Michael responds to the Throne Speech
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is an honour to stand here this afternoon and to have the opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne. Before getting into that, I do want to recognize, as has already been recognized in the House, the presence for the first time of our new Lieutenant Governor, the hon. Frank Fagan, and his wife, the hon. Ms Fagan. It was a real pleasure to have him here with us, to take part for the first time in the proceedings of this House. I look forward to the many times in the future that he will continue to be with us over the next five years.
I too want to thank the outgoing Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Crosbie, and his wife, for the service that they offered to us in the five years that they were in the position. It was always an enjoyment to have him in the House with us as well.
The Speech from the Throne is a very important document, as we all know, and it is something that we cannot take lightly, because it is the document that is supposed to be the framework of a government during a session of the House. I point that out, that it is for a session of our sitting; we are in the 47th Assembly, and this Speech from the Throne is the framework for the next session.
I have to say that I find this Speech from the Throne interesting, because one would think that this government had not been in place for ten years. Some of the things that they have outlined and that were read to us by the Lieutenant Governor are things that one would have expected from a new government, not one that has a ten-year record that had started, as the Throne Speech likes to point out, at a time in our history when we did not have the resources that we have today and we did not have the revenues that we have today; at a time when we had a debt, as was pointed out in the Speech from the Throne, a heavy debt, at a time when we did not have a lot of services that people need in this Province, Mr. Speaker, and they talk as if all of that is over.
Well, I would like to point out to this government that the debt that they were talking about ten years ago, if we believe their own papers and their own documents and what they presented in the pre-Budget consultations, the debt that is now below $9 billion is supposed to be going up to $12 billion within the next few years. That is from their documentation. What has changed in the ten years, Mr. Speaker?
We have a government that right now has brought us into what they are calling a fiscal crisis and causing us to now have cuts to the public service sector; something that happened, Mr. Speaker, before ten years ago. Something that happened at a time when we did not have the revenues that we had when the public service sector was cut down to bare bones, and they recognized that it was bare bones.
They were the ones who started increasing the public sector as a government because of the fact that we could not deliver services properly in this Province because we did not have enough people in the public sector. Now they are saying that the only way to move ahead fiscally is to cut back the public service sector, which they said, in the past ten years, had to be increased in order to bring services to the people.
I find it very interesting that they talked about where things were in 2003, when they came in, and except for the wonderful revenues that we have, which are being spent somewhere else, except for that, all of a sudden ten years later we are exactly where we were going to be in 2003: debt, bigger than it is now; a public service sector that is being cut to the bone; and services being cut back in this Province. What has happened in the last ten years?
Yet, this is a government that is putting billions of dollars into a major project that we are told wait for twenty years because you are going to see the benefit. This is a government that in this speech today had the gall to say that we cannot have debts that are going to be carried on the shoulders of our children into the future. That is exactly what they say, Mr. Speaker. They say in their Speech from the Throne that was read by the Lieutenant Governor that unpaid debt leaves our children a burden that crushes their opportunities. We cannot borrow for our day-to-day spending and send the bill to our children down the line. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understand this. This government is putting billions of dollars of the people's money into Muskrat Falls and that is a debt that our children are going to be carrying down the line.
They are speaking from two sides of their faces, Mr. Speaker. They are double speaking. I cannot believe they had the gall to put that into the speech today at a time when they know they are going to have to borrow in order to pay the cash equity into Muskrat Falls that still has to be paid.
Mr. Speaker, what is going to happen when we have the cost overruns? There are going to be cost overruns. The evidence is already there, Mr. Speaker, that there are going to be cost overruns. Where is that debt going to be paid? There will be more cash equity that will have to be put in and that will be on the shoulders of our children.
Mr. Speaker, today, to listen to them through their Speech from the Throne, to listen to what they have to say, I cannot believe that they could stand here and sit here as we speak today and even think that people are going to believe what they have written. We are no further ahead listening to them than where we were in 2003. Yet, at the same time, they tell us we have more money than we have ever had before; we have a strong economy et cetera, et cetera. They do not know what they are talking about.
