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Oral Questions put forward by Chuck

Friday December 18, 2015

EECD: HS EF TOURS - DEPT. POSITION

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question through you this morning will be to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. I know in recent days the minister has made comments around the EF Tours that high schools in the province are considering taking. I think that they're still on. There seems to be a bit of confusion at my local school today, or yesterday now, as to the input of the province and specifically the minister.

I just wanted her, if she would, to clarify the position of her and her department on these tours, whether there will be decisions made or offered.

HON. KAREN CASEY : Thank you to the member for the question. As I said earlier this week, there were concerns that were raised across many provinces, but in particular, Alberta had taken a position with regard to international travel and in fact had said they would ban international travel, in light of the safety concerns that existed in some of the destinations for that travel.

Here in the province, we have contacted our school boards and asked them to go back to these parents and the school advisory councils and the school principals to have a second look at where those students would be travelling. In light of the unrest and the safety concerns that exist across the province, any decisions about the future of international travel are certainly within the hands of the parents and the schools and are not within my purview. But it certainly is, I think, my responsibility to raise the awareness and ask them to have those conversations.

MR. PORTER : I appreciate the clarification by the minister. I'll be attending a meeting sometime later today at Avon View High School, where I have two daughters who plan to be on a trip this coming March. I was very politely told today that perhaps I should check with my friend the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to ask why it is she's shutting this trip down. There's a lot of miscommunication within the parent group and these children, so I do appreciate the clarity around that.

I guess just to finish, minister, does the school board have the ability to actually cancel the trip? There's a lot of grey area with EF Tours. They are sort of part of the school, and they're not. I'm just curious as to whether the board has the authority to cancel these trips.

MS. CASEY : It's nice to know there's a friend over there. I do want to say to the member who will be going to the meeting that I think the nature of the trip is important. In fact, there are students who are doing international travel. That is something that's done outside of the school, but the students are in the schools. The fundraising that's done, whether it's a band trip or whatever, is certainly a great contribution from parents to raise the funds to take those trips.

I think it's important to distinguish whether this is a school-supported/funded trip or whether it involves students in the school. I think there's a difference because some of them, as I said, are organized and fundraised for outside of the school. I think that clarity would be important for the member to get at the meeting today.


Friday December 4, 2015

EECD - EARLY FRENCH IMMERSION: WINDSOR - ACCESS INFO.

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. I've recently been contacted by a group of parents in the Windsor, West Hants area, with regard to an early French Immersion Program in our elementary schools. We have written a letter to the AVRSB and specifically, Mr. Dave Jones - of which I will table a copy. There are only two elementary schools that provide this program for early French immersion in the Valley. I wonder, how do we go about getting that in the Windsor area for those parents who are interested?

HON. KAREN CASEY : Mr. Speaker, thank you to the member for the question and for working through the school advisory councils because I think it's important for parents in the communities to know that they have a voice and how they can bring their concerns forward. One of those avenues to get their voices heard is through their school advisory council, but I would say to the member, I think it's also important for the parents to go to their local school board member to raise that at the board table, because the decision about offering French immersion or other programs is a decision that is made by the board.

There is federal funding that comes through our department that boards can apply for if they're setting up a new French immersion class. That special projects funding will fund one FTE to begin the process of delivering a French Immersion Program to the students, and I would encourage the member to work and ask his parents and constituents to work through the school advisory council and the board. The board makes a decision, but they need to be reminded that there are funds available from the federal government through our department for start-up costs for those French immersion classes.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for Oral Questions Put by Members to Ministers has expired.
 

LAE: JOB SITUATION - UPDATE

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. In all the years that I've been in this House, there has been much discussion on jobs - the lack of jobs, young people leaving for other parts of the country and the world, for that matter. I wonder what the minister and her department are doing to better that situation.

HON. KELLY REGAN : I want to thank the honourable member for the question. We actually have a number of things that are under way. I would point to the recent announcement from the Public Service Commission around hiring young people and doing away with the requirements for experience. We're working on increasing co-op opportunities across the province. We're also working on transformation of our Careers Nova Scotia system here in the province because one of the things we know is that 45 per cent of the young people who leave this province do so because they can't see reaching their career goals staying here in Nova Scotia. We're working on that as we speak.

