NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, March 1, 2012
COMMITTEE ROOM 1
Shubenacadie Canal Commission
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Mr. Sidney Prest (Chairman)
Mr. Jim Boudreau (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Howard Epstein
Mr. Gary Ramey
Ms. Lenore Zann
Mr. Leo Glavine
Mr. Andrew Younger
Mr. Alfie MacLeod
Mr. Chuck Porter
[Mr. Howard Epstein was replaced by Ms. Becky Kent]
[Mr. Jim Boudreau was replaced by Mr. Mat Whynott]
[Ms. Lenore Zann was replaced by Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon]
[Mr. Alfie MacLeod was replaced by Hon. Christopher d’Entremont]
Ms. Jana Hodgson
Legislative Committee Clerk
Shubenacadie Canal Commission
Mr. Allan Billard, Managing Director
Mr. Cameron Ells, Chairperson
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2012
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
Mr. Sidney Prest
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning everyone. I guess we’ll get started with our meeting. We have as our witness today Mr. Allan Billard with the Shubenacadie Canal Commission. We’ll start with introduction of our members on the committee. We’ll start with Mr. Glavine.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We’ll get started with the presentation and then we’ll have a question and answer period when that is complete. Go ahead, Mr. Billard.
MR. ALLAN BILLARD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Allan Billard from Dartmouth and behind me is Cameron Ells, he’s our newly-elected chairperson. We have a commission of 15 appointed . . .
MS. BECKY KENT: Why don’t you bring him up with you.
MR. BILLARD: That’s a good idea. We have a commission, it’s appointed by the Legislature, by the Human Resources Committee, that serves to fulfill the mandate given to us in 1986 by the Nova Scotia Legislature. Cameron is one of the more recently appointed commissioners and we are both very pleased to be here.
May I say that you were joking about where you are from and who you are replacing, who is from somewhere else, but the Shubenacadie Canal is a Nova Scotian resource. It’s a cross-province canal and it touches the communities all across this province. We are very, very proud of it as a provincial resource and we are very proud to be speaking to you, although I think as I look around the table, there’s only one of you with a riding that’s actually touching this specific canal. That’s okay. It touches nine provincial constituencies and goes all the way from Halifax Harbour to the Bay of Fundy.
I want to thank you very much for inviting me, and I particularly want to thank Jana. She has done a tremendous job of preparing the resources package. I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to read all 97 pages, but I’m going to save it and give it to all of our newly appointed members because I’ve never seen quite as thorough a background package. So Jana, and Heather Ludlow from the Legislative Library - I really think you’ve got a couple of good employees there, and she didn’t say anything about that. She just sort of did that on her own.
The canal, by the way, was built - give or take - around 1862. It crossed the province from Halifax to Maitland. It really served only in operation about 10 years, not because people didn’t like it or people didn’t think it was a worthy venture, but the railroad came along and everybody fell in love with the steel rail. The railroad was much faster and much more efficient and people just forgot about the canal.
We still have a great number of assets. The Shubenacadie Canal and Waterway has seven clean lakes; some of the nicest water resources in Nova Scotia and one very long and beautiful river. In total, these natural elements provide some of the best recreational opportunities anywhere and some of the richest natural and built heritage Nova Scotia has to offer. It is an historic goldmine, encompassing the remnants of nine lock chambers and two marine railways that are all still there in the ground. The canal corridor across this province is a rich exhibit of what early Nova Scotians carved by hand from rock and wood with nothing more than black powder and muscle power. Today the corridor is a designated route for the TransCanada Trail and, as well, we’re currently redrafting our application for nomination as a Canadian Heritage River.
We’re very proud of this treasure and we’re pleased to promote it in publications like the one that you were circulated with there by Donna Barnett. We also promote it, of course, endlessly with school visits and opportunities like this. To facilitate all of that, we’re blessed with several capital assets. They’re actually the result of support from government at all levels over the past 26 years - officially appointed by the Legislature in 1986. A partial list of our real property includes three buildings, six pocket parks and over 40 acres of park land. The land and buildings are not assessed as commercial, but the replacement value exceeds $4.5 million.
In 1986, the Legislature mandated our commission, “ . . . to oversee and further promote the Shubenacadie Canal System including the operation of any information or interpretive centres pertaining to or belonging to the Shubenacadie Canal System.” That’s a particularly important quote. It was Rollie Thornhill that shepherded that through the Legislature and he made sure that the wording was specific and it has come back to serve us very well over the years. The commission sees its role as the primary vehicle for promoting and interpreting these real property assets within the corridor.
Here’s why I say it’s interesting. Our objectives are very close to the new DNR statement of mandate wherein the province explains that: “The provincial parks system preserves unique and scenic landscapes, and cultural and heritage resources; and provides opportunities for outdoor recreation . . .” And “. . . relevant to the real needs of stakeholders. Government must explore, on a continuing basis, new and innovative ways to do business and deliver services in pursuit of greater efficiency and improved program outcomes.”
We’re all on board with that. We’ve got to do better with less and according to the government’s statement, this initiative includes, “ . . . to streamline or transform service delivery, improve productivity or share services with other government departments or entities.” I took that right off the Web site that was published a couple of months ago and it pretty much matches exactly the mandate that was given to us a generation ago.
The province, with its Parks and Recreation Division of DNR, maintains an interest in the 120 parcels of natural areas and parkland, extremely popular assets in the province. The Shubenacadie Canal Commission sees an enduring role here for us, one of co-management of several of those natural pocket parks, which are within the canal corridor. That would be a responsibility we would gladly shoulder and perhaps we could offer you some cost efficiencies. That’s where this theme of doing more efficiently is going to run through.
Recognition of the costs involved, of course, the province initially gave us an annual grant of over $150,000. That was back in 1986. By 1998 that operating assistance had grown to $160,000-plus. In 2001 the annual grant dropped to $32,100 and there was no funding for capital repairs or replacement. By that time our buildings were starting to be about 15 to 18 years old. We had barely enough money for operating and no money for capital repair replacement. That is where the assistance remains today, 12 years later.
