|FOR THE GOOD OF OUR PEOPLE
Mr. Speaker, of every three dollars we spend, two dollars is expended in the social sector. If we exclude debt servicing, we spend almost 80 cents of every dollar on health care, education and helping those most in need.
Let me be clear that the number one priority of this government is health care. As a government, we must ensure all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have access to appropriate levels of quality health care. Escalating costs will continue to be our greatest single challenge in meeting health care needs.
Our Record of Putting Health Care First
This budget highlights some of the measures we are taking to act on our commitment to health care. When this government took office at the end of the 1995-96 fiscal year the cost of operating the health care system was just under $1 billion. This year, Mr. Speaker, we are allocating almost 1 billion 250 million dollars to operate the health care system, an increase of almost 25% in just five years. In comparison, the total cost of operating government over this same period has increased only 4.4%. Government will spend $233 million more on health care this year than was spent five years ago.
When we took office we said the economy would have two tough years and then improve. We faced large deficits and had to undertake a program review exercise to rationalize our spending in the 1997 budget. Expenditures were cut in every department - except Health. Health care spending has increased in every year of this government's mandate. In total, we have dedicated $516 million more to operating the health care system since we took office in 1996.
In addition, over this period, we have made commitments for $273.5 million to be invested in health care facilities and equipment. Through the health and community services boards, a further $160 million is being invested in capital projects approved by government. In total, these commitments represent an investment in health care facilities and equipment since 1996 of $433.5 million.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information confirms that per capita public spending on health in this Province was below the Canadian average until 1996. But, since 1997 this Province has exceeded the Canadian average each year. This demonstrates the commitment of this government to health care.
At year end, an additional $48.3 million is being allocated to health care. The budget increases spending for this year by $87.5 million. This means that in this budget $135.8 million is committed by this government to new health care spending. We are confident that this Province will again this year exceed the Canadian average for per capita public spending on health.
Stabilizing Health Board Budgets
In the 1999 Budget, $40 million was allocated to eliminate deficits accumulated by institutional boards to March 31, 1998. Since the 1997 Health Forum, we have added to the base budgets of health boards each year. This includes a base budget increase at year end of $16.7 million, the fourth increase in the annual allotment in four years. The cumulative amount that has been added since 1997 is $173.4 million.
One of our primary objectives is to ensure the people's health care dollars are being spent wisely. I am announcing today that we have put in place a special review team to work with boards to identify core services, priorities, new directions and efficiencies. Following the work of the team, boards will begin to implement three year action plans. The objective is for boards to identify ways to optimize our health system and begin to define the system of the future.
Meeting Needs for Health Facilities
Mr. Speaker, the significant investment we have made in health care facilities in all regions of the Province is a legacy of this commitment. This year 14 major capital projects are being funded.
In 2000, we will see completion of the $130 million redevelopment of hospital services in St. John's as the major centre for referrals for all the Province. The redevelopment includes a new Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre with in-patient facilities for 103 children, renovations at St. Clare's Hospital and transfer of services from the closure of the Grace Hospital. Two other new hospitals will also be open in the province this summer. In Happy Valley-Goose Bay the new $30 million Melville health centre will open, as will the new $8.2 million Harbour Breton Health Centre.
In addition, the redevelopment of the Gander hospital will continue. Work will be ongoing on new health centres in Old Perlican, Fogo, and Bonne Bay. A new hospital for Stephenville will be completed in 2003-04. A long term care facility is being constructed in Grand Falls-Windsor. Planning and site preparation will commence on a new combined clinic/chronic care facility at Grand Bank.
As well, $8.7 million will be spent to renovate and upgrade existing health facilities in the Province. Major renovations will be carried out at Carbonear, Clarenville, Corner Brook and Forteau. Many other projects will be undertaken throughout the Province.
Government has also approved funding of $1.5 million towards construction of a new $3.5 million Janeway Hostel.
Meeting Needs for Equipment
Additional investment in new health care technologies and equipment is also essential. Over the next three years, Mr. Speaker, government will spend $54.3 million on equipment, $24.3 million this year. The new Janeway will receive $6 million for equipment. Together with $5 million allocated last year and the $6 million to be raised by the hospital foundations, the St. John's redevelopment will incorporate $17 million in new equipment.