MR. PORTER : I appreciate the minister's answer. We hear this morning about the numbers yet again with regard to unemployment. I also know it's a seasonal time of year. Some of that probably has an impact, Mr. Speaker. But I also come from a rural area of this province where there are a number of people unemployed, constantly looking to better themselves and to find work. A lot of people do travel back and forth which, as we all know, has been a hard situation for families. Time is of the essence, and I wonder if the minister could speak to details a fair bit in her answer. I wonder if she could speak to a time frame where we may see some results from what it is that this department is doing.

MS. REGAN : I want to thank the honourable member for the question. For example, the Careers Nova Scotia transformation is under way. We are in the process of rolling that out. Just to acquaint the honourable members with the current situation, the responsibility for Careers Nova Scotia was given to us by the federal government in 2009. It's a $23 million system. The way it is set up right now, it's not working – 90 per cent of job seekers don't actually know that they can go to a Careers Nova Scotia centre for assistance, and employers don't know either. We have some terrific people working in the system, and we just need to give them the opportunity to make sure this is distributed equitably around the province to rural areas where there is often not a lot of coverage


Thursday November 26, 2015

MUN. AFFS.: WINDSOR/WEST HANTS AMALGAMATION - DETAILS

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, my question through you today is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. As is well-known by the minister, we have been having - I don't want to call it a "dispute," but an ongoing issue in Windsor-West Hants around amalgamation. We've had the citizens coalition, the ARC group, come together and put a petition together asking residents to sign in an effort to be amalgamated in our area.

I will read just a part of that: we the undersigned of the Municipality of West Hants believe our municipal governance structure cannot achieve the best results for our region due to the lack of co-operation between the Municipality of West Hants and the Town of Windsor. And it lists a number of examples.

At what point, once this bit of a unique piece is filed, where does the government get involved?

HON. ZACH CHURCHILL: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. I think it's very exciting that we have seen local community groups being leaders when it comes to pushing for structural change in our province. There is no better scenario than in West Hants and Windsor why amalgamations need to happen in some areas. To see a grassroots movement moving in that direction at the community level, I think, shows a great spirit in that community to look toward the future and identify what they need to do to change. We'll be a partner with that group and all levels of government that want to be part of that change as well.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's answer. The document I just tabled has 2,500-plus signatures on it and I'm sure there will be more to come of those who are interested in that amalgamation to take place. Being that a third party, if you will, is part of tabling this application, is there a legislative change? I know the MGA is specific to how municipal partnerships work, but where this is a third party, is there a piece of legislation within the MGA section that could be amended or changed, et cetera, to allow the province to become a funding partner and support, as we've seen in other amalgamations or dissolutions, et cetera?

MR. CHURCHILL: Mr. Speaker, any municipal governments that are interested in structural change, whether it's amalgamation, dissolution, what have you, they can find a partner in our government - a funding partner on occasion, as well. I know that the member opposite has been a champion for change in his community, he has been a champion for reason, and I want to thank him for pushing this issue locally.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank that member, for at a time when we have both Opposition Leaders standing up and dragging this House through a soap opera, the likes of which this House has not seen in a long time, that member stands up and speaks on behalf of his community, and all in this House could learn from his example. (Applause)


Tuesday November 24, 2015

TIR - TOLL HWYS.: CONSIDERATION - CONFIRM

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question this afternoon through you is to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

Mr. Speaker, there was a recent article published by The Chronicle Herald regarding new toll highways throughout Nova Scotia, or at least the assessment. There was a question asked by a number of my constituents, and I'll ask it on their behalf today, regarding this opinion piece, about the idea of a high-speed rail network throughout some of the same areas of Nova Scotia.

I would like to ask the minister, is such a thing being considered during this study, the assessment of toll highways across the province?

HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN : I thank the member for the question. The quick answer to that is no.

With respect to the capital costs associated with our railbeds, we're having a tough time keeping those we have in place on the ground now and, as the member knows, there are a number of processes for that in place.

With respect to any commuter travel or passenger travel, Mr. Speaker, my personal opinion is that we just don't have the critical numbers. I haven't received any of those suggestions or any ideas that there is - outside of downtown here in metro, I don't know if there's a commuter model that would be viable. I certainly haven't heard that. Like anything else, we're open to information, but from our perspective, from a capital side and from a marketing side, I just don't know if those numbers would add up.

MR. PORTER: I guess I'll just follow up. He spoke about the railbeds, the condition they're in. I think everyone knows that.

The article goes on to mention the actual cost, and the minister would know the cost well, of the twinning of highways, the very expensive amount of money - very interesting, the comparison. It almost sounds like there's been some comparison done, maybe in what high-speed rail would cost, if I heard that correctly. To follow up, will the railbeds be kept in the status they're in by way of ownership as it stands today?

MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you for that question; it is an important one. I think that when you look at the different railbeds we have across the province, there are different ownership groups, obviously different business models associated with those, so really, it's case by case.

Again, when you look at what CN has here in the operation in downtown metro, there is viability in alternative services, I think. In HRM, some of the MPs, and of course at the provincial level, there's been some measure of discussion.

But with respect to the rail, again the capital cost is very significant, probably comparable with some of that major highway development, but then you're into that viability of the market and what the passenger count looks like. Take VIA Rail for example - they subsidize a number of runs for this exact reason. When you look at populations, it's hard to justify that critical mass that's required to pay the bills.
 

COM. SERV.: BENEFIT REFORM - UPDATE

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, my question through you will be to the Minister of Community Services. We all know the importance of what her department does and the people she serves in this province. I wonder, could the minister give us an update on the benefit reform currently happening within her department?

HON. JOANNE BERNARD: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the question. One of the highest priorities of the department is making sure that the income assistance portion of the Department of Community Services is both effective and sustainable. About 18 months ago, just after we were elected, we started a long-term process to really do comprehensive change and transformation within a system which quite frankly has not been working to meet the needs of people for a couple of decades now.

I am very pleased to say that we've moved along a major restructuring within the upper echelons of administration and the RFPs for trying to bring together the expertise in the community and also working with the people within the department who are the subject matter experts, hit the streets about 30 days ago, and we are moving along at the pace that we had determined.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for that answer. Moving along - could she be a little more clear on a time frame, perhaps, on such a reform?

MS. BERNARD: Absolutely. We had said from the onset that this was going to be a three-phase approach. We have just finished Phase I, which took about 18 months. We are now beginning Phase II, which we consider will take another year or a little more than a year. We're looking for a complete, comprehensive overhaul of a system that hasn't been meeting the needs of people for many, many years. We are looking at an end date for that to be 2018.

 
Thursday November 19, 2015

LAE - CARE WORKERS: INJURIES - REDUCTION

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, at a recent meeting of safety leaders of the province, concerns about the high rate of injuries among health workers in Nova Scotia was raised. Recently a nurse and several security guards at the Hants Community Hospital, in Windsor, were assaulted. I would like to ask the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education what her is department doing to reduce injury among health care workers.

HON. KELLY REGAN : I would like to thank the honourable member for the question. I was at that particular safety meeting, and I would like to commend Janet Hazelton and Ms. Jessome for bringing up this particular issue. There is no doubt there is a high rate of injury among health care workers, Mr. Speaker.

Over the last couple of years, we've been focusing most of our efforts around industries that had a high rate of death. We're talking things like the fishing industry and the construction industry. We've been working to do targeted inspections and that kind of thing to bring down that rate.

We are now beginning to focus on the health care sector. It's a big sector, and there's a high rate of injury. I thank the honourable member for the question.

MR. PORTER  : I thank the minister for those efforts. There has been some rumour that there will be a change in the way security works around at least that facility, is that correct, or is there a general plan across the province to change security? That has been changed. I think a few years ago - then the Commissionaires were in place at one point at some hospitals if not all - we went to private security at the Hants Community Hospital some years back. Is there a change or some consideration for a change afoot?

MS. REGAN  : I thank the honourable member for the question. I think that part of it might actually come under the Department of Health and Wellness, but I do want to assure the honourable member that this is something that the department takes very seriously.

We know that a lot of the injuries in the health care sector are from lifting, et cetera. But we also have to be cognizant of the fact that some of our health care workers are at risk from the public. There is going to be a concerted effort around education and a variety of different measures to make sure that this is dealt with. Thank you very much


Wednesday November 18, 2015

PSC - New Grads: Job Prog. - Prov. Distribution

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of the Public Service Commission. The minister stood today and referred to an announcement that he made last week and indeed gave a bit more detail today on how that would work.

I would ask the minister, of those 70 jobs for our youth and new graduates he is referring to, is there a policy or process in place along with that that speaks to how they will be divvied up throughout the province?

HON. LABI KOUSOULIS : Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the honourable member for the question. The positions are from one end of the province to the other. I would also like to add that when I scanned the positions last week, there were approximately five or six that were in the member's general area of Wolfville and the Valley.