Unfortunately - actually, we are fortunate to have been able to leverage that money through other government funding agencies and we also received some ad hoc assistance from the department. But one of our best deals and one that I’m very, very pleased to report is that we have a partnership with the HRM to do some limited co-management on the facilities that we have within the municipal boundary. That has enabled us to cover most of our operating expenses over the last 12 years. However, it still doesn’t address the capital needs.
We’re all volunteers by the way; we have no money for staff. We are appointed and given a mandate to manage provincial property and we have no paid employees. As volunteer members, we’re pleased to accept our mandate and we actually look forward to an even busier summer of hosting cultural events, sponsoring sporting competitions, ensuring that international visitors feel welcome, and that small businesses thrive along the canal corridor. In fact, we’re eager to expand our opportunities and efforts, and we look forward to acquiring more land that’s needed to fully protect and promote these important heritage and community resources. Obviously, when the existing inventory that we have had for 25 years is in decline, the volunteer efforts are being pushed to a maximum. Extending that reach to do those things that I’m going to be asking you to help us do today, that becomes problematic.
So what are our next steps? The Canal Commission wants very badly for the province to acquire a 286-acre parcel of land, called Chappell Estates, just outside of Waverley. That is where the Trans Canada Trail is designated to go. That land - and I want you to turn in that book to the page that has the “sticky” on it - contains some incredible handcrafted construction that was meant to make sure that the marine railway in Porto Bello actually operated.
It’s currently suffering from battling appraisals; the landowner, staff from DNR’s Land Services, and even HRM are all trying very hard to come to a solution but it’s just impossible to find a negotiated price. What I’m going to ask you to do here is perhaps suggest some binding arbitration because we really need to acquire this land, the province really needs to acquire this land.
The Canal Commission encourages the province, as well, to enhance our annual operating assistance, in recognition of the fact that we’re managing so many provincial resources on a shoestring. There is, as you can understand, only so far that we can actually stretch $32,100. We partner, we beg, borrow and steal, we lever, but some kind of co-management partnership with some recognition of the costs involved would really be more appropriate.
We are also in receipt of a recent property maintenance report and asset review. This particular document shows some wonderful assets but it indicates that we’re in desperate need of capital repairs. The figures quoted for our capital repairs on our asset management review come to $86,285. Now with volunteer labour, as usual, we can reduce that by a number and we can put off some work for three years, reducing it again. Perhaps we can save half of that $86,000 but the fact remains that without an injection of capital funding, in three years all of these provincially-owned assets are going to start to crumble. They are going to look like the asset that is in the picture in that book: unusable, unsafe, and then they become provincial liabilities and eventually they are going to be lost to all Nova Scotians.
I said at the start of this presentation how proud I am of the Shubenacadie Canal. I don’t want to lose that for my children, your children, and the future of Nova Scotians, so here is my proposal to you. The Department of Natural Resources supports the arguments outlined by the Shubenacadie Canal Commission and provides an allocation of $100,000 to advance the objectives of sustainable asset co-management in the coming fiscal year. With that assistance, a budget will be developed for operations; regular reports will be provided to DNR; and most importantly, a repair and replacement fund will be undertaken to extend the useful life of the provincially-owned property.
I know the provincial budget is $9 billion; that sounds like an awful lot. The Department of Natural Resources gets $109 million. That sounds like a lot too, but it’s only - what’s that - 1 per cent of the provincial budget? The Parks Division in the Department of Natural Resources gets $2 million. I said - remember a minute ago - 120 parks, $2 million; that’s like 2 per cent of the 1 per cent of the provincial budget. The Shubenacadie Canal Commission gets $32,000. That’s a rounding error in the budget for the Department of Natural Resources, let alone a provincial government. I know you’ve got a lot of places and a lot of people and a lot of issues that you need to deal with, but these provincial resources are going to become provincial liabilities and we want to help with that. Thanks very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We will open our meeting for questions and as usual we’ll provide 10 minutes for the first round of questioning from committee members, until we go around and then you can have the second round. Mr. Younger.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: I do want to thank the committee for agreeing to put this on the agenda because I think there is probably a misunderstanding and, in fairness, it’s not something that you would know unless you’re one of the nine constituencies. I know Minister Paris would know because he talks to you guys all the time and Minister More knows because she does. This is different from many of the organizations that we have come in, in that they are mandated to take care of provincial assets and if they walk away, the province actually has to do it and it’s going to cost the province a heck of a lot more.
I want to ask a couple of clarifications just to flesh out some of the issues you brought up because there are a couple of things - I am aware, for example, that East Hants uses the waterway for water supply and if some of this infrastructure is left to collapse, they will have issues around a safe water supply in East Hants. I am also aware that in Dartmouth and some of the other areas you end up into flooding issues and as far out as Maitland they’re using it for tidal rafting and the infrastructure actually provides for all that, and it is crumbling.
The amount of $86,000 that has come back in the report for just getting things maintained, that doesn’t even include, if you were to look at reconstruction costs, which I know is another plan that has been submitted to the department, right?
MR. BILLARD: Correct.
MR. YOUNGER: That would just keep it stabilized in the condition that it is now.
MR. BILLARD: That’s basically the buildings that we were given to operate in 1986. We’re very proud of our buildings. They still show very well; some beautiful architecture at the Fairbanks Centre, for instance, in Shubie Park. However, no, that $86,000 is just to keep the rain from coming in the roof.
MR. YOUNGER: All of those assets, as far as I know, are actually - if you look at the deed - owned by the Province of Nova Scotia, right?
MR. BILLARD: Correct.
MR. YOUNGER: So, as you guys are all volunteers and I know that the grant was cut from - as you said - a hundred and some-odd thousand, slowly down now . . .
MR. BILLARD: From $160,000 to $32,000.
MR. YOUNGER: Yes, so the grant was cut from $160,000 a year to $32,000 a year and I know that your partnership with HRM, you’ve had to lease out some of your buildings to other groups, which is good, I mean, that’s not a bad thing. But if the Shubenacadie Canal Commission was to walk away – the members would come out and say, listen, there’s just not enough, we can’t actually maintain the deferred maintenance and so forth, what happens at that point?
