annualized year over year? She hasn’t explained it. I will ask her again: Can she explain the accounting to us?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m happy to answer the Member opposite’s question.

Colleagues on this side of the House who participate in Treasury Board with me have been meeting continuously for the last several weeks with officials. We have met with every single department, the majority of agencies, boards and commissions, and we will continue to do our comprehensive line-by-line review of the budgets so that we will continue to realize these savings on a go-forward basis and find even more.

Mr. Speaker, these actions we are undertaking and the details of the things we found of where we can save money – like parliamentary assistants and political staff – I look forward to sharing with these hon. Members when we present our budget for 2016.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Again, yesterday in the House of Assembly I was asking questions regarding the very important matter of sterilization challenges that are being faced by Eastern Health. Yesterday the Premier said here in the House he’s very proud of the work that’s been done. He went on to say, Mr. Speaker, that all ORs are functioning and surgeries are proceeding.

Well, Mr. Speaker, we’ve learned that last Friday orthopaedic surgeons ran out of instruments and were not able to perform any further surgeries. In fact, they said, they declared it as a dangerous situation at the only trauma centre in the province, warning that potentially dire consequences could result.

So I ask the Minister of Health: Were you aware of this last Friday? When did you become aware of it, and when were you going to share this with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, what I said yesterday is about the communications and the work that the Minister of Health and Community Services has been doing in working with Eastern Health to get an answer to what is a very difficult and complex situation that we’re facing. One thing that we will not do is compromise patient safety in this serious situation.

We know that there are many people impacted by delays in surgeries. Today, what we’re seeing is that surgeries are continuing as scheduled. Yesterday, there were a few delays in surgeries; there’s no doubt, where this situation is affecting multiple sites within Eastern Health. There’s been even new equipment that’s been put in that’s been impacted.

This is not new or unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. We’ve seen similar circumstances in other jurisdictions and what we’ve done is reached out through the work of the Minister of Health and Community Services and his group, they’ve reached out and tried to learn from some of the lessens that other jurisdictions have found from this.

We’re going to get to the bottom of this. It is a difficult situation impacting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I remind the Premier that patient safety was compromised. He said they want to protect patient safety and make sure it’s not compromised. Well, it was compromised. It was compromised on Friday when they ran out of instruments. If there had of been an emergency surgery required, orthopedic surgery required, they couldn’t complete it, Mr. Speaker. The manual handwashing process that’s underway at Eastern Health has not kept up with the demand. Orthopedic surgeons, I can tell you, are not happy about this.

I again ask the Minister of Health: When did he become aware of this? When did he plan on sharing this with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

At no time since the sterilizing issue arose has patient safety been compromised. The Chief of Surgery for Eastern Health quite clearly stated yesterday that Eastern Health always had equipment for emergency surgery. Even if they run into a situation where they might not have, they had contingency plans.

I would draw the Member opposite’s attention to the fact that the operating rooms at St. Clare’s are working at 100 per cent for elective and emergency surgery, and that no emergency surgeries have been cancelled at all during this entire exercise at the Health Sciences Centre.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, it’s a good thing there wasn’t an emergency because they wouldn’t have been able to do it. That’s not what the minister said. If there had have been an emergency surgery, they couldn’t complete it. That’s what we’re told, Mr. Speaker. That’s what’s being reported to us, that on Friday afternoon there were no instruments available should an emergency have resulted or had occurred at the province’s only trauma centre.

I ask the minister once again: When did he become aware of this crisis on Friday afternoon that did jeopardize patient safety? When was he going to share that with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Mr. Speaker, I have been in contact with the CEO of Eastern Health and the surgeons at Eastern Health on a very regular basis. Had the gentleman opposite and his team done their research and read beyond the first 140 characters, they would have found the answer to that question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I have to tell you this is a very serious matter and to have the arrogance coming from a new minister like this across the House, Mr. Speaker, is shameful. This is a very serious circumstance. We are told that surgeons did not have equipment available should an emergency have taken place. I have asked the minister several times. He is not going to give us an answer of when he became aware of this. He is not going to give us an answer and he won’t admit that it is a risk to patients, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this has to do, quite often, I believe, with the processes. We know Eastern Health is working very, very hard to try and rectify this circumstance, but they have to resort now to manual handwashing to sterilize surgical equipment.

So I will ask the minister this: Can he assure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that handwashing and sterilizing medical equipment, OR surgical equipment, thousands of pieces, has not compromised safety of patients in any way? Can he tell me – can he assure us – that these processes are protecting patients?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Once again, Mr. Speaker, there has been no issue related to patient safety. The cleaning and sterilizing of surgical equipment is a very complicated exercise. Handwashing and manual sterilization may be an old technique, but it still works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On January 28, Marine Atlantic announced an increase to its passenger and vehicle rates by 2.6 per cent effective April 1 of this year. Mr. Speaker, over the past two decades, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills has been an official watchdog for Marine Atlantic. At every opportunity the Member, while an MP, would take to the media. He would call the open line shows and lash out against rate increases and question service delivery. However, Mr. Speaker, to everyone’s surprise, he is now silent on the issue and nowhere to be found.

So I ask the Premier, Mr. Speaker: Why has this minister’s advocacy stopped? Is the issue no longer important to him and his West Coast constituents?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is certainly a pleasure to answer the question for my colleague opposite. Marine Atlantic plays a very vital, important role when it comes to the transportation of consumer goods and to passenger traffic in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’ve had engagement with my federal colleague, the counterpart of Small Business and Tourism, when she was here in the province just last week at the Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador Conference. We had a meeting and discussed Marine Atlantic, about how important it is to have competitive rates.

We’re very pleased to see that Marine Atlantic has discounted its rates by 50 per cent passenger traffic for a period of time at the Port aux Basques ferry service. As well, they’ve decreased their surcharge from 21 per cent down to 15 per cent on this matter.

The Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development works with our federal counterparts to have dialogue on how we can improve the customer experience.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, I’m glad that the Minister of Tourism acknowledges that Marine Atlantic is important, and that he had a discussion with the federal minister at the recent Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador Conference. The little sale that’s now on is little comfort, I think, to people in the province.

Residents of this province expect action and, more importantly, they want the results they were promised – promised by our new Premier. He sold the electorate on this cozy relationship with the new federal government.

Now I will ask the Premier: I’d like to know what specific actions that you, as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, have taken to address the rising ferry rates issue beyond the Minister of Tourism having dinner with a federal minister at the HNL Conference.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Mr. Speaker, I’m very proud of the relationship that we have with our federal colleagues on this matter.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MITCHELMORE: I’ve been minister for only 80-plus days and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with my federal colleagues. I wonder how many meetings the Members opposite would have had with Marine Atlantic on this particular matter.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MITCHELMORE: Last week, I did not have more than a discussion; I had a sit-down meeting with my counterpart. It was the Small Business and Tourism minister. I’ve had multiple meetings with my federal colleagues in Ottawa.

We have a very strong relationship when it comes to looking at how we can improve the services and delivery at Marine Atlantic because we see how important it is to the people and to the businesses of Newfoundland and Labrador and to the tourism industry. We’re going to continue to work with our counterparts in Ottawa –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MITCHELMORE: – so that we can continue to have a strong economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, lots of friendly chats and meetings and dinners and photo ops, but no action, no results and the ferry rates are still going up. This new relationship that the new government is promoting means that the provincial Liberal government will not rock the boat with their federal cousins under any circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, Prime Minister Trudeau is on record as saying his government would work to ensure Marine Atlantic remains affordable.

I ask the Premier: Are rate hikes affordable? Does the cozy federal-provincial Liberal coalition feel the recent Marine Atlantic rate hikes are affordable?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I made myself very clear that the rates at Marine Atlantic are going down by 50 per cent for the period of time at the Port aux Basques ferry, as well as the fuel surcharge has been dropped from 21 to 15 per cent, which means the difference of about a dollar in the fare overall. What we’re doing is we’re continuing to work with Marine Atlantic and working with the federal government, as our department has been doing over the last number of weeks, to improve customer service and make sure we’re enhancing the experience.

We have a productive relationship with Marine Atlantic, as well as with the federal government, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure that experience is enhanced and we can add to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: The cozy relationship between the provincial and federal government, Mr. Speaker, is leading to higher ferry rates for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. So he’s happy to accept higher rates in order to keep the peace with the Trudeau Liberals.

The Throne Speech earlier this week stated that we all have to make sacrifices, Mr. Speaker. Are rising Marine Atlantic rates one of the sacrifices the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have to make because of our government’s warm and fuzzy relationship with the federal government?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, one of the things in speaking of the relationship with Ottawa, I’m not so sure the group opposite, in particular the former deputy premier, could actually speak to what that relationship in any way could be, because all we’ve seen from at least reports in any of the successes they would have had has been really a goose egg. That’s what we’ve seen with the relationship they had.

So we’re very proud. It’s been just a few weeks into this. When we get into March 22 and the budget, of course, there will be things for Newfoundland and Labrador that will be included in that. The doors in Ottawa right now are certainly open. There has been lots of engagement and lots of very productive meetings will occur. It usually starts with very productive meetings. The former deputy premier would not be used to that, of course, in Ottawa, as he would prefer to do his meetings over Twitter.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, during the election campaign last year, and in the Liberal red book, it stated that a new Liberal government will establish an Independent Appointments Commission to take the politics out of government appointments.

Well, yesterday the government tabled the Independent Appointments Commission Act, Bill 1, which I can tell you is a non-binding commission. They can’t make appointments. They can make non-binding recommendations to government, so government can secretly select from a pool of candidates who they want to appoint to commissions.

I ask the Premier: How does this take the politics out of appointments?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m very proud to answer that question from the former premier because if there’s anyone in this room who would have experience in putting politics into political appointments, it would be the former premier. He had his share of them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: I would not have any experience in that, and I will not. Because what we will put in place, and very proud to be able to bring legislation in place – I’m taking from what the former premier is saying that he’s not going to support this because he would not see this as an improvement over the process that he was used to.

I believe it is a big improvement. We’re going to see highly skilled Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who will volunteer their time to make sure that the politics are taken out of government appointments. We will see people who have the technical skills and the abilities to actually do their jobs. This is exactly what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are looking for.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I will remind the Premier that his signature bill that he’s brought to the floor of the House of Assembly has sections in it, such as section 9, which enables Cabinet to completely sidestep the commission and make their own appointments.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, under Schedule C there are six pages of entities where appointments can be made through this legislation that don’t even go to the Independent Appointments Commission. It completely sidesteps the Independent Appointments Commission. The Public Service Commission makes a pool and it goes to the minister to hand-pick who they want.

How does that take the politics out of appointments?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you.

I look forward to the debate from the former premier as he defends his process and as we defend our process.

The Public Service Commission, first and foremost – contrary to what the former premier may feel, I value the work the Public Service Commission does. They do a great job. So for the former premier to ever question the integrity of that group is shameful, I say, Mr. Speaker. They do a great job. They will do the vetting, as part of the selection committee that will actually recommend names to Cabinet. The decision will then be made there.

I will guarantee you, if you ever saw a Cabinet that will actually dismiss this group of skilled, intelligent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians – they will do what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians always do. They will reject that and they will stand up for us. That will not happen with this government, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I’m on the record many times here speaking loudly and proudly of the great work that public servants do for Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: I’m not worried about the process they are going through. What worries me is when they create the pool of potential candidates for committees, commissions and entities and they send it over to the secret Cabinet decision, Mr. Speaker, because this bill here legitimizes the secrecy around decisions.

In fact, the Premier said today that if they sent three names over for senior positions in government, they don’t have to say who those three names are. They don’t have to say if they picked one of the three names and they don’t have to say who the two are that weren’t eligible.

It’s a legitimate bill, certainly, Mr. Speaker. It’s a bill that legitimizes the secrecy process of Cabinet. It gives them a pool to choose from and allows them to make their own choices so they can look after their friends when they campaigned last year.

I ask the Premier one more time: When the process leads to secret decisions by Cabinet, how does that take the politics out of this decision-making process?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you look at the selection process and when the former premier gets a chance to read the legislation and as we debate it here, maybe there will be a better understanding of how this process works.

In the past, the pool was this. The pool was a list of names that Cabinet, or the Premier – that’s the list, that was their pool. The Public Service Commission, an independent appointments commission, no, they were all of that. The decision was made by the Premier primarily, or by Cabinet, or some Cabinet friends. That was the pool.

I will tell you right now that this Independent Appointments Commission is a huge, better way. This is a much better way of putting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, qualified Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, into key positions. The Independent Appointments Commission is volunteering their time to do this, and we look forward to working with them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It gives me great honour here today to stand up to be the official spokesperson for the fisheries department from the Official Opposition. Never before in our history have we seen – and we have seen in our history that the fishery has been so good to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was never important like today, to make sure we have strong management and we maintain the control of our fishery.

On February 1 and February 2, the fisheries licensing board met to discuss the proposed transfer with Quin-Sea license to Royal Greenland.

I ask the Minister of Fisheries: Have you received the recommendations from the board?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. CROCKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my honour to stand here today as the Minister of Fisheries and take the question from the Member opposite.

Yes, we have received a recommendation from the board. We are continuing to do due diligence as a part of my role as the minister. A part of that due diligence, Mr. Speaker, has been listening to many groups, many different individuals, even in the expression of interest from the Official Opposition in their letter that they submitted to the licensing board. I’ll let the hon. Member know that he can expect our decision in the very near future.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis, for a very short question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, Royal Greenland is not a Newfoundland company; it’s not a Canadian company. In fact, it’s a company owned by the Government of Denmark.

I ask the minister: Will allowing Royal Greenland to operate [Quin-Sea] go against long-standing principles of fleet separation and having control of our local fishery?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. CROCKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think there were two questions. The first one, Royal Greenland is not owned by the State of Denmark; it’s owned by the self-government of Greenland. That’s question number one.

MR. SPEAKER: Very quickly.

MR. CROCKER: As to the second part, the fleet separation, Royal Greenland will not have control of the quotas in Canadian waters if – if – their application is successful.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

When asked what savings had been achieved from discretionary spending and travel since December, the Minister of Finance indicated that they have achieved approximately $100 million in savings since December. Last Thursday, as promised, the minister tabled a document to the House. However, the document lacks details.

As promised by this minister who represents an open and transparent government, I ask the minister: How can she identify savings while not providing the details to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, the exact details that she promised to table?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand in this House and answer questions about saving money for the people of the province. This is a very difficult fiscal situation that our government has been left to deal with. I think it is very important for us to understand the context of why we are in this situation. The former administration opted to ignore the revenue line and let the peak oil production of 2007 go by without making adjustment to their spending.

I look forward to continuing to provide answers in this House of Assembly to the Member opposite on the specifics. I would say that discretionary spending certainly would include more than travel and furniture. Quite frankly, I suspect that is the reason people in the province chose this government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The question that I asked about was how much has been saved since December in discretionary spending and travel. When the minister was asked she provided three numbers to the House of Assembly, even though she had indicated here in the House that she would provide the exact details.

Maybe we can break it down and do it this way. I ask the minister: Will she provide an itemized account of the $118 million, one of the three numbers listed in her document – will she provide a detailed account of the $118 million identified in the heading savings identified in fiscal update?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said in the House last week, the savings that were included in the numbers that I presented to this House included savings ascertained by things like no reallocation of savings in department, the reduction of parliamentary secretaries, the reduction of political staff in ministerial offices, the reduction in salaries through the delaying of hiring of certain positions, placing restrictions on hiring, placing restrictions on consultants and the elimination of discretionary travel.

I will look forward to, as I said last Thursday, presenting a budget in this House that details that information and our plan for budget ’16-’17 and into the future that will get our province back on a fiscal course that’s sustainable.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It’s clear that the member is reading from the list. So she has the list. Does she have the amounts that go with the list?

She promised that she would provide the exact details. Now she’s reading from a list today, but I also remind the minister that it’s not the budget that I’m asking about. I’m asking about the savings – the $100 million in discretionary spending and travel, because that was what the question was and her answer was $100 million – from December to March, the last three months, can she itemize the $100 million in savings through discretionary spending and travel in the last three months? Will she provide those itemized details?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I am happy to continue to stand on my feet in this House and answer all the questions that the Member opposite wants to ask about the $100 million.

I believe the people of the province, though, want to hear questions about the important situation that we’re in. Quite frankly, I would remind the Member opposite that when they made decisions to increase the debt that the people of this province are carrying to the tune of 69 per cent since 2003 – I would argue that those are the questions that people at home and people in our districts throughout our province are asking.

I look forward to answering every question the Member opposite has in this House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I thank the minister for agreeing to answer all the questions that we have in relation to this. It’s not about the budget. It’s not about the future. She stood here in her place in the House and indicated to the House of Assembly they’ve saved in the vicinity of $100 million when asked what the savings have been in discretionary spending with travel since December. So in the no-information release that she put out on behalf of the open and transparent government, there’s a line item here – $97,562,800 under additional spending savings identified.

If she’s willing to answer all questions in the House – which we decide what questions we ask – I’ll ask her: Can you itemize the $97 million as outlined in your very brief report that you tabled in the House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I’ve already said, and I will continue to say, the savings that I presented in this House last week that valued about $97 million, as I presented to the House, came from a variety of activities our government has undertaken since we were sworn in on the 14th of December.

Mr. Speaker, they include – and I would remind the Member opposite – things like reduction in political staff, reduction in salaries for jobs we’re not going to fill currently, the reduction in the use of consultants, the reduction in discretionary travel. He’ll be happy to see all the details of all of those numbers when he gets to see the budget with the people of the province later on in this session.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It’s clear we’re not going to get those numbers today. She said I can ask all the questions I want, and I will do that because that’s our role, but she’s not going to provide the details, so the people of the province are going to have to wait. This open and transparent government are not going to provide that.

I want to ask the Minister of Health, Mr. Speaker – we all know Eastern Health has been challenged in sterilization issues for the past number of weeks, and we know staff have been working hard in Eastern Health to try and rectify this. Last week the CEO of Eastern Health said the issues have not gone away and will likely need another plan. Today we’re hearing – thankfully hearing – reports of surgeries are getting back to normal.

I ask the minister if he can confirm what actually caused the staining for medical instruments, and can you also give the assurance to the people of the province today – and we’d just like to clarify this – that the sterilization issue has been resolved, or is it still ongoing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly, this is a concern for all of us here on this side of the House, and I’m sure all Members. It’s impacted families around Newfoundland and Labrador, and especially those who use the services at Eastern Health.

The sterilization issue, the staining that was caused, is something that is as a result of many different things that occurred. So right now the staff have been working diligently to put a resolution in place. We are pleased today to say the elective surgeries and orthopaedic surgeries later on this week; they will be occurring again. But to pinpoint one specific issue as it occurs and what led to this sterilization issue, it’s not as easy to say that. It is a very complicated approach, but we are very happy to be able to say things are coming back to normal.

This has happened in other jurisdictions and the staff at Eastern Health has done a great job in actually responding to this. There has been great communication with the minister and the staff. So we hope, like all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians do, that this is behind us. But this is something that occurs from time to time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

As I said in my question, I agree the staff at Eastern Health have been working very, very hard. I’m not sure if the communication has been great because we know the minister stood in the House here last week and stated that handwashing is a time-tested technique and has been working.

Almost at the same time, the CEO of Eastern Health was saying that handwashing was not achieving the desired result. We’ve also heard that the expenditure right now is approximately $3.3 million. Mr. Speaker, we’re hearing that the cost is actually much higher than that.

I ask the minister if he could provide a detailed breakdown of the amount of the expenditure that’s existed so far, how that estimate has been achieved. It’s probably more detail than the Minister of Finance is prepared to table. Also, can he provide details around the plan for the future? Are we still making progress in moving forward?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, the sterilization of equipment at Eastern Health, when it comes to surgeries, is a very complicated process. I would encourage Members opposite to actually go visit and take a look at the processes it goes through to make sure that we have patient safety.

The $3.3 million – as we said to Eastern Health in the past, we were not going to compromise patient safety; therefore, it really wasn’t about the $3 million in this particular case. What we want is to get things back to normal as quickly as possible so there would be no disruptions at all in patient care at Eastern Health.

The staff, as I said, have worked very hard. This is not a one, single issue; this wasn’t caused by anything specific. There’s been new equipment put in place. They outsourced sterilization. They’ve used some at St. Clare’s, some at the Health Sciences Centre, so it is a very complicated process as I say. There will be a review of what led to this once we get the place back and running and in normal circumstances.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, last week in Question Period in a question about equalization the Premier stated that the previous administration had not started to access the $34.9 million Small Communities Fund, which is part of the Building Canada Fund, and we did not sign an agreement. However, a briefing note supplied by your government notes that there’s a list of proposed projects that were received by Infrastructure Canada from our previous government. We asked for a copy of the list of the projects. It was redacted with the release of information.

I ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs: Can he explain the contradiction?

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for the question. Access to information was a policy put in place by your government. Who decides is the head of the department, which is the deputy minister. Because they feel there are negotiations with the federal and provincial governments, it would not be beneficial to release the dates.

For the Member to know – why are you still writing me and asking me about the Bay Bulls access road? You had a copy of the information, so why are you standing up in this House asking for it? You have spoken to me several times on it. You wrote me on it. You had a copy of it. If the former government doesn’t feel the process they put in place for access to information – are you admitting fault now, when the minister has nothing to do with it, when the head of the department states, no, we shouldn’t release this information.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, back to the comments made by the Premier. He said the previous administration had access to a $34.9 million Small Communities Fund. In actual fact, there was a list of projects that were afforded. We were looking at leveraging about $12 million of the overall fund over a ten-year period. Infrastructure Canada, in your own briefing notes, acknowledged that did exist. You said there was no agreement signed.

So I ask you again: Outside of freedom of information, how do you clarify the contradiction?

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

MR. JOYCE: As the Member would know, there were two funds. The $34.9 million they could have leveraged from the federal government was not signed. It was signed, Mr. Speaker, probably about three weeks or a month ago. This government had $34.9 million that they did not access, did not even take the time to sign.

Mr. Speaker, just for the record, he was the minister who wouldn’t even sign it. He is over there now saying about the fund, about the copy of lists that he’s writing me about projects that were supposedly on the list. They didn’t sign the $34.9 million. Now he’s trying to say, where is the money? Where is the fund?

When we get the projects in place, when there is a commitment made, when there is an agreement with the federal government, we’ll table the list of projects, Mr. Speaker. We’ll table it so people will know. Please know the agreement is signed by this government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member said he’d table a list of projects. So we are looking forward to a list of projects when he tables them.

I will ask the minister as well, the list of projects put forward to Infrastructure Canada, could you table that list and any changes in the current list, and what’s moved forward to Infrastructure Canada since you’ve come to power and what those changes have been?

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I just find this kind of ironic. Look at the Member for Mount Pearl North who set up access to information, the rules around it and the process. The process is that it goes to the head of the department. The head of the department is the deputy minister. Now he’s asking me as minister to step in and say, oh, we should get involved with access to information. We should get involved with it all, Mr. Speaker. We should get involved with it. The minute I get involved, why am I now skirting the access to information that they put in place, Mr. Speaker?

Now, I’m glad that the minister finally admitted, which we said for a number of years, that Bill 29 failed and now the access to information that they put in place is a complete failure.

I ask him one question: Why are you still writing me about projects that are supposed to be on that list if you don’t know what’s on the list?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the minister says he has a list; all we’re asking is to table the list and any subsequent changes he made since coming to power. Infrastructure Canada identified that the list exists, which was contrary to what the Premier indicated.

In the briefing note received we also asked for information of the projects submitted to Infrastructure Canada. Most of those projects were redacted, blacked out. The reason given is that it would affect federal-provincial relations.

I ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs: How would a list released negatively impact federal-provincial relations?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, three times during Question Period today the Member opposite has used the words: it’s a contradiction to what the Premier said. I just want to clarify this for the people that are watching and listening and those that are in the gallery today, there is absolutely no contradiction.

One of the first meetings that I had with the minister responsible for infrastructure he said: Why is it that Newfoundland and Labrador is one province that has not signed a Small Communities Fund? We pulled it out. It wasn’t signed by the previous administration. So we became very proactive on this, got it down here; we are now going to leverage this fund of $34.9 million.

They sent up requests for funding without signing the agreement. Mr. Speaker, it just reminds me so much of the fisheries fund around CETA: had their party here in St. John’s, Newfoundland, without having their federal colleagues on the line.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, last Thursday the Minister of Fisheries stood in this House and said that the department was continuing to do its due diligence between Quin-Sea and Royal Greenland sale. Less than 24 hours later, he signed off on it and the sale was announced.

Mr. Speaker, fish harvesters are currently buying themselves out of trust agreements. The federal government put a program in place to buy out trust agreements to avoid fleet separation problems.

I ask the minister: In your due diligence, did you ensure with Minister Tootoo that there are no trust agreements in place with Quin-Sea that are transferred to Royal Greenland? If so, will you table that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m very confident that Members opposite were aware of the sale of Quin-Sea and Royal Greenland before they left office because it was a discussion that has been ongoing for quite some time. When we came in office and there was a request for a change of operator licence, it was made publicly known. There was a process that needed to be adhered to.

It was a process that started in December. It went through the Fish Processing Licensing Board just a few weeks ago. They made their recommendation. This is a board that was appointed by the previous administration. We weren’t satisfied there, because our preference, of course, would be to support Newfoundland and Labrador companies. There is no provision in legislation within Newfoundland and Labrador that prohibits that sale – they know that.

So what happened, we did our due diligence, our officials went through this, we took the legal look at it and there was no connection at all to agreements that would be prohibitive for this sale to go through. That’s the reason why the minister made the recommendation for this to proceed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It’s not the sale we’re worried about; it’s the processing licences that are controlled.

Mr. Speaker, the minister knows there is at least one other company interested in purchasing Quin-Sea, yet he refused to give them the opportunity to be heard.

I ask the minister: What opportunity did he give other companies to present in regard to this sale?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The role of government was to actually review the change of operator licence; it wasn’t to be going out and see who was available to purchase Quin-Sea. Previous administrations – and I can tell you now that we will be promoting Newfoundland and Labrador, too. We’ve seen over the years on many occasions when we see in governments and administrations and, indeed, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians promote our province as a great place to invest. We do that.

Is the Member opposite suggesting when people from the outside want to come in, invest in Newfoundland and Labrador, we should put restrictions in place and turn them away?

What we have made sure of, though, is that there is no connection to the processing and the harvesting side here. That’s the fleet separation we’re concerned about, and that is secure I say to the Member opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Member for the District of Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: I just want to go back to my first question. My first question was: Do you have any evidence to show there are no trust agreements in place?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Evidence to show there are no trust agreements in place? What we’ve done is we’ve done a review of the legal documents on the purchase of sale agreement that was put in place between Quin-Sea and Royal Greenland, and there was no evidence at all of any trust agreements and they are in compliance with legislation and policy around fleet separation.

So I say to the member opposite, if he is aware of such agreements being in place, well, the onus is on that Member or any other Member in this Chamber today to bring that evidence forward, then we will deal with that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, it’s the federal government that regulates trust agreements.

I just asked the minister: Have you checked with Minister Tootoo to see if there are any of these trust agreements in place, and what happens then, Sir?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Not only would the federal government be checking there, what they will also be doing is random audits on those processors to make sure that there are no agreements in place, like they will for processing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The fishery in our province is extremely important to people on this side of the House. I can tell you right now, we will make sure that we will do our role and our part in protecting the harvesting sector and the processing sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: The drop in commodity prices has had a negative effect all over the world. Mr. Speaker, having said that, the welfare of vulnerable children cannot come with a price tag.

I ask the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services: Will she stand today in this House and state unequivocally that she will not allow her government to reduce programs and services for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, the mandate of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is the protection of children. We will protect children.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, we asked if there would be any cuts.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Will you do the right thing and commit today to having the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services taken off the table and made exempt from the sweeping 30 per cent cuts that you have mandated your departments to make?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand again and answer questions for the Members opposite. The situation that we’re dealing with in our province is unprecedented.

We saw a former administration have peak oil in 2007, peak oil price in 2008. They increased the debt of this province in their Conservative run at government by 69 per cent.

I can assure the Member opposite that our government is going to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people of the province. I look forward to showing that in a budget coming up shortly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, during the fall election we saw the Liberals unveil a trove of promises that they have now gone back on. They stated in the fall that they would undertake a review of the Youth Services Program to ensure that it is responsive to the unique needs of our vulnerable youth.

I ask the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services: Has she instructed her department to act on that promise made to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: I thank the Member across for her question and, yes, we have. There will be a review completed by June of 2016 – it will be started in June of 2016.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, for a very quick question.

MS. PERRY: I ask the minister to provide the House with a status update, Mr. Speaker, on this review and when we can expect more details.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, for a quick response.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, I just indicated that the review will start in June of 2016.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance is on the record as saying that the government, our new government, has saved $100 million in discretionary spending in just three months. Well, last week the minister committed to providing the exact details to the House. The request for additional details has been denied and, to be quite honest, the door has been closed on us, Mr. Speaker, in finding out this information.

The minister has stated that the government will be extremely open and transparent when they release their budget. The people of the province shouldn’t have to wait until the budget to find out what savings have been already realized in this fiscal year.

I ask the Minister: Why are you refusing to provide those details from this fiscal year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday in this House the hon. Member, twice in his questioning, referred to this as not about the budget. I would remind him very clearly that this is exactly about the budget. The Estimates, as he is aware, will clearly show, very clearly, what was budgeted, what is spent and how much is saved.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Yesterday here in the House the questions asked were very straightforward. The Finance Minister dodged answers yesterday and continues to dodge those straightforward questions again today. This is about this year’s budget, budget ’15-’16.

The minister rose in the House of Assembly, right here and very proudly announced $100 million in savings over the last three months. Certainly she just didn’t pull that number out of the air. She must have the facts. She must have the details. She went as far as to commit to provide details to the House, to me in the House specifically and also to the media.

Now, she also said they were going to be open and transparent on budget day. Is that the only day we can expect this government to be open and transparent is budget day? Is that the only day we can expect to hear details from this government?

I ask the minister once again to provide the details on one of her three headings: savings identified in fiscal update, $118 million. Will you provide the details on that heading?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

All the specifics of every, single expenditure that come in under a budget are disclosed as part of the year-end process, and it’s not a matter of hiding anything. As a matter of fact, all of the details around exactly what ministerial offices had extra political staff will be disclosed as part of the regular budget process, including the Estimates discussions that we will have here in this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Again, the minister is dodging what are very straightforward questions. It was the minister who rose in this House and committed to provide the details to me, as the Leader of the Opposition, and to the media.

My question is very simple: Why have you flip-flopped? Why the contradiction and why will you not now provide those details?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, quite the contrary. This is about this minister understanding very clearly where the facts will be presented to the people of the province, unlike the Member opposite who continues to not even understand the process of Estimates and budgets.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We certainly expected to hear a blame game – we’ve heard that lots from Members opposite – but leadership and governance and being a government, being the party in power is about governance and it’s about leadership. The minister said yesterday that she’d be happy to stand on her feet and answer all the questions about the $100 million. She also committed to provide the exact details – were her words, Mr. Speaker, her words – the exact details to me. Now we see a contradiction. A very simple question, she will not provide the details.

Why the contradiction? Why have you changed your position?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m confused as to why the Member opposite doesn’t understand the Estimates process. I would expect he has participated in them regularly, and this is not a matter of hiding anything. When people in this House and the people of the province have a chance to look at Estimates they’re going to very clearly see the incredible work Members on this side of the House have done to watch every single penny that’s in the public purse.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I’ll remind the Member opposite, it was the minister who stood here in the House of Assembly and very clearly articulated she would provide the exact details. Then she provided a sheet that had three lines, three numbers and no details. We’ve made efforts and we’ve asked for those details.

So we need to know, the people of the province want to know – and I can tell you, yes, the people of the province want this question answered according to the calls and the input that we’re receiving from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

So I ask the minister: You committed to table information in the House. You’ve now withdrawn that commitment. My question is very simple. Why did you change your position?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the Member opposite, there’s been no change of position here. Quite frankly, the people of this province have many questions that they’re asking, including all of the questions related to why former administrations when they had record oil production were unable to control spending that on average increased by – it was 22 per cent to 30 per cent higher than any other province.

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to presenting a budget in this House that answers those questions very clearly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, once again, it is very clear that the minister is not going to answer what she claims to be factual when she came to the House of Assembly. Instead of answering the questions, she is using her time to play the blame game. Everyone in the province predicted that the new government would play the blame game, but we’re down to a very simple answer.

Why will you not provide the details to the House, the exact details that you committed to provide? You made a commitment here in the House of Assembly. You have reneged on that. You’ve contradicted that. Why do we have to wait for the budget for you to finally be open and transparent?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m very proud of the work that my colleagues and the Members on this side of the House have been doing to prepare for the budget.

Mr. Speaker, we, too, are getting questions, questions like why an administration that ran six years of surpluses and six years of deficits could only end up with about $4 billion extra.

The people of the province expect and deserve a budget that is open and transparent, and we intend to present that on budget day.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

So what the minister is saying is that they will be open and transparent on budget day, but not before that. That is what I believe I just heard the minister say.

I’ll let the minister know that you made a commitment to table information here in the House of Assembly. You made that commitment very clearly; you’d provide the exact details. Now it appears that you want until the budget so your details, your claim of $100 million in savings in 88 days, is going to get lost with everything else in the budget.

Well, Mr. Speaker, I can tell the Member opposite, we’re going to be asking more questions and we’re going to be looking for this information again, because the people of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve to know what savings they’ve created in the fiscal year ’15 and ’16.

So, Mr. Speaker, how much have you saved in ’15 and ’16? When are you going to give us those details? Why don’t you give it? What a contradiction.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I remind the Member opposite, as I discussed here in this House and with media yesterday, the savings were related to reallocations that were discontinued, parliamentary secretaries that aren’t being paid, political staff that we’ve eliminated, freezes on hiring, freezes on travel.

I look forward to sharing with everybody in this House, and the people of the province, all of the details of our budget and the work we’re going to do to get our province back on a fiscally safe ground.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

So the Member opposite is saying by the initiative that we created here in the House of reducing the number of seats has created a savings for government. I’m glad she shares that information.

Mr. Speaker, building on our government’s Close to Home strategy, our administration implemented a very successful pilot project for enhanced care in personal care homes. While an expanded version of this project will not address the overall issues that have been created by the Liberal government’s decision to cancel 360 long-term care beds in our province, it will certainly help in providing families with increased options. This project has proven to be successful and well received by families that are availing of it.

I ask the minister: Will he commit to continuing the expanded personal care home services? Will he continue to commit to the continuation of that and also the expansion of that project?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I welcome the opportunity to say that the enhanced home care project has, indeed, reduced demands successfully in the three pilot sites in Gander, St. John’s and Corner Brook. Our aim is to seek funding in the coming budget, if possible, to continue it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: That’s good news, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health has first-hand knowledge of management problems at Central Health. Just two months before being elected, the Minister of Health wrote that Central Health had an ostrich style of management.

I ask the minister: Rather than sticking his head in the sand, will he order an independent review of senior management and administration at Central Health?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

With regard to the issues in Central Health, there has already been a process in place to deal with issues raised by the radiologists. That’s gone down a separate route with lawyers and a quasi-judicial approach.

With regard to the more general management issues that have been raised, the chair of the board, who ultimately has the responsibility for Central Health management, has reached out to the physician groups across the region and, as I speak, is holding a series of confidential bilaterals with representatives from physicians and senior management independently from across the district. It is their responsibility to deal with those issues, and I have confidence that they’re doing that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would remind the minister that he has a responsibility as well, in addition to the board.

Mr. Speaker, this fall the Minister of Health wrote that Central Health was using a Machiavellian way to resolve issues and had created a poisoned well for doctors in Gander. The very term the minister used “Machiavellian” is defined as using clever lies and tricks in order to get or achieve something. So now we know what the minister thinks of management at Central Health.

I ask the minister: Now that this health authority is under your purview, why won’t you proceed with the independent review of senior management and administration at Central Health?

MR. JOYCE: Why didn’t you?

MR. KENT: I did (inaudible).

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

MR. HAGGIE: Mr. Speaker, there are several reviews and issues here that are being conflated deliberately by the Member opposite to advance an agenda of his own.

The issue of the radiologist was reviewed. There were 18 recommendations in an independent review: 13 of those have been implemented already; five of them are in the process of being implemented. As the Member opposite himself pointed out yesterday in his polemic during the Interim Supply bill, this is a complicated issue and will take time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, what I’m asking for is a full review of management and administration at Central Health. The minister himself as a doctor in Gander is on record as having serious concerns with management and administration and leadership at Central Health, and now he’s on record as not being willing to do anything about it.

In August, in response to concerns from radiologists, a review of Central Health’s department of Diagnostic Imagining was conducted. The report that the minister references by Dr. Rick Bhatia was completed over six months ago. There were 18 clear recommendations, as the minister points out, and these are urgent matters – some of which could affect the safety of patients.

I ask the minister: Why haven’t the recommendations been fully implemented? Some are in process; some are outstanding altogether. Will he show leadership and direct Central Health to immediately implement the outstanding recommendations from Dr. Bhatia’s report?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Eighteen recommendations: 13 implemented and five in the process of being implemented. There was a conflict management specialist recruited to go into Central Health and provide services on the direction of management. That was done. They ran a conflict resolution, conflict management, course for physicians and staff. That has been completed.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, 18 recommendations: 13 done and five in process. It is a complicated matter and will take time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, what’s required is full implementation of the recommendations. The department has not been restructured. There are major patient safety concerns that the minister is failing to show leadership on and address.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health prefers a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with regional health authorities. He hasn’t tackled the ongoing crisis at Eastern Health. He’s refusing to address major concerns from doctors in his own community of Gander.

Word from within the walls of our health care system tells us the minister has been quiet for good reason. We hear the minister, along with his Cabinet colleagues, are working on a plan to dissolve the four regional health authorities.

Will the minister confirm that amalgamating the four regional health authorities is being discussed within his department and by Cabinet?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Mr. Speaker, this is almost as entertaining as reading Harry Potter. It’s just about that good.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HAGGIE: With regard, however, to this suggestion from the Member opposite there has been any issue around patient safety, I am quite happy to state categorically there has not.

He referenced in his polemic yesterday some issues about recommendations for anaphylaxis training – that’s done. He recommended classification of MRIs on the basis of clinical urgency – that’s done. He mentioned conflict resolution between management and physicians – that’s done. There is a respectful workplace policy in Central Health – that’s done.

I’m not sure what other imaginings I should have to deal with in Question Period.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: It appears that new ministers have done training in sarcasm and arrogance, so it’s consistent at least, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll ask the question again: Will the minister confirm that amalgamating the four regional health authorities has been discussed by officials within his department or by Cabinet?

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

MR. HAGGIE: To my knowledge, the only time amalgamation of the health boards was discussed was by the former premier, Mr. Williams.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister of Education has confirmed the school board elections will not take place anytime soon. In fact, he now says they’re at least a year away, this all despite very loud and vocal objections while he sat in Opposition.

Why the flip-flop on your stance, Minister?

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

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m pleased to get up again today and answer questions regarding the school board election because it’s very important.

During the election campaign last fall we were asked by the media if we would have school board elections should we become the government on November 30. We told them we would have a school board election within 12 months because it’s a priority for us to restore that to the system.

When I assumed office and took the oath, the Premier sent a mandate letter to me that said we should have the school board election within 12 months, and that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve met with the chairs of the two boards of trustees, the directors of education, a number of other officials, the Federation of School Councils. We’re putting things into place to have the election, but it can’t be done overnight.

This previous administration made no preparation for a school board election; now they want it done instantly. That simply cannot be done.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, we’re not asking that it be done instantly, but the minister is alluding to the fact that it’s going to take a year or more.

Mr. Speaker, let’s just look at it here. This House reduced the number of seats from 48 to 40. It established an all-party committee. It opened the House. It held public consultations. It worked with the Chief Electoral Office. It adopted new district boundaries and conducted an election within 10 months.

Why the delay by the Department of Education in conducting a school board election? I ask the minister that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Just to correct the Member, Mr. Speaker. No one said a year or more. I just said about five times or something, within 12 months. I’ve been repeating that every time I’ve been asked.

One of the things, as I suggested previously, is that right now a board of trustee election’s for the English district and the French district are conducted differently. We have consulted with the Francophone about changing that. It looks like they are going to want to do that. That will require a legislative change. So we are preparing the legislation. We’ll bring it in here to the House of Assembly. I hope if we can get unanimous consent, we can move that right through here and get that done.

We are also looking at ways to improve voter turnout. We’ve had very low voter turnout in the past. Sometimes less than 5 per cent, less than 3 per cent, and we’re exploring ways to try to improve that. None of that can be done overnight. It’s complicated by the fact that the previous administration did not do anything with this. It was not a priority for them. I’m surprised it is now.

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister of Education is quoted as saying: it’s crucial that the governance of the school board be taken out of the hands of the Education Minister and given back to the people. It now seems that the minister is quite comfortable having that power.

Why the contradiction, Mr. Minister?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I don’t have that power. The power to administrate the school district is in the hands of the board of trustees. The board of trustees, according to the Schools Act, is responsible for administrating primary education, elementary education and secondary education.

I’m trying to give governance of that system back to the people of the province, which that government decided to take away with great haste and no consultation at all with the people, save probably one trial balloon. If people would be patient, we’ll get this done.

It may not take 12 months. It may not take 12 months at all, but we want to put a timeline on things and not just leave it hanging out there like the previous administration did. They made no preparation whatsoever. This was not a priority for them. It is a priority for us. We’re going to do it and we’re going to do it right.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the Premier announced that he will establish a task force on education.

I ask the Premier: Who will this task force be comprised of and when can we expect the task force to begin its work?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Premier’s task force on education, on educational outcomes, is one that we were very pleased and is in the mandate letter of the Minister of Education. It will be a task force that will go around this province seeking input of people, students, educators and people who are involved in the education system. What we’re expecting here is to make sure that we can put in place a process where we will see improvements in educational outcomes, things like mathematics and so on.

The Independent Appointments Commission will be part of this process. If I was to stand here today and give the Member opposite the names of the individuals who would serve on that task force, they would be screaming loudly saying they’re not open, they’re not accountable, they’re not transparent.

The Independent Appointments Commission will be part of this process. I look forward to making sure that we get people who are keenly interested in education in Newfoundland and Labrador, unlike the Members opposite who had all the opportunity for so many years to do exactly this and refused to do it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Premier, can you reassure the Federation of School Councils they’ll have a seat at that table, keeping in mind they’re the most democratically elected representatives of all school councils in this province?

They talk about transparency and openness; what an opportunity to show that with the appointment of a representative from the Federation of School Councils.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Independent Appointments Commission will look at all the recommendations that will be put forward. I would anticipate that people from many jurisdictions and many interest groups and stakeholders will be interested in participating.

I can assure you that the voices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are keenly interested in improving outcomes for our students in the K to12 system, there will be a place for them to participate, to have their input, have a meaningful input. Like I say, quite differently than what we’ve seen. It was your government who refused to even help fund those same associations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, European nations provide subsidies in the billions to state-owned fishing companies, which Royal Greenland is one.

I ask the Minister of Fisheries: Does this give Royal Greenland an advantage? Can he guarantee local companies won’t be disadvantaged by state-owned fishing companies?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for his question on this because it is important. The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is an important piece of the economic diversification that we see in our province.

The transfer of processing licences from Quin-Sea, which has been a company that has employed hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Mr. Speaker – that transfer has been done by the minister. It’s been done with a lot of due diligence. As a matter of fact, there was quite a bit of due diligence done, much more than, I would say, for Members opposite who have made transfers through appointments and so on.

In this particular case, Royal Greenland is interested in investing in Newfoundland and Labrador. Their investment here, we anticipate, will mean there will be more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It will not interfere with the harvesting sector. We look forward to working with companies that are interested in providing meaningful jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and investing in our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis for a very quick question.

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I was going to ask the Minister of Fisheries, but seeing the Premier is answering all his questions, I’ll ask him. He alleges that there’s no transfer agreements in place, which has given access to the inshore quotas to form companies.

I ask the Premier: Can you confirm there are no indirect legal agreements in place that will give access to foreign companies like Royal Greenland?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’ve done the due diligence on this, and the Department of Justice and the Department of Fisheries, all those departments. Many individuals have taken a look at this, the processing board itself. There was no evidence at all to support the claims that the Members opposite are saying.

On another note, I would suggest that if any Member in this House, who was associated with the fishery at all, has any evidence to produce that there are controlling agreements in place, well, I ask you to come forward with that, put the information out there. Withholding that evidence from the people of Newfoundland, in particular the fishery – you are not doing your job as a resident of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has indicated that one of the areas in which government has achieved savings since taking office is travel.

I ask the minister: Can she table the details on savings in travel between December and March 2016?

Thank you.

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Over the last several days, the Member opposite is continuing to ask questions, which I have answered. I’m not sure why he is unable to hear the answer, but I’ll try it again.

The full details of every single savings across every single line are presented to this House and to the people of the province through the Estimates process, and then further through Public Accounts. I look forward to providing that information in the House for the people of the province and for the Members opposite when those deadlines and dates around budget and Estimates are planned.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, the hon. Member offered to provide the exact details here in the House of Assembly, and I would also reference this is part of budget 2015-16 and she had indicated the savings had already taken place and provided a number. So we were looking for those details.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister, a reduction of MHAs introduced by our administration, reducing the House from 48 Members to 40, would impact the number of political staff and result in savings to government.

So I ask the minister: Can the minister outline the exact savings due to reduction in MHAs, and are they also included in the savings the minister is referring to?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The specific details around every single line item and every single savings related to individual line items through departments, through the agencies, boards and commissions through their annual reports – all of that information is tabled in the House of Assembly, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly all the details the Member opposite is looking for will be available for him to review at the same time it’s going to be available for review for the people of the province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We keep asking the questions because we haven’t been able to get the answers.

Mr. Speaker, in the Liberal red book it stated a new liberal government would implement a provincial autism strategy.

I ask the minister: When can expect to see such a strategy, and who will be responsible for the development of that strategy?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As Members here will probably be aware, the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador produced a very comprehensive review yesterday with a fairly lengthy executive summary. Myself and my officials are working our way through that document.

We would hope to use that to inform discussions around a strategy for autism. We wish to engage with stakeholders, in terms of developmental paediatricians, in terms of providers of autism support in education and, in due course, we will develop a strategy and bring that back to the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We’re all very much aware of the many challenges faced by those with ASD, as well as their caregivers and families. One of those challenges commonly identified by the autism community is the archaic threshold of IQ 70 when determining eligibility for service.

We recognize the need to address this shortcoming and, as such, I committed while I was premier to the elimination of IQ 70 standard. Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased the Liberal Party followed our lead and also announced the same in the red book just days before the election.

I ask the Premier: Are you still committed to eliminating the IQ 70 as promised, and when can we expect some movement on that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Member opposite, I thank him for the question, because as he knows, during many of the forums we took part in in the election last fall, there were a number of questions around autism.

As the minister just spoke about, the release of a strategy yesterday by the Autism Society. The autism association made many recommendations and one of those recommendations of course was to do away with or the removal of the IQ 70. This is something we are still committed to as we are looking forward to working with the autism association on many ways to improve the lives of people and families that have to deal with ASD.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I think the Premier is saying they remain committed to it, and I’m glad to hear that.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals also promised to expand the ABA program; Applied Behavioural Analysis, commonly known as ABA. Currently, the cut off stands at grade 3. While this may be an appropriate threshold for many, especially those who are enrolled in ABA programs at an early age; however, for those who are diagnosed later, the grade 3 cut off does not suffice.

I ask the Premier: Are you still committed to expanding the ABA program as well past its current scope? When can we expect some movement and more details on that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m a little surprised to hear that the former premier would be standing in this House asking us questions when this could have been done when they had a number of years to do exactly that and refused to do it. As a matter of fact, refused to even, in many cases, entertain a discussion which was meaningful in any way with those impacted by this.

We understand the impact this is having, and this is something that will be part of the overall strategy. We would like to be able to make those changes but this and many other changes will be part of the overall discussion that we look forward to having. We realize the importance and how significant this is, especially within our education system, within our health system and how it impacts families. So this is something we look forward to having a broader discussion and we look forward to hopefully being able to implement these changes.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Budget 2015 produced a five-year financial plan. The three bond rating agencies liked that long-term plan and rated our province’s outlook as stable. A lack of a plan by this government resulted in Newfoundland’s outlook being downgraded to negative.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Has she met with the bond rating agencies to address this issue? What is the current status of the provincial bond rating status?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the gall of the Member opposite to say that they actually put in a plan last year and they stand by their plan. Last year, there were borrowings of almost $5 billion, which they did no borrowing strategy on and virtually zero success in getting access to any long-term borrowing.

Well, I am proud to stand in this House today and speak to you about the minister who sits in this very chair and the success and the work that she’s been able to do for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: She’s been able to put in place some long-term borrowing initiatives already. In spite of the failed plan that you guys announced last year in April.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind the Premier that it was him who was out in the public just a short while ago saying we couldn’t get any long-term borrowing (inaudible) the previous administration. He had to retract what he had said because the previous administration did have long-term borrowing.

Mr. Speaker, could the Premier clarify who indeed was turned down, the province was turned down by what institutions for long-term borrowing. Why did he have to retract his statement that the province in the past year had not received long-term borrowing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Member opposite knows this was essentially a reopener that was done last summer – nothing new at all. It was a reopener of a loan that was already put in place.

The downgrading that took place this year – that you’ve seen recently in the credit rating agencies – was as a result of the plan that you guys announced last year. One that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador took a good look at.

Right now, what they are looking for is some security, some sustainability for our province. I’m proud to say that our minister is putting a great plan in place. This government will do just that to make sure that we can secure the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I ask the Premier, he indicated publicly that the prior administration was unable to secure long-term borrowing. He later retracted that statement. I’d ask him to clarify that.

As well, he indicated there were lending institutions that would not lend long-term borrowing to the province. I ask him to name those institutions if he could.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, why would I get up in this House of Assembly today and let the people of this province know and explain to people who would not listen to your plan.

We’ve been able to, as a result of the efforts of the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, secure $1.4 billion in long-term financing. So you might ask: Why is that important?

Well, when you’re in a situation where downgrading is – based on the plan the previous administration put in place becomes at risk, it’s important that you put security, that you put certainty in place so you do not have to worry. You take all those risks, all those variables out of play. That is what the minister and her team has been able to do, unlike the previous administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I remind the Premier it was our plan that the bond-rating agency stabilized our bond rating last fall.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Last November they looked at it and they secured that bond rating. It was later on that it was changed, I remind the Premier.

The Dominion Bond Rating agency stated on January 21 that “Without a material improvement in the fiscal and debt outlook supported by a credible multi-year fiscal plan, a one-notch downgrade is likely.” Moody’s said on January 25: They will consider revising their outlook back to stable if the government implements a comprehensive fiscal plan. Standard & Poor’s: If they develop a credible plan.

I ask the Premier: When will your government have a credible multi-year fiscal plan ready to prevent further downgrades of our credit rating?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I noticed the Member just said our credit rating. Well, it was your credit rating that they actually downgraded.

What I would say, Mr. Speaker, is last year during budget 2015-2016 the previous administration, which the Member was a part of and which the premier was a part of, said this: We will need to be borrowing over the next five or six years. They had said that.

What they didn’t do – now if you know that you have to borrow, why would you not put in place an investors relationship strategy? Why wouldn’t you do that? The previous administration knew they had to borrow, refused to do it, put the future of Newfoundland and Labrador at risk.

It is their plan of the borrowing that led to the $15.4 billion over the next five years. That is the reason why our minister is putting in place an investment strategy, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, I remind the Premier it’s their lack of plan that the bond-rating agencies have reacted so negatively I’ll say to him.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: The lack of a plan, that’s where the bond-rating agency is. Lack of vision, lack of direction, no fiscal policy, Mr. Speaker, it’s terrible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, The Telegram reported on February 24 that the Premier admitted the lack of a plan hurt us and said the reaction will be more positive for credit agencies if we have a plan we can show them.

What plan has the Premier provided to financial lenders and institutions to help secure financing and instill confidence in the fiscal plan of our province? If so, will he share that plan?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: That plan will be called budget 2016-2017, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Ferryland.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Short answers, but we have lots of questions. No worry there, Mr. Speaker.

A 15-month consultation tour that the Liberals are undertaking is virtually identical to that which was taken by the New Brunswick Liberal government. One year later, the New Brunswick government has made massive cuts to programs, services and jobs.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Should the people of our province be prepared for similar cuts to programs, services and jobs by your government?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can assure the people of the province that they will have a budget as part of 16-17 fiscal that will include multi-year targets, actions in the short, medium and long-term which we will be discussing as part of our Budget 16. We’ll look forward to continuing the dialogue that many people across this province so desperately have wanted for a decade and were unable to participate in.

We’ll continue to have that dialogue and put a credible plan in place to make sure that the people of the province are supported, understand and get what they want when it comes to Budget 2016.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, during the fall election campaign, as part of their campaign platform, the Liberals accessed the value of government assets and claimed they could generate $50 million each year from the sale of those assets.

I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works which assets that he placed on the market were sold since taking office? How much has your administration raised to date through those assets?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The work that’s being undertaken around getting a deep understanding of the assets that the current government has at its disposal is ongoing. Part of our process in building Budget 2016 and our ongoing fiscal plans will include a commitment to do exactly what we said in our platform.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works if he’ll make public the full list of assets the Liberal Administration plans to sell and the amount of revenue expected to be generated through this sale?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess what I’m hearing from the Member opposite, he’s looking for a fire sale, maybe. I’m not so sure what his issues are.

What we will do before any asset that would be sold that is owned by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there will be full economic analysis that would be done on those assets, I say, Mr. Speaker. If they bring value and continue to have value to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador well, guess what? They will remain an asset of Newfoundland and Labrador; I can say that, Mr. Speaker.

Anything that has no value to the province, well we will do what is right so we can use that money to provide valued services for the people of province who are desperately looking for some good management and some good planning for the future of our province, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s strange for the Premier to say that when every community I go to, every person I run into are looking, what is government selling, what buildings are they selling. It is in your red book, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the government has not yet taken action on this plan.

I ask the minister: Our province is in dire need for revenue why haven’t you taken any action?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well is the Member opposite is going to many communities in our province I would ask him to let us know which communities because when I’m travelling this province this is not what people are telling me. What they are saying is that they are looking forward to this government and to this team that’s over here putting in a plan that’s sustainable, making sure that we make decisions that are evidence-based, that the complete analysis is done on all the issues that we have facing our province. That is what this government is committed to doing and that is what we will do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Announced on April 29 last year the Communities Sustainability Partnership provided new and needed sources of funding for municipalities. Included were partial rebated HST, access to the provincial gas tax fund, a three year commitment to municipalities operating grants a value of $22 million. Multi-year infrastructure commitments to address such needs as clean and safe drinking water. Municipalities right across the province applauded this plan and this announcement.

I ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs: Is he committed to maintaining this partnership?

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for the question. It was a great program that was brought in, actually we all voted for it, and the Members that are on the opposite, we voted for it. We agree with it. We think it’s a great plan to sustain Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, like we said everything will be reviewed in the budget. Anything we do will be in consultation with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. I commit that anything that’s done on this side, Mr. Speaker, will be done in the best interest unlike the former minister who wouldn’t sign $34.9 million to help out rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, municipalities right across the province are concerned about the turmoil we have, the economic turmoil and they’re worried about the download of services to communities. Through actions taken by our government which provided funding from 90-10, 80-20 and 70-30 respective on the size of communities.

I ask the minister: Are you committed to this type of funding?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Again I thank the Member for the question but then again I have to look at the commitment when there’s so much work that could have been done in rural Newfoundland and Labrador with this $34.9 million.

Mr. Speaker, I hear the Member talking about all the concerns. I’ve met with MNL. None of those concerns were raised to me. I don’t know who the Member is talking to, because, Mr. Speaker, we will have meetings next week hopefully with MNL to discuss some of the GRIs we are doing as a government.

I can tell you one thing, Mr. Speaker, one thing we will do that the opposite government never did. Anything that will be done in this province will be done in partnership. One thing we won’t do is send letters out to all the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador asking them to apply for capital works knowing full well there’s not one cent in the budget to use for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the minister, I speak to my municipal leaders all the time in my district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: That’s part of my job. I work closely with municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially in my own area, so I have a dialogue with them all the time, I remind him.

Mr. Speaker, as part of the municipal fiscal framework, government struck a committee that would look at regional government structure. It intended for the committee to report back in April.

I ask the minister: What’s the progress of this committee?

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I forgot to add that one thing we’re doing with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador – it was a commitment that was in the red book – every year we would have a Premier’s forum with the Premier sitting down face to face with our leaders of rural Newfoundland and Labrador to hear their concerns. We won’t be passing on things, Mr. Speaker, through a letter. The Premier will sit down and face them face to face.

Now, on regional governance, Mr. Speaker, there is a plan in place to start that. There are consultations already in place. We feel strong, as the other government did also, that it’s great for Newfoundland and Labrador. We will follow through on that, but whatever we do will be in consultation with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, who’s in agreement with this, and we look forward to the outcomes.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we were very pleased to see the continuation of our administration’s Downpayment Assistance Program for next year. According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation’s website, applications for 2016-17 will be available beginning on April 1.

I ask the minister: How much money has been allocated to this program for the upcoming year?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: I thank the Member for her question, and I would just like to let her know the program has been fully used for the past fiscal year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: What we are doing, in actual fact, is we have a wait-list of individuals who have applied for this program. So rather than putting it out again, we are going to allow those individuals access to the program first and then announce it again.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister again: Can you tell us how much money do you intend to allocate to this program for the upcoming year?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: The amount that we will allocate will be in the provincial budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, we know from speaking to those in the real estate industry, as well as many first-time homebuyers who availed of our innovative program, that it was very well received and considered an overwhelming success.

I contacted the minister earlier this spring and I appreciate the information supplied to me by her in early February. I now kindly ask her to update the program.

Can you tell us in term of the funds for this year, have they all been allocated? Will you be continuing an equal amount of funds, at the very least, for the upcoming year?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: I would like to let the Member know that 122 households availed of the program. We are evaluating the program.

As I said previously, the individuals who have previously applied will receive assistance from the program first. Based on our provincial budget, we will determine the amount on a go-forward basis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Can the Premier give an update on the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement? We understand it’s moving forward with final translation being performed. We are able to negotiate almost immediate access to the seafood into the European Union once the deal is signed, which would be tremendous for the fish processing sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.

So I’m wondering if he could give us an update on where it is and when it could be possibly signed.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As with an agreement that we have with the federal government right now, it’s important that we make sure we continue to dialogue, continue negotiation and the communication. We’ve got communication and dialogue and negotiations happening on many fronts with the federal government, I will say, Mr. Speaker.

When the time is right, if we are able to close any agreement or any deal with our federal colleagues, what we will do is we will make that public at the time.

It would be premature to make any announcement on anything that has happened until it’s final. Unlike the previous administration, who took the liberty to go down without the federal government being part of it; therefore, had the signing authority.

When we finalize an agreement on anything related to the federal government and Newfoundland and Labrador, the details will all be publicly known, I would say. Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, recently the minister of trade for Newfoundland and Labrador has indicated in the media that he’s negotiating the fisheries fund. This, however, was negotiated as part of the overall full agreement with the provincial support for the agreement with the federal government.

I ask the Premier: Is he renegotiating the previous agreed support by this province? Is the Premier or the minister suggesting they were offside with Newfoundland and Labrador’s trade team as the lead negotiator and staff have been readily available, both domestically and nationally, over the past number of months and year to definitively state that there was a fisheries fund agreed to as part of the overall agreement with the Government of Canada?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If you listen to the question from the Member opposite, there’s a reference about renegotiating an agreement. I can say, Mr. Speaker, there is no agreement to renegotiate. They never were able to finalize an agreement with the federal colleagues.

As I said, there are a number of agreements, discussions and negotiations that are occurring on many fronts with our federal colleagues. It would be very premature on anyone on this side of the House right now. We are committed to making sure that all those trade agreements are effective for people in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is our focus.

When the agreements are ready to be finalized, it is then we’ll make the information publicly known. It will be then that our federal colleagues will be present at the table for the finalization.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 21, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, on Thursday past, the last sitting day of the House, the government gave notice and added two borrowing bills to the Order Paper.

I ask the Minister of Finance today: Since taking office, how much has your government borrowed?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It gives me mixed feelings to stand in this House and acknowledge the fact that we’ve been very successful in our borrowing program since being sworn in on December 14. As of Friday, the number has moved to $1.985 billion that our government has been able to secure in borrowing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I ask the minister: Does that amount you just advised the House of here, does that include Treasury bill program?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: I don’t really understand the Member opposite’s question. Does that include – did he say Treasury Board borrowing?

AN HON. MEMBER: T-bills.

MS. C. BENNETT: T-bills?

AN HON. MEMBER: No.

MS. C. BENNETT: Oh, it doesn’t include T-bills. I’m sorry; I thought he said Treasury Board. I didn’t hear the last word. It doesn’t include T-bills.

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

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

Well, can the minister advise us, what’s the current balance on the Treasury bill program?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as the Member opposite would know, last year when he brought in his budget, at the time his government said they needed to do borrowing in the vicinity of about $4.85 billion. When we were sworn in in December and came into the fiscal situation that we are now charged with correcting, there wasn’t a strategic borrowing plan in place. As a result of that, we’ve been working very hard with officials to make sure that we have a strategy in place. I look forward to providing more information about that in the upcoming budget.

I’m very pleased to say that we’ve been able to secure $1.985 billion since January. When the Member opposite refers to T-bills, one of the challenges with T-bills is they’re short-term money which makes things very risky from a stability perspective financially.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, the Treasury bill program provides cash and opportunity for government on an evolving and revolving basis. We know it’s been as much as $780,000 that has been in the Treasury bill program.

I ask the minister: Has there been any changes made to that program? Has the amount been increased or changed since you’ve taken office?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

During 2015, on September 28, I wrote the premier a letter asking for an update on the fiscal circumstances facing our province. This was a letter that the former premier, now the Leader of the Official Opposition, did not respond to. As my colleague just mentioned, since the election she and the work of the officials in her department have done a great job of securing $1.985 billion in long-term financing. This would include term loans, really, from essentially three years to 30 years.

What the former leader is talking about when he mentioned some less than $800 million in Treasury bills – well, I can assure the Member opposite, if he would have looked into the finances the day before he left office – because when we went in, the first thing I was faced with was $1.8 billion in Treasury bills. This was short-term money that was on the books at that stage, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

In order for the province to borrow, approval must be obtained through the House of Assembly or through special warrants approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council – which, as we know, is Cabinet.

I ask the Premier: Since taking office and since this borrowing has been put in place, what approvals and what legislative authorization was obtained in order to do that borrowing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: In December, there was an approval made through Cabinet of an extra $400,000 that was necessary then to actually take us as a government into the current fiscal year. It went from $2 billion to $2.4 billion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Is that through a special warrant, that was done through Cabinet? Was that done through a special warrant?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Excuse me, Mr. Speaker. I might have said $400 million but it went from $2 billion to $2.4 billion. So that’s an extra $400 million, which is a directive from Cabinet.

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

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

Just to clarify, I ask the Premier again: Was that through a special warrant that Cabinet gave that authorization?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as the Premier has said, Cabinet approved the movement from $2 billion, which was approved as part of the Loan Act activity that happened in this House last spring, to $2.4 billion, which was allowing us, as a government, to continue to make progress on de-risking our debt.

Many people in this province will understand that when you have short-term borrowing that is connected to a very volatile market such as T-bills can be, it is important to get some security and stability around that borrowing. Certainly, we felt it was important to do what we could. I’m really pleased with the work we’ve done so far with the $1.985 billion since January.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It sounds like it is a special warrant. Members seem to be reluctant to answer definitively if it was a special warrant or not a special warrant.

I ask the minister or the Premier: Special warrants are required to be tabled here in the House, and I ask them when they intend on doing that.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, there have been two bills that were actually tabled in this House now. One was Bill 9, which is to amend the Loan Act, 2015, that will take us from $2 billion to $2.4 billion. That is Bill 9. Bill 10, which will be the Loan Act, 2016, will be the legislation that will take us from – which will be an extra $1.6 billion. This is Bill 9 and Bill 10.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Just to correct the Premier, the bills have not been tabled in the House. A notice was provided on Thursday, but the bills have not yet been tabled in the House. We have not been provided with, or the House has not been provided with, a copy of those bills as of yet, so we’re not sure when they intend on bringing these to second reading. It may be today that they bring the bills to the House. According to the House of Assembly, Bill 9 and Bill 10 have not been tabled here in the House.

I ask the Premier once again, if he obtained a special warrant, there is legislation that requires those special warrants to be tabled here in the House, not the bills but the special warrant to be tabled in the House. I ask him when they intend on doing that.

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting pattern that’s presenting itself from the Member opposite. It seems that if he doesn’t like the answer to the question, he’s likes to ask it over and over again.

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, the two motions we made last week around the Loan Act are on the Order Paper for today. We look forward to debating them with Members opposite as we progress this afternoon.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We ask the questions because we’re not being provided with the information. The minister opposite has said and speaks to say that she and her government, the Premier and his government, are open and transparent – going to be more open and transparent than any government before. I know I’m going back to a line of questioning that we did repeatedly here in the House when the Minister of Finance rose and she said she had created savings through discretionary spending and refuses to provide the details.

Now, today, we have a bill coming to the House. We now learn it sounds like through a special warrant that they’ve done borrowing, which legislation requires them to table here in the House.

I will ask the minister again – maybe it wasn’t a special warrant but if it was a special warrant, because they’re reluctant to say, would you at least check with your officials and make sure that, if required, you will table that in the House before the session ends for Easter, as required by the legislation?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m going to say it again. It appears that the Member opposite, when he doesn’t like an answer to a question that he asks, when we give an answer, he likes to ask the question over and over and over again. I’ve been asked 16 times in this House the same question. I’m not going to continue to not call him out on that behaviour.