While I have the opportunity, if anyone at home would like to see where these positions are listed, the 70 positions with very little to no work experience are at makeithere.novascotia.ca, and all positions in the Public Service are posted on careerbeacon.com. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. PORTER : Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister, although a little geography lesson maybe later about where Wolfville and my constituency are but that said, not that far away.

Can the minister clarify how many of those Public Service jobs actually exist throughout the Valley, maybe including Windsor as part of the Valley and down through at least the eastern part of that and potentially how many could end up in that area, or if there is a specific number?

MR. KOUSOULIS : Mr. Speaker, I don't have the exact number but I can ask the department to pull together how many of our Public Service positions are in those areas and provide them to the member. Thank you


Friday November 13, 2015

TIR: HWY. NO. 101 (GARLANDS CROSS TO FALMOUTH)

- LONG-TERM PLAN

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. First of all I'll thank the minister. In recent sessions of this House I've asked numerous questions with regard to short-term and interim plans for Highway No. 101, through a very dangerous stretch from Garlands Cross into Falmouth. We now see and have seen for a number of months work going on there and that's great. Today I would like to ask, in following up to that, can he advise us what the long-term plan is and maybe how many years out we're looking at for further action to be taken?

HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN : Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question. Obviously there have been some short-term improvements which the member has identified - embedded markings, some electronic signs, oversize signs which really have helped in the short term. The member is absolutely right, it is a very important corridor for us, heavy volumes, important for the mobility of our province from a safety perspective, and of course from an economic one.

As the member would know, that corridor is part of the feasibility study which is ongoing now which really is the first of its kind, a very significant look at eight key sections of the province in our provincial highway system and that will ultimately look at what we need for the long-term solutions for that area.

That particular section of Highway No. 101 is an important one. We'll have not only some details on what we're going to do, Mr. Speaker, but there will be some specifics on the design for that through this process, which will also include public consultation.

MR. PORTER : Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister. I wonder if he could maybe be a little more clear on the time frame for that to be complete, if that is known at this point.

MR. MACLELLAN : The feasibility study is finished in its entirety in April 2016. The public consultations we hope will start this Fall; if not, they will be early in the new year. At that point we'll have an idea not only the design of what the overall corridor will look like, but also there will be some specific costing associated with that. Then of course we'll look at the models for payment for those specific areas and what long-term improvements will take place. By April 2016 we'll certainly have a good feel of where we're going with Highway No. 101 and many of the other key corridors here in the Province of Nova Scotia.


Friday November 13, 2015

EECD: NEWPORT STA. DIST. ELEM. SCH. - DIVESTITURE

MR. CHUCK PORTER : Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. As we know, in recent years in past governments there was a plan put in place to review, and some schools were actually closed. One in my area that was closed was Newport Station District Elementary School, which closed in June of 2015. I would just like to ask the minister how that building and that facility will be divested or if it will, and what the process is as there may be interest in that facility.

HON. KAREN CASEY : Thank you to the member. As the Education Act states, we have a process in place where schools, once they are no longer used for public education purposes, are divested. If they are a pre-1982 building, they go back to the municipality. We have a number of schools that have done that; when they have become vacant they have gone back to the municipality.

The school in question, Newport Station School, did close in June. It is my understanding that that has reverted back to the municipality as it is no longer required for public education.

MR. PORTER : I thank the minister and I guess I'll take it up with the municipality. Thank you.


Thursday November 12, 2015

TIR: HWY. NO. 101 (EXIT 7) - DAMAGE UPDATE

MR. CHUCK PORTER  : Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question this afternoon is to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. A number of months back we had an unfortunate incident on Highway No. 101 in Falmouth - I'm sure the minister is aware - where Exit 7 was damaged by a truck and trailer carrying a large piece of machinery. I wonder, could the minister update the House this afternoon on the status of that overpass and the structural integrity and plan for replacement?

HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN  : I thank the member for the question. The member has been very much engaged in this particular issue for the last number of months, so I appreciate his work on that on behalf of his constituents and the people of the region. We have awarded the contract; they're in construction and will do that work. We're in the pre-job stage now, so we're probably two to four weeks away from beginning that project, which will take probably about a week.

MR. PORTER : Just as a quick follow-up, it is now designated 18 ton or under for passage on that overpass, and I just want the minister to confirm, following the assessment now, that that is more than adequate and safe for passage over.

MR. MACLELLAN : Yes, the focus of the repair - it's a full integrity repair, so it will be back to the normal weight. I know there has been some question there with reduced weight, but we'll be back to the normal load once the repairs are fully completed.




 

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