MR. BILLARD: Well, the same thing that happened in 2001. When our budget was cut so drastically and new commissioners weren’t being appointed, there was nothing that could be done and the building was closed. There are about 450 people who walk through the area of Locks 2 and 3 in Shubie Park every day; 450 people said, what? This is a tremendous resource, it’s the most popular park in Eastern Canada. Shubie Park is the most popular park in Eastern Canada - well, that’s partly because Hurricane Juan blew all the trees down in Point Pleasant Park but that notwithstanding, a lot of people go through Shubie Park every day and there would be no facility to interpret the canal. There are two amazing lock structures still there and as you said, Mr. Younger, they actually hold back and contain storm-water flow that has in the past devastated downtown Dartmouth: Hurricane Beth in 1952 - or the one in 1972, I’m not exactly sure; yes, it was Hurricane Beth. There was a tremendous flood that was caused by a breakdown in the actual water-control structures.
After the building closed in 2001 and people got up in arms, the city stepped in and that’s when we were fortunate enough to organize a co-management structure whereby the city helps with our operating costs and helps us to maintain the building. We have no staff to maintain the building, it’s just volunteers.
MR. YOUNGER: So even outside of the interpretation, because I can understand where the department would say listen, our budget is in really bad shape, so to fund things like interpretation, that’s a discretionary thing, it’s not going to be right at the top. That’s why I’m concerned with the liability things.
A number of years ago - it was in the past couple of years, it might have been updated - if I recall, there was a report done that indicated liabilities on the provincial land that you guys manage but couldn’t afford to actually do the work, like fencing and so forth, that actually could result in the closure of some of the trails not just in Dartmouth, but all the way through. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MR. BILLARD: Well, the canal is 114 kilometres long. It’s basically one huge water-control structure where the water is maintained and released on a gradual basis, so that at one point it would make for easy navigation for boats about the size of a lobster boat. If you’re wondering about the kind of vessels that use the canal, it was sort of like what you see as a lobster boat today. Those vessels could pass because the water was contained and released on a gradual basis.
We have nine locks across the province and we’ve got two marine railways, all of which are basically water-control structures. They need to be maintained not as working locks, because we’re never going to put a lobster boat in Shubenacadie; however, there are a lot of commercial and industrial and recreational assets along the Shubenacadie River that would be in jeopardy if the water were to go uncontrolled. It has been controlled for 150 years now. You can’t just let nature take it and another Hurricane Juan rush through there, as there would be a tremendous amount of flooding and an awful lot of lost assets: commercial assets, agricultural assets, and so on.
So if that’s what you mean, that’s what we do. We try very hard to (a) keep an eye on the structures that require maintenance; and (b) find partnerships - Elmsdale Landscaping, Barrett Lumber, and people in the community who are willing to work with us. We are very pleased with those relationships but we can’t keep doing it on an ad hoc, volunteer basis.
MR. YOUNGER: The last thing I wanted to ask - and I think my time is probably up - you pointed out that the Human Resources Committee appoints a certain percentage of the commissioners. I know that some of them are actually appointed by municipalities, as well, but the municipal ones - most of them, I think, anyway - have generally been well appointed. But I understand that a lot of the provincial appointees or the spaces have been left vacant. Can you just talk about what the impact is of those positions being vacant?
MR. BILLARD: Up until very recently, we were in danger of losing a quorum. Again, we’ve got a lot of major provincial responsibilities to look after and a budget that actually requires appropriate spending and accounting. At a couple of meetings we were very, very concerned that we wouldn’t have a quorum. That’s because the province appoints nine people to our commission and there were only four for the longest time. We were badgering the department - I think it’s fair to say - we were badgering members of the Legislature, and we were badgering the Premier’s Office to please help us out here. Finally we did get two new members appointed just a few weeks ago and we’re very pleased and thankful for that, so we’re not in danger of losing a quorum.
We still have three more positions that are open and actually we’re beating the bushes to try to get more people to apply. We’d love to have somebody with some legal training, we’d love to have a chartered accountant or a CGA apply, we’d love to have some professional input that we lack at the moment. However, they still would need to be appointed by the Legislature Standing Committee on Human Resources, so that’s why we’ve been badgering you guys and I apologize if it has gotten a little bit excessive.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Younger. Ms. Kent.
MS. BECKY KENT: Allan and Cameron, thank you so much for coming and it’s nice to see you again, it’s nice to hear more again. Andrew’s done a good job of keeping this certainly - I pay a little more attention because I shared council discussions with Andrew in our past lives, but I do try to keep a little eye on it, of course. I feel compelled, after hearing Andrew note the importance of the commission and the commission’s connection to our provincial assets, but there’s the same but different scenarios in many ridings - Friends of McNabs and the provincial assets on McNabs Island, Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association with the provincial parks, so the same but different with challenges. I guess I bring that up because I can relate to some of that, although there is no legislative mandate, it’s a letter of authority and the assets are still there. And the same scenario, unfortunately - tremendous work is going on like you are doing, but the challenges are there that they are maintaining and really providing and protecting those resources. So I totally get where you’re coming from on this.
I have two lines of questioning and, Mr. Chairman, if I run out of time I want to go on the speakers list for the second round. The first one is about the shortfalls, the challenges, the funding sources that you have need of. In your presentation, you referenced the drop, and the significant drop, from $160,500 to $32,000 in 2001. Can you give me what was presented to you at the time as the rationale behind that dramatic drop to your commission?
MR. BILLARD: I can only say that the Premier at the time needed to find some breathing room and we were sympathetic, frankly. It wasn’t a political decision, it was an economic decision, it was a tough decision and we didn’t squeal an awful lot because we understood. Over the past 12 years we’ve saved the province $1.4 million in operating funds not allocated. We’re not objecting to that and I don’t want to have to belabour that point. I’m just saying that we’ve been scratching, trying to do our part, Becky, for the last 12 years and it’s tough because we’ve got a mandate, a responsibility to do that given to us by, if you’ll forgive us, you guys.
MS. KENT: As the Premier of that day - and currently now you know that that’s the same scenario that our government is struggling with is that there is just a limited amount of money and it has to be spread out around the province on so many levels. So that is great that you have that mindset - not all organizations do unfortunately and that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it just means that their advocacy is different. So I guess I’m going to boil down to a couple of things. Where did the ad hoc money - you noted here, you received some ad hoc help from the department - when and how much did that occur?