If he continues to want us to answer the same question over and over again, I will stand here and answer it. I look forward to debating the two loan bills that we put forward last week in this House with the hon. Member.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Once again I’m going to correct the minister because they haven’t been put forward; it’s only notice has been given on Bill 9 and Bill 10. They’ve yet to be tabled in the House. I actually checked the House of Assembly website this morning. They have not yet received first reading, which would be the first stage in the House when the bills are tabled.

The bills have not been tabled. We have not been provided a copy of them. I’ll continue to ask questions on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as long as the minister –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: – refuses to answer them and provide the information to the people of the province. We’re going in to debate a serious bill, what I’m understanding from Members opposite, one we haven’t seen yet, and the minister won’t provide the details.

I’ll ask the Premier: Does the Financial Administration Act or legislation require you to pass those legislations – Bill 9 – in this fiscal year?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m assuming the Member opposite would have known, based on his experience in Cabinet, that no warrant is required, that an order-in-council was issued and was posted online by Cabinet Secretariat related to the decision that Cabinet made in December. Maybe the Member opposite doesn’t understand how Cabinet works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I know full well how Cabinet works, and I full well know what the legislation requires as well. The Member continuously neglected to answer the question if they had obtained a special warrant. It was a simple question.

As we’ve seen repeatedly, the secretive minister opposite here refuses to be open and transparent and provide information. We ask direct and simple questions and the Member opposite fails to answer them. So I thank her for clarifying that.

I’ll also ask her: When will we see Bill 9 for the first time? How much time will we have before we are forced to debate this bill?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the motion is on the Order Paper. I’ve actually said, in response to his question twice, that I look forward to debating those in the House – one of them today.

The Member opposite obviously has not the ability to listen, or he wants to continue to use a certain style of interrogative questions in this House so that he can ask questions over and over again when he doesn’t like the answers. Mr. Speaker, I’m going to continue to stand on my feet, I’ll answer his questions, but if he’s going to ask the same thing over and over again, I’m not sure the people at home are getting value for their money here in the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

So the minister does confirm that they’re intending to debate Bill 9 today when the bill has not yet been tabled in the House. We’ve not been provided with a copy of the bill. It’s a very important bill, too, I say, Mr. Speaker. A very important bill for the people of the province because Members opposite are asking us to debate today a bill allowing them a borrowing capacity for last year, ’15-’16, when the Minister of Finance won’t provide any details on savings or spending to the House of Assembly.

I ask the minister: We have Bill 9 and Bill 10; will you rush Bill 10 through the House like you’re doing with Bill 9 as well?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m going to correct the Member opposite. There is nothing being hidden. I have repeatedly answered his questions several times. He’s asked the question 16 times, and I’ve said we will present the details of the savings that we talked about in this House during the budget.

When it comes to this particular bill, I remind the Member opposite that he sat in a Cabinet and he sat on government side of the House for many, many years, and he knows exactly, or should know exactly, how the Loan Act debate happens. I’ll look forward to having that discussion with him here this afternoon, but I will not stand here and allow the Member opposite to continue to use the tactics he’s using without asking back.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, federal Minister Foote announced that our province will receive $32 million in federal funding from the Fiscal Stabilization Program.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, there’s more.

This works out to about $60 per capita, a number established in 1987.

I ask the Premier: Did the request to have a discussion with the federal government to consider modernizing the calculation formula which allows Newfoundland greater access to the Stabilization Fund which is used to offset a downturn in resource-based revenue – the current Stabilization Program will give approximately $32 million offset from an $18 billion equalization program this year.

I ask the Premier: Is that acceptable to our province?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: As the Member knows, this is not at all about an offset to an outdated equalization program or a program that currently exists. What it is is $32 million that is based on a formula at $60 per person; the same one that Alberta will be receiving and was announced today as well.

We received this once before in our history; however, the Member opposite has really, what I would say, somewhat of a selective memory because based on comments that his leader had in The Telegram just this week – on two occasions, Mr. Speaker, this former administration had an opportunity to negotiate an amendment to the equalization program and twice – twice – they did not engage with seeking amendments to the equalization formula, and shame on them to be raising this in the House of Assembly today when they missed two opportunities to do it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier said we didn’t do it. Sure, with his great relationship with the federal government, why doesn’t he do it now and get the assistance for Newfoundland and Labrador? Don’t be passing the buck, I’d say to him, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, last week in the House I asked the Premier for an update on CETA. At that time, he indicated there were negotiations ongoing in regard to the fisheries fund. As we know, we negotiated along with our very efficient trade negotiations Newfoundland and Labrador. We agreed to circumstances where Newfoundland and Labrador would support CETA. As well, that included a Fisheries Investment Fund.

I ask the Premier: Are you renegotiating the elements of support of Newfoundland and Labrador or are you renegotiating the fisheries fund? Which is it? You can’t have both.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I have to clarify one of the questions the Member opposite just asked about the equalization formula. I think the Member opposite is quite aware, or at least should be quite aware, that the equalization formula is driven by the federal government and is up for renegotiation or up for redefining and amending back – the next opportunity is 2019.

If he was so keenly interested in this formula being wrong – listen, I have every reason to believe it should be changed – but for them to not engage in the two opportunities they had, I will again say it is shameful for them to be raising this here today when they had the opportunity.

Now, on negotiations with other agreements that we could potentially find ourselves in and will be negotiating with the federal government, if it’s CETA or a side agreement, that being around the fisheries fund. I would say, Mr. Speaker, he cannot say are they renegotiating because, guess what? They never negotiated anything they delivered.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, CETA was certainly historic in the fact that the federal government wanted provincial provinces to engage in one-on-one dialogue, and we did that. Through looking at a number of chapters in the procurement, regional development, a whole number of range of options, obviously tariffs, seafood into Europe and a fisheries fund.

Is the Premier saying that none of that was supported by the former administration and agreed to by the federal government? So basically he’s saying there is no Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement; Newfoundland and Labrador is not supported. So you’re starting from scratch in that process again. Is that what you’re saying?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you one agreement, though, now when I recollect about the performance of the previous administration, I can tell you one agreement that they were able to get a signature on, they were able to get two signatures on – the federal government, the Harper government, and the past Davis government in this particular case.

They were able to get an agreement on this: In committee – committee – Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to repay equalization that they identified in 2005. And in the time that we face in Newfoundland and Labrador, what did they do last April? They committed to Newfoundland and Labrador to pay back over $20 million a year. That’s what you got from Ottawa.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, and I say with his great relationship he got $32 million of $18 billion equalization. That’s the help he’s gotten us from Ottawa. Well done again, I say.

Mr. Speaker, he hasn’t answered the question on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. This jurisdiction laid out parameters to the Government of Canada that we would support a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – all laid out, over 20 chapters of provisions, including a fisheries fund.

I ask the Premier again – he hasn’t answered – is he pulling support for the CETA in Newfoundland and Labrador; and, if not, what is he negotiating or renegotiating? It’s done. Either you agree with it or you don’t – which is it?

AN HON. MEMBER: Maybe he’s in the room.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, we’ve been actually welcomed in a lot of rooms. It seems to me the Members opposite are a little jealous of that, I would say right now.

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing right now is to lay out what you think is an agreement. There is another thing to get a partner or someone to sign on to the provisions you laid out. I can lay out whatever I want to. There are a number of things I’d like to lay out to the Members opposite. They might sign on to that as well.

For us to automatically assume or negotiate any agreement in the public right now – but I will tell you this, we are committed to working with the federal Government of Canada. We are committed to the fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador and we are committed to getting what benefit we can from the fishery and from the federal Government of Canada, and we will do that to the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Not so they can stand up in the House of Assembly and talk about things they could not deliver.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Unlike Bills 9 and 10, which we’ve been discussing in Question Period, Bill 1 actually has been tabled in the House. We have many concerns about government’s proposed Appointments Commission, and for this reason we will be advocating for changes to Bill 1. For instance, many government appointees must swear an oath or make an affirmation to be impartial.

Will the government consider an amendment to Bill 1 to require appointments commissioners to swear an oath or make an affirmation to be impartial?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 1, which has been mentioned as a signatory piece of legislation for this administration – just if I remember about Bill 1, for the former administration it was a procurement bill that was tabled as Bill 1, which was supposed to be their signatory piece of legislation. It died on the Order Paper many years later, I would say.

Mr. Speaker, we look forward to the debate on the Independent Appointments Commission. We will certainly be entertaining – as we would completely expect that the Members opposite would come with ways to improve that bill. If we see that during a good, robust debate there are ways to bring improvements to any piece of legislation, of course we’d consider all those things.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Premier for the answer and for acknowledging that government will consider amendments during the course of debate. As a result of Bill 1, three-quarters of government agencies, boards and commissions will bypass this new Appointments Commission altogether. Instead, the Public Service Commission will gather names and simply pass them along to ministers when requested.

I ask the Premier: How can you claim that this is anything other than smoke and mirrors when the vast majority of your government’s appointments will bypass your new commission?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Members opposite should know all about appointments. They made many of them in the past 10 or 12 years. They would know the magnitude of the work that was done.

To ever suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the Public Service Commission in our province could not put in place an independent process that would allow for the best Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to seek appointments and to be appointed for the expertise and the technical knowledge that they bring to those important boards and commissions, I would say it is not the way that I feel. We support that.

When you look at the Independent Appointments Commission, they will be five individuals from around our province. They will help Cabinet. The red book and the election platform clearly outlined that there would be recommendations. I can tell you there will be an activity report.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: That will be brought to the floor of the House of Assembly and all Members will be proud of the Independent Appointments Commission.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Shortly after taking office, the new Liberal government cancelled the collection of pension overpayments, and even went as far to say pensioners would be reimbursed for payments they had already made on the overpayments. At the same time, a 37-year-old single parent who had received overpayments of income support was being forced to pay it back in full. This low-income single parent even appealed to her new MHA, a Liberal MHA for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave, for help. The only result she got was notification from CRA that her file had been forwarded to CRA for collection.

I ask the minister to explain: Why is she going against her own policy on overpayments and forcing this low-income, vulnerable, single parent to pay?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the question about the seniors’ overpayments, as we know, this was an ongoing overpayment that was made by the previous administration, and really years prior to that, I would say.

In this particular case, what happened, the overpayments were made. The people had made lifestyle decisions on how this money would be spent, because what they thought was this was a part of their pension plan. So what happened there was very little money collected from the seniors. As a matter of fact, we’ve been reached out to by a number of people. As a matter of fact, one lady herself would have been about 102 years old prior to the overpayments being paid back. So the decision was made by this government to actually stop the collection of those overpayments – there was very little collected – and that was the reason why that decision was made.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, my question was about the 37-year-old single parent who’s being forced to repay an overpayment on income support.

Mr. Speaker, we understand that the Liberals one-time and one-off decision not to collect pension overpayments certainly benefited those pensioners who were selected not to have to repay those overpayments. However, Mr. Speaker, I’ll give you another example: a 73-year-old resident of Conception Bay South, who is also a public service pensioner and who is also a recipient of pension overpayments from government, but he wasn’t part of this particular group. It’s a very similar circumstance. He’s not part of the group, but circumstances are the same, except he’s being forced to pay back those overpayments.

So I ask the minister: Why the double standard?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’d look forward to the hon. Member giving me the information on his constituent so that I can help him navigate through what I’m sure is a difficult situation for his constituent, and as an MHA I would expect him to provide that information to my office.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Will the minister do the same for the 37-year-old single parent?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m happy to look at any issues through the Department of Finance that any Members in this this House, both in Opposition and on the government side, have for us to take a look at. Certainly, we’ll take it under advisement once we have the full details.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

As we receive more inquiries, I’ll be glad to forward them to the minister; however, this 37-year old, as I mentioned earlier, had already asked for assistance and was turned down by government.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government’s decision to forgive pension overpayments is leaving the pension plan with an approximately $1 million deficit. Government has the responsibility to top-up the plan created by the pension overpayments.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Has government made up the shortfall, and how much exactly are taxpayers on the hook for as a result of your decision?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly this government realizes that the pension liability will have to be picked up by government. I guess when I think about the question coming from the former premier and now Leader of the Opposition for his current party, I’m just a little bit surprised that question would even make it to the floor of the House of Assembly because they just did pension reform. He, of all people, should know that any liabilities within those pension funds would have to be picked up by the current government.

In fact, I would say that if the former administration had done their due diligence and had done their job that the pension funds in this province would not be in the considerable mess that they are in right now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

These questions are very serious to the people who have contacted us and asked us to raise these concerns on their behalf. I understand the position of the government opposite. They continue to play the blame game, blame the former government – blame the former government. It wasn’t us who decided that a certain group didn’t have to make payment returns.

We have a 37-year-old single parent whose family is very vulnerable. She feels she’s paying a price because she has to recoup and repay an overpayment. We have a pensioner who wasn’t part of that group who has to pay back.

Maybe the Premier can explain: What is your policy today on pension overpayments?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I can remind the people of the province what the former administration’s policy was. They became aware of the pension overpayments in May 2014, and they did nothing to stop the bleed from the pension plan for several months.

Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite likes to link one situation to another. He wants to use individual situations, which are very important. I can imagine how difficult it is for that 37-year-old mom. I would look forward to the Member opposite sharing that information with me so that we can do what we need to do.

I would remind people at home and people in this House that it was the former administration that knew about these pension overpayments. It is their lack of management and their lack of insight that got the pension plan into the situation it is today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last week when questioned in this House about the sale of government assets, the Premier stated there would be a full analysis of assets prior to any sales. Yet in November, the Liberals stated they would achieve $50 million in revenues by the end of this year.

I ask the Premier: Has this analysis or appraisal already been done?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we are undergoing quite a comprehensive review of government real estate assets. My understanding, from documents that I have, is that we have assets in the vicinity of some 800 buildings that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador owns throughout the province.

It is our position, as we indicated, that our budget process will include considering our investments, particularly looking for any revenue opportunities, cash opportunities, of redeploying some of that capital that is currently tied up in real estate. We’ll look forward to continuing to present those plans to the people of the province and this House of Assembly. After we gather the facts and we make the plan, we’ll certainly share it with this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Based on your evidence-based analysis, do you still plan on meeting your $50 million target this year as promised in your red book? As we know, it’s 100 days already into this year, so is the plan still for $50 million for this year?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Our plan is to do what’s in the best interest of the people of the province and we will make sure that the plan that we have not only takes advantage of getting every single cash dollar we can out of any defunct or unused or underutilized real estate, but will also provide an opportunity for us to do that very quickly and very expeditiously so we can continue to close the gap on the deficit that was left by the former administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The question this time is for the Minister of Transportation and Works; I asked the question the other day, but the Premier took them. So I’ll ask him.

When will your administration give the people of the province details of what assets will be sold and when? As we know, most assets within government stand within TW.

Thank you.

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, when we do the analysis of the 800 buildings we own, when we put a plan in place to make sure that we are able to capture the best value for the people of the province, when we’re able to make those decisions, we will present that plan to the people of the province and to this House. We will not be bullied into making short-term, knee-jerk decisions, like the former administration made, and make mistakes.

We will analyze, we will make a plan, we will implement a plan and we will make sure the interests of the people of the province are at the forefront of our decisions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, my question this time, I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: Is your administration considering selling some assets of Hydro as part of your revenue plan?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I remind the Members opposite that the assets that we currently have in our real estate portfolio will be looked at through the entire business plan we are creating to make sure that we extract the value from those for the people of the province.

Our province right now has a deficit forecasted for ’16, based on the former administration’s budget and the results that they have in excess this year of $2 billion. We have to look at all options, but we have to look at them through the lens of good management, good planning, good programs and good execution to make sure that we extract the best value for the people of the province. I can assure you we intend to take our time but make the decisions in the right way for the people of the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, 2,300 people were affected by the closure of Wabush Mines by Cliffs Natural Resources: 1,200 lost their jobs when the mine closed; another 1,100 are retirees. We know the Premier and officials met with the retirees in February, but since then we haven’t heard of any action.

I ask the minister: What has been done for the 2,300 people affected by the closure, who have their pensions reduced to 75-80 per cent?

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue for the people in Wabush and the Labrador area. We were aware of the pension deficit, and I know the previous government were. To their credit, they went in and forced the department to put in so much money for it, but then they went into receivership.

Since then, myself, personally, with the Member for Labrador West, flew to Labrador with the superintendent of pensions. We met with all the pensioners. We outlined all the details of it.

Mr. Speaker, we are actively looking at now if there’s an operator for the mine. It’s a very serious issue. All of this government is committed to help in any way possible. I know the Minister of Finance visited the area and met with the workers. I know the Premier went up himself.

This government is engaged. We’re trying to help out the workers. It is a sad time for the people in Lab West and Wabush. We are working diligently with the stakeholders, with the town councils, to help the best we can.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, we agree. It’s a very serious issue. It would be great if a new owner can come in there and take over, but that doesn’t help the pensioners right now.

We have had former employees and retirees contact our government and ask questions. We know the Liberal government boasts of a close relationship with the federal government.

I ask the minister: Have you asked the federal government to intervene and take any action in protecting these former employees?

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, indeed, it is a serious issue. Any time anybody gets their income decreased by that amount, it is a serious issue.

As we know, this went into court protection. This is out of the hands of federal and provincial legislatures now. There is a move afoot to strengthen the federal legislation so it won’t happen again. Yvonne Jones has been in contact and had meetings up in Wabush on many occasions.

We are engaged with our federal counterparts. We are actively looking for someone to take over the mine. We understand that would be the best option. There are no guarantees that will happen, but we are actively seeking a new owner for the mine. Until then, we are working – just up until last week, the Member for Lab West and the superintendent of pensions went up and answered any questions that members did have. We are actively engaged. We will seek solutions for this area.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Again, we realize how important this issue is and how important it is to the people in Wabush and people right across the province actually, Mr. Speaker. There are retirees in my district. There are retirees in every district right across the province.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: What action is he taking to assist former workers with their health care benefits?

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, that was raised during the first public meeting when I went up there in December, actually. What was raised at the time, there was a pension plan in Ontario where the government put in $3 million. What we said at the time was there are enhanced health care benefits for a lot of employees. Some are above the threshold that they would receive benefits from. What we said we would do is the Member for Lab West would deal with any individual.

Right now, the enhanced health care plan that is in place is what – we informed and gave out all of the enhanced health care benefits for the area. Did we put $3 million in the plan? No, we did not. Once you get into that, Mr. Speaker, then there are other benefits that other employees – so we are working diligently with the union, with the town councils up there and also with all the workers themselves on their health care benefits.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, in 2014 our administration announced a $68 million federal-provincial investment in affordable housing to assist 10,000 low-income households, many of whom are seniors. These programs provide safety and security to the vulnerable people of our province. These people are very worried, Mr. Speaker, when they hear that everything is under review.

I ask the Minister Responsible for Housing: Will these people see an increase in their rent?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, the financial component is under review with the budget, as the Minister of Finance has said numerous times in this House.

By 2019, we will have 600 units in this province that will help to house seniors. So we are very aware of the needs of seniors around housing and we are working on it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Seniors have a right to live in a safe environment that is accessible. The website indicates that funding for accessibility grants is currently not available.

I ask the minister: Will her government be continuing with this program in 2016?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, the Home Repair Program and the Home Modification Program presently help address the issues of accessibility; 85 per cent of seniors use that program.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, my question was about accessibility grants, but we can come back to that at a later time.

Mr. Speaker, through the previous government’s widely acclaimed Poverty Reduction Strategy, we have increased funding to strengthen Family Resource Centres throughout the province, which are widely utilized and extremely important.

I ask the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development: Will these centres see a cut in the upcoming budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Family Resource Centres are like everything else: they’re under review for the budget process.

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, Family Resource Centres are under review. That’s rather concerning to hear.

Mr. Speaker, in the Open Government Draft Action Plan, we committed to a sunshine list. We know that the Office of Public Engagement is now working on the 15-month consultation tour and unfortunately little else.

Will the government commit to establishing the sunshine list as an early action item to demonstrate some commitment to Open Government?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. COADY: I thank the hon. Member for his question. As he’s well aware, the Open Government Initiative has 43 points under it, 43 recommendations. This government is reviewing all 43, as well as the information that we gathered through the public consultation sessions around that.

He asked specifically about one particular initiative under that Open Government Initiative and we are considering that, but we have to look at a lens of cost and impact as well as human resources. Unlike the former minister, who was in that department for many years, we’ll be very expeditious in getting to the Open Government Initiative.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Open Government Action Plan is finalized and the new government is refusing to act on it. When it comes to sunshine lists, there’s little cost involved and there’s little human resources involved.

Access to information requests filed by local media has proven that the data that would be on a sunshine list is quickly available. It’s one of the items in the Open Government Action Plan that should have been done by the end of this month.

Given that this is low-hanging fruit and easy to act on, and rather than having the media or the public build the list through ATIPP requests, why won’t government simply publish an official list?

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

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

The hon. Member had 12 years, I believe, in government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. COADY: He could have acted on that list if he felt it was so imminently available. As he indicated, the media has, through the access to information, gathered a lot of the information. I think they’re making use of that information, Mr. Speaker, as we continue to assess how we can implement the Open Government Initiative, how quickly we can do it. Certainly, we’ve been preoccupied with cleaning up the financial mess left behind by the former government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind the minister that we did launch the Open Government Initiative and finalized the Open Government Action Plan which they now won’t act on.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, from the Fortunate Ones to Hey Rosetta!, from Jillian Keiley to Michael Crummey, we could give dozens of examples of how the arts professions in our province are generating economic success, attention abroad and economic activity.

Iceland dedicates 5 per cent of its budget to arts and culture. While arts investment has increased considerably over the past decade, will the minister responsible for culture fight to see a similar percentage of the 2016 budget dedicated to arts and culture, recognizing the potential for economic growth?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. HOLLOWAY: I thank the Member opposite for the question.

An inaugural moment in this House, Mr. Speaker, a parliamentary secretary to stand and speak in answer to a question in this House, so I’m proud and pleased to be able to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HOLLOWAY: In responding to the Member’s question in terms of artists in this province, certainly Minister Mitchelmore, as mandated by the Premier, has been tasked to introduce an act in protection of the artists of this province and we will continue to do that. We will engage stakeholders and we’ll draft that legislation, which we’ll bring forward later.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: What I’m about to say might surprise you, Mr. Speaker, but I want to commend the Premier for engaging parliamentary secretaries and having them answer questions in this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: I just hope some of his ministers will start to answer questions in this House as well.

Congratulations to my colleague.

Mr. Speaker, in 2006 we launched a strategic cultural plan to invest in our artists. That strategy has had a positive impact over the past decade.

Will this government produce a brand-new strategic cultural plan to capitalize on opportunities to invest in our artists and the economic activity they generate?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. HOLLOWAY: I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, having a second opportunity to stand in this House today.

As I said in my last response, one of the things we’re doing as we move forward is to engage the sector to find out what are the challenges and the issues that need to be brought forward in terms of drafting legislation in the protection of artists in this Province. We will do that over the next number of months and we will bring that forward in this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Liberal government promised increased administrative supports to enhance inclusive learning in the classrooms. Given the possibility of a 30 per cent cut that the department is facing, can students with exceptionalities still expect enhancements in the budget or will this be a sacrifice they must shoulder?

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

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This is a very important question the Member asked. We know that under the previous administration there was an inclusion policy that was foisted upon the school system in Newfoundland and Labrador that was not suitably resourced from the beginning or in the end by the previous administration. This is a priority for us, and that’s why we’re very happy to let people know, as I mentioned the other day, that under the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes – the details of which will be announced later this year – inclusion will be one of the areas we will put under the microscope to make sure it’s properly resourced.

At the end of collective bargaining with the NLTA, the last round, there was an agreement made to have a joint committee on inclusion with the NLTA, the school district and government. That committee will be reporting at the end of this month.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Will your government commit to moving forward with the K-12 Multi-Year Infrastructure Strategy announced in Budget 2015? If not, what does this mean for schools such as Coley’s Point and Gander?

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

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are a variety of things the Member just mentioned in the infrastructure strategy. Our infrastructure strategy is going to be very different from the previous administration’s infrastructure strategy.

The previous administration’s infrastructure strategy involved ignoring population growth on the Northeast Avalon in communities, like in the City of Mount Pearl where there was growth in the area of Southlands that fed into Mount Pearl schools; ignored growth in Paradise allowed schools to become overcrowded there; allowed Beachy Cove Elementary in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s to become overcrowded where children now have to go to school in very, very overcrowded conditions; allowed the same situation to exist in Torbay.

We’re not going to do that. We’re going to provide sufficient infrastructure so that children can go to school and get a proper education without the overcrowded conditions that the previous administration thought was appropriate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 11, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

We’re all very much aware today that a state of emergency has been declared in Bay de Verde. A large part of the community has been evacuated due to a fire that is ravaging the local fish plant. It is becoming more apparent as the day goes on that the plant will be out of commission for some time.

We know that 700 plant workers will be impacted. We know that harvesters are on the water as we speak and they’ll be impacted as well. I do appreciate that it’s very, very early. I do appreciate the complexities and the potential enormity of the impact on the community and on the province, but I ask the Premier if he could give us an update on the status of the situation.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly join with all Members in this House of Assembly and, indeed, all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our thoughts are with the people in Bay de Verde. First of all, I want to commend the local residents and the local fire departments and the neighbouring communities for their quick response in the work that they’ve done so far in responding to this tragedy in Bay de Verde today.

The Leader of the Opposition is correct; there are about 700 jobs that are attached to that plant. We were already in contact with the processors and with the members who make a living in that plant. This is very early in the season for them right now.

I can tell you right now that this government will do everything it can to make sure there is continuity both for the harvesting sector and for those who work and make a living in the processing plant in that community. I’ve already had discussions at the department level and at a personal level with people directly impacted with this. I can assure you we will make effort we can for this to be seamless – even though this is a tragedy that we speak of today, it would be seamless and that we can get these communities back to work.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Premier; I appreciate the update. I’m sure you’ll keep the House posted in the days and weeks to come.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has stated that there’s not one single choice in this budget – not one – that will be a happy one. She went on to say that every decision we make will impact somebody somewhere and probably not in a good way.

I suggest to the Premier that there are many current important and good beneficial programs that if funding is maintained on those programs would be good news for the people of our province. Programs such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program, the Home Support Program, insulin pumps for children – all programs that are about people and for people.

I ask the Premier: Will your budget focus on people? Will it also include hope and vision as part of your plan for the future?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What our plan will focus on is good management, good planning and thoughtful management. Keeping in mind that every decision we make there is a family, there is a senior, there is some young person behind those decisions and the impacts that are associated with the difficult choices we have to make.

I do have to remind the Leader of the Opposition, though, why we are in this position, as he has often spoke on the campaign trail and to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians about having a plan in place. Well, what we see in that plan is the debt servicing level in our province would be the second largest budget line in our province right now, outpacing what we spend on education for our children.

Even though he talks about maintaining and talks about carving out areas that would not be impacted, we will make the tough decisions that are made, keeping in mind, thoughtfully, the impact it would have on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I remind the Premier the debt servicing level today is half of what it was a decade ago, and we have more programs and services that benefit Newfoundlanders and Labradorians – much better than we’ve ever had in the history of our province.

During the campaign trail the Premier, also, himself talked about the future of the province and their vision as well.

I ask the Premier: Will your plan uphold your campaign promise of no layoffs?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite would want to go back to 2003 – and just a reminder, the debt of our province right now will surpass that in 2003 as a result of the inactions and the poor planning of his government. That is a result of the poor planning and mismanagement we have seen from the Members opposite.

It’s important for us that we make sure we carve out a path to the future of sustainability for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we can protect the core services we need to offer to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. These services must be sustainable, they must be affordable if we indeed are going to protect the future for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, protect the future of our next generation.

We will put a thoughtful plan in place, keeping in mind that behind every decision we make there’s a family and there are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that are impacted.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, I appreciate the response from the Premier. I remember very clearly in 2013 when we cut public servants and the Liberal Opposition was heavily critical of us when we did so.

Mr. Speaker, during their campaign this past year, their candidates tweeted and touted that cutting jobs was not part of their plan and under a new Liberal government public sector jobs are safe. Now that they have been elected and ready to take what they call expenditure cuts – or expenditure actions is what they are referring to it.

So I ask the Premier: Will your government wait on public service negotiations to determine employment and public service impacts? Will public sector employees know where they stand this week, on Thursday, when the budget is delivered, when budget number one is delivered, or will they have to wait until the fall for budget number two?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to remind the Leader of the Opposition why there is a need for budget number two, because their budget of last year this time, which was their first budget, didn’t work. It got this province in trouble. Let’s not forget that.

The decisions that we make as a government will be based on evidence. It will be based on research and the analysis of the situation.

Right now, attrition for us, we maintain that is the best way forward for us. We’ve also maintained that there will be a fair negotiation, but the tough decisions that we have to make, we will make those tough decisions and in some cases people will be impacted. We know that, Mr. Speaker.

So these are tough decisions that no one likes to have to make but in order to protect the future of our province there is no choice, based on the mismanagement that we’ve seen from the Members opposite for the last 12 years.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

There’s a lot of reminding going on back and forth from both sides here today, but I also remind the Premier what the bond rating agency said just as recently as November, during the writ period, when they maintained confidence in the plan that we had brought forward, a significant contrast to what we heard from the bond rating agencies in January.

Mr. Speaker, as the budget process continues we are starting to see a pattern of some mixed messages from the Premier’s office and also from ministers. We know that direction for the Minister of Finance seems to change from time to time.

I ask the Premier: Is this lack of consistency the reason that we are only going to see half measures come on the budget this week, on Thursday, with additional measures coming in the fall? Will your government kick some of those decisions down the road until the fall and postpone what really needs to happen today? How much are we going to see this year in budget number one? How much will we see in the fall in budget number two?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are two things that the leader just spoke about, and I would love to have 10 or 15 minutes, if you would allow me the time to speak about it. Because right now, what I just heard, he is actually speaking out of both sides of his mouth. A few minutes ago he was talking about are we going to make the tough decisions. Now he’s telling us to take a different approach.

Number one, when he talked about the bond rating agencies – let me make it very clear. The information that they needed to have, this former Premier did not share with those people.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: He also talked about his five-year plan. So is he saying today that his five-year plan that would lead to record levels of debt, record levels of debt servicing – is he saying now that his plan is what they thought would be the best way forward? I doubt it because the message that we got when the information was shared was quite different than that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The federal government released its budget recently and we all saw it included increased spending. What was left out is what is being questioned by many Canadians and certainly the people for Newfoundland and Labrador. There was very little information given on the new Health Accord. In fact, no money was set aside for this. Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador have one of the fastest aging populations in the country.

I ask the Premier: What steps have you taken to ensure that much-needed health transfers and quality health care are secure for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians this year and for the years to come?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In respect of the Health Accord, there were discussions at the health ministers’ meeting in Vancouver between myself and my counterparts, and the federal Minister of Health. We talked specifically about new monies outside of the health transfer for home care, for mental health, palliative care and addictions.

Those discussions are still going on with the department. Hopefully I will be able to report back, in due course, to the House on their successful conclusion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, last week the C-NLOPB issued calls for bids for offshore parcels. Exploration of our offshore industry certainly has now expanded outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

When oil is pumped from these sites, a royalty of 7 per cent will have to be paid to the United Nations. In the past, our administration advised the federal government that we would not pay the royalties from the provincial royalties as this is a federal government responsibility.

I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: What is the position of the current administration?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. COADY: Thank you very much for the question. I appreciate it.

As the Member opposite noted, we have gone out for bids. The C-NLOPB has gone out for bids and we’re quite confident we’re going to have another good bid year.

As the Member opposite did suggest, some of the parcels are outside the 200-mile limit. We are working with our federal counterparts.

There is only one ball of value for the entire offshore. This particular government is looking at what our royalties will be, what our benefits will be. They are also taking into effect what the benefits will have to be to the United Nations as per the requirements of outside the 200-mile limit.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just to clarify, the hon. minister, are you saying that the position taken by the former government, you’ve rescinded that decision and now you’re negotiating in terms of that 7 cent, or do you expect the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to pay that royalty or the federal government?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. COADY: Perhaps the hon. Member does not understand the ball of value. There is only 100 per cent that we can look at in terms of the value on discoveries in terms of production. These are either carved into benefits or they are carved into royalties or their carved into equity investments, which is the full ball of value. Now, because we’re outside of the 200-mile limit, there is a requirement for unclosed United Nations.

We are looking at the entire ball of value, we’re looking at the percent that is required, once we have discovery, moving towards production of the percentages required for this province under benefits, under royalties and under equity.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, a recent media report indicated that there may be challenges in regard to the operating partners of the Come By Chance oil refinery.

Can the minister update the status of the refinery and the operations? Is there actions being taken to make sure those 600 jobs are secured at the refinery?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As the Member opposite indicated, there are challenges between what I’m going to call partners within the North Atlantic refinery. These two partners are in negotiations and discussions right now. In arbitration in one, and there are court cases in others. These are going on between the two partners.

I have been speaking with both of these partners. They both reassure this government and the people of the province and the Members opposite that they are both committed to the refinery, both committed to continuing the work there. This is a dispute between two partners and they are working through their differences.

I have been assured and we are following it closely and keeping in close contact with both partners to ensure that this refinery continues to provide tremendous economic benefits to Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the cost for preparing for the new federal waste water regulations by 2020 – this will mean that municipalities will have to put infrastructure priorities on hold while they invest in expensive waste water systems.

I ask the minister: As these are federal regulations, what funding was included in the federal budget for Newfoundland and Labrador? Where is the new funding to address these federal regulations?

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll just give the Member an education on the program and the regulations. What happens is a municipality has to do a flow test. Once a flow test is completed and is submitted to the department of environment in Canada what they do, they offer a permit. The permit will inform the municipality of when they need this waste water.

Mr. Speaker, the conception is given that everybody has to be ready by 2020. It is not correct. There are some that are going to be upfront, the major ones, not all.

Just for the record, he’s asking what (inaudible) the federal government. I can tell you that we just had a meeting with Minister Judy Foote on a lot of the municipalities and waste water. The federal government is not only saying we inherit these regulations from the previous government, we’re putting up money to help Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with waste water, and I’m very proud of that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: I remind the minister also, there are communities that have to have this done by 2020, and there are communities in my district. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, there are communities with a cost up to $12 million to $15 million that they’re going to have to come up with for these expensive systems. So I do remind the minister it does have to be in place by 2020.

Mr. Speaker, municipalities experienced great improvements in infrastructure and services in the past decade, and they cannot run deficits in their budgets. They have aging infrastructure and limited resources. Some in this province have suggested they just can’t afford to implement these waste water treatment centres – and in my district, the same thing, they just can’t afford to do it.

I ask the minister: Where is the money going to come from to pay for these expensive systems?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I don’t want to be critical, because I love getting along with the Opposition to try to make improvements to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I just find it strange, Mr. Speaker, that these regulations have been in place for four or five years, and all of a sudden they’re asking all these questions.

I asked a question, Mr. Speaker: Where was the previous government asking their federal counterparts about money for waste water? They had to go to New Brunswick to get a meeting with the federal counterpart.

Minister Judy Foote was sitting in the Premier’s office discussing how we can get through this waste water/water quality for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They’re not up there – Judy Foote and the federal ministers aren’t up there saying here’s what you got to do. They’re down here in Newfoundland and Labrador saying how can we help, and they’re putting money into it to help out. So congratulations to the federal government, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Three weeks ago the Minister of Transportation and Works announced tenders for the 2016 roadwork projects. Our office has asked the department for evidence-based decision making which resulted in the list of projects, and we have been denied this information.

I ask the minister: Will he immediately make public the process and results of how these projects were determined?

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you to the Member for the question. We have certainly been doing a lot of work when it comes to preparing for this year’s tenders for roadwork.

One of the things that we’ve done differently this year, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that we are basing our decisions on evidence. Contrary to what the previous government has done, we have removed the politics of it. This is the first time that I know in the history of this province that this government has delivered on providing tenders for roadwork in the amount of $10 million without political interference.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HAWKINS: This is the first time, Mr. Speaker. My officials within my department – we worked closely on that and they provided the information to us.

I signed off on it. It went to the Premier. He did not make any changes. For the first time we have non-political interference in roadwork.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his answer. It’s nice to know it went up to the Premier’s office, but there’s no political interference. That’s subject to one’s opinion.

Mr. Speaker, the minister announced on March 21 that assessments had been completed. Some MHAs have contacted the Department of Transportation and Works asking for a list of projects under consideration in their districts only to be told the work was not completed. I’m just being told it was completed and it was an evidence-based decision, but we were told it’s not completed.

I ask the minister again: How can this list not be ready if tenders have been already announced, which I stated, and priorities already been set? Will the minister table a list of projects under consideration for each district?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for the question. I find it a little bit odd that he would make the comment that there was no political interference. All he has to do is turn to his Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune who came across and congratulated me because of the fact that we provided funding for her district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HAWKINS: That’s the first point, Mr. Speaker. The second point is for the $10 million, to my knowledge, if you wanted to check on the website I think we do have the list of all of the projects that we have out there for the $10 million.

The second phase of that we are going to be working closely with the project managers within our department to determine on evidence based, what are the next series of roads that we’re going to be providing. So it’s very transparent, it’s very open and we’re hiding nothing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: I thank the minister for his answer. I want to remind him that the road that the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune thanked him for is actually in the Minister of Transportation and Works’s district. It leads to her district. Just for a little clarification, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we are hearing the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, which includes recycling depots in rural parts of the province, will be cut in the upcoming budget.

I ask the minister: Will the MMSB be eliminated in budget number one on Thursday or budget number two in the fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

MR. TRIMPER: Thank you very much for my first question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TRIMPER: I must say a very simple answer. As the Minister Responsible for the MMSB, I have no idea at all what he is speaking about.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The federal government announced funding of new spending over the next five years for such things as Aboriginal programming, including education, water and waste water infrastructure and child and family services.

Can the Premier – given his responsibility for the Aboriginal file – tell us if this is a per capita funding for the province or are we receiving additional funding?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I did have the privilege last week of sitting down with Minister Carolyn Bennett whose responsibility is this, and the parliamentary secretary, MP Yvonne Jones, who also obviously, as you know, is from Labrador. We had a great discussion on the opportunities that we would have to make improvements and some new money to our Aboriginal communities.

I am happy to say, if you stay tuned over the next few weeks you will see some advancements on a number of different files as related to Aboriginal communities in terms of housing, in terms of family supports and so on.

There is a great working relationship right there now. As we work through this with the federal minister, I would say in a few weeks we should have some more good news on Aboriginal affairs within the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As we are all aware here, per capita funding for a province that has a small population puts us at a disadvantage.

I ask the Premier, will he be lobbying his Liberal cousins in Ottawa to put a more equitable funding arrangement in place for investing in programs and services to service the Aboriginal communities in this province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: We have a number of concerns, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to per capita funding. We’ve made those concerns known; not only when it comes to Aboriginal affairs but also as it relates to health care as well. There is no question, per capita funding in a situation like Newfoundland and Labrador does not necessarily reflect the concerns that we have to deal with.

It’s ironic that we get this from the Members opposite. I guess the fact that they have never made any suggestions to their federal colleagues. I know they’ve met with them lately in St. John’s. So I’m not so sure where they come from on this because for 12 years there was no advancement on any of this.

Right now we are making significant advancements with – as you call it – our federal cousins. What they are, are federal MPs working with us here in Newfoundland and Labrador advancing issues like Aboriginal affairs in our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: I thank the Premier, but I also remind him that we lobbied consistently. It’s your cousins that are in Ottawa now. You’re saying that there are all kinds of new investments there but we’re not seeing any new money for the Aboriginal communities.

Mr. Speaker, Thursday, March 31, marked the 42nd anniversary of the Labrador Flag. Our administration proudly raised it on the courtesy pole on the grounds of Confederation Building on its anniversary. Mr. Speaker, we’re all too familiar with this Liberal government’s record on flag raising; however, with the Labrador flag they chose not to fly it on flag day as was done last year and expected again this year.

I ask the Premier who is responsible for Labrador Affairs: Can you explain why the Labrador flag did not fly this year?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the Member opposite, when he talks about proudly flying the Labrador flag; in all due respect, Mr. Speaker, this is a group, this is a former administration that fought tooth and nail not to have it, against it on the entrance and the exit points in Labrador just last year. Just prior to the election they made a decision out of significant pressure from MHAs in Cartwright – L’Anse au Clair that we see here and other people in Labrador that made a significant effort – as a matter of fact, stood at those sites to get those flags erected.

I have to remind the Member opposite, when he talks about proudly defending this flag; I would have to say that his history speaks to otherwise.

When it comes to the Labrador flag, we consider the courtesy pole – as the Member knows, we will put in place, through the Management Commission, what will happen with the courtesy flag in the future. That will reflect then the flags that are flown on the courtesy pole on Confederation Hill.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Today we’re seeing news reports that may explain why the federal government is stalling on their promise to reactivate the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre. Today, we’re hearing that the federal government is considering privatizing critical search and rescue services that are important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially those who earn a living on our waters.

I ask the Premier: Is he aware of this? Does he support the concept of the federal government privatizing search and rescue?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To the Member opposite, what we’ve seen in the discussions we’ve had with our federal colleagues is that fact they have a commitment to improving services in Newfoundland and Labrador. As part of that commitment, there will be an ongoing dialogue which will include Members on this side of the House.

As our federal colleagues have said many times, their primary objective here in all of this is to improve the services in Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s a commitment they’ve made and that’s a commitment of the discussion we will continue to have with our federal colleagues.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It sounds to me like the Premier was aware the federal government was considering privatizing search and rescue – very important search and rescue services for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I ask the Premier: If you were aware of it, when did you first become aware of this? What is your position on this? Do you support the concept and the federal government considering privatizing search and rescue services?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As with any discussion and any decision you have to make, what you do is you look at whatever options you have available to you. With the evidence you have, you make the best decision you can.

Right now, with the federal government, I’m sure they are considering a number of options. What they have said to me in the discussions we had – their objective is to improve search and rescue services to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That’s the commitment they’ve made. That’s the commitment we will base our discussions on as we continue the discussion and the communication we are having with our federal colleagues.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I ask the Premier again: Can you tell us when you became aware they were considering privatizing search and rescue?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When I became aware of a number of issues around providing services within Newfoundland and Labrador, the discussions we would have with our federal colleagues, it is not a discussion I have had on an individual basis with the federal members about privatization of search and rescue.

The discussion we’ve had is about improvements in services in Newfoundland and Labrador. When they’re prepared to take those discussions to a final forum, it is then we would intervene and have our say into those discussions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I appreciate the response from the Premier.

I ask the Premier: Are you satisfied that privatizing search and rescue is a way that can provide a safe and effective service for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One of my colleagues just gave me this here. This comes from Municipal Affairs on May 8, 2013. What I would see here, this would come from your provincial government, I would say, Mr. Speaker. I am not going to read it in; I would just provide this document that we have here as well as part of a pilot project that the prior government had talked then about privatization of services within Newfoundland and Labrador. This is obviously a concept that they would have supported.

Right now, the main objective for me and this government is to make sure that we bring improvements to search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador because on their watch, what they saw is closure of those very offices.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I can tell you I was not intending to go down a history road today or a blame game once again today. We’ve heard lots of that from Members opposite. If you want to open the door for that, I will certainly do that. According to this news article today, the federal government did consider in 2011 privatizing certain services, military-based services. But apparently, according to the article, the idea didn’t get very far because there was public outcry over the concept of privatizing any of these services.

One of the people who led that outcry was the current federal minister who’s responsible for military procurement who is the Newfoundland and Labrador minister in the federal government, Minister Judy Foote, who was appalled. She said she was appalled by the government’s notice to companies and the government that were exploring privatization of search and rescue.

The question is very simple for the Member opposite: Do you support the concept of privatizing search and rescue? Do you believe it can provide an effective and safe service for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians? That is what I ask the Premier; it is very simple.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, if I was the Leader of the Opposition, as he stood here in his place today, I would not want to talk about the history. I would not want to talk about the blame because what they failed to do is accept the responsibility. Any time we raised this, any time we raised the issue around their actions, the work that they have done when they were in government, I would be ashamed of that too. That is what got is in the position we are today.

What I am focused on is improving search and rescue services for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The federal colleagues have already said that they want to do that. It is something that we will support. The concept around evidence based, how they proceed with that, it is then when we get into making those final decisions – I would ask the Members opposite if they were so concerned about search and rescue in our province, what happened? What did they say about the closure? Why did they stand and watch their federal colleagues take away and close down those very services in our province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Member opposite, the Premier, is quite well aware they weren’t our friends in Ottawa in the last government, I can tell you that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, they weren’t friends of Newfoundland and Labrador either. We quickly know, and the people of the province quickly know that the government opposite is quickly becoming known to not answer questions and play the blame game. That’s what they’re going to do.

I ask the Premier, the Liberal promise of a stronger tomorrow, one they touted during the election campaign, we noticed quickly changed to a message of blame and doom and gloom. The people have been waiting to hear the Liberal’s plan for quite some time; waiting to hear their vision for months.

Yesterday, the Premier stated that tough decisions will be made this Thursday when they deliver the budget, but also there are some that require further analysis that will be delivered in budget number two this fall. So with constant negativity, you’re single-handedly crushing business confidence and instilling fear in the people of the province. I know the Premier is going to find a way to blame us on this as well.

I ask the Premier anyway: Why not deliver a 12-month budget plan on Thursday? Why wait for budget number two in the fall and leave people with that instilled fear that they have throughout Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, first of all, I want to address the first part of his comments there. I was waiting for the question. As the group opposite sat on their hands when people of this province were demanding an inquiry into search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador, what did this group do? They had the option to call that inquiry, I say, Mr. Speaker, and they denied it and they refused to do it.

Now, back to the question about the budget on Thursday; I’m very interested in knowing, and I’m pleased to hear that they are concerned and they are looking forward to Thursday. I’m also interested in why they are so interested in distancing themselves from the budget on Thursday of this week when they had a five-year plan that has failed.

We will improve the future for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and that will start on Thursday.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: It will start with some of the tough decisions that we and the ministers have had to make as a result of the actions they did not take in the past. What they’re trying to do is distance themselves from what they should be responsible for, and yes, we do blame you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: So yesterday the Premier said it was my first budget, now he’s acknowledging it was a five-year plan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: A plan that was only in effect for a few short months, and a plan in that few short months the bond rating agencies supported. In just the matter of a few short weeks after they took office the bond rating agencies reacted and showed the confidence that they don’t have in the current government.

So, Mr. Speaker, I didn’t intend to ask this question today but now that the Premier has raised it, he’s raised the fact that they had promised an inquiry. As a matter of fact, they promised three inquiries.

Maybe the Premier can tell us: When are you going to start calling those inquiries you promised that were so urgently needed?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, as we said about the inquiries, they will be done. This is a commitment that we stand by.

I am very interested to see how the Leader of the Opposition stands by his five-year plan. Is he still standing by doubling the debt of our province, doubling the borrowing commitments? He can’t be serious when he’s saying it was the bond agencies that stood by their five-year plan which would have led to record borrowing, record debt, record unemployment in our province. They did not plan. They poorly managed this province.

He must be joking when he’s thinking that the bond rating agencies weren’t looking seriously at their dismal plan. It was only because of the work of the Minister of Finance, who we see here today, that we were actually able to turn some of that around, and on Thursday, yes, it will be a difficult budget, Mr. Speaker, I say. It is not one that we’re proud of, but what we inherited on November 30, I can tell you right now, it was not a five-year plan or a plan for the future of this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, it’s easy for the Members opposite to play the blame game. We expect them to do that and they’re exactly living up to our expectations.

Mr. Speaker, as the Premier and Members opposite are well aware, the people are concerned about the cutting of programs and services. People are concerned about their own jobs, their own ability to earn a living for their families.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

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

It is becoming quite evident to the people of the province that the Liberals have quickly lost touch with their promises and they’ve got very little focus on the people. I can tell the Premier, it is no joke when we talk about the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has said there could be cuts in this budget, and there are more cuts to follow in budget number two in the fall.

Now I know they’re going to blame us. They’re going to find a way to blame us, but I ask: Why are you making the public and the business community, the public servants live in fear and uncertainty for an extra six months? Why won’t you be open and transparent with them when you deliver their budget on Thursday?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Member opposite keeps talking about blaming them. It seems to me as if he’s the one that raises it all the time, so he really must be ashamed of his own record, I would say, Mr. Speaker.

We will continue to lay out the facts as we see them within our province. Some of the impacts, as we said, they will be difficult decisions that we’ve had to make, but they are the right and they are the necessary decisions that will have to be made to get our province back on track.

Unfortunately, that is not the due diligence that the Members opposite – that is not the track they had taken over the past number of years. But making the right decisions so that we can protect the future of our public sector employees, and we do value them, we are prepared to enter into a fair negotiating process, as we said from day one. That commitment is intact.

Making the decisions now that we’ve seen in budget – on Thursday’s budget, most of the tough decisions that we were able to make will be included there. Some more will require further work. That is called due diligence. That is called working with evidence. That is called research so that we can, indeed, make the right decisions for our future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Members opposite, and the Premier is quite aware, rise in the House every day and they always start – it must be a set pattern over there. They get up and blame the previous administration before they get on.

I remind them, they are the government, and yes, the people did elect them to govern and to lead. It’s time for them to start doing that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Analysis paralysis processes are paralyzing our province, Mr. Speaker. It’s time for members opposite to make decisions. Yes, the right decisions as well, but to get on with the work of the day.

Mr. Speaker, we understand that many temporary government employees have been extended to September 30. They’ve been advised they’re extended to September 30, just days before budget number two is expected to be received and to be delivered by Members opposite.

Mr. Speaker, I know again the Premier is going to blame us for this somehow, but will he provide an update, or will the minister provide an update on how many employees in the public sector have been given notice that their jobs are safe only until September?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, it’s been interesting to sit and hear the conversation here this afternoon about the budget. I find it quite enlightening to hear the Member opposite who brought in a budget that promised to save and implement actions to save $75 million through an initiative, and never bothered to sign the actual action to do that until sometime in late August. They had no intention of taking action on the budget that they brought in last year.

To the Member’s question, we made a decision that those valued employees that work in a temporary capacity inside this government would be provided some clarity and some ability to plan over the course of six months. We made the decision to extend those temporary positions through to the next six months so those individuals would have clarity, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Just to clarify from the minister, are you indicating that they’ve been extended until September and the intention then is to terminate their employment at that point in time? Or is it to renew or decisions will be made at that point in time?

The question was: Can you tell me how many have been given that notice until September?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The review of temporary employment occurs towards the end of each fiscal year, as the Members opposite are quite aware of. These actions are part of their regular process related to all temporary employment that discontinues on March 31.

Government, as I said in my prior answer, we made the decisions, including job-related decisions, as part of – we will make decisions as part of budget 2016. It was our intention to make sure that those individuals who had temporary positions as of March 31 were extended through six months so we could be open and transparent with those individuals.

We understand that people are worried and that people are concerned. Our commitment is to be as open and transparent when we have information that we can share, and that’s what we’re doing, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The question I was asking the minister was for the number. How many public servants were advised that they would be extended until September? Maybe at some point in time the minister might be able to provide that information to us.

Mr. Speaker, on December 22 the government announced immediate action to help address the fiscal situation. As part of that directive, departments and agencies and boards and commissions were directed to refrain from creating or requesting new permanent, temporary, casual or contractual positions.

I ask the minister: Can she provide an update on how many positions or new hires have taken place in government since you’ve taken office?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we have been undertaking a Government Renewal Initiative, as the Members opposite and the public are aware. Part of that process is to take a look at the recommendations from various departments, agencies, boards and commissions that outline actions that we can take as part of our budget for 2016. The workforce planning part of those discussions is ongoing.

It is interesting that the Member opposite wants to ask questions about the workforce when they implemented a plan of attrition. And as we talk to officials inside government, many, many, many of the leaders inside government said that that plan did not actually provide the depth of detail on workforce planning that is required, and this something that we intend to close the gap on.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Again, the information is not being provided. I appreciate if the minister does not have it at her fingertips, but I’d ask her to make it available to us or table it here in the House. I’ve asked for numbers of public servants who been advised that –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

I’ve asked, Mr. Speaker, for a list of those who – not a list, but a number of how many public servants have been advised that their contracts would expire in September. I’ve also asked now how many new hires. I ask the minister if she would try and get that information for us.

I’m sure that the minister must be aware that there have been a number of new hires in departments, including Health and Nalcor. We know there have been hires in the Department of Finance and OCIO as well.

In an environment where the Premier has stated every dollar counts, and I agree it does, and were layoffs are expected this week and also in budget number two number fall, I ask the minister to be forthright and to advise if you can provide an update on those new positions, on the change in positons and hires and staff from the time you took office until today. How many people have been hired on a permanent or contractual or temporary basis?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m happy to have the Leader of the Opposition come meet with officials of the Human Resource Secretariat to have a deep discussion about the workforce realities that core government faces. If he wants to sit through presentations from all of the agencies, boards and commissions, like our Treasury Board ministers did, I welcome him to sit down and have those conversations in his responsibility as Leader of the Opposition.

Quite frankly, the Member opposite should have had the experience to understand the total number of people at any given time that are in temporary positions, permanent positons or in a state of new hires is influx.

If he could pinpoint the exact date and moment that he would like to have that information, I will certainly do my best to have officials provide that information because, obviously, he is unable to remember the complications of that last year when he was in the role of premier.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Our administration made smart investments in areas like aquaculture, ocean technology, Arctic opportunities, venture capital, rural broadband and the list goes on. We made strategic investments to diversify the economy. The people of our province are looking to the Liberal government to live up to their many campaign promises and to deliver their economic plan, the diversification plan, the magical LEAP plan they promised.

I ask the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development: Where is the economic diversification plan you promised the people of this province back in the fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to answer the question.

I’ve been given a clear mandate by the Premier to look at the economic diversification. Being the lead department in Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, we have a number of initiatives we will undertake when it comes to agriculture and growing that sector, when it comes to manufacturing. I’ve been meeting with the stakeholders in the innovation sector.

There are a number of initiatives that are taking place and will continue to do so in the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. We have a delegation here from Nunavut. Right now, we are talking about the opportunities and the partnerships where we can recruit. We can share knowledge and expertise and create new business opportunities.

I just met with accelerators in Propel ICT before I came here. There are lots of opportunities to look at how we can advance our economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. I am very pleased to continue to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That was an eloquent explanation of the fact that the Liberal government has no plan to diversify the economy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: I thought they only met with federal Liberals, but I guess they have other meetings as well. Other than having meetings and carrying on with the previous government’s initiatives, what specific new actions has the minister taken to diversify and grow the economy in the last five months? Other than having meetings, what have you actually taken action on or done specifically related to economic diversification?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My department has undertaken a number of initiatives where we have held meetings with stakeholders because it is important to consult. It is very important to have that dialogue. We’ve had meetings with the agricultural community as well as forestry roundtable where I met with close to 40 participants, where we talked about the challenges and opportunities that lie in the sector and how we can advance and move forward in Wooddale, in Central Newfoundland and Labrador. We’re taking initiatives and steps as to how we can improve the forest sector.

I’ve met with the arts community. I’ve met with innovation. I’ve been throughout the province, actually, on the West Coast, in Central Newfoundland, in the CBN area. I’ll continue to have that dialogue as we look at opportunities to move forward and make strategic investments so that we can grow the economy.

Our government has a clear vision, our Premier has a clear vision and our department has a lot of opportunities and knowledgeable staff that can actually help advance the business community in Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So lots of consultation, meetings and touring, but no decisions, no action, no taking a stand on anything, and clearly no plan.

Mr. Speaker, the blame game ramped up yesterday and it was in high gear with the Premier’s comments today. The go-to answer from the Liberals is: not our fault. They aren’t saying or doing much else.

Well, the Liberals stated that they would unveil a major economic announcement that would create jobs and grow the economy, the Liberal Economic Action Plan.

I ask the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement: Because she was one of the people leading the LEAP tour last summer, can she provide the results of this plan and release the plan, because the Premier and the minister responsible seem to be unwilling?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement.

MS. COADY: Thank you very much for the opportunity to address that question.

I was a very proud Member of the Liberal action team for the LEAP. We consulted with many, many people in this province. We developed a positive action plan that the current Premier has had and reviewed, and I’m sure this government is going to action, unlike the former government who didn’t do very much in terms of diversification, certainly over the last dozen years when we look at some of the economic conditions that we have today.

Mr. Speaker, we’ll certainly get to that. I have every utmost faith in my colleague the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. He is exceptionally talented in this area, and I know he’s meeting with the people that we had lots of discussions on.

So it’s a very robust plan. I know he’s getting to it, and I know he’ll be doing a good job.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, along with other oil-producing provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, our province faces significant financial challenges. We are by no means in a unique situation.

I ask the Premier today if he is confident that he has made every available effort to lobby the federal government for additional funding and additional assistance, and will extra funding and support from the federal government be identified in tomorrow’s budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, there are obviously ongoing negotiations with our federal colleagues, and we’ve talked about that quite a bit in this House of Assembly. We, and all our ministers, are engaged in whatever opportunities are available to us to bring more benefit to Newfoundland and Labrador. This is what we are engaged in.

I find it, again, ironic that the Leader of the Opposition continues to raise this when they were virtually shut out of and had a number of opportunities that they themselves – even with the Small Communities Fund, as an example, just last year, which they did not even go after, nearly $35 million that was available to them. The CETA fund is another example, which they could not close those deals.

We’ve been there now about four months and we’ve made significant advancements with the federal government, and we will continue to do that because we know that Ottawa will be and can be a part of the solution; but the bigger part of the solution for our problems is to actually proper plan and proper manage the affairs of this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We well know that the communities fund is a 10-year fund. It’s not going to expire anytime in the near future. The government’s going to have lots of time to anticipate and to involve themselves in that fund. I suppose the next part of the blame game will be them saying that we’re also responsible for Alberta and Saskatchewan’s circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier claimed only just a few short months ago that his Liberal government would make a one-time investment of $8 million in 2016, and that would create a return of $78.9 million this year.

I ask the Premier: Will this plan be laid out in budget 2016, and will the revenue they claimed they could deliver on be included in the budget, the expected revenue for 2016?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I noticed yesterday you made comment to the House of Assembly about being concise in our questions and answers, and I’m going to try and do that. So within a 45 second time frame, unless you give me more time, I would like to remind the leader opposite that back in 2009 and 2014 they missed two opportunities to actually renegotiate and talk more with their federal colleagues about equalization. Guess what, Mr. Speaker? They did not. They did not even get involved in any of those discussions. Yet, when they talk about the blame game, they come to us today and talk about things and actions that we should be doing. They refused to get involved in that.

I also want to remind the leader opposite that Saskatchewan is actually not in that bad a position. They planned for the position they’re in. They are nearing a balanced budget right now, even with the volatility they have in their own economy, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

He may have made an effort to be more specific to answering the question, but he wasn’t very specific in answering the question. I will give him another chance to do that – I’ll give you another chance. You made a claim a few months ago that an $8 million investment would create a return this year of $78.9 million.

The question is very simple: Will we see that revenue in this year’s budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are a number of different things that we’re going to see in tomorrow’s budget when it comes to how we create some economic diversification in our province. I just mentioned Saskatchewan. It was actually just a few months ago they were mentioned because of the great work that they had done in terms of economic diversification within their own province. That was a government that had realized you cannot focus all your attention on commodities like oil. They took the advantage, in some ways, to actually create investment in other areas.

You can see this government will take an approach to look at all the industries, all the opportunities that we have available to us. We will make the necessary investments where we see we will get the return for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I really believe and truly believe that the people expect and deserve more than the inaccurate history lessons and blame games that are going on opposite, Mr. Speaker. So I’ll try this one because the Premier is also on the record that his one-time investment of $8 million would return $360 million over four years, a 10,000 per cent return on investment.

Just to remind him in case he’s forgotten, a MUN professor who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, Tom Baird, called the Liberal promise gibberish and magical thinking. An editorial said, “It is in the realm of flying reindeer and dancing broomsticks.”

I ask the Premier once again: Will the revenue that he’s projected resulting from the $8 million investment be in this year’s budget? If he wants to give the answer, it is very simple. Yes or no, will we see that in this year’s budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When we stand in this House of Assembly, when we talk about inaccurate history lessons – that’s the professor now that we need to be taking lessons from about the economy in our province? Actually, I would say that based on the experience of the previous administration with the financial affairs of this province, they are the ones that probably needed a history lesson on how actually to properly manage the affairs of our province.

Also, I would say it was in this very chair right here that the past, former minister of Finance said that math wasn’t his forte. I can tell you what; if there was anything that proven right, it was that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: I say, Mr. Speaker, we will bring a budget to this House tomorrow afternoon, to the people of our province. Based on the lessons that we have learned from their experience, we will do what’s right for Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It sounds like another no from the Premier, that it won’t be included this year. I guess it’s another promise they won’t be keeping and that the people won’t have to look forward to in tomorrow’s budget, or even in budget number two this fall for that matter.

Mr. Speaker, in last year’s budget our administration included a list of priority infrastructure projects. People that we’re hearing from are expressing their concern about this year’s budget in many ways, but also very concerned about the status of projects and projects that they believe and fear may be cancelled or delayed in this year’s budget including, we already know, the Springdale health centre is being delayed. We’re hearing concerns about Coley’s Point school. We know there are concerns about the development of long-term care, also the Trans-Labrador Highway needs investment.

So I ask the Premier: Can you advise or confirm for us if a list of infrastructure projects and timelines will be included in this year’s budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There will be major infrastructure investments into the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. So when the Member opposite speaks about delays in infrastructure, I’m just surprised that he raises some of those because they were the very projects that they delayed for many years.

The budget tomorrow will outline infrastructure investments that we will make into the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and information about where those investments are, what will be jointly shared with our federal colleagues.

So we recognize an investment in infrastructure in our province is important. Number one, it’s important to keep the economy moving. Therefore, tomorrow’s budget will outline many – not just about infrastructure – of the things that we plan to do in the future for our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, before Easter we asked the Minister of Finance if she would be keeping her election promise to achieve $50 million in revenue from the sale of unused assets. The minister said these decisions could not be rushed but her election plan promised $50 million in revenue in this fiscal year.

I ask the minister: In the budget tomorrow, have you determined which assets your government will be selling this year, and will your plan and list be laid out in budget one on Thursday, or budget two in this fall?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: I thank the Member opposite for the question. I look forward to answering all the questions on the details of the budget when the budget is released to the people of the province, which will happen tomorrow.

When it comes to decisions about the sale of assets that the government currently owns, those decisions will be made when we review the assets that we have available. We make decisions in the best interests of the people of the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind the minister that the commitment was made for this fiscal year, for the $50 million of assets to be disposed and it would be a revenue generator for this fiscal year.

Are you saying that’s not the case, they won’t be shown this year as $50 million in revenues as you indicated you could do and would do in this fiscal year?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite is certainly aware of the budget process. Tomorrow as we unveil the budget and we take the other actions that we’re going to take over the course of the next number of months to correct the fiscal situation that the province finds itself in today, based on the actions of former administrations, we’ll certainly be making the information public to the people of the province when we make those decisions.

Our intention is to make sure that any assets that are not generating cash or have cash stranded in them are made available to use for the people of the province so we can lower the amount of borrowing that we’re doing. Nobody in this House I’m sure, the people of the province don’t want us to be investing and spending money when we don’t need to borrow. Certainly if there are opportunities to sell assets to get money, we will do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: So I guess the answer is no, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, a December 22 directive spoke about the reduction of consultants used by government.

I ask the Minister of Finance: How many consultant contracts have been eliminated since your December 22 directive?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, that one’s a relatively easy one. Every consultant contract that we didn’t need was the ones that we eliminated.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the question was how many. So you know the ones that were eliminated, how many were eliminated?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, every minister and every deputy minister and leader of an agency, board and commission was directed to take a look at consultants that they might be using and, in all cases, those decisions were left to and encouraged and followed up on by Finance. We certainly encourage those departments, agencies, boards and commissions to continue to take very clear analysis of whether or not they are going to use consultants.

To the Member opposite if he would like to get a detailed list of all the consultants that we use or we don’t use, he can certainly drop by my office and we’ll have that chat.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: So she doesn’t know. She said there was ones that were cancelled but she can’t give us the numbers of which ones they were.

Mr. Speaker, the Ernst & Young report yesterday on Muskrat Falls, the Minister of Natural Resources indicated that she would accept all of Ernst & Young’s recommendations.

I ask the minister: Has she lost faith in the oversight committee chaired by the Clerk, as well the Nalcor leadership team, as she indicated she would automatically accept all the recommendations?

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

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

The Ernst & Young did an incredibly important piece of work for the province. It was very important to have this independent review of the Muskrat Falls Project, and of course, as I indicated yesterday, the cost schedule is being re-baselined and we hope some components of it will be available by the end of May.

Regarding the oversight committee and the project governance, we are strengthening project governance and we will be expanding the oversight committee. As Ernst & Young cited in its report, its recommendation was that we have independence on the oversight committee, and that is something we will be doing.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I remind the minister that Ernst & Young was involved in the prior quarter oversight committee report. So they were already involved in oversight in regard to Muskrat Falls and involved with it through the oversight committee.

Again, I ask her: Based on your suggestions yesterday that all recommendations after the $1.7 million you spent or maybe more, you’d automatically accept those recommendations. Are you going to do those in isolation of the oversight committee now, Nalcor management team, and do you have that confidence still in the management team and the oversight committee that now exists?

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

MS. COADY: As I said, Mr. Speaker, we will be adopting all recommendations that are in the interim EY report that was released yesterday. That specifically does mention project governance, and we will be working on expanding and improving upon project governance. We will be adding independence and expanding the oversight committee, as was requested in the EY report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, my understanding is Ernst & Young had access to the information with Nalcor.