New equipment will be purchased for all regions of the Province. This includes X-Ray equipment for central and western Newfoundland and the Northern Peninsula; CT scanners for central and eastern Newfoundland, the Avalon Peninsula and Labrador; Ultrasound machines for central Newfoundland, the south coast and the Avalon Peninsula; mammography equipment for the Burin Peninsula; and kidney dialysis machines for the Northern Peninsula and eastern Newfoundland.
Stabilizing the Health Care Workforce
One of government's goals is to have a stable workforce for the health sector. This budget allocates $600,000 to provide incentives to graduating nurses who commit to work in the Province. Government will also undertake a 3 year $225,000 program to assist nursing students gain experience in rural areas of the Province. An additional $1.2 million is also allocated to hire Nurse Practitioner program graduates.
This year the province will spend $186 million for physician services. This includes $8.2 million provided last year to hire more than 50 new physicians. This year $2.1 million is budgeted to hire new salaried physicians in priority areas. Because of an increased number of fee-for-service physicians, $1.9 million has been added to the physician services agreement this year.
Investing in High Priority Programs
In programs and services, we have identified the needs which call for immediate investment, and are addressing specific requirements at this time.
Government has approved $6.2 million to enhance the cardiac surgery program to meet current and future needs. New equipment is being provided, as well as an increase in operational funding. By the Fall of 2000 the number of surgeries will increase by 25%, or about 150 more surgeries a year. In the interim, to reduce the cardiac surgery wait list, the approved funding includes $2.2 million to give 60 patients the opportunity to have their cardiac surgery performed outside the province.
Kidney Dialysis Pilot Projects
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that new community based kidney dialysis programs will be established this year at Clarenville and St. Anthony, with more than $570,000 provided to purchase new dialysis machines and to operate these pilot projects. This decision follows a report of the Provincial Renal Advisory Committee on Dialysis that identified these sites as locations for community based units in non-hospital environments.
Breast Health Centre
This year $2 million is provided to create a comprehensive Breast Health Centre at St. Clare's Hospital. The Centre will serve as a screening and diagnostic facility for the St. John's area, as well as coordinate provincial diagnostic activities and be the administrative hub for the breast health program.
Road Ambulance Service
To improve road ambulance service in the Province, government is working with all operators and has approved a $3.3 million increase in funding in this budget.
Air Ambulance Service
To replace the air ambulance with a more modern aircraft, $6 million has been approved. The replacement plane will be faster and have longer range. It also will be able to accommodate two stretcher patients as opposed to the present one, and will be able to transport more medical equipment and attendants. Government will also increase funding for the service by one third, or $400,000.
An additional $5.4 million is allocated this year under the provincial Drug Program to provide for coverage of new and proven drug therapies and for increased utilization.
Primary Care Projects
This year $1 million is provided to continue pilot projects in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Twillingate and Port-aux-Basques to search out innovative ways to deliver primary health care through a team approach to health and well-being.
Enhancing Community Based Services
Mr. Speaker, the integration of health and community services has achieved the goal of delivering services closer to the community. This year will also see enhanced services in this area through the implementation of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act, and through other initiatives.
Children with Autism
As part of a $2.2 million three year commitment for support of children with autism, $410,000 is provided this year.
To reduce smoking in the Province, government has committed $900,000 to a three year Provincial Tobacco Reduction Strategy. This year, the second $300,000 has been allocated, reinforcing government's commitment to, in particular, curb smoking among youth.
Cervical Cancer Screening
For a cervical cancer screening program in western Newfoundland $200,000 is provided in this budget.
Personal Care Homes
For increases in subsidies and rates an additional $1.3 million is allocated this year for personal care homes.
The Future of Health Care
Mr. Speaker, this government has taken a practical, sensitive and forward looking view of our responsibilities to maintain and enhance the quality of health care in this Province. We are doing all we can within our means to address this number one priority. We strongly encourage the federal government to demonstrate the same level of leadership and commitment to health care nationally. The challenges facing our health care system are national in scope. Only with the full partnership of the federal government can we move to define together the health care system of the future.
Federal Financial Support for Health Care
The Canadian Health and Social Transfer, or CHST, is a payment to all provinces and territories by the federal government in support of health care and other social programs. It recognizes that provinces have the constitutionally assigned responsibility to deliver health care services in this country and that it is the obligation of the federal government to ensure they have the financial resources to do so. Provincial-Territorial Premiers and Finance Ministers have been united in asking the federal government to restore the cuts made to transfer programs in the 1990s.
Mr. Speaker, governments, federal and provincial , must work together to secure the future of health care this year. Both myself and the Minister of Health will work with our counterparts in Ottawa and in the provinces to prepare a plan of action for a First Ministers' meeting on health care.