MR. BILLARD: We have a very good friend in the Department of Natural Resources, Harold Carroll. He’s the Director of Parks and Recreation and he looks after all 120 parks with a limited budget, but he also knows that we’re helping him look after his parks and he tries very hard to fit us in. We were actually allocated $50,000 several months ago as emergency funding because we just ran into a wall, it was the first time since 2001 we ran into a wall. Why did we run out of money? There’s a long story and a short story, but basically the city couldn’t help us out anymore and we had gone into a fundraising campaign, which we’re still in. We are mounting a community-based fundraising campaign to raise private capital to do some more asset management. We hired a consultant and ended up spending about $35,000 on professional fundraising advice, money we don’t regret, money which was actually - we would do it again but we took that from our operating fund and we just couldn’t survive, so the province stepped in and helped us basically replace the money spent on a fundraising initiative.
MS. KENT: Well good, I’m glad to hear that. I can tell you that based on my experience with the other two organizations that I noted earlier - Friends of McNabs and Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association - it’s not always easy to get that “yes” out of the department, they are as tight as so many on their pressures that are coming into them. I know that for you it probably was a tremendous help but not - kind of a drop in the bucket at this stage, compared to the challenge that you have.
Again, getting back to some way of finding resolution to your needs, what dialogue have you had so far and I guess where are you right now with your dialogue with the department and with the minister around your current ask? You’ve clearly defined a current need and ask at this stage, so where are you in that? You’re here before us and that’s great, it’s another step towards a direction that can be helpful, where are you with that?
If you had to, knowing that there’s a limited amount of money that can come forward, if you had to identify the core or the most critical elements that you need something now, if you had to say okay, there’s something there but we can’t cover it all, what could we do? What would be your really most important? So there are two questions there and then thank you, Mr. Chairman, I’ll save my other ones.
MR. BILLARD: I was suggesting that we needed a lawyer and an accountant on our board. We’re fortunate that we’ve got two engineers and because we have professional engineering assistance, we were able to develop an asset management report and a property maintenance report. That has outlined the exact answer to your question, Becky. We’ve got four columns here - as soon as possible, Year One, Year Three and Year Five - and we would address these as soon as possible.
MS. KENT: Is that in the package? Forgive me, but I did not get a chance . . .
MR. BILLARD: No, it’s not, but I’m more than pleased to leave one with you.
MS. KENT: I’d be pleased to have that, thank you, I would appreciate it.
MR. BILLARD: That’s the immediate answer. When I asked . . .
MS. KENT: On your dialogue with the department?
MR. BILLARD: They are aware of this. I’m not saying anything that my good friend Harold Carroll hasn’t heard before. In fact, he’s heard it 100 times. I’m not saying anything that we didn’t say to the minister and to the previous minister. We sing this song everywhere we go.
MS. KENT: Okay, thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Ramey.
MR. GARY RAMEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for coming in. I’ve been listening with interest. I love history and it sounds like there’s a big chunk of it right there.
MR. BILLARD: There sure is.
MR. RAMEY: My question - pardon my ignorance on this matter because it’s the first time I’ve heard about it - the Chappell Estate that you referred to, it’s about 286 acres out around Waverley somewhere?
MR. BILLARD: Yes.
MR. RAMEY: That is an estate that is in the hands of a private individual or individuals?
MR. BILLARD: Yes, one of the Chappells, in fact.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, so I assumed it might be named after the family who owned it. How long have you been trying to acquire this? Or when did this come to your attention, initially?
MR. BILLARD: When Mrs. Chappell died, she left an estate to her four sons - this was about the end of the 1990s - and we became aware that they may be interested in selling. It was also at the same time that we were preparing the line for the Trans Canada Trail, which goes right past and through there.
We met with John Chappell several times, we have discussed the idea of transferring it on a variety of different levels. He has three brothers he has to deal with and a trust now that has been set up to deal with the estate. So it has been since the end of the 1990s, to directly answer your question.
We have since recognized the fact that the land, which is a long, skinny piece of pie - it has our canal on one end and some very rich resources. It has Burnside Industrial Park on the other. That’s a good thing because the city is interested in acquiring it for a future expansion at Burnside and that is why the city is involved in price negotiations. That’s why even though it is 286 acres, we are asking the province and the city to buy it jointly and then for the city to take most of it as an asset for Burnside and to leave us with about 40 acres or 60 acres - we don’t need that much. In fact, yes, it would be purchased by the province but they could resell most of it to the city and regain some of their investment.
We also have had professional archaeologists go in, a team from Saint Mary’s University and a private consulting firm - both recognized by the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage - and do some asset assessment in there. They’ve come up with some really encouraging commentary on the historical assets that are in there. We think this is one of the special places in Nova Scotia, like the Joggins fossil cliffs, and we’re very concerned that the land in the end could be sold to a developer who wants to take the whole thing and access it from Burnside. That would make it I-1 and a little bit of a problem for us and our heritage resources.
MR. RAMEY: So just to be perfectly clear then, Mr. John Chappell is the executor of the estate.
MR. BILLARD: Correct.
MR. RAMEY: And the issue is around trying to deal with the family and come up with an appropriate price or an agreement on actually selling the property to anybody.
MR. BILLARD: Correct.
MR. RAMEY: You are aware that the province does try to buy certain pieces of land for its - I guess you want to call it a land bank or whatever, that’s something that has been going on for some time under previous governments as well. It’s a good idea. I’m not saying it isn’t, but you’ve put forward that notion, I take it.
MR. BILLARD: We’re very aware and very pleased that the province is doing things like that; a big chunk of land from Irving several months ago. It’s important, not only to Nova Scotia’s resource land bank, but to the fact that we need 12 per cent of our land to be reserved as provincially held and 12 per cent really isn’t very much when you think about the size of the province and the percentage of provincially-owned land in other provinces. We’re all in favour of that effort. We know that it costs millions of dollars to do that, just that purchase from Irving a little while ago and more recently, the purchase of the Chignecto Marine Railway land up in the Amherst area; a fabulous piece of property. Old canal works there, old railway engineering remnants - a tremendous piece of land, a really good purchase by the province; very parallel, as a matter of fact, to the Chappell lands.
MR. RAMEY: This sort of aligns with my colleague Ms. Kent’s questioning, when she was talking about money and working out arrangements. You needed some emergency funding and you got some there for a bit, but you talked about a partnership with HRM as well; you do things together. Has HRM been able to contribute funds or do they just give you in-kind sort of help?