I’m just wondering if the minister could identify what information her and her officials couldn’t get access to that Ernst & Young was needed to get access to that information?

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

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you for the question. It wasn’t a matter of access to information. The former government had access to information. It was very important for this new government in its earliest days to have an independent review of the Muskrat Falls Project. EY brought in experts that had been involved in massive projects, public sector projects. They have a depth of expertise. They reviewed and compared and reviewed the costs and schedule from September, 2015. They will be reviewing the re-baseline. They had some excellent recommendations to Nalcor, as well as to this government, and we will be ‘actioning’ all those recommendations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, only a couple of weeks ago government released the What We Are Hearing document. This document notes: shutting down rural health clinics, forced amalgamation and centralization of services. The Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement stated that the ideas would be made into actions that will be reflected into the budget this Thursday, this fall and in the budget next year.

I ask the minister: How much of this document will be acted upon in budget number one on Thursday versus budget number two this fall? Which budget will be an attack on rural Newfoundland?

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

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

Thank you for your question. Yes, we did, indeed, release a What We Are Hearing document. It was exactly what we were hearing.

Over a thousand people took time from their busy lives to come share with this new government some of the things they thought were important, changes that they think should be enacted. It was a discussion document. It was, as it was titled, what we are hearing. It did not necessarily mean that it will all show up in a budget document or that it would all show up in terms of what we are going to be able to implement.

It was what we were hearing. It was a reflection of those ideas.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, in reading the document there’s a reoccurring theme that singles out rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; items such as forced amalgamations, sharing or eliminating of local services and reductions in health care.

Given that rural Newfoundland and Labrador represents 51 per cent of our population, I ask the minister: If these suggestions are turned into actions, how hard will rural Newfoundland and Labrador be hit when you finally make some decisions?

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

MS. COADY: Thank you very much for the question. I appreciate it, Mr. Speaker.

The people of this province, over a thousand people in this province came out to a number of sessions we held around the province. Some 30,000 people went on the app that we had available to them so they could have a dialogue.

This was raw data that we were able to reflect in the What We Are Hearing. It is exactly what we were hearing from the people of this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was their suggestions, their ideas. We committed to ensuring that we produced a document of what we were hearing and we’ve done just that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Monday when I asked, the Minister of Transportation was quick to boast about the new process adopted by this government. He promised to take the politics out of roadwork. All was going well until the minister admitted he sent a list to the Premier for approval before sign-off.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: How is sending a list to the Premier for sign-off taking the politics out of anything?

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’d like to thank the Member opposite for his question and let him understand that it went to the Premier’s Office and the Premier did not make any changes.

As a matter of fact, contrary to what the Member was saying, the last question that he asked in the House was the fact that he had some idea that we weren’t giving the information. I want to point out, Mr. Speaker, that we indeed gave that information. Not only did we give the information of the number of roads that we’re doing, we also printed the format and the criteria that we use to determine what roads were going to be used and what needed repairs.

The Member opposite should really start looking and doing his homework and seeing what’s going on and what we’re doing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have another question. I’m going to come back to that, minister, but I wanted another go at this politics question.

A promise to taking politics out of the process is reminiscent of the Liberals flawed signature piece of legislation currently before the House in Bill 1. You promised a process of merit-based, non-political decision making but in reality offered nothing but window dressing.

I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works once more: Who directed you to send the list for the 40 district to the Premier for sign-off?

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

MR. HAWKINS: Mr. Speaker, I can fully understand why the Members opposite have a real problem in understanding how you take politics out of this, what we are doing. I really have a real problem with that.

It went to the minister because we have the courtesy – when we are Cabinet ministers, we have the courtesy of informing the Premier of what we’re doing. We don’t leave the Premier in the dark. So part of the process is that when the roads came to me, I signed off on them without making any changes. They went to the Premier’s Office so that he would be well aware of what we were going to be announcing.

Let me tell you something, the Premier did not change anything there. We announced the roads without political interference for the first time in the history of this province, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his response. I’m not sure if politics was taken out of anything but I’ll stick to that.

I’m going to ask another question that will probably tie it all together again.

AN HON. MEMBER: That will be helpful.

MR. PETTEN: Yes, it will be helpful.

Why an ATIPP request provided a short list of approved roadwork projects? It was almost a little bit bigger than a postage stamp. It completely failed to provide a complete list of all the projects. I do have experience in that department. I do know what the priority list is like, it’s pretty extensive. Why wasn’t the list with all the projects (inaudible) an entire priority list shown? No.

I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works: In the spirit of openness and transparency, will you now table the entire – I don’t care which ones were approved – the entire list with the scores attached?

Thank you.

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

MR. HAWKINS: Mr. Speaker, thank you to the Member opposite for his question.

Again, I’ll state that I know the way in which we are doing things is being open and transparent. I know it’s very difficult for the Members opposite to understand that process, but what we are doing is we are not doing it piecemeal. We are looking at a broader picture when we look at infrastructure.

Part of what we did, we are actually doing $18 million of work that this particular government failed when they put tenders out in September knowing quite well that the work wasn’t going to be done in 2015. As a result of that, Mr. Speaker, we now have to pick up the work that they didn’t complete last time. We’re working with that and we will also work on the infrastructure piece that we have going forward that we have put to the new Building Canada Fund and also to the federal government to try to look for funding. That’s what we are going to be doing, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: So I guess the minister is not going to supply the list. That’s what all that just meant.

Mr. Speaker, the minister’s statement today talked about the devastation in Bay de Verde. I understand, and I think it’s great that the minister, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Premier will be out in that community this evening. As I stated in my comments, a lot of people, 700 people were employed in this plant. This is the time of year when the crab season starts, unemployment is over and people are really in desperate need.

I’d like to ask the minister: What programs are you going to be offering the people of Bay de Verde and the people who work in these communities to assist them, because this is a real serious time of need for these people?

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

MR. CROCKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for his question. I would like to take a moment, Mr. Speaker, to thank all Members of the House on both sides –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. CROCKER: – for the genuine concern they have shown for the people affected in Monday’s fire.

I say to the Member opposite, like he reiterated, the Premier, Minister Joyce and myself will be in Bay de Verde this afternoon and we will be meeting with the company, the town and other stakeholders involved to get a better grasp on the numbers of people that are going to need assistance. If the Member wishes, we will certainly update him as soon as the information becomes available on those numbers.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis for a very quick question.

MR. K. PARSONS: Oh, a very quick question.

Mr. Speaker, 700 people were really affected. Harvesters are also really affected. The crab fishery started – I know in my own area fishermen only went to the water on Monday for the first time.

I am wondering if the minister knows the contingency plans that are in place with Quinlan Brothers. And can he show the House that none of the crab will be sent off to another province or anywhere else to be processed?

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

MR. CROCKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, to the question of the raw material, Quinlan Brothers has been very active in the past two or three days making sure their buy of raw material is allocated to plants throughout the province. That’s one of their main concerns. In a release yesterday to the media, they’ve reassured their harvesters they will continue to purchase their product and ensure their product is processed to the best interests of the people that were already employees of their facilities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 18, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Well, last week we were all subjected to the long-awaited Liberal plan. The Premier and his Liberal team have delivered a devastating budget and it’s an attack on the people of our province. It’s full of broken promises and it’s full of Liberal choices which will negatively impact every Newfoundlander and Labradorian and burden every single family in our province with extra taxes that will cost them thousands each year.

Now, Premier Ball has also decided to introduce a Liberal levy, a cover charge for every hard-working person that makes over $20,000 a year.

I ask the Premier: Where was the evidence-based decision making when you decided to impose a Liberal levy that targets our low- and middle-income families?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, first of all, I will tell you that when you have to make difficult choices because you want to protect the future of your province, sometimes they’re not easy choices to make. I can tell you everyone on this side of the House of Assembly understands what it takes to make those difficult choices. It is not lost on us that this budget indeed impacts Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

In the past, as I’ve sat through this House of Assembly in 2012 I listened to a 10-Year Sustainability Plan from the Leader of the Opposition right now. Well, that plan is a complete failure. It was supposed to bring per capita debt down to a national average. It will never come close to that target.

Budget 2015-2016 from the previous administration was a complete failure; it doubled the deficit that they predicted last year. Mr. Speaker, the tax rates that we put in place takes us back to 2006 and 2007. We remain competitive.

Mr. Speaker, I realize these are tough choices, but we will protect the future of our province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Budget 2016 is a Liberal budget, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: It’s that Premier’s budget. It’s not the Opposition’s budget; it’s that Premier’s budget. That Premier and that government decided to bring forward the Liberal levy. It’s a tax grab for the current government. It was this government’s choice which puts a tremendous and unfair burden on the people of our province.

A person earning $25,000 a year is just making ends meet, and they just tagged them with an additional $300 cost, while a person who earns $200,000, or $300,000 or $400,000 has to pay $900. On Friday, he told a group in Paradise that the wealthiest pay 88 per cent of the taxes in our province. Now we know, Mr. Speaker, how he feels. He feels the rich are paying enough. Now we know.

I ask the Premier: How were these levy amounts determined and where is your concern for the lower- and middle-income families of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are very concerned about the lower- and the middle-income earners in our province. We’ve enhanced over $76 million to support those middle-income earners.

I think it’s fair, Mr. Speaker, that we understand the context of where we are. The tax rates that you see in our province right now, we’re back to 2006 and 2007 levels. I will remind the Member opposite that he speaks that the levy is not part of that. The levy is included in that so we remain competitive right back to 2006, 2007 levels.

For me, as Premier of this province, it was a difficult choice. I think the easy political choice was made just seven or eight years ago when it was the previous administration that put in tax-reduction measures that were not sustainable in our province. That’s where we are. This is a temporary levy and, in 2018, you will see this levy reversed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the reality of this temporary levy, it’s a cover charge. It’s a cover charge for people working in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Liberal levy unfairly targets hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, particularly our low-income, hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, many who live from paycheque to paycheque. I’m not sure if the Premier understands how that is, but sometimes people live from paycheque to paycheque.

I ask the Premier: Why did you choose to target those who can barely afford to live today? Is that the stronger tomorrow that you promised people in last fall’s election?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This is a temporary levy. It’s in place in many other provinces right now. In fact, Ontario has a very similar model right now that they call a health tax. BC has one, Quebec has one.

As a matter of fact, back in 1996 there was a surtax that was put in place in this province. We remain competitive, back to 2006 and 2007 levels, Mr. Speaker.

I will just mention one thing, when he talked about covering something. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, yes, we are covering something. We are covering the mess that this group over across the way here, that they left this province in. That is what we are trying to do. That is what we inherited. Does he forget that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

In just five months this Premier and this government have abandoned their commitments that they campaigned on when they went door to door and visited with the people of the province last year. Election promises are out the door. Reversal of the HST, the job killer that the Premier so proudly protested, now it’s back on. Job cuts, now they are laying off 650 people just to start, and we don’t know how many more there’s going to be. Where’s the diversification plan? There is no sign of a diversification plan that he promised Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, there is no plan at all.

I ask the Premier – your government has made choices. Your government and you have made choices. You’ve painted a picture with no plan, with no hope, with no vision for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Why would you not have chosen a more balanced plan instead of sending people to the ferries and the planes and leaving our province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I encourage the Member opposite to take some of the politics out of this and let’s start talking about some of the facts. He knows that if he checked the tax rates in other provinces that we remain very competitive.

If he does want to answer a political question, I would ask the former premier of the province why is it that on September 28, when I wrote this very same Member, why it is in his capacity he refused to let the people of this province know going into the election, indeed, what the financial situation was in our province. He hid it from us. He hid it from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. He knew back then, in September and October, and refused to put that update out there, Mr. Speaker. It was on September 28 and he refused to answer that letter.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

He knew the circumstances when he cancelled the HST after he took the office, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Ninety million dollars in revenue lost in this province because he cancelled the HST and replaced it with a levy that targets our lowest and hardest working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That’s what he did, Mr. Speaker. That’s what he did

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: It’s an unfair levy. It’s an unfair Liberal levy that goes against all forms of taxation, all forms of being fair and concerned about people. It’s going to bring in $79 million versus $90 million that the HST would have brought in.

The Premier and his Liberal government have made decisions. They made decisions to cancel that HST. That was their decision, Mr. Speaker, not ours. It was a flip-flop, and a flip-flop that’s causing hundreds of millions of dollars that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are going to have to pay for. I can tell you, that unfair levy is the talk of the province today.

I ask the Premier: Can you admit that this was a mistake? Can you also end your attack on the lower and hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What we are trying to protect is the future of our province. I agree, these are tough tax measures that had to be taken on behalf of the future of our province.

The track that we were on, Mr. Speaker, was over $27 billion just in seven short years. I say this: Since 1949, since Confederation in our province leading up to 2015, we had a net debt in our province of just over $15 billion.

As a result of the poor planning and the mismanagement of the previous administration that debt would have grown in seven years to over $27 billion, all of that with access to over $25 billion in oil money and oil royalties. You didn’t plan, you mismanaged and this is the mess that this administration will now have to clean up.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I remind the Premier, he’s in the Premier’s chair today. Budgets are about choices. Last year we made choices.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: We clearly laid out, Mr. Speaker, what the implications were on a dollar of oil. Members opposite should listen to this.

We clearly laid out the implications on a dollar of oil. We clearly laid out what a cent in the exchange rate would make. It was there for them to look at. So they either ignored it or they’re incompetent and couldn’t figure it out. I don’t know which one it is but it’s one or the other, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, when asking for a plan the government told us to wait for the budget and now we’ve seen it.

I say to the Premier, budgets are about choices and they’re about decisions. Leadership is about being accountable for those decisions.

How are the budget decisions of your Liberal government, such as removing the Home Heating Rebate, taking $54 million out of health care and burning seniors with additional taxes and fees – how is that a plan for a stronger tomorrow?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Member opposite speaks of choices. I remind him the choice that he made not to do was reply to the people of this province on September 28. That was a choice that he ignored.

So he’s suggesting now that everyone in this province should have understood the fiscal realities of the election? Well, he ran a full campaign ignoring to answer that question.

Mr. Speaker, these are difficult choices. These are tough but necessary choices that had to be made. We will put in programs that will help protect the vulnerable in our province. We realize there are critical services in our province that we must continue, and we will continue to make a financial commitment to.

This budget includes $8.48 billion in expenditures, I would say, Mr. Speaker. So there is quite a bit of activity. We are not giving up on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and we will help them prepare for their future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Premier likes to talk about what I’ve done or what I didn’t do. He should check the name plate on the door, because I think his name plate is on the Premier’s door today. That’s who’s in charge today, Mr. Speaker –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: – and that’s whose choices matter to the people of the province.

It’s your choices, your decisions and your plan that impacts the people of the province today, such as the HST rebate, the Home Heating Rebate – taking those away, that’s what impacts people. That was your decision, Premier, not ours. That was your decision.

Mr. Speaker, the evidence-based decision making decisions of this government are continuing to roll out. Just today Eastern Health announced a reduction of 50 long-term care beds – just Eastern Health. Absolutely amazing, I can’t believe it. They’re reducing 50 long-term care beds in the eastern part of our province – 40 at Masonic Park, and 10 at the Waterford. Liberal choices will take those much-needed 50 beds out of the system.

So I ask the Premier: How does this choice build a stronger tomorrow for those who require long-term care in the province? Those who are waiting in hospital beds waiting for long-term care, how does this improve their lives?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former premier mentions about the name tag on the door. Well, indeed, the name tag on the door has changed, but I can tell you, as a result of mismanagement and the poor planning of this previous administration, the problems inside of that office are much larger because he did sit in that chair.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, it’s obvious, the Premier doesn’t want to talk about long-term care.

We have the fastest-aging population in the country. We laid out a plan to create new long-term care, where his plan is to reduce long-term care. He’s taking 50 long-term care beds just out of Eastern Newfoundland today – 50 long-term care beds.

I ask the Premier once again: Where is your plan for long-term care? How does this benefit people who much needed long-term care?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The issue of long-term care beds relates to Masonic Park, which is a in a state of disrepair and beyond remedy. Those clients will be better served by moving to a vacant space which is unused at the Veterans Pavilion. The other 10 clients from N2B at the Waterford are being accommodated in much better accommodation. As part of our plan to replace the Waterford, they are going to Pleasantview. They are being well taken care of and there is no reduction.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: We wondered about that, Mr. Speaker, and we checked. I checked when I was over and met with Eastern Health today. As a matter of fact, there are not 50 vacancies in the province in long-term care today. There are not enough vacancies to fill Masonic Park down at the Veterans Pavilion. There is not enough vacancy. There are some there, but not enough for the vacancies, the 40 people who are going to move.

This is going to put extra pressure on the system. There are 50 beds taken out of the system, pure and simple – 50 long-term care beds taken out of the system. Not only that, speaking about being taken out of the system, this government promised no layoffs. They promised no layoffs during the election last year and in the budget announced last week they have identified 650 full-time positions.

Today we’ve learned of 107 positions being eliminated from Eastern Health, 16 more from Central Health and we know 2,500 who have been put on notice that your jobs are intact only until September.

I ask the Premier: Can you let the people know how many positions you’ve eliminated as part of your budget, restoring fiscal confidence and accountability?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I understand the Members opposite enthusiasm to weave a tapestry of bologna. Quite frankly the 2,500 temporary positions that the –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: It’s your time in Question Period you are eating up, folks.

The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just to clarify, the 2,500 that the Member opposite refers to are 2,500 temporary positions that were extended as of March 31 for six months. Those are part of the normal operations of government. They are not related to anything other than normal government operations, as was clearly explained to officials from the Opposition office last week.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the positons that we announced as part of our budget last week, the number for core government and the FTEs for the agencies, boards and commissions, those numbers were being very transparent as it relates to our actions of Budget 2016.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I tell you I’ve heard it all now when she refers to public servants losing their jobs as bologna. You’re talking about long-term care and public servants and calls it bologna.

Mr. Speaker, at a time in our history where we need young people, we need families to live and to work in our province, the Liberal’s choices made in the budget to increase fees and taxes have instilled fear in the people of our province. We’re hearing from hundreds of them.

By their own admission and in their own Budget Speech, the Finance Minister and the Liberal government have cleared the runway for people to leave our province like we’ve never seen before. There’s another set of cuts coming this fall in budget two.

I ask the Premier – let’s see if he’ll answer this question: Why didn’t you have the guts to lay out your full-range budget choices now in the spring as traditionally done? Why are you leaving people in limbo, in fear for several more months?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear with the people of the province that these are unprecedented fiscal situations. Members opposite seem to forget that left unchecked, this year’s deficit would have been $2.7 billion. Because of the actions of this government and because of the things and the choices we made, we were able to reduce that deficit to $1.8 billion.

We must be able to provide sustainable, efficient public services for the people of the province. It is important that we make the choices that we’re making so that we can actually pay for the services we need to provide, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has gone silent, so I’ll try this question for him.

I simply ask the Premier: How will your plan for a stronger tomorrow for the people of the province – when your first set of choices are driving people, businesses out of the province. How will this improve our province for those people and businesses? Is there more coming this fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I want to address some of the comments that were made by the Members opposite when it comes to increasing spending. Well, maybe they forget some of the commitments that they had made last year, one of which was of the $400 million; it was $222 million that goes to the NLTA pension fund –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Of the $400 million that they’re talking about, $222 million of it goes to the NLTA pension fund, some to debt servicing. They didn’t seem to be overly worried about debt servicing, overly worried by the fact that in just seven years over $27 billion, we would require over $2 billion in debt servicing in this province.

That is what’s eating into the services and the critical services and benefits that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador need. By addressing this issue today, that’s our approach to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I can remember my time sitting opposite, and particularly last year when I was Premier. Liberal Party Members, they were in the Opposition over here, every single day got up in their place and they asked us for more and more and more. They asked us to spend more and do more and give more every single day, hundreds of millions of dollars. Through weeks on end, they would come up and they would ask for more.

Mr. Speaker, this is about their budget. Since the budget was announced we know that Liberal ministers, we know that backbenchers are receiving an overwhelming amount of calls and negative feedback from their constituents. Mr. Speaker, we know the pressure is on every Member opposite to vote for their people or for their party.

Can the Premier assure the people of the province that he will allow a free vote on this budget, allowing every Liberal MHA to vote on their conscience as opposed to being whipped to vote on this devastating Liberal budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, it’s important to address the comments from the Member opposite in his preamble when he speaks about, his words: more, more, more. Mr. Speaker, when we sat on that side of the House last year he presented a budget that had a deficit of just over a billion dollars. We had six out of 12 years of deficits in this province. We had spending at 20 to 36 per cent higher per capita than any other province.

Because of that administration, Mr. Speaker, this side of the House is taking accountability for the situation we find ourselves in now with oil prices also impacting, compounding the problem on top of the mismanagement from former administrations and we will not make decisions that are anything other but in the best interest of the people of the province in the long run, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Interesting to see, I asked the Premier if he was going to allow his caucus to vote freely and he puts the Minister of Finance up.

I am going to ask again, Mr. Speaker. Each of the 40 Members in the House of Assembly, each and every Member here in the House of Assembly has the opportunity to vote in support or against and vote down the budget. Every Member can do that. A frequently asked question over the last number of days from people of the province.

I ask the Premier again: Will you allow your Members to vote freely on budget day?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What’s important for us as a government is that all Members of our caucus have a choice to actually have their input into what they have. One thing that I’ve said in this House now, it is the fifth year I would say, Mr. Speaker. We’ve been here before. We went through one of the longest filibusters that we’ve seen in the history of our province. That was of the Muskrat Falls debate.

At that time many people around this province were asking for a free vote. The Members opposite were part of that. What they did was they whipped their caucus into a free vote. Right now I say, Mr. Speaker, I would argue that the money that’s advanced to Nalcor to support this province, I wonder now if they had to vote for that project all over again would they be prepared to vote the same way? Because they were not prepared to actually put the money in place. It was poorly planned.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Premier has not answered. I’ve asked the question twice, if he’ll allow a free vote, and he hasn’t answered the question. I say again it’s probably the most frequently asked question I received over the weekend.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier’s inability to get help from the federal government has led to tax hardships for families, seniors and students. There should have been other options, but the Premier has stated in his own words: It is what it is.

When other premiers, Premier Wall and Premier Notley, are lobbying and advocating and contacting the federal government to look for assistance, our Premier is sitting on his hands. He threw them up, he threw in the towel and he didn’t pursue opportunities with the federal government.

I ask the Premier: Five months into your mandate, how can the people of our province have confidence in your government, in your captains of industry, in your choices when you don’t make efforts to pursue opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think what the premier is referring to is the equalization formula that we see in our province.

AN HON. MEMBER: Leader of the Opposition.

PREMIER BALL: Leader of the Opposition, the former premier.

What I’m saying is what he’s thinking is that Alberta and Saskatchewan, because they seem to be shouting a bit as he says, that the volume is what’s required. Alberta and Saskatchewan have not received any more from equalization.

He knows – he should know, at least – even though he failed to make the case for Newfoundland and Labrador back in 2014, the formula is an $18 billion program. I can assure you we are working with our federal colleagues. Already we’ve seen well over $300 million in infrastructure funding.

We’ve seen a small business community fund that they refused to even sign off. That’s how important that relationship was with them. It was either they couldn’t get in the door or the door was shut in their face.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I guess the Premier is not aware, it’s a 10-year fund to be utilized over a 10-year period. It didn’t have to be used last week, last month or last year for that matter, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, once again I’m going to ask the Premier. Instead of advocating to his federal cousins in Ottawa for more funding, the Liberal government decided to increase taxes and fees on our lowest-income earners in the province, those people who struggle every single day.

I’m going to ask the Premier one more time: Why did you accept status quo instead of fighting for more on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I have listened to Members opposite since last Thursday talk to people in this province about what they perceive is the reality and the facts about our budget. Well, let me clarify it for them.

Currently, based on the tax increases that we’ve been forced – none of us want to do it, we’ve been forced to make tax increases and tough choices. We have the third-lowest first income tax bracket. We have tripled the point increase in the first tax bracket across the top bracket, and including all of the levies, all income tax levels are back to 2006, and we’ve implemented an enhanced seniors’ program, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

You have about ten seconds.

MS. C. BENNETT: We have implemented an income supplement to help the most vulnerable and some of those that are impacted, and we’ve also provided an enhanced seniors’ benefit, Mr. Speaker.

For the Members opposite to continue to avoid the facts that are in the budget is, quite frankly, irresponsible.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, Maclean’s Magazine wrote an article immediately following the Liberal budget which stated: “the script that the Finance Minister wrote for Newfoundland’s fiscal crisis is sure to make matters worse, driving away the young, hard-working people she desperately needs. The minister, in her own admission, stated their plan would reduce growth, shrink the population actually. Yesterday in Question Period, the Minister of Finance stated “we will not budget on hope.”

I ask the Premier: How can you and your government continue with your actions of shattering the hope and opportunities for hard-working people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, there has been a lot of commentary around the budget of last Thursday. Maclean’s was one article; The Globe and Mail had some other articles and said that given the situation the province was facing, there was very little choices that we had to make to get the province’s financial house in order.

One of the things about the budget I will say too, Mr. Speaker, is that there is a lot of information that are being shared with the public right now that is really not reflecting what some of the facts are within the budget. If you take the personal income tax, take the levy, take the HST and add those impacts all together, the range is somewhere between – in some cases, people will benefit by as much as 1.44 per cent. Then the impacts on the high end will be that of around 3.5 per cent. We are still very competitive, even with our Atlantic colleagues.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We are hearing from hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are certainly not going to benefit but are going to be burdened by this new budget. I haven’t heard from anybody who’s going to benefit, I can assure you of that, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, only hours after delivering her budget, which attacked the lower-income and middle-income families, the Minister of Finance gave an interview to NTV and stated that her Liberal government, and I quote, would not make decisions based on who cries the loudest.

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you, many tears of fear and worry are being shed because of the broken promises made by this Liberal government. Their own party insiders are turning on them. This is not the stronger tomorrow that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were promised, and clearly is a blatant disregard for the impacts it will have on hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

So I ask the Premier: Will you listen to the people of the province and reverse these choices you’ve made?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you look at the situation that we currently face within the province, when you look at the transition that had to be made, the information that was not available prior to transition to what we have today – and I will say, too, Mr. Speaker, not all of it on the previous administration. There are things that are happening globally right now with the uncertainty around oil pricing as an example, but primarily largely as a result of information that was not shared with the people of our province.

The transition’s been very difficult. But if we do not address the situation right now, when you look at the debt situation in our province, within the next five years, not taking action, the net debt in our province will actually double. It is then Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will lose their say and their opportunity to collect their future and save their future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, the question for the Premier was: Will he listen to the people, as they so proudly say they do on a regular basis, Mr. Speaker? Because the Liberal government has stated repeatedly and repeatedly that it listens to the people of the province, and it consults with the public – 500,000 advisors. Because of this budget many are considering a one-way ticket to a better future, which is another province.

So I ask the Premier: Will you be true to your word, will you listen to what the people of the province are saying? Will you listen to your own party insiders about this budget, scrap the budget and introduce one that’s fair and balanced for the people of the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We do listen to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and we’re sharing the story of where our province exists as a result of the mismanagement and the poor planning, the lack of preparedness by the previous administration.

Now, if we talk about the facts, we talk about the infrastructure spending that’s in this budget, there are a lot of good things within this budget that will impact Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It is a budget that will spend $8.48 billion, I say, Mr. Speaker, and when you look at the tax increases that are there – which I will say that people want to engage in and have that conversation in – when you paint the picture on how competitive our province remains, even with the tax measures that have put in place, the levy, the increase in HST and personal income tax, taking us back to 2006 and 2007 levels, Mr. Speaker. That is the actual picture that we face today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, we know the Premier was very quick to chastise us in the past and he likes to talk about the past. The question was about listening to the people today. We’re listening and we know that this government is increasing spending by almost half a billion dollars, Mr. Speaker. The choices that they’ve made are affecting every Newfoundlander and Labradorian and it’s affecting them hard.

The tax burden that the Liberal choices have placed on the people of the province will push many to the poverty line. The Liberal gas tax will make commuting, travelling, access to services – the cost of food and other commodities is going to increase significantly. It may even deter tourists from coming to our province this year.

I ask the Premier: How does forcing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to pay more for food – how does that provide them with a stronger tomorrow?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

You give me access to $25 billion over a 10-year period and we’ll show you how you can plan for the future of this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: That is something that they ignored. I heard the previous premier on many occasions talk about (inaudible) and talk about infrastructure investments that they would have had to make, but they did not prepare. What they did not prepare based on the commodity environment and situation that we’re into – they did not prepare when they had the opportunity.

Now that they’re not in office and they find themselves in this situation that this province is now into as a lack of preparing for this. They make commitments to people of this province that were not sustainable.

Does the former premier – is he prepared to say and support that the net debt in this province should double in the next five years because they did not plan for the future of our province? Are you okay with that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Fourth question today and the fourth time the Premier fails to answer the question and utilizes the time for his rhetoric, Mr. Speaker. So I’m going to ask the Premier, in a budget where cuts will be felt in rural communities and it will be more expensive to live, programs and services will be challenged and reduced throughout many rural communities, where is your concern for rural parts of our province? Where is your plan for a stronger tomorrow for rural Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s been about 120-odd days plus right now since we’ve been in office, four months. I think the previous administration had many more years of that. I ask the people of Newfoundland and Labrador where rural Newfoundland has gone within the last 12 years –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – when they failed to invest in economic diversification.

We’re just starting, Mr. Speaker. We’re going to do what needs to be done to get this province back on track, to diversify the economy and help support rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: That is our job and that is our mandate, and we will do exactly that, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m glad you mentioned diversification because there’s one thing we never saw in this budget and that was diversification, that’s for sure, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: So I ask the Premier: Well, how is your budget encouraging business? How does you budget support business when taxes are going up, funding is being cut, support for business and start-ups are being cut, and Newfoundland and Labrador will become a more expensive place to live? How is that going to help diversify the economy and how is that going to help support business?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

How you support business in Newfoundland and Labrador and how you support people in Newfoundland and Labrador is to prevent, is to put mitigating things in place that will prevent – in the next five years, or seven years, we would have been at a $27 billion deficit. That would have been about equal to where we see our GDP in our province. That is how you protect businesses in our province and that is how you protect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, you prevent it from actually having debt servicing being the biggest industry in this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It’s not only rural parts of the Island that are being impacted by this terrible budget brought forward by the Liberals, but it is also Labrador, Mr. Speaker. The Liberal choices in the budget include closure of the Wabush court. We know the next closest court is about 500 kilometres more away. Cancellation of the Air Foodlift Subsidy for Labradorians; elimination of sport and recreation grants for Sheshatshiu Innu Nation; reductions in health care in Black Tickle, in North Coast and South Coast.

So I ask the Premier: Can you tell the people of Labrador what are you doing for them? What’s in this budget for the people of Labrador? How does this help them?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just wonder why the former premier just left out the significant investment, which is the biggest piece of infrastructure that’s yet to be completed in Labrador – that’s the Trans-Labrador Highway. It’s the biggest single piece of infrastructure, and if you go to Labrador, you speak to people in The Straits and you speak to people across Labrador, they you tell you it’s the Trans-Labrador Highway that they feel will connect them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: So, Mr. Speaker, we are engaged with the people in Labrador. The Trans-Labrador Highway is a big investment, and, probably to the disappointment of the Members opposite, but we’re in great discussions with our federal colleagues and they are going to come in and support our investment in the Trans-Labrador Highway as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m glad the Premier raised the Trans-Labrador Highway, because we made significant investments and partnered –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: We actually partnered with the previous federal government over six –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

We struck a chord today with them now.

Over six –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

Over $600 million spent on the Labrador Highway, the Trans-Labrador Highway that we built, Mr. Speaker, when we were government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the executive director of the Women’s Centre in Western Labrador has expressed concern about the safety of the people with the impending closure of the courthouse in Wabush. Mr. Speaker, the Members opposite and the government was very proud last week – they set a precedent by allowing parliamentary secretaries to answer questions.

I ask the Member for Labrador West, the parliamentary secretary, if he supports the closure of the Wabush courthouse.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It is an opportunity to answer my first question in the House and talk about the closure of the court in Wabush, which I would remind Members was actually a circuit court up until 2007. Fortunately, since that time, there has actually been a 48 per cent decrease in the number of cases heard there.

We are in consultation with the judiciary. Obviously, it is still a tough decision to make when you have to talk to individuals that are affected by this. We’ve had those tough conversations. We look forward to working with the judiciary to ensure that there is still access to justice, certainly access to justice that existed up to till 2007. So we look forward to continuing to have that discussion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I guess they neglected to contact and consult with the Women’s Centre in Western Labrador because they have a very strong feeling about what’s happening in the Western Labrador court.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday it became known that the Premier has a personal interest in a condo project known as Sundara, which is being repurposed as a seniors’ assisted living complex. The Premier has stated publicly that the business has not yet been placed in a blind trust.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: We are hearing from people throughout the province who are concerned about this –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

I ask the Premier if the project has benefited in any way from any decisions that he has made or his government has made since coming into power. Has it benefited in any way financially, anything budget related, HST related or any other discussions or expect to qualify for any programs in the future?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the question actually because it gives me an opportunity to tell exactly what we’ve been doing since the election. First of all, I met with the Commissioner of Members’ Interests on this very issue. The establishment of the blind trust is being done right now.

We currently have a number of operating businesses. The professionals, the lawyers and people that actually deal with this are dealing with this, I will say, a lot faster than many other Members in this House of Assembly, maybe even some Members opposite. The blind trust is important. I can tell you, we want to get this established as quickly as possible.

This is not a personal care home. It is a condo development right now that is being repurposed to rent to people. There is no government money put into this. It is not a personal care home. It is not a long-term care home.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I appreciate the answer from the Premier. I understand that these things can be complex and take some time to do, but people have been contacting us and asking us wanting to be sure. I know that the Premier wants to be open and transparent.

I just want to ensure – because the Premier hasn’t answered the question. Can he assure that there’s been no benefit to the project or anybody interested in the project as a result of any decisions he or the government has made since he came into power?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will assure the former premier of any of those calls that he’s getting, he can forward them directly to me. I will deal with it. I certainly don’t mind at all people asking questions about any of those things that impact me.

Mr. Speaker, right now, in terms of anything from funding from this government, not at all. It was a condo building that was built for condos.

As you know, now it’s being repurposed not for a long-term care site at all, not for a personal care home. They will be rental units. People will move in there, and actually services will be provided to those individuals. The long-term care individuals that were talked about yesterday in the news story, these are not the individuals that would go into a facility like that at all.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Health said that the Masonic Park long-term care facility was in a state of disrepair and its living conditions were deplorable. Then this morning we hear the Mayor of Mount Pearl, a political staffer on the Liberal government’s payroll on a radio morning show, echo those same talking points. I’m not sure if the minister or Mr. Simms has been in the facility lately, so I’m not sure what they’re basing their opinions on.

I ask the Minister of Health to please provide the information and data that demonstrates that the Masonic Park long-term care facility is in a state of disrepair as he says.

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

Recently, Masonic Park was re-roofed. It is in need of renovations and repairs to the tune of approximately a million dollars, I’m informed. Even with that, the layout is now less than optimal for best practices in management of long-term care patients.

We have available federally funded beds through the Veterans Pavilion. Eastern Health is in negotiations with the appropriate department to move those clients into newer and better accommodations. It is our aim to proceed with that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, lots of our facilities are less than optimal, given the age of the facilities. Whether you’re talking about St. Pat’s or St. Luke’s or Agnes Pratt, Masonic Park would be no different.

Mr. Speaker, Eastern Health has an operating agreement with Masonic Park, the non-profit organization that owns the nursing home. Eastern Health has an obligation to maintain the building and protect Masonic Park’s asset. I know the facility is well maintained. The owners of the building know the facility is well maintained. The residents know it’s well maintained. In fact, the roof was replaced just last year. But the minister and a political staffer say otherwise.

I ask the minister: Can he provide the list of items that have caused him to conclude that the building is in a state of disrepair?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The move from Masonic Park to the Veteran’s Pavilion will save Eastern Health at least $1.5 million per year. This decision has been an option available to the Department of Health for in excess of 18 months, and because of local influence, that was never actioned at the time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the minister is correct. I did stop the closure of Masonic Park. I stopped the closure of 40 needed long-term care beds in this region.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: I refused to close long-term care beds in this province while seniors and families desperately wait for long-term care in every region of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: So I won’t apologize for that, Mr. Speaker, but I will ask the minister to provide the detailed information that shows how moving these seniors from their homes at this stage of their lives will save $1.5 million. It’s simply not true.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: It seems the gentleman opposite is getting quite excited about this subject. It is a subject of importance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HAGGIE: These folk in Masonic Park deserve the best care we can provide. Those beds are vacant and unused in a new facility with adequate staffing and are able to avail of the best optimal staffing ratios according to Canadian best practices. I will not deprive them of that opportunity, Mr. Speaker. This will go ahead.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: It is shameful, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Health and Community Services in this province would try and justify the closure of 50 long-term care beds in this region.

So I’ll ask the Premier – I say to the Premier, you’re closing 50 badly needed long-term care beds in this province just months after deciding to cancel a solid plan to create an additional 360 new beds. That serious shortage of long-term care beds has a profound impact on the people who need them, not to mention their families. As a result of this decision, surgeries will be cancelled, people will be waiting in hallways on stretchers waiting in a personal care home, or maybe they’ll even wait in an assisted living apartment, maybe even in Mount Pearl.

I ask the Premier: How can you justify eliminating long-term care beds when there are so many individuals and families in need of long-term care?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you, I’ve been in this House of Assembly now for about five years and I can honestly say that is probably as low as it gets. This is a former Minister of Health that seems to be willing to take people that need long-term care and put them in a facility, which it seems what he hopes to do – put them in a facility that’s not even licensed or not even equipped to do so.

The facility that he’s talking about will not take and cannot service long-term care patients I say, Mr. Speaker. It is not a personal care home at all.

So let’s take this off the record once and for all. There is no government funding going in at Sundara and it’s not connected at all to the decisions that were made by Eastern Health.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier didn’t answer the question that I asked. I’ll move on.

Numerous residents of Masonic Park Nursing Home have spouses that reside in nearby cottages or apartments, or at Hillcrest Estates which is two minutes away. They make numerous trips to the facility every day to help care for and support their loved ones. Now that relative convenience and peace of mind has been stolen from these families.

What does the Premier and the Minister of Health have to say to those families who will now be unable to provide the same level of support and care to their loved ones?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The desired aim is to move folk from Masonic Park to the new beds at the Veterans Pavilion. However, working with Eastern Health and the families, if they come up with other options that are viable, those can be entertained too. This is not a question of railroading people into accommodations that don’t suit them.

AN HON. MEMBER: Eliminating beds.

MR. HAGGIE: We are not eliminating beds. I would suggest the Member opposite check his math.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The mayor of Bay Roberts says he’s lost confidence in the Education Minister and is asking him to step down in light of the Liberal horrendous budget.

I ask the minister, the man who argued so passionately for the need of a new school when overcrowding and age becomes an issue: Why did you axe Coley’s Point school?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Education for a very quick response.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s interesting that the Member’s interest is now piqued in this issue now that they are out of office. They had lots of time to replace this school; they did nothing about it. There are about a dozen schools in the province that are of similar age as Coley’s Point. It remains a priority for us, but because of the damage that was done to the provincial Treasury by the previous administration and the horrific deficit position that we’re in, it’s something we can’t do right now.

Officials in my department are working with the English language school district to try to find a solution. We’ll find one if we can in the interim. If we can’t, we’ll build the school when the funds are available. But like I said, because of the damage the crowd opposite did to the Treasury we simply don’t have the funds this year.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member has about 15 seconds for a question.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, not only are people upset in Bay Roberts, but all across this province with the recent cuts. The minister himself has flip-flopped on his decision and his comments about how schools should move forward.

I ask him: Give us a reason why you’re cutting the schools in this province and why you’re putting the risk of education and the students here at risk for the people of this province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the reason is last year this crowd told us we had a $1.1 billion deficit but that has ballooned to more than double to $2.7 billion. We’re not going to keep putting funds on the credit card of the next generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We’re not going to charge back to the next generation like the other administration wanted to do. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to have responsible management of the Treasury. That’s the platform we ran on.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, outside the House of Assembly, the Premier stated that seniors making $15,000-$17,000 will be better off because of their Liberal budget. Now, I’m not sure that he’d say the same for a hardworking Newfoundlander or Labradorian who is earning say $25,000. He also said the Liberal budget contains good support for our low-income earners.

So I ask the Premier: Where’s your evidence to support your statements, which I suggest are completely out of touch?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, as you know, in the budget that we released in this House just about a week ago or so now, there are a number of tax increases and revenue increases in the province. Offsetting to that, there was an Income Supplement or support program that was put in place at $76.4 million. That program is meant to offset some of the tax revenues that were put in place that would affect people, like seniors in our province.

The taxes that were put in place last week, Mr. Speaker, as you know, if you compare the tax rates to personal income tax increases and the levy included, it really puts us in the vicinity of a 2006-2007 tax level. As a matter of fact, we are below the tax rates in 2006-2007.

The levy that the former premier mentioned, I will say, it is a temporary measure put in place because of the current fiscal situation that we face as a province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, we’re hearing differently from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are low-income earners but work very, very hard to earn that income. They’ve sat down and went through the hundreds of fee increases, the levy and tax increases, and they’re clearly stating they’re not better off.

So I ask the Premier once again: Where’s your evidence, and will you table that evidence here in the House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re happy to table the documentation related to the budget and as it relates to the impact on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We’re also more than willing to give briefings to the Members opposite and to the Third Party. This information is out there. We are more than happy to share that with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The impacts, we know these are significant impacts on the people of our province. This is a very difficult situation that we are facing financially in our province right now but it was important to us to put in measures to offset some of those increases. Some of those, as I mentioned earlier, is the Income Supplement that we put in place at $76.4 million. But, yes, the information is readily available and we are more than willing to share it with you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I appreciate the invitation for a briefing but it’s the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that want to be briefed and want the information as well. He should consider how he’s going to brief the people of the province.

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday afternoon the Premier also made a statement that if people looked into the crystal ball they would understand why they made the choices that they’ve made. He went on to say that their budget is simply not the way it’s been portrayed. Now we know that the Finance Minister for days ahead of the budget had told the province there’s nothing good in this budget.

Can the Premier tell the people of the province how the heavy handed Liberal levy, the hundreds of tax and fee increases represents a fair budget? What is it that the people are not understanding?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the budget of last week is $8.48 billion. What I was talking about last week, there are a number of initiatives in there that will bring improvements to municipalities, infrastructure improvements around the province in the vicinity of some $570 million. There are some good things in this budget I will say, Mr. Speaker. These are unprecedented times that we face as a province.

I think the Member opposite is forgetting that for the last 12 years there was $25 billion. I think they lived in the situation that – at least they managed in a situation where they felt that oil would continue to go on; yet, C-NLOPB and others have made it quite clear that the production levels and the reserves offshore would continue to fall, which is why we find ourselves in this difficult situation that we’re facing.

We would have been at a $2.7 billion deficit. That burden would have been placed squarely on the shoulders of everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Not once has the Premier said what school should not have been built, what hospital should not have been built, what roads should not have been built.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, not once. Not once has the Premier picked out which school or which facility should not have been built.

Mr. Speaker, I believe, and clearly believe, that people of our province clearly understand what the Liberal choices in our budget, how it will impact them and how it will impact their families.

Mr. Speaker, we are hearing from hundreds of people. I know all MHAs are, people who are fearful and people who have lost their trust in this government.

I ask the Premier: You made a statement that the budget has not been properly told, can you explain to the people of the province the investments into your budget that will make their individual lives better?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, back in 2007 and beyond there were some decisions, if the former premier wants to know about decisions. Back in 2007 there were some decisions made about tax decreases.

As a matter of fact, if the former premier, the Opposition Leader, would only come forward with this, the decreases that his government made were at the higher end of the scale, I would say, Mr. Speaker. If you go back and look at the evidence and the facts, he made their decreases at the upper end of the scale.

If you want to know something you couldn’t afford, it was the tax decreases that you put in place in 2007 and beyond. They just were not sustainable.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

So it’s clear the Premier can’t tell us what’s good in his budget, but wants to go back to decreasing the burden on taxpayers that the government prior to me – I wasn’t even here in 2007 – did for the people in 2007 when they reduced the burden to help drive the economy.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal levy, which his government has burdened the people of the province with, is simply unfair. A person earning $25,000 a year is just barely making ends meet and now has to pay an additional $300, while a person making $450,000 a year or more only pays $900.

I ask the Premier: How were these levy amounts determined? Is it fair to put the burden on our lowest and hardest working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let me begin by saying first the former premier, now Leader of the Opposition, was in place through a significant number of budgets that actually continued to support the decreased tax measures that your government put in place at the higher income earners, Mr. Speaker. That’s who you gave the tax breaks to. You had the opportunity and you did not do it.

First of all, Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the thresholds –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – that we see there, I want to go back to where the thresholds would be in terms of the levy and the personal income tax rates that we now have in our province, which is very competitive in Atlantic Canada. These measures that we put in place, I can assure you there is not one Member on this side of the House of Assembly liked what we had to do last week. When we looked at the other options that we had –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: The other options that we had, when you look at the out years – that’s an impact of the poor planning and the mismanagement of this previous administration. They did not prepare for these days. They were not sustainable decisions that they made.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It’s quite clear this levy has not been very well thought out. We know and people of the province know it’s unfair. Combined with the hundreds of new taxes and fees that the Liberals chose to introduce, it’s taxes that people cannot afford to pay.

Last year, we added higher income tax brackets. We added new tax brackets so higher income earners would pay more, Mr. Speaker. The Premier is on record as suggesting that the rich pay enough in this province.

I ask the Premier: Will you reconsider your levy? Will you remove your levy from this budget that’s unfairly burdening the lower- and middle-income hard workers of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the former premier, if he read the budget, he would know this is a temporary levy. When I go back to, if we take the example of a senior couple in Newfoundland and Labrador –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – with taxable income of around $26,000, the net impact of the budget, which includes, when you put in the offsets around the personal income tax and the levy, plus the consumption tax – that would be in the HST – the net impact would be $310.

So we will clearly outline and share this information with anyone who is interested in having this discussion, because we too want to get the facts out. We also want to get the facts out why we are in the situation we’re in. And if we took no action at all, I’d also like to tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians where we would be today after $25 billion in oil and oil revenues that you had to deal with and did not prepare for where we are today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Yeah, I remind him, it could be temporary. If he allows the Members in his party to vote freely with the people that elected them, Mr. Speaker, it may be temporary.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has stated that no one anticipated the deficit. He said the environment is not the same one as it was when he knocked on the doors of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians last fall and made numerous promises he’s broken to them.

Mr. Speaker, Budget 2015 indicated a $1.2 billion deficit and if the oil fell, it would get worse, and it’s exactly what happened – oil fell for months after.

So I ask the Premier: What was your plan to address the deficit of $1.2 billion? Did you base your campaign promises on that $1.2 billion?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Absolutely we put a platform in place based on where we were and what we knew at the time. I’ll keep going back to the former premier who refused to answer the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, refused to answer me back on September 28 when I asked him for the fiscal update, when we also got in there and started looking at some of the information, I would say, Mr. Speaker.

When you look at the budget they put to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the out years they included revenue from a project that’s not even done in this province right now – from oil revenues they do not have a development for. That was the kind of budget and materials and the information that former administration put to the people of our province. They were wrong; they couldn’t even get the first year right, let alone the fifth and sixth year right.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, we also laid out our budget last year; for every dollar the oil fell, they’d lose $29 million in revenue. Maybe the current Premier should have spent a little bit of time doing a bit of math and he would have figured out the deficit was higher.

So, Mr. Speaker, the Premier just said he did have a plan for $1.2 billion.

Premier: Will you table that plan here so the people of the province can see it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, interestingly enough, the former premier did campaign, I believe, in the same election we were in the last time around. I did not hear him say once that the mid-year update was $1.8 billion. As a matter of fact, he stood by his five-year plan. I can tell you every single target, every revenue target, the expense target that he put out in his election platform, as a matter of a fact, he did not meet any of them. Even on the long-term care initiative and program that he put in place, there was no revenue there or no expense revenue put in their election platform for all of that.

There was a lot of information that we became aware of –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – and I will say the mid-year update, $1.8 billion, not once did the former premier trying to distance himself from his own plan, his own five-year plan – and we now know that was erroneous.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite is the Premier today. What I asked him to do is would he table his $1.2 billion plan. If you cut through all of the rhetoric, as normally happens when the Premier speaks, you cut through all of the rhetoric, what he said was he will not table his $1.2 billion plan. Because he doesn’t have a plan, Mr. Speaker, that’s why.

Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister criticized the 2015 budget for taxing and she stated that our plan was to take from those who could least afford it. She went on to say that their plan, the Liberal plan, would be more than just simply, well, taxing and borrowing. That’s what she said.

Last Thursday she tabled a tax-heavy budget here in the province for the people of the province like never seen before.

I ask the Premier: Why has your party’s position on taxing and fee increases flip-flopped only five months after taking office?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re more than happy with the election platform that we ran on and is still online, and you’re more than happy to do that. I would also say at the same time that we should also discuss your election platform that you ran on too, I say to the Member opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, these are difficult times in our province, and we know that. If no action was taken in this current budget, in the fifth and sixth year what you would be seeing in our province is in excess of $2 billion in debt-servicing charges. Already this year, debt servicing outpaces and we will pay more for debt servicing than we do for education.

Mr. Speaker, as a result of the budget last week, we are back to 2006-2007 tax levels in our province. That includes the levy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today in our province 219 people, 219 families are waiting for long-term care. Some of them are lying in acute care beds in our hospitals, resulting in more cancelled surgeries, and more people are lying on stretchers in hallways in our hospitals as a result.

I ask the Minister of Health and Community Services: Can he tell us how many people are in our hospitals today who have already been medically discharged?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The exact number of ALC patients varies literally hour by hour. My understanding, in terms of long-term care, they differ also. I cannot supply him with today’s figures, but if he gives me a particular hour of the day for which he would like them, I will endeavour to table them tomorrow.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask again. I appreciate the fact that the numbers change by the hour, the minister is correct, but could he give us an idea of the average, say, for the past week or the past month even?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The average percentage in this hospital for ALC patients in acute care varies between 18 and 27 per cent on a day-by-day basis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: I thank the minister for the answer. So there are roughly 219 people waiting for long-term care beds today. Some of those people are tying up acute care beds. They are the ALC patients that the minister refers to tying up 18 to 27 per cent of our hospital beds at any given time.

Now this week, the Liberal government is shutting down 50 existing long-term care beds. Our government had a plan to put more beds in the system while this government is taking them out.

I ask the minister: How can you justify closing beds when so many individuals and so many families are waiting for proper, dignified care for our aging population?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The Member opposite is conflating two numbers. Alternate care level patients in acute care are not automatically long-term care patients. Currently, the numbers of people waiting for long-term care vary region by region.

For example, as of the end of March in Eastern Health there were 67 people waiting for long-term care. There are, as of yesterday, 68 vacant long-term care beds of various kinds within Eastern Health.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the minister presented false information repeatedly last week. He clearly said that all residents of Masonic Park Nursing Home would simply be moved to the Veterans Pavilion. He said that in Question Period in this House.

However, families found out Tuesday night that there are only 25 beds available at the moment at the Veterans Pavilion. Some of the 40 Masonic Park residents will be scattered around the region.

I ask the minister: Why wouldn’t he present accurate information to the families and accurate information to the public? Why does he continue to deny that he is shutting down desperately needed long-term care beds in this region?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: It’s interesting the issue of erroneous numbers have come up, because the gentleman opposite has just presented the House with an erroneous set of figures. There are, or will be at the time the transition plan is completed for Masonic Park, no less than 35 beds in Veterans Pavilion.

As of yesterday, 10 of the families in Masonic Park have expressed an interest in placing their families elsewhere other than Veterans Pavilion. So the numbers he gave don’t add up either.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

At least the minister is finally acknowledging that his numbers don’t add up. Mr. Speaker, the numbers that the minister is now providing are different than the numbers that Eastern Health provided to families about 48 hours ago. That is rather concerning that the numbers have changed since Tuesday night.

Mr. Speaker, I don’t know if the minister has had a chance to visit Masonic Park. The facility is in good shape. Tuesday night, Eastern Health said that about $500,000 is needed to be invested in improvements. The minister in this House said about a million dollars.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll acknowledge that every long-term care facility in this region needs capital improvements, Masonic Park is no exception. But now, the Liberal government, under this budget, has gutted the repairs and renovations budget for this year.

Can the minister provide the data to support his decision to shut down the long-term care beds at Masonic Park?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: It’s interesting and slightly ironic, Mr. Speaker, that the gentleman opposite, who not that long ago occupied this chair, should talk about gutting renovations budgets when he did a number on the Health Sciences Centre, for example, in terms of a reduction in renovations budgets as well as across the province, cutting it by about 25 per cent.

On the issue of Masonic Park, I accept it’s a very difficult situation to have to move elderly patients and clients. I understand that and I accept that, Mr. Speaker. However, there is a huge opportunity here to provide state-of-the-art care in a newer facility and save the system $1.8 million, at least, on an annual basis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m glad the minister has raised the issue of the $1.8 million in potential savings. Mr. Speaker, I’ve had the opportunity to review the recent financial statements of Masonic Park Nursing Home. Most costs associated with the home, of course, are salaries, medications and other resident services, none of which are going to be eliminated with the move. It is impossible to save $1.8 million by shutting down long-term care beds at Masonic Park.

Will the minister produce detailed evidence of this projected cost savings?

He won’t, Mr. Speaker, because he can’t.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much.

It’s interesting that a department run by the gentleman opposite, until not so long ago, has some very interesting magic mathematics in their budgets where money has been put in and then removed and people have not had the opportunity to realize the savings that they were told to.

Having said that, as far as Masonic Park is concerned, I would be happy to find the figures from Eastern Health and discuss them at any time with the Member opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: So, Mr. Speaker, the minister is acknowledging that he does not have the detailed information to substantiate his claim that there will be $1.8 million of savings, he has to go get it from Eastern Health.

I ask the minister: Will he go get that information in a timely fashion and table it in this House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: I wouldn’t have thought anyone needed to quite put words in my mouth, Mr. Speaker, but if he wants to try, then that’s fine.

From my point of view, the information I am quite happy to discuss with the Member for his constituents at any time of his choosing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: So, for the record, Mr. Speaker, the minister is willing to discuss it with me, and I’m grateful for that opportunity, and I’ll take him up on that; however, he’s not willing to provide this information to the people of the province, to the families affected, or to the hon. Members in this House of Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, when Masonic Park Nursing Home was taken over by the regional health authority in 1996 there was a complete inventory taken of the assets of the building. The agreement with the non-profit owners of the facility states that upon giving notice to terminate the agreement comparable inventory must be left in the building. All beds, all equipment must remain in the building.

If that’s the case, Mr. Speaker, and considering the ongoing renovations that are now happening at Veterans Pavilion, what is the true cost of this ridiculous move by the Liberal government?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: I have explained to the gentleman opposite that I will be quite happy to discuss the matter of finances with him at the time of his choosing, and I will do that, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Not only are people upset with the minister in Bay Roberts, but also in Mobile, Clarenville, Gander, Paradise, CBS – the list goes on and on. Ironically, it wasn’t that long ago that the Minister of Education stood and petitioned government to intercede and ensure the school in Whitbourne remained open.

I ask the minister: You gave great reasons in your petition why it should remain open, do I need to remind you of your past arguments? Why the flip-flop now?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we’ve had a lot of questions in the House of Assembly about the role of the school district and the government in the reorganization of schools, so I’m not going to revisit any of that.

Everybody here in the House of Assembly understands how difficult this is for people who have children attending Whitbourne Elementary, or any other of the schools that the board of trustees for the English language school districts decided to close. It’s not lost on anybody here, but this is the job of the trustees to try to make efficient use of public funds.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: The decision has been made. If anyone would like to appeal that, there are processes they can use to appeal that as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: But the decision has been made and it won’t be revisited here because it was not made in here.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, the new CEO of Nalcor has stated he never agreed with Muskrat Falls and is not against stopping it. The Minister of Natural Resources has stated it’s too far along to stop.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Can you clarify if your government remains committed to the development of Muskrat Falls. Are you considering stopping that project?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The new CEO, of course, which we announced last week is currently now, as he mentioned in the press conference, reviewing the facts. When you put a new CEO in place, I think in the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, you give the new person in the job a chance to review the facts, review the information that’s available on the Muskrat Falls Project. That’s what the CEO is doing. He’s doing what any new person in the position would do.

He then said that he would give an opinion on where he thinks things are with this. We’ll certainly look to him and to expertise and the experience that he has in these megaprojects to give his opinion when it’s due.

I appreciate and look forward to his opinion. The work is continuing on the site right now employing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. To restrict a new person on the job, restrict his opinion would not be the proper due diligence of anyone that you’re appointing to that position.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It’s no doubt that the new CEO has a long career in development and in major projects in electricity. We know that, Mr. Speaker. I asked the Premier for what his position was, not what the CEO’s position was. I want to know what his position is.

Mr. Speaker, the new CEO of Nalcor is a public office holder as defined by the Conflict of Interest Act. He’s also a significant shareholder of Fortis which is the main customer of Newfoundland Hydro.

I ask the Premier: Can you provide assurances to the people of the province that this does not constitute a conflict of interest under the Conflict of Interest Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The new CEO of Nalcor has made it quite clear, and it’s obvious that he is a shareholder like many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians I would suggest, and probably many people that work within the Nalcor company themselves right now would hold shares. He has vast experience building a company out of Newfoundland and Labrador, a company like Fortis. I think it’s world renowned, it’s a world-class project. We look to the new CEO of Nalcor to bring that experience.

When you look at the reasons why he said he is doing this, he is concerned about his own Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; he wants to bring that experience back. I can assure you that conflict of interest – he will disclose as he said he would. Disclosure would be on where any potential conflicts will be.

I can assure you this; in speaking to the new CEO, he is concerned about the future of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is exactly why he accepted this job in the beginning.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’d remind the Premier, he might want to have a look because the act goes a little bit further than disclosing when it talks about conflicts of interest.

Mr. Speaker, while the Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers are strongly pursuing federal action to assist with their province’s financial crises, our Premier has remained silent in stating and I quote: It is what it is, when it comes to federal help for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, Premier Notley, the premier of Alberta, met this past weekend with the prime minister. Premier Wall is meeting with the prime minister today.

I ask our Premier: When will you get active? When will you become more engaged with the federal government? When will you pursue opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to assist with this budget rather than something like a levy which burdens many, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I can tell you there is hardly a day that goes by without contact with the federal government on a number of issues affecting Newfoundland and Labrador. This particular weekend, the Cabinet happened to be meeting in Alberta. I think if the former premier was paying attention, just a few weeks ago there was a scheduled trip to the West Coast which Prime Minister Trudeau and I were supposed to meet. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions of the day, that meeting had to be postponed.

I will say there is an agenda of things that we are reaching out for, and I would say Newfoundland and Labrador will get its fair share. Right now, the former premier keeps talking about Alberta, keeps talking about Saskatchewan, but there have been no initiatives by the federal government into Alberta or Saskatchewan.

I can assure you that our colleagues in Ottawa right now, they are fighting for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and so are we. Our office is very busy actively engaged with our MPs, as we said, and there is a current list of things that we would see in the future that would be of benefit to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, at least the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan are speaking up and making efforts. Mr. Speaker, we know that the people of our province are dismayed and are outraged by this Liberal budget that has been recently introduced. This budget is simply mean spirited.

When the Liberals went to the people in the fall last year, the then leader, now Premier, stated, and I quote: What we’ve decided to do is not put our hands in the pockets of taxpayers from day one. He went on to say: stay out of the pockets, leave the money in their pockets where it belongs.

Mr. Speaker, in less than six months this Liberal government has reached deeper into the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians than has ever happened in the history of our province.

I ask the Premier: How can the people of the province trust you when you promised one thing and a short time after do completely the opposite?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the Leader of the Opposition talks about putting their hands in the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians I just want to remind him, we would not be in the position, we would not be in this situation if it wasn’t for the poor management and the poor planning of the prior administration.

Just last year at budget 2015-2016 they had predicted or they were forecasting a deficit this year of just under $900 million; that projected deficit would have been $2.7 billion if no action was taken. When you look at management, when you look at planning for the future of our province, all you need to do is look back at your budget, which was your five-year plan, which failed in year one.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, on the budget, the Premier has stated people don’t understand, and it’s simply not the way it’s been portrayed. Now, we know the Finance Minister has said there is nothing good in the budget, but we also know Liberal MHAs have remained quiet. No one’s explained to the people about their budget; no one’s even laying out the facts or talking to people or listening to their concerns.

I ask the Premier: What is your government’s plan to communicate this budget and let people hear from your government about budget number one that was recently introduced, and also budget number two that’s going to come this fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you talk about making a plan to communicate this budget, I want to go back to a communication that was done somewhere around mid-April 2007. The announcement in 2007 by the prior administration when it announced nearly a $200 million per year tax decrease for the people of our province – it was unsustainable; they knew it at the time. It was based around an election, I would say, Mr. Speaker.

That accumulated today to around $4 billion. So when you talk about planning for the future, poor planning, that’s an example right there back in April 2007 when you did not prepare this province and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. You could have done a better job preparing for where we are today, and as a result of that mismanagement, this is the tough decisions we had to make. No one on this side of the House, I would say – backbenchers, Cabinet included – we do not like the decisions that had to be made either, I say to the former premier, but we were left with no other choice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The question was simply when is he going to begin to communicate what it is people don’t understand. What the Premier said to reach back to 2007, that’s a pretty far reach.

Mr. Speaker, this past Saturday, one of the many planned throughout the province, a rally was organized by a local group of concerned citizens in Gambo in protest of this budget and it has negative impacts on their town and surrounding communities.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. P. DAVIS: At least I went there, I say to the Member opposite.

All three local MHAs for Gander, Terra Nova and Fogo – Cape Freels were invited to attend and address the people concerning the budget, but not a single one showed up.

Now, the Premier has been quoted as saying Newfoundlanders and Labradorians simply don’t understand the budget.

So I’ll ask the Premier again: When are you going to begin to communicate the budget? When are you going to allow your MHAs to also communicate the budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, there have been a number of communiques that have been done. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Finance spoke to the Board of Trade just last week in Corner Brook, and I have been certainly very busy engaged with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. All our MHAs have been engaged.

As a matter of fact, this Thursday morning we’ll be doing an open line show in our province when people around the province will be asking questions, I would suggest. So there are a number of initiatives that have been planned to communicate this budget. It is an $8.48 billion budget that will be used to benefit Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Unfortunately, I would say, like most people in our province, these are tough, tough times. There were tough decisions that had to be made, all to protect the future of our province. The path that we were going on, based on your poor planning, was really unsustainable.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

It doesn’t seem to matter what questions we ask, we’re going to get the same answer anyway. Mr. Speaker, the citizens of our province are left reeling from these very mean-spirited choices that the Liberal government has made. The public is crying out to their Liberal representatives to halt the direction that the government is taking our province.

We know from her own words that the Minister of Finance will not make decisions based on who cries the loudest, but I’ll ask the Premier: Will you allow the Members of your party to address the concerns and to fight for the people that they serve? Will you listen to the people and your own caucus? Will you sit back down with your Cabinet, have a second look at your budget and deliver one that’s more responsible and responsive, that the people are looking for?

People are looking for a better budget, I say to the Premier. It doesn’t have to be this way.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re engaged with all MHAs and even the Members of the Opposition, if you should see fit to come and ask the questions around technical briefings. As I said, this is an $8.48 billion budget. There are certainly many budget lines in this.

All Members of Cabinet and all Members of this caucus speak on a regular basis about the issues that affect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Over the summer months and in the weeks leading into that, there will be certainly lots more engagement with the people of this province.

We understand the difficult decisions and the impacts on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We are not happy about that, I would say to you, Mr. Speaker. They are tough decisions. Without making those decisions today, it would have led to debt servicing, which now surpasses education in our system. In just five, six years we would have seen that number over $2 billion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We understand the impacts on the province by the decisions you make. I’m really concerned as well about the impacts on the people of the province.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have increased HST which has an impact to people of the province. They’ve increased personal income taxes, insurance on vehicles, increased the gas tax, about 300 or more fee increases, just to name a few.

I know the Premier and his government likes to use an evidence-based approach so I ask the Premier: When you did your evidence-based approach can you tell us what the full implications are of all those increases on items that people buy every day, for example, groceries? What will be the impact on the cost of groceries for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We all know that in Newfoundland and Labrador these budget decisions that we had to make are tough and they will impact Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We are not distancing ourselves from that. We understand that, but what we also understand is if you look at – we’ve had 66 years, as I said last week, in Confederation where we got to a net debt of somewhere around $12 billion.

In the next five years, if no action had been taken, this would have doubled to an astounding number, over $24 billion. Just think about that, I say to the former premier of this province. That as a result of the poor planning – and let’s not forget, there was over $25 billion in oil royalties and money that you had access to, to plan for this. There was another $4 billion in tax decreases that were given that were unsustainable at the time. This is why we are in the difficult situation that we’re in today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

As I said earlier, it doesn’t matter sometimes the questions we ask, the answer we’ll get.

I am going to ask the Premier once again. You’ve always said you’re using an evidence-based approach, so I’m sure you’ve done the analysis. When you include all the increases and cost to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, to businesses, to transportation of goods and so on, HST, personal income taxes, insurance on vehicles, gas tax and so on and all the 300 fee increases, what will be the impact for food? The purchase of food that every Newfoundlander and Labradorian purchases, what will be the impact on the cost of food for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The majority of food products in our province really does not have HST. I think most people know that. That is not to say other things will not impact that but it certainly would not be from the increase in HST.

