Question Period: April 3, 2012


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

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

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources has said in the House, most recently last week, that natural gas is not an option as an alternative source for generating electrical power.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: Yet the minister revealed yesterday that government commissioned a study of this option some time ago.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Why the secrecy? When was she going to inform the House and the public of this study?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this is not a study, it is a report. Mr. Speaker, we have an expertise within Nalcor on oil, gas and hydro generation. Mr. Speaker, there are some points that when you are considering in a project like this size – the same as if you were building a house, is an example I use, Mr. Speaker – that if you had a 200 by 200 piece of land, and you were going to build a 400 by 400 foot house, you would know that that house could not fit on that piece of land. You would not go out and commission a great big study to prove that point. Now, that is as simply as I can put it. We understand that gas will not work in this instance, wind will not work in this instance, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, now I have to ask the Premier a question based on some of the things she said in the House yesterday: What is it that we are going to get, what is the information we are going to get in the next phase? Are we going to get the results of studies, or are we just going to get reports with regard to the next phase of Muskrat Falls?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, let me point out to the Leader of the Third Party that every, every expert – and there have been quite a number of them – who have looked at this project, Mr. Speaker, have concluded that, first of all, we need the power, we have underestimated the amount of power we are going to need, and that this is the least-cost alternative, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, the Opposition’s response to all of those experts has been to say, but you got those numbers from Nalcor. Like you would not know that Nalcor did not know what they were doing, but people on the street, who have no experience and no expertise at all, Mr. Speaker, are taken as experts. To get an objective view, Mr. Speaker, we went to Ziff and asked them for a report.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, the Public Utilities Board, our experts –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: – their mandate states that it is responsible for the regulation of provincial electric utilities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: The PUB is tasked with ensuring that rates charged are just and reasonable, and that the service provided is safe and reliable. Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Premier was quoted as saying the time and money spent on the PUB review of Muskrat Falls was a waste of time and money.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Does she aim to discredit this institution simply on the basis they do not agree with her? These are our experts on electrical utilities.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, members of the Opposition, including the Third Party, discredit Nalcor everyday, and make no apology for it – something I find deeply offensive as a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, Mr. Speaker, deeply offensive.

Now, Mr. Speaker, what I said about the PUB yesterday was that they were given a mandate to do a report on Decision Gate 2 numbers feasibility study. Mr. Speaker, nowhere in the nine months of their work did they indicate to us that they needed sanction numbers. Mr. Speaker, nine months later, $2 million later, they refused to give us a recommendation on their mandate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Order, please!

The Speaker is standing. I ask hon. members to note that when the Speaker stands, the Speaker needs to have control of the House and the respect of members in the House. When the Speaker stands, I ask all members to recognize and acknowledge the Speaker is standing, and the Speaker will then recognize the person who had the floor.

The Speaker now recognizes the Leader of the Third Party, and I ask all members to pay attention and listen to the questions being posed.

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

Mr. Speaker, it is clear from the report that the PUB wants a full review of the Muskrat Falls proposal. They do not want to back down; they want a full review.

I ask the Premier: Once government has updated and complete information, will she mandate the PUB to review the updated proposal?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, nine months ago, $2 million ago, I gave the PUB a mandate to do a piece of work which they have refused to do, Mr. Speaker. It has certainly undermined my confidence in the PUB; and, no, I will not be doing a further reference to the PUB.

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. Harper’s plan to raise the old age security age to sixty-seven will hurt low wage workers the most because they cannot save for retirement and they cannot survive on a Canada Pension. Mr. Speaker, most of our seniors are living on the brink of poverty; 65 per cent of seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement because their incomes are so low.

Mr. Speaker, what will the Premier do in response to the Harper government downloading responsibility and costs on to the Province and on the backs of low income seniors?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I will do exactly what the Member for St. John’s Centre will do. I will advocate on behalf of the people that we represent.

Mr. Speaker, time and time and time again we step into the space that the federal government has vacated when they pulled back spending in this Province. There is only so far we can go with that, Mr. Speaker. We have vital programs here that we are called and charged to deliver to the people of the Province. Mr. Speaker, we are going to bring down a budget here shortly, and we have told everyone we are going to have a deficit and we are going to have a deficit next year. We cannot continue to move into the space that the federal government leaves. All we can do is, encourage them to live up to their responsibilities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, one of the priority directions of the Provincial Healthy Aging Policy Framework was to improve the financial well-being of our seniors. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: What is the long-term government financial plan to help our most vulnerable seniors now and in the future? What is the plan?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Over the last number of years, the last eight years, we have made many strides, Mr. Speaker, in improving the benefits for seniors, everything from the prescription drug program to making more benefits available, to improving health care costs and lower taxes, Mr. Speaker. Seniors are a major part of what we do, Mr. Speaker, as a government in terms of protecting our seniors. We will continue to do that, Mr. Speaker. Part of the long-term care strategy will be looking at the improvement of seniors’ lives. We have the healthy aging strategy, Mr. Speaker. There are all kinds of good things happened.

As the Minister of Finance just pointed out, we also have the dental program.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, my questions are for the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The federal Budget this time around was very disappointing. I have to say that. It only has $150 million for municipal infrastructure repair right across this country while funds from the Building Canada program have been used up. Municipalities have asked for a portion of the provincial gas tax, or any other tax for that matter, to help out with paying for infrastructure and services, but this government, so far, has refused them.

Mr. Speaker, my question is: What will the minister do about the shortfall in funds that is causing a crisis to municipalities across the Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O’BRIEN: If the hon. member had done his homework and hired some research people up on the third floor, or wherever you are, you would have found out that we have invested heavily in municipalities for the last years and prior to that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O’BRIEN To the tune of $500 million has gone into municipalities right across Newfoundland and Labrador in worthwhile municipal projects. That is exactly what happened.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O’BRIEN: In regard to the federal budget, yes, absolutely I am concerned in regard to any infrastructure that would be provided by the federal government to municipalities and to provinces to distribute right across their provinces – absolutely. We will continue to invest as we have done for the past eight years, I say to the hon. member.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know that this government has been making some proper investments when it comes to municipalities. They are playing catch-up.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MURPHY: They are playing catch-up. Guaranteed they will still go ahead with that, we are hoping.

Mr. Speaker, the government collects sixteen-and-a-half cents a litre in gasoline tax, which will yield almost $173 million in provincial coffers this year, according to the government Estimates. If the government gave two cents a litre to municipalities, they would almost double Municipal Operating Grants by another $21 million. The disappointment of the federal budget has created a sense of desperation amongst municipalities now.

Mr. Speaker, I ask again: Will the minister take a second look now at diverting a small portion of the gas tax to municipalities to avoid this financial crisis?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs for a short answer.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O’BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say to the gas man that he should actually be more fiscally responsible when he is talking about gas and the diversion of funds out of our Consolidated Revenue Fund that enables us to invest in health care, invest in Child, Youth and Family Services, and invest in education and schools. That is exactly what it is.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Question Period has expired.

Associated Caucus Members: 

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