MR. BILLARD: We can apply for project money and we do when it’s available. We’re going to be putting in a handful of applications this year to the grants committee. We’re treated very well, very equitably by the grants committee at HRM; not as well after Becky and Andrew left but - I’m just kidding.
MS. KENT: It’s nice to know we’re missed, Andrew.
MR. BILLARD: A lot of what we get from the city is in kind. For instance, I mentioned the Fairbanks Centre. It is a $2 million asset and they have four staff in there plus maintenance. They look after all of our costs. We don’t have to pay a light bill anymore, we don’t have to do the snow plowing, we don’t have to think about the annual cost of the alarm system. All those little things, they look after, so there’s a lot of in-kind co-operative management that we’re very pleased with.
MR. RAMEY: What sort of actual money, dollars, have you gotten over, let’s say, the past 5 years roughly. I don’t expect you to give me an exact figure, but have they given you in the form of grants - have you received cash grants in the last five years?
MR. BILLARD: Over the past five years, we’ve been actually able to lever your money into municipal money and it would just be a ballpark, but I would say a quarter of a million dollars. We do pretty well.
MR. RAMEY: I would say you did, if it was that much. My final question is a short one and very easy to answer. On the other side, the Valley side, the Bay of Fundy side or whatever we want to call that, how far is it navigable from that end?
MR. BILLARD: It’s navigable the whole way. As a matter of fact, a partner and I just did it November 29th. We did the whole thing.
MR. RAMEY: It’s navigable with a canoe? So you can come the whole way through?
MR. BILLARD: Absolutely.
MR. RAMEY: Do you have to portage at any point?
MR. BILLARD: Yes. Because there were locks in marine railways, there are nine portages.
MR. RAMEY: Long ones?
MR. BILLARD: No, no, very short, a couple of hundred metres at most. The portages are part of it. Actually if you have been canoeing for four hours, you kind of want to get out and stand up once in a while.
MR. RAMEY: No kidding. And is the fishing good in there?
MR. BILLARD: Well, as you may know, tremendous fishing in Grand Lake, Lake Fletcher. The Shubenacadie River is still known as a salmon river and bass fishing, shad. As a matter of fact, when you are canoeing that river you have to make sure you don’t run into alewives – yes, gaspereau, that’s what I’m looking for - gaspereau nets, shad fishermen, it’s a pain in the butt, actually.
MR. RAMEY: Well, thank you very much, that’s very enlightening. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. BILLARD: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Glavine.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Allan and Cameron for coming in this morning and expounding on what is very much a needy kind of, I guess, presentation today.
Along those lines, you do have a business plan and you’ve looked at a 10-year period and you did also refer to what is most needed right now and up to five years. The plan is basically saying it would cost an average of $1.3 million annually. I’m just wondering if you can kind of give us a little bit of a framework there for that kind of expenditure.
We get a lot of talk here and in other committees around deferred maintenance, so are you basically saying that in this 10-year period, if you don’t spend that $1.3 million, this resource is going to be in much worse shape?
MR. BILLARD: Exactly, I can’t put it any more directly than you just did.
MR. GLAVINE: So what would be a few of the – I guess I was wondering about how the $1.3 million would enhance the resource, through that kind of expenditure.
MR. BILLARD: If we break down our needs into capital and operating, we’ve got an operating need of about $100,000 just to make sure the rain doesn’t come through the roof. We’ve got capital needs that we outlined in the business plan, which was part of the document that Jana circulated to you last week, wherein we break down where we would like to enhance the historic assets so that we could actually create some tourism and business opportunities.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Dartmouth Incline. The marine railway that brought vessels up from Halifax Harbour to – do you know Sullivan’s Pond in the middle of Dartmouth, Lake Banook? There was a marine railway of about 600 metres there. The turbine chamber, the tail raise, the footings for the actual rail bed, they are all still there. We want to raise money, both provincially and privately, as well as municipally, to enhance those and create a tourist attraction which would rival anything that the Chignecto Marine Railway has to offer and could even be Dartmouth’s Citadel Hill. We want to spend $1.5 million there and we’ve raised over half of that already.
I said that we had a provincial-municipal-private fundraising campaign, we’ve raised well over half of that already. Where would we spend the rest of it? Well, in our business plan we did outline how we would break it down, remnant by remnant, all the way across the province – in the HRM, in Hants County, in Colchester County. For instance, the Trans Canada Trail is going to go right across the river between the Village of Shubenacadie and the wildlife park in Colchester County and direct people all the way up to Truro and Tatamagouche. We want to do that; we can’t do that if we don’t start to recognize the value of our resources in those areas. So it’s not just downtown Dartmouth, it’s not just the Halifax Regional Municipality, it’s East Hants and it’s Colchester.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the – I guess I need to go here – the funding has decreased and I was wondering, has that hampered your operations? Has it hampered your ability to sell the canal as a tourist attraction? Do you have a current, up-to-date Web site? How are you making the canal, I guess, well known, both provincially and beyond? Many tourists come in and something unique like the canal, to me should be a drawing card.
MR. BILLARD: I’m kind of sorry you asked me that because now I’ve got to admit something to you. We’re actually spending more money per year than we did before when we had a much bigger budget from you guys. How is that possible? Well, we’re only getting $32,000, but our average annual audit says that we’re spending about a quarter of a million dollars, sometimes over $300,000 because we’re so eager, so keen and so active on a volunteer basis that we’re going out and we’re levering your money. Like I said, I’m sorry I had to admit that, but when we’re spending $250,000, why am I here asking for more? Because we’re trying very hard to promote the canal.
We’ve got a new Web site and, again, you were circulated with several of the pages from our Web site. We’ve got two of these high-quality, glossy publications out now; one by Donna Barnett that I’m very pleased to circulate you with and one by Andrew Younger, which only just came out a few weeks ago. We’re very proud of those. They have been bestsellers in Nova Scotia and they do so much to promote the asset that is the Shubenacadie Canal and Waterway. We do school groups, we get 400 visitors a day at the Fairbanks Centre. During the summer, Lock 3 is one of the most visited parks in the provincial park system, so yes, we’re doing a lot.