What I do know, though, the evidence-base tells me this, if this situation had remained unchecked, debt servicing would have replaced critical services in our province. Financial institutions would have reaped the benefit of the mountains and the burden of debt that would have been placed on this province. That is what we are trying to avoid here. That’s the evidence. Deal with it now because if not, it will deal with you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Premier won’t tell us what the impact will be on food. He does know that HST costs go on repairs to vehicles and maintenance and equipment and buildings and all the things that happen to create the delivery of food. There is HST that goes on that and that will drive the cost of food up. Obviously, Mr. Speaker, they don’t have the evidence base, decision-making analysis done to tell us what the impacts will be or I’m sure the Premier would have already told us.

Mr. Speaker, the people of the province have clearly stated that they can’t afford many aspects of this budget. Of course the Liberal levy is one that’s discussed on a regular basis. Liberal insiders, even their former leader, former Premier Roger Grimes has criticized this very tax that the levy will cause hardship to people.

I ask the Premier: Will you listen to your own insiders, your own people? Will you scrap this budget? Will you go back to the drawing board and create a new budget that is responsible and reasonable for the people of the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We recognize the impact of all the taxes, including the levy, that it would have on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That is the very reason why we said this had to be a temporary measure. Plans are in place, it is temporary. It is important for us that gets removed as quickly as possible.

Related to the advice of a former Liberal premier, as the former premier just mentioned, that same former premier also gave advice to your administration at the time, back in 2012, about the Muskrat Falls Project. As a matter of fact, one of your own former premiers, Premier Peckford, spoke out loudly against the project at the time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: These are people that have a role to play in all this. We appreciate the work they’ve done in the past. The temporary levy that was mentioned is, indeed, temporary and one that will be removed as quickly as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, we know that this levy is going to hit people hard, but they’re really not sure how. The Minister of Finance on NTV’s Issues and Answers has stated that at the end of the year when you file your income tax, they’re going to collect the levy at that point in time. Now we’re hearing media reports that it’s going to be taken out of people’s paycheques starting in July.

I ask the Premier: Can you end the confusion on this, when and how will people be impacted by this Liberal levy?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the amount we’re asking people in the province to pay as part of the Deficit Reduction Levy – which is certainly something, as the Premier has already indicated and we’ve been consistently indicating since the budget was announced – is a temporary measure to ensure that we are able to afford and invest in the critical services and infrastructures that we need to invest in.

The process for paying that is driven based on the taxable income an individual makes. Filing taxes provides an opportunity to do that. Also, employers who update their tax tables based on taxes would also have an opportunity to provide information to their employees around that.

There are a variety of ways that people can influence when they pay this tax. We look forward to providing information to all the MHAs so that they can continue to answer questions on this.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I ask the minister to clarify that because we haven’t heard how this is going to be. We’ve heard a couple of different versions.

Are you saying that employers are now being directed to change the tax tables to collect this from their employees? When will that start? When should employees expect to see that coming out of their paycheques? When can they start to plan for this impact that it’s going to have on them? Can you explain that to us?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as is normal when there are any tax changes, new tax tables will be provided to employers as part of those tax changes which will be implemented July 1. Employers then have the responsibility and employees have the choice as to how they want their remittances and their tax withholdings to be held. Those are discussions that would happen between employees and employers once employers have the tax tables.

For those individuals who are not employees who are receiving income through other sources, if they’re applicable to the levy – and certainly it’s important to note anybody making less than $20,000 is not applicable to the levy, and certainly anybody who is making less than $40,000 is eligible for the Newfoundland Income Supplement. I look forward to the Member asking me more questions so I can provide more details.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’ve got to ask the Minister of Finance once again, because she was quite clear on Issues & Answers when she said it will be collected at tax time next year. She also said if employees want to, they can submit the form to ask their employers to collect a higher level of tax. Now she’s giving a different piece of information.

I ask the Premier: Was there a plan on how this levy will be collected, or is this something you’re making up as you go along?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as is the practice with all taxes that are collected by government, there are administrative functions that happen through the normal tax process. I certainly welcome the Member opposite and I can certainly brief him on what a TD1 form looks like. I can brief him on what a tax table looks like. If he would like to sit, we can certainly provide that information to himself and the Members opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: One of the most important messages I certainly want to get out is for those individuals in our province who are making less than $40,000 –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: – they would qualify for the Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement, and many of those would qualify for amounts between $200 and $300, and I look forward to providing that information to the people of the province, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The coalition of pensioners’, retirees’, and seniors’ organizations are speaking out against the health care cuts. They see it as a devastating effect on seniors and pensioners. In particular, they’re troubled with cuts to the long-term care beds, such as those eliminated in Masonic Park.

I ask the Minister of Seniors and Wellness: Do you too simply brush off their concerns as nonsense, as your colleague did, the Minister of Education, or are you willing to listen to their concerns and recognize these actions are devastating to seniors in our province?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think long-term beds falls under Health and Community Services rather than my colleague’s mandate.

There is a plan for long-term care beds in the province being worked on. We do have pressure points for long-term care demand; Central being the most acute, followed by Western. The situation in Lab-Grenfell and on the Avalon is different.

We have allocated in the budget money for Central and Western to assist in long-term care planning that is integrated with placement issues throughout the spectrum of care and not just as an ad hoc arrangement as has been the case in the past. I look forward to being able to present those over the course of the next year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, because of the decisions of this Liberal budget a senior citizen who currently lives alone and at a low fixed income will now have to pay higher taxes. Their Home Heating Rebate removed, the fees increased, and because of a high fuel tax there will be a higher cost to groceries. In addition, they will have to pay the Liberal levy.

I’ve been speaking to seniors all over this province and in my district. I ask the Minister of Seniors and Wellness: The Minister of Finance may not listen to those who cry the loudest, but how can you justify putting this level of hardship on our seniors?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, this Minister of Finance works with her colleagues to make sure that we put programs in place that protect the most vulnerable. For people in our province on low income, those people that are most impacted by this budget, our government is investing $76.4 million to enhance the seniors’ program that the former administration had by some $13 million.

We’re investing new money in the form of the Newfoundland Income Supplement to ensure that those individuals who are impacted by this budget, those impacts are mitigated. There are seniors on low income in this province that are going to receive cheques four times a year in order to help them with the cash management in their homes.

Mr. Speaker, this government has taken action to make sure that those low-income individuals –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: – particularly seniors are taken care of. If the Opposition would like to support sharing those facts, I’ll be happy to provide even more detail to them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I, along with all Members in this House of Assembly, over the last couple of weeks has received calls from seniors. They are very concerned what effect this will have, whether they’ll have heat in their homes, whether they’ll have groceries on their table.

I ask the minister: Seventy-six million dollars, how much did you cut and what will be the cost to our seniors? That’s the question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, just for clarity, the amount of money that low-income seniors would be eligible for under this program is substantially higher than what was available to those low-income seniors before –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: – including all of the consumption taxes those individuals would have to take.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: That’s one of the reasons why – and I’m so glad he’s asking this question today in the House, so we can get the facts out that including the consumption tax, this program, the Newfoundland Income Supplement program is designed to offset and mitigate those most vulnerable in our society.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has provided no less than three different explanations on how the Liberal levy will be collected from the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador. Most recently she is saying that the levy will begin to be collected on paycheques in July, but as well she said the annual expected levy amounts that the government will take in is only half this year as what has been expected in a full year.

Mr. Speaker, the message continues to change. I’ve received several requests from citizens who are confused by the changing discussion, the changing comments by the minister.

I ask the Premier: The minister has confused people, can you clarify once and for all how this levy will be collected?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, for the Member opposite who I offered yesterday, and I’m sure he’s going to take me up on it after today, a technical briefing on how the deficit levy will be collected. As I said yesterday, the levy will be collected –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: – through the personal income tax collection process, the personal income tax process. It is collected through withholding tax, as people pay their regular personal income tax. Tax tables are issued July 1, and those tax increases are for annual years.

If the Member opposite, or any Members on the opposite side, would like to have a technical briefing with officials we can certainly provide that. As we are continuing to provide details and answers to our constituents’ questions, we can certainly help them provide those answers too.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It’s the people of the province who are looking for answers. We’re asking the questions on their behalf, Mr. Speaker. It’s the people who want to know what the facts are. Maybe if they listened to the people of the province they’d just scrap the levy like the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are asking them to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, on NTV Issues and Answers just a few days ago, last week, the minister said that people will pay it next spring when they file their income tax returns. Very different from what we’re hearing from the minister today.

Surely she has analyzed the impacts on ordinary, hard-working, low- and middle-income Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. People are at a loss of why the message keeps changing. People believe they’re making it up as they go along.

I wonder, Minister, can you answer the people of the province. Do you really understand the impacts of your budget increases, your levy, your tax and fees that people are being burdened with, the low- and middle-income hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are being burdened with? Do you really understand the impacts on their lives?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I believe the person who doesn’t understand, quite frankly, how the tax system works and the budget, and who, I guess, continues not to be wanting a technical briefing is the Member opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: This government has made –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: With your permission, Mr. Speaker, after the heckling from the Members opposite, I will provide the answer to the question.

Our government undertook in this budget to implement the Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement which makes sure that those individuals making $40,000 or less actually have an offset to the tax increases. The Member opposite clearly understands, as somebody who has been – somebody who filed taxes for many, many years, I’m sure, in his former careers – that individuals, when they are remitting personal income tax, can do it on a weekly basis through withholding tax or they can pay it when they file their tax return. They have those options as employees, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the condescending tone that continues to come from the minister opposite is astounding. It’s shameful the tone that comes from the minister opposite.

It’s people of the province who are asking for clarification. We’re asking on behalf of the people. I don’t think she understands that, Mr. Speaker.

Today, we heard the Premier on province-wide radio this morning. He said he will not listen to the people of the province.

I say to the Premier, while you and your minister may live in a bubble, you may be out of touch with the realities of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and the difficulties and challenges that they will face because of the levies and fees that you’re burdening with them. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, maybe the Members opposite don’t understand that, but people are struggling with the concept of the fees that they’re going to have to pay in the upcoming year.

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the Member to get to his question.

MR. P. DAVIS: Why did the Premier and his caucus choose to attack hard-working lower- and middle-income families leaving his friends alone? Mr. Speaker, what’s your message to them who can’t afford to pay those fees and taxes?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, we have listened to quite a few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and what they are telling us is the future of our province is extremely important to them. The former premier just mentioned about listening to people. Well, I want to remind the former premier that it was the people of this province he was willing to leave the next and future generations $2.7 billion more in a deficit this year.

So if you want to talk about management and misplanning and poor planning in our province, you need to reflect on some of your own decisions, I say. Our job right now is to clean up your mess, that’s what we’re about to do, and we will get this province back on track, right for future generations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before I recognize the Leader of the Opposition, I’m asking all Members to respect the order and decorum in the House, especially during Question Period.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

I appreciate that, and I wonder how many people during their consultations told them to overburden the low- and middle-income hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: How many of them said tax us so far you’re going to run us right out of town. Tax us so hard you’re going to run us right out of the province. How many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians told them to do that, Mr. Speaker?

Well, yesterday the Premier talked about his relationship with the federal government. He talked about his relationship with Ottawa. He said there’s an agenda of things that they’re reaching out for. He said Newfoundland will get its fair share. Well, that’s contrary to what he said before when he just said well, it is what it is. That’s the approach this government has taken when it comes to our federal government.

So I ask the Premier: Will you table your agenda in the House and tell the people of the province – don’t tell me – once and for all give a straight answer, what do you believe is the fair share for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I want to address the early comment he made as he prepared for his question. This is making sure we set and we put the province back on track.

In 2007 it was a previous administration that made a decision to reduce taxes to the highest income earners in our province. That was your decision. You had an opportunity to take care of low-income earners then, and you ignored it. You took care of your buddies back at that time; let’s not forget. Those tax decreases cost this province nearly $4 billion, I say to the people that are watching this today.

These are the things just last April when you missed and you just kicked the fact that you owed over $300 million down the road on an equalization overpayment. That is what you missed, and you signed an agreement for the next 10 years. You did not ask the people of this province about that. That was a decision you had made when you were the premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The rhetoric continues, because again he didn’t answer the question, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday he talked about 2007 – well, Premier, this is 2016 and you’re the Premier today and the people of the province want to know what you’re going to do for them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Where’s the stronger tomorrow that you promised? Where are the no losses in jobs that you promised? Where are the no tax increases that you promised? Now, you also said you got a great relationship with the federal government.

So, I’ll ask you again, and for once, give a straight answer: What do you believe to be the fair share that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should receive?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is 2016, and in 2016 and 2017 we will start cleaning up the mess that you left this province in. I would say, Mr. Speaker, $27 billion in debt if we did not take action. You should be ashamed to get up and tell the people of this province and defend your actions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I’m going to recognize the Premier to finish his question. I’ve stopped the clock on the Premier’s time to respond – order and decorum.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Given the actions that we’ve taken in this budget, this puts us back to really 2006 and 2007 tax levels in our province right now, back when you had changed the tax levels too on the high-income earners in our province. So we have gone back there. By the way, that includes the levy. We’re very proud that we’ve been able to put in place a $76.4 million Income Supplement so we can help the most vulnerable.

These are difficult decisions, but these are decisions that are required because you have left this province in a financial mess. It’s just shameful to listen to some of the comments that you hear defending your actions over the past 12 years.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the courthouse closed, the medical laboratory sciences program at the college cancelled, upgrades to the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor shelved indefinitely, MCP and Home Heating Rebate office in Grand Falls-Windsor restructured with many losing jobs; the residents and council of Grand Falls-Windsor are outraged.

I ask: How does the Minister of Transportation and Works justify disproportionate cuts to his hometown, to the town he was hired to fight and represent?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you for the question and representing the people of Grand Falls-Windsor. We do have two MHAs who represent that area.

One of the conditions of this particular budget, Mr. Speaker, that we’ve had to face are tough decisions. The part of the decisions is trying to rectify some of the, I guess, overspending that has happened in this province.

Mr. Speaker, all of us, every Newfoundlander and Labradorian is going to be faced with a challenge with this budget, and we understand that. However, I think it is incumbent upon us as Members to make sure that we position this province going forward – not behind, going forward.

I said before, Mr. Speaker, it’s a sad situation. I have two grandchildren and when we’re spending more money on interest than we are on education, it’s a problem for me as a grandparent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, 24-hour snow clearing has been eliminated, even though just a few years ago Liberal Members opposite were asking for the program to be expanded. Last night was a preview of what’s in store for next winter for people travelling at night on our provincial highways.

I ask the Premier: Was this decision to put lives in danger made in consultation with the entire caucus?

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

MR. HAWKINS: Mr. Speaker, I think the Member opposite should know quite well what happens and how it works in Transportation and Works when it comes to winter maintenance. We do have a program in place. As of April 19, the Member would be quite aware of the fact that our winter maintenance schedule finished for the year.

As a result of that, Mr. Speaker, the normal course of action – we do have adverse weather conditions periodically in the spring. So what we have done – yesterday before I left the office, we were engaged in discussions because we knew of the pending storm. What happened last night was the fact that we did have a crew on this morning at 4:30 that we would have if there was not the 24-hour snow clearing, which he would know would have ended about a month actually before the regular winter schedule was over.

Mr. Speaker, we were aware of it and we had our crews out this morning, and we’ll continue to do that on a needs basis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind the minister I am quite aware of the policy. It’s a good example of what is in store for next winter, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. PETTEN: What we seen last night will be next winter. If Members opposite would have turned the radio on this morning, Bull Arm workers were irate, four hours to get to St. John’s from work, and they were very upset and very vocal about the state of our roads. This is an example of what we have in store for next year, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works: What’s changed? Why are you now prepared to put lives at risk?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Mr. Speaker, I’m appalled at that type of response or question from the Member opposite. Nobody on this side of the House wants to put people’s lives at risk. We are safety, number one, Mr. Speaker, and we are making sure –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HAWKINS: – that we put safety number one; however, there are certain restrictions in which we have to work with and one of these is that there is a winter schedule in place that ended on April 19. What we are doing –

AN HON. MEMBER: Next year.

MR. HAWKINS: Next year is another year, Mr. Speaker; it is not right now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HAWKINS: We will address the situation as they arise, Mr. Speaker, and we will keep safety in mind as a priority for us.

Mr. Speaker, again, last night, we prepared yesterday afternoon to make sure that there was a winter crew in place this morning. That’s what we did. We will continue to look after that for the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal 2016 budget included 650 full-time equivalent positions would be eliminated. The Liberals are talking FTEs; we like to talk about people. We are getting a lot of calls from public servants.

Can the Minister of Finance let the people of the province know how many people, actual positions, are impacted in core public service, how many Crown corporations, boards and agencies by the reduction of the 650 full-time equivalent positions in Budget 2016?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As we said when we announced the budget on April 14, the number of positions and people inside the core government workforce was 125 people that would have been impacted directly. Approximately 30 per cent of those would have been management or non-union positions.

In the agencies, boards and commissions, as we have continued to say, 450 of those full-time equivalents would be affected. As we have said in the House over the last number of days, pinpointing the exact number of people that it might impact will be dependent on when the agencies, boards and commissions operationalize those decisions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Let’s be clear, Mr. Speaker, the people of the province want to know. You’ve indicated 450 full-time equivalents.

I’ll ask you: What does that equate to in job losses and reduction overall in government? What’s the number?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’m sure as people listening at home would certainly appreciate, if the Member opposite doesn’t, there’s a normal process in the collective bargaining process that requires there to be bumping and other things to happen. There’s also when you look at what a full-time equivalent job is, when it’s actually scheduled, it can impact as little as a half-time position and it can also impact a full-time position.

At this point, until the agencies, boards and commissions implement the decisions that have been made as part of Budget 2016, it would be irresponsible of me to reflect any other number than the number we are reflecting. Until the work is done and we know the exact number, we can’t provide information that is factually inaccurate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, how many people, to date, has gotten notice that their position is terminated out of 650 full-time equivalents that you announced in the budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the numbers that were referred to in Budget 2016, the individuals that would have been impacted in core government, they would be notified under the normal notification process when the decisions were being operationalized in each of those departments.

I can certainly provide a number to the Member tomorrow of the exact number to date, but as the decisions roll out over the next coming months, as the full fiscal year unfolds, those decisions and notices would be communicated.

Certainly, we’ve been very transparent about the decisions that the government is making and when those will be implemented with our employees in the core public sector. Those individuals that work in the agencies, boards and commissions, it would be the responsibility of those organizations to let their teams know when they operationalize things.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the minister doesn’t know the answer. There will be more confusion, much like the levy yesterday. Today, they’ve announced 650 full-time equivalent positions. They don’t know what position that equates to, how many it equates to and they don’t know who’s been notified. So, again, confusion in terms of executing a budget that she brought down.

Mr. Speaker, in Estimates for Human Resources Secretariat the minister indicated, as I said, 650 positions. The minister then stated that she wasn’t sure if they’d been notified.

I ask the minister: How many of those folks have been notified in regard to termination of their position to date?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Members opposite continue to say things that are quite factually inaccurate. I said to the Member in Estimates the exact same answer I’m giving him today. If he chooses not to listen to it or he can’t comprehend it, I can’t explain that to him.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: We have it right there, Mr. Speaker. The answer she gave in Estimates made no more sense than the one she gave today. She’s answering questions for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that deserve to know. It’s disgusting the tone.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, more confusion. In Natural Resources Estimates, while the Minister of Natural Resources acknowledged a reduction of staff in her department, she was unable to confirm if those positions were part of the 650 full-time equivalents that the minister announced. Here’s more confusion.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Are there cuts going on in line departments over and above the 650 you announced in the budget, because no one over there seems to know what’s going on with it anyway.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I’ll attempt to answer this question very slowly for the Member opposite. Budget 2016 impacted 125 people in the core government. In agencies, boards and commissions there will be an impact on 450 full-time equivalents.

The Member opposite last year in their budget made actions around attrition. They’re having difficulty understanding the attrition of their plan –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: – and the clarity of the actions we’ve taken. Mr. Speaker, the actions that we’ve taken in this budget, the 450 full-time equivalents, as well as the 125 people in core government, we have been consistent and clear on.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll look forward to continuing to answer his questions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, let’s talk about attrition, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the Minister of Finance: Does she have a plan for attrition in 2016-2017 in the fiscal budget? If so, are the positions being removed or is just a budget salary being removed for this fiscal year? I ask the minister.

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the attrition program that was announced by the former administration and the dollars that were taken out as part of that program continue to be removed from the salary program. This year, that represents $91.4 million. Those salaries were removed last year and they remain removed this year because, quite frankly, this government can’t afford $91 million to re-inject in salaries.

What is missing from the attrition discussion and the attrition plan that the former government had in place was a full and comprehensive workforce plan which we intend to build as part of our zero base budgeting, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The MHA for Bonavista let it slip at a NAPE rally in Bonavista that the CNA campus may close and that he is engaged with a committee to do everything he can.

I ask the minister: Can he provide clarity on what your Liberal plan is for CNA Bonavista campus?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I need to recognize for the Broadcast Centre, the hon the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

MR. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I can certainly clarify what the Member said because what he said in front of a group of people, as he said constantly to me and to others, is that he wants to make sure that Bonavista, his constituency has access to full services, whatever can be done, and that the college is performing at its full strength.

Mr. Speaker, this hon. Member understands that when you work with a caucus, you work with a government, you can get things done even in difficult times.

Now I have conducted – I have stated publicly that we will be conducting a review of the college system because as we know, Mr. Speaker, on this side we did not cut over $17 million from the budget of CNA as did the Members opposite when they were in government while they were enjoying huge surpluses.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BYRNE: What we did is we said, do you know something? We’re going to make sure that this college works to its top function and that students –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So from that response I now realize that there are cuts coming to the Bonavista campus.

What I do ask the minister: Can you tell me what other cuts you’re planning to do in other campuses in rural Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

MR. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, what we will not do is cut over $22 million from a budget of over just approximately $85 million. This is what this government did, it cut – and do you know what? We did not close Springdale, as that government did.

One thing we will not do is we’ll not take erratic decisions without any evidence. We will plan for a successful completion of academic studies for all of our students. We’ll make sure we use an evidence-based approach. What we will not do is we will not spread innuendo, as this Member did on Open Line saying I have received information that there are big cuts coming to CNA, and then when I challenged him and said: You know something, if you know there’s big cuts coming, why don’t you come on Open Line and you talk about it?

He was silent, because just as he’s silent now –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BYRNE: – he was silent back then –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BYRNE: – and he has nothing to say.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, for a very quick question.

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I hope CNA doesn’t get cut as much as the libraries did today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: So, Mr. Speaker, taxes on books are going up, libraries will close, schools are being closed and teachers’ jobs are gone.

I ask: What is the Liberal plan for literacy and education in this province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, literacy is a very, very important foundation to education. That’s why we are investing in adult literacy, that’s why we are adopting the new technologies, making sure that those that want to advance their literacy skills have access to the programs and services that are required.

Unlike that former government, which just unilaterally cut Adult Basic Education out of the College of the North Atlantic, we’ll take a very reasoned strategy. Things are changing, adaption to new technologies, people are adapting to new technologies, times are changing. We’ll adapt to those times, but, Mr. Speaker, this former government adapted to the times by just simply cutting while times were very, very good.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, it is becoming quite clear the people have lost trust in this government. There’s growing mass confusion and concern about the Liberal budget, and we’re hearing from people every day. We’re hearing people every hour. Members of their own caucus are confused.

The Premier was on Open Line this morning and couldn’t provide any clarity on how they made their choices. It sounded like he was confused on it as well, when asked about the choices that have put our province into a tailspin.

So I ask the Premier: How can the people have confidence and trust in your government when your budget will devastate people and the economy in a budget that contains no hope and no plan?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the budget contains a lot of plans, I’d say. The first plan, step one, is to clean up the mess that was left by this previous administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: That’s plan one; that’s step one. Without making the decisions that we had to make in this budget, we would have been left with an astounding $2.7 billion deficit.

Instead, with the decisions that we’ve made, that has been down now to $1.8 billion. We know there’s a lot of work to be done because there’s a big mess to clean up.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: I would like to ask the former premier about how he made the decision back in 2007 –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – and his Members to decrease taxes to the highest income earners in our province, taking away billions of dollars of money that could be used today to offset this mess that we’re in.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Here we go, Mr. Speaker.

Once again he can’t explain why people should have confidence or trust in him when all he can do is talk about what happened back in 2007 when I and most of us over here were nowhere near this House of Assembly, Mr. Speaker. It’s 2016; he’s the Premier of the day. He needs to figure out why and how people can have confidence in him.

I’ll ask the Premier this: Has your Cabinet and your caucus – what you call your team of leaders – have they had a say in this budget, or is it simply just a two-person show, yourself and the Minister of Finance?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No, it’s not a two-person show. We’ve engaged a lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We have an $8.48 billion budget sprinkled throughout every department right now. The minister – you just heard her make some comments today about things that are happening, things in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We will have a good future, but first and foremost, we have to get the financial house in order. You had over 12 years to do it, $29 billion; $25 billion of it related to the oil industry and $4 billion in tax decreases. Imagine today if you had a plan for the situation that we were in instead of living in the day, living on hope that oil would stay at $148 a barrel.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I guess he didn’t like the response he got after his Open Line appearance this morning, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are concerned about this budget. We’re hearing from not only citizens but also business owners and entrepreneurs who are concerned about the approach that the Premier and his Liberal team have taken in this budget. The business community is concerned that Liberal choices are already smothering the economy and killing investment.

I ask the Premier: You have positioned yourself as a team of business leaders, how can you justify the measures that you’re taking? Only six months in office and you’re already killing the economy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I would assure you that any business owner in Newfoundland and Labrador, any community, any municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador, they will tell you one thing. If you want to talk about smothering, you talk about smothering Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in debt. That’s where you were leading this province. Just one year ago the budget that you produced, you missed the mark not once –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – not twice but three times, less than $900 million deficit last year –

MR. SPEAKER: I’m restarting the clock again on the hon. the Premier. I’m asking for order and decorum.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Your five-year plan this year, you missed the mark by three times the amount – by three times the amount. It would have been $2.7 billion.

I can tell you, as I said earlier when I started my comments to the question, any business owner, any community in this province they know one thing you have to do is get the debt under control. I’d asked the former premier: Is he satisfied that interest costs and debt servicing now outpaces education in our province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, now we know the Premier can’t justify the decisions he has made, his own decisions. It is his choices, but we do know one thing, Mr. Speaker. He has lived up to one of promises and his promise to make sure that Newfoundland and Labrador is the least, lowest and last. And that’s what his budget is going to do, Mr. Speaker. He is going to make sure that he lives up to that promise.

Extra money will come out of people’s pockets, Mr. Speaker. I’ve spoken with a hard-working family man just this morning. He is a man married, two teenage daughters. He is going to have to pay an additional $1,000 just on the new Liberal tax on insurance – an extra $1,000 just on his family insurance.

I ask the Premier: How does your decision to put taxes on insurance mean a stronger tomorrow for that family?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One thing I will say and we provided some information to the Third Party – at least they had the wherewithal to reach out and start looking for some of the information. We are still very competitive when you look at the tax rates that we have in Newfoundland and Labrador, still very competitive when you compare us not only to Atlantic Canada, but many other jurisdictions that we have in our country, and that includes the levy.

I’m very proud to say too, very proud to say, that we have implemented an Income Supplement program for low-income families in Newfoundland and Labrador, for seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador, that is very competitive and will put money back in their pockets, much needed, I would say, Mr. Speaker, and we’re still very competitive in all tax brackets. As a matter of fact, lower than we are in all areas in 2006-2007.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

One of the first comments we heard from the Premier on Open Line this morning was how important it was to take taxpayers’ money out of taxpaying and put it back in the economy. It was a good comment he made this morning – exactly what happened back in 2007 and what we did as a government when we were in power, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, I’ll let that father of the two teenage daughters know he can come in for a briefing with the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, violent crimes are on the rise in our province. You just check the news any day. Just this morning, armed robberies, home invasions, violent crimes are simply everywhere and we hear it every day. The Liberal budget is going to reduce policing in our province and people are concerned about their safety and they’re going to become more concerned when they learn of these decreases.

I ask the Premier: Was there analysis done before you made the decisions to reduce policing, and what impacts on these reductions – what will they have on public safety, Premier? Can you tell us that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am happy to answer this question and actually spent almost four hours last night in this House answering questions from the Member across. So he should know that there was actually no reduction whatsoever in police services in this province with this budget.

In fact, there were positions that were announced last year that they couldn’t recruit for and were not filled, and those were the positions that were eliminated. So there’s actually no less boots on the ground when it comes to policing in this province.

However, I can say the RCMP has enhanced 24-7 coverage in Grand Falls-Windsor, and they’re actually saving money by doing it – and we look forward to expanding that pilot.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, that’s correct; we did have a good discussion. I thank the minister and his staff for that last night in Estimates.

Mr. Speaker, the Harbour Grace court is a busy place, and that courthouse and others are closing. So officers in Harbour Grace, in Placentia, the Cape Shore, Whitbourne, Bay de Verde and all of those areas are now going to spend hundreds of hours a year having to travel to St. John’s to go to court, instead of spending their times on the streets protecting the citizens they’re there to protect and the communities they’re there to serve.

So I ask the Premier: Has an analysis been done on how court closures will impact policing in communities, and will you release those analyses?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m happy to answer this question again, as I did last night. The fact is that we’ve got great police forces in this province, whether it’s the RNC or it’s the RCMP, and we’ve enjoyed working with them and meeting with them to discuss the challenges we face, challenges that have existed for some time.

Again, when it comes to these court closures, we know that it will face challenges. Again, challenges that the Opposition faced when they were closing courts in this province over the last 12 years.

So, again, we will work with our forces, and they will work with us over the next four months to ensure there is no reduction in policing services to these communities. Again, we had to make very difficult choices based on the financial mess that was left to us, but thankfully, we have great police forces that we’ll continue to work with to ensure safety for all the citizens of this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, when they’re going to be spending hundreds of hours a year, hundreds and hundreds of hours a year travelling from all those areas to drive to St. John’s to go to court. Some of them do it on a daily basis while they’re working, Mr. Speaker. That is not boots on the ground in all those areas; that’s a reduction in policing.

In Estimates last night during our discussion, the department identified there are roughly 120 RNC officers who are eligible to retire today. They’re eligible to retire. It’s more than a quarter of the entire force, more than 25 per cent of the entire police service.

I ask the Premier: What is your plan to ensure that policing resources stay strong in the years to come? We know it takes a long time to train police officers; it takes a long time for them to learn their jobs. Instead of reducing recruitment, what are you doing to ensure those resources stay strong?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

As we discussed last night, we do know that there are 127 officers that are eligible for retirement. This year so far we’ve actually had two retire; compared to last year when there were 121 eligible to retire and, I believe 15 retired.

I can say since 2005 there’s been 151 – sorry, 254 graduates of the RNC program and 246, 97 per cent, are still working with us. Since that same time, 152 retired and we actually recruited 246. I can say that we have more recruits coming in. The Member opposite should know that there’s no reduction here.

We have a great working relationship with the RNC. I’m sure if it’s a concern for the chief of the RNC, he’s more than willing to come and discuss it with me. We’ll have this conversation to make sure that our policing continues to stay strong.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of AES yesterday said in this House that it was the PC government that closed the college campus in Springdale. I need to educate the minister. It was actually the Liberal administration under his former boss, Premier Tobin, who closed the Springdale, Lewisporte, Bell Island and other campuses in the late ’90s.

I ask the minister to now outline to the people of this province what additional campuses and programs are the Liberals planning to cut this time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I believe it was the former administration that did cut $22 million from the College of the North Atlantic. With that big a number, sometimes you can infer that maybe cuts would be coming to campuses. It was the former administration that cut $22 million from the campuses.

Do you know what? There are a lot of campuses that, as a result of those cuts, are not functioning, in my opinion, to their full efficiency. We’re going to work with those campuses to try and build up their strength, unlike what you did.

Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: With that response, obviously, I’m worried about where rural Newfoundland is going in post-secondary in their second budget that we’ll see later this fall.

The Minister of Education in one of his most bizarre comments to date stated that the high adult illiteracy rates were reason to shut down 54 libraries.

I ask the minister: How will cutting these learning institutions in so many of our communities improve our literacy rates? He can’t possibly be that out of touch.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, what I said yesterday was that we have had a long-term sustained high rate of functional adult illiteracy. There is a reason for that. The reason is what the previous administration was doing, including not delivering on the adult literacy strategy they promised in 2007. What they were doing was not working.

One thing they were doing was cutting and cutting and cutting the library system and not keeping up with the cost of operating the library system to the point where the library system was undergoing a slow atrophication process.

The libraries that are slated for closure now had an average hour of operation of 18 hours a week, that’s all, frequently between 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, when most people in the population simply could not access them.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: He should check with those communities that have 18 hours and ask them, do they want to get rid of that? I’ll tell you, they’ll say no.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Does the minister think it’s reasonable for children, youth and seniors to travel for hours to access books and learning materials now with the new setup?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, what is unreasonable is to continue to cut and cut and cut a system and expect it to operate optimally. That did not happen under the previous administration.

The provincial libraries board, once we started the Government Renewal Initiative in January it became quickly known to me that the public libraries board had been advocating for a number of years to close libraries due to the fact that they no longer could afford to operate them. The cost of paying employees was going up and up with the 39 or so percent increase in wages that occurred over the previous 12 years.

The cost of leases were going up. The previous administration got the libraries board into several leases that were hundreds of thousands of dollars. It just simply could not be sustained.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the minister, who was the critic in the previous administration, was adamant that they should stay open and now he’s flip-flopped on that also.

Mr. Speaker, this week the Minister of Education stated that libraries have become a place for seniors to check their email. A remark that have many of our province’s seniors highly offended.

Mr. Speaker, libraries provide so much more than books. Libraries are common centres in the communities. Libraries offer services like tax return assistance, reading circles, homework help, public speaking competition for students. For many, the library is their only source of Internet access.

I ask the minister: Will you admit that by closing libraries you are depriving the people of our province from yet another critical service?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: I’m going to tell you one thing, Mr. Speaker, it’s pretty evident that it’s pretty easy to sit there in Opposition with half the information uttering half-truths. I did not say that libraries had become a place for seniors to check their email. That’s not what I said, and you should check the public record and get your facts straight.

Mr. Speaker, this previous government –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY: If you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question is all I can say. We stand here day after day trying to answer questions that the Opposition is asking and they heckle right through Question Period. I don’t think they hear a word over there, Mr. Speaker.

The fact of the matter is the previous government cut and cut and cut around the edges of the library system and expected it to operate without sufficient numbers of funds. What we’re doing now is introducing a regional system that 85 per cent of the people in the population can access.

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Two years ago the Minister of Education said in this very House, “I believe that the Newfoundland and Labrador government should stop all cuts to libraries ….” He requested additional funding for libraries.

I ask the minister: Does he stand by his belief or does he blindly follow the orders of the Finance Minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I serve in this capacity at the pleasure of the Premier and I’m pleased to do so. I’m pleased to work with the provincial libraries board who had to make a difficult decision the other day around libraries and the continuity of services. Those are people who value literacy, who value reading and want to ensure that the public in Newfoundland and Labrador has reasonable access.

The only glimmer of hope that I could see in what the previous administration did is that the numbers of electronic materials increased. In one of the annual reports it was said to increase by about 25 per cent. It’s very obvious that people are accessing text differently. We have to change the system, modernize it so we reinvest in electronic access, the texts, books by mail and other investments.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, we along with many others were very troubled to hear the recent announcement concerning cuts to the provincial Breast Screening Program. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer among women in Newfoundland and Labrador. My family, like most families in this province, has been devastated by this disease.

Understanding the importance of early detection, I ask the minister: How can your government justify making such a significant reduction in the provincial Breast Screening Program, a step backwards in the area of women’s health.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

In 2011, five years ago, the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health issued new guidelines for low-risk women for breast cancer screening. Those included removing the breast screening clinical exam and removing the requirement for mammography under the age of 50. These were of no benefit to low-risk individuals. If the Member opposite has concerns that she’s in a high-risk category, I would suggest she talk to her primary care provider.

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: With 20 per cent of women under the age of 50 diagnosed with breast cancer, Mr. Speaker, I say it’s 20 per cent too many. We’re going to come back to that again in this House.

The aquaculture industry on the province’s South Coast is a fine example of how to diversify a rural economy. My district has seen prosperity, population increases and more people working than ever before. But under this Liberal government, I have people telling me that they feel like they are being targeted for just trying to feed their family.

I ask the Minister of Business: What is your diversification plan for rural Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. CROCKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member talks about the aquaculture industry. This government realizes the value of the aquaculture industry. It’s one of the things the Premier had in my mandate letter. It’s one of the objectives we will follow.

We’ve had the opportunity, throughout our short time in government, to work with the industry. I’ve worked closely with NAIA and we will continue to do so.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, losing $500 a month at least plus more in additional taxes and fees is not going to help people eat or feed their families. In fact, it is going to drive them away.

Mr. Speaker, I hear no plan from the Liberals on rural investment. Actually, with their decisions to close support centres and libraries in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, three in my district alone, all I can see are cuts. Our Poverty Reduction Strategy showed that when people have access to these services, they have a greater chance at success.

I ask the minister: As the Liberals rips these services from rural Newfoundland and Labrador, what hope and opportunity is left for our people?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member opposite for her question. When it comes to looking at the economy and looking at investment, we have a number of plans and strategies that we have that we’re working on.

When it comes to looking at investment in the tourism industry, we’re seeing incredible numbers this year already posted. When it comes to planning and attraction of motor coach traffic, our actual numbers on our website are up 16 per cent. We’re continuing to work on regional governance and work on that plan when it comes to how we deliver services, like the public libraries.

People will have access to library services within a half an hour – to be able to access improved services with a minimum of 30 hours a week. There are lots of things that we’re investing in when it comes to trade, when it comes to economic development, broadband, the list goes on and on and on.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, a lot of people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador can’t afford broadband and without libraries, I don’t know how they’re going to access the Internet. No plan, no investment, no hope. After all, it was the Liberal Premier who infamously described our province as the last, the lowest and the least. Well, another infamous quote that the Premier made and it’s currently making the rounds again is if you can’t listen, you can’t lead.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. PERRY: I ask the Premier if you were listening to the taxpayers of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, when you decided to close the medical clinic in Hermitage, schools in Whitbourne and Conche or AES offices across the province, just to name a few of the –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. PERRY: – devastating cuts that Liberals are making to rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the Member opposite for her question. There are certainly lots of investments in budget 2016-2017 when it comes to looking at how we’re going to diversify and enhance our economy and also providing services all across this province.

If we look at the tourism industry, we have $13 million in a marketing budget. We have $18.5 million in culture and heritage investments in our province. We are also investing in venture capital. We’re dealing in infrastructure – over $570 million is being spent in this budget on roads, on schools, and infrastructure all over. In municipalities, maintaining their Municipal Operating Grants.

There are a lot of good things in budget 2016-2017 –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North, for about a 20-second question.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the people of Botwood and surrounding communities are deeply concerned with the axing of 24-hour snow clearing; however, that concern only worsened when they received news those emergency room hours at the Dr. Hugh Twomey Centre would be cut in half with no after-hours care.

I ask the minister: What do you say to these thousands of people who have real concerns about travelling the highway to Grand Falls-Windsor to access emergency care, when they can no longer be sure that the highways will even be cleared and fit for travel?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member for his question. As I mentioned yesterday when we talked about 24-hour snow clearing, we know that there were three pressure areas of the province that we provided that. We did not provide 24-hour snow clearing for the entire province.

One of the things that we are doing that will be different next year – it will not be implemented until next winter – is the fact that we will not have a dedicated service to that, but we will make sure that safety is number one. Our supervisors will have that in place so we’ll have snow clearing available –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 2, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Well, it’s another day and it’s another day of Liberal appalling decisions. At a time when the Premier has stated that every dollar counts and people of the province have been dealt a devastating blow with this Liberal budget, this weekend we learned – from the media, not from government – that the Liberals have retained outside legal counsel for labour negotiations.

I ask the Premier to clarify why outside legal counsel has been hired. What message does this send to our public servants?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Our provincial government is committed to ensuring a sustainable public service and having a fair and effective bargaining process. The engagement of the firm that will support our collective bargaining efforts, which are led by the very talented officials in the Human Resource Secretariat and supported by the Department of Justice, is being supplemented. The last collective bargaining period, there were 14 individuals who were working on collective bargaining. This time, there are eight individuals inside core government working on collective bargaining.

For the Member opposite, I would remind him during the pension negotiations last year, both union and government engaged law firms, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

As the minister mentioned, she has her own division of collective bargaining. There are 85 or 90 or more lawyers in the Department of Justice. They’ve decided to use hard-earned money, levy money, no doubt, that they’ve collected from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to go outside.

I ask the Premier this: What’s the rate you will pay McInnes Cooper? Is there a cap on that billing? Premier, can you answer that, please?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, salaries and benefits represent $3.8 billion of the program spending of the provincial government. In order to make sure that the interests of the people of the province are well represented, it is important we make sure we have the resources.

As I mentioned in the earlier answer, in prior collective bargaining, there were 14 individuals that were available throughout core government to be able to be used for the bargaining. This time, we have eight very talented individuals who will be supporting the bargaining. We will be supplementing that with outside help.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. C. BENNETT: Members opposite would be very familiar with the use of law firms as additional support, particularly when government, I believe, last time used two law firms during the negotiations on pensions. The unions also used a law firm, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the question was very simple. The question was: What is the rate that McInnes Cooper will be paid? I’m sure the minister must know that.

The Premier won’t answer, so I’ll ask the minister now: What is the rate they’re being paid and, also, what is the cap on billing for McInnes Cooper? A very simple question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The rate of the contract that we have in place with McInnes Cooper is $350 an hour for the legal support. And for the Member opposite, I can let him know as well that since McInnes Cooper has been engaged to support there’s been $14,000 worth of billing to March 28.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

So they’ve already got this process underway.

I’ll ask the Premier: With a full Department of Justice, a full department of lawyers – I think I counted last night in the salaries about 87 solicitors in the Department of Justice, 87 solicitors and who else knows how many in the department. We have a full division of collective bargaining that are responsible for bargaining and negotiating, and a full contingent of communications professionals throughout government. Have you lost confidence in these public servants?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I have extreme confidence in the public service and their desire to serve the best interest of the people of the province.

Mr. Speaker, I also know, and the Member opposite would know, that collective bargaining is conducted in private and is confidential. All matters surrounding collective bargaining, the process is confidential for both sides. Just like we are not aware of what the unions are planning, it is up to us to make sure that we prepare our plans to represent the peoples interest.

When we are at the table we will have discussions that are in the best interest of the people of the province. Most importantly, we will get at those tables and bargain in good faith, and we will not bargain in public.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The minister still hasn’t advised if there’s a cap on billing.

So I ask her once again: Is there a cap on billings for McInnes Cooper, and, if so, what is the amount?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the people of the province that this government, unlike the former administration, is going to be extremely frugal and make sure that the decisions we make are financially in the best interest of the province, not leaving billions and billions of dollars of debt left for future generations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

So either the minister doesn’t know or there is no cap. At this point in time she knows her part well so we’ll have to take it from her answer that there is no cap.

I’ll ask the Minister of Justice, who leads the Department of Justice and Public Safety and the dozens and dozens of lawyers that we have working in the department: Have you lost confidence in the officials in your department?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m happy to answer this question from the Member opposite who should be aware that while we have a number of lawyers, they all have different areas of expertise. Certainly, you wouldn’t engage somebody that handles agricultural law to lead our labour negotiations.

In this case I think, as the Minister of Finance has indicated, we actually have less individuals handling negotiations than the government that was in place had previously and have engaged outside council as has been done by many provinces, unions and the previous government.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The minister hasn’t answered the question.

I’ll ask the Minister of Finance, who has a full division of collective bargaining, now she says there’s only eight there now – well, she can answer why. It may be a decision she’s made to only have eight that are involved with collective bargaining and negotiating, but she has a full division of collective bargaining and negotiating team within her department.

Do you still have confidence in those officials, Minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the people of the province and this hon. House that I have tremendous confidence in the officials that are working in the Department of the Human Resource Secretariat that will also be supported by the legal team in the Department of Justice.

Collective bargaining happens not every year and as a result, because there is a peak in the amount of work that is undertaken, it is important that that peak be managed and supported so that the officials who work for the people of the province can be best supported to get the job done to make sure, number one, we bargain in good faith; and, number two, that we represent the interest of the people of the province, Mr. Speaker. I have every confidence in our officials to do that, supplemented with the support from outside council.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have increased taxes and fees. They’ve introduced a fee just to live right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. They’re closing schools, they’re closing libraries, they’re closing long-term care beds and the list goes on; however, they have the money to hire external communication support and, more importantly, a Liberal insider with ties back to the Tobin and Grimes era and, most recently, ties to the election in the fall of 2015.

I ask the Premier: How can you justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? It could be millions, because we don’t know at this point time. How could you justify spending that amount of money unnecessarily and how does this take the politics out of appointments?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite might like to add zeros to things that he doesn’t understand but I did not say in this House that this consulting would cost millions. If he wants to continue to mislead the province by making up fabrications, Mr. Speaker, I will let him use his time to do that.

McInnes Cooper has been engaged to provide support for the department of the Human Resource Secretariat and the Department of Justice. They have suggested and recommended that they have other experts available. That was a decision that was made during that process.

Mr. Speaker, we will not be spending, as the Member opposite is suggesting, millions and millions of dollars to negotiate with our valuable public service. But I can tell you the one thing we won’t do; we won’t make mistakes in collective bargaining that create these billions of dollars of debt that the other governments have made.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: The minister doesn’t believe we should have provided the salaries and benefits to public servants that they have been provided with – very interesting.

She also made a comment that we don’t understand, Mr. Speaker. It’s interesting that the minister likes to stand up and say I don’t understand. Well, it’s obvious to her, if she paid attention, the people of the province don’t understand either, Minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Your own caucus does not understand your budget, Minister. As well, not only that, the media doesn’t understand your budget, I say to the minister. So it’s not only the people of the province who are not getting your budget, Minister. Maybe what is common here is you, Minister. You should think about that. Maybe it’s common for you.

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the Member to get to his question.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I’m going to ask the Premier another question. He doesn’t want to answer today, but I’m going to ask him: What process was used to select McInnes Cooper? Was this a sole-sourced contract?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as the former premier of the province would know, the Department of Justice has the ability to engage with legal counsel when it feels necessary, and in this case that’s exactly what happened. If the Member opposite wants to create falsehoods and continue to present falsehoods, that’s entirely up to him, but the day of reckoning is going to come, Mr. Speaker.

Let me be clear, every single dollar that is spent on valuable public services is important. What I argued about with the Member opposite a couple of minutes ago were the decisions that government made when they were in power that wasted money, that didn’t put money away for a rainy day and have us in this province, Mr. Speaker, with the highest debt per capita of any province in Canada.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I asked the Premier what the cap was. The minister got up to answer and the minister won’t say what the cap is. So if she won’t provide the information to the people, then it puts us in a bit of a difficult situation, and also the people of the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

When they won’t tell us what the cap is or what the amount is, then it puts us at that disadvantage. Not only that, but the people of the province want to know. Because of the dozens of phone calls and messages that we continued to receive over the weekend, especially on this matter, people want to know, Mr. Speaker.

On the campaign trail last year, the Liberals had said trust us. That’s what they said. In a December 22 news release the Liberals stated: “Departments and ABCs are to review plans to hire consultants and assess whether the work can be deferred or performed using internal staff resources.”

I ask the Premier: Can you inform the House why he’s hired external legal counsel and communications for work that can be done internally?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, as I said in an earlier question, bargaining with our valuable public sector employees is a very important undertaking for a government. That collective bargaining will take place this year.

We have some 27 collective agreements that will expire in 2016, 11 NAPE contracts, six CUPE contracts. We also have agreements with the nurses, the Association of Allied Health Professionals, as well as teachers. It is important for us to make sure that as we assess about ability to get the valuable work done of collective bargaining, with the talents we have inside government, that we also make the decisions about how to best supplement that in what will be a peak period of activity, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I will ask the Premier this: Was Mr. John Green, a former partner with McInnes Cooper and current interim Chair of Nalcor, part of any conversations about hiring McInnes Cooper?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As the former premier would know, Mr. Green – who was appointed by his administration to one of the affiliated boards of Nalcor – actually made himself available in this particular case while we’re waiting for the Independent Appointments Commission. Mr. Green is in an unpaid position as Chair of Nalcor right now. We thank him for the volunteer work he’s doing on behalf of the province right now.

As the Member has just identified, the contract with McInnes Cooper is one that is there to support the negotiations that will be beginning with the valuable workers who are already part of this bargaining process. Using McInnes Cooper, bringing their advice to the table is important for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, its National Mental Health Week but here in Newfoundland and Labrador the Liberal government has just cut resources for mental health programs and services.

I ask the Premier: If mental health is a priority – as he stated in the fall – why are you removing resources from the system that we all know is under-resourced?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to state quite clearly for the House, there have been no reductions in community services to mental health. There have been some reallocations of staff from areas of severe underutilization to best support those areas which are more overworked. So I would refute the Member opposite’s premise in the first place.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, instead of reallocating resources they’re taking a couple of million dollars out of the system and those dollars are much needed. The Liberal government talked a lot about mental health during the fall election campaign and the minister talks about our all-party committee but there’s not a single dollar in the recent budget to support the implementation of anything that the all-party committee might recommend this year.

In fact there are less resources in this budget overall for mental health services. How can people believe you’re sincere about making things better when your budget clearly suggests otherwise?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

As the Member opposite who sits on the all-party committee on mental health would know until that report is generated it’s not possible to know what resources are necessary. That’s the purpose of the mental health all-party committee.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the MHA for St. George’s – Humber wants library closures revisited and another Liberal MHA says it’s a terrible budget. The MHA for Bonavista says he’ll fight against budget cuts yet they will all stand when it counts and vote for the budget instead of voting with their constituents.

I ask the Premier: Why are so many of your MHAs following your lead and saying one thing but then doing another?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well as we listen to the question I can guarantee you there is one thing, there is one thing that the Member opposite got right that this is a tough budget. It is a tough budget though because the former administration didn’t play for today, they didn’t manage for today and the choices are very clear, there was absolutely no choice I would say, Mr. Speaker, $2.6 billion in a deficit this year –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – nearly tripling the per capita debt in our province in just seven years. That was your responsibility to plan for where we are today, you failed to do it. Our Members have a chance to speak out, I wish you had to spoke up earlier when your recognized the financial position you had put this province in.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier is clearly angry today and if I had Cabinet leaks after only five months in office I’d be angry too.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Speaking of which, in a recent Cabinet meeting before budget the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills both spoke against the Liberal levy. The Finance Minister said that the levy won’t be included in her budget calculator tool that isn’t done yet. So now we’re hearing from several sources that the Liberals will be cancelling the levy.

I ask the Premier: When will you announce the cancelation of the Liberal levy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As soon as we can get the fiscal house of this province in shape that’s what we will do.

The Member opposite just completely ignores the great program that we have put in place, the investment in low income families in our province, our seniors –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: – people with disabilities.

Why will you not talk about the $76.4 million that we’ve invested in the income support supplement program? Right now, we have just less than 40 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that will not pay a temporary levy. It’s a temporary levy and as soon as we can get this province back in shape – earlier than you guys did, I will guarantee you – this levy will go because that’s what it’s meant to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before I recognize the Member for Mount Pearl North, I will ask all Members to respect the individual that I’ve identified to take the floor and speak.

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier isn’t listening to his Cabinet. He isn’t listening to his caucus. He isn’t listening to the people of the province.

So I’ll ask again: Premier, will you cancel the Liberal levy, yes or no?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are going to be very happy to cancel this temporary levy. First and foremost, we’ve got a lot of work to do because of the big mess that you left this province in.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the Member opposite is just simply ignoring that in seven years, based on their plan, that the former premier said in the media this week they had a plan – well, their plan would have been $53,000 in just seven years per capita debt to the people of our province; second would have been Quebec at $22,000.

Mr. Speaker, those numbers are stark. They had an opportunity with $25 billion in oil money and royalties. Where is that gone? Four billion dollars in tax decreases – tax decreases, I would say, to higher income earners in our province. That’s who you gave your tax decreases to.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the MHA for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave claimed that she had no input into the budget and last week upon hearing about library cuts, the MHA for Terra Nova said it was news to him. But the Premier maintains that everyone had input.

I ask the Premier: Will you finally listen and make changes to the budget, or will you allow your MHAs to vote with their constituents?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Members on this side of the House, we are actively engaged with all of them about the difficult decisions that will have to be made in this budget. It is definitely unprecedented, Mr. Speaker. It’s been widely known. We’ve seen people look at the mess that we’ve inherited from this previous government and they’ve looked at it and they all know that there were very few choices that we had to make.

Mr. Speaker, our job right now is to secure the fiscal future of our province, and that’s what we’re about to do. This budget is the first step in doing that, and we’ll be happy to work with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on alternate measures that we can put in place. Things like the temporary levy that’s in place right now, we will be drawing that back. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, in the budget documents that have already been presented there is a plan to do just that. When you look at the forecast over the next seven years there is a process in place to get rid of that temporary levy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Many schools are starting to get the true picture of what Liberal choices will mean. Parents are outraged with the reality that classrooms will be combined with two grades in many schools throughout the province. Grade threes and fours will share a teacher and classrooms in many schools. The same goes for fives and sixes.

I ask the minister: How can you justify proceeding with full-day kindergarten at the expense of older children who will now have to merge in combined classrooms?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Thanks to the Member for the question.

Interesting that the Member didn’t have a similar concern last year when they decided to remove 78 positions from the school system and also told the people of the province it would have absolutely no impact on the system at all – would not put any hardship.

The Member – we didn’t hear a word from him back in 2013 when they reduced all matter of teaching positions, everything from school librarians to administration to specialized positions. They cut and they cut and they hacked and they cut. That member never stood up and said a single word. In fact, he stood in his place and talked about how great the budget was – cutting units.

We know this is going to cause additional strain on the school system. We admit that. We’re in a difficult situation, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before I recognize the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, I’d ask the Member for Cape St. Francis to please respect the identified individual to speak.

The Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It wasn’t our administration who cut 219 teaching positons this past week. It wasn’t this administration putting in blended classrooms.

While we support and believe in all-day kindergarten, I ask the minister: Will he now reconsider implementing the full-day kindergarten? How can we slash and cut teachers and programs for grades one to 12 while spending approximately $100 million over the next three years?

Tell me how we can do that and have better education in this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I think we’ve been pretty clear on the implementation of full-day kindergarten and the plan to go ahead in September because the benefits it has for young children. I wish the Member opposite shared that interest in early learning. Everybody else across the country seems to get it. They don’t seem to get it.

For the Members information, this year was a net reduction of 73 teaching units. Unlike last year, when they decreased that by more, by 78, and stood here in the House of Assembly and talking about how great the budget was while they were cutting teaching positons.

We acknowledge the move to combine grades is going to cause teachers additional issues when it comes to classroom management and delivering on learning objective, but the bulk of the research in this area shows a negligible impact on student achievement. Those are the facts, I encourage the Member to read up.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

The Minister of Justice and Public Safety is on the record here in the House of Assembly from his time back in Opposition when from time to time he asked government to expand and improve the Adult Dental Program. He even talked about the importance of considering the dignity of people. However, now the Liberal government has reduced this program significantly, by $3 million.

Can the Minister of Health clarify exactly what’s been eliminated from the Adult Dental Program and what he expects the impacts will be?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The Adult Dental Program includes Foundation clients; it did before and it will do afterwards. The changes were made to align the Dental Program with that of other jurisdictions. The previous plan had been introduced at a time of plenty, which is now long since passed.

Those clients of plans that were in the process of having work done – prior to the changes – will have their applications processed in due course. Thereafter, the plan is limited to Foundation Plan members.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Well, what we’re hearing is that seniors cannot get their dentures. Low-income workers, hard workers of Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer be able to escape pain and suffering. They are left hanging in the wind.

This is a most serious issue, Mr. Speaker. Treatments can expand for several months and people are being dropped without notice. It’s caused havoc for patients, but also from dentists who are very concerned about this.

I ask the minister: How can he justify such a decision that has such a significant impact on people who need this very much-needed service?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The changes to the plan have been made to streamline it with other jurisdictions in Canada. Folk who are in need of emergency services, as far as dental work is concerned, will still be covered. That can be done through a separate process.

Those folk who are already in the system, we appreciate they have expectations and those will be honoured, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We know the Members opposite have been focused in the past on the least, last and lowest, but this program was heralded as one of the best in the country and now they’re taking this service away from people who need it most.

Mr. Speaker, with the closure of services and health care clinics in rural parts of our province, the government is forcing people, especially those with higher health care needs, to choose between living without services or making very expensive moves to larger centres.

I ask the Premier: Are the cuts to rural Newfoundland and Labrador part of your stronger tomorrow?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the former premier for his question. The cuts that we’ve seen or the changes that we’ve seen in rural areas and in particular as a result of the budget actions that have been taken really is part of a stronger tomorrow for Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s part of putting in place a better foundation for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

It is part of putting in place a foundation that is sustainable, unlike the previous administration that made decisions not only in health care, but in many other programs that we’ve seen in our province like reducing taxes to the highest income earners in our province in 2007. These were not sustainable tax decreases, essentially added up to nearly $4 billion. Four billion dollars that I would say right now we could use to provide essential health care services in all areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, last evening the Minister of Health stood on his feet in this House and said that the enhanced breast screening program was cut by the Liberal government because it was of no benefit to anyone. The response we’ve received to the minister’s statement was overwhelming. Mr. Speaker, 20 per cent of breast cancers are found in women under 50. Wives, mothers, sisters and loved ones are alive today because of early detection. Women should have a choice.

I ask the minister: How can you state that breast cancer screening to women under 50 is of no benefit?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I would just like to correct the Member opposite. I didn’t mention anything about enhanced breast screening last night. It is not me that is stating that it is of no benefit to low-risk women under 50. It is the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care.

Their report out in 2011 was available to the previous ministers of health sitting opposite who chose not to act on it. As a result, we have spent money on services which have been of no benefit, created the worried well and denied the opportunity to spend that money in areas where it would be better spent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Well thank goodness for the webcast, Mr. Speaker, and it’s travelling around on Facebook. Women in this province who can no longer avail of that early detection breast screening program are very, very upset, Mr. Minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. PERRY: I say to the minister, we know that the Minister of Finance has stated that they will not make decisions based on who shouts the loudest, but I ask Liberal Members to tell that to the cancer survivors who are alive today because of early detection.

I say to the minister: As you rip clinics and health services away and make it harder to see a doctor, how in the world is this not going to have an impact on people’s lives?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Member opposite confuses the issue of asymptomatic low-risk individuals who are in a position possibly to benefit from screening, and the evidence shows that that does not occur under the age of 50. The confusion is people who have symptoms or have concerns have free access to primary health care across the province. They can raise those concerns with their primary care provider. They can be assessed clinically and investigated. That has not changed, nor will that change. We are simply trying to make sure that the health care budget is spent in the most effective way for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, many schools are starting to get the true picture of what Liberal choices will mean. Parents are outraged with the reality that classrooms will be combined with two grades in many schools throughout the province. Grades three and four will share a teacher in classroom in many schools; the same goes for fives and sixes.

I ask the minister: How can you justify proceeding with full-day kindergarten at the expense of older children who will now have to merge in combined classrooms?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, it embarrasses me that the Member opposite has so little confidence in the skill of our teachers in this province.

In September, there will be 170 multigrade classrooms in this province, not counting combined grades classrooms and there will be far fewer of them. We have had multigraded classrooms for the 12 years that administration was in power.

Is the Member now suggesting that those teachers who have been teaching in multigrade classrooms all along are not qualified to achieve the educational outcomes in the curriculum? Is that what he’s saying? Those 170 teachers this September in multigrade classrooms, is that what you’re saying?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is I do have a lack of confidence in the minister to make decisions that will be in the best interest of the children and students of this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Will the Minister of Education reconsider delaying implementation of full-day kindergarten? How can you slash and cut teachers and programs from grades one to 12 while spending approximately $100 million over the next three years on this new program?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, as I said last night here in the House of Assembly at great length, there’s quite enough evidence to show that the return on investment in our smallest children is worth it. Plans were well underway. The previous administration introduced this program and planned it for September. If they had such austere concerns about it why didn’t they pull the plug on it before they let the train down the track before this government came into office.

We’re trying to do what is best for children in Newfoundland and Labrador in early year’s education. In many provinces in Canada they have junior kindergarten for four-year-olds. All the other Atlantic provinces have full-day kindergarten. Why does the Member want us to stay behind the rest of the country?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the return on the Dental Program is a good investment too, but they’re not doing that either.

According to the president of the NLTA, schools are being asked, and I quote: place “‘good’ kids in the multi-grade class & place kids with needs in other class.” This is insulting and disgraceful.

Why are school administrators being forced to make these decisions?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, no such communication came from either the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development or either of the two school districts. So I’m not sure where the president of the NLTA is getting that.

The president of the NLTA has also referred to students in combined grades as leftover students. I would never refer to any one child in Newfoundland and Labrador as a leftover. That sort of language is unbecoming of educators; it is unbecoming of our profession.

Our teachers are capable of teaching in multigrade and combined grade classrooms, and that is a fact. The same as teachers in downtown Toronto teach in combined grade classrooms and downtown Edmonton teach in combined grade classrooms. Those are the facts. Let’s have a little bit of respect for the profession and clean the language up here, please.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the Opposition on this side, particularly, respect the education system.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: That’s why we’re responding to the emails we’re getting, the concerns we’re getting from the leaders in the education system.

Mr. Speaker, as many as 2,400 students will be in multigrade classrooms in September. The NLTA is on record stating this move “will not improve student achievements and will be the cause of poor student outcomes.” We know this will increase the workload and stress on teachers.

I ask the minister: Will you put a stop to multigrade classrooms?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we have had multigrade classrooms in Newfoundland and Labrador since the beginning of Newfoundland and Labrador’s schooling system. There were multigrade classrooms, over a hundred of them, in the school system starting last September.

Every year that the previous administration was in power we had somewhere in the order of over 100 multigrade classrooms in Newfoundland and Labrador. So I don’t know why the Member all of a sudden wants to change what has been done in the school system for decades and decades and decades.

The combined grades initiative reflects trends in the rest of Canada whereby we are trying to achieve efficiencies in the teacher allocation formula. Our teachers are qualified to do that. We have confidence in that. Why doesn’t the Member opposite?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, when the Member was in the Opposition and the critic, he wanted to put education forward, move it forward. What he’s now proposing is moving education backward again, Mr. Speaker, not good enough.

I ask the minister: What supports and training will teachers receive to prepare for multi-grade classrooms? What is your plan?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, when I was in Opposition, I was decrying that over a two-year period that previous administration cut no less than 238 teaching positons. That was one of the things I was talking about over there, unlike this year where we are seeing a reduction of just 73 in comparison.

As I said, I have far more confidence in our teachers than the Member opposite does. Many of our teachers have experience teaching in multi-graded classrooms because we have had hundreds of them over the past decade in this province.

Many of them have received professional development training in the area of differentiated instruction, which is key and crucial to teaching in this area. If there is additional professional development, we will see that it is provided. If there is PD needed, we will have it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, it took us a decade to cut the number of teachers that this minister cut in one budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Yesterday the Minister of Education called a news conference to defend the recent announcements –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BRAZIL: – that 54 libraries would close. Instead of saying that he would listen to the concerns of the public, the Minister of Education blamed the media, saying that these people are not getting the full story. This, just days after the Finance Minister said that the people did not understand the budget.

I ask the Premier: Your ministers are not taking responsibility for any of the budget decisions; will you?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I know that the previous minister of Finance, Mr. Wiseman, had some difficulty with math but now it’s obvious that the Member opposite has great difficulty with it as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: He says that over a course of a decade, they didn’t cut as many teachers as we did. In 2013, the previous administration cut 160 positions. In 2015, they cut 78 positions. This year the reduction is 73; 160 plus 78 is greater than 73.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. BRAZIL: The Minister of Education said that he encourages people to send him their feedback, but he also said unequivocally that there will no changes made to the budget for education.

I ask the minister: How are you listening if you’re not willing to make any changes?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I’ve spent hours since the budget was released explaining to people the evidence-based decision making that went into this year’s budget. We’re trying to explain to people, despite all of the sort of overblown, hysterical machinations of the Official Opposition – the Official Opposition likes to take –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: – things and twist them and spin them.

For example, the Member openly admitted he has no idea that we have had hundreds and hundreds of multi-grade classrooms in this province over the course of when they were in Opposition. He’s completely ignorant of that fact. He has no idea of the true nature of the teacher reductions that happened by their own administration. I think you first educate yourself on what you did before you try to start telling us what to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before I recognize the Member, the constant interruption by certain Members during Question Period is unacceptable.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do realize the minister is getting very defensive, particularly something that is overblown by the NLTA, by the Federation of Students unions, by a multitude of parent groups and organizations here, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the hon. Member: Changes are coming to school busing, changes which will impact 30 schools, 17 communities; 37 less buses will be on our roads, which will result in changes to opening and closing times of schools.

I ask the minister: Can he clarify what is your plan for busing in September?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I’ve been waiting for this to come up. Under the previous administration there were regulations imposed on the busing industry in this province that increased the cost of purchasing a bus by tens of thousands of dollars. Previously, bus operators were buying buses in the order of $20,000 and using them for a small number of years. The previous administration insisted on the purchase of buses to the tune of over $100,000 per unit. Well, guess who pays for all of that?

Our busing costs have skyrocketed as a result of the poor administration and management of the previous government. Our busing funding has now gone up to close to $60 million a year because of their decisions. They went in and wrecked it and now we have to pay for it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: So from what I’m hearing here, Mr. Speaker, safety and school bus travel time is not important to that administration over there. Shameful, Mr. Speaker, shameful. No wonder that parents are rightfully concerned.