Mr. Speaker, education is our second largest expenditure, accounting for 20% of the budget, or $1 of every $5 we spend. There is no greater responsibility we have as a government to our youth than to ensure they have the opportunity for a good education.
Newfoundland and Labrador schools have the lowest pupil-teacher ratio in Canada and this Province has the highest spending on education as a percentage of total public expenditure, in the country.
K to 12 SYSTEM
In the K to 12 system our biggest challenge is how to deal with declining enrolments. Last August a Ministerial Panel was established to review curriculum and the way resources are provided to schools, and to make recommendations for a new method to allocate teachers. The Panel of two prominent educators, Dr. Len Williams and Dr. Ron Sparkes, consulted extensively with students, parents, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders. While the final report will not be submitted until the end of this month, key findings have been taken into account in this budget.
The decline in student enrolment and the closure of some schools could have resulted in a loss of 408 teaching positions for September 2000 under the current method for allocating teachers. The Ministerial Panel has recommended a new student-focused funding system which will allocate teachers based on the need to deliver an essential program for all students. The Panel has recommended the reinstatement of 300 teaching positions for September 2000, which represents a $15 million reinvestment in the school system. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that government is accepting that recommendation and will be reinstating the 300 positions this year.
We are increasing our investment in the continuing education of teachers to ensure they are provided with the most recent teaching strategies and skills. An additional $900,000 has been allocated for increased professional development activities and to facilitate implementation of new curriculum, with emphasis on early literacy initiatives. This will bring the total investment in professional development this year to $5.2 million.
Curriculum initiatives are also being undertaken this year. Funding of $1.5 million has been allocated for implementation of new curriculum in September for mathematics, language arts and religious education. In addition, I am announcing that $1 million is provided over two years for accelerated development and implementation of a new Newfoundland and Labrador history course. In technology support, funding of $725,000 has been allocated for the purchase of new graphing calculators for all high schools to assist in implementing a new mathematics curriculum.
School Board Grants
Government is allowing school boards to retain savings from school closures for three years. For some boards, who are now past the three years, government was entitled to deduct $2.7 million this year from their grants. Instead, government has decided to reinvest this amount in the education system. Also, for the second year, government has decided not to reduce school board grants as a result of enrolment decline, allowing $600,000 over the two years to be retained in the system. In total, as a result of school closures and enrolment decline, school boards have been able to retain $7.6 million within the education system.
Government will also continue to respond to the special education needs of our children. This year, more than $9 million is provided for student assistants to maintain the current level of service. We are listening to the concerns of parents. Assistants will now be assigned for terms of up to three years to better meet the long-term needs of students.
Investing in School Buildings
Mr. Speaker, in 1998 government embarked on the most significant school construction and redevelopment program undertaken since Confederation, a $125 million initiative to be substantially completed by September 2001. To date, seven new schools have been constructed, including three on the northern Labrador coast in Nain, Hopedale and Rigolet. Under this initiative, some $38 million will be spent this year on 11 new school construction projects.
An additional $12 million over three years is being allocated to address priority repairs and maintenance for existing schools, with the principal focus being on roof repairs and air quality initiatives.
POST SECONDARY SYSTEM
Extending the Tuition Freeze
Mr. Speaker, last year government announced a two year tuition freeze for post secondary students attending public institutions. Today I am announcing that, through the cooperation and participation of Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic, agreement has been reached to extend this freeze for an additional year. This means the freeze will be in place for the coming two academic years. The cost to government over the three years will be $36 million in increased grants to these institutions. This initiative will help maintain the affordability of public post secondary education and provide a measure of relief to the level of student debt.
MUN Opportunity Fund
This budget also provides $3 million to the MUN Opportunity Fund, bringing government's total contribution to date to $18.3 million. Government's total commitment to this fund is $29 million, matching other collections by Memorial on a dollar for dollar basis. It is particularly noteworthy that about $15 million of this fund will be allocated to increase scholarships for students.
Investing in Facilities
To relocate the Medical Science Program of the College of the North Atlantic from Topsail Road to a new facility to be built as an extension to the Prince Philip Drive campus, $6 million has been allocated over two years, the first $3 million this year. A further $500,000 has been provided to purchase new equipment for the Program.
We are also providing $2.1 million to refurbish and upgrade the exterior of Grenfell College in Corner Brook.