We don’t have any paid staff, but we’ve got 12 extremely keen and professional volunteers. It’s just that, how do you keep stretching a volunteer? How do you go out and actually pay for the annual audit to make sure that things are going to be okay when we submit our audit to the provincial government. We need cash for that and we need to fix our roof and we need so many things that volunteers can’t do.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of that funding picture, and I know you’re here today and importantly to deal with the province - are there any federal annual grants or a special project that you’re able to access?
MR. BILLARD: We’ve tried very hard. For instance, three years ago, we applied for a significant allocation from Heritage Canada. Heritage Canada was prepared to give us $500,000 to restore Lock 3. We were going to actually make navigation possible through Shubie Park; small boats, not just canoes, but boats the size of a lobster fishing boat. We were offered $500,000 by the federal government and we couldn’t take it because we had no partner on the provincial side. Sorry to tell you that, folks, but we had to turn back $500,000.
I said in my presentation that we are re-doing our application for a nomination as a Canadian Heritage River. Two years ago, we did actually get some backing from the province. The Department of Environment that looks after the heritage waterways applications and special places like that, the province was behind us on that one and a super employee from the Department of Environment was shepherding that allocation through. We were promised an ACOA grant of $150,000 to actually do the work required to shepherd the allocation through. The province was going to back us with that. We needed support from the Municipality of East Hants; didn’t get it. ACOA said, well, if you don’t have support all the way along the waterway for something like a heritage waterway designation, we can’t help you.
So we have turned down on two occasions several hundred thousand dollars of federal funding just because we haven’t quite got the partnerships that we needed. We’re still trying, we’re still struggling and that’s why we’re here talking to people like you and we talk to everybody we can because we think this is a tremendous resource. We’ve now got the Municipality of East Hants on side, by the way, but we don’t have the ACOA grant in hand anymore, so we’re going back to the table.
MR. GLAVINE: Allan, I followed your journey down the canal, as reported by Information Morning and those little signature moments that you shared with us. Did you do it to show that it can be done or is there a bigger picture here that you had in mind? Also, is it done very often? Are there canoeing enthusiasts that actually do this on occasion?
MR. BILLARD: Yes, there are; it’s not all that special. We were pleased to get the coverage that we did, newspaper and radio. We were very pleased but let me tell you, we did it on a lark. It was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the Shubenacadie Canal so we wanted to celebrate the 150th Anniversary. Hey, look, I’m 62 years old and I refuse to get any older so things like that are important to me. I wanted to do it, so did the rest of the people in the gang who did it.
It wasn’t that special, it’s quite doable. In fact, on June 10th we’re going to be doing it again as an organized effort, with safety boats and with some media coverage, so that we can keep promoting the fact that the Shubenacadie Canal and Waterway is quite a navigable system. You are invited, we’re going to put you in a canoe.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, it’s great to have Allan and Cameron with us this morning. A number of the questions that I was contemplating have already been answered. I’d like to talk for just a moment about First Nation involvement. Of course it was a route by the First Nation before there was any canal constructed. Has there ever been First Nation involvement in membership of the commission or has there ever been an effort to work with First Nations for sources of funding? We do have some of the 13 First Nations in the province relatively close to the canal and I would think that would be a natural partnership to engage because sometimes there are pots of money that First Nation leadership can assist in getting and so on. Have you done anything in that regard?
MR. BILLARD: Yes, we have. I want to underscore the efforts of one Bernie Hart, who has been on the commission since 1986 and he has maintained a relationship with several of the reserves that border our canal and waterway. There are four reserves on the waterway. I mentioned a canoeing event on June 10th. We have an annual what we call Canoe To The Sea and yes, it is quite often started by a Native, in traditional dress and the sweet grass ceremony and so on.
We’ve had a little more trouble getting participation from actual members of the Native community. However, they are very aware of their connection to the waterway. Let me say that it was the Natives who were the ones who showed the British Colonists the way but then once the route became a waterway, the Natives had less and less input. It was an industrial throughway for construction materials but also for troops. The British had design on it that didn’t include the Natives whatsoever.
That notwithstanding, we are in regular contact not only with the Natives for sporting events and for cultural displays during our tourism attractions, but also for participation on a resource-enhancement basis. With all respect, they are not as interested in enhancing the heritage resources because it’s not their heritage and I don’t blame them for that. They are interested in making sure that we are respecting the natural resource and, God bless them, we all need to respect the natural resource that is the Shubenacadie waterway.
If we were putting more emphasis on returning the waterway to its natural state, I think we’d get a little more input from them. I don’t necessarily say this in defence, I just say it by way of explanation, we want to restore some of the historic resources and that’s not really their bag.
MR. MACKINNON: But much of the canal is in a natural state, really, as well.
MR. BILLARD: Yes, it is.
MR. MACKINNON: So that would be something that is as natural as it was a few hundred years ago.
MR. BILLARD: Bernie is very aware of the connection that we have historically and present-day. I’m going to make a note of your comments because I’m here to tell you that we can always do more in that regard and we will.
MR. MACKINNON: I’m really disappointed to hear that so much effort was made to get funding and when you have half a million dollars kicking about and you can’t do anything with it, it must be very discouraging. I’m wondering what kind of efforts have been made to attach, perhaps, some corporate sponsorship to renewal. Certainly there are companies out there that like to be identified with historical projects. I don’t want to mention some of the companies, but several come to mind that would be quite interested in historical sponsorship. I’m not saying that there should be big billboards or anything along what you’re trying to do as a natural route, but there could be some brochures and so on that would, in fact, give some credit and recognition to corporations that might want to get involved.
What kind of efforts are being made there? It’s probably an unfair question because this is a volunteer organization and you don’t have an executive director that can run around chasing funds down for you. It’s an uphill battle, but I think you’re doing an amazing job and I commend you for the job you’re doing. Is there any possibility there?
MR. BILLARD: There are two things I would like to tell you. The canal was an investment company back in the mid-1800s. A couple of the investors included Samuel Cunard, a favourite son of Halifax and yes, we’ve been chasing down the Cunard line and we are in constant contact with them. We hope to have more and better contact, and more of a cashable contact in the near future.