I ask the minister: Will school-aged children be on the road longer before they arrive in the schools? How does this change reflect the stronger tomorrow for kids that you promised?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the school district has made changes to routes for busing as a result of the skyrocketing cost of busing in this province that was stimulated by changes the previous administration insisted on.

We are spending millions and millions more this year than the previous one on busing contracts that are negotiated with that industry. The school district is trying to grapple with that. As a result, they’re doubling up some runs. We do realize that causes some inconvenience for parents and students but we’re in a difficult situation and we simply don’t have millions of dollars to pay for the errors made by the previous government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Municipalities have been given a one-year reprieve before libraries are closed.

I ask the minister: How many of the 25 municipalities have been asked to make decisions on future operations of the libraries in their towns?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, this government has come to the realization – in collaboration with the public libraries board – that the libraries we’re going to need into the future are far different than the ones that we’ve needed in the past.

Twenty-five of the libraries in this province that are operated by municipalities, we will have communication in those instances. We will have collaboration with communities. We are hoping that over the course of the next year municipalities will have an opportunity to take on the operations of community libraries, if they choose.

In the meantime, the public libraries board is going to be working on the development of 41 regional libraries to create a more robust service, rather than the withering one that the previous administration resided over.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I wonder is the minister listening, actually listening to the people who use these libraries?

Mr. Speaker, municipalities were pleased to see the funding that we put in place last year remain the same in the budget.

I ask the minister: Are you asking municipalities to spend this funding to keep their libraries open?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The question is: Was there ever any request to municipalities to take funding from the MOGs? The answer is absolutely, no.

What we will do, we will deal with municipalities because we know this is a service in a lot of municipalities that a lot of people want in their communities. Municipalities have contacted me already and said: What can we do to help with this? How can we help with these services?

So for the Member to suggest that there’s any form of forcing municipalities to take any part of their MOG is absolutely false, absolutely incorrect. It was never discussed by me or any official in our department.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, municipalities run their budgets on no deficits at all. So they had the funding allocated. How are they going to pay for it? There’s added funding to come here.

Most municipalities are paying for heat and light, cleaning, snow clearing and in some cases, like the Town of Pouch Cove, the town also contributes $8,200 to an after school program in library hours.

I ask the minister: How can you expect municipalities to pay more when they’re already doing their part?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The idea is that over the next year 25 municipally located libraries will have an opportunity to be transferred to the local level. That may be municipalities in some cases may choose to operate them themselves. In other instances that may be local groups, community groups, service groups. We’re not sure.

We are ensuring that over the transitional period that individual plans are put in place that respect the individual unique circumstances in our municipalities in our communities and all of the strong ties that we are aware that are associated with these library facilities in communities. None of that is lost on the government, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

What is lost on this government is the amount of money that municipalities will now have to come up with to keep these libraries going. These libraries are important services in rural Newfoundland, and I talked to all the rural MHAs. In rural Newfoundland there are seniors, young people using these services.

How can we expect municipalities that are struggling in rural Newfoundland to come with more money to keep a service that all their residents want?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I find this kind of odd, the fear mongering with the municipalities. Mr. Speaker, fear mongering with the municipalities, giving them some impression that we’re going to force them to take on an extra load. This is consultation.

I noticed the Member, Mr. Speaker, hasn’t talked about the $350 million extra for capital works that is going to be in municipalities. He hasn’t talked about the funding ratio that stayed in place. He hasn’t talked about how many municipalities – the president of MNL is thanking the government for all the work they’ve done because rural Newfoundland is going to be stronger with all the money that’s going to be put into water and sewer through capital works, through infrastructure. You haven’t mentioned anything like that because all he wants to do is fear monger.

Shame on the Member I say, Mr. Speaker. Let us have the consultation with the Members. Let us have a consultation with the councils. Let’s sit down and let’s all work together. Let’s not be heavy handed like the previous government did with many municipalities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in an April 9 interview the Minister of Finance stated: every decision we make will impact somebody somewhere and probably not in a good way. There are many people who would like to learn the true impacts on the Liberal’s tax and fee hikes on our bottom line

I’ll say to the minister: Why not develop an online calculator where people of all incomes could determine how the budget impacts them including all taxes, fees and the Liberal levy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the government announced the new online calculator for low-income residents, which is a user-friendly way for determining the approximate benefit that those low-income seniors would receive as part of the Newfoundland and Labrador Income and enhanced Seniors’ Benefit that we announced in Budget 2016; $63.7 million in the new Income Supplement and $12.7 million in the enhanced Seniors’ Benefit.

The tool we launched yesterday will help those low-income residents estimate how much money they will receive quarterly. In addition, online we have also posted how the supplement and the Seniors’ Benefit will be paid, and we’ve also posted information about the temporary deficit levy.

I look forward to another question, Mr. Speaker.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

The Liberals speaking points are changing on a daily basis in regard to this budget. They’ve said that people don’t understand. They’ve said the media don’t get it. Just yesterday they blamed the Opposition parties for not explaining their budget. They have no plan, no vision, no focus on the people who elected them. It’s time to show some leadership, some flexibility, and respond to what people are asking for.

I ask the Premier: Will you listen as you promised to do? Will you reconvene your team of leaders and revisit this budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the comments made yesterday, particularly those around the Opposition, were really about not putting out some of the other information that was in this budget that the Opposition is quite aware of. As a matter of fact, it was the Opposition who even refused to come and get a briefing session on some of the important elements around this budget. Things like the Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement where there is over $74 million available to help low-come families. Things like the $570 million in infrastructure spending that’s included in this budget. There are many other things.

Also, Mr. Speaker, the fact around the levy. It is a temporary levy. One that as soon as we are in a financial situation – the plan is already in place, that’s been outlined in this budget. It is a temporary levy, one thing the Opposition has refused to continue to discuss.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I remind the Premier, it’s not our job to sell their budget. It’s the people of the province who are having difficulty understanding this, and, as well, the media are having difficulty. They’re the ones who need the briefing from the government.

The Minister of Finance, herself, seemed caught off guard yesterday when asked by the media: Who will actually benefit from her own budget? She said it was difficult to know, but that those most vulnerable will be protected. She went on to say she wasn’t sure if it was one or 100 or 1,000 people who would be better off. She had no way of knowing.

I ask the Premier: When your own caucus is having problems explaining your budget, how do you expect the people of the province to make sense of the choices that you’ve made?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, there are 424,000 tax filers in our province. Every single one of those tax filers has a unique set of circumstances as to how they would be paying taxes and also how they would be consuming products that would incur consumption taxes.

It would be impossible for a province the size of ours to create a tool that would provide an example of every single tax filer. What we have done, as I said in the media yesterday, we have provided clarity with the Newfoundland Income Supplement Calculator so individuals who are the lowest income people can understand what they’re going to get, and we’ve also provided all the information in tax tables so everybody else can see the information as well, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m trying to tell the Premier that it’s the people of the province who are having difficulty understanding the budget, Mr. Speaker. The minister can get up and give us all the facts and figures here in the House, invite us over for briefings, but it’s the people of the province who are having difficulty understanding the mixed messages that are coming from your government.

The current Premier, he has told the people that we have a plan and the people are going to like it.

So I say to the Premier, I spoke to a lady today who just barely gets by, a senior lady. She doesn’t quality for the low income supplement that you rave about and she’s in fear of paying her bills. She’s looking for some reason to feel that she’s going to be okay.

So I ask the Premier: You’re on the record as stating that all seniors will be better off in your budget, so what’s in it for this lady?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well if the former Premier didn’t know the answer to that I would encourage the lady to call our office and we will go through the options and the services that available to someone in her position.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition.

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

Mr. Speaker, the point is that people don’t understand. It’s not about me telling her who to call. They’re not getting the message, Premier. They’re not understanding how they’re going to benefit from this budget.

The minister spent days and days and days telling people there was something bad for everyone in the budget, and now you’ve switched and said no, it’s a good budget. People are confused by this.

Mr. Speaker, they’re angry. They feel personally betrayed by this Liberal government. The Liberal sold people what many considered a fairy-tale, a bunch of magic beans and the Liberals told the people no tax increases, no layoffs, no hardships and a stronger tomorrow. People can’t find any of that, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier campaigned on the only thing he’ll eliminate was waste. Teacher cuts, health care workers, eliminating 40 long-term care beds, is this all the waste that you said you were going to eliminate, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the former Premier knows very well that the numbers that he had access to long before the election, refused to share them with the information – I would like to ask the former Premier why is it that he held onto that information. As a matter of fact, the information in his own election platform that he campaigned on, that the NDP campaigned on, the numbers were wrong when you released your platform and the former Premier knew the numbers were wrong at the time and yet refused to make them public. I’d like to ask the former Premier why he did not let the people know that during your election.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

If hon. Members in this House want to be recognized by the Speaker, I’m asking you to respect the person that the Speaker has recognized to speak, whether it’s a question or an answer. If Members continue and persist in interrupting when another Member is speaking they will not be recognized by the Speaker.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

I appreciate that.

Mr. Speaker, last year in our budget we laid it out for the people of the province the circumstances we faced. We were going into a budget, we’re saying we were going to increase taxes, we’re going to reduce services and programs and public service. We went to an election saying we had to make hard decisions. Much unlike what the Members opposite who promised the world to the people of the province. They sold them a bill of goods, Mr. Speaker, is what they did. They sold them a bill of goods.

Last night, Mr. Speaker, right here in this House the Minister of Education well we saw what I think was a meltdown. It was a temper tantrum at the very least. He thumped his fist on the table and he stated no matter what he is going to cancel leases on the regional library in Conception Bay South and the regional library in Corner Brook if it was the last thing that he did.

Mr. Premier, I’ll ask you this: Do you support this type of behaviour by the Ministers of the Crown that represent you? Do you support the closures of these regional libraries? It is clear-

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well speaking about poor behaviour. Last year during the budget that the former premier just mentioned he outlined a plan for the province. His plan that he said was the way forward for Newfoundland and Labrador. Well his plan last year said that this year there would be less than $900 million in the deficit. In less than one year, in one year under his plan it would have been $2.7 billion.

Mr. Speaker, that’s a big miss. That miss would have led to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in just seven years owing for every man, woman and child nearly $53,000 per person. That’s the plan that the former premier is trying to defend. He wanted the biggest industry in our province to be one paying interest on the miss failures and the mismanagement of his administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I’m pleased to see that the Premier did not defend the minister’s behaviour here in the House last night. I would suggest to the Premier that investing in libraries and in literacy is a much wiser investment than paying upwards of $500 per hour for external legal and communications council. I think that would be a better investment.

I ask the Minister of Education: When you flip-flopped on your decision last night did you include this reduction in your budget? Was this part of your budget plan or did you just make this decision up last night based on the emotions we saw in the House of Assembly yesterday?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I was emotional in the House of Assembly last night because of Members opposite and individuals referring to children with special education needs as leftovers. As I said last night I will not stand for children with disabilities being referred to in that way, and discussions in this House of Assembly about the good students and then the leftovers. I’m not going to stand for that.

I apologize to the Member – who I didn’t see him over there last night paying attention to me. I apologize if he was upset about what I said.

What I said last night was that we had two library operations that had a negligible charge to government, and then the previous administration entered into agreements to the tune of over $200,000 per library.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, since the budget the Minister of Education confirmed to me, in a conversation we had, that he was committed to the library in CBS. CBS must be part of our regional system.

He confirmed the funding was committed to. He went so far as to say you can publicly say that the minister – he spoke to the minister and he is committed to the project and funding. Feel free to tell whoever.

I ask the minister: Why the change? What happened last night? Why the flip-flop?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we are committed to maintaining the library in Conception Bay South. There’s no question about that. I spoke to the mayor about that several times, including today. That’s not the problem.

The problem with the CBS Library proposal that was basically endorsed by the Education minister of the day is that the previous operation, the lease cost zero because it was in a municipal building. The lease that the previous government endorsed is 25 years, $230,000 a year; from zero a year to $230,000 a year locked in for 25 years. That’s the lease arrangement that they want for CBS. The mayor himself has more or less said we can find a better deal than that for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PETTEN: Mr. Speaker, two regional libraries the minister has targeted, CBS and Corner Brook – because he left out Corner Brook, he’s not alluding to that one. The regional library system that he’s proposing would serve one-fifth of the population upwards of probably 100,000 people.

The minister has touted the regional library system, yet now he says he’s going to close down – his quote today is a bit different than what he said last night. He was pretty good last night in his tantrum. If it’s the last thing he ever does he was going to do that. I had to listen again this morning, Mr. Speaker, to make sure I had his facts right.

So I ask the minister: It’s a bit of a change in tone today, but how can you eliminate two libraries when you’re saying regional libraries are the future of the province? That’s not what you said last night.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, let’s just recap here. I did not say that. The Member for Mount Pearl North took to twitter spreading false information about what was said here in the House of Assembly and I ask anybody to review the record. That’s the Member for Mount Pearl North’s record of behaviour around this budget. So that’s not true.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the problem with the Corner Brook situation is that the previous library was in government owned space that cost nothing additional to the people of the province. The minister in that government put us into a situation where we’re paying now over $200,000 a year in a 20-year lease. That’s what they endorsed. There’s a problem with this. We went from zero in both instances to almost one-half million dollars.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals promised us to diversify the economy. We’ve been reviewing the budget estimates over the past couple of weeks and we haven’t seen any economic diversification revenue budget in current for future years. The only revenue the Liberals will generate is from the pockets of the people through taxes and fees.

So I ask the Premier: When will we see your heralded plan to generate revenue, or is it simply to take the lazy way out and continue to tax, tax and more tax?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you,

Speaking of the lazy route, the route that this former administration had this province on which would have led to an unprecedented amount of borrowing, 66 years since Confederation, $12.4 billion in debt accumulated during that 66 years, that would have doubled, doubled under your borrowing strategy. Is that what you call economic diversification, go to the banks and find which one has got a diversified portfolio that you can borrow more money from?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the question was about his plan and what he was going to do so from his answer there’s no revenues for economic diversification from the plan, so he’s answered the question. Alarming!

Mr. Speaker, frustration is building as people do not understand the Liberal budget choices. The Minister of Finance is having trouble explaining the budget to the people of the province. Yesterday, in a media scrum the minister could not identify who would benefit from the budget.

I ask the minister: What groups are better off and how many people are doing better based on your calculations?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I think there are many people in this province who are learning the hard reality of this budget in the context of what would have happened had we not taken action. We are spending more than we have, we are borrowing the most we have in our history and our costs and our risks of borrowing are greater than any province in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, this week and up to the budget and since then, we have had individuals who have reached out and said the people they want to make sure don’t bear the burden of the mistakes of the former administration are the ones in future generations that they would like to punt this problem to.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister isn’t able to tell us who’s going to benefit so I’ll ask her this: If she doesn’t know who’s going to be affected, how can her revenue projections in her budget, based on the levy, income tax and other taxes in the budget be accurate when she doesn’t know who’s being affected and negatively affected and what the revenue generation is going to be? How is your budget going to be accurate?

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we realize that this budget is a very difficult budget for the people of the province. There’s no doubt about that. Nobody in this House is ever going to argue that fact. The reality is that had we done nothing, our province would have been faced with significant risks to be able to finance the critical services that we have to offer.

Mr. Speaker, the Members opposite continue to not acknowledge the reality of the very difficult fiscal situation that we are in. We invested $74 million to ensure that the most vulnerable in our province are protected as part of this budget. We will continue to make decisions on how to continue to mitigate those things as time progresses, but we will not kick the can into the future and put our province at risk of other crises.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: No answer again, Mr. Speaker. She’s preparing a budget and she doesn’t know what the impact to people is going to be based on the rates and additional fees they brought in. We should be good later in the year when they’re trying to figure out how they’re balancing their budget or where they’re to with it.

Mr. Speaker, a single 22-year-old working mother with a young son tells me with the increases in home and automobile insurance, increasing gas, no Home Heating Rebate and all the other taxes and fees, even without including the Liberal levy, she will lose at least $100 a month to her and her son to live.

I ask the minister: Is this mother and her son in the group that is doing better?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, without knowing the exact information for that tax filer – as I said earlier there are 424,000 tax filers in the province. What I can assure that mother is that this government is making sure that her young child doesn’t bear a burden in debt in the province that would be equal to $53,000 per person. That’s what I can assure that mother.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This budget is supposed to be able people – closing schools, increasing the number of multi-grade classrooms, larger classes, less teachers, fewer programs and now cutting busing for children.

I say to the minister: The NLTA has lost confidence in you, teachers have lost confidence in you, parents and students have lost confidence in you and recent leaks suggest your own caucus has lost confidence in you. People are outraged.

Will you revisit the devastating, ill-informed choices you have made?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: I’ll tell you what they don’t have any confidence in, Mr. Speaker, is anything that Member says about education in this province.

Yesterday, he stood up in the House of Assembly and said: Will you put a stop to multi-grade classrooms?

Newfoundland and Labrador has had multi-grade classrooms since the inception of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have over 100 of them in this province today. We had over 100 of them every year that the previous administration was in power. We’re going to have 170 of them in September, that’s not including the combined-grade initiative.

Yesterday, he asked about getting rid of them. The cost associated with what he’s asking for, that basically have classes with one student in it and one teacher, in many instances, the price tag on that is $46 million for an additional 500 teachers and an additional 500 classrooms. We don’t even know the cost of the infrastructure of what he’s asking for.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: So, Mr. Speaker, his answer is he is going to continue to devastate the education system in this province. Shocking!

Mr. Speaker, we support full-day kindergarten; however, we question proceeding in September when grades one to 12-aged children will be negatively impacted by these budget cuts.

Will the minister inform the people how he supports choices which negatively impact kids currently in the education system?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the previous administration two years ago – over two years ago now – made a commitment to full-day kindergarten that we are going to honour.

Thirty million dollars was put aside. Much of that work was underway by the time we took office, some 100 renovations to classrooms across the province. I think it was done by them because they believe we should invest in our children, but I don’t know based on what the Member just said if he still believes that. We believe we need to catch up with the rest of Canada and make necessary investments in the youngest generation, our smaller children. That’s what we trying to do here.

We know none of this is really easy. These decisions are very difficult but we make them to make better use of the finances we have – the limited tax dollars we have – in the best interest of children.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

There are significant changes coming to busing in September. I’ve received emails and calls all morning. While the minister may consider these concerns nonsense – he just talked about small children. Small children will be put out in the dark in the winter months.

Minister, one parent wants to know when are you going to stop messing with our children and how is this a stronger tomorrow that you promised?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the cost of busing in Newfoundland and Labrador skyrocketed under the previous administration. That was something they presided over, making changes that resulted in skyrocketing costs. We’ll spend millions more in the next school year than we did in the current one because of skyrocketing operating costs. We know that there’s going to be difficulty in making changes for people.

We already have double bus runs in this province and many children are already, under the previous administration, bused over great distance to get to school. That’s the challenge that we’re trying to meet and we are again providing additional millions of dollars this year for busing so I can’t see how the Member can say that. That’s not nonsense, that’s a fact.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, what is nonsense, he won’t listen to the parent’s concerns. No listening, that is what the nonsense is because parents do have concerns. Parents are concerned about the change in the bus schedule. One parent wrote that her son babysits her younger daughter after school and the changes happening will cost her $100 more a week.

For a government that expects families to pay additional costs on top of all the new taxes and ridiculous fees, why are you changing these schedules at the detriment of hardworking families with school aged children?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, here lies the sort of contradiction in what the Opposition is saying. This Member says he’s concerned about additional costs that he alleges is going to be borne by parents. The Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island who spoke about full-day kindergarten, now wanting to cancel that has no consideration whatsoever on the impact of parents who planned for that over the past two years, does not care at all.

Those parents are emailing me saying thank God the government is continuing along with that initiative. We know the busing changes are difficult. There is no question about that. The school district is going to continue to work with school councils to come up with reasonable solutions to our problems but basically we cannot continue to pour money into busing the way that it has been done. We need to make changes.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, what I’m hearing is absolutely ridiculous. Will you listen to the parents? Will you listen to a parent that has to put a young child out for a bus at 7:20 in the morning in the dark, that’s terrible. Small children and changes that are being made.

Mr. Speaker, we’re getting many calls about this bus schedule. You know I’d like to ask the minister.

I’d like to ask the minister: Can he inform the House –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I’ve asked Members for their co-operation. I’m restarting the clock for the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much.

Again, Mr. Speaker, I’m asking on behalf of the parents in my district. That’s what they elected me to do, to ask the questions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: Their questions are not nonsense. They’re good questions that they’re asking because they’re concerned about their children. You mightn’t be. We’re getting many calls about the bus schedule.

I’ll ask the minister: Will he inform this House which schools will be impacted and will he table these changes?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the school district has communicated this information to parents. If the Member wants that I can certainly give him the number or I can call the school district and ask them to send it over to me or I can get it from my office. He can easily get that information. He doesn’t need it tabled here in the House of Assembly at all.

I say to the Member he stands up there and he gets this diatribe. How many students is he aware of today, before these changes, that have to go to school at that hour and get picked up? Does he even know?

He has no idea that this exists in communities across Newfoundland and Labrador today. So why are those children that he’s alleging he is concerned about – why is it that he is not concerned about the others? I never, ever heard that Member get up here and complain about that before.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I understand the president of the Canadian Bar Association – Newfoundland and Labrador Branch has written the minister following the announcement of the closures of courts in Grand Bank, Grand Falls-Windsor, Harbour Grace-Carbonear and Wabush in Western Labrador. Those who practice family law are particularly concerned.

I ask the minister: Are you concerned your actions will add additional stress to women and children who need access to the justice system?

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

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

I certainly did receive a letter from Mr. Scruton with the Canadian Bar Association, which I certainly expected, because his job as the local president of the Canadian Bar Association is to be in correspondence with me with issues that affect the members of the bar in this province. I’ve already had meetings with Mr. Scruton as well.

These were actions that certainly weren’t taken lightly; actions that when you are thinking about things like access to justice, you always have to be concerned.

What I will say is in many cases the increased commute that may be faced by certain people is actually less than that which is already faced by many people in this province.

Again, we will continue to work with the judiciary and court administration and any individual that’s concerned to ensure that we minimize any disruption.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I ask the minister: Who did you consult with before deciding to close these courts? Was the Canadian Bar Association consulted specifically on the closure of these courts?

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

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

This was a decision that was discussed with a number of individuals; however, I did not discuss this with the president of the Canadian Bar Association. Again, this was a precedent though that was followed by the previous administration which consulted with nobody when they closed courts over the last number of years.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

So you only consulted internally I think is what he is saying. But he can explain that further at any time that he wishes.

Mr. Speaker, I’d like to ask the Minister of Health: How many people availed of the adult dental program last year?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question.

Mr. Speaker, I will get that number for the next sitting and report it in Answers on that occasion, I don’t happen to have it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but maybe the minister is aware then, what is the number of people who will not be able to access the service this year compared to last year as a result of the budget cuts? I’m sure he must have done the analysis and he’s have that information.

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

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

My understanding of the dental plan coverage going forward is that there are currently 1,600 people left in the system from last year. They will be accommodated and we hope to clear the backlog left by the previous process which really wasn’t much of a process at all.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, so there are a number of people that applied last year, didn’t get the service. The service is now eliminated instead of being improved upon if there are issues has now been eliminated. I know that during the debate and discussions when this new program was developed that Members opposite who were in Opposition at the time clearly talked about the importance to people’s health and how this would benefit their health.

I ask the minister: What will be the impacts overall on the health of people who can no longer access this service?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
The people on the current foundation plan to which there has been no change will still have access to the dental program. As regards, his other question in terms of the general health of the teeth of the population we are working with the dental association and currently the situation as regards to the adult program is confined to the foundation plan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well I think we were all in agreement back when this was being discussed in the House in the past, the Liberals when they were in Opposition, us in government that improving people’s oral health and dental health improves their own general health and wellbeing.

My question to the minister is: If people can’t access dental health and many won’t be able to access dental health now that the coverage has been discontinued, what will be the impacts on their own health, their general health and wealth and wellbeing?

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

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

The Adult Dental plan in its previous iteration was introduced at a time of plenty. That time has long since passed. Opportunities for investment in health at that stage have disappeared. The money has vanished. On a go-forward basis we have taken a decision, a difficult one but a necessary one, to streamline adult dental care in line with other jurisdictions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, I trust that the minister will provide that information at the earliest opportunity. The Pharmacists’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as many community groups, are questioning the government’s decision to make changes to the Prescription Drug Program. They weren’t consulted.

Can the minister provide for this House a list of the drugs no longer covered under the Prescription Drug Program. Can he explain what the impact will be on seniors and on low-income individuals?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Certainly, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much for the question. The changes to the Prescription Drug Program under the NLPDP are again taken in line with those from other jurisdictions. We have had a very generous plan.

Specifically to the Member’s question about a list of medications that will no longer be covered under the over-the-counter arrangement, I’d be happy to provide that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, people living in personal care homes in this province used to have coverage for all their medications. This has now been stripped from them. They only receive $150 monthly for personal use. Many won’t be able to afford the drugs they need. Doctors will be forced to prescribe alternatives.

I ask the minister: How will this result in any real savings to the system?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The comments about folk in long-term care being stripped of their drugs are somewhat hyperbole. That is not the case. There has been some adjustment to over-the-counter medications in line with other jurisdictions. That is entirely consistent with practices in other provinces.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, Aspirin, pain medications, various vitamin supplements, creams and ointments, the list goes on and on; over-the-counter medications that were once covered are now the full responsibility of seniors and low-income individuals. The minister knows full well that this will be impossible for some people and the result will be medications not being taken.

I ask the minister: What do you have to say to seniors and low-income families who will no longer be able to get over-the-counter medications they require?

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

MR. HAGGIE: Again, Mr. Speaker, thank you for the question.

The premise on which that question is based is actually inaccurate. The bottom line is that medically necessary drugs will be available to people in long-term care, have always been available to long-term care. That will not change.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, perhaps they’re upset because they don’t want to hear the truth. It’s right in the budget documents: “Remove the NL Provincial Drug Program coverage for over the counter drugs/services ….” We’re not talking about long-term care homes; we’re talking about personal care homes.

The hits to the most vulnerable in our province continue. The long-term care private pay rate will increase by $190 a month on July 1, making the monthly rate $2,990.

I ask the minister: What do you have to say to the residents and families who can’t afford this rate hike? Why is this government making so many moves that hurt our most vulnerable people in Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

In 1986 the rate for care was $1,510. It represented 70 per cent of the cost of a long-term care bed. It was last altered in 1996 and has not changed since then. The $190 increment this year is an increase in line with the Canadian price index and brings the cost of a long-term care bed to 30 per cent of cost recovery. The average cost is $10,000 per month, the payment is $2,990.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On classroom cap size can the minister confirm that under certain circumstances additional students can be added to classrooms? Can he confirm that the number of students in an elementary classroom in September could be as high as 30 or more?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the size of classrooms in schools is determined on an individual school-by-school, class-by-class basis. That is the nature of the teacher allocation formula.

The teacher allocation information has been provided to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and the French school district. They are in the process now of deploying those teaching units across the system.

Where there are instances where the number of students doesn’t exactly fit the cap, administrators will make determinations as to whether or not it is to the benefit of students to be placed in a certain classroom or not. It’s not as clear cut as the Member suggests. I suggest he read up on it a bit.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thirty or more elementary children in a classroom will compromise access to education.

I ask the minister: Yes or no, will there be classrooms in September that could have 30 or more children cramped in one classroom? Yes or no, Mr. Minister.

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the soft class size cap that we have now, between that and the soft class size cap that the previous administration presided over for a period of 12 years. It’s highly interesting that I hear this Member talking about that because for the entire time that he sat over on this side of the House there was not a single murmur from Members opposite when they were increasing the class size as to that was somehow detrimental to student achievement.

Class size caps aren’t the solution to all problems in our schools and that’s why we have added special education teachers this year. We have added student assisted time. We have not touched specialist positions at all, unlike the Members opposite who cut that down to the bone.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, I remind the minister it was this administration that invested more into the school systems in new schools, in reducing cap size and in special services to the students of this province.

I ask the minister: Did you consult with the NLTA before you made cuts to education-

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BRAZIL: Did you consult with anyone for that matter?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we did the same sort of consultation on this budget that the previous administration did on all the budgets that they produced.

He says that they put more funding into et cetera, et cetera. Over the course of three budget cycles in just two years, that administration cut 238 positons from the school system and they claimed that that would not cause a single iota of hardship for anyone by doing it.

I know that there are challenges in the school system as a result of the changes that have been made this year. I’m not going to stand here and deny it like all of the Progressive Conservative predecessors who sat here did.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: So obviously the minister didn’t consult the NLTA and I’ll ask once again:

Will there be 30 or more elementary children cramped into some school classrooms?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, as I tried to explain before I don’t think the Member was listening to what I was saying. The teacher allocation formula has been – the information has been transmitted to schools. We are currently in the process of deploying, the districts are currently in the processing of deploying those resources.

I have not seen any indication at all, at this point, come across my desk that what the Member is suggesting is going to happen. He can fear monger all he wants. Schools do the best they can with the resources that they are provided. They will do that this September, as they did in all the years the previous administration was there.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Obviously, with the minister’s answer there, he hasn’t consulted with anybody. I think he should go out and talk to some of the administrators because that’s the fear that’s out there right now, when they’re trying to crunch their numbers.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BRAZIL: I ask the minister: How will combined-grade classrooms be determined? A random draw? Left to principals and teachers? Will parents have a say this time?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the combined-grades initiative is basically adopting a practice that’s in place in many other provinces in Canada and schools all around the world. It’s an attempt to more efficiently make use of the few resources we have. They have been vastly diminished as a result of the damage that was done to the Treasury by the previous administration.

As the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has pointed out, they will be providing guidelines for administrators for making those sorts of determinations, but unlike the Members opposite, from what I’ve been hearing the past few days, we support the principle of inclusive education.

We continue to uphold that value in our school system. That’s how all of the classes in our schools are going to be determined. We’re not going to be basing it on Member’s notion of good students and those with needs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, obviously, multi-grade classrooms are offered in smaller schools with declining enrollment. In larger schools, with an increased enrolment, they are some challenges here. That’s been said to us by administrations. It’s been said by member for the NLTA and being said by parents.

Again, I ask the minister: What are you doing to ensure teachers will have training to move into multi-grade classrooms?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, currently – prior to the implementation of the combined-grades initiative – there are 172 multi-grade classrooms across this province. So I don’t know what the Member is suggesting about the nature of those multi-grade classrooms and those teachers. I want to make that straight first.

I was on Cross Talk today with the president of the NLTA. We had a good debate about this issue. I’ve made it very clear that we’ll have a comprehensive learning program in place – a training program – for professional development for teachers. Teachers will get professional development on this.

Many of our teachers already have professional development in the area of differentiated instructed which is highly important in this area. Also, many of them have experience in multi-grade classrooms because have had hundreds of them for years.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Obviously, it is evident what this is here is just an exercise in meeting their budget needs and their budget cuts at the expense of education in this province, Mr. Speaker. It’s shameful.

I ask the minister: Will you meet with schools, teachers and administrators who have many questions about how choices will impact their school children? You’ve had one conversation with the NLTA. Will you meet with the other stakeholders?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, as I have since I was appointed these ministerial duties, I’ll continue to meet with stakeholder groups. I’ve met with practically all of them since I took this position.

It’s interesting, after I was on Crosstalk today I very quickly got an email from the former President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador saying I don’t agree with some of the things in the budget, but I certainly support multi-grading and I know that it works, I have experience with it. So the former President of his Party agrees with it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Cape St. Francis.

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

Mr. Speaker, 30 schools in 17 communities, resulting in 37 fewer bus runs servicing the students of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I ask the minister: When will the parents be told what are the impacts of these new bussing plans?

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

MR. KIRBY: Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I thought I was up.

In case, Mr. Speaker, I we have had double bus runs in this province for some time and we know that, that does present additional challenges for parents. The school district is trying to find the best way to apportion the bussing resources that we have. We are investing millions of dollars in funding into bussing because the price of bussing has skyrocketed, its increasing on an annual basis. That’s the reason why we have double bus runs. That means there will be earlier pickups in some cases and later drop offs in the evening in others, but that’s nothing something that people across this province are unaccustomed to. That is a practise that has been in place for some and under the previous administration in fact.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, the question was when will parents be notified about the changes in bus routes so they can be prepared for it? Is there something they can go online? Is there some information out there that they can find so they’ll know?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite is just as capable of calling the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District to get that information as I am. Parents are getting that information from the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District as that information is provided to schools. Parents will have ample time. What is it? Today is May 5, parents will have ample time, ample notification to know in advance of the school year whether they are impacted in any way by the double bus runs that are as a result of the skyrocketing costs of budgeting in this province. That is a simple fact. I can’t give the Member any more information. Parents will be given the information they need in due course.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: I ask the minister: Will they be consulted or can he name who will be consulted on these decisions?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, parents will be consulted on the apportionment of busing funds and basically the specific bus runs, the routes and the schedules. They will be consulted on that exactly the same way they were consulted on that when the Members over there sat over here. Exactly the same process for consulting with parents about school busing will be followed as it was when those Members were over here for over a decade.

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Obviously, Mr. Speaker, he’s not going to consult with anyone.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

MR. K. PARSONS: You’re not going to consult with anyone.

The Minister of Finance said that in order for a person to pay an extra thousand dollars for insurance they would have to have a half a million dollar home, boats, cars and an RV. Mr. Speaker, I spoke to a family in my district who have two cars, an average-sized home, with kids that are 17 and 18 living at home, one in post-secondary education but both of them are driving, that will cost them an extra thousand dollars for their insurance.

I ask the Premier: Will you replace the Minister of Finance with someone who understands how the average family lives in Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I really appreciate the opportunity to answer the question. The former administration, as we all know through many years, had a revolving door of new ministers in the Department of Finance and many other departments that we’ve seen in this government.

What the Minister of Finance was referring to when she made the comment would be around someone that would have an insurance bill somewhere in the vicinity of around $7,000 per year. That’s how the number of $1,000 – that was the calculation as was done.

To your question about replacing the Minister of Finance, no, that is not something right now that the Minister of Finance right now – this has been a very difficult budget. She has worked extremely hard. She has been –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: She has been working extremely hard on behalf of this government with all of us. There is no intention at all of replacing the Minister of Finance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question, I ask: Can the minister confirm your government has made a decision to spend $750,000 this year on a study to build a tunnel to connect the Great Northern Peninsula to Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Part of the budget that we put in place on April 14 – part of that was about the fixed link between Labrador and the Island portion. It’s part of getting the evidence that’s required to make the long-term decisions for our province.

This is connectivity; this is about putting a reliable transportation link that will include Labrador and the Island portion of the province. As we continue to develop the Trans-Labrador Highway it only makes sense and we before we make long-term decisions on how you put in place an appropriate transportation route it’s important that you get the answers on the fixed link, something I would say that was used in your election platform back in 2003 at some point and then the information was done but really not widely shared with anyone.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess I found out who to speak to.

I ask the Premier: In time of fiscal restraint is this the best time to choose to spend $750,000 on a study?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well it’s like this, the fixed link study for connectivity between Labrador and the Island portion of our province is an important consideration because we will make important decisions that impact not only the people in Labrador but indeed people as goods and services are moved into the Island portion of the province.

It opens up a significant tourism opportunity in our province, what people want. They want certainty when they come and want to experience places like Newfoundland and Labrador. Having that option and getting a good understanding number one of cost and the over impacts that it would have on our province as a whole.

For the Member opposite to simply to say that it is a waste of money, to give the Labrador portion of this province the opportunity to see the advantage of a fixed link.

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 9, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

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

Mr. Speaker, in the budget this year government made choices. Those choices included cuts to health care delivery in Labrador by about $850,000. Now we’ve learned in recent days that government is spending almost the same amount – $750,000 – to hire a consultant to do another study on the likelihood of building a tunnel to connect Labrador with the Island.

I ask the Premier: While you’re cutting health care to Labradorians, how can you justify such a study?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the former premier is indeed right. There were some difficult choices that were made in budget 2016-2017. As a result of that and when you look at opportunities to actually replace revenue in our province, you need to explore what options you have available to us.

The fixed link, I would say to the former premier, is just not about Labrador – although Labrador residents would see a substantial benefit, if indeed a project like this could occur. There are benefits here for all of Newfoundland and Labrador. When we look at the transportation system within our province, having a fixed link in place would mean you had more certainty in the transportation system without delay, and it would bring a huge amount of economic activity just in the social and the economic benefits that such a link – if indeed it can happen in our province.

Before you make decisions on long-term commitments you have to make to things like ferry services, having this information is critical to that decision.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

People who earn between $25,000 and $36,000 a year will pay $300 for the Liberal levy. Now, that means about 2,500 of them – almost the same number of people who visited the front of the Confederation Building here on Saturday – will be paying for the study for a fixed link between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland.

I ask the Premier: What’s your justification for taxing people to pay for yet another study when you’ve made a commitment to reduce hiring consultants for the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, I would just like to remind the former premier the information he just mentioned there about paying $300 for a levy for someone between $20,000 and $30,000 or $35,000, whatever he just mentioned there, is actually not the case. Someone, as an example, at $21,000 – it is taxable income. It’s not total income. Someone at $21,000 of taxable income would actually pay $60, I say to the former premier. We need to get those facts out here.

We’ve put in place a very substantive Income Supplement program to help people on low income and those with disability and our seniors. I remind the former premier, if you want to consider the facts, make sure you put them all out here.

The fixed link in Newfoundland and Labrador would be a big social and economic driver to the future of our province. Making this investment so you can make a decision on how you supply services to Labrador and the services to our province is critical at this time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

That means an even higher number of hard-working, low-income and middle-income families will be paying for the study on the fixed link, Mr. Speaker. That’s what –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I’m resetting the clock for the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

That means, based on what the Premier –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

That means based on what the Premier just said a much higher number of hard-working, low-income Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be contributing to this consultation process to hiring a consultant to do this study; a study that has already been done.

I ask the Premier: While you’re doing a study, is the province in a position to pay for a fixed link today, if the study came back and said it’s going to cost $2 billion or $3 billion or $4 billion? Are you even in a position to consider paying for a link today?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The evidence is quite clear where the former premier stands. It was his administration who actually took the RFP for the updated ferry system off the Straits and in the North Coast of Labrador. So it’s very clear where he stands in supplying services to people in Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, when you look at economic diversification within our province, having certainty around a transportation system, a fixed link, is something we need to be able to answer. How could you ever make a commitment in terms of a ferry for the next 20-25 years in our province without having the one question that everyone that I would speak with in Labrador, they want answered – is a fixed link available for the next generation of Labradorians, for the next generation of Newfoundlanders? It’s a question that deserves to be answered. It would have an economic impact and a social impact on Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I wonder what the people in Labrador are thinking about when they’re cutting health care to Labradorians. That’s what we’ve heard from people over the last few days, is that they’re cutting health care to Labradorians. People who live in remote and small populations which have great expense to achieve health care and to obtain health care, and the cost is going to get higher for them now, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, while the Justice Minister declined comment when he was asked by the media, perhaps the Premier can let the people of the province know his intentions regarding the $32,000 recommended pay increase for provincial court judges?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

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

I am certainly happy to stand here and speak to the recommendations made by the Wicks tribunal, which, as most people should know, was submitted to my office in December; a resolution tabled in this House in March; and we have 30 sitting days of the House in which to propose the resolution on whether we accept, reject or change the recommendations made by the tribunal.

Now, everybody should know that this is an independent process that’s done, and we talk about judicial independence. Certainly we have some serious concerns about the tribunal’s recommendations but, again, we will be factoring everything in, looking at what’s going on in other provinces as well, and we’ll certainly be tabling that resolution for debate by all Members in this House before June 1.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, the budget is top of mind for people in the province today.

So I’ll ask the Premier this: Does your budget include an amount that would budget the increased pay that’s been recommended by this report? Is that included in your budget? Is there retroactive pay included in the budget? How are you going to pay for this?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

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

Again, we are standing here speaking to the recommendations made by an independent tribunal. I know there is obviously serious concern out there, people hearing this and wondering about it. And sure, the Leader of the Official Opposition has expressed his concern, but what I find interesting is that the work that was done in this tribunal and the submission was made was actually done in May of 2015.

So my question for the Leader of the Official Opposition is: If you were so concerned, why did you offer a 5 per cent raise back in May of 2015?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

The question was have they budgeted this year for this increase? The minister hasn’t answered it. If they’ve budgeted for it they’ve made a decision to give the increase. If you haven’t budgeted for it, the question would be then how are they going to pay for that.

So minister, maybe you can try again: Have you budgeted for this increase? If you haven’t and the increase is passed by the House, how do you intend to pay for it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m happy to stand here and speak to these recommendations, which the hearings were held back in May of 2015. We obviously have a concern here. This is something that’s done by an independent tribunal, as has been done in the past. Again, depending on the resolution that’s put forward here – and I will express the fact that we have serious concerns about the tribunal’s recommendations and we’ll put forward a resolution knowing full well, though, that we have to take everything very seriously.

Again, I say to the Member opposite, he’s very concerned now but it was his government that provided a 27 per cent increase in judicial salaries over the last 10 years, not including the 5 per cent raise that he recommended in May.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we know that the intensive core French program for grade six students will be reduced in many schools: Mary Queen of Peace, Holy Trinity, Beachy Cove and others.

I ask the minister: What do you say to children who won’t be able to participate in the intensive core French program in September because of your budget choices?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, according to the Schools Act in this province, we have a responsibility for ensuring that students have all of the courses that are needed by them to meet graduation requirements. Intensive core French is an optional program; an optional program that I would say that many of the Members in the House of Assembly, many of the students in their districts have no access to at all. It’s not a program that’s universally offered in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a result of the budget this year, the English School District has decided that they will no longer be providing partial teacher allocations for part classes of the optional intensive core French program.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BRAZIL: So the minister doesn’t see the value of core French, and it’s his decisions that have forced administrators into that corner where they had to make decisions around the quality of education.

What do you say to families of Vanier and other schools whose music and gym programs will be reduced because of your budget choices? Are parents’ concerns the nonsense you’ve spoken about?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, What I’ve said to parents who’ve contacted me is that the English School District will no longer be providing a full teacher allocation for partial classes of the optional intensive core French program.

The optional intensive core French program is not accessed by many of the children in Newfoundland and Labrador represented by Members in the House of Assembly here. It is an optional program that is not part of the core graduation requirement.

MR. K. PARSONS: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KIRBY: If the Member for Cape St. Francis doesn’t want to hear the answer than don’t ask the questions, I suggest.

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

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, from what I understand from the minister, because we can’t offer the program to everybody, nobody should have it. That’s the intent of the minister over there. That’s how he views education.

What do you say about the fact that upwards of 32 elementary children may be in an elementary classroom in September? Are these concerns of parents nonsense also?

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

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I see no evidence of what the Member is speaking at all. Nothing has come across my desk to indicate that there are that many students going to be in a class.

This year, the class-size cap for kindergarten is staying as it was – 20 students. The class-size cap for multigrading for combined grades is staying as it was, 18. The class-size cap is not changing for grades one to three either. That is to protect those early years of education where it’s most important for young children to have a smaller ratio where major concepts are learned.

I don’t know where the Member would get all of what he just said out of that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In excess of 2,000 teachers, nurses, students and concerned citizens converged on Confederation Building this past Saturday. As we know, Premier Ball has campaigned on a promise of listening. If you can’t listen, you can’t lead.

Will you now take the concerned citizens up on their offer to hit reset on this budget and really consult with them to make better choices and finally start listening?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As you know, prior to the budget we did a series of government renewal initiatives across the province where we had many submissions that were made by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Many of the decisions that you’ve seen in this year’s budget were as a result of that initiative, and we will continue to listen to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I just wish that the Member opposite had done some listening to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for the last 10 years then we would not have been in this situation with $25 billion of oil royalties and $4 million in tax decreases in 2007 to the wealthiest in our province. That is who you listened to. You decreased their taxes back then. As a result of that, we are left to clean up the mess that you have left us with and the mess that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians now have to deal with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, I say to the hon. Premier, we did lay out plans for people and we did listen. We were out in front and we were able to explain what the budgets were in the past. Unlike this government right now, the Minister of Finance and the Premier, no one knows out there. No one knows what the budget is all about. They can’t explain it. It’s everybody else’s problem. It’s the media’s problem. It’s the Opposition’s problem. They can’t even explain their own budget.

I say to the Premier to think about that and get out and let people know what’s going on in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: People are saying they’re listening. They have stated that people don’t understand the budget, as I’ve just said. In fact, they blamed everyone in the province except them, that they don’t know how to explain the budget.

I ask the Minister of Finance: What is your plan to address the thousands of people who are protesting and looking for change in your budget? When will you start listening and when will you try to make them understand what you’re doing with this particular budget that’s devastating Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m glad the former minister actually talked about the plan that they laid out to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians last April in our province because in less than one year, Mr. Speaker, the plan that they laid out missed their mark by three times the amount. They predicted last year that it would be less than $900,000. In actual fact, it was $2.7 billion.

In the last 66 years, $12.5 billion in debt. That would have doubled in the next five years under your plan. It wasn’t affordable. You didn’t tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We were at a situation with debt servicing outpacing education. That is your plan for Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The level of noise in the Legislature during questions and answers is getting to an unacceptable level. I ask the Member in particular for Conception Bay South to be respectful.

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. The hon. Premier last year cancelled the HST, which cost the people of the province $80 million to $100 million. That’s in excess of what the Liberal levy is going to charge. That’s certainly about making good decisions. That’s certainly about being in touch with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, I say. Terrible!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, recently the Finance Minister in a CBC interview was asked why she didn’t choose a junk food tax as opposed to taxing books. She claimed the administration of cost to implement the junk tax was too much.

I ask the minister: If you found a way to administer tax on books, can you clarify why a junk food tax couldn’t be administered as well?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the taxes that were changed as part of this year’s budget were focused on taxes that we could collect through the mechanisms that are already in place. As the Members opposite would know, Canada Revenue Agency provides those services to provinces throughout the country and personal income tax, as well as the temporary levy, as well as federal taxes are all collected through CRA. It is the intention of this government to make sure that when we implement things that we do so in a very efficient way. Certainly using an existing mechanism like CRA provides a very efficient model for collecting tax, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Municipal leaders are clear and unified on their displeasure with this Liberal budget. Municipal operating costs will increase due to gas tax increases, insurance, snow clearing – just to name a few. None of these increased costs are covered in their existing budgets.

So I ask the minister: How will you help municipalities to address these rising costs, and where do you expect them to get the money?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My earlier discussions with MNL, they asked for several things in the budget. One was to keep the cost-shared ratio the same, the second one was to ensure that the MOGs didn’t change, and third was to increase the amount of funding for municipalities for water and sewer special services in the districts. Everything was provided that MNL asked for in the budget.

The president, Karen Oldford, was out publicly supporting the budget. I just find it ironic, Mr. Speaker, that the Member opposite is here asking questions about the budget when he stood himself in the House and was so pleased what this government has provided to the services for Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador – for all the municipalities in the province. So I just find it strange he’s asking questions – last week he was out supporting the budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much, but, Mr. Speaker, the minister did brag. He said this Liberal budget, that MNL will be happy. But I don’t know if his saw the news release this weekend from MNL. They’re not very happy.

Also, he said they would be very thankful, but the Minister of Education says the libraries should be downloaded to municipalities. Municipalities feel that this is just the beginning. They say they had no consultations.

So I ask the minister: How many more services will be downloaded to communities, and where does he expect them to pay for it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Once again, Mr. Speaker, I stand and I have to correct the premise of the statement. There is no one on this side of the government –

MR. HUTCHINGS: Just answer the question.

MR. JOYCE: Here’s the former minister saying answer the question. He’s the same minister who wouldn’t sign the $34.9 million fund from the federal government. So you can keep talking – you keep talking. You should at least do your duty as the minister –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, the premise is false. There is no one on this side of the government – and I’m the minister who is going to be dealing with municipalities – has said you have to take over the libraries. That is absolutely, categorical, positively false, and the Member knows that’s false.

What we said we would do, there are 24 libraries in municipalities, we would work with the municipalities to see who would take them over, what we can do to help sustain the libraries. That is the premise of the argument that we will work with municipalities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. K. PARSONS: (Inaudible) an understanding that you’re going to give the municipalities the monies to keep the libraries open. Thank you very much, I really appreciate that, and I know the municipalities do appreciate it.

The news released by MNL about the decisions that government have made said it’s going to throw small communities in chaos. Community leaders have suggested that the bulk would be passed off to councils to deal with. And that’s their release. They’re not very happy.

I ask the minister: What did you say to the municipal leaders, and have you consulted with them because they said you haven’t?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, once again I say to the Member, you’re an hon. Member, but don’t stand in this House and say I said I’m going to give money to municipalities. That’s not what I said. You should not be saying things that are not true in this House of Assembly. You shouldn’t be saying it. It’s just absolutely – Hansard will show that I did not say that. I said I will work with municipalities.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll say one thing, when we were in the lockup, before the lockup, when we sat down with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador they were very pleased. They were exceptionally pleased. In actual fact, they were shocked that the items that I mentioned, the MOG, the cost-shared, forget about the $340 million capital works that is going to be spent, combined with the federal government going to be spent, forget about the over $500 million infrastructure money that is going to be spent in the province – they were very pleased with it, Mr. Speaker.

I will continue to work with all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador and if the Member is going to make a statement, make sure it’s correct, please.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We understand in Newfoundland and Labrador that 18 forest fires have been reported in the first week of forest fire season which began May 1.

I ask the minister: Have the full complement of forest firefighters been called back to work as is normal for this time of year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Forestry and Agrifoods Agency has a complement of permanent staff which deals with the forest incident management and forest fires. We certainly will be calling back and have all of our staff ready to call back on May 16, but we have called back an RFP early for defensive firefighters to be involved and get the appropriate training. But we do have the equipment and staff on the ground to deal with our forest fires and we did put out a precautionary release.

So we are well equipped, we do have our staff, and this is the normal protocol and procedure.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, it’s not a normal protocol and procedure. Normally in this province our forest firefighters are called back to work on May 1. The minister just acknowledged that this year it’s May 16.

I ask him: Why is that? Why is there a delay this year in calling back much-needed forest firefighters?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Minister Responsible for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said previously, we have permanent staff. We have an incident management team. We have the appropriate equipment and protocols to deal with the forest fires that have taken place in the past week.

We have issued our call backs to our entire complement of our firefighters that will be dealing with forest fires throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. We are well equipped.

We would encourage a message to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to be extremely cautious, to get the proper burning permit that is required and to be responsible when you’re looking at forest fires in Newfoundland and Labrador, given that the situation has been dry.

We were thankful we’ve had a significant amount of rain that’s happened over the last little while, mitigating some of those consequences of how a fire could take place.

Thank you.

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, he admits it’s been dry. He admits people should be extra cautious. Yet, he’s delaying the call back of firefighters that are much needed.

It gets worse, Mr. Speaker. We also understand a number of firefighting related positions will not be filled and some firefighting depots in this province will close this year.

I ask the minister: How many positions in fire services will be eliminated? How many and which depots will be closed? When will you be upfront and tell people in Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m happy to answer the Member opposite’s question. I want to point out that the forest fire season has not begun in Labrador because of the significant amount of snow that has taken place.

This is a normal procedure of calling back our firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a number of positions that have been vacant for quite some time – under the previous administration – that we are no longer going to be filling. The Member opposite had ample time in Estimates to ask those particular questions.

We have no anticipation, at this point, that any office, forest depot, will close in this particular season. I would say to the Member opposite, I don’t know where you’re getting that particular information.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North, for a very short question.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, how will response times be impacted by these expected cuts to firefighting positions and also cuts to depots to protect the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will say that during this particular fire season there is no anticipated cut to any particular depot, that we will continue to operate our forest firefighters and operations as per normal, and we’re monitoring the situations and ensuring we have the adequate supports in place to ensure that our forests and our resources and our people are well protected. So I will say we do have resources on the ground, and I would say to the Member opposite to stop fear mongering.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, yesterday here in the House of Assembly the Minister of Justice refused to give an answer right here in the House when he was asked if the proposed pay raise for provincial court judges had been budgeted. Immediately after Question Period when he met with the media, he confirmed the money had been budgeted.

I ask the Premier: Will you decline this additional cost of increases for salaries for our judges and use the budgeted funding to eliminate the closure of libraries?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I am certainly happy to speak to this very important matter again. This is the independent report that was done on judicial salaries. That’s done every four years. In fact, in this case the tribunal came back and recommended a 14 per cent increase – one that we did budget, as you would, because you cannot prejudge the resolution that will come to this House. However, budgeting any amount doesn’t mean that you will be supporting the recommendations or voting for them. That’s something that will be done in this House. Cabinet has an opportunity to accept, to alter or to decline the recommendations.

Again, I look forward to having a resolution here in the House prior to June 1, so all Members can have their say on it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, the minister refused to answer the question yesterday. He walked out to the media and he did confirm that the funding was budgeted.

Now I’ll ask, if they won’t give an answer on libraries, maybe I’ll ask this question: Will you use these funds to offset the new Liberal tax grab known as the Liberal levy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I believe the Leader of the Official Opposition is prejudging what may come out of this. As he knows, the fact that we’re talking about judicial independence and the fact that this was an independent tribunal that came up with recommendations here; recommendations which resulted in their asking for a 14 per cent increase.

This resolution will come to the floor of the House of Assembly, and I look forward to the position of the Member opposite, who again, his government’s position was to ask for a 5 per cent increase. So I look forward to seeing what he has to say when this matter comes to the floor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, we put 5 per cent in the budget knowing that the report was coming.

Mr. Speaker, on seniors, the Premier and his government stated during the campaign that they will be there when they are needed by seniors. They’ll be there when they need us. He also stated that they don’t ask for much except their dignity. So I know they sometimes have difficult making decisions that will benefit the people.

So here’s another option for the Premier that I’ll offer up: Once you make a decision that will benefit people, will you use the funding to return coverage to seniors who rely on over-the-counter drugs?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Member opposite doesn’t quite understand how this process works, apparently, because he’s prejudging the fact that this is a matter that has to come to the floor of the House of Assembly for a debate, it’s a resolution. One, in fact, that the Member opposite recommended a 5 per cent increase to judicial salaries, actually, less than one year ago.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. A. PARSONS: So he’s here in the House of Assembly asking to decline it, but just last year he was asking to increase their salaries.

So I ask the member opposite: Which is it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Member should sometimes probably check his facts.

Mr. Speaker, we know that the Liberal government has hired, with taxpayers’ money, a crisis management company to help manage the mess created by this budget. When it leaked out a little while ago, the Liberals told the House that up to the end of March they’ve spent so far about $14,000.

I ask the Premier: Can you provide an update on that amount today, and how much has been spent to date for the services of Cathy Dornan Public Affairs?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I’m not quite sure what the Member opposite is referring to when he talks about crisis management. In fact, since we’ve taken over for this government it’s been nothing but crisis management from the mess that they left to us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. A. PARSONS: I will say that obviously as we’ve discussed in this House –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

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

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

The fact is as the Members opposite know, we have retained the services of McInnes Cooper that work with us during labour negotiations, a practice that is not uncommon to this province. We look forward to continuing on with that process as we move forward.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

The Members opposite should be fully aware that you should never do through the back door what you wouldn’t do through the front door.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, we recognize that the Minister of Finance needed help with communications. We recognize they retained the services of a long-time Liberal to assist.

I ask the minister: How much government funding has been spent directly or indirectly to assist with external help on issues management, crisis communications and media training?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As we have discussed in this House when the Member opposite has asked this question in the past, the services of McInnes Cooper have been retained by the Department of Justice to support collective bargaining. In the collective bargaining periods in 2004, and I think back in 2008, the number of government employees and negotiators that were available was considerably higher than it is today.

With the number of collective agreements that are going to be in bargaining this year, it was important that we provide those supports to the incredibly talented officials that we have inside government. The person that he references, Ms. Dornan, is a contract of McInnes Cooper.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I’ll ask again. We know that this contract has been put in place. We know that part of the contract is to provide services and according to Ms. Dornan’s own website, issues management, crisis communications, media training and strategic counsel.

I’ll again ask the minister: Directly or indirectly, how much has government spent for external help on issues management, crisis communications and media training?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, our focus is on the bargaining process. As part of the bargaining process that is where the service contract has been engaged, with McInnes Cooper. As part of that, they chose who they bring in as a subcontractor.

Certainly we undertake the activity of collective bargaining quite seriously. It is very important for us to make sure that we steward the available money that the province has to spend on services in the most correct way to respect those employees that are working for us and we do so in a way that ensures that we can keep the most people possible working.

I’d ask the Member opposite maybe he can explain why expenses to communications companies doubled in the last year he was in government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Well, maybe we’ll have to wait for the minister to go and do a scrum before we’ll know the answer, again.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard the Premier say that spending almost a million dollars on a study to build a fixed link was what the people of Labrador wanted. However, an email from the Member for Cartwright – L’Anse au Clair to the Premier just in December outlined what she felt was the priorities for the people of Labrador; no mention of a fixed link.

I say to the Premier: Why would you spend money now when you haven’t delivered on the commitments and requests from your own Members in your own government, or do you just have lots of money to throw around?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is a pleasure to speak on that fixed link. As you know, of course, the fixed link is an important piece of transportation and communication for us as a government. As the former premier would know that last year they cancelled a ferry contract proposal RFP for over a billion dollars, which would have been 20 years. They cancelled that particular RFP.

So the timing for us right now is very important because I think the Prime Minister of Canada has already alluded to the fact that there will be national funding and there’s national transportation works, and there are billions of dollars that’s in that particular project. Right now we’re looking at a full transportation strategic plan for nation building, and that’s part of it, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

We certainly respect the Member for Cartwright – L’Anse au Clair advocating on behalf of the people of her district; we expect all MHAs, Members of the House, to do the same. There are concerns outlined by the Member in her email that was long before this devastating budget was brought down by Members opposite.

I know, and we all know, that she’s on the record being very concerned about the $860,000 cut in health care to the people of Labrador.

I ask the Minister of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs: Have you addressed any of the concerns in the email from your MHA?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think it’s very important for us to understand we are looking at Labrador. I know yesterday some of the comments that were coming from there almost would indicate that that’s not part of the province. Labrador is very important to us and we really need to have a transportation link, not only for the Labrador portion but also for the province.

What we’re basically doing, Mr. Speaker, we’re making some money available to look at the possibility and the feasibility of that link for both Labrador and the province, for the betterment of a transportation route for all of us, for the benefit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, and we will continue to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, for many years we put a lot of focus on the Trans-Labrador Highway, $600 million.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: It sounds like what the minister is saying is that their focus has changed. That’s what concerns me and I’m sure the people of Labrador will be equally concerned.

But, Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the Premier: How much will your Liberal budget choices cost municipalities? What will be the impact on towns in our province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Once again, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for giving me the opportunity to talk about Municipal Affairs and the amount of money and that the cost ratio hasn’t changed, the MOG, and the sustainable plan hasn’t changed. It is still what they all asked for.

When we met with the MNL leader, Karen Oldford, she was so pleased. She was so enthused. She thought there would be a lot of changes. Not counting, Mr. Speaker, there were three to four hundred million dollars that is going to be spent in Newfoundland and Labrador in capital works and municipalities.

Mr. Speaker, unlike the previous government who had three years, $20 million, who took it upon themselves before the election spent –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. JOYCE: – $60 million, Mr. Speaker; no care for the next year in Municipal Affairs. Shame on the previous government!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I would ask for order and decorum during Question Period especially.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

We are delighted they are keeping the cost ratios in place; cost ratios that we developed. And we’re delighted they’re keeping the sustainability plan that municipalities much need. But I can tell you the tone from Karen Oldford is very different on her media release from the weekend than what the Member would suggest opposite.

Mr. Speaker, I ask: the Liberal government continues to try and sell this budget as good for municipalities. However, we’re hearing something different from our community leaders on the ground. The Town of Conception Bay South has estimated that the changes in this year’s budget will result in an additional and unbudgeted cost to them of $350,000 just to maintain current levels.

So I’ll ask the minister: How do you expect municipalities to shoulder this crippling budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, once again, I hear the Leader of the Opposition fear mongering. It’s just constant. I just want to bring something up about the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador. I hear the Member opposite always complaining nothing is good. If municipalities were so bad off, if municipalities had such a hard time, why didn’t this Opposition, when they were in government – $34.9 million they didn’t spend, wouldn’t even sign the agreement with Ottawa. Now all of a sudden standing up and going to be the big champion of municipal affairs when they had $34.9 million they wouldn’t even use in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. JOYCE: That’s what we’re dealing with here, Mr. Speaker. We will work with all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Speaker will not tolerate constant interruption during Question Period.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

So there’s no answer again from the minister opposite, or advice.

So I’ll ask him again – under legislation, municipalities are required to submit a balanced budget by the end of December, every year. Now that this government has blindsided them with significant tax increases and downloading of services, municipalities have one of two options. They’re either forced to break the law, by running a deficit, which they’re not entitled to do under law, or they have to rip the guts out of programs and services in their communities. They’re not allowed to increase taxes and revenues.

So I’ll ask the minister: What do you suggest municipalities do to fight off this significant increase?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just find it strange that the Leader of the Opposition asked about debt – who happens to be an expert on debt –leaving this province with a $2.7 billion debt. He’s an expert on debt.

I just want to say – and the Member should know, or he ought to know, which I’m sure he does know, being in Cabinet – if municipalities need more time to balance the budget, they can write the department and ask the department for an extension. That is common.

I say, Mr. Speaker, you hear the Members opposite heckling. They know that, and just because they wouldn’t sign the $34.9 million for municipalities, it bothers them. Just because they wrote letters in the third year of the capital works asking all municipalities to have a letter in by November 3, knowing there wasn’t one penny in the pot, because they spent it all in two years to try to get some of them elected – shameful.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the answer is for the municipality to write the minister and he’ll approve them to have to raise taxes and release services from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is a great answer from the minister, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Liberals will not only close 54 libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador, they also introduced a tax on the purchase of books. We learned in the Finance Estimates this morning that this will also apply to our young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in our post-secondary institutions.

I ask the Minister of Finance: What is the expected revenue on the tax of books that you introduced in your budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member opposite for his question. In terms of budget 2016-2017, it was filled with many difficult decisions and one of those was an HST on books.

I want to be very clear that when it comes to our public library system, there is no taxation on the purchase of books there. They would be eligible for an exemption as well as in our public school system libraries, as well as the College of the North Atlantic and Memorial University in terms of the library system. They will be exempt.

E-books were always taxed at the HST rate. So there isn’t a competitive change to that if people were purchasing books on an electronic basis.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister of Finance: What’s the expected revenue on the tax of books that they introduced in the budget?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to point out that the revenue that would be raised by a tax on books would be estimated at $2.1 million.

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: At least we got answers.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, I thank the minister for the answer.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Can she table the analysis done on the cost to administer a junk food tax versus the revenue that would be generated from the tax itself on junk food?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the analysis around the tax changes that were made as part of this budget were certainly fulsome as the Member this morning would have heard had he asked the question in Estimates. He would have heard the background information as to how all the taxes and the administration costs were assessed.

As I’m sure he is aware from his time in Cabinet, CRA provides a service that we, as a province, can piggyback on, which provides the ability for us to collect taxes; sadly, taxes that we need right now because of a massive deficit left by the former administration, taxes that we can effectively collect efficiently by using CRA as the administrator, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in a brief by the Canadian Medical Association dated February 15, 2012, the then association president and now Minister of Health stated regarding taxing junk food that he believes such a measure should become part of a health strategy.

I ask the minister today: Does he still feel that such a tax is indeed worthwhile?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I think the principle behind a junk food tax is a very important one for a discussion. I would suggest, however, it needs to be part of a national picture.

I would suggest, at the moment, the last thing we need to do is to create extra bureaucracy to collect a tax for a marginal benefit given the fact – as the minister down the way has pointed out – we have a virtual cost-free mechanism of collecting taxes currently.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Before the budget, the Minister of Finance guaranteed community organizations that their core funding would remain the same for this fiscal year. However, during budget Estimates meetings, we learned the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement is considering cuts to funding to a number of youth organizations. Mr. Speaker, organizations are left wondering where they stand.

Will the minister commit today to maintaining funding to youth groups who receive funding from the Office of Public Engagement every year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement.

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

Thank you for the question. Core funding, as the Minister of Finance has said, has been secured for all organizations. There is funding available for project-specific items under the Office of Public Engagement. We have had some reductions in those.

I have assured the Member opposite we will do our best to make sure that funding will be carried on, as best we can, to the projects that are important to some of these youth organizations; however, core funding has remained as it was.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, what the minister is saying is simply not true. If a youth organization receives the same grant from the same department every year, that’s core funding. The minister is saying it isn’t.

The minister made it clear in Estimates that annual funding to organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, Allied Youth, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program, YMCA-YWCA, Girl Guides and local community youth centres was not safe and may be reduced.

Will the minister guarantee today that groups who receive the same grant every year from OPE, won’t be cut?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you, again, for the question. As was discussed in Estimates, as has been discussed since the budget, core funding for organizations will remain. There is project funding under some of the aspects of OPE, project funding that has been reduced somewhat. We are going to do our very best to work with organizations to ensure the projects that are important to these organizations that receive core funding are maintained, as best possible, within this budget envelope.

We will continue to offer the core funding as per the Minister of Finance has said. Within the Office of Public Engagement there is some core funding in a certain program. In one program there were some reductions for youth organizations for project-specific items. We will continue to maintain that level of funding as we go forward.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KENT: So the minister won’t guarantee today that core funding to these organizations won’t be cut. I’m not talking about the project funding I say, Mr. Speaker; I’m talking about core funding to these organizations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KENT: The Finance Minister is saying one thing and the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement is saying another. I say to the minister: Don’t hide behind bureaucratic process. Whether a form has to be filled out annually or not, this is core funding that groups count on every year.