Mr. Speaker, government has consulted with stakeholders and is about to release its Strategic Literacy Plan. Government is contributing $1 million, to be matched by the National Literacy Secretariat of the federal government, to create a $2 million Literacy Endowment Fund. The fund will be managed by the Literacy Development Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. The interest earned on the fund will be used for literacy initiatives based on the Strategic Literacy Plan. These monies are in addition to the $500,000 allocated by government last year to commence implementation of the Plan.
Reading Materials for Libraries
To ensure there is a good supply of current reading materials available through our public library system, government has provided a special $1 million allocation for the purchase of new library books. This is in addition to their normal annual funding of some $500,000.
Helping Those Most in Need
Strategic Social Plan
Mr. Speaker, implementation of the Strategic Social Plan began in 1999. Currently, two regional steering committees are operating. Within the next several months, the Plan will be set in motion in all other parts of the Province. I am pleased to announce that government has allocated $2 million again this year for Strategic Social Plan initiatives.
Support and Employment Opportunities for More Families
We recognize that employment is the link between social and economic development. This is a central theme of the Strategic Social Plan and a recurring message in the recent Jobs and Growth consultations. We offer programs that help people in the transition to employment while ensuring supports for those who are unable to work. This year $12.8 million is provided for employment programs.
Social Assistance Rate Increase
In 1998, we undertook to increase social assistance rates by 7% over three years. As part of this commitment, this budget provides for a 2% social assistance rate increase this year.
Last year we implemented a provincial employment program, NewfoundJOBS, which helps social assistance clients find long term employment. This year, the program will receive an additional $1 million, a 50% increase in funding.
Single Parent Employment Support Program
We have also implemented a successful project, in partnership with the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland, to assist single parents on social assistance increase their employability skills. Almost 65% of participants are now employed. The project will receive funding of $500,000 again this year to assist another 150 single parents.
Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities
The Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities Agreement is valued at $8.2 million annually, cost shared 50/50 with the federal government. As a result of consultations arranged by the Coalition of People with Disabilities, a report will be released in May that will help guide the future direction of the assistance programs.
To help persons with disabilities enter the workforce, $500,000 is provided for the employment support services program. To give individuals with a disability the opportunity for employment and work experience in the public service, $500,000 is provided, cost-shared with the federal government, for the Opening Doors Program.
Children & Youth
Mr. Speaker, this budget contains a number of initiatives directed at the needs of children and youth. The recent Jobs and Growth consultations highlighted the crucial role the youth of today will play in shaping the future economic success of the Province. To contribute to this success, this budget provides $7.5 million for youth employment.
To help 1,500 post secondary students find cooperative work placements and help young people get their first job and gain work experience, $5.5 million is provided this year.
Student Work and Services Program (SWASP)
Our award winning Student Work and Services Program will provide $2 million again this year to create employment for post-secondary students. The program will create about 2,000 jobs for students, including 500 through partnership with MUN and the College of the North Atlantic.
School Children's Food Foundation
An additional $1 million has been allocated as an endowment to the School Children's Food Foundation and recognizes the valuable contribution this organization makes to the well being of many children in our schools.
Youth Service Grants
An additional $100,000 has been provided for Youth Service Grants, in recognition of the contribution youth organizations make to the development of our young people, bringing the total allocation this year to $600,000.
We also recognize the dedication and hard work of provincial sport organizations and the contribution their volunteers make to recreational programs. To assist in these very worthwhile endeavours, I am pleased to announce that we are increasing our financial support to these organizations this year. Funding will increase from $300,000 to $500,000
Mr. Speaker, the Labrador Winter Games which concluded just last week were a huge success, and the people of Labrador need to know now that government will continue to support these friendship games. We are committing $500,000 today to the next Labrador Winter Games in 2003. This will ensure organizers can commence planning for the next games and will benefit from any interest that may accrue on this contribution in the interim.
Debt Relief Program
Mr. Speaker, over the last three years, through the Debt Relief Program, government has assisted many municipalities experiencing financial difficulty. This year government is committing another $5 million to the program, bringing our total commitment over four years to $22 million.
Financial Support for Municipalities
In total, the province will spend some $92 million this year in support of local government. Two thirds of this amount will go to pay the debt charges associated with existing municipal infrastructure. In addition, the province also makes a substantial contribution to the general operating costs of municipal governments. Although Municipal Operating Grants were scheduled to decline, the Province increased their level to $21.5 million last year. This provides municipalities with $9 million more this year than they otherwise would have received.