One of the other investors was Alexander Keith, another favourite Halifax son. People ask us why we’ve got a beer bottle in our interpretive centre - well, that’s the reason. Keith was a big supporter and I have to be honest, the brewery that now owns that brand has been a supporter in the past in a small way and we’re looking for much bigger contributions in the future. Here’s why I’m talking about it as a next step, and that’s because I said we’re in a fundraising campaign. We’ve suggested that we need $1.5 million. We’ve raised over half of that now, but we haven’t raised enough of it to go public and because we haven’t gone public, I can’t tell you that there are major businesses in Dartmouth that are already making contributions. We’re very pleased about O’Regan’s car company - I didn’t say that, for the record. Yes, we are continually seeking more corporate sponsorship. We will be doing that because we recognize that we have to have that kind of support if we’re going to go forward. I just can’t announce those kinds of things yet, but there are four names for you of major corporate interests who are significant parts of the future of the Shubenacadie Canal and Waterway.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps a last question. I hear about the Fairbanks Centre and I don’t really know exactly what the Fairbanks Centre is. Can you tell me about that? I guess you raise a little bit of money by renting space in that sometimes. What is the Fairbanks Centre and what kind of condition is it in and what kind of asset is that from a value perspective?
MR. BILLARD: I mentioned a little while ago that Rollie Thornhill was kind of our patron back several years ago. He was a good friend with Allan J. MacEachen and the two of them put together a deal where ACOA would actually build an interpretive centre in Dartmouth. The site in Shubie Park was chosen because it’s fairly metro, but it’s also quite suburban. It’s close to the canal; it’s right on the canal in two of the major locks, yet it’s got a beautiful, big park that is really quite an urban wilderness.
The idea was to get ACOA money - it was DREE money at the time, I suspect - to build a $1.5 million building in Shubie Park. Of course it’s worth far more than that now but it’s over 25 years old and it is still in lovely shape. It was designed by a firm of architects here in Halifax who cared about the acceptance of the design 50 years from now and it has really stood up well. It’s a beautiful building, it suits the park so well and it’s a very popular interpretive centre. We have our displays there and our artifacts and we use it as a gallery for prints that Tom Forrestall has done for us. It is visited by, as I say, the park and the building, by 400 people a day. We are very, very proud of it. It also serves as our offices and headquarters.
It’s a meeting room that generates for us about $10,000 a year just in rental fees because we rent it to groups that don’t want to meet in downtown Halifax, they want to get out and enjoy a little bit of a rural or natural environment for their meeting or workshop. It also serves as a maintenance facility for the park. Because the park is so heavily used, it does require regular daily maintenance and the city has taken some of the space for regular maintenance vehicles. It is used summer and winter, we maintain the trails even in the winter. The park is as busy today as it will be in July.
As I say, it’s 25 years old, though. It is bricks and wood and it is going to require at this point some mid-life maintenance, like they say in the Navy, some life extension.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Whynott.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. My colleague Ms. Kent asked a question about discussions with the department and all the rest of it. Have you met with the Minister of Natural Resources?
MR. BILLARD: Yes, we have. We have met with every minister since 1986.
MR. WHYNOTT: When was the last time you met with Charlie Parker?
MR. BILLARD: Probably just after his appointment, about a year ago.
MR. WHYNOTT: You discussed some concerns - I’m the chairman of the HR Committee - you discussed some concerns around the appointments of people, I guess around the delays. Do you know how many people at this point have applied?
MR. BILLARD: No, I don’t. That’s not information that is made available to us, although I can tell you that there are three people who have told me they have applied and haven’t yet been appointed - for whatever reason. I’m not saying they should be, I’m just saying that they were in the queue, as far as I know - I talked with the two that we just appointed.
MR. WHYNOTT: My question, I guess, really comes to - the commission has been around since 1986.
MR. BILLARD: Yes.
MR. WHYNOTT: Have there been thoughts of changing the way that the commission is structured, or legislative ideas that could change the way things are happening right now? Have you thought of that? Is that something that you could make a recommendation on?
MR. BILLARD: About three years ago we tinkered with the legislation and that was fine, it solves the immediate problem. But no, we kind of like our job, we kind of like our mandate as an official arm of the Legislature in the Province of Nova Scotia, we’re very proud to be Nova Scotians and we’re very proud of the Shubenacadie Canal and we kind of like our status, which is a little more elevated than the X, Y, Z community group that formed down on the shore and around the corner. We’ve got a significant base, a footing that we enjoy.
MR. WHYNOTT: Cameron?
MR. CAMERON ELLS: I think one way of considering your question and how we’ve responded to that in recent years is being much more innovative with the number of volunteers we have and how we use them, compared to a few years ago. Our volunteers now include community college students, we’ve linked up with Dalhousie University students, we have a broader number of volunteers who have come in.
Even though - it’s like necessity is the mother of invention, I don’t perceive at this point that there’s a bottleneck with respect to appointments through your committee but, in lieu of not having the number of appointments that we would have preferred, the fallback or the alternative has been to use more and more volunteers who are helpful, they’re great, we love having them, they don’t have the same standing as ones that have been approved by your committee or your counterparts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. d’Entremont.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you. The great part about going almost last is because all the questions have been asked at this point. Maybe this is more of a dreaming into the future of what’s next. If there’s sort of a five- to 10-year plan, what are the other big projects? I remember when we were in government we were able to help provide the reconstruction of the lock. What are the next big projects or is it just a whole bunch of little maintenance pieces along the way?
MR. BILLARD: We did have a 10-year-plan that we set out hoping that we could start picking these off on a regular basis. That was suggested to us by ACOA during that time that we were starting to apply for that ACOA grant. Specifically, you talk about dreaming, just let me ask you to dream for a minute. Halifax is becoming a mecca for tour boats; a fabulously increasing number of tour boats and visitors come to Halifax every year. What do they do? They go to Peggy’s Cove, they go to Historic Properties, and then what do they do?
This may sound goofy and maybe you just got off the tour boat and you don’t want to go on a tour boat, but how about if we were able to fix two locks in Shubie Park and make them operable, how about if they were able to go on an historical adventure and go through one of Nova Scotia’s richest historic and cultural assets. We would have Native interpreters along the way, we would have a boat that actually went up through the lock and up through the next lock, went to an actual archeological dig. If we can get the Chappell land, the boats could actually go and see summer students, as Cameron mentions, that are there volunteering because they have to do some of this work for their master’s thesis. The passengers on the vessel could go and see archeologists actually working in situ, get back on the boat, go back through the canal, get off and go back onto the Cunard liner.