Will the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement honour the Finance Minister’s previous commitment or is this the latest Liberal broken promise?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Office of Public Engagement.

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

Again, I will say exactly the same thing; the Minister of Finance has clearly indicated that core funding is remaining. Under a particular program, the youth program, we are continuing to have project funding. The project funding for specific projects will be as the projects come forward.

We don’t even know what projects are going to come forward this year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS. COADY: I think the Member opposite is confused.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, they’re hiding again.

The CEO of MNL stated libraries are a provincial responsibility, not a municipal responsibility. This is just one of many things MNL did not ask for, but was provided in this budget. Municipalities are really concerned that this is just the beginning.

I ask the minister: How many other services will be downloaded to municipalities or will they have to wait until budget number two?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Once again, there is no municipality in this province told, you have to take a library. What the commitment was, within a year we will work with municipalities. I have spoken to some municipalities. They want to find an option for their libraries. We will help them.

For the Member to stand up and say that this is downloading, he knows the difference. We spoke. He’s very certain of what I said. We will work with municipalities to keep these libraries in their towns.

Of the 24, Mr. Speaker, I ask him to name one that I called personally or anybody in the department said you have to take the library. Here’s an opportunity, name a municipality that I called and said you had to take a library. Here’s your opportunity.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, Mr. Speaker, just this morning more protests on the Liberal budget. Today, parents and children held peaceful protests at Beach Cove Elementary, in King’s Cove, at Vanier, at Mary Queen of Peace, and at stake here is a solid education foundation for our children.

Liberal reductions include reductions to intensive core French, reductions of reading time, gym and music, just to name a few of the many impacts that parents are starting to understand.

I ask the Premier: Are you listening to parents and what is your response to them? Will you put kids before cuts?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we are listening to parents and we also realize that because of the fiscal mess the previous administration created, we’re spending more on debt servicing than we are on education, the whole education budget at present, so we’ve had to make some difficult decisions.

As I said when this question was asked by the Official Opposition here in the House of Assembly the week before, intensive core French is an optional program that we can offer when we have extra teaching units, and we frankly don’t have any extra because of the fiscal mess that we’re in.

Combined grades are a teaching model that is utilized from downtown Vancouver, to downtown Toronto, to the rest of the country. It’s nothing new. It’s a proven teaching method and it does work.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, just as I expected, but I’ll ask the Premier again because the Premier, I’m sure, must understand that the concerns being expressed by the parents of this province are falling on the deaf ears of your minister who says he’s listening but he’s not acting. He’s not taking their concerns into consideration in the decisions that he is making. Parents are being quite clear on many areas, including combined classrooms, which will lead to children in different grades sharing a teacher – a reduced number of teachers – and classrooms in September.

I ask the Premier: Will you stand in your place and tell the people of the province are you comfortable with the choices being made? Are you comfortable with the choices to cut teachers, to combine classrooms and to reduce the quality of education that is going to be received by the children of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a follow-up to the minister’s response to the question that was asked by the former premier, now the Leader of the Opposition in our province, I told a story last night at a meeting that I was to about picturing a five-year-old getting on the school bus for the first time in that person’s life. By the time that five-year-old would have gotten to grade four, based on the actions or the inactions of the previous administration, by the time that child reached grade four the debt that that person, that individual, that five-year-old would be expected to carry would have been doubled as a result of the mismanagement, the poor planning of the previous administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: It is a mess that you left our children in. It is a mess that you left this administration to clean up. You should be ashamed that you’re bringing up these questions about the mess that you’ve left this province in today, I’d say.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I’ve asked on several occasions for order and decorum in the House. I point out to the Member for Cape St. Francis today we will not tolerate any interruptions during Question Period.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I hear you being interrupted by Members opposite there.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier stood in his place and he’s talking about education that’s so valuable and the importance of education. We’re being told that schools and teachers have been put in a very challenging situation. They’re talking to us because the fears and the concerns they have are falling on the deaf ears of the minister.

They’re talking to us and they’re saying they will not be prepared in September. They will not have the resources in September. They will not the proper training to deal with what’s coming in September as a result of the choices made by this government.

I ask the Premier: Where is your voice; where is your focus on quality of education? Instead of responding to the minister, why don’t you respond to parents of the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former premier just reminded me of a situation, when you think about responding or talking or evening listening to people in the province. Back in September when he was asked to give a fiscal update of our province, he refused to do so.

I find it intriguing that today he sits there and talks about his listening skills, talking to people. Yet, just a few short months ago, he refused to tell the people in this province the mess that he was actually trying to manage his way through.

I ask the former premier: Why is it that you did not share this information and assume the responsibility, which ultimately is squarely in your lap to the parents that you are now talking to? Why aren’t you accepting some of the responsibility, at least, for the problem that exists in our province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: A typical response, Mr. Speaker, from the Premier of our province who likes to spin things around. He thinks he’s still in an election campaign; he’s going to play rhetoric.

When we’re asking questions about the education of our students, he wants to play politics with it; no different when he says he doesn’t know where the budget was last year, what was happening. If he couldn’t follow the price of oil, he’s either incompetent or he’s playing politics, Mr. Speaker; it’s as simple as that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, we’re being told that the proposed pay increases for provincial court judges is a done deal. The decision has been made.

I ask the Premier: Can you be clear with the people of the province and confirm that the government has agreed to a $32,000 pay increase for judges and that’s why you’ve budgeted the $1.2 million? Premier, can you clarify that for us and answer that question?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, as I’ve said on multiple occasions in this House, there is absolutely no pay raise for these judges right now. That’s a matter that actually has to be voted on in this House by everybody in this House, including the Member opposite, who proposed a raise for the judges less than one year ago.

So again, Mr. Speaker, this is a matter that was proposed by an independent tribunal based on information provided by the previous government, and I look forward to debating that motion when it’s placed here in this House prior to June 1.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Member knows quite well there was a 5 per cent increase put in in anticipation of the report coming out. There certainly wasn’t a raise provided, or the deal was done and committed to, as we’re hearing the Member opposite has already committed to.

Now, the Minister of Justice got up and answered the question –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. P. DAVIS: The minister got up and answered the question when I asked the Premier. That’s the same minister who refused to answer the question here in the House when I asked him if it’s been budgeted, and five minutes later he goes out to the media and he tells them it was budgeted, Mr. Speaker. That’s what he’s done – he told us there was no decision made, and we’re hearing the decision is made.

So Premier: Can you set the record straight; can you tell us what is the status on this?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, as the former premier should know, this is a matter that is again handled by an independent tribunal, presented to the Minister of Justice, a proposal or resolution is put on the floor of the House of Assembly and it’s voted on by all Members of the House.

I don’t know how many times we have to say that but, again, if the Member wants to continue asking, I’ll continue saying it. Anything saying that the decision has already been made is absolutely false. I cannot make it any clearer to the Member opposite.

He can ask the question again, and the answer stays the same. This is a matter that’s voted on by all Members.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, and the recommendation comes from the hon. Member opposite who just stood in his place. The recommendation comes from him, and we’re hearing he’s already made his decision on it.

We’re also hearing that –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re also hearing that the government opposite is considering rolling back the wages for teachers and nurses in this province. We’re hearing that; we’re hearing as much as 12 per cent rollbacks for nurses and teachers in our province.

So I’m going to ask the Premier: Will he stand in his place today and finally give a straight answer, is this something government is considering doing?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador intends to clearly bargain in good faith with our valuable public sector unions and the people that they represent. We will not bargain in public, nor will we – the rumours that the Member opposite is perpetuating, quite frankly, I find insulting and scary for those Members. I think that is totally in absence of an understanding of the true collective bargaining process that needs to happen in our province. We will bargain in good faith at the bargaining table, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are lots of reasons why public servants are nervous today. I’m asking questions based on what we’re hearing in the Opposition office because public servants and the people of the province can’t get a straight answer from their own employer or from the people who are leading the province. So they are calling us and asking us to ask these questions on their behalf.

I will ask the Premier again: Will you have the courage to stand in your own place – instead of having one of your ministers’ answer – and tell the public servants, tell teachers, tell nurses, what’s in their future during your collective bargaining?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I have no problem standing in my place and supporting the comments of the minister and other ministers that we said. It seems to me that unless we just come out and say what the former premier wants to say, he’s never going to be satisfied.

The Minister of Justice just mentioned to him about a process, about the judge’s tribunal that will be debated on a resolution here in the House of Assembly. He’s not satisfied with that answer. He wants to hear answers that will put people in fear in this province. Unless he gets those answers – if they should be fearful of anything, it’s the inactions of your government back over the last 10 and 12 years. That’s what’s creating the fear in people in our province.

We will negotiate in good faith with all our labour leaders, with all our unions. They deserve that. They supply critical services to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and we look forward to having that negotiation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: There it is again, Mr. Speaker, the broken record.

The Premier quite well knows that choices – that’s what budgets are about, it’s about choices that he makes and what his government makes. It is not about choices of the past. It’s about him doing what’s right for the people of the province. They seem to have forgotten who they are there to serve, Mr. Speaker. The people of the province, they seem to have forgotten that.

We know, Mr. Speaker, that recently, just before Easter the Premier rose and he talked about, why do you raise a flag outside? Well, we said, there’s no policy. Now today we hear there is a policy, Mr. Speaker. It is a continued trend from this government. They say one thing, we hear something else. They said there was no policy. We now hear there is clear policy. Today he said, well, it was a decision that we made. We know they change their position all the time.

I ask the Premier: Why did you tell the people of the province when you were directed by your own Director of Protocol who said here’s the policy, you were given a copy of the policy, then why did you misdirect the people of the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, to be quite honest with you, it is – that is shameful what the former premier is talking about. It was clear, draft policy. He knows this. Members opposite knew this. They established a draft policy in 2015, but he failed to put it into clear policy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER BALL: So what we’ve done, I’ve reached out to all parties. By the way, he refused to come to a meeting, didn’t show up. The Member of the Third Party did show up. He couldn’t send a Member to the meeting that we had with the Speaker.

It’s now in the hands of the Speaker to put clear policy regarding, not only the flying of the flag in our province, but also the lighting of the Confederation Building. It should not be political. He will never be satisfied unless he makes it political.

I ask him: Why did you refuse to send someone to the meeting?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, the Premier misspeaks. That comes from his office quite often – that comes from his office. We’ve had conversations on this matter. We’ve articulated our position on the matter. As a matter of fact, the Premier’s office today has said there’s an all-party committee in place.

Mr. Speaker, I don’t remember coming to the House and establishing an all-party committee. There is no all-party committee. We can’t listen to anything that comes out of the mouths of the Members opposite because it’s always spin. It’s smoke and mirrors and spin, that’s all that comes out.

Premier, the Director of Protocol told you there’s a clear policy in place. The Director of Protocol wrote you and said it cannot be religious, but you said there was no policy and you went ahead and raised the flag.

Tell the people why you went against your own policy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just to clarify, there was only a draft policy in place. The former premier knows that. Members opposite know that. We provided the link to the draft policy that they sat on for quite a few months. It was draft policy. If he spoke to the Director of Protocol, he would also say that it was a draft policy that he was quoting.

Indeed, it was draft policy. We will work with the Speaker’s Office to put clear policies in place. Currently, we have only just draft policies in place. We will also add the lighting to the Confederation Building, also to the flag that will fly at Confederation Building.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development have both stated that residents of rural Newfoundland and Labrador will be within 30 minutes of a library.

I ask the minister: Once libraries are eliminated, how many people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador will not be within 30 minutes of a library?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, as we’ve said a number of times, the public libraries board has decided to move to a regional model to better reflect our ability to support public libraries and the needs of the province and increasing e-books. I think year over year there’s about a 25 per cent increase.

I think what was said was that with the new model approximately 85 per cent of the people in the province will be within 30 minutes distance of one of the regional libraries. I guess if you subtract that from 100, then 15 per cent of the people from the province will not be within 30 minutes. That’s why there are more monies being invested into e-books and other formats that people can access text in different ways, as they do now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: It’s a sad day for rural Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker. Not much support from this government for them.

Jenny Wright, the Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, states that women make up the majority of the province’s senior and low-income population. As a result, women will be disproportionally hit by this budget.

I ask the Minister Responsible for the province’s Women’s Policy Office: Was there a gender lens applied to the development of your budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly, as we worked through the budget the important women’s lens, gender lens was certainly used. The most practical example of that would manifest itself in the introduction of the Newfoundland Income Supplement which was specifically initiated in discussions with Cabinet and colleagues because of the high level of poverty we have for senior women in our province.

I might add, Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that our province has – sadly, after years and years and years of mismanagement – the highest level of poverty amongst senior women of any province in Canada. That’s why the Newfoundland Income Supplement was introduced to help offset some of the impacts of this budget, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: As a result of this budget, we’re soon to see the highest out-migration and unemployment we’ve ever seen, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, in a speech in Corner Brook –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, in a speech in Corner Brook, the Premier again stated that his government is protecting the vulnerable in society including seniors and low-income earners. However, anti-poverty advocate, Dan Meades, has stated that the Liberal budget hurts people in poverty.

I ask the Premier: Who is telling the truth? Is the expert confused and yet another person who you suggest does not under the Liberal budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I want to address the earlier comments about out-migration and unemployment rates in our province.

I will tell you, as a result of the actions or inactions of the government that she was a part of is what led to the decisions that had to be made. I hope she’s not trying to distance herself from the mess that has been created.

When it comes to working with low-income people, working with seniors in our province, working with people with disabilities, there are a number of programs in this budget. As an example, the $76.4 million Newfoundland and Labrador low-income supplement program that is there to help mitigate many of the measures in this budget, as well as affordable housing projects.

We are working with our federal colleagues and we have been able to leverage money with the federal relationship, as well as with the private sector, to put in place over 400 new affordable housing units in our province as a result of this budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, of the 54 library closures the Liberals will close, those located on islands such as Bell Island, Fogo Island and Gaultois mean that residents will have to take a ferry to access a library.

I ask the minister: What is the plan for residents located on islands to gain access to library services?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I’ve mentioned yesterday in the House of Assembly, the ones that are located in the municipal buildings, I would be reaching out to the municipalities over the next year and seeing how we could work together to keep all libraries open in the municipal buildings.

There is many times, Mr. Speaker, that municipalities have already reached out to me and said: What can we do to help out with this situation? As I said before, there will be a year’s grace, and we will be working with all municipalities to try to keep all libraries open that are in municipal buildings now.

I take it upon myself very seriously to work with all municipalities to ensure the services are there because a lot of municipalities want to help, they are reaching out to help, and I’m willing to help any way I can.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, that’s different than what Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador are saying. When asked if municipalities were consulted, the CEO of MNL said, I quote, when you have a choice to take it or lose it, I’m not sure if I’d call that consultation.

So I ask the minister: Is that the consultations you are talking about?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: I’m not sure if the Member is speaking about the libraries. If he’s talking about the libraries, I could state categorically in this House I’ve never spoken to Craig Pollett on libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador. I challenge, Mr. Speaker – if I ever said something which I don’t feel is correct, or if I feel I made a mistake, I will stand and apologize.

I would say to the Member if I’m saying anything incorrect here that I spoke to Craig Pollett and said take it or leave it, it’s absolutely categorically false. I challenge the Member if you can prove anything different I will stand in this House and apologize. If you can’t, I ask that you stand and apologize for saying things which I did not say, which I was not a part of. I have yet to speak to Craig Pollett on closures of libraries in municipalities, ever.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, the Bonavista Area Chamber of Commerce has joined the long list of rural Newfoundland and Labrador communities and organizations who feel cheated by the Liberal government.

I ask the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills: When his AES office saw over 400 clients per month, how will closing the Bonavista AES office not affect the success of residents on the Bonavista Peninsula?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

MR. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, as communities and as individuals adopt on the income support program they are telling us that they are using more and more telephone services to access their services that they require. In fact, new technologies were brought in to be able to afford an even richer and better experience in terms of accessing the programs and services that they need.

And, in fact, I’ll just read out a press release that was issued: In terms of improved technology which now enables clients to access the income support program from their own homes by telephone, this is a great advantage.

Mr. Speaker, this press release was issued in 2004, when the previous administration closed 20 AES offices and reduced the complement of staff on Bell Island from six to two.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, as the Liberal attack on rural Newfoundland and Labrador continues, not only has the economy been hit in these areas, health care is being impacted too. In Bonavista for instance, hospital X-ray services are now being reduced. The Bonavista Area Chamber of Commerce responded to the budget by saying the short-sightedness of the Liberal government’s attempt to cut costs is effectively engineering a piece-by-piece economic demise of our region.

I ask the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development: When he addressed the Chamber of Commerce only a few weeks ago, did he explain why the people of the Bonavista region are being unfairly targeted by the Liberal government?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the health-related concerns of the Member opposite. Decisions to change models of service are taken based on a variety of factors: utilization, time of utilization, workload alternatives and travel. I’m advised by Eastern Health that there will be minimal, if any, impact from the changes to the hospital in Bonavista.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, on Monday, at the launch of Innovation Week the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development once again mentioned the red book commitment to develop a new innovation strategy, which could be a good thing.

Can the minister comment on when exactly this strategy will be developed and released?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m glad the Member opposite mentioned my attendance at the launch of Innovation Week at Common Ground, which is a site that was started by entrepreneurs that has ended up creating 50 jobs. We have a phenomenal ecosystem right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, with tremendous events and opportunities to look at innovation.

NATI today had a Knowledge Summit and we, as a government, the Premier here, have directed my department to look at resetting the innovation agenda when it comes to the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

We’re very proud to engage and to have discussion around all of the opportunities that we have in innovation. We have a tremendous amount of companies here that are ambitious, that are doing deals. The Minister of Natural Resources mentioned GRI simulations and I am quite proud of what we are going to do for innovation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, a story in The Western Star today indicates the Premier had stated the budget was created so municipalities won’t have to pass budget burdens on to residents.

Now, Mr. Speaker, municipalities have a different story to tell and have expressed that. The Liberal budget will cost the Town of Conception Bay South an additional $350,000; Grand Falls-Windsor, $250,000; Corner Brook, about $200,000 – just to name a few.

Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the budget choices they made do place a heavier burden on the municipalities who are going to cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So I ask the Premier: How are you expecting municipalities to maintain the services they’ve promised, the level of taxation they promised, without having to be gutted and decimated by these budget choices you’ve made?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Once again I hear the Member talking (inaudible). In this budget a sustainable plan was put in place. The sustainable plan will ensure there are more funds going to every municipality in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

On top of that, Mr. Speaker, there will be over $350 million in capital works for each town. The first phase of that, some projects that were reprofiled last year, Mr. Speaker, is just going to be announced soon.

So, Mr. Speaker, our government has committed – we kept the cost ratio in place. We ensured the sustainable plan for all municipalities in the province is still in place. Also, we partnered with our federal partners in Ottawa and we’re going to have over $350 million in capital works for all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We know they’ve maintained funding levels that assist and help support operations. We’re grateful there’s capital funding being invested in municipalities. We support that, but capital funding cannot be used for day-to-day operations. This is millions of dollars of operations that councils are now going to have to bear the burden of.

I’ll ask the Premier again: Now that you’ve burdened them with millions of dollars more in operating costs that they can’t keep up, how do you expect them to make ends meet?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: I just find it kind of ironic, Mr. Speaker, that the critic is standing up saying what a great budget because the Municipal Operating Grants are still in place, the sustainable plan is in place, the gas tax is in place. The critic is standing up saying what a great budget for all the municipalities and he’s so pleased that we kept all these options in. Now we’ve got the leader up saying that it’s not a good budget.

So I ask the leader: When he stands up and says that it’s going to cost them millions, is he talking about the sustainable plan that is carried forward for the next three years that his government was so proud to bring in, which we supported and we continued?

When he stands in his place, Mr. Speaker, we have to remember there was $34.9 million that they wouldn’t even sign to put into municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador. All the capital works for the three years, they had it spent in two years. That’s the commitment they had to municipalities.

When you want to stand and talk about municipalities, Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to stand on the record that this government made through the budget for all municipalities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the Premier won’t answer and the minister doesn’t have an answer. This is putting a burden on municipalities, and they don’t have an answer to how they’re going to consume and how they’re going to absorb all these additional costs.

Their own Finance Minister said this was going to be a bad budget for everyone. We agree that there were some good things in the budget. Members opposite wouldn’t say that for weeks, Mr. Speaker – they wouldn’t say it. Municipalities are pointing out two main concerns they have with this budget: increases to insurance costs and increases to fuel taxes.

I ask the Premier: How are you going to address their concerns?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, once again I say to the leader, I attended the rally in Corner Brook, as also the Member for Corner Brook. At no time did I ever say that this budget was not a tough budget because of what we are left with from the previous government. At no time did I say that these people on this side, this government, want to bring in such a budget from what we were left with from this previous government.

Also, the Member opposite forgets about the sustainable plan that they were touting, which we continued on for the next three years, Mr. Speaker. There are additional funds going to all municipalities in this province for the next three years under the sustainable plan. He touted that. The critic even stood up and said it’s a good budget for municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador. So, Mr. Speaker, they can’t have it both ways in this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the Premier won’t answer to concerns expressed by municipalities, maybe he’ll answer concerns expressed by parents. Because, Mr. Speaker, we know that names are being drawn by a random draw to determine which children can participate in intensive core French in September, which parents are very concerned about.

I’ll ask the Premier: What message are you sending to families who are generally interested in their children obtaining a bilingual education and they’re told, well, if you’re luck of the draw you’re in, if you don’t get the luck of the draw you’re out. What do you say to those families, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, intensive core French is a program that has been done on an optional basis for a number of years by students in grade six. I guess the intention is to give them some experience with French before deciding whether or not to go into late French Immersion. There are about 20 classes that are impacted in the change the way teaching units are being deployed this year. There simply aren’t enough extra units, if you will, in the system because of the difficulty we have trying to meet our budget challenges today.

I want to stress again, this is an optional program. It’s not part of the core curriculum. We continue to try and direct as much of the public resources that we have to classroom teaching and learning priorities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll try this with the Premier, because he’s not answering any questions today.

I’ll ask him this. We know there’s a growing interest and benefit for students to receive a bilingual education. Do you consider participation in the intensive core French program a luxury, as your minister portrays it and says, well, it’s only an optional program, some do it some don’t. Well, we know that lots won’t even have to get it. Or, do you agree with all these decisions of bringing all education standards to the bare minimum?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, no one said it was a luxury. I said it was an optional program.

Unfortunately, the previous administration, by driving us off the fiscal cliff in the way that it did, leaving us with a massive deficit that we have never seen in the history of the province –

MR. K. PARSONS: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: I say yes, to the Member for Cape St. Francis who continues to yell across the way. We’re spending more on debt servicing this year than we are on all of the $900-odd million we’re spending on education. That’s shameful, and we’re basically left without options ourselves.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the Minister of Education, you haven’t seen the Member for Cape St. Francis yell yet.

Mr. Speaker, the minister is saying it’s an optional program. It’s an optional program now for fewer students than ever before because they’re gutting the program. Bilingual education is more important for young families and young students than ever before.

I’ll ask the Premier one more time: Are you okay with this reduction in a very important program? Bilingual education is important and beneficial to so many. Are you okay with this reduction, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’ve said on many occasions in this House of Assembly there were a lot of decisions that have been made in this budget that we are not okay with. There is nothing, as we said, in this budget that we can all be proud of. We’ve said that, but there’s a very good reason for that, Mr. Speaker.

We’ve been left with a situation that has been unprecedented in the history of our province. Today, we are spending more in debt servicing, as the minister just said, than we are on education.

I would ask the former premier of this province: Is he proud of his legacy that he has left for our young children? Because it seems to me that what he wants to do is pass on the burden of debt that his administration and previous administrations prior to him have left squarely on the shoulders of the young students that he is talking about here today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before I recognize the hon. the Opposition Leader, I would ask Members to co-operate. Blurting out and heckling is not acceptable.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you what I can do; I can stand here in my place and say we made every effort possible to advance our education system in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: I won’t apologize to the Member opposite for that, I can assure you.

He’s going to have to speak for the choices that he made. He’s going to have to speak for the choices that his government made. He’s going to have to speak for taking education values and systems and options and reducing them to the bare minimum. It’s the Premier of today who will have to answer for those decisions.

I ask him: Before you make all of these education systems which are going to wipe out opportunities for young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, you promised to consult, you promised to do your Premier’s task force in education. Will you get on with the task force on education? Get that done now before our education system is wiped out.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the budget we announced on April 14, the task force on education is part of the budget process. It will deal with outcomes. It will include people across our province. There will be opportunities for people to engage. As a matter of fact, we would encourage you to engage yourself. I would say to the former premier and your colleagues: get involved. Let’s work together to deal with the mess that we’ve been left on your behalf.

If you were so concerned about the future of our province, you would have done better planning and better management in preparing for this. It seems to me right now, you talk about choices. One choice you didn’t do is plan for the future of the very young people that you are talking about here today.

It is about choices, but it is also about accepting responsibility. It seems not something the former premier would want to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ve constantly asked questions about training for teachers to the minister without a response. The lack of response seems to be common from this minister. School councils and parents are not happy about the minister’s silence.

I ask the minister: What training will teachers of combined classes be provided so they can be prepared to teach combined classes before school begins in September?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I just want to comment quickly on what the former premier said over there about them supporting education. I don’t know how they supported education by cutting almost 240 teaching positions over the course of two budgets. That’s not supporting education in my view.

Mr. Speaker, we will be providing a comprehensive training program in professional development for teachers on combined grades. Just this week, we had some educational leaders in the area of research here in the province from BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia meeting with educational administrators and educators from across the province on full-day kindergarten and on the issue of multigrading.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, teachers and administrators are telling me it’s a little too late to be implementing this right now and have teachers prepared and feel comfortable in being able to upgrade our education system.

Mr. Speaker, the minister has suggested that there would be no teacher layoffs. On Monday, there were numerous layoff notices.

I ask the minister: Can you provide a real number on how many teachers will lose their jobs as a result of your budget choices?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development provides an initial allocation to the school districts. The school districts then deploy those resources to the system. There’s a process in place where principals advise the district about enrolment or programming changes.

There are currently about 164 notifications that teachers are going to be retiring, there are about 500 teachers eligible to retire and I’m pleased to say that the English School District will be advertising shortly for more than 200 positions; 200 teaching positions will be advertised and people will be able to apply for those jobs, should they chose.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the minister reluctantly doesn’t outline the fact that 140 will go into the education system for all-day kindergarten but nearly 200 will come out of the system from one to 12, which is going to be devastating to our one to 12 system.

Mr. Speaker, changes in school busing will mean some buses will serve more than one school and kids will have an earlier start to their day.

I ask the minister: What is the cost savings projected on busing? How can you justify the savings when so many children and families will be negatively impacted by these changes?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, just to correct what the Member just said it’s a net reduction of 73 units this year. I didn’t hear the Member complaining last year when there was a net reduction of 78 units in the budget. They’re reductions that reflect reductions in enrolment, but we have put 27 new positions back in this year for inclusive education.

With respect to busing, there are double bus runs being put in, in some instances, in order to find cost efficiencies. Currently, we’re spending over $50 million a year on busing. That’s going closer to $60 million for next year. We’re putting millions of dollars of additional monies in. We know the change in schedules is disruptive to the routines for parents, students and teachers, but we’re doing the best that we can, considering the fiscal mess we have to deal with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, with the addition of upwards of 1,400 kindergarten children into the education system this September, the School Lunch Association is very concerned that they will be unable to meet the needs they require. They require additional funding for infrastructure requirements.

I ask the minister: Why are you delaying meeting with the School Lunch Association and not having a meeting until July?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, funding to community-based organizations will remain the same for this fiscal year. They will receive $100,000 from the Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development. We’ve had numerous conversations, phone calls, emails and meetings and we will meet again.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, a July meeting, just weeks before schools will reopen, will not provide adequate time for the School Lunch Association to strengthen their infrastructure for running the program.

Why the delay? Isn’t this important enough to meet with them now?

I ask the minister: Will you meet with them this month?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, a June meeting will happen. The organization receives funding from numerous other organizations such as the City of St. John’s. They fundraise. They receive funding from parents. They receive $100,000 from the province. We will meet in June.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: I ask the minister: Did you budget any additional funding for the School Lunch Program in light of the fact that you decided to proceed with full-day kindergarten?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, the Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development will meet with the School Lunch Association, unlike the previous administration.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, she won’t tell us if she has any additional funding.

So I’ll ask again: Why are you proceeding with no plan and no consideration of all the impacts for full-day kindergarten?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, we are committed to working with the School Lunch Association.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No answers and likely no funding.

Due to the Liberal budget, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador – most notably, seniors – will now see cuts to diabetic strips, changes to the drug plan and reduced hours in home care support, just to name a few of the devastating impacts your budget will have.

I ask the minister responsible for seniors: Do you have any concerns that these changes will bring a lower standard of living for our seniors?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

The issue of the diabetic test strips and the changes to that program will align us completely with Canadian national standards and follows the recommendations of the Canadian Diabetes Association. It aligns the number of strips allocated for a patient with their management, whether it be short-, medium- or long-term medications, and is best practice and good value for money.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, I’m asking the minister responsible for seniors, their advocate, what her position is on this. Why won’t she answer?

So, I’ll try again. I say to the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development, programs like the Adult Dental Program give seniors confidence and dignity.

As the minister responsible for seniors: Do you have concerns about how this cut to Adult Dental will negatively impact our seniors?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

The changes to the Adult Dental Program were made after considerable thought. They now align us with five other jurisdictions in Canada, and our program is better than three other jurisdictions on top of that. We will look after the dental needs of 44,000 of this province’s most vulnerable citizens, and we’re doing the best that we can with the money that we were left, courtesy of the gentlemen and ladies opposite.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, it’s absolutely terrible that the minister responsible for seniors won’t stand up and speak on their behalf.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have cut millions from the Prescription Drug Program, including cuts to over-the-counter medications, especially for seniors.

I ask the minister responsible for seniors: Are you concerned that seniors will no longer be able to afford the medications they require and that doctors may now be forced to prescribe alternatives which may, in fact, cost the system even more?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

The category of over-the-counter drugs includes all sorts of things from basically snake oil and folk remedies all the way through to what you might call vital over-the-counter drugs.

Any patient who has a prescriber in whose opinion an over-the-counter preparation is medically necessary can submit that to the department and it will be assessed. No one is being cut off from anything they need.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal budget’s discontinued the amount they paid on Coyote carcasses that takes upwards of 1,200 coyotes out of the population annually and it has helped manage the population.

I ask the minister: What is the impact on removing this bounty? With the elimination of this program, what is the plan for coyote management in the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

MR. TRIMPER: Thank you very much for the question.

In terms of our plan on collecting carcasses and so on, actually what we’re doing is shifting to a new model. There are better ways to do things. We’re copying other jurisdictions. We feel it is more appropriate to work with the animals themselves as opposed to carcasses that have been piling up in a storage shed.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Mr. Speaker, I want to caution the minister too – it is not part of my question, but I want to point out the public has a lot of concerns about coyotes in their neighbourhoods, my neighbourhood a couple of weeks ago, everyone’s neighbourhood. That is a big issue. Just forgetting about coyotes is not going to have a good impact on our wildlife.

I ask the minister: What will be the impact on the caribou calving grounds because we do know that they are one of the main predators on caribou calving grounds?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

MR. TRIMPER: Actually we have a great understanding of predation by coyotes, by black bears, by hunting and so on. The key point is that the collection of carcasses was for a research technique which provided some insight into how we make our management. The ability for hunters, trappers to still collect and hunt coyote is still out there, so there’s really no change in terms of our ability to control this predator.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I also want to remind again – I do have an understanding of what you’re saying there, Mr. Minister, but they do have a devastating impact the caribou. Just forgetting about science, that was the only incentive to get coyotes out of our wildlife. There is no other reason to hunt coyotes other than for the bounty, for what they do for protecting the wildlife. So you just threw away an incentive.

Outfitters generate upwards of $45 million annually to rural Newfoundland and Labrador economy.

I ask the minister: What was the plan for the preservation of caribou and moose population? What is your plan for oversight protection of these and other species threatened by coyotes?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

MR. TRIMPER: It’s interesting, Mr. Speaker, the history of the coyote and myself actually are in parallel tracks. This species showed up here about 1987. It is unfortunately here to stay. It is shaking up our ecosystem. I can assure the Member opposite that coyotes are a very resilient type of predator. There have been a variety of strategies that have been deployed to try to control them. They were quite ineffective; it’s a very successful animal.

What we need to do is work with the science, work with groups like the Outfitters Association. I’m also very pleased to say I’ve had two lengthy meetings with those people. We’re going to continue to collaborate. We will work with other jurisdictions, and we’ll come up with a solution.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the previous administration had advised EU that if Canada did not meet all obligations agreed to in bilateral negotiations between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa, including the fisheries fund, that Newfoundland would not be relinquishing areas of provincial jurisdiction such as MPRs.

I ask the Premier: Has the position of your government changed, and have you updated the EU Ambassadors of any such change?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the former minister is talking about today is really two different things. One is the CETA agreement that we just mentioned about, and that is an agreement that is done with Canada and the EU. That agreement obviously is moving through the process now and waiting for ratification.

Then, secondary to that, which has a significant impact on Newfoundland and Labrador of course, is the fisheries fund. That fund right now – we’re certainly into discussions with our federal colleagues on how that would happen in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the support of our MPs, support of the Prime Minister, but what we will not do is we will not rent space to sign an agreement that has not been announced and not ready to be announced by both parties; but there are significant advancements made on that particular file.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader has about 20 seconds for a question.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier says they’re not related. They’re related in the agreement – they are. We didn’t sign on for CETA unless we got the fisheries fund.

Why is the Premier now saying he doesn’t care about the fisheries fund? He’s got support in Ottawa, we haven’t seen the cash, where’s it to, it’s all interrelated. Will you please give us an update on the CETA agreement? Because it appears you don’t understand what you’re actually saying.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What’s apparent, to the former minister, is that you never should sign an agreement in a place where you don’t have the other party ready to sign on with you. That would be an apparent fault of the previous administration.

The CETA negotiation right now, the agreement with the EU is now being – through the federal government in negotiation with the EU. The fisheries fund is a different fund, a different negotiation.

We have maintained the position about minimum processing requirements, and as we work with our federal government we’re hopeful that in the future we can actually get an agreement in place for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 16, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has included a $30 million contingency reserve in the budget for the first time since 2002. In the Estimates book there’s a description of each line item and a count by department. The $30 million contingency fund does not include this.

Could the minister outline for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador what exactly this fund is for?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member opposite for the question. When we met in the House the last time the House was open, we were debating in Committee of the Whole. As part of that debate, the Member opposite asked that question and I provided him a number of examples; things such as disasters that would happen, things that would be unforeseen that may happen.

The contingency fund provides an opportunity for us to make sure that on the sad chance that some community in our province may go through something like a Fort McMurray experience or a tsunami or other things, we want to make sure that we had a contingency fund. I think I’ve provided the Member opposite with a large number of those answers last Thursday.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I acknowledge we asked the questions, but we’re talking here about the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I’m asking on their behalf. Mr. Speaker, the minister mentioned disaster relief and items like that.

I ask her, for certain circumstances, why wouldn’t you have that in a line item in Municipal Affairs or Fire and Emergency Services?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As the Member opposite certainly is aware, Municipal Affairs as well as Fire and Emergency Services has the responsibility for providing support to communities. Finance has the responsibility for making sure that we have monies available on a contingency basis, should things happen in our community that are unforeseen – not singularly related to impacts on community, but there might be other things that might happen.

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, if we knew the exact things that would be unforeseen, we would have detailed that out in the budget document. Providing a prudent amount of money in the Estimates to be approved by this House, we think, is being very transparent.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in the Estimates process line-by-line line departments, things are described and there are definitions given of what funds would actually be used for. What we have here, since 2001, there’s never been this type of a contingency fund or number on the books, with no description of what it’s going to be used for. In the fiscal situation we’re in this year, certainly there are a lot of community groups, a lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador, services and programs are going to be checked.

I ask again to the minister: What are you going to use this $30 million for, and why is there no description in the Estimates on what it is going to be used for?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you to the Member opposite for the opportunity to stand up again and provide some additional insight into the contingency fund; things like potential legal claims, forest fires, increases in caseloads in a variety of departments. There could be all kinds of things related to communities that may happen in the next year.
While the former administration may have thought that planning a contingency fund was irresponsible, we believe that being transparent with that amount of money in the budget is a prudent thing to do. Certainly, as I also explained, that information would be provided to the House within three days of the expenditure being approved, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the minister is not going to tell us what she is going to spend the $30 million, but she says she is going to make it available to the House. So what will happen, it will go to Treasury Board, it will go through Cabinet, they’ll make a decision how it’s going to be spent, then they’ll come to the House and tell us. What they should be doing is right here in Estimates in the House telling us how they’re spending $30 million.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Thirty million dollars, as I said, with the fiscal challenges we’re facing, how about reinvesting $5.1 million to eliminate the Liberal choice to increase class cap sizes? How about $3.6 million of these funds to remove the Liberal choice to combine grades? How about reinstating $1 million to keep the libraries open? Why aren’t these good choices, Finance Minister, for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we have no idea at this point the number of legal cases, the potential increase in caseloads, what might happen through natural or other incidents in our community.

This amount of money is put aside. It will not be spent in the absence of due diligence providing the details to the Members of this House. It is a practice that has been underway in many jurisdictions, including our own up until the former administration decided not to do it. We felt that it was important to have this contingency fund available so that instead of expecting the budget to run over, as the former administration would, that we would have a modest amount of money that would be able to provide for contingencies, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we’re going to be asked to vote on the $30 million here in the budget process.

So I ask the minister: In your process of deciding how are you going to use these funds, how are you going to decide? When are you going to let us know when you use the funds? Is it after it goes through Cabinet and you make the decision, or are you going to make it public what the consideration is in spending this $30 million sometime in the next fiscal year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member opposite for the opportunity to speak to this again. Providing transparency around any expenditure related to this contingency fund is very important. As I mentioned last week when we were discussing this as the Committee of the Whole, the requirement would be that the spending amount or the expenditure would be tabled in this House within three days. Certainly, that is what we intend to do.

Unforeseen circumstances are exactly what that word indicates, unforeseen, and we want to make sure that the people of the province know that we expect to be held accountable, and we know we will be, in this House of Assembly when we present that information, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the $30 million could have been used to prevent budget cuts.

I ask the minister, could she consider reinstating the $4.9 million to the Newfoundland and Labrador Drug Prescription Program for over-the-counter medications and diabetic test strips? How about reinstating $2.5 million through government aid to reduce adult dental coverage? Are these issues that are important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that can be considered or are we just going to keep this $30 million flush fund there? We don’t know how it’s going to be spent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just find it kind of odd that the Member opposite is asking these types of questions for emergency funding. Mr. Speaker, as we said, it’s a contingency fund. Forest fires; we could have a major forest fire in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

If the Member is willing to keep going on this line, I’ll ask him one question. When you had $2.3 in your emergency funding last year, as the Minister of Municipal Affairs, why didn’t you bring it to the House what you were going to use it for? Do you know the reason why? He didn’t know what he was going to use it for because it’s for emergency funding.

When he passed the budget last year, this Member, the same one who’s asking the question, could not come to this House – over $2 million – and say, here’s what we’re going to use it for, Mr. Speaker, because it’s for emergency funding. He’s well aware because he was the minister who had the money.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask for all Members to respect the individual who has been recognized to speak. If Members can’t respect the Member who’s recognized to speak, that Member may not be recognized to speak when they stand.

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Another day, another protest in our province. Just a half hour ago, hundreds of nurses marched in front of this Legislature. The Premier has previously stated that he will make nurses work harder.

I ask the Minister of Health: How many nursing positions will be eliminated from the health care system as a result of this recent budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Speaker.

The nurses are an integral backbone of the health care system in this province, both in the community and in acute care. The gentleman opposite will have had access to the Estimates documents just like everybody else.

There will be 41.28 FTEs removed from nursing this year as a result of rationalization and attrition, some of which was started by his government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, he can call it rationalization or attrition. He can call it whatever he wants, the bottom line is he is eliminating critical nursing positions from our health care facilities.

What about budget number two, Mr. Speaker: How many nursing jobs can we anticipate being slashed and gutted from the public service in the budget that’s coming this fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the question.

Rationalization means to expose to reason. What we have done is we have taken programs in the past which have been shown scientifically to have no evidence to support them and we have reallocated the money from those. It is natural that some of those FTEs will disappear. Whether that will result in job losses will entirely depend on a process, as he knows, called collective bargaining and labour rights and that will work its way through the system.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister and the Health Minister love to talk about FTEs while we’re talking about nurses and we’re talking about people and how their lives are going to be impacted.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: On a related note, related to nurses, I ask the Minister of Health: What are you doing to make the work environment for our nurses healthier instead of simply making their work environment smaller?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. HAGGIE: Thank you very much for the opportunity to answer this question. We actually have a joint committee, whose acronym I forget. It essentially involves the registered nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador sitting down with government and the regional health authorities to discuss the nature of the work environment, how we can improve that and ensure it’s safe for them and all users of the health care system.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, other than the handful of ABCs, the agencies, boards and commissions that will go through the Appointments Commission, Bill 1 does not require the new Liberal Appointments Commission to rank the three names they submit to Cabinet.

Will the government agree to an amendment to Bill 1 that will direct the Appointments Commission to rank the candidates whose names they submit to Cabinet?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m happy to stand here and speak to Bill 1, the Independent Appointments Commission, which, as the Member knows, we will be discussing in Committee in this House today. We’re willing to listen to all the amendments that the Members will put forward as we go into the Committee stage today.

However, I would note that I did ask over a month and a half ago if the Opposition had any suggestions that they would like to see. I wish they had forwarded them earlier, but we will consider them as we move through Committee today.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his response. This bill has not been discussed in this House for over a month and a half. We were advised this morning that we will be going into Committee today. I have all of our amendments right here, Mr. Speaker, and I’m happy to give them to the minister right now and happy to work with him as we run through the debate.

Bill 1 will allow the Cabinet to ignore the names submitted by their Appointments Commission and appoint someone else in secrecy.

Will the government amend Bill 1 to require the Cabinet to make a public disclosure every time the person they appoint is not on the list of candidates recommended by the commission?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just going back to the first point the Member referenced, I emailed the Opposition on March 23 and it said: Why don’t you submit your amendments so we can discuss them and consider them and put some thought into whether they can improve the bill? The Opposition didn’t take the opportunity to forward that until right this moment in the House of Assembly.

The purpose of this Legislature is to discuss legislation in the hopes of making it better so that we can have the best legislation. I would submit we’re very proud to forward this piece of legislation into the House. Before we had this legislation what you had were individuals getting appointed to prominent positions based on who they knew, and not necessarily were they the best selection for this position. So I look forward to the amendments that the Members have as we discuss this in Committee today.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole is the opportunity to introduce amendments; that process isn’t starting until today. If government was serious about considering amendments to Bill 1, it would take this flawed piece of legislation and refer the entire thing to a Committee of this House for review by all Members.

Bill 1 will allow the Cabinet to bypass their Appointments Commission whenever circumstances are deemed to be urgent or extenuating.

Would the government agree to an amendment that would require the Cabinet to notify the public immediately whenever it bypasses the Appointments Commission to make an appointment in such circumstances?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, Committee is the opportunity to discuss this, but I would like to thank the Members of the NDP who, when I emailed them, came forward with their suggestions some time ago so that we could discuss them. I would like to thank the NDP for doing this.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. A. PARSONS: Again, the purpose is to have the best piece of legislation. I am looking forward to considering these amendments. But before we can say what we’re going to do, I’d like to even read the amendment as opposed to being asked a question in the House of Assembly right here.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, as I said, the minister is welcome to see all of the amendments. I’ve commented on some of the intended amendments publicly previously.

Bill 1 calls for a review of the act every five years, a review that would be sent to Cabinet.

Would the government, in the interest of openness and accountability, agree to an amendment that would send this review, not to Cabinet, but to the Speaker of this House for public release?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Again, I can probably give the same answer now that I’ll give, depending on how many amendments they put forward, is we look forward to listening to their amendments and to the rationale behind them. I certainly won’t make a snap judgement on this very important piece of legislation, something that is new in this province and we’ve never seen before.

I look forward to seeing the amendments that the Member puts forward; however, I would note one thing. They are putting forward suggestions based on a piece of legislation, one that they never put in when they were there for 12 years. In those cases, Cabinet put in who they wanted. They put it in based on the name that they thought; there was no consideration by anybody, whether it was the Public Service Commission, an Independent Appointments Commission. This was totally Cabinet-based.

I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to fix the flawed process that they had.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: What we’re trying to do, Mr. Speaker, is fix a flawed piece of legislation that is a complete joke.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: They’re talking about an Independent Appointments Commission. The commission is anything but independent – and guess what? It can’t even make appointments.

Mr. Speaker, will government consider an amendment to Bill 1 that will require annual reviews to determine whether the merit principle was applied in every case that an appointment was made? Would the government agree to have this review published in the interest of openness, transparency and accountability?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, again, I look forward to hearing the amendments that the Members put forward, as they do so in the Committee process.

Again, I wish we could have had an opportunity to review them over the last month-and-a-half that we had prior to this coming back to the House. I’m willing to consider any amendment that they put forward here in this House so we can discuss it to make sure we have the best piece of legislation.

The fact is we have to listen to these suggestions because we do want the best piece of legislation possible. Either way, even if it’s flawed it’s going to be 10 times better than the process that the Opposition had when they were in government, which was nothing. It was based on who you knew.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Following the devastating fire at the fish plant in Bay de Verde the Premier said we will do whatever is needed. If there’s a role for the province, we’ll be there. We’ll step up and we’ll be there for the people. Clearly, the province has not been there.

I ask the minister: Where are you for the Town of Bay de Verde?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was at that meeting. I went to Bay de Verde with the Premier and the Minister of Fisheries. We met with Quinlans. It was very devastating. We understand the impact it’s going to have on the communities and surrounding areas. We did meet with the mayor, later with the council.

What the mayor said to us: He would like to have income supplement, a top up. Where they are used to probably 60 hours a week, now they may only get 40 or 50. But the mayor did also add, in front of 15 people: I know there’s no program available. I just want to put a human side to the face.

That’s what the mayor said in the meeting, and he understood this, we understood this. What we said to the mayor and to the council, at the end of the year, if there are people who need any help with employment generation, we would do it through the community enhancement program, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: Wow, Mr. Speaker. It was a big media day when we saw the Premier, the minister and the Member go out, and they were going to do everything for the area.

On Friday, the Mayor of Bay de Verde was quoted in the media as saying his pleas to the province have fallen on deaf ears.

So I ask the minister: The mayor it out pleading to the province, why aren’t you answering the mayor?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I understand politics. It’s to a new point when you are using the tragedy in Bay de Verde to try to get political points. It is, and I’ll tell you why, Mr. Speaker. What the Member opposite is talking about was said a month ago. I just had an interview with CBC with Lindsay Bird; she took this story that was a month old. This story was a month old when the mayor – we let it ride until Lindsay Bird asked me for an interview. What we said is we would help the town. There hasn’t been one additional request – not one request – made to my department since that initial media report back when we met with them, Mr. Speaker.

We’re helping. We’re working with Quinlans, Mr. Speaker. We committed to Quinlans. We offered assistance. We are available to it. I say if you’re going to do media reports, go back when it first started a month ago, not last Friday, when it initially came out.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have stated they would spend half a million dollars to create an office for a seniors’ advocate. Groups in every corner of the province are stating that your budget will be devastating to seniors and you turn a deaf ear.

I ask the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development: You won’t listen to the seniors who are crying out to you now, why should seniors believe that you’ll listen to an advocate?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, Budget 2016 provides support to programs and services for seniors. We consulted with groups and they asked for an office of the seniors’ advocate. It’s not a luxury, it’s a need.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, every Member of this House should be an advocate for the seniors they represent, and fight against the Liberal budget that will bring them hardship.

Would the minister consider delaying the hiring of a seniors’ advocate and reinvesting the $500,000 budgeted to remove some of the burden on your seniors? Your government has clearly demonstrated that you don’t listen anyway.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I take exception to the Member opposite’s insinuation that in this budget we didn’t consider how important seniors are in our province, quite frankly. We implemented a Newfoundland Income Supplement. We enhanced the Seniors’ Benefit. We committed to creating the office of the seniors’ advocate when Members opposite last year spent hours in this House debating that that was a luxury – a luxury.

Quite frankly, that’s shameful. For that Member there to say today that a seniors’ advocate is not important in this province, I hope that she continues to maintain that when her constituents ask her why she’s backing away from a seniors’ advocate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I’ll remind Members again that the Member that’s been recognized to speak should be given the floor. I ask Members to respect that.

The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Liberal’s election platform stated the Liberal government would generate $50 million in revenue this year from selling unused government assets.

I ask the minister: What assets have been sold? Why didn’t they follow his party’s election platform and contain this revenue in the budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you for the question. One of the things we have done is we make sure that we’re going to be optimizing all of the resources and assets we have. Part of my plan, over the next little while, we’re putting together a real estate optimization plan. We’re doing a complete and total inventory of all the buildings we have.

We’ve already started to make some changes within our department to try to eliminate some of the enormous leases we have done. For example, the English school board, we’re moving them out, so we’re doing some rearranging.

What we will be doing is we will be optimizing the amount of money we can get from some of the assets that we will be disposing of, and that will be over the next little while. We will certainly keep the House up to date on how the progress will be going in that particular area, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. PETTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his response. A promised asset optimization plan – this was a promise made to the public and there was a dollar figure out on it. It’s nice to know we’re doing an asset optimization plan and we’re analyzing all our assets, but I have to ask the minister: Was the $50 million figure an election tactic or was it a real promise?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

MR. HAWKINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will tell you one of the promises we’ll make to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is that we will get as much revenue as we possibly can from any of the assets we have to dispose of. One of the things we want to make sure is that every person who is living in Newfoundland and Labrador will get a return on what we have.

We do have some concern, Mr. Speaker, with the amount of inventory that has been in the previous administration, buildings that were purchased and we have areas that we do not have full capacity. So part of my mandate is to make sure all of those areas, the inventory is done, any space that we can utilize within the existing, and we may be in a position to dispose of property.

That’s the plan. That’s the optimization we’re going to be making. That’s what I’m going to be doing, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, during the election campaign just a few short months ago, one of the Premier’s many promises made was to turn an $8 million economic development investment into $78 million this year. He promised to sell government assets to raise $50 million.

I ask the Premier, if taxing and fees is the only new generation of revenue that this government will create. If not, when will you reveal your new revenue generation plan?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The election platform was one that we put out there. Of course, we still see significant opportunity within assets around our province that were future assets that really do not deliver any services to the people of our province right now.

It’s important we get an assessment of where these assets would be, and in many situations work with communities because they could actually take advantage of some of the opportunities that would see in their communities to use these retired assets. In some cases it’s just a matter of reducing the cost. That is a savings for the current government.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen from the prior administration, they continued to ignore the stranded value or the cost that was costing our government for many, many years. Many of these empty buildings are sitting in many communities in our province right now that could add benefit to communities, but is no longer a benefit to government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So I guess the $8 million plan, the investment to create $78 million, is off the table and there is no other new revenue generation. We know there are only two options: one is to generate revenue and the other one is to reduce programs and expenses. We know we have another budget coming the fall.

I ask the Premier: Your plan still continues, I would think, to cut jobs this fall. When are you going to come clean with the public servants of Newfoundland and Labrador and let them know what’s in their future?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s interesting today that the former premier mentions the two options that you have, either to increase revenue or reduce programs or costs, as he mentioned, within government. It’s unfortunate that he did not do a better job of that and just pretend the last 10, 12 years of his administration didn’t exist, because that’s what we’ve seen right now. The failure to actually plan and manage for the future of our province leaves us in the situation that we’re in today.

The commitment that we’ve made to public sector workers, we stand firm to this, is to negotiate in good-faith bargaining. We value our public sector workers for the work that they do in supplying critical services to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, we have no answer from the Premier. Premier, economists are suggesting that to meet your Liberal target budget amounts and your promises from last year’s campaign that substantial reductions in programs will have to occur.

If you won’t tell me what the impact will be on public servants, maybe you’ll take some time to explain what programs you intend on reducing and cutting further in the fall budget coming up.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Interesting the former premier mentions about plans and so on and how we would pay for those. In his own election platform just a few months ago that he said earlier, they had this long-term care strategy, as he called it, to put services in place in Newfoundland and Labrador. When you look for the budget figure on that cost, it was kind of cost neutral.

Well, I guess it would be very difficult to understand if you had a program and it would be cost neutral. Who, indeed, was going to be making the donation to actually provide the operations of that?

So these are some of the shortfalls that we’ve seen from the previous administration. For us, it is still good-faith bargaining, a fair negotiating process for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with our public sector unions.

It seems to me the former premier would want us to negotiate in the public. That is something that we are not prepared to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the question was about programs, not about public servants, and the Premier still refuses to answer.

People stop me every single day, and they say: Why is it they won’t answer a question you ask in the House of Assembly? They never do it. They never provide an answer, and we’re seeing it again here today, Mr. Speaker.

I will try this with the Premier. Yesterday, the President of the Canadian Bar Association for Newfoundland and Labrador – when referring to court closures – said, “Closure of such courts works to undermine access to justice for residents of this province, and in particular the most vulnerable and impoverished residents … .”

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: If you’re making decisions based on evidence and listening, why are you closing the courts when there’s so much evidence saying you shouldn’t do so?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m happy to stand here and speak to this. Certainly, I did receive correspondence from the local president of the Canadian Bar Association. In fact, I’m looking forward to having a chat with them very soon to discuss this.

Again, as the representatives for lawyers in this province, I would certainly expect that they are going to contact us and talk about legal services and courts closing. I would expect no less.

The fact is we have to make very tough decisions. They are certainly not decisions that I like having to make but we have to make tough decisions based on the situation we find ourselves in.

It’s not something that the Member opposite likes to bring up, but the fact is he actually closed circuit courts in many parts of rural Newfoundland when his government was in power.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the Minister of Justice and Public Safety rises and criticizes us for closing courts, and what does he do instead of fixing it? He closes more, Mr. Speaker. That’s what we get from Members opposite. They dig deeper. He said what we did was wrong and he does even more of it. That’s what their answer is over there.

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the Premier this, or maybe the Minister of Justice will answer on his behalf again. Because people are going to be challenged in travelling the long distances to court – I’m told there are about 80,000. I think one of the Members behind you quoted, I think, 80,000 citizens utilize the court in Harbour Grace.

What programs and supports will you provide to the people who are going to be challenged with the need for transportation back and forth to St. John’s to avail of court services? What programs and services will you provide for them?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly the first thing I would suggest to the Member opposite is that he at least get his math right because the number is certainly nowhere near 80,000. In fact, if this is the kind of inaccurate information that the Member opposite if going to put out, unfortunately this is going to do nothing but cause more fear amongst the public.

The fact is we’ve had to make difficult decisions but, unfortunately, they are not decisions that we haven’t seen elsewhere. There are many individuals in this province that have to travel tremendous distances to appear in court whether it’s at a provincial or Supreme Court level, people on the West Coast, people in Central. That’s not something that we like. It’s not something that I’m sitting here saying we need more of but the fact is we have to make difficult decisions.

When it comes to Harbour Grace the bigger decision is why was this historic courthouse left to rot and be placed in a dilapidated situation where it requires a fix of $5 million to $10 million?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re just quoting from Members on your own side of the House, I say to the minister, in information that we’re hearing that they are sharing with their own constituents. In fact, Members in the back row have tried petitioning their own government, but the voters from their districts are wondering: Are the MHAs actually advocating for them or are they doing it just for show?

Now, just yesterday the MHA for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave, on plans to close the Harbour Grace courthouse, stated in the media that the facts are there, is what she said. Thousands of people in this region come through the doors of the courthouse annually.

So if you won’t listen to the people, you won’t listen to anything we have to say or ask, will you listen to your own Members?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, the fact is that many of our Members – and I don’t think anybody is happy with a lot of the decisions that we’ve been forced to make, faced with the situation left to us by the former premier and his government.

The fact is we encourage these things. In fact, I encourage the Member to continue to work for that. I’ve had a number of conversations with her and a number of conversations with the mayor of that community. The fact is I don’t expect them to like this situation, but we encourage them to put forward their views as opposed to the Opposition who, when they were in government, stifled any dissent. However, I did see one petition during Bill 42 that was signed by their own staffers.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I look forward to the budget vote to see if they are standing with their people or with their government opposite.

We know the Canadian Bar Association has written the minister. We know a group of lawyers from that region have written and expressed serious concerns with the closure of the Harbour Grace courthouse in particular. It is not about the building; it’s about the service provided to the people and access to justice provided to people.

He just said himself mayors are having difficulties with it and his own Members, his own MHAs, are saying it’s wrong; it’s not the right thing to do.

If you want to be a listening government, you say you’re going to respond to what people say, Premier, why is it you’re not listening to people when they’re very concerned about the delivery of justice in that area?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I think that one of the things that Member opposite forgets is that in order to have access to justice, you do need a physical structure in which to have the court. The problem we’re faced with in Harbour Grace is that the historic courthouse was left to rot and requires a fix of $5 million to $10 million. We are forced then to accommodate another building at a cost of $300,000 per year, which is just an extraordinary amount of money when looking at the other situation we’re placed in.

In fact, I’ve been in touch with our Members and everybody else to say, look, we’re always willing to listen to solutions to fix these problems. Of course I’m going to hear from lawyers in that area. This is something that is going to affect them and their clients.

Again, I look forward to having a meeting with that crowd as well to listen to their views, hear what they have to say and always work towards finding a better way forward.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are hearing from many library users and librarians that the process used to select which libraries will be closed was flawed. Users in rural areas are baffled as to why their well-utilized libraries are now slated for closure.

Can the Minister of Education table the evidence used to select which libraries will close?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the board that was appointed by the previous government and, I guess, selected in other means across the province made this decision based on empirical evidence. We recognize, along with the board, that the libraries of tomorrow are different than the libraries that we’ve had in the past. That’s why the board decided to move to a regional model as part of the Government Renewal Initiative.

If the Member has any questions – he has not contacted me, to date – I will provide him with a response, as I have, with single member of the public who has contacted me about this to date.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bay Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, the minister continues to blame the volunteer board. I spoke to the library board and was told that they were presented with five scenarios by the department and that government – through the removal of funds – forced the library board to select the best of the worst scenarios.

Can the minister confirm that this is true?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I can confirm that is not true. As part of the Government Renewal Initiative all departments, agencies, boards and commissions of government were asked in January to find up to 30 per cent savings because of the fiscal cliff that we going over as a result of the wasteful spending of the government that was here previous to this one.

As a result of that process, the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board submitted four presentations to government – the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board submitted four presentations to government, one of them was about the closure of somewhere in the order of 70 community libraries. The officials in the department worked to refine the fifth proposal.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: I make note to the minister that it was his department who forced the libraries board to use a process that was good for them. The president of the Newfoundland Federation of School Councils stated in the media that full-day kindergarten shouldn’t be rushed through at the expense of the education of older children.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have no trouble tossing away other promises they made. Why are they pushing through now on the backs of older children?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador is the last province in Canada to implement a full day of kindergarten. We are the last province in Canada to implement a full day of kindergarten.

Last week, we had three people come to the province from British Columbia, from Ontario, from Nova Scotia to do professional development with senior administrators in the province about the benefits of full-day kindergarten. We have talked about the research here at length. I won’t recite all of that because I really don’t have enough time in my response. However, we are going to be ready for this program in September and have made significant investment in it thus far. It makes absolutely no sense, considering the return on investment, to reverse direction now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Apparently only the minister thinks that this is the right move at this time.

Instead of increasing class cap sizes, introducing combined classrooms and reducing intensive core French, I ask the minister: Will you consider postponing the implementation of all-day kindergarten?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I encourage the Member opposite to read the weekend The Telegram on a regular basis. There was an editorial or – there was an opinion piece in there last weekend at around 300 or 400 words from Dr. David Philpott, who’s an expert in early learning and special education and affiliated with the Jimmy Pratt Foundation. It’s a local philanthropic organization that has been advocating for better early learning and care for years. Also by Margaret Norrie McCain who is with the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, another philanthropic organization that has pushed the previous government into implementing full-day kindergarten.

There are plenty of voices in favour of it. I get emails on a regular basis and calls from people who want to move ahead. So I don’t know why the Member wants to pull the rug out from under their feet.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: I guess when the time is right I’ll share the tens of thousands that I get about people who are saying we shouldn’t move forward right now with that – tens of thousands.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: We’ll have a good debate come budget time.

This past Saturday, I attended a large rally at Riverside Elementary. It was organized by parents and students upset with the recent decision to axe the planned expansion of the school.

Why was that much-needed project axed by the Liberals? Parents, students, teachers, even the local MHA want to know the answer.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: I’ll tell you the answer, Mr. Speaker. Despite having access to some $25 billion in oil and other royalties and income, the previous government waited until they were on their way out the door last year to announce several hundred million dollars’ worth of infrastructure.

Now I don’t know why modular classrooms are no longer suitable to the Official Opposition because during the time that they were in government, actually over the past six years at a cost of about $18 million to $20 million they employed – they put in 41 modular classrooms at schools across the province.

Holy Trinity Elementary in Torbay has eight modular classrooms and I never heard the Member for Cape St. Francis ever say a word about that being a bad direction to go in.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, obviously I need to clarify to the minister that modular classrooms are a good tool but in our administration we built 38 new schools. We renovated 42 other ones to ensure people –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: – had the proper learning environment, Mr. Speaker.

The MHA for Terra Nova is now writing me to find out the status of work completed on Riverside Elementary.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BRAZIL: Can the minister advise the House of Assembly and his own caucus Members, what work has been undertaken to support renovations to Riverside Elementary prior to taking office in December?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, I could report that the previous administration did very little work on preparing for the extension to Riverside Elementary – very little work. I would say that it was such a pressing issue, why is it they waited until the dying days of their administration to do something?

As I said before, modular classrooms were used over a period of six years by the previous administration. They put in 42 modular classrooms. Villanova Junior High had five put in; Paradise Elementary had four put in; Dorset Collegiate had four put in, and I could go on and on about this. With the five modulars that are going to be added to Riverside Elementary, we don’t see there being any school capacity issues in terms of enrolment going up to 2021. After that, the pressure is even less, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Again, Mr. Speaker, I’ll explain to the minister that the modular classrooms while necessary were a temporary fix. We were moving forward to enhance learning and the environment for students to learn productively.

Five schools are slated for closure, three have had construction delayed and three have construction deferred indefinitely.

I ask the minister: How do you expect thousands of our students to continue in overcrowded schools while various educational programs are being cancelled due to lack of space?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: It is interesting that the Member opposite gets up and talks about overcrowded schools. I was at a public meeting in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s just over a year ago where that Member guaranteed parents, teachers and students in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s that the new school they promised for years was going to be ready for this September.

Well, that Member was minister of Transportation and Works. As a result of his incompetence in that position, that school is not going to be ready for this September; in fact, it will not be ready for another full year. Then he has the gall to stand up and complain about overcrowding.

You should have done something about it when you were over here. Don’t complain about it now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I’m asking all Members of the House, when a Member is stood and recognized to speak that we respect that Member’s right to speak. Both sides of the House, I’m asking again today to respect the Member that’s stood and recognized to speak.

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, the Premier sent out a news release with other Atlantic premiers talking about economic growth. Here at home, the Liberal budget will grind our provincial economy to a halt.

I ask the Premier: How can you suggest that you’re focused on growing the economy when your budget does the opposite?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m sure the former deputy premier would know that if he went back over his own budget documents for several years now, you would see that the trending in terms of the economy in our province – all the economic indicators were pointing downward for this period of time. It’s unfortunate that the former deputy premier did not plan for where we are today because in the anticipated deficit that we are – oil, which is what they built their whole administration on, it would have to be at $148 a barrel to actually get us to a balanced budget right now.

There are extreme difficulties and fiscal challenges that we’re facing within this province. I would just wish that we were in a situation today that there had been better planning for the economy in our province. I can assure you right now that we will put corrective measures in place and we will get the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador back on the right track.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, we had a plan and we were honest about it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: We grew the economy while his budget will shrink the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has been in office for almost six months. All we hear are vague statements. All we see are broken promises.

I ask the Premier: What specifically has his government done to diversify and grow our economy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, it seems to me the former deputy premier wants to stand by his own economic plan for the future of our province. As an example, one year ago they were predicting the deficit in our province would have been just shy of $900 million.

In actual fact, as a result of the work of their administration, which was dreadful at its best, and I can assure you now would have gotten a failing grade by anyone who would have assessed it, we would have been not a $900 million deficit but, indeed, it would have been a $2.7 billion deficit.

I would ask the former deputy premier when he stands up again: Is he satisfied with a $2.7 billion deficit, asking future generations to pay for the things we enjoy today? Is that still his position?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: I’ll tell the Premier what I’m not satisfied with. I’m not satisfied with his lack of leadership, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: His budget will shrink the economy. His budget will drive young people away from Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: His budget will drive people in this province into poverty.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: I ask the Premier: When will you start taking responsibility and showing leadership? Where is your economic plan?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First and foremost, we have to make responsible decisions. Something the former deputy premier did not do. Accept responsibility for your own actions and stop pretending that the last 10 or 12 years didn’t exist under your administration.

We are taking corrective measures today. It starts with getting your own fiscal house in order. It’s something we had to do. We’ve had to make some tough decisions, Mr. Speaker, I would say. We know that and we understand that, but you can never create an economy, never get your economy back on track, first and foremost you have to get your own financial house in order. That is the corrective measures we’ve taken. In doing so, we’ve protected seniors in our province, low-income earners in our province and the most vulnerable.