Why is it they expect the people of the Province, they expect the public servants who work in this government to suffer, while at the same time they are telling all of us we have so much money, things are better than they have ever been in the past. Yet, the debt is going to be gone up to the debt it was ten years ago, in a few years' time. It is in their papers. I am not making this up; it is in their document. The public service sector is going to be down to bare bones again and services in this Province are already being cut. Mr. Speaker, they better listen to what they are saying.
On the other hand, they are talking about things that we have been talking about as a party in this House. I like the way in which they are using our language of sustainability. We are going to get a sustainability plan. Mr. Speaker, I say to the Premier and I say to her government, I think it would be really good if they went into our Web site and read our document on sustainability that we wrote five years ago putting our plan in place.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MS MICHAEL: Every platform that we have had since writing that –
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
MS MICHAEL: It is a document the leader of the party has been based on, our sustainability document. If they are going to get into sustainability, I invite them to read the document on which we have set our platforms over the last five years, Mr. Speaker. That is one thing I invite them to do.
Another thing, Mr. Speaker, when you talk about where does their gall come from, I have to speak to the issue of the Premier saying that this government is the most open and most transparent government that we have ever had here in Newfoundland and Labrador. After what they did last spring, Mr. Speaker, with Bill 29, after experts around the world – not just in our country, but around the world – spoke to how backward-stepping Bill 29 was, that we cannot get our hands on anything that might in any way relate to any kind of advice to the government, we cannot get a document without fighting for it, and they talk about openness and transparency.
Do they think the people in the Province are not listening? Do they think people are stupid in this Province? Well, they are not. They are listening. Do they think, I ask, Mr. Speaker? I know the people in the Province are not stupid because the people in the Province are telling us what they are seeing with this government. They see Bill 29 for what it is. The people in this Province have spoken out. They have been on the Open Lines. They have written letters to the editors of our newspapers. They speak to each other and to every other politician in this Province. They know Bill 29 was a backwards step and they know that it does not show this government is open and transparent.
I would like to speak directly to some things that are in the Speech from the Throne, some more things, Mr. Speaker. Yes, I am really glad to see that they are talking about dealing with the issue of anti-bullying. I am really glad to see that they are actually going to make changes, apparently, to legislation on anti-bullying.
Well, I find it very interesting, Mr. Speaker, that last spring when we had a private member's motion brought to this floor, brought to this House by the Member for St. John's North, that government voted against the private member's motion on anti-bullying. They did not vote to have legislation on anti-bullying. I find it fascinating that now they are going to. I am glad. They should be doing it. I am really glad. They should be doing it, but acknowledge that they voted against a private member's motion on this floor asking for legislation. I want them to acknowledge that. They will not, of course. They will not do that.
The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is the reference to 911. I think it is on page 14 of the Speech. I am delighted to have 911 in the Speech; however, it says we are going to see advances over the next two years. Well, I have been six years in this House being told that. I have been here for six years being told: hang on, we are going to do studies, we are going to figure out what maybe should be tendered, and then we are going to ask for tenders. Now we are being told there are going to be more advances over two years.
They are not saying it is going to be in place. They are not saying that in two years time we are going to have enhanced 911 in this Province. We are going to have more advances; well, I really will be looking tomorrow in the Budget, Mr. Speaker, to find out what money is going to be in there for those advances, because if there is no money in there then I am not expecting any advances.
I want to see tomorrow in the Budget how much of this is words only, because, Mr. Speaker, that is what I feel it is. This government uses the term sustainability; well, they have not shown me that they understand sustainability. They use the word diversification and they call another megaproject diversification of our economy. That is not diversification. Once again, I invite them to go to our sustainability document, which they will find on our Web site, and see really good definitions of sustainability and diversification, what it means, and a plan that can work. I invite them to do that, Mr. Speaker.
