QUESTION PERIOD: March 7, 2012

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, over the past couple of days the Premier has fanned the flames of concern within the public service and among the public with her vague references to proposed spending cuts while also saying there could be a loss of jobs through attrition. Mr. Speaker, a loss of jobs by attrition is no different than layoffs.

I ask the Premier, Mr. Speaker, to tell this House clearly what our governments’ intention is with regard to potential loss of positions in the public service sector/

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we are reviewing all the core mandates of departments and within the review of those core mandates I have asked all my ministers to ensure that all of the programs are working efficiently, meeting all of the aims, objectives and goals that were set out when policies and programs were introduced.

Mr. Speaker, we have nearly an $8 billion budget. As part of good fiscal management we should always be ??? our expenditures and eliminate what the Leader of the Opposition referred to in his Reply to the Speech from the Throne as waste, or duplication, or replication, Mr. Speaker.

That is a significant part of this exercise. I have ring fenced certain areas that we will not be looking for the 3 per cent reduction, but will look for it everywhere else, Mr. Speaker. We hope to realize something a little less than $100 million from this exercise.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, to the people of the Province, it makes no difference if workers are not there because they have been laid off or they have been replaced through attrition. So I would like the Premier, Mr. Speaker, to be more specific about what attrition could mean to services for people.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in the NDP’s own platform, they were going to look for a 1 per cent reduction in expenses right across the board. They laid that out and that is the platform they stand on for the next four years. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is without any intimate knowledge whatsoever of how government works, how things operate, and what the different headings and subheadings are within departments. Armed with that knowledge internally, we are going to look to see where we can find reductions.

Mr. Speaker, the public service has grown year over year over year. Sustainability is important, Mr. Speaker. They are against projects like Muskrat Falls, Mr. Speaker, which will continue to bring revenue into the Province. We have to find reductions somewhere, Mr. Speaker. One way of holding that steady is through this kind of exercise and watching our workforce through attrition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Third Party.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I would just like the Premier to know: I know very well our platform and I know that attrition was not part of our plan in looking for the 1 per cent. After six years of sitting in Estimates meetings, I think anybody on this side of the House has a fairly good knowledge of how government works, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all agree that the Muskrat Falls debate is a complex one, but one question should be simple: How much will people have to pay each month for Muskrat Falls power? Currently, the price for a kilowatt hour in my district and a lot of parts of the Province is 10.7 cents. Mr. Speaker, we have heard many different numbers from government on what the cost per kilowatt hour will be.

So I ask the Premier: Will she give this House a guaranteed cost per kilowatt for people who will be forced to buy Muskrat Falls power?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased with the opportunity to outline these numbers. Obviously the Leader of the Opposition either did not listen during the debate on VOCM or she does not understand, so I will go through it again, Mr. Speaker.

Essentially, in 2016 the average Island ratepayer, based on today’s costs, will pay $216 or $217. What will happen, Mr. Speaker, in 2017 when Muskrat Falls comes on-line is it will go up to $232 a month. What will happen, Mr. Speaker, with Muskrat Falls between 2017 and 2030 is there will be a $14-a-month increase – without Muskrat Falls, Mr. Speaker, three times as much.

It is all in writing. I can provide it to you.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Third Party.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, what I am asking the minister and the Premier for, so that people can clearly understand when they look on their bills, they look at the amount per hour that they are spending. Can he break it down into the amount per hour? Right now, like in my district and it is an average in the Province – it is 10.7. Can he break that down for people? That is all I am asking.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KENNEDY: Mr. Speaker, this government is concerned about people, the effect of electricity rates without Muskrat Falls. The cost of oil will drive Holyrood oil – Holyrood costs through the roof, Mr. Speaker.

What we are doing, we are breaking it down into what we do on a daily basis. We pay dollars, not kilowatt hours, Mr. Speaker. People want to know how are our bills going to be affected. They are not going to double like the Opposition House Leader said, Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely, unequivocally and totally untrue.

What they are going to do, Mr. Speaker, they will go up, they will stabilize and then they will reduce. Without Muskrat Falls, Mr. Speaker, the increase will be three times as much as it will be with Muskrat Falls. That is why we have to do it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier.

This government does not have statistics that give us a real picture of the current housing crisis that we find ourselves in. Every day people call my office with stories about the high cost of housing; seniors living in fear of the next rent increase, people who are homeless, families spending half their income on rent, young working families who cannot buy a house. Mr. Speaker, it is time for the government to take a leadership role to mitigate this housing crisis.

Mr. Speaker, when will this government create a housing division within government to deal with the critical need for affordable housing for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as other provinces have done for their people?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister responsible for Housing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly appreciate the question from the hon. member across the way. I think as a government we truly understand the challenges that people have with regard to putting a roof over their heads. We have been in government for eight years now and we have made significant investments. I went through a list of those investments yesterday, again to indicate that housing is a high priority.

For the NDP to come back and their solution to it is to add another level of bureaucracy. Talking about another division, and liking it to the division of wildlife which has about seventy. So, I would ask the member, what would you want this division to do?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, by 2014, the affordable housing initiative will have created approximately 1,000 rental units. In the last decade, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing has built only twenty-four new social housing units, in the last decade. Right now, there are 1,000 people on the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation wait list. The private apartment vacancy rate throughout most of the Province is approximately 1 per cent. There is no affordable rental housing available in the Province, and there are not rent supplements to meet the need.

Mr. Speaker, will this government allocate more resources to the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation to deal with the immediate housing crisis we find ourselves in?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, we are the largest landlord in this Province. Currently, we have 5,500 units, we do have 1,700 rent supplements – so that gets us over 7,000 – plus the partnerships that we have for supportive living throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. We have invested significantly in housing in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we continue. With regard to waitlists, our waitlist right now is under 1,000 – that is 200 less than it was two years ago, and the turnover rate in those waitlists is about 90 per cent. So, we are dealing with the waitlist, we are dealing with the housing that we have and making sure that it is available to the people who need it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, many low and moderate income families are suffering in the midst of our great and wonderful newfound prosperity because of the volatile housing market. They cannot afford their housing. There is a real housing crisis that needs a real housing action plan and strategy with real workable solutions.

Mr. Speaker, will the Premier direct the Social Services Standing Committee to convene and examine the housing crisis, to send for persons, papers, and records, if deemed necessary, and report to the House of Assembly with workable solutions for the housing crisis that we find ourselves in?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, we presented to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to this House a secure foundation document, which deals with the housing in Newfoundland and Labrador – a strategy that will bring us forward to meet the needs that are out there right now. I see the member shaking her head over there, but again it was unbeknownst to the Leader of the NDP that we even had a strategy. So that is as much as ye know about what was going on in housing.

So I again say, Mr. Speaker, that I am confident that we have in our possession the strategy we need to move forward to address what the housing needs are in our Province at this present time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The time allocated for questions has expired.

Associated Caucus Members: 

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