We will continue to do that. We will work with the business community in our province to make sure we do have a strong economic future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, lots of blame and no plan.

The Atlantic premiers talked about the importance of population growth in growing our economy. The recent budget in this province will shrink our economy and drive young people away.

So what is our government doing to support growth in this region? Is the Premier actually supporting his Atlantic colleagues by driving people out of our province and into theirs? Is that part of his plan, or does he have a plan at all for the economy, Mr. Speaker?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, in Budget 2016-2017, there are significant investments that would create many hundreds of jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador – infrastructure investments, nearly $570 million worth of infrastructure investments over multi-years. We’ve worked with many associations within our communities that actually drive much of the work that occurs there. This creates economic activity. Mr. Speaker, in doing so, we will always protect the most vulnerable in our province.

Full-day kindergarten is another example of investments that we are making in young families in Newfoundland and Labrador. So inside this budget, there are certainly many different things that will actually spur the economy and create economic growth; infrastructure spending is just one of those.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, is the Premier actually suggesting that this budget which will grind our economy to a halt, is he actually suggesting that it’s going to grow the economy?

For 10 years we grew the economy. Now, six months in, the Premier continues to demonstrate that he has no plan and he has taken no action.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KENT: He won’t answer my question, Mr. Speaker, so I’ll ask him again: What is your plan to grow the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador? You’ve had six months, still no plan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well the former deputy premier talks about the last six months and no plan. What we saw for 12 years was one plan, single focus, nothing but oil. Once oil fell off and the production declined and price declined, the economy stalled. The economy was brought to its knees.

What they see for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador is continue to borrow, create debt and let debt be the second biggest industry in our province. That’s their administration. That was their plan; continue to borrow so the next generation will pay for the benefits that he wants to enjoy today.

Ask your kids how much are they prepared to pay on your behalf, I’d say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, during the lead up to the election last fall the Premier went on the record and said they have a plan and the people will like it. Well, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador clearly are not responding well to the Liberal plan. In fact, they don’t like it.

Students, seniors, hardworking low- and middle-income families, academics, community leaders, their own MHAs, their own Liberal advisors are saying they don’t like the plan.

I ask the Premier: Will you listen to all of these people and put a stop to the Liberal levy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, speaking of plans and going into the last election, we all know what the former premier ran on. Indeed, that was not a plan at all. It was just actual information that wasn’t even factual. What we put forward to the people of the province was similar in terms of – with an expectation of where this year’s deficit would be was based on financial information that was provided to us by the former administration. Of course, that changed substantially.

The temporary levy, as was introduced in Budget 2016-2017, it is just that, a temporary levy. And 38 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, even under the current concept, would not pay any of that levy. To help those seniors and those low-income people in our province we’ve introduced an Income Supplement in excess of $76 million to help those people in Newfoundland and Labrador, our most vulnerable.

So, Mr. Speaker, these were very difficult and tough choices. It is a temporary levy, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I remind the Premier that it’s their budget that the levy was created under, not our budget. It was their levy that they created, Mr. Speaker. It’s a levy that’s smothering the economy. It’s driving people into hardship in our province. It’s decisions and choices made by that government that are impacting people today.

Mr. Speaker, speaking of that government, they have a $30 million slush fund poked away in the Department of Finance. That’s what this government has done.

I ask the Premier: Will you lead and will you govern, and will you use some of this $30 million fund to eliminate the Liberal levy which is driving so many people of our province into hardship?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well speaking of the plan, as you transition from one government to the next government, as we did in December of this year, you expect that transition would be built on factual information that would have been supplied to us. In actual fact, Mr. Speaker, that was far from the case. I would say the former administration indeed did not supply the information that was required. As a matter of fact, on September 28 they refused to even answer a question about the financial affairs of our province.

Mr. Speaker, as you transition – we were dealt with many challenges, challenges that we have had to address. We put in place a budget.

When the former premier talks about a slush fund, it is not a slush fund at all. It is planning for challenges that we could face this year. It puts us in a position that we are able to actually leverage more funding, creating jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the Premier is not going to answer the question, but he wants to go back in history. I tell you, Mr. Speaker, we laid out the circumstances of the province last year and we clearly said here are the big factors and here is what the implications are going to be on the province. If he couldn’t follow it, he’s either incompetent or he’s playing politics with it, Mr. Speaker. It’s as clear as that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, people throughout the province are outraged by the choices that this Liberal government has made. The budget is an attack on people and it will cause people hardship. It’s as simple as that.

I ask the Premier: Will you once and for all listen to what people are saying? You promised you would, and these are the people who elected you. Will you remove this Liberal levy from your budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, one thing that we’ve been very proud of in our past is our history. I’m surprised today that the former premier, the current Leader of the Opposition wants to distance himself from his own part in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. He does not want to talk about it because, do you know what? Like most people in our province, they are ashamed of it just like we are. They have left us to having to put this province back on track and we have had to make some tough decisions. These decisions are reflected in Budget 2016-2017.

I will tell you one thing that we will not do, is we will not give up on the young people we see in this House of Assembly today because we believe they are the future of Newfoundland and Labrador and we are going to do whatever we can to secure their future with the support of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you, I’ll stand on my record any day.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: I’ll stand on my record that I worked hard for any day, Mr. Speaker. In six months, they’ve created quite a record for themselves as well, and the people of the province are very much tuned in to the record that they are creating for themselves.

Mr. Speaker, people who earn between $25,000 and $36,000, their net income, will pay $300 for what the Liberals call a temporary level – new words on it in recent days. In fact, anyone earning over $20,000 will have to pay something towards the levy.

This is public money that will pay for the Liberals million-dollar tunnel study. The public money will pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for the Liberals external legal and communications counsel as well, Mr. Speaker.

So I ask the Premier: What’s your justification for taxing people to pay for such unnecessary expenditures, expenditures that are not required at this very time?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former premier mentioned history again and he was saying that he was proud to stand on his record. So what he’s telling us is that he is proud to tell Newfoundland and Labrador that in the next five years, they will be doubling the debt under his plan, under his record. That is not a record, not a legacy that I don’t think any former premier should be proud of it, Mr. Speaker. Asking the next generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to pay for the things that they could not properly manage, that’s the record that he wants to stand on.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I think the former premier needs to understand that it’s taxable income; it’s just not income for people in our province. The concept that he is talking about is around taxable income. So if he wants to talk about facts, he should make sure that he gets his facts correct.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the chance to get up again and try and get another answer, because we haven’t been able to get an answer from the Premier. He likes to talk his spin. He thinks he’s still in an election campaign is what’s going on over there.

Premier 18,000 people have signed a petition about your levy. You should probably give that some consideration is what you should do. You should think about the students, the seniors, low- and middle-income families, the young, the old, the healthy and the sick, public servants, nurses, teachers who are all impacted by the decisions that you made in your budget.

So I ask you Premier: You are the leader of your caucus. You are the leader of the government. Will you show leadership, reconvene your Cabinet, and reconsider these regressive tax increases that you’ve decided on?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’ve already reconsidered it. That’s the reason why – in terms of the levy – it’s called a temporary levy. But based on the record that he would have had – as a matter of fact, if you look back at some leaders that we’ve seen, the other Leader of the NDP right now was in the media, just recently, talking about debt servicing in our province as it would actually shackle the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The former premier of our province wants to ignore the fact that right now in our province we pay more for debt servicing than we do for education. He wants to ignore the fact under his plan that would have been nearly $2 billion – $2 billion – and after 66 years, it would have doubled in just five short years.

Why are you trying to distance yourself from your own decisions that you made and put this province in the situation that it’s in today?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, he’s the Premier. This man across the aisle is the Premier. He’s the leader of the province. It’s his decisions and his choices that are impacting the people today, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Last year, we laid the facts out very clearly. What did they do? They criticized us. That’s what they did. They said it was wrong. Every day they came to the House and they asked for more and more and more.

Premier, what is your plan? When are you finally going to reveal to the people of the province what your plan really is? With a $30 million slush fund, will you revisit education cuts? Will you put students first, instead of last?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the former premier is failing to recognize is you just don’t turn the page and you have a blank and a clean sheet. What you have to deal with, with the transition from one government to the next, is what you had left in the bank account. His legacy was one where the bank accounts were nearly empty, I would say, Mr. Speaker.

Short-term borrowing, long-term borrowing is difficult in our province right now. He seems to be very proud of the fact that just a year ago he was predicting and forecasting a $900 million deficit for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that turned out to be $2.7 billion.

So when you talk about being open and transparent, when you talk about leaving a legacy, please stand on your own legacy and admit that the former premier is responsible for the mess we’re in today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier just confirmed he doesn’t know the facts because he’s way off on the numbers he’s throwing out. Throwing out willy-nilly anyway he wants, just throwing it out there. The facts are wrong. The information he has provided is not accurate.

Mr. Speaker, the cries from the people of our province is loud and clear. Although the Liberals campaigned on listening to the people, the people’s voices are being ignored. The Minister of Finance has said: We will not make decisions based on who cries the loudest. So I guess people don’t really matter. I guess they’re not really listening to people. At least they won’t act on what they’re hearing from us.

I ask the Premier: Will you use some of the slush fund you stashed away to reverse the decision on long-term care beds?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I take great exception to the comments in this preamble from the Member opposite. Our government cares very deeply about the people of the province and, quite frankly, faced with a difficult reality of years of overspending and over-forecasting potential oil royalties and ignoring the facts, the former administration left the province in a fiscal situation that would have led to a crisis had we not done something.

Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite continues to avoid the accountability that the former administration has. The $30 million contingency fund that is in the budget is, and has been clearly explained to Members opposite, for contingency. I’d ask the Members opposite to understand what the contingency fund is, Sir.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, again it’s about the choices this government is making. That’s what this is about, is about the choices they’re making and the impacts it’s having on the people of our province.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier has stated that seniors will be better off with the Liberal budget. He also stated that their budget contains good supports for low-income earners. Well, Mr. Speaker, where is the evidence to suggest that? We know the Newfoundland and Labrador 50+ Federation is on the record as saying their members will not be better off.

I ask the Premier: Will you table your evidence to show us how seniors in this province will be better off, and will you show that really are you out of touch or are you not?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Speaking of out of touch, it’s the former premier, I would say, and suggest that he should go back and touch some of the decisions and learn more about the impacts and the negative impacts that it is having on our seniors of today.

Mr. Speaker, in this budget, in Budget 2016-2017 we have made – I know the federation of 50+ members in our province right now, many of them are retired public service workers. In this budget right now, there is a commitment of over $450 million to secure the future of the pensions of those workers, I would say Mr. Speaker. This is just one example. The Seniors Resource Centre will see some benefits from this budget as well.

The low-income support program in our province, $76.4 million will help low-income and seniors in our province, and there are many other things in our budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So it sounds like the Premier is saying the Newfoundland and Labrador 50+ Federation are wrong in their analysis and their statements.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll ask the Premier this. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are very interested in the process that’s taking place surrounding the budget and they are asking when the budget vote is going to take place.

I ask the Premier: Will you provide, say, more than 24 hours’ notice to the public to let them know when the budget vote will take place?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, of course, we are going to be supplying more than 24 hours’ notice for the budget vote. There are a number of processes that you know will have to take place.

I’m just surprised today that the former premier is really just not willing to accept responsibility for his administration’s actions. He has Members that are sitting there with him today in his Opposition caucus and they are just pretending the last 12 years just didn’t happen and they had nothing to do with the current situation that we’re in today.

Just a year ago, they were actually bringing in their own budget and we were having a similar discussion here, when their forecasts were all wrong, I say, Mr. Speaker. They couldn’t get one year right, let alone get seven years right.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal’s budget will take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of every Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Watch out for July 1, when the cost of gas increases, insurance goes up, HST increases, personal income tax goes up, and as a result, the cost of food increases.

I ask the minister: How much are you planning to take out of people’s pockets, and is there any limit?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, what our government is not prepared to do is to see the choices about the future of services in Newfoundland and Labrador be given over to other entities besides this government. Quite frankly, the financial situation that we found the province in, based on the actions of the former administration, put our province at a very significant risk of being in a situation where we couldn’t borrow the amount of money that would be required to sustain the services that were in place.

We have an obligation, and people have, rightly so, an expectation that we provide critical services. We must take the action to secure our ability to borrow so we can provide those services, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there is nobody suggesting that actions weren’t required to be taken, but the issue here is the choices that were made. That’s what the hon. Members on the other side don’t seem to understand, that the choices they made were the wrong choices. The Liberal budget will hit, truly, all people in the wallets on July 1.

I ask the minister: What are you doing to help people deal with the harsh budget you delivered? What is the message to people that won’t be able to pay their bills on July 1 based on the cumulative effect of your taxes, fees and the Liberal levy?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Members opposite continue to like to pontificate about their message of fear about the impact of these tax increases. Our personal income tax combined with the deficit levy brings us back to 2006 levels.

A tax on insurance is something that the former administration took out in 2008. I would remind the Members of this House, they took it out after they hit peak oil; after they hit peak oil production and peak oil price. They dropped personal income taxes after they hit peak oil and peak production.

Mr. Speaker, we are still competitive within Atlantic Canada. The people of the province understand that for us to maintain control and the ability to provide critical services, we must be able to borrow and that difficult decisions must be made.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll say to the hon. minister, the people I’m talking to, their fear is real. That’s the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: So to suggest otherwise is certainly unfortunate coming from the Minister of Finance for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, on July 1 the province’s gas tax is set to double from 16.5 cents to 33 cents per litre. Tomorrow gas goes up another 4 cents a litre. In July, on average people will pay a minimum additional $10 to $15 every time they fill up their cars.

I ask the Minister of Finance: Considering gas prices are rising, was there any consideration given to declaring a cap on the provincial taxes on gas?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, we understand that people in the province have grave concern about the fiscal situation and the actions of this budget. Quite frankly, the choices were difficult. We made it clear as part of the budget announcement this year that the increase on gasoline tax was something that we would be doing on a temporary basis. We also indicated that we expect to make a further announcement around that by this coming fall.

I look forward to providing even more clarity on that as we work through what has been a very difficult situation. But there’s no doubt that there are people in the province who certainly also fear the fact that we are faced with a fiscal situation that left unchecked, could be catastrophic, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, clarity would be good because we’ve seen very little in the past six months.

Mr. Speaker, what is the maximum price, I say to the minister, you’ll allow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to pay on gas through your proposed gas tax policy, or is it unlimited?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the increase in gas tax is clearly outlined in the budget. We’ve been very transparent about what that increase is and we’ve also been very transparent, as I was in the answer a couple of minutes ago, that we intend to come back into the House and make the announcement about what the tax will be in the fall.

For the Member opposite to insinuate there is a higher gas tax coming, quite frankly, I think feeds into the narrative that they continue to want to fear monger with the people of the province, which I think is unacceptable, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, the Liberal budget saw seniors take hit after hit.

With another $100,000 cut now coming from the Age-Friendly Transportation program, can the minister responsible for seniors tell this House what seniors’ groups will no longer have access to this once successful program?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of for Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, what I can tell the House is that particular pilot is being evaluated and it will continue based on those results.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, inclusion is something that the minister, prior to joining the Liberal team, had always been an advocate for.

I ask her: How can she justify cutting funds for inclusion grants by almost $150,000?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we value inclusion in this province, whether it’s in schools or in communities. Some of the language that has been used by Members opposite, I won’t go back over here today but it’s sort of enraging to hear people differentiate between good students and students with special needs, because that’s the language was used by the Education critic here in the Chamber.

Luckily enough this year, despite the fiscal nightmare we have on our hands, we did find 27 new positions for teachers who work with children with special education needs. There are 115 additional hours per day for student assistants who work with children with special needs in schools.

We value inclusion. There is no doubt about that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for the District of Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, I’d like to hear from the minister responsible and the advocate for persons with disabilities and seniors.

Can you tell us specifically, Minister, as a result of your slashing $150,000 from inclusion grants, what programs and services will no longer be available?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, we are committed to furthering the status of persons with disabilities. We are committed to inclusive education. We are committed to inclusive societies. We will work with the funds that we are left with to ensure our societies are inclusive.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: So she’s not going to tell us, Mr. Speaker.

In a recent press release, the President of the Newfoundland and Labrador 50 + Federation says the budget will be devastating for seniors and it will reduce their standard of living.

I ask the minister responsible for seniors: Is your government saying that the president of one of the largest seniors’ clubs in the province is wrong?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, Budget 2016 saw enhancements to the Low Income
Supplement for seniors. By 2025, 25 per cent of the population will be older adults. We are aware of this as a government and we are preparing for an aging population.

There are many things that we are doing. We are putting in place an office of the seniors’ advocate, Mr. Speaker. We are putting in place a director for adult protection. We have allocated $300,000 to the Seniors Resource Centre.

Mr. Speaker, we value seniors and we are continuing to support them in society.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, the provincial group with over 8,000 members is very concerned that the Liberal budget will push thousands of seniors into poverty. Many of them can barely make ends meet today and, as an MHA, I know that first-hand, and all of you should as well. The Premier is on record stating that seniors will be better off from our budget.

I ask the minister: What is your position? Does your budget help seniors or does it devastate them?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, this is the same Member, the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, that said the seniors’ advocate was a luxury. On the same day, the Member for Cape St. Francis said it was a good idea. On March 10, the Member for Mount Pearl North said that not only is the seniors’ advocate a great idea, but we also need an advocate for veterans.

Mr. Speaker, this government supports seniors.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, either she doesn’t know or she won’t tell us, but I can tell you first-hand, seniors would rather have heat in their homes and they’d rather have food in their mouths.

What are you going to do to help seniors of Newfoundland and Labrador, given the devastating cuts you’ve made to all areas of seniors’ living?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would remind the Member opposite that as part of the budget, there was a fairly significant announcement around the Newfoundland Income Supplement, as well as the enhancement to the Seniors’ Benefit, an increase of some $250 for all the seniors that are eligible for that benefit. We also, with the Newfoundland Income Supplement, have provided additional money to the tune – over $60 million in that particular program to help offset some of the increases for low-income individuals, particularly seniors. Particularly those single widows who we know have the highest level of poverty in our province, after years of the former administration not putting effective poverty reduction plans in place.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, here in the House yesterday we witnessed the Premier and his team of leaders trying to pull a fast one. The amendment introduced by the Minister of Education on the private Member’s motion was the height of arrogance, designed only to keep the Liberal caucus in line, and we’ve seen where that got him.

So I ask the Premier: Is it your plan to continue to hijack private Members’ motions to keep your caucus in line?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, as you know, in this House of Assembly and as you go through you debate certain pieces of legislation or a private Member’s resolution, as we seen yesterday, it is not at all unusual to see parties and Members that would actually offer amendments.

I think what the Member opposite and the Leader of the Opposition is missing that those amendments actually go through a due process that happens here in this House of Assembly. I’m a little surprised today by the comments that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition, that he would question what happened here yesterday.

It’s a very common occurrence that we see in debate, as we’ve seen with the Independent Appointments Commission. Often there are amendments that are put in place, they’re received, they’re debated, no different than what we saw here yesterday in the private Member’s resolution. There was no intention here to hijack, which led to healthy debate here in this House of Assembly yesterday. So this is something that I anticipate we’ll see into the future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think that was a yes.

Mr. Speaker, there’s been more confusion between the Premier and his Finance Minister. The Finance Minister has stated that the $30 million slush fund would be used for emergency situations. Now the Premier has said it was going to be used to leverage other funds. So, Mr. Speaker, we’re not sure who’s in charge there right now.

I ask the Premier: With no clear plan for the $30 million slush fund, will you now use some of this slush fund to reverse some of the terrible decisions that you have made in your budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the $30 million amount that’s in the contingency fund is clearly for contingency. The $20 million that is in the budget related to leveraging the federal infrastructure programs is exactly for that.

I’d ask the Member opposite: Is he suggesting that we continue to borrow money that we don’t know if we need spend to put into programs? Is he still maintaining his position that the province should spend more than it takes in, Mr. Speaker?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So that seems to be different from what the Premier said yesterday. Is it a $30 million slush fund or the $20 million? Maybe they have a $50 million slush fund, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Liberal MHAs have been placed in a terrible predicament with this budget. The Premier has access to a $30 million slush fund, which could be used to reverse some of the terrible decisions that are impacting people throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

So I ask the Premier: Will you consider reversing the Liberal levy, placing a cap on gas tax, or reversing the closure of libraries? Will you reconsider some of the choices you’ve made in this budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well there’s no doubt that Budget 2016-2017 was a difficult budget based on information and the place that this province is actually in as a result of the prior administration’s mismanagement and poor planning. Do you know what we see currently? No matter what the fund is in this particular government, most of that right now is being borrowed.

I think the Member opposite has kind of lost sight that even with this budget and the measures that have been taken, there is still a $1.8 billion deficit in this province today. This is actually borne by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. These are very extremely difficult times.

As the Member opposite mentioned about the temporary reduction levy, that is indeed temporary. We look forward to a day when the position of this province is in better shape and we have access to make lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians much easier, and we will do that because we are concerned about the future of our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier talks about the tough, difficult decisions they had to make, yet they put a $30 million flush fund aside to use how they see fit instead of reversing some of the decisions that are having significant impacts on the people of our province.

They may not reconsider some of their decisions. I think the people are reconsidering their choice, who they elected in their Liberal government and the Premier they elected last year. We know the Premier last year, during the election campaign, made several promises. One was a commitment to invest $8 million in economic diversification to turn that into $78 million this year.

Premier: Where’s that money budgeted, and will people see that $78 million return this year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite continues to use language like slush fund, and I would beg to differ with his choice of language. The $30 million contingency fund – as I have explained in Estimates, as I have explained in this House of Assembly – is particularly for contingencies, emergencies.

If we have a forest fire that costs the province in excess of what is already budgeted inside Fire and Emergency Services, that’s what the contingency fund is for. We will come back into the House and table those expenditures in this House.

For the Member opposite to insinuate that this is a slush fund for political purposes is disingenuous and it’s not reflecting the accuracy of what has been presented in this House, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I don’t remember saying it was going to be used for political purposes, but I thank the Minister of Finance for letting us in on that secret. Mr. Speaker, now we’re starting to hear something. Now we’re starting to hear a little bit more.

Now I’ll ask the Premier again, because he didn’t know what the slush fund was for. I’ll ask him again. He committed to invest $8 million in economic diversification to create a $78 million return. Now I just asked, but the Minister of Finance got up. Maybe she’s upset because I asked that question.

I’ll ask the Premier again: Have you budgeted the $8 million? Will you return the $78 million? Where is that money budgeted?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, throughout the budget there are many opportunities to actually help diversify the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Obviously, that would be foreign language to what we seen from the Leader of the Opposition because that is not something they were able to do in 12 years with $25 billion.

Indeed, what they did is they structured an economy, they structured a province today, Mr. Speaker, that requires $148 a barrel knowing that production would fall off. They had an opportunity to create economic diversification in this province. They refused to do it. They ignored it, and here we are left with the situation that we are in today.

It is our intention with the group we have here, that I have here standing with the government, to help diversify this economy. It’s what it’s all about. We cannot continue to put all our eggs in one basket, that is the oil basket which is what the previous administration did.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That’s another great campaign speech from the Premier we hear today.

The question was very simple, Premier: Have you invested the $8 million? Where is it in the budget, and when are we going to see your $78 million return? A simple question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As you know, economic diversification doesn’t happen in five or six months I would say, Mr. Speaker. This crowd knows all too well that they could not do it in 12 years. There are many opportunities and we are working with groups in our province right now in the agriculture industry, in the forestry industry, within the fishing industry, leveraging that with our federal colleagues, putting in place an environment where you can actually have a chance to be successful. This was ignored.

All they did was depend on oil revenue, waited for production, did nothing to secure the future of our province except for put it on their kids’ credit cards.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s three times I asked and three times he never answered the question. It’s obvious the Premier is focused on the past. The people of the province are focused on the future and they’re looking for answers from this government, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, it’s another commitment broken. That’s what it is. The Premier campaigned on listening. The truth is they’re not listening at all. They’ve chosen to ignore the outcries from the public. They decided to ignore the outcries from their own caucus on how this budget directly impacts the people of our province.

I’ll ask the Premier: Will you listen? Will you finally put people first? Revisit some of these host of taxes and fee increases that are going to drive many people into poverty.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First and foremost, we are focused on people in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are focused on all generations in Newfoundland and Labrador. We understand the difficult decisions that had to be made. They are not always popular political decisions which is what the Members opposite decided that’s the route they would want to take.

We have sat here or we’ve been in this House of Assembly for weeks and weeks now debating the budget, but not once have I heard from the Members opposite a solution. They continue to come back and say change nothing. Change nothing means this: You are prepared to double our debt in just five years to go to $2.7 billion.

Is that how you would measure success, I would say to the Members opposite, Mr. Speaker? Is success continuing to borrow for the next generation to pay for the benefits that you want to receive today?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier campaigned on attracting business, providing incentives for young families and businesses to put down roots in our province. He pretty much said he’s going to do everything for everybody in the campaign – is what he said, Mr. Speaker. The budget has done the opposite of that.

So Premier, tell us: How much revenue will be generated for the government this year on your diversification plan?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, economic diversification takes an incredible amount of time to get done. It doesn’t happen in five months, I’m sure, or six months. If that could have happened, I would have assumed the Members opposite would have been able to have some success with that.

We are having great conversations with small- and medium-sized business, some large businesses that are interested in doing work in Newfoundland and Labrador. First and foremost, before you can get any success – any success you create jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, you have to get your fiscal house in order.

The Members opposite seem to want to ignore the fact that what they want to do is just go out and to continue to borrow and borrow. Borrowing and borrowing does not necessarily mean that success will be had. It’s quite the opposite I say, Mr. Speaker.

We will work with our young people. We will work with the business community. We will work with communities in all Newfoundland and Labrador to make sure our future is sustainable.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’d suggest the Premier has already done that. They did their LEAP. They travelled the province. Their captains of industry went around. They did their on-board tour. I don’t think there is very many people in the province on board today, mind you, Mr. Speaker.

Very simply, he’s talked about diversification and investment. He made a commitment – in all the things they’ve said – to create $78 million this year on an $8 million investment.

It’s very simple, Premier: What’s the number? How much will you generate in new revenue from diversification this year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I call tell the Member opposite when those plans were put in place, it was based on information he was giving to us. The information he gave to people in Newfoundland and Labrador, forecasting a $1.1 billion deficit in our province which turned out to be $2.7 billion this year.

The Member opposite had that information in October of 2015. Had it before that, I would suggest, if he had been doing the job he said he was going to do. He kept the information from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. He kept the information from us. Then he’s expecting this group here to come in and in just five or six months, to clean up the mess they created, which they did not even share with us prior to the election, did not share with people during the campaign.

It’s shameful where he’s going with this message today, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The campaign continues and the history lessons continue, but as I said the people of the province are focused on the future and they want answers. Public servants are looking for answers as well because we’re contacted by public servants every single day.

Now, the Members opposite campaigned on no job cuts. When the reality is we know hundreds have already lost their jobs. The likelihood is there may be many more coming in the fall.

I ask you Premier: When will you inform public servants what they can expect for long-term employment with the province? How many jobs are you going to cut this fall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Member opposite quite often today in this Question Period talks about focusing on the future. Well, it’s too bad he didn’t take lessons from his own misgivings in our province because he wasn’t concerned about the future at all. He wasn’t concerned about the future, only his political future. That’s the reason why he didn’t share information with people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to our public sector workers, we value the great work they do in providing critical services. We’ve committed to entering into a good-faith bargaining. That is exactly what it will be.

Is the Member opposite suggesting what we should do is have this to be a public negotiation? Is that what he thinks would be fair and indeed good faith?

We will answer into good-faith bargaining with our organizations. We look forward to that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, part of their good-faith bargaining, government has admitted they’ve hired an external crisis communications manager.

I ask the Premier: How much have taxpayers paid to date for your highly paid spin doctor?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Member opposite is not accurate. We have hired, through the Department of Justice, the firm of McInnes Cooper, who have brought with them the services that they feel are appropriate to support the incredibly talented individuals that will be representing government as part of collective bargaining.

For the Member opposite to suggest that government made a direct hire is factually inaccurate, and the Member opposite continues to muddy the waters by not talking about the facts. Maybe it’s time for him to start being honest, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Anyway, I’ll move on from that one for this movement.

Mr. Speaker, the minister just said they’ve hired McInnes Cooper, who has hired a communications consultant.

So I’ll ask a question, and I’ll be honest and truthful: How much have you paid McInnes Cooper to pay your highly priced spin doctor?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MS. C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the Member opposite finally has accurately reflected what has been said in this House on numerous occasions, and I thank him for his honesty this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker, the collective bargaining process, as it unfolds over the next number of months, will include a number of talented individuals, including our very valuable public sector negotiators and members of the Human Resource Secretariat. And as the collective bargaining process unfolds and as we bargain in good faith, the costs that may be associated, that will be determined.

At this stage I’m sure the Member opposite can appreciate that we haven’t sat at the tables and the costs will be determined after we get at the tables.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, so the Minister of Finance won’t supply us with that information.

Mr. Speaker, Memorial University’s Department of English is the latest group to voice its strong opposition to the government’s proposed closure of libraries. They said it is their responsibility to speak up when elected representatives make a short-sighted decision that will deprive the people of Newfoundland and Labrador of extremely important social, cultural and educational services.

Does the minister think his professor colleagues’ concerns are just nonsense?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, we take everyone’s advice and feedback and criticism. We take it under advisement and we welcome people to give feedback. Unlike the previous administration, I’m not putting my thumb down on teachers and telling them to clam up. I’ve been encouraging everyone to give feedback to us.

The provincial libraries board made a decision to move to a regional model. They made that decision based on a number of factors, including library usage, population and ability to support a regional model. Unlike the previous administration, we’re not going to have a library system that’s 50 per cent underfunded in comparison to other jurisdictions in Canada. That’s criminal in my opinion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BRAZIL: Mr. Speaker, my understanding from the libraries board is that you just dismissed their input and the advice that they’ve given.

Many are surprised how quickly your conviction has changed since becoming Minister of Education in the Liberal government. Many ask is this a case where the minister has traded principle for promotion.

Can the minister clarify for the people of the province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that the public Treasury was raided; the previous administration thought that we could borrow our way to prosperity, and we most certainly can’t. We were facing a $2.7 billion deficit that we were misinformed about. The previous administration had a number that was about one-third of that.

We’ve had to make difficult decisions – one that, otherwise, we would have chosen not to make. But the cold, hard facts are that the previous administration thought they could borrow this province’s way to prosperity, and that’s simply not the way it works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: So your government’s process and principles on educations is about making it regressive, making it non-inclusive and being detrimental to learning? Great principles for education.

Helen Fogwill Porter, writer and recipient of the Order of Canada, says she can’t believe that the Minister of Education would cut libraries to save such a pitiful, small amount of money.

I ask the minister: While you’re constantly saying people’s concerns are nonsense, would you not agree that Ms. Fogwill’s concerns are legitimate?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, the amount of money that is going to be saved as a result of this decision is approximately $2.8 million. Almost $700,000 of that is going to be reinvested into the regional libraries model.

I know that the Member opposite and his colleagues think that $2.8 million is a small amount of money. For them, that’s the way they operate; that’s the way they view the world. Millions of dollars is just a negligible amount of money. That’s how they managed to dig such a deep hole that we’re trying to dig our province out of today. It’s that mentality that created this problem.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked a question about funding for inclusion grants to the Minister Responsible for the Status of Persons with Disabilities, for which the Education Minister gave us a non-answer.

I ask the minister again today: These are the people you used to advocate for; these are the people that you represent today. Which groups are going to be affected by the cuts you’ve made to inclusion grants?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, we are committed to working with persons with disabilities. We are committed to working with the experts who are the persons with disabilities. Right now we are working with the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, we are working with the Association for Community Living, and this is where the grant money is being spent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, we strongly feel the people deserve to know.

Can you please tell us which groups will be affected by these cuts?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Mr. Speaker, these grants are an ongoing process. The community groups apply to us to do initiatives that meet our action plan, and we address them, on an ongoing basis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

MS. PERRY: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the minister stated that funding for certain groups was being reviewed.

So I ask the Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development: What criteria will seniors’ groups need to meet in order to obtain their funding, and when will you let them know?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

MS. GAMBIN-WALSH: Again, Mr. Speaker, that is a system we are committed to developing and we are reviewing and evaluating. It will be done over the course of this fiscal year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: I guess we got no answer there again, Mr. Speaker.

The Mayor of Bay de Verde says it was ridiculous that the Minister of Municipal Affairs could say that his town didn’t ask for government assistance. The mayor says a lot of people will see their income cut by 50 per cent.

I ask the minister: Government has a $30 million slush fund; will government use this to help the workers?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Once again, I think it’s kind of sad that the Member would use such a tragedy in Bay de Verde for political purposes. Not once did that Member come over and ask me what’s happening in Bay de Verde. Not once did he come over and say what programs are available, yet we hear him stand in this House of Assembly, for a second day now, asking questions.

We met with the mayor. Myself, the Premier and the Minister of Fisheries met with the mayor. What the mayor said at the meeting, in front of about 15 people, he asked for a Guaranteed Income Supplement and he said I know there’s no such program.

We offered programs after the fishing season if there is any – the Community Enhancement Program. We offered several other programs. We offered them through the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Mr. Speaker. To this date, I did not receive one response from the mayor. We are there for the people of Bay de Verde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I don’t know who’s telling the truth. It’s either the mayor or the minister. One of them has to get their story straight, I suppose.

On Monday, the Minister of Municipal Affairs said: “We’re helping. We’re working with Quinlans, Mr. Speaker. We’re committed to Quinlans. We offered assistance.”

I ask the minister: When are you going to offer assistance to the workers? Quinlans has insurance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I find it kind of offensive that you stand up and say that we’re not here for the workers. We went out and we met with the workers. We offered any assistance to the Town of Bay de Verde and the surrounding areas. We are helping Quinlans because that’s what the town and the mayor asked us to do.

We will be there for the people of Bay de Verde and the surrounding area. We would offer any assistance that we already did to the mayor.

To this date, Mr. Speaker, there has been no request, except the Guaranteed Income Supplement which the mayor stated himself. If you think I’m wrong, ask the other 10 to 12 people who were at the meeting. He said: I know there’s no such program.

I ask the Member opposite, name once that you offered any assistance to come over and meet and say what can we do for the people of Bay de Verde. Not once.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis, for a very quick question.

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I don’t know if the minister wants me to do his job, but it’s his job to communicate with the town.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. PARSONS: The mayor of that town is a volunteer that does hard work for his people and stands up and speaks for his people. I hope the minister will listen –

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the Member to get to his question.

MR. K. PARSONS: Minister, when are you going to go out and talk and help the people of this area?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Minister of Municipal Affairs, for a quick answer.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I don’t ask him to do my job, but I ask him: Will he stop playing politics with the tragedy that happened in Bay de Verde. That’s what I would ask.

Mr. Speaker, I offered the mayor and town council any time they want a meeting, just contact us. I’ll even tell you what I’ll do. If you want to come along to the meeting, you come along so you can help out.

Instead of standing and making politics, come and help the people of Bay de Verde. Stop playing politics with (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Liberal backbenchers contend they’re lobbying their government tirelessly to have budget decisions reversed; however, as soon as one speaks out against the budget, he’s kicked out. The Premier takes no responsibility, no ownership, no leadership for his actions, and again we hear the Premier saying it wasn’t me. Again, it was somebody else. But this time, Mr. Speaker, while MHAs aren’t permitted to speak outside of caucus, he’s throwing them under the bus.

So I ask the Premier: Any Liberal Members willing to stand up for their districts and speak out against your budget, will they be banished from your caucus too?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the former premier, when you look at taking responsibility for their actions, he always reminds us that he was not responsible for anything that we have to deal with today – at least, he does not want to accept responsibility for this.

Mr. Speaker, Budget 2016-2017, there were certainly lots of tough choices to be made. People on this side of the House, MHAs that represent the many communities in our province, they realize the impacts that are there. But they also know that if we do not take corrective measures, the future of Newfoundland and Labrador will not be sustainable based on the record that we’ve seen and that we’ve had to inherit.

So, Mr. Speaker, we have a great discussion within our caucus about where we are in our province. We’ve put in many corrective measures, there have been tough decisions that have been made, but these decisions are made with one reason in mind – that is to protect the future of our province, not to destroy it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That wasn’t the question I asked. The question is about choices and is about choices that this government has made and choices that MHAs in his own caucus are saying. So we know Liberal caucus Members are advocating for change to your budget, Premier. They’re presenting petitions; they’re speaking publicly against your budget. We now know there’s a $30 million slush fund that’s been tucked away in the Department of Finance.

As people’s voices to reverse your budget choices are left unanswered, I ask the Premier: Was your caucus made aware of this $30 million that’s quietly poked away? Did they become aware of it on budget day like the rest of your caucus or have they only found out about it since then?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m not surprise at all that the former premier would want to call it a contingency fund. A contingency fund is really for things that would happen in the future that are unforeseen, so you actually prepare for things. It’s kind of in some ways like buying insurance.

If the former premier had put in place contingencies and put in place economic diversification plans, we would not be in the position that we’re in today. What he wants to call a slush fund, it is – really what it is it’s a contingency fund preparing for things that could happen in our province.

So it’s not about a political slush fund at all, it’s about preparing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians so that we do not have to go back and dip into the pockets of the next generation, Mr. Speaker. It’s about being prepared and it’s about better planning. That’s the kind of fund that we are talking about. Those are the measures that we have put in place.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind both sides of the House again, when a Member is stood and recognized to speak, I’d ask all Members to respect that Member who’s recognized to speak.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just for the record, it’s the Premier’s words that it’s a political slush fund, not mine. It’s him who just said that, Mr. Speaker.

I don’t know if that’s very similar to the additional $400 million in program spending that they have budgeted for this year – $400 million over last year, Mr. Speaker. As libraries are being closed, health care services reduced, cuts in education that parents are irate about throughout the province, especially rural parts of our province which is targeted, there’s still a $30 million slush fund which can be used today to reverse some of these terrible decisions.

I ask the Premier: Your budget is a disaster, it’s an attack on people, if this $30 million fund is for a crisis, is your budget not a crisis for people? When will you put people first and reverse those decisions?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Talking about a budget of crisis, it was the one that was delivered in this House of Assembly just a year ago. That was a budget of crisis in this province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, I’m glad the former premier mentioned about the extra $400,000 in increased programming –

AN HON. MEMBER: Million.

PREMIER BALL: – $400 million increase in programming in this budget. Do you know what that was for, Mr. Speaker? That was to secure pensions for the NLTA. It was as a result of the job evaluation system where people had to – based on the system that was put in place so that we saw some wage increases. We were preparing for them.

Is the former premier suggesting that we should not have taken care of those pensions? Is the former premier suggesting that we should not honour the JES system that they facilitated and helped put in place? Is that the decision that you would have made?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m glad the Premier has raised it because we worked very hard to look after the public servants in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Yes, and I thank him for raising it because it was good work, it was hard work and it was the right thing to do, and we do stand by that, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we know that the Liberal caucus opposite are getting their daily prep talks. We know they are pep talks. They are being called into meetings with Cabinet ministers. They’re comparing these rough times to back when Wells upset the public service in ’91 and Tobin devastated the nurses in 1999. Remember those sayings –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. P. DAVIS: We remember those sayings: Nurses will never forget.

They are being told that people will forget. Well, I say to the Premier, instead of pep talks, why don’t you begin listening to your own backbench? Why don’t you listen to what they’re saying and make changes to your budget? Will you finally put people first and revisit these terrible decisions that you made in this budget?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can assure you that this government does indeed put people first. What we will do, we’re going to help people. We’re going to help low-income earners in our province. We have a $76.4 million low-income supplement. That is to help people. That is to help seniors. It’s to help the most vulnerable in our society right now, Mr. Speaker.

Right now, based on the history and the things that we inherited from this past administration – he talks about smothering the economy, Mr. Speaker. The former premier talks about you’re smothering the economy. What he is not talking about is what debt would do to our province right now. The impact it is having on our GDP. The impact that debt would have on our economy. The impact that the debt would have on our health care system.

Is the former premier suggesting that the $105 million investment that we are making into education infrastructure, is that a choice that he would not have made? Is he suggesting now that we should go into his own district, remove and not do the work that they have committed to do in the past?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s really interesting the Premier brings that up because day after day he stands up and he criticizes us for making infrastructure spending, yet they’re making infrastructure spending more than we ever made, Mr. Speaker, and they’re proud to stand here and say it. So it’s wrong for us but it was good for them.

Mr. Speaker, very recently in the House the Minister of Justice and Public Safety indicated that it would cost $300,000 a year to keep the Harbour Grace court open.

I ask the minister: Can you explain these numbers?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m certainly happy to stand here and speak to the courts in this province. As we all know, the court in Harbour Grace was actually held in the historic building out there until it was moved last year due to the fact that the building is dilapidated, rotten and unsafe to go in, requiring a cost of somewhere in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

After that, the department entered into a lease with a new building, private building, for I think it is $280,000. That is not including the cost to maintain all the staff and everything that goes with maintaining a court. Again, those are the costs to provide the court in Harbour Grace.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What we’ve learned from the landlord himself in Harbour Grace is that the government assessment is based on the current short-term lease of 11,600 square feet, when they only needed 7,000 square feet. It’s a short-term lease. The landlord wouldn’t lease 7,000 for a short period of time.

What the landlord is indicating, Mr. Speaker, is that the government hasn’t even asked for an estimated cost of what it would be for a long-term lease for the 7,000 they need, instead of 11,600.

I ask the minister: Why haven’t you done your due diligence to assess the real cost of Harbour Grace courthouse over a long period of time?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I’m certainly happy to stand here and continue to speak to this. The fact is we had all hoped that the court would remain in the historic courthouse in Harbour Grace where it served for a number of years, decades; but, the fact is it couldn’t because the previous administration let it rot where it stood to the point where it is unable to be entered now. It is structurally unsafe for people to go into.

The department, along with Transportation and Works, were forced to take decisions to make short-term accommodations in order to have a court. The fact is that there is a lease right now for $280,000 to accommodate this. But like we’re finding with a number of leases and arrangements across this province, the fact is that the previous administration made absolutely terrible deals – ones that we’re trying to fix so that we can provide the services at the most cost-efficient manner to the people of this province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the minister should check because this lease expired the end of March. There is no reason why they can’t go to the market and seek a long-term lease for 7,000 square feet. They have no idea what the cost may be. This $280,000 is simply based on a short-term lease of space they are not even using, 11,600 square feet, much larger than what they need.

I will ask the minister again: Why have you not done your due diligence? Your own Member is lobbying to keep the courthouse open. You allege it is $280,000 that it is going to cost you a year, when you know and I know that is not accurate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Again, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The fact is that the department is forced to make decisions – in many cases, decisions that were made before we ever got here. The fact is that as we continue forward, we had to sign a short-term arrangement in order to ensure that we could continue the court.

The Member opposite should know this. Again, I would question a lot of decisions that they’ve had to make, but in this case we were left with a situation where we had a lease that is costing $280,000 a year, plus the associated cost that go along.

The fact is we are looking across this department and every other department to find ways that we can have more efficiencies, as there are not just courts but there are services that go with courts, whether it is Victim Services, Legal Aid, Crown attorneys. The fact is across this department and every other department we’re looking at ways to make sure that we can provide services at the best cost to the taxpayers of the province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, it’s becoming quite clear, the minister and department have not done their work. It’s not $280,000 a year. That was based on a short-term lease. They don’t know what it would cost for a long-term lease, Mr. Speaker.

I’ve asked the minister in Estimates, and I’ll ask again today: What assessment have you done to determine the additional costs on policing now that police officers will have to drive from Conception Bay North to court in St. John’s on a daily basis to attend court? What assessment have you done on that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, the Member did ask the question – I was sat down for four hours during Estimates and answered every question the Member put forward, and certainly happy to stand here and answer him in the House.

The fact is we had to make some very difficult decisions when it comes to not just Justice, but a number of departments, all based on the fact that we were left with a fiscal mess by the previous administration. The fact is that there are going to be some difficulties that we face – nobody’s talked about the fact that doing this makes the system better. The fact is that we had to make very tough decisions based on the situation that we found ourselves in.

We’re working with the judiciary and we’re working with policing services and everything else to make sure that we can provide the best services going forward to the people of this province. Just today, I had a meeting with lawyers from that area; I look forward to more.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, it’s become quite clear. The minister doesn’t even know if there’s going to be a savings, if there’s going to be a reduction in cost or an increase in costs. The minister doesn’t even know the answer. He’s made that quite clear. He likes to talk about the past and the former administration, but when asked a simple question he can’t answer it. He doesn’t know. He made a rash decision without having evidence to support it.

It’s absolutely shameful, Mr. Speaker, at a time when they’re making an evidence-based approach, it is obvious there is no evidence here. Closing the courthouse in Harbour Grace has brought a scathing response from mayors and councils and local residents, the legal community – even their own backbencher, their MHA for the area, agrees it’s the wrong decision.

Can you inform the House, Minister: Is this a done deal, or is there a chance to have this decision reversed?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One thing that I’ve noticed, actually, going through this process, everybody I talk to, whether it’s mayors, policing, MHAs, is the fact that they were never asked a question by the previous administration once. They were never asked to consult; they were never brought in to anything. Again, maybe that’s why we’re in the situation we find ourselves in.

In fact, I commend the MHA for Harbour Grace – Port de Grave, because she’s standing up for her constituents, and we encourage that on this side. We encourage them to speak up.

So I look forward to continuing to work on the situation. The fact is, we’re always willing to –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. A. PARSONS: Again, it’s hard to hear through the heckling, Mr. Speaker, but the fact is we’re always willing to listen to constituents. We’re always willing to listen to mayors and the individuals of this province so that we can make the best decisions going forward. In this case, we made the best decision based on the evidence we had and the situation we were left in by the Member opposite.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I remind hon. Members again that the Member who is identified to speak is the only Member who should be speaking during Question Period.

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I hope, as the Minister of Justice indicates, he will listen to his colleagues who are protesting about some of the cuts.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier, could he clarify: Did the former CEO of Nalcor leave voluntarily or was he indeed fired?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former CEO, Mr. Ed Martin, made a decision to step aside from his role as CEO at Nalcor back in late April, April 20. It was the board that had made the decision then – based on the information they had, they made the decision to dismiss or to terminate the employment without cause of the former CEO.

It was Mr. Martin’s decision to step aside from his position at Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, just to clarify: Did he resign or did the board dismiss him without cause?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Martin made a decision to step aside. Then through the interpretation, it was the board – because the contract of the CEO is with the board. It was the board then that made a decision to terminate without cause. That is what triggered the severance.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, if the Premier could clarify. He’s saying terminate without cause, but in the public you had said that he voluntarily left.

Did you have dialogue with the board leading up from Sunday to Tuesday when the decision was made?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Martin made the decision to step aside on April 20. We did the public announcement of that. Mr. Martin actually then reinforced that with his own announcement.

It was the board – the contract with the CEO is with the board of directors. The board that just left, actually. So they made a decision then to – this is what triggered the severance in this particular case – terminate without cause.

So we’ve taken this information that we have right now, that has been made available to us – we were not part of the details around the severance package at all. We were not part of that. That was left exclusively to the board.

We have now engaged the Department of Justice to review all the information that we have become aware of and then that will determine the appropriateness of the severance.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, that’s very different from what the Premier had indicated in public. If the individual, as the Premier indicated, voluntarily left and resigned or left his position, the Premier had no knowledge of this or did he check with the board before he did this?

Why would you come out and say that without checking with the board and checking with Nalcor first?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It was Mr. Martin who stepped aside. We had a meeting the night before this, on Tuesday night. Coming from that meeting, Mr. Martin made a decision, the former CEO made a decision to step aside. It was then – because that contract was with the board of directors of Nalcor. It was then that board made that decision to actually terminate Mr. Martin without cause. That was not something that the office – we did not negotiate any of the details. Those details were exclusively with the former board of directors of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier had stated that his government had no control over the former CEO’s payout due to contractual obligations. The CEO’s contract suggests the financial package would not be necessary if the Nalcor CEO voluntarily resigns.

I ask the Premier: Did Mr. Martin resign, or was he fired? Why was the severance required?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What happened is the former board of directors of Nalcor made a decision without cause after he stepped aside. They made this decision. They sought a legal opinion on this.

We are now reviewing all the information that was available to us. We became aware of the details of the severance package early May. May 5, I think, was the date. These details were put in place; the severance package was determined by the outgoing board of Nalcor. We are now taking this information and we’re reviewing this to see that the appropriate – that this indeed was the appropriate action that was taken by the former board, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier had said in public that severance was required as part of the contract. He said that publicly.

On what basis did you make that determination?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The severance package or any of the contractual commitments that was in – with the CEO as part of his employment contract; what we said is that we would honour or we would ask the board of directors of Nalcor. They’re responsible to actually honour the commitments and the details and the conditions that would be part of that contractual arrangement with the former CEO.

The former CEO was the employee of the board of directors of Nalcor. They made the decision to determine the details around the severance pay that was paid to Mr. Martin. Right now, we have our own Department of Justice that’s reviewing this information, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Was there a resolution of the board of Nalcor stating that the former CEO of Nalcor voluntarily left the position? Was there direction given on what to be paid?

There seems there’s new information here that has come to light that the Premier’s talking now because your story has changed. Was there a resolution from Nalcor suggesting what you’re saying today?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

May 5 is when I became aware of the details around the severance package that the former board of directors had given to the former CEO. So the resolution at the board level then becomes part of the decision-making process. They sought legal opinion about the termination without cause of Mr. Martin. It was then that they based their decision, as I understand it, to put in place a severance package.

On April 20, Mr. Martin made a decision to step aside from his position as CEO of Nalcor. Mr. Speaker, it was outgoing board of directors that made the decision – they made the decision to terminate without cause.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former head of MUN’s Grenfell Campus labels the Liberal plan to close over 50 per cent of the province’s libraries as disgraceful, Mr. Speaker. Dr. Fowler goes on to say it’s unrealistic to expect municipalities to take over these libraries.

I ask the Minister of Education: Is this simply yet another reputable academic who cannot comprehend the minister’s education plan?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, there was no way we could sustain the previous libraries model based on the amounts of money that either the previous administration had or the amounts of money we have access to.

Let’s face it; we’re trying to borrow now – our bond rating is somewhere a couple of levels above junk status, more or less; we’re a couple of notches above junk in the bond market. So that’s where we are financially. That’s the state this crowd left us in. So I don’t know how it is that they expect us to operate when we’re a couple of notches above junk. That’s where they left the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Considering the vast majority of our food is shipped into the province through roadway and ferry, why would the Premier foolishly suggest that the additional fuel tax and the increase to the HST will not be downloaded to the consumer? Does he still believe that to be the case?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the difficult choices that had to be made – and when we did the Government Renewal Initiative, many people in this province reached out and told us that in this particular case, when you look at the price of gas and fuel in our province right now, when you compare it to where it was last year, that, indeed, many people told us that they would be prepared to accept an increase in the price of fuel and gas, as an example, until oil reaches a point where we can actually get the revenue that is generated from the oil royalties.

This was something that clearly came up in just about every meeting that we intended. People understood this, but they also knew that there were tough choices that had to be made in our province right now. Therefore, they helped us look for ways to generate revenue in our province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier didn’t answer my question.

Does he believe that this budget will drive food prices up while it drives more people into poverty, yes or no?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One thing that I do know, when you look at driving prices up and when you look at impacting services that we depend on in Newfoundland and Labrador is that if you do not get your own fiscal financial house in order, one thing that will drive prices up in our province and will reduce critical services in our province is when you go swimming in debt, and when you’re relying on the tax revenue, when you rely on revenue of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to pay interest.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve just heard comments from the Members opposite talk about, oh, you can’t say that. What it is, they do not want to accept the responsibility for the reality they left this province in. I would be ashamed to hear it too if I sat in those chairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, the chair the Premier now sits in is the Premier’s chair and it’s time for him to show some leadership.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, in budget documents the Liberal government admits that its budget will be 40 to 50 per cent responsible for aspects of economic downturn in the next five years.

I ask the Premier: What are you doing to offset this? You promised in your election platform to create new revenue streams. Tell us specifically what you’ve done to do so in the last six months you’ve been in office.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the Member opposite, the former deputy premier opposite. Again, it seems to be that he does not want to live up or take his share of the responsibility for where we are today.

When you look at budget 2016-2017, there are a number of initiatives that we have in this budget. There’s $570 million in infrastructure spending, Mr. Speaker. We have well over $100 million when you look at infrastructure in schools.

Is he suggesting right now that as a province we should not leverage the infrastructure spending which we could leverage that with communities, leverage that with private interest and leverage that with the federal government, Mr. Speaker? That will create jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Is he suggesting we should not be doing that?

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, on April 20 the Premier, flanked by the Minister of Natural Resources, stood before the media and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and stressed that the former CEO of Nalcor’s resignation was a personal one that was first discussed at a meeting between the two on Sunday, April 17, and later confirmed at a meeting on Tuesday evening, April 19.

I ask the Premier: When you stood before the cameras and the people of the province on April 20 and announced Mr. Martin’s resignation, were you aware that it was actually a termination and not a resignation?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The information, of course, based on the discussion that I had with Mr. Martin was that he was stepping aside. As a matter of fact, these are not just my words, but these are the words of the former CEO of Nalcor.

Just immediately after we addressed the media, Mr. Martin, the outgoing CEO, addressed the media himself. It was his words that he was stepping aside and that it was his decision based on where he was in his life.

So the stepping aside was actually a decision by Mr. Martin. These were his words and this is what he confirmed at around 11:45 on April 20.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We know government officials and we know lawyers were involved representing all parties in these discussions.

I ask the Premier: During the meeting with the former CEO, Mr. Martin, on Sunday, April 17, did Mr. Martin tell you that he was going to resign?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The meeting on Sunday night was a meeting that Mr. Martin called for. He was the one who asked for that meeting. A number of issues were discussed around Nalcor and so on.

It was then we took some time, and it was in a meeting on Tuesday that he then informed us that he would be actually making his decision and on Wednesday morning he would be stepping aside. That’s the information that was shared at the meeting on Tuesday, not the Sunday meeting at all, I say to the former premier. It was on the Tuesday evening.

Then that decision led into the events of April 20. So the information that we have now, that’s available to us, is now with the Department of Justice and they will be reviewing the information that’s available. Then we’ll be making our decision, what options we have, as a government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There were two meetings, one on Sunday, April 17 and one on Wednesday, April 19. Again, we know officials and lawyers were heavily involved in the discussion and process.

I ask the Premier: When was the issue of severance first discussed with Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The meeting was on Sunday night. There was a meeting requested by Mr. Martin, and the second meeting actually took place on Tuesday night. The discussion around severance is a question you would have to ask the board of directors or Mr. Martin, because at that point anything that was related to his contract was with the board at directors at Nalcor.

The contract for the CEO was with the board of directors at Nalcor. So that question would best be asked of those parties.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I say to the Premier there were two meetings, Sunday, April 17 and the next one on Tuesday, April 19.

I ask the Premier again: When was the issue of severance first discussed? Was it on Tuesday night or was it on Sunday night?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the terms of the contract, as I said, that was with the board of directors of Nalcor, so that any decision around what the severance package could look like was a decision that was made by the board of directors.

Subsequent to that, I was not part of the discussion around what any severance package would look like. Did I see any draft of an agreement that was made? No, I did not, so none of that information was shared with me. The information that I got came to us on May 5. That information is now with the Department of Justice for them to review and do their own analysis, to provide analysis and advice that would come back to us. We will consider what options that we have available to us based on the information that we will get from the Department of Justice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Premier, a very simple question: Did you discuss severance with Mr. Martin on Tuesday, April 19?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, any discussion on severance was with the board of directors. The contract was with the board of directors. I can’t say it any more clearer than that. So any severance package would have been discussed with the board of directors of Nalcor. That was their decision. The CEO, it’s their employee, the contract that they had was held with them, Mr. Speaker. So any settlement agreement, any decision around what the package would look like, was done by the board of directors of Nalcor. That was not something that I was party to; they did that themselves. The information that we have now available to us – made available to us on May 5 – is now with the Department of Justice for their review, for their analysis.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That’s not the question I asked. So I’m going to ask the question again, it’s very simple.

On April 19, did you discuss severance with Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I would with any contract that’s in place, I would expect that any agency would live up to whatever the contracts and conditions are. The contract in this particular case with the CEO, Mr. Martin, squarely, the responsibility to deliver on whatever the conditions of the employment for their CEO was with the board of directors of Nalcor. The decision was made by the board of directors of Nalcor. That was not something I was party to. The information came to me on May 5. I can’t say it any more clearly than that.

I’m not so sure if the outgoing premier – by the way, it was a contract that was designed by the previous administration and a board appointed by them.

So, with that said, the information that I received on May 5 is now with the Department of Justice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind him that the Minister of Finance was on the board at the time, but he hasn’t answered the question. Premier, I don’t know why you won’t answer the question. It’s a very simple question. The fact you won’t answer it is significant.

Did you discuss severance with Mr. Martin in your discussion with him on April 19? A simple question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the former premier, of all people in this province, should know that the CEO was an employee, the CEO of Nalcor. It wasn’t my responsibility and my objective – anything at all related to the Office of the Premier. Maybe they are used to interfering in that office, I can’t answer that. Maybe that’s something they did on a regular basis.

But, the contract with the CEO and the severance package that became public on May 4, the information I received around that on May 5, is now with the Department of Justice. We will be exploring what options we have as a government, that we have available to us, which would include how severance was paid and so on. So, this will be analyzed and reviewed by the Department of Justice, then the decision on what options we have available to us on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That’s when we will make the decision that we have that’s available to us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So we’re going to assume he did discuss it. He won’t answer the question. He won’t provide the information, so we’re going to assume that he did discuss it.

Mr. Speaker, I’m going to ask the Premier: Considering we now know – or it’s safe to conclude because you won’t say otherwise – you had a discussion about severance. If you had a problem with the severance, the $1.4 million severance, why didn’t you move on it or take action on it?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m sure the former premier would know just by his own management, his own planning, that he makes a lot of assumptions. As a matter of fact, they assumed they had a deal with the fisheries fund. They assumed wrong. They also assumed that this year we would not have a $2.7 billion deficit. Mr. Speaker, they were wrong. So I was not about to make any assumptions.

The contract with the CEO squarely lied with the – was with the board of directors of Nalcor. That information that I became aware of on May 5 is with the Department of Justice, Mr. Speaker, and that’s when the decisions will be made on what options we have available to us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: It’s regrettable that I have to interrupt question and answer period. I’m asking the Member for Mount Pearl North to respect the individual that has been recognized to speak.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier won’t answer, won’t say specifically if he did or did not, won’t confirm or deny that he had discussions on severance with Mr. Martin. He did say on May 5 he became aware. The rest of the province knew on May 4. He became aware on May 5.

I ask the Premier: What did you instruct the Department of Justice to do on May 5, and who in the department was assigned to do whatever it is you wanted done?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What I said, the details around the severance package which I became aware of on May 5. Then after review of that, we actually handed that over to the Department of Justice which is where it is today. Right now, I think the responsibility on all of us is to let the Department of Justice take the time they need to do a proper review so that we will know what options we have available to us based on the decision that was made by the former board of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Who did you contact in the Department of Justice?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe the former premier, what he’s asking for is specific names. We have a full group of people, of course, that are within the Department of Justice. I’m not in that department on a day-to-day basis but I’m very comfortable and very confident in the people we have working on that file within the Department of Justice.

Clearly, I will tell you right now, that whoever it takes, whoever the individuals are within the Department of Justice, these are – maybe there will be multiple people, but we will do whatever it takes – the individuals that we have in the Department of Justice to make sure that we do a proper review and a proper analysis of this.

It’s not about the individuals. There will be a number of individuals that will be involved in this I’m sure, from beginning to end.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the Premier: Why did you wait until just yesterday to make this public that you had provided direction to the Department of Justice to review this circumstance? Why did you wait until yesterday?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, as I said, I became aware of the conditions around the decision that was made by the board of Nalcor on May 5. So we handed that over to the Department of Justice for their review. Once that review is completed, what information that we can actually legally put forward and make public, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to put all of it out there, Mr. Speaker. That’s clearly where I’d like to be on this.

Of course, there’s a process that we have to go through, so the timing on all of this is – and as the former premier would know, you often go to the Department of Justice for advice on many issues. If we were to stand up in this particular House and we were to say, okay, by the way we just called the Department of Justice, we need an opinion on that, we would probably be doing that every day as the former premier should know.

Right now, the Department of Justice is doing a review. Whatever information we can put out there, once that’s completed, we will.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier is on the record as saying much earlier that he had a legal opinion on this that guided the decisions that were made.

Will you table that legal opinion here in the House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Any legal opinions that I would have received so far are still with the Department of Justice right now for their analysis. I have not received anything at all from a legal opinion prior to May 5. That work is ongoing now with the Department of Justice.

As information becomes available to them, they will do their analysis. Then we’ll see what information, what options we have available to us once the review is completed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier is on the record as publicly saying he had a legal opinion which led to the decision of paying the severance. You said we have a legal opinion. It was your words, Premier.

Where is that legal opinion? Will you table that here in the House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m very glad, actually, to clarify this and speak to this and answer this question. The legal opinions, based on the severance that was paid out to the former CEO, are with Nalcor. That is the legal opinion, the advice that was given to them to make their decision that they eventually used to create the agreement and the severance package that was put forward to Mr. Martin.

The legal opinions that the former premier is talking about are in possession of Nalcor. It is their opinion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier is on the record as saying that there was a legal opinion that based the decision for providing the severance.

Did you actually see the legal opinion, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No, I have not seen any legal opinion or advice that was given to Nalcor. That is not something that I would be privy to. That was given to Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: So the Premier says it was a legal opinion at Nalcor, which we heard coming into the House today that Nalcor doesn’t have a legal opinion. He says it was part of his decision-making process.

How could you say you used a legal opinion as part of your own decision-making process when you’re saying now you never saw a legal opinion?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’m going to try and clarify this for the former premier again. The decision around severance was made with the board of directors of Nalcor. Let’s be very clear. The board of directors made the decision on the severance with the former CEO.

The former premier makes reference to an opinion that was given. He’s saying there was no opinion given. Clearly, if he checked for the record, there was an opinion given. There was a verbal opinion that was given to the board of Nalcor. That’s been clarified, as I understand it to be. That is not an opinion that was given to me; neither should it be as Premier of the province. The people responsible for the CEO of Nalcor are indeed the board of directors of Nalcor. It was there opinion and their decision.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I will ask Members again for their respect. I’m fully expecting there will be no heckling during question and answer period.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to ask the Premier again because this is very important. He spoke publicly and said that the decision on severance, and his position, was related directly to a legal opinion. Now he is saying today that he never saw the legal opinion. There wasn’t actually a written legal opinion. It was a verbal opinion.

Premier, can you clarify that? Are you saying decisions were made based on verbal advice, not an opinion, when you publicly said you had a legal opinion?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let’s clarify. The opinions given based on the severance and the decisions made based on the severance of the former CEO were given – not to me; it was given to the board of directors of Nalcor. They own the contract. They held the contract with the former CEO.

To clarify this for the former premier, any legal advice, any legal opinions were given to the board of directors of Nalcor. That was advice and opinion not given to me, but given to the board of Nalcor. It was based on the advice and the opinions that they were given, I understand. That is how they made their decision.

We now have the Department of Justice involved with government, our own officials in the Department of Justice to see what options we have. They will review that. They will do their own analysis of that, then a decision can be made on what options we have available to us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the Premier is saying he was informed of a legal opinion. Well, tell us this Premier: Who provided that opinion directly to you?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On May 5, there was information that was given to me about how the decision was made. I’ve now turned that over to the Department of Justice for their review. Once their analysis is completed, we will know what options we have available to us. Then we will be in the position, I am hoping, that all of this information, based on what transpired between April 20 and May 5, this is information that, based on the opinions we get from the Department of Justice, we’re hoping to get as much of this out there in the public realm as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll try this again.

Who shared the opinion with you, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Who shared the opinion with me? Mr. Speaker, the opinion was not shared with me. What has happened here is the board of directors of Nalcor, who hold the contract, they went out, they got legal advice on the decision they had made. It was exclusively their decision to actually terminate the former CEO without cause.

That decision rests with the board of directors at Nalcor. We now have this information, which is currently under review with the officials of the Department of Justice within government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So, the Premier never saw a legal opinion. He somehow knows there is one, but no one told him or shared it with him. It wasn’t shared with him at all. He repeated several times yesterday that there was a legal opinion.

How did you even know there was a legal opinion if nobody shared it with you, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I think the whole province knows that there was an opinion. If the former premier just listened to the media outlets, there was an opinion that was just – as a matter of fact, I think it was the officials at Nalcor that just told the people of the province that there was a verbal opinion they had sought. So it’s very clear this is a decision that was made by Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Premier of the province addressed the people of the province in the media and said there was a legal opinion. Repeated it several times, repeated it yesterday. Now today he’s telling us he’s not aware of the legal opinion. He’s going by what was in the media, Mr. Speaker. Absolutely shameful, the Premier of the province stands before the people and shares an opinion –

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What is actually shameful here is we have the former premier here playing politics with this. I clearly said yesterday, yes, there was an opinion that was given to the board of directors at Nalcor. I’ve always stated that – the opinion was given to the board of directors at Nalcor. It wasn’t given to me as Premier. It was advice that was given to the board of directors – the former board of directors at Nalcor.

So that opinion, that advice, squarely to them, they made their decisions based on that. The next review, next legal opinion based on this will be done with the officials within our own department. Once that analysis, that review is completed, we will then know what options we have available to us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m trying to clarify this and make a full understanding. Were you informed what the legal opinion was? Were you informed of that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, so many times today, the opinion given legally, the advice was given to the board of directors, so I was not informed. The legal advice that was given to the board of directors at Nalcor, that was advice that was given to them.