In the Speech from the Throne, Mr. Speaker, they also talk about amendments to the Atlantic Accord. I have to say as one person who has been standing in this House, and the Leader of a Party who has been standing in this House asking for the government to take action with regard to occupational health and safety in the offshore; and to listen to the recommendation that Judge Wells made with regard to another agency, an offshore agency, to deal specifically with occupational health and safety; I will be wanting to see if the legislative changes that they are talking about are going to be talking about another agency. I would like to know, and I guess I might find out tomorrow. If I do not, I will be asking: what do they mean by an offshore occupational health and safety regime? Does a regime mean having another agency dealing with it, as was recommended by Judge Wells? I guess we are going to have to find out.
Regime is a very curious word and I think it is a word that can have all kinds of meanings. Of course, it would not be unusual for the government to use words that have all kinds of meanings. You have to try and figure which meaning it is that they are talking about.
I am hoping that the legislation that is going to come forward is going to be clear in showing us that they really do believe in having the second agency along with the C-NLOPB, and that second agency is what they are talking about when they are talking about a regime, Mr. Speaker. I guess we are going to have to wait and see, won't we?
Another thing that I found curious in the Speech from the Throne is the reference to NLHC hiring a national consultant to help them come to an understanding of homelessness. Mr. Speaker, the issue of homelessness and housing has been high on the agenda in this House and in this Province for the six years that I have been here in this House, and it certainly has been over the last couple of years for us. Our critic on housing and homelessness has been vocal. She has been asking questions. It has been constant here on the floor of the House, Mr. Speaker.
Now they are talking about hiring a national consultant. We have a Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network. That network put together a fantastic framework in 2010 on housing and homelessness. We have experts in this Province, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to homelessness and housing. The only thing I can say to this government, either they do not recognize the expertise of the people in this Province who have been speaking out on this issue, or they are hiring somebody who they believe can work with those people. That is what I am going to be looking to see. What does hiring a national consultant mean to help them understand homelessness?
I have been in many parts of the Province; some of them have been with the Member for St. John's Centre, who is our critic on housing and homelessness. I have sat and met with people all over the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, rural areas, urban areas, and if Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation does not understand yet what homelessness means, if it does not know yet the depth of homelessness in this Province, then they must not be sitting and talking to the people that I am sitting and speaking with, and our critic is sitting and speaking with, because believe me, Mr. Speaker, they know what homelessness is.
They know what the situation is in this Province and they have solutions, but we do not see this government listening to them and acting with them, Mr. Speaker. Now they are hiring a national consultant – very, very interesting.
Mr. Speaker, there are so many things to speak to, and I only have about three minutes left. I cannot speak to everything that I would like to speak to in this Speech from the Throne; however, I will be looking to the Budget for two or three areas that were mentioned.
We hear about the 10-Year Child Care Strategy. What does that mean? Because we know when this government talks about strategy, they do not mean a plan for sure. I notice they are not talking about a plan. They are talking about a strategy. Is there going to be a plan to go with that strategy? Are we going to know goals that go with that strategy? Are we going to have a timeline to go with that strategy? Are we going to know the money that is going to go into it?
Is it going to be a comprehensive child care plan that is administered by the government, Mr. Speaker, and makes child care accessible to everybody in this Province? That is what I want to know. We have to wait and find out, I know. What hope do I have? They talk strategy all the time and they deliver nothing. That is what I am concerned about with this Speech from the Throne.
Another thing in the speech, Mr. Speaker, which I really found more than curious, is the fact that they could talk about the whole issue of employment, and the role of the AES. The new structure they are going to create, the seamless structure they are going to create for people who need employment. Mr. Speaker, all they are doing – that is what happened in the federal Budget last week – in the Speech from the Throne is using new language to define what exists now; a system where they have gotten rid of the community-based offices that really help people on the ground learn how to use the system.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the Budget. I look forward to finding out what this government really means with the things that have been outlined to us in this Speech from the Throne. I will be watching closely as things unfold in this House. I will be speaking to the issues. So many more issues that I could speak to that arose from this speech today. The government can be assured, Mr. Speaker, they will know what the issues are as time goes on.
Thank you very much.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!