Based on that, they made their decision. Based on that decision, now we’re going to do our own review within the Department of Justice here representing the people of our province. That’s the step that we are at today. The opinions given were given to the board of directors at Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we know there’s a resolution of the board regarding the termination of the former CEO. Will you table that resolution here in the House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The information that we have available to us – the former premier says he knows it was a resolution. Maybe he’s got a copy of it. But whatever information we have right now is with the Department of Justice. Once they have done their review and their analysis, all of this information that we can put out there publically, legally, we are more than willing to do it.

There is no reason I would anticipate that a resolution – the board of directors is not something that can be made public, but that is really a decision that I will take the advice from our own Department of Justice. Clearly, I think this is something that can be done. I have really no issue with it, but we want to make sure that we complete the review and the analysis from the Department of Justice before any of this information is released.

I can tell you right now, Mr. Speaker, the more information that we can put out there on this, that is where I want to be.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So, Premier, will you table all of that information in the House here this afternoon?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, clearly I have to say, that is one of the worst questions I have ever heard this former premier say. After all we’ve been through here right now, what he’s expecting me to do is table information without even going through a process that we would go through – maybe the former premier is used to interfering with Access to Information and Protection of Privacy. Maybe that’s what he’s used to doing when he sat in this chair, but I can tell you right now, I will respect the process of the individuals that are involved. And it’s when we get through that process, when the analysis is completed, I will be very happy to put to the people of this province any information that can be made public. I’m hoping that it can be all made public, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Yes, $1.4 million is significant dollars to oversee, I’d say to the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier claims he had no involvement or knowledge of the terms of Mr. Martin’s departure. So I ask the Premier: Did you meet with, or have any discussions with members of the Nalcor board to discuss his actual departure?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I met a number of times with the former chair of Nalcor. I never met really with the board of directors at Nalcor. That meeting never happened, but it was not related specifically to a contract or a severance agreement. There was no information that was shared with me about a draft severance or any of the details. That information, I became aware of on May 5, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Did you have any discussions with the board on the future employment of Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: No, Mr. Speaker, I never had any discussions with the board of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Just to be clear, Premier, did you have any discussions with the board on the future employment of Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the question the Member opposite asked is about discussions with the board of Nalcor about the future employment of Mr. Martin. No, I did not have any discussions with the board.

We had the meeting on Tuesday night with Mr. Martin. There were no members of the board present at that meeting. The decision was made on the future of Mr. Martin. He made that decision himself when he made a decision to step aside. The severance package was then determined by the outgoing – the former board of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: What involvement did she have in this matter, and when did she become aware of the details of the termination agreement for Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was pleased to be involved in the meetings with Mr. Martin on April 17 and again on April 19. I was with the Premier when we were having the discussions with Mr. Martin when he decided to step down on the 20th of April.

As has been determined and discussed here this afternoon, the decisions around the contract of Mr. Martin rest with the board of directors. The board of directors made the determination.

I think his final question was on the contract agreement. I did not see anything until I returned from Houston on May 9.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Premier said he was hands off the severance settlement for the former CEO of Nalcor. He stated to the media yesterday outside the House that there was a lot going on. We’ve not been able to get a straight answer on this matter.

I ask the Premier again today: Did you discuss a contract or a settlement with Mr. Martin in your April 19 meeting that you and the Minister of Natural Resources had with him?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would agree with the former premier, after April 20 or April 19 there was a lot going on. What we had was of course we had the former CEO who had resigned or stepped aside and we had a board that a few days later had resigned. So there was a lot of work going on around this time frame I would say, Mr. Speaker.

When you look at the contracts that were in place with the former CEO, this is a contract that was in place by the board of directors. The negotiations around the severance and the activities related to those contracts, these negotiations were had with the board of directors.

It is not a negotiation that was with me. This information, as I said yesterday, nothing new to report. It’s now back with the officials at the Department of Justice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the Premier once again: Did you discuss the contract settlement with him on April 19?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: No, I did not, Mr. Speaker. I’ve not had that discussion. It was not a discussion for me to have. It was with the board. Any discussion on those circumstances or conditions would have been with the people that actually had the contract in place. That would have been with the board of directors of Nalcor.

That is where the contract lies. That’s where any negotiations would have been. I did not have any access at all to the specifics around any of this information until May 5.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Finally, we get a straight answer after asking numerous times if it was part of the discussion. The Premier just went on the record as saying it was not discussed. Severance, settlement was not discussed with Mr. Martin.

Yesterday, outside the House of Assembly the Premier stated that he knew on April 20 that Mr. Martin was being terminated without cause. Mr. Speaker, on April 20 the Premier stood before the people of the province and said that Mr. Martin had resigned.

Premier, why two different stories?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s really not two different stories. What you saw on April 20 were two stories of the same thing because they were based on the facts. When I stood in front of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and gave the advisory Mr. Martin was stepping down at around 11 o’clock on April 20, and just a few minutes after that actually Mr. Martin did the same thing at the offices of Nalcor. It was his decision to step aside, and he made that very clear within his public announcement that he made to the people of the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, yesterday the Premier said outside the House that on April 20 he was aware that Mr. Martin was being terminated. Now that’s a different statement, Mr. Speaker, than saying when he stood in front of the cameras and said he resigned.

So why the two different stories, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s not two different stories. The statement yesterday about the termination was a decision that was made by the board of Nalcor. That was a decision that was made by them. It was very clear when I spoke to the people of the province on April 20, it was Mr. Martin was stepping aside. Mr. Martin actually spoke to the people of the province at around 11:45; the same thing, he was stepping aside.

Any decision around the relationship between the former CEO of Nalcor is with the former board of directors of Nalcor. All the information related to those events is now with the Department of Justice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’ll make it easier for the Premier then. On April 20, you stood before the people of the province, you said Mr. Martin resigned. You’ve also said that on April 20 you knew he was terminated without cause. Now that’s your words, Premier, you’ve said it, that he was terminated without cause. I’m not sure how that can be the same thing. You can stand in front of the people and say he resigned, yet you knew he was terminated without cause.

How do you square that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’ll try and clarify this for the former premier. The contract with the former CEO was clearly with the board of directors of Nalcor. So any termination of the CEO would have been the responsibility of the people that held the contract.

When I appeared before the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador it was based on the discussion we had with Mr. Martin. He was stepping aside from his role at Nalcor – which he concurred with, by the way, just 45 minutes later when he spoke to the people of the province that he was stepping aside from his position as CEO of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s not the question.

The question is, when you spoke to the people of the province on April 20, you stood out here with the Minister of Natural Resources: Did you know at that time the board was terminating Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: No, I did not.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Premier said outside here that on April 20 he was aware that he was being terminated without cause.

How do you explain that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The question that the former premier asked me is when I stood out, did I know. No, I did not.

Mr. Speaker, the conditions of the termination of Mr. Martin were clearly with the board of directors of Nalcor. That information is now with the Department of Justice. They are going to review it, they are going to look at the information provided by them, and we will get direction on what we should do next, Mr. Speaker.

So it’s with the Department of Justice right now. When the work is done there’ll be more information, of course, that we’ll be able to determine what the direction will be for us as a government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier stood outside of the House of Assembly yesterday, in front of the media, and he said that on April 20 he knew that Mr. Martin was being terminated by the board without cause. Now, he said that yesterday.

So are you changing now your version of events? Why a different version now then?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When we stood outside the House of Assembly on April 20 and spoke to the people of the province announcing that the former CEO of Nalcor was stepping aside, it was his decision to step aside. It was the same – if the former premier would like to listen to the 11:45 o’clock address that the former CEO, what he did when he spoke to the media from the office of Nalcor, he, himself, said he was stepping aside from his current position at Nalcor.

That was the decision that was made by the former CEO, Mr. Speaker. In his address, he clearly outlines and gives his reasons why he was stepping down. It was clearly his decision.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, that’s not the question. The question is: Yesterday, the Premier stood before the media speaking to the people of the province and he said that on April 20 he was aware that Mr. Martin was being terminated without cause. Now he’s giving different information to the House of Assembly here today.

So my question to you is: Premier, why did you tell the media yesterday you knew on April 20 he was being terminated without cause?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, what I said yesterday is that when I stood in front of the House of Assembly and gave the address to the people of the province, it was based on the fact that Mr. Martin was stepping aside. Mr. Martin himself reiterated that and said the same thing at 11:45 o’clock when he addressed the people of the province.

The board of Nalcor made a decision. It was their decision because it was their contract. From the interpretation and from what I gather, some advice that they were given, they made their decision. That decision clearly was with the board of directors of Nalcor, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m going to suggest to the Premier that he was quite aware that there was a settlement offer and there was going to be an agreement. I’m going to suggest that to the Premier. He also said that he was too busy and there was too much going on to follow up.

I say to the Premier, if you knew Mr. Martin was entitled to a settlement, there was too much going on and you were too busy to follow up, why was that not important enough? Why was that not an important enough matter to keep your eye on?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’m glad the former premier asked that question, because we have a megaproject. We’ve done extensive reviews with EY. We had schedules. We had costs. We obviously had the government’s issues that were outlined in the EY report. So I found myself in the position where the CEO had just left. We had a megaproject that was ongoing at Muskrat Falls.

So I will tell you, my focus was really making sure that we put measures in place to secure the work that was being done. We have many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are currently working on that project. It’s a megaproject, I say, Mr. Speaker.

My job, as Premier of this province – the board now was going to resign. We now had to get in place a board. We needed to find a CEO. We needed to find some people who could actually keep Nalcor operating. We had a great group of people over there working on a day-to-day basis, but my focus clearly shifted to the operations of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: How did you find out and when did you find – I know you said May 5. How did you find out that Mr. Martin was receiving severance?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, all this information is now with the Department of Justice. There is information I became aware of on May 5 in terms of the details around the severance package of Mr. Martin. All this information is now with the Department of Justice. When they’ve completed their review, then that information, hopefully, will be available to the public. There is a process that we must adhere to. It’s now with the Department of Justice.

As you know, the former board no longer exists so people who made those decisions are not board members anymore. Clearly, Mr. Speaker, there’s some work to be done with the Department of Justice. They will review all the activities that happened around April 20, then again on May 5 and the time frame in between. Once the Department of Justice has completed their work, then we’ll have more information that will be available.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: How did you become aware there was a severance package?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think what the former premier is trying to get at right now will best be determined by the Department of Justice. All this information has been turned over to the Department of Justice in terms of timelines and so on, all the activity.

Mr. Speaker, when the Department of Justice is finished their work, we will then be in the better position to determine what direction needs to be taken. We’re doing that on behalf of the people of our province right now.

Let’s let the Department of Justice do their work on this particular issue. When that is done, in due course, then we will have more information we will be able to provide.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I’m going to try this again because you know it’s difficult getting information. When a person avoids a question like this, it leads someone to believe is there something that he’s trying to hide.

I’ll ask the Premier one more time: How did you become aware that Mr. Martin was receiving a severance package?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The former board of directors had made the decision. They made their interpretation, their decision based on the information that they had available to them. This information is now with the board of directors. There is nothing to hide. What we’re doing is we’re working within an established process now with the Department of Justice, keeping in mind that we have protection of privacy, we have access to information.

There is a process that we need to allow to happen here, Mr. Speaker. This process is not a long – this will not take too long, I hope. So we’ll get this information out there as soon as we possibly can.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier won’t tell us. Maybe, Premier, I’ll try to prompt your memory a little bit. Maybe you can tell us if this is true.

Did you receive correspondence from anybody on the board, maybe an email, a letter, a phone call, or have a discussion to discuss this very matter?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There’s a lot of information, I guess, that would have been back and forth. That information is now with the Department of Justice. From the timeline and the logistics, as soon as the information and the schedule, the time tables are completed, that information – what we are able to put out there, protecting people’s privacy, protecting the process that we must adhere to, Mr. Speaker, I can’t wait to get that information out there as soon as Justice is finished their work.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It’s apparent the Premier doesn’t want to share the information.

I’ll ask him a very simple question: Yes or no, did you receive any correspondence from the board or a representative of the board regarding compensation for Mr. Martin? Yes or no.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Justice officials right now are preparing all the schedules, the timelines around the logistics, the information. It’s all with them right now, Mr. Speaker. That information will be shared once they have completed their work which should not take too long.

We’re hoping to have this done in a very timely fashion, Mr. Speaker. I want to get this information out there too. Once the Department of Justice is finished their work, then we’ll be sharing it with the people of the province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier referenced what Mr. Martin had said, and I’ll remind him. On April 20, Mr. Martin, when he spoke to the media and announced he was leaving Nalcor, said that he met with the Premier and I quote: “… talked things through and found a way forward that was acceptable” to us both. He also said: I waited until we had alignment.

I ask the Premier again: Did you have a conversation with Mr. Martin about a settlement or a financial package? What kind of alignment did you reach?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: No, Mr. Speaker, that conversation did not happen with me. The details are in the severance package. I became aware of it on May 5. These decisions were made by the former board at Nalcor, Mr. Speaker. They held the contract. It was them who put the contract and they were responsible for the developments that occurred. That information, I became aware of on May 5.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Premier said, when referencing the same meeting, they talked about a number of different scenarios between the meeting on April 17 and April 19 – a number of scenarios.

I ask the Premier: What were the scenarios you discussed?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have had many discussions, of course, with the former CEO of Nalcor over the last few months in terms of the Muskrat Falls Project, Nalcor in general. What was discussed at that meeting, those two meetings on the 17th and the 19th of April, Mr. Speaker, these were private meetings we had with Mr. Martin. It was really about the way forward. Obviously, during the discussion he came out of that suggesting then that he was going to be stepping aside at Nalcor. It was a decision that he made.

Mr. Speaker, as I said on April 20, we respect the decision that Mr. Martin made to step aside at Nalcor. He reiterated and said many, many times that was a decision he made for his own best interest.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier said they discussed a variety of scenarios, different scenarios.

Will you or will you not tell us what those scenarios are? Yes or no.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, the information that occurred in all those meetings now will be shared with the Department of Justice. They will review all of this, Mr. Speaker, and once they do their work, which I’m looking forward to them having completed, then obviously there’s a process in what can be shared through the access to information and through protection of privacy and so on.

Once the process is finalized, then we’ll be able to share all the information that’s available once the process has done its due course. Mr. Speaker, I really look forward to getting that information out there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you.

Premier, on April 17 and April 19 you say you’ve shared the discussions with the Department of Justice. Was there notes taken at these meetings? Was there an agenda that was followed? Were there minutes kept, and who did that, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Whatever information came out of that meeting will be – the Department of Justice will have access to all of that. Mr. Speaker, we’re letting them do their job, which is the prudent, responsible thing to do.

Once that information is all compiled, then that information will be taken – and what can be released of course when we think of the interests of Mr. Martin in this particular case as the former CEO. Mr. Speaker, I really want to get this information out there on behalf of the people of our province, but first and foremost we will let the Department of Justice do their work and do their analysis and do their review of the work and the proceedings and the information that they have available to them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We want the Department of Justice to do their work too. They’ve had it for three weeks, they’re making a decision if Mr. Martin was entitled to severance or not, was it properly paid. It’s taken three weeks to get a legal opinion on that, Mr. Speaker.

The question is for the Premier, very simply, he’s saying that the contents and discussions were shared with Justice from the meeting on April 17 and the meeting of April 19. Now, there were either minutes kept or there was an agreement or an alignment, as Mr. Martin says, reached around severance or his departure from Nalcor.

So, Premier: What records were kept on those two meetings, April 17, April 19? You’ve shared the records with Justice. What records were kept?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, one more time. Whatever information that’s available from those meetings, the April 20 and so on, will be reviewed by Justice, is currently being reviewed by Justice. They are doing their work. We’re going to allow them to do their work. We don’t anticipate this to be a long, drawn-out process. I do not want that either. I don’t think anyone really wants it to be a long, drawn-out process.

When Justice has completed their work, we will have the information and be able to determine then what can best be shared with the people of our province right now. Mr. Speaker, clearly, I hope all of it can be.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So let’s just recap what we have. We have the Premier saying there were a number of scenarios discussed. We have Mr. Martin saying that between the 17th of April and the 19th of April they wanted to reach what he referred to as an alignment.

The Premier now says the results of those meetings and documents and information kept of those meetings has been shared with the Department of Justice.

Premier: Will you share that here in the House, or are you going to wait for the House to close for the summer break before you wrap this up?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, there are two things – and I will say for that to come from the former premier, of all the information that he himself has withheld from the people of our province, Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely shameful. We will not put our province in a position – when the information is readily available, when it’s ready to be released, when Justice has done the review, it will be released, I will say, Mr. Speaker.

If this House is open – and I hope it is; I hope this House is open so we can put it out there, whenever it is, but we will do it at the earliest possible date. I question the former premier why it is he would not do the same.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: I’ll tell you what’s shameful, Mr. Speaker, is that the Premier won’t give answers to the people of the province. That’s what’s shameful.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: The people in the province want to know what actually happened here, and we can’t get answers from the Premier. Now, Premier, you say there are records kept in those meetings.

Simple question: Were there minutes kept in the April 17 and April 19 meetings? Were there records kept or minutes kept of those meetings? Simple question, yes or no.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

All the information that we have available to us is given to the Department of Justice for them to review. There was nothing here, Mr. Speaker, but we must go through the process with the Department of Justice right now to allow them to do their work and to get their work completed.

This will not be a long, drawn-out affair, as I said, Mr. Speaker. I’m anticipating this to be just in days the Department of Justice will have their work reviewed. I look forward to getting that information out there as quickly as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We know the Minister of Natural Resources participated in these meetings, so I’ll ask the minister: Did you keep notes of those meetings?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

As the Premier has recounted many, many times, the information is with the Department of Justice. All the information, the review of the decision of the board of directors regarding Mr. Martin’s contract is with the Department of Justice.

We’re hoping to have something clarified from the Department of Justice in due course. With the parameters around what can be released, we will absolutely make that available.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the Minister of Natural Resources again, a very simple question, yes or no. We fully understand and get what the Department of Justice is doing – we fully get it.

The question is very simple: Do you have records from those two meetings, April 17 and April 19?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Again, this is a simple process of reviewing the decision of a board of directors around a contract with the CEO. As a government, as the shareholder, we are reviewing that decision.

The decision rests with the board of directors. We are taking a point of looking at the decision of the board of directors on behalf of the shareholders of this province, the people of this province. We’ve referred the information that we have to the Department of Justice for their review.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the Minister of Natural Resources this: Did you turn over records from the April 17 and April 19 meeting with you and the Premier and Mr. Martin? Did you turn over records to the Department of Justice?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think the Premier was quite clear that everything pertaining to the decision made by the board of directors for Mr. Martin has been referred to the Department of Justice.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There’s a trend over across the way that Members don’t want to answer questions on this very important matter.

I’ll ask the Minister of Natural Resources: Did you turn over records to the Department of Justice? It’s a very simple question, Minister. Did you – yes or no – turn over records?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think the Premier has been quite clear that we’ve provided the Department of Justice everything that we have regarding the decision that was made by the board of directors of Nalcor concerning the contract of Mr. Martin.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, for a very quick question.

MR. P. DAVIS: Oh, I’ll be quick, Mr. Speaker.

When did you find out Mr. Martin received severance?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: As I said yesterday, I received the details around the severance information on May 9 when I returned from Houston. It was available to me at that point.

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 30, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Justice officials have been working on an opinion on this whole severance affair for over three weeks.

I ask the Premier: What observations were made by the Department of Justice which led you to decide to call in the Auditor General?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, I’d like to say this is the last day for Fatimah. We just lost another Page here just a few weeks ago. So it really speaks to what’s happening in the House of Assembly as this is a great succession plan as they move on to the next career of their lives. So before I begin to answer the Members question, I’d like to express our thank you on behalf of government for the work they’ve done.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER BALL: To the question at hand about the work of the Department of Justice, Mr. Speaker, they completed their work on the weekend. As a result of that, they came back with a suggestion that, indeed, in order to finish and do the wholesome determination of the events around the appropriateness of the severance package that was paid to the outgoing CEO of Nalcor, that in their opinion what was required here was someone from the outside who could actually do an independent review, and their suggestion would be that the AG is well positioned to be able to do that review.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: What caused them to reach that conclusion, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you.

I’ll try it again: What caused them to reach that conclusion?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Department of Justice, which is not unusual for anyone in the Premier’s office to actually seek out and go looking for advice within the Department of Justice as a normal course of business. So in their opinion, in order to complete the exhaustive – and a determination of what was required in terms of the severance package for Mr. Martin, it would have required someone to actually go and interview people who would have been involved in that process.

As you know, the Department of Justice – that would not be in their realm of authority to do that. Although someone from the outside, they have – someone like the AG could actually do that. So the process would be determined by the AG then. We’ve outlined and we’ve passed over all the documentation that we have available to the AG. We’ve reached out to the AG. He and his office are willing to do this work. So in order to complete the kind of comprehensive review that’s required here, it’s the AG’s office that is best positioned to be able to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the Premier if he can confirm – we understand he received the report on Saturday from the Department of Justice. Was that a written report?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: The report was received on Saturday. After a review of the report, and when you look at the suggestions that were in the report from the Department of Justice, they came to the conclusion that in order to get to do the level of report that was required on this particular issue, in order to get to the fulsome determination that was mentioned in the report, in order to do that we needed someone to be able to go out with some more authority, to be able to interview people that were involved in this particular decision, and in order to do that we needed someone like the Auditor General, someone that was independent. We have supplied the AG’s office – we have reached out to that, supplied them with all the information that is required, and now the AG is prepared to start that work.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Premier stated here in the House of Assembly on numerous occasions now that he would make this report public.

Will you table that report here in the House of Assembly today, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When you look at the documentation that will be forwarded to the AG, and this is – bringing the AG’s office in, I would think the former premier and maybe the Leader of the Third Party would be up complimenting what we had done on the weekend, because this is something they’ve been asking us to do as a government for quite some time now.

So what we decided to do was let the Department of Justice complete their work, which they did on Saturday. We acted swiftly, I would say, Mr. Speaker, because we asked the AG to come in once the report was back. Right now, the report from the Department of Justice, we’ll turn that over to the AG.

A couple of things we want is to make sure we have a fair and full process, and we also want to make sure that information that’s out there would not influence in any way the work of the AG. All the information is now with the AG to use in his determination of the events.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, Premier, last week you repeated several times here in the House you would release the information. As a matter of fact, you stood here one day and you talked about how important it was for you to get the information out as quickly as possible. You said: I can’t wait to get that information out as soon as Justice finishes their work. You said: Once the Department of Justice finished their work, then we’ll be sharing it with the people of the province.

You went on to say: I look forward to getting the information out as quickly as possible. As a matter of fact, Premier, nine times on Thursday you said you were going to release it as soon the Department of Justice finished their work.

So, Premier, I’ll ask you again: Will you table the documents from the Department of Justice, all the information they had, and their opinion here in the House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, part of all of that too was allowing the Department of Justice to complete their work. By then we would be into a situation where we’d be determining what options we had available to us, which direction we would go.

In this particular case, we turned over all the information to the Auditor General. So it’s not if we’re going to do this, it’s going to be when we’re going to do this. The former premier, he may think it’s the better exercise to put information out there that could maybe have a negative impact on the independence of the work of the AG.

What’s important for me today is to let the AG be in the position to put in place a very full, fair analysis on this documentation. Also to have information available, not to influence the interviews or the work of the AG, it’s to make sure the information is out there at the appropriate time. It is not if; it is just necessarily when, I say, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, that is contrary to what you said last week, Premier, with all due respect. You said here in the House last week: I’m anticipating this to be just in a few days, referring to the report from the Department of Justice, that they’ll have the work reviewed and as soon you get it and as quickly as possible, you’re going to table it.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I can’t think of any reason why all of the information available to the Premier can no longer be tabled or made available.

I will ask the Premier again: Are you going to flip-flop one more time, or are you going to stick to what you committed to last week and table the information here in the House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m not surprised at all with some of the language coming from the former premier. It seems to be what he’d like to do. He is really not too concerned at all about due diligence. We’ve never seen that. Any history at all when he spent his time in government planning and making sure that information was done correct was never anything that he was concerned about before, so I don’t know why he would be concerned about it today.

We are not interested at all in prejudicing any of the work of the AG. We will get the information out there when it’s the right time to do it. What’s more important now – people are concerned about this – we want to have a very fair and full process for the AG. The documentation is gone to the AG. It’s the Department of Justice themselves that said they should bring in someone like the AG, not have information out there that could influence the work of the AG.

Mr. Speaker, it is not if; it is just a matter of when we can get that legal information out there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this is not about me or what anyone else has done. This is about what the Premier said. Nine times he said on Thursday that as soon as possible, he wanted to do it. He was going to get it out right away. Have it in a few days, is what the Premier said.

Premier, explain to the House how this will be prejudicial to the investigation being done by the Auditor General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I can assure you too it seems to be not only prejudicial on behalf of the former premier, but it is obviously becoming very political, I would suggest too, Mr. Speaker. Let’s not forget that those contracts that were put in place were put in place by the very party that he leads. So let’s not forget that.

Right now, Mr. Speaker, what I’m mostly concerned about is to have a very fair and very full process. This information just became available over the weekend. We’ve asked the AG to get involved. The AG has committed to get involved, his office; they will deal with this. What’s also important here is not to have information that could actually influence the work of the AG.

Mr. Speaker, as I said, this information will get out there, but let’s let the AG – which the very Member opposite has asked us to do – in there so that office can get the work done in the most efficient way.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’re delighted you brought the Auditor General in, no two ways about it, but the Premier made a commitment last week that he would table information. Now he’s saying it could prejudice the Auditor General.

I’ll ask him again, because he hasn’t answered the question: How could this prejudice the work the Auditor General is going to do?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, we’ve given the information to the Auditor General. He will determine and outline the process that he sees fit. That is the best way to answer the questions that we’ve asked him to do.

What’s important here is to get that fulsome determination and examine the decision on the severance package for the former CEO. I think it’s very fair that we give the AG the opportunity, number one, to outline the process that his office would like to use. Number two, maintain the integrity of that process. That will allow then a very fair – a very full and fair process to occur.

Mr. Speaker, this is the AG. It’s an important piece of work that he’s doing right now. The documentation is in the office now. They will outline the process that is best for them. This information will get out there when the AG determines his process.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, the Premier knew right well that this could very well end up in an investigation by the Auditor General. He talked about it last week. The province talked about it; yet, he went on to say numerous times – just at our last sitting day on Thursday, the last time this House sat, that he would release the information as soon as possible. He’s saying one thing on Thursday but he’s doing something else, is what he’s doing. We’ve seen this pattern before, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier has not explained why or how this is going to prejudice the Auditor General. You made a commitment to release the information as soon as possible. Why won’t you live up to that commitment you made the last day we sat here?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’m glad the former premier actually mentioned as soon as possible because that’s exactly what we intend to do. First of all, I think it’s very fair, unless we want to get into a situation where the information that’s out there in the public could actually influence the work of the AG.

Mr. Speaker, the AG here is a very credible office in this House of Assembly. We’ve asked him – we brought the AG in to do this piece of work right now. What’s important here is to maintain the integrity of the process, making sure nothing is out there that would influence in a negative way the work of the AG. So having this information now, the documentation in the office of the AG is extremely important to me and to this government. It will enable a very fair and full process.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you.

Are you saying the Auditor General could be influenced by the information that you table here in the House of Assembly, or we’re asking you to table? Is that what you just said?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, I tell you, I can’t even believe that question. The question was: Are you saying the Auditor General could be influenced? I just told the Member opposite that we’re giving him all the information. So we want the information to influence the work and the process that he does.

What I’m saying is – what the Member opposite is asking is that we lay it out there today in advance of the Auditor General having a chance, the opportunity to review the documentation. That is too foolish to even think about what he just said, that that would influence the Auditor General.

We’re going to give the information to the Auditor General, I say, Mr. Speaker. When he gets a chance to review the documentation, he will then outline his process that he will establish. It’s then that the determination could be made when this information gets out there. It’s not a matter of when or if we’re going to do this. We will do this at the earliest possible date.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Those were the Premier’s words, not mine. It came out of his mouth moments before he got up on his last answer. It’s very simple. If it’s not going to in any way influence what the Auditor General does – and I’m glad you’ve confirmed that, because you sounded like you had a different position a few minutes ago – then there’s no reason not to release the information, Premier. You committed to it over and over and over again, and now you’ve changed your decision over the weekend.

Have you received any advice from anybody suggesting that you change that position, that you now not release the details that you promised to release just the last day we sat in this House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The advice to make sure we have a very open and a very fair and full process, a process that would not be influenced by information that we would prematurely put out there? Not at all, Mr. Speaker. We trust the Auditor General to do the work that they will do. That is the reason why we’re asking the Auditor General, at the recommendation of the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice on Saturday said that in order to do the fulsome determination of what’s required here, you need someone from the outside, someone independent to come in. The Auditor General is in the best position, Mr. Speaker, to be able to do that. We’ve provided them the information that his office will need. They will do the investigation – which will mean from time to time, I would guess, that they are going to interview certain people that were involved in this.

So, Mr. Speaker, once that information has been dealt with, the Auditor General will give his report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the Premier: Who will the Auditor General report to?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Well, Mr. Speaker, if the former premier has to ask this House who the Auditor General reports to – he’s an independent officer of this House of Assembly. Who does he think he’s going to report to? He’s going to report to this House, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask all Members one last time today, that the person standing to be recognized is the only person that should be speaking.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, maybe the Premier should have a look at the Auditor General Act because it gives him three options: he can report to the House of Assembly, to the Public Accounts Committee or to Cabinet. So now I’m glad we have the Premier on record that the Auditor General will report to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Will that report be made public as soon as that report is completed, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, it’s our intention to get all this information out in the public realm as quickly as possible, but we have to allow the process to unfold. I just said to the Members opposite that the Auditor General will report to the House of Assembly. That will obviously mean that would be then public, of course. This is where we want to get this.

What’s important here, Mr. Speaker, is to make sure that we have the process in place that has integrity, that is very full, very fair and one that is not influenced by anything that we would do. Once the Auditor General gets the opportunity to establish whatever the process he would like for his office to follow, then he will do his work that he does as he’s done in the past.

He will do the interview. Once the report is completed, it will be here in this House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the Premier: Does he expect the House of Assembly to be open at the time? If it’s not open at the time, will he reconvene the House of Assembly so we can debate the report from the Auditor General?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, one thing that we do, as we sit here in this House of Assembly – my job today was number one, to get the Auditor General at the start line so he can get started on this piece of work. We’ve done that rather swiftly, I would say. So we’ve been able to do that.

The amount of work that’s required for the Auditor General, I cannot determine what the timeline will be. I’m hoping that he’ll get through this as fast as possible. If this House will be open at that particular time – as I stand here today just getting this piece of work started, I do not know if this House will be open then or not.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve seen Auditor General reports that’s been given to this House of Assembly and there’s usually lots of opportunity at some particular point. We do not want to prejudge where this will go, but we look forward to getting the report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I saw the letter written to the Auditor General on the weekend.

I ask the Premier: Will the Auditor General be also investigating and looking into the potential involvement of the Premier, his staff, his Cabinet and his colleagues on the other side of the House?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said, the Auditor General will determine the process that his office would want. I’m fully expecting for our office to be involved in that. I can tell you right now as Premier of this province I will fully co-operate with the AG, if asked. I anticipate that will probably happen.

Mr. Speaker, I just look forward for the AG getting his work done in a way that’s not influenced by anything that would be prematurely put out there. I can tell you from what I know of the AG, it will be a very fair and full process.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When I read the letter from the Premier to Mr. Terry Paddon, who is the Auditor General, it looks to me the parameters of the instructions are fairly narrow: Inquire into a report on the appropriateness of severance benefits received by Mr. Martin.

So I ask the Premier: Will the review include any and all information that is available, any and all activities that have taken place; and, for example, will the activities of the Minister of Natural Resources and her attendance at meetings, will this be a part of the Auditor General’s review?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We’ve put in place a great IAC committee, and I anticipate by the sound of questioning here that we might have a future Auditor General in our presence.

Mr. Speaker, listen, in all fairness here, the Auditor General will outline the process that is required. He can expect full co-operation from any Members on this side of the House, once that process is determined. And I can tell you, from what I know of Members over here, there will be full co-operation for the Auditor General and, like most people in this province, we look forward to the finalization of that report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you.

Maybe the Premier can tell me this: Will the Auditor General also have a look at maybe any involvement, advice, direction, or assistance that the Minister of Finance has provided, given the fact that she’s a former chair of Nalcor and she was actually a board member when the contract was entered into with Mr. Martin?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to finish up on the last question too because when the Clerk had reached out to the AG in this particular case, the AG was very comfortable and felt that this was a very broad range, and this will allow him and his office to complete the work that they have been asked to do.

Mr. Speaker, you can anticipate, expect and will have full co-operation from all our Members, all our ministers on this side of the House, as the Auditor General goes about completing the work that we’ve asked him to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe the Premier can tell us this, because his answers are very vague as usual, but he referred to the media this morning about some type of telephone log. So the work that the Auditor General does, will he have access to any of these supposed telephone logs, your emails in and out of your office, your own personally or other emails – would that all be part of the Auditor General’s review as well?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said, what is important to me is that we have a very full, a very fair and a very open process. I will tell you that I will be co-operating. I will give whatever level of co-operation is required to the Auditor General as he completes his work, as I’m sure all our Members and ministers will. If there’s information that I have that I could bring to the AG, absolutely, that information will be made available to the AG.

Mr. Speaker, this is important because of the public concern that we have in our province. Mr. Speaker, I will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this so that the AG, the Auditor General, can do the type of work to the extent that we’ve asked him to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, maybe the Premier can tell us: Will the Auditor General also look at the minutes of meetings that were taken? Will he look at the fact that you had a meeting with Stan Marshall prior to Mr. Martin even resigning? Will the Auditor General look at the fact that you provided conflicting information here regarding when you actually became aware that would be receiving severance?

The Auditor General, will he also look at the fact that board members, current board members, when did they know about the severance being paid, what knowledge did they have and who approved the cheque? Will all of those matters be looked at, Premier, by the Auditor General?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Mr. Speaker, the only thing I think the former premier didn’t ask is to do the review of the Muskrat Falls Project.

Mr. Speaker, I can assure you right now, whatever the AG needs in terms of questioning and information that he would require to have or seems necessary to have from Members on this side of the House, including myself and my office, we’ll be more than happy to supply whatever information we have.

All the questions that were just outlined, they seemed to be very relevant, but I’m not here today, Mr. Speaker, to outline the process that the Auditor General would do. I would then be influencing his work. I respect and maintain the independency of the Auditor General. He is well positioned to do the work that he’s been asked to do, and he agrees with that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I appreciate that from the Premier and I’m glad he’s going to be open on this. Hopefully, he will hold to his word, this time.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll ask the Premier this: Will you also ask the Auditor General to consider the fact that when asked here in the House of Assembly, you and your government refused to state confidence or lack of confidence in the board of directors or Mr. Marshall and the executive team. Will the Auditor General also consider all of this to decide if actually there was a circumstance here created by you and your government whereby constructive dismissal of Mr. Martin was created and created by your government?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, what we’ve asked the Auditor General to do is to look into the appropriateness of the severance package that was given to Mr. Martin by the board of Nalcor, the outgoing board of Nalcor.

Mr. Speaker, when you consider the appropriateness of the severance contract, the severance package that was put in place, a number of those questions that the Member just asked, I would think, would form the questioning and part of the investigation, part of the reviewing of what occurred back in April until eventually the severance contract or agreement was put in place.

Mr. Speaker, all of these questions are very relevant to this. All I can tell you is that we will make ourselves available and we will be co-operating with whatever the AG asks.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On May 18, the Premier made a commitment to the people of the province that he would provide no less than 24 hours’ notice to the people when they were going to call the budget vote.

Premier: Are you going to stand by that commitment?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I have in my hand a copy of an email sent yesterday at 10:34 a.m. to the Opposition House Leader as well as the House Leader of the Third Party, which was clearly more than 24 hours’ notice provided to Members opposite, and certainly more notice than we were ever given when we sat on that side of the House.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remind the Premier that on May 18 the question was asked here in the House, and I’m reading from Hansard, “Will you provide, say, more than 24 hours’ notice to the public to let them know when the budget vote will take place?” And the answer was, “Yes, of course ….”

So, Premier, will you provide that notice?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly, the Opposition’s job is to ask questions on behalf of the public. That’s something they say they’ve been doing in this House for some time. They were given notice of this, more than 24 hours’ notice. More notice than they ever gave to us. So again, I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do here. They had this information; they chose not to share it. I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, this is not difficult. This is not about blaming people. This is not about who did what and what happened in the past. It’s not about this. What happened was we asked a question directly to the Premier, whose answer was, “Yes, of course.…” The question was: Will you notify the public?

Premier: Is this another commitment you’re going against?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I don’t know how to make it any clearer to the Leader of the Official Opposition that his House Leader and his staff were given notice yesterday morning, far more than 24 hours’ notice. They’ve had this information and chose not to say anything. Again, this is more notice than they ever provided in any year they were ever in government.

So again, if they want to keep asking, I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do. We’ve certainly gone above and beyond anything they ever did, and it’s more than 24 hours’ notice.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As the caucus applauds, the Premier is going against another commitment he made here in the House of Assembly to the people of the province – not to us, to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, May 30, here in the House of Assembly, the Premier said that the documentation involving the severance matter had all been passed over to the Auditor General. According to a Telegram story released just a short time ago, it indicates the Auditor General hasn’t seen any of the documentation.

So I ask the Premier: Have you passed over the documentation to the Auditor General or have you not?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, what I understand of it, the documentation that will be passed over to the Auditor General is that the Clerk is now putting this together. I understand the Auditor General was out of town, he is now back in town. The Clerk and the staff are putting this information all together and that will be passed over to the Auditor General for him to view.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: So, Mr. Speaker, this is another example of why we have to continue to ask and probe questions. Eight times yesterday – no less than eight times yesterday – the Premier stood in his place here and said the information had been passed over. Now we find out today that it hasn’t.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll ask the Premier this. In the story that was released a short time ago from The Telegram, the Auditor General has said that the public controversy and discussion is not prejudicing and will not prejudice the work that he has to do.

So I’ll ask the Premier: Knowing the Auditor General feels that way, will you now table the documents that you previously committed to table right here in the House of Assembly?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My understanding of the Auditor General’s comments is what he is suggesting is about what we are seeing now in the public commentary around this issue that we’ve asked him to review. Lots of the information of course right now is something that is not out there publicly. So we’re going to give this information to the Auditor General and we look forward to getting this information, everything that can be put out there legally, getting this out there as quickly as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier said several times here, as soon as the Department of Justice were finished he’d table it. Then he said he doesn’t want to interfere or prejudice the Auditor General’s report and wouldn’t release it. Well, the Auditor General has now said it won’t interfere or prejudice the work that he has to do.

Premier, you made a commitment repeatedly here in the House to the people of the province that as soon as the Department of Justice finished their work you’d table the information. Will you now table it, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the former premier missed in just saying in his question there was this. Is that the former premier –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: I’ve said on several occasions in the House that the only person I’m going to identify to speak is the person that has been identified to speak. If there’s another interruption today, the person who interrupts need not stand to be recognized today because they will not.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Auditor General – as the former premier just mentioned, that information is being put together right now for his review. So it would be very difficult for the Auditor General to actually make a comment of information that he hasn’t even reviewed yet.

We look forward to him getting all the information that we have available to him. He will then do his review and we will get everything that we have out there as quickly as possible. Whatever is legally possible to put out there, we will do just that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That’s two topics raised so far in a short period of time in Question Period and two commitments the Premier made which he’s now going against. We’ve seen the pattern in that, that’s for sure.

Mr. Speaker, the former CEO of Nalcor issued a statement yesterday. He stated on April 17 he met with the Premier, the Premier’s chief of staff and also the Minister of Natural Resources.

Will the Premier at least confirm that meeting took place?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Yes, we did meet on April 17 and on April 19, I say to the former premier. What I will say now while I have the opportunity, based on the comments that were made public yesterday coming out of that meeting, is that no severance was discussed, I say to the former premier. We did not discuss severance in either of the meetings of the 17th or the 19th.

Mr. Speaker, what was left out of that yesterday was this: What the former CEO asked me to do as Premier, asked this minister to do, was to go out and publicly – publicly – endorse the Muskrat Falls Project which we refused to do, to go out publicly and endorse his management team which we refused to do, to endorse him and his management team. We did not do that, Mr. Speaker.

We chose not to do that simply because we did not know the price of it, we did not know the schedule of it, Mr. Speaker. We were not prepared to be a cheerleader without having that information.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A little bit more information comes out. Mr. Speaker, I think what the Premier just said was that he won’t publicly state his confidence in the management team and leadership team of Nalcor.

Is that what you’re saying, Premier?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: What I said, Mr. Speaker, was that the former CEO of Nalcor asked me and this minister to publicly endorse the project, to publicly endorse the management team. That was a condition put in place by the former CEO.

I said based on where this project is, not knowing the cost – not knowing the cost of it, not knowing the schedule of it, it was not somewhere that I was prepared to go. I did not know the schedule; therefore, the former CEO made his decision then to step down.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the world of corporate business, when you won’t endorse or commit or speak of your management team, you fire them. That’s what happened, Mr. Speaker. The Premier just said it. When you won’t endorse, when you won’t state your confidence in your leadership team, you’ve essentially fired them. He just threw the entire management team of Nalcor under the bus. He should be ashamed of himself, Mr. Speaker. He should be absolutely ashamed of what he is doing with people’s lives.

Well, Mr. Martin says there were two scenarios discussed. One was to stay or leave with his contractual severance pay out. Now, the Premier said there were a number of scenarios.

Is that the scenarios that you had talked about?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As you know as I’ve said many times, the ideal place for me to be discussing this in a very professional manner would have been with the Auditor General, but in light of the information that the former CEO put out there yesterday, I’m not going to allow our minister and this government to be just maligned in the public, Mr. Speaker, based on information that I saw yesterday.

As a matter of fact, there were actually three options that were put out there in that meeting. One which was the one that caused him to make a decision to step aside. His decision to step aside, which he reinforced the very next day, was the fact that he wanted us to publicly endorse a project, publicly endorse the former CEO without having the necessary facts, knowing that there was an EY report out there. That is not having confidence; that is actually making sure you have the facts that is required to make those decisions, and I was not prepared to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, after days of Question Period now the Premier seems to be willing to discuss the details of what actually took place – finally, willing to give the information to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. He’s the Premier and the people of the province deserve to hear what the Premier has to say about it.

Now that we know you’re willing to take about it, Premier: Will you now table the documents here in the House of Assembly, like you committed to do several times here in the House?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, which is the way I’ve conducted myself for most of my life, is that I would like for this to be done in a very professional, methodical way. That’s the reason why we brought in the AG, but in light of the comments that I’ve seen recently in the public view, I am not willing to allow myself or this government or this minister to be misquoted in information that I take exception to, Mr. Speaker. Those articles that were out there yesterday do not reflect those meetings.

The Auditor General will have that information. He will do the review of it, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to getting all that information out there in the public as quickly as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: I really have difficulty with what the Premier just said. He said as soon as possible. As soon as possible is now, you could table it today, Premier, but you refuse to do it. You refuse to do it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: You refuse to come clean with the people of the province, and that’s the problem here. You won’t tell the people all the information. You’ll only give them little tidbits that suits your needs, Premier, that’s what’s going on here.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier – we know the Premier had discussions with Stan Marshall – when did you first have a discussion with Stan Marshall about the CEO position? Was it on Monday morning right after your first meeting with Mr. Martin or was it before that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I had discussions with many people that could have a positive impact on the future of this province and I’m not prepared to –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Member for Cape St. Francis and the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune need not stand today. I’ve said on several occasions in this House, Members on the opposite side who are identified to speak – where the same goes for Members on this side when Members on this side are identified to speak – are not to be interrupted. I’m resetting the clock for the Premier.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The discussions I’ve had with Mr. Stan Marshall over many years – I have a lot of respect for the gentleman. He’s willing to step in and do the job for the people of this province. When those discussions started, they happened over many days, I would say, Mr. Speaker. He’s doing a great job.

Guess what, Mr. Speaker? He took the job without asking for any severance once his job is completed. He’s a great man. He will do a great job for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and he is doing it for the right reasons.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Yes, Premier, and you also said unprompted on the morning of the 20th that he was taking it without severance. We don’t know why you brought that up when you knew nothing about severance, but it’s interesting to point out you did make it a point.

Premier, I’ll ask you again, you had several discussions. Was the first one the morning after your first meeting with Ed Martin? Was the first one on the Monday the 18th or did you have discussions with Stan Marshall prior to that?

It’s a simple question, Premier. When did you have your first discussion about him becoming the CEO?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The discussions that I’ve had with Mr. Marshall – the first time I met Mr. Marshall, my suggestion would have been back in 2012. He’s a man that I have a lot of respect for and still do. He’s doing a great job. He will do a great as the CEO of Nalcor. I look forward to working with him and I’m sure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador look forward to the contribution that he would make.

When those discussions took place, Mr. Speaker, on many dates, doesn’t impact any of the decisions that had been made prior to that. The key thing is, the most important thing here, is he stepped up when his province needed him the most. He will now lead Nalcor and will be a great CEO of that corporation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Premier, it is an important point. Did you meet with him before you fired Ed Martin or did you meet with him after you fired Ed Martin? Was before the 17th, after the 17th? When was the first time you met with him?

It is important so just simply give us the date, the first time you met with Stan Marshall and talked to him about becoming the CEO.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, let me clarify one thing: Mr. Martin, the former CEO Ed Martin, he actually stepped down. That was his decision to step down. He said that for whatever reasons that he gave to the people of this province. Mr. Marshall, subsequent to that, stepped in to become the new CEO of Nalcor.

There was a lot of activity on the go that week, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Martin stepping out, Mr. Marshall now stepping in. He will do a great job for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and will do a great job in running Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So an important piece of information again the Premier won’t provide to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’ll ask you this, Premier: Did you provide direction or will you provide direction to the Auditor General to consider when you discussed this with Mr. Martin and when his appointment was negotiated? Will you include that in the Auditor General’s review?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I look forward to working and meeting with the Auditor General on this very matter. I am really looking forward to that because we have a lot of information that we want to share with the Auditor General in that very professional forum; a forum that we put in place to get to the bottom of this. As well as many other issues that are still outstanding. Many other issues that have been put in place by this former PC administration, I say, Mr. Speaker. Plans they had put in place that are yet to be made public. I look forward to meeting with the Auditor General to have this full and broad discussion on all those issues.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Well, Mr. Speaker, we started this Question Period with a little bit of hope that the Premier was going to start providing some answers, but he’s refusing to do so again.

I will ask him again, very simply: Will you make sure the Auditor General considers the appointment of Stan Marshall and how all that took place, as part of his review?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I look forward to letting the Auditor General do whatever job he or she or his office would like to do. Anything but that would be interference by an independent office of this House of Assembly.

Maybe the former premier is used to interfering, but I am going to let the Auditor General do the job that he’s been asked to do and I will let him do that independently.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The direction to the Auditor General is not to look into anything he feels that he wants to. It’s to inquire into a report on the appropriateness of severance. It’s simply that.

We know the Premier’s office, the Premier himself, his ministers and his staff, their hands are all over this mess, Mr. Speaker. We want the Auditor General to do a full, fair and frank investigation into the matter as well, and know all the facts. When he discussed hiring Mr. Marshall, it’s an important aspect.

So, yes or no, will you ensure the Auditor General includes Mr. Marshall in his considerations? Yes or no, Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, as I said, I look forward to working with the Auditor General. I have a lot of confidence in the work that he will do. If the Auditor General feels this information is relevant to what happened, what occurred in that week leading up to, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions, all the questions that the Auditor General will ask of me. We will be co-operating 100 per cent, as well as all members of the staff in the Premier’s office, and I’m sure the minister as well. I look forward to those discussions with the Auditor General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources has informed this House that she attended meetings with Mr. Martin on April 17 and again on April 19.

I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: Who else was present in the room besides the Premier and Mr. Martin?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ve been quite clear. Yes, I did attend meetings on April 17 and April 19. Mr. Martin had requested the meeting. I was there with the Premier and with the chief of staff. We had a good fulsome discussion.

As the Premier has indicated, this whole matter is now being handled by the Auditor General. This is very important because – Mr. Speaker, I’m going to say this, and I’m going to say this really quite clear in this House today, my integrity is very important to me, as it is to every person in this House.

I’m going to say to everybody in this House right now. Severance – I have not had a conversation with Mr. Martin nor the board of directors on severance. If that’s where we’re going to go on this, I just wanted to make sure that everybody in this room knew about that right now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Very simply, Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of openness and transparency, I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: She was there, the Premier was there, who else was there at the meeting?

MS. COADY: I just answered that question.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Sorry, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I just answered that question.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In a roundabout way we’ll get the answer to the question. That’s good. We’ll live with that, I guess. We’re getting something.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Martin has said unequivocally that he presented two options in the meeting to the Premier and to the Minister of Natural Resources on April 17.

I ask the minister: Could you indicate to us what those options were and your understanding?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you for the question.

As the Premier has just indicted, there were three options that Mr. Martin did bring to the table. One was him asking for – either for him to step down. He asked if he could step down next year; or, the third one, which was as the Premier indicated, if he would stay on we needed to endorse the project glowingly and we needed to endorse the management team. We had asked questions about the cost, the schedule. We had just had the report of EY. The Premier made those indications just a few moments ago in Question Period, and I have the same response.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister indicates there was a third option. Based on that, they weren’t willing to endorse.

Is the minister saying at that time she fired Ed Martin because of that non-endorsement?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, I don’t appreciate words being put in my mouth. That is not what I said. I said he would step down, and I’m going to take a moment, Mr. Speaker, to use Mr. Martin’s own words. He said in a press conference on April 20 that his family is ready to make the move. It’s the natural end to his time with Nalcor. I’m quoting, Mr. Speaker. I’m not too fussed to be moving on, Martin said, and finally he said he would be around to offer assistance.

Does that sound like anyone was fired?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Mr. Speaker, so the Minister of Natural Resources who is responsible for oversight of Nalcor is in a discussion with the CEO and in that discussion, they’re not willing to endorse the competency of that CEO. The conclusion would be he is not going to continue his employment. How can you say that wasn’t part of the process to terminate him? You don’t have confidence in him, so you’re going to keep him? Could you explain that to us, please?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I’m going to be as clear as I have been. Mr. Martin asked us for a meeting on April 17. We were able to have that meeting with him on the 17. He laid out a couple of directions and options. He said that there were three options. I already indicated what those three options are.

I’ve already indicated that he asked for an endorsement – not an endorsement. He asked for some support in terms of if he was going to stay – because he said first off, he could leave. If he was going to stay, then we would have to come out and give the project an endorsement. We said at that time but we don’t have the information to do that at this point in time. Mr. Martin made his decisions and that’s what we were left with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Martin has said he suggested at the April 17 meeting that the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources take a couple of days to consider the options. Now there are three options we discovered today.

I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: What discussions on Mr. Martin’s proposals did you participate (inaudible) April 17 up until the 19th? Were other Cabinets involved? Were the other officials of Natural Resources involved? What did that discussion involve over those couple of days?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has indicated the whole reason why this is gone to the Auditor General was to review all the matters around this discussion. It was a discussion that was started by Mr. Martin coming in to see the Premier and me on April 17. We took a couple of days to consider his thoughts and his direction. We said we’d meet again on April 19, which we did.

At the end of the meeting on the 19th Mr. Martin said he was stepping down. We discussed, as Mr. Martin has indicated, what we were going to do from a public relations standpoint, when he was going to make the announcement and that. The next day we did the exact same thing. We said he was stepping down. He came out and publicly said – I’ve already quoted some of the quotes he gave on that day.

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General needs to review this.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, on the 14th of April in the budget, the Minister of Finance had a somewhat scathing review of the leader of Nalcor at that time.

I ask the Minister of Natural Resources: Did you have discussions, or did you review Mr. Martin’s actual contract prior to the budget coming down, and having discussions with the Finance Minister on it?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: I did not have discussions with the Minister of Finance with regard to Mr. Martin’s contract at all.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. HUTCHINGS: So there’s a $1.4 million payout, I guess, that someone decided in those meetings in a number of options, but at no time did you think it was necessary to discuss with the Minister of Finance in terms of that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, as we’ve been clear, as we’ve been crystal clear on this matter, the contract belongs to the board of directors of Nalcor, and it was their responsibility to ensure whatever was required under that contract.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

[RETURN TO LIST OF QUESTION PERIOD DATES]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday in the House of Assembly the Minister of Natural Resources indicated she had received a copy of Mr. Ed Martin’s contract on or about March 4.

I ask the minister: How did you come to receive that contract? Why did you ask for it?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the hon. Member for the question. I, in the course of my duties, asked for a copy of the contract. There wasn’t one existing within the Department of Natural Resources and I could not find one, so I asked the former chair of the board if I could have a copy.

We were doing a lot of work around Muskrat Falls, we were doing a lot of work with EY, and I just asked for a copy of the contract. It is in the course of my duties.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will ask the minister: When did you first familiarize yourself with the contents of the contract?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I asked for a copy of the contract on March 3, I believe, and on or about March 4, I was delivered a copy of the contract. I perused it at that time. I didn’t take it in absolutely – I think he asked me for details on the contract. I perused the contract and put it in a file, which is where it belongs, because of course the contract is with the board of directors of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I think the minister said that she perused it on March 4, around the time that she received it.

I ask the minister: Did you bring a copy of that to your meeting on April 17?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you again for the question.

Mr. Speaker, when we were requested by Mr. Martin to meet on the evening of April 17, we certainly were happy to do so at the request of the former CEO of Nalcor. I did not bring a copy of the contract because I didn’t think it was required at the time. Again, the contract rests with the board of Nalcor. It was signed by the former chair of Nalcor and the contents rest with the board of Nalcor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, I’ll ask the minister: After your first meeting on April 17 then, before, in preparing for the meeting on April 19, did you then re-familiarize yourself with the contract or bring a copy of it with you to the meeting on the 19th?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you again for the question.

Mr. Speaker, I can say that, again, the contract rests with the board of director. The chair of the board fully acknowledges that it rests with the board of directors. It was signed by the former board of directors.

No, I did not peruse the contract myself to familiarize myself. We were having discussions that Mr. Martin raised and I did not have the opportunity to bring the contract with me. We were having discussions around what his direction would be for his future.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: So just to be clear, Mr. Speaker, the minister is going back to a meeting on the 19th, knowing that they were going to discuss the future of Mr. Martin with Nalcor, because that’s what the meeting of the 17th turned out to be about – going back to one on the 19th, she had a contract. So you didn’t familiarize yourself again with the contract before the 19th. I believe that’s what the minister is saying.

Can you confirm that, Minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I’ve already said, Mr. Martin requested a meeting on the night of April 17. We were able to grant his request for a meeting. He came in. He spoke to us about three options that he saw were before him. We had a good discussion around those three options.

We came back again and said let’s get some time – which is a prudent thing to do, is take some time between hearing some things and making a decision on some things. Usually, you’d take some prudence in time to reflect on that, which we did. We had a further conversation on April 19.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, now we’re finding out the minister is not going to answer questions. We’ve seen that here in the House before.

I’m going to ask the minister – because you said the contract was with the board of Nalcor; you’re having a discussion about Mr. Martin’s future. Did you invite anyone from the board to attend either meeting on the 17th or the 19th?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To be clear, again, it was Mr. Martin who requested the meeting with the Premier on April 17. During the course of that meeting, it was determined we’d have a follow-up meeting on the 19th. So it was at the request of Mr. Martin that he had a meeting with us. It was at his direction. He brought whom he wanted to that meeting.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The question wasn’t about the 17th. The question was about the 19th. So going into the 19th meeting you knew exactly what was going to be discussed. You didn’t bother to familiarize yourself with the contract that Mr. Martin has.

So at that point in time, knowing that you’re saying the contract’s with the board, did you bother to call anyone or contact anyone on the board and invite them to come to that discussion about Mr. Martin’s future?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, Mr. Speaker, the responsibility of who was coming to that meeting was with Mr. Martin. He was the one who requested our time on the evening of April 17. He was the one who came in, at his initiation, to have a meeting with us.

As a course of that meeting, we said we’d get together the 19th. If he felt he had to have somebody else at the meeting or wanted to bring someone else or have further conversations, Mr. Speaker, he certainly could have invited them to that meeting. It was really Mr. Martin’s meeting.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister, on the 19th your meeting was a follow-up to the 17th, is what took place. You knew you were going back to a meeting on the 19th. Are you telling me, as the minister responsible for Nalcor – you say yourself the contract was with Nalcor, you’re discussing Mr. Martin’s future, you’re discussing his employment contract – that you never brought or invited or thought to invite anybody from the board to participate in the discussion on the 19th? Is that what you’re saying, Minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the question, but I think it’s very important to remember that Mr. Martin requested the meeting. Mr. Martin reached out and asked for the meeting. Mr. Martin knows his relationship to the board. Why would I prejudge the CEO of Nalcor – the former CEO of Nalcor – in terms of whom he’s going to invite to a meeting?

Mr. Speaker, he knows his relationships and responsibilities. He knows his contract. He knows the relationship with the board and that contract. So I think that would have been Mr. Martin – if he thought it was required of him to have somebody at the meeting, he would have had them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’ll ask the minister: During the work you’re doing to prepare your work and so on, did you bother to look at the Energy Corporation Act to determine and understand what your responsibilities are when it comes to Nalcor, who you appoint and who you’re responsible for, because that’s very clear in the act?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I find it difficult, to say the least, that the hon. Member would question whether or not I was familiar with an act belonging to my department. Let me just say that, Mr. Speaker. Yes, I’m very familiar with section 7 and section 9 of the Energy Corporation Act. I know whose responsibility it is, I know good governance and I know that it is the board of directors who are responsible for that relationship.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, under the Energy Corporation Act, it’s the CEO, the chair and the board who are all appointed by government – by Cabinet, actually. It’s all those appointments. Her position is that it’s the board that is responsible for Mr. Martin, yet the minister neglected to do her own work and her own due diligence by inviting a representative of the board to a meeting to discuss Mr. Martin’s future, Mr. Speaker. She neglected to do her own job, neglected her own responsibilities.

So I’ll ask you again, Minister: Why did you not think to invite the chair of the board to come to such an important meeting?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think he’s asking the question to the wrong person. I’m wondering why Mr. Martin would – if he felt he had to have somebody with him at the meeting, he knows the relationships, he knows the responsibilities of the board of directors, he knows the responsibility of the chair, Mr. Speaker. And that is good governance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, good governance makes the minister responsible – it makes her responsible. It’s your responsibility to step up and take charge. It’s your responsibility to lead the file, not to follow, Minister.

So you had a meeting with Mr. Martin about his future and his contract with the board of directors. You’re responsible for the board of directors. You’re responsible for Mr. Martin.

Why did you not think to invite the chair of the board to come to such an important meeting?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you again, Mr. Speaker.

I know the Member opposite is quite animated and upset this afternoon. I can be very clear here today, Mr. Speaker. I think Mr. Martin knows whom he should invite to his own meeting – his own meeting. Remember, he asked for the meeting.

How do we know that he didn’t have a concern about the board or something that he wanted to express at that meeting? He understands the requirements under the act. I can tell you, Mr. Martin is a very intelligent man. He knows the requirements under the act. He knows to whom he reports. He knows the fiduciary responsibilities of the board. I think, Mr. Speaker, he would have invited whom he felt was required to be at that meeting that time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister: Who does the chair report to?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know you recognized me, but the minister couldn’t hear the question.

Who does the chair of the board report to?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to give a governance lesson here today, but the role of the board of directors, the responsibility of the board of directors is to the corporation. The shareholders – and that is all the people in Newfoundland and Labrador – have a reporting mechanism. The chair of the board is appointed by the government, as had been the board members.

Mr. Speaker, it’s unfortunate that the board didn’t have as many members on it. I understand from Mr. Martin and from the former chair that they were working very hard with government to ask them to put more board members on the board, but the former government did not fulfill their requirement.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So the minister says good governance is – well, she’s responsible for good governance is what she’s saying. She’s now throwing responsibility somewhere else. We’ve seen this government do that before.

Minister, you claim that it wasn’t until you returned from Houston, in your trip to Houston, before Mr. Martin’s resignation was – actually that he was fired. Now you say it wasn’t until you were back from Houston.

Do you stand by that? Is that true?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, they’re kind of loose with my words. What I did say was I did not see the severance – or I think in a former question was a termination agreement – the severance agreement until May 9 when I returned from Houston. I did not see the severance agreement.

At no time, actually, was this government given a copy of the document, asked to comment on the document, asked to review the document, asked to sign the document, because of course the board knows the responsibility of that severance agreement and the contract with Mr. Martin rests with the board.

I received a copy when I returned from Houston, because the government received a copy on May 5. I was travelling at the time, but when I came back into the province on Monday I certainly saw that document.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, minister, while you were travelling to Texas – I know you were there on government business – didn’t your officials keep you abreast of what was happening with your own department?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Of course, they kept me abreast of what was happening in my own department, Mr. Speaker. I certainly saw the headline on Wednesday, May 4, that said about the severance that was paid to Mr. Martin.

On May 5, the Premier’s office received a copy of the severance agreement. On May 5, I was travelling back. On May 6, I was at the hospital with a family member. On May 9, when I was back in my office, I reviewed the severance agreement.

Again, Mr. Speaker, we were not asked. We did not see the severance agreement. We were not asked to review the severance agreement. We were not asked to sign the severance agreement. It rests with the board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are aware the minister says that she wasn’t aware of the details until some weeks after.

I’ll ask the minister: Didn’t you receive an email from the chair of the board of Nalcor on the morning of April 20?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We did receive an email from the former chair of the board at 8:55 a.m. In that, he said that the contract rests squarely with the board – rests squarely with the board.

The former chair understood that the contract rests squarely with the board. The act says it rests with the board. I’m not sure why the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t understand that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister: When did you reply to the email?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I did not reply to the email. I did not reply to the email. It was addressed to the Premier and to me. The Premier replied to the email at 9:25, saying he’d speak after the board meeting.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I didn’t realize you’d addressed me, thank you.

Minister, Mr. Marshall had stated that he had a conversation with the Premier prior to the vote taking place.

Do you know this to be true?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I cannot comment – and the Premier will be back tomorrow, you can ask him yourself. I cannot comment as to a content of a conversation between these two gentlemen. I was not privy to it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So, minister, are you telling us that you saw there was a reply to an email but you didn’t get updated and briefed on the most recent updated information before you went before the microphones to brief the people of the province. Is that what you’re saying?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the 8:55 a.m. email from the former chair of the board, the contract rests squarely with the board. That’s what he said.

We were busy having conversations with Mr. Martin and Mr. Martin’s team about getting prepared for our 11 o’clock press conference. Mr. Martin’s was going out at 11:45. Yes, there were lots of conversations with officials, with Nalcor, with Mr. Martin, to prepare to go public at 11 and 11:45.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So, the minister was too busy to follow-up.

Minister, I’ll ask you this, then: When did you finally have that discussion with the chair of the board, Mr. Marshall?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can say that I did not have a conversation with the chair of the board of Nalcor. The Premier had one at some time, I’m hearing in the morning of the 20th. I understand the Premier responded – the email was addressed to the Premier and the minister. The Premier responded saying he’ll catch up with him. I thought that was adequate. If the former chair needed my attention, he certainly could have gotten it that morning. We were speaking to Nalcor on and off all morning.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So what we have here is we have a significant movement of changes happening at the largest Crown corporation in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The minister was too busy to follow-up at the time because there was too much going on. We know that government knew on April 20 that Mr. Martin was terminated, and the minister had knowledge and was familiar with the contract of Mr. Martin but failed to follow-up with the board of directors who was responsible for it.

Is that what you’re saying, Minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to make sure that the Leader of the Opposition understands. I had multiple conversations that morning with people talking about getting prepared for the 11 o’clock and 11:45 press conference.

I want to just remind the Member opposite that Mr. Martin said in a news conference following his scrum: Mr. Martin, do you feel you were pushed out, asked the reporter. Mr. Martin: No, it’s my decision.

At 12:15 Mr. Martin was scrummed, as I just said, and he was asked about the status of his severance. He said he indicated to CBC that it’s still up in the air and that it was with the board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: I’ll ask the minister: From whom did she obtain a copy of the settlement agreement?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Mr. Speaker, as I said, I travelled back from Houston on May 5. The Premier’s office received a copy on May 5. When I was in the office on May 9 – I explained that I wasn’t in the office on May 6, I was out because of a family illness. On May 9, I was given a copy of that by the Premier’s office and we had a discussion concerning the same.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

After weeks of us in the House of Assembly trying to seek information here, the minister decided, in the middle of the night, to release a piece of information, the documentation pertaining to this matter.

Minister, why did you decide to release a document pertaining to this matter in the middle of the night, a May 10 letter to John Green?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS. COADY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It certainly wouldn’t have been my choice to release it in the middle of the night; you can believe you and me. Mr. Speaker, it was in response to the comments – the release of the severance agreement last evening. As you saw, there were some questions about the direction. I think that’s the germane point, whether or not government gave direction to the board.

The questions were concerning the direction that we may or may not have given the board. I made clarity around that to the new board of Nalcor because we have to recognize we have a new CEO, a new board that is steering this company in the right direction. So we released that as soon as the other documentation.

Mr. Speaker, the reason why we want to go to the Auditor General is so that all of this information is out there, and the reputations of those involved are there as well.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Now that the Minister of Natural Resources has decided to release documents to the media in the middle of the night that suits her own needs, I’ll ask the minister: Will you now table all the records, emails and documentation in the House as your government has committed to do? Will you release them in the Ho