Cunard is already on board with this, by the way. One of the small boat-tour operators in the harbour here is already on board with this, by the way, and we’ve talked to the Natives about it. We have a lot of the pieces in place. I’m asking you to dream here for a minute, Mr. d’Entremont, because what we don’t have is $2.4 million dollars to make the two locks operate.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: Understood. How much did it cost to do the lock, because I’m going back to - was it $5 million? Okay, Lock 5, what did it cost just to get that one sort of in place?
MR. BILLARD: That was $1.2 million and several years ago, when you were in Cabinet, we were allocated $350,000 to stabilize Lock 3. We need another $150 million to $200 million to put the gates on that lock and then it will work. You know, locks are just rocks, locks are just boards; they were made by craftsmen with hand tools in 1860. It’s not rocket science, we can do this. It’s just a matter of suggesting that it become a priority, for a number of reasons, for the Government of Nova Scotia.
MR. ELLS: Just to respond to the question. I think as an organization we react to what’s possible, not necessarily what we would love to do. We had a plan in place several years ago that was dreaming big and had many of these major, multi-million dollar aspects to it, but when the funding resources are not there to do that, our next alternative is to do a better job at doing the smaller items and those exist in the sheets that she just took out of the room. Doing a better job on the smaller items causes us to be engaged more with many different communities and in doing that, it builds up public support in coming back to people like you in a room like this, or in a room across the road there, to help with support in those other ways.
So yes, some big items were on the table a few years ago. We’re talking here today in some smaller numbers on a more modest scale, but that’s not because the dream has been lost; it’s a mechanism to get back to it. In terms of a vision, everybody will have their own ideas. For me, in my background, I thoroughly enjoyed crossing the Confederation Trail in P.E.I.; about 275 kilometres on a bike on an old railway line. For me, I grew up in Truro. Ms. Zann’s mother was a school teacher of mine. I love the idea that there can be the Trans Canada Trail and hiking trails that are going along the Shubie Canal water route and connecting with, perhaps, a new bridge by the Shubenacadie First Nation in Shubenacadie by the wildlife park and making connections that end up to Truro and beyond.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: That’s great because that’s what I worry a lot about, a lot of our organizations, as they’re there, because they’re all competing for the same kind of dollars and sometimes you lose the dream. You’re really always concentrating on: I need to find this today. The other thing too is, as you’re talking about the partnerships that are available there and trying to line them up is very difficult, and any idea that you can impart upon us to help out with that part of the project. You know, one minute DNR has some money, but ACOA doesn’t, or one minute Hants has some money, but Halifax doesn’t. The great part about it is that you have this great facility that crosses all these counties, but one of the biggest disadvantages is that it’s crossing all these counties. Any thoughts on that, quickly? I know there is no answer to it, but how do we line some of those things up?
MR. ELLS: A very quick comment. Please consider us as an extremely useful catalyst. We may not have hired staff and those sorts of resources, but because of our network of networks, because of our connections with people like you folks in the room here today and beyond, when we have access to resources, be it from DNR or others, we’re, I think, compared to some other organizations much better able to leverage that into support, be it resources, donations, time, financial and otherwise, from other groups, people, governments, communities, businesses, individuals and more.
MR. BILLARD: He said it all.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Kent.
MS. KENT: One last question and it’s going back to your appointments and actually, Cameron, you did a very good job of helping me understand how you’ve carried on with your efforts, despite the fact that you had some appointments not fulfilled. So now you’re down to three. (Interruption) Pardon me? You have more than three vacant?
MR. BILLARD: We have three provincially-allocated seats.
MS. KENT: Do you have any others that are not provincial? I understand you’ve got appointments from different layers of sectors. Do you have any others that are empty at this moment? No. So the three that are provincial - and maybe this is an unfair question, but I’m trying to understand because you’ve been very creative in how you’ve resolved that and kudos to you and I’m glad you have. My question is, how important are those three appointments to your current work and success? The second half of that is, do you have any recommendations around the appointment process that could help either get those filled or help you identify the people that you really need at the table? We all know that you have a particular niche that you’re missing and it could be really helpful for the greater good of your work, so any recommendations on that? Just give me a better sense of how critically important those three appointments could be or maybe they’re not and maybe . . .
MR. BILLARD: No, they are.
MS. KENT: So my question is, how important are they and what could be done to sort of help that?
MR. BILLARD: They’re very important and here is the reason why. The legislation allows for a provincial appointee from East Hants and for a provincial appointee from Colchester County and we’re so eager to get people from those positions, because that’s a geography that we don’t have enough input from yet. I’ve spoken with Gary Burrill and I’ve spoken with John MacDonell and I’ve made a suggestion to them. Maybe this isn’t kosher but I said look, you know the people in your constituency, you know the people who have some talent and perhaps some time and you know some people who might fit into our niche; it’s not for everybody. We try very hard to be creative, we try very hard to keep going 100 miles an hour and it’s a responsibility that not everybody wants to address.
When I speak to the members from the area, I say look, you must know some people that you could encourage to apply. They could be your supporters, provincially, politically, they could be . . .
MS. KENT: They wouldn’t like that, but that’s okay. (Interruptions) We’d know that, so remember the next time you complain about it. (Laughter)
MR. BILLARD: We need some good, talented people who are willing to volunteer their professional time. I don’t know that many people in Colchester - except for my good friend here - I don’t know that many people from Colchester County, and I don’t know that many from East Hants. I’m a Dartmouth boy and I really need some help from people like you to identify those individuals and pat them on the shoulder and say look, I want you for the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.
MS. KENT: Okay, thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Ramey.
MR. RAMEY: Mr. Chairman, I’ve just got a couple of quick ones here. You’ve piqued my interest in going through there. I’d like to do that, actually, and I will probably do that this summer. Is there a great divide in there where the water flows different ways? I mean, what’s the easiest way for me to go through? Where do I start - I’m old?
MR. BILLARD: The funny thing is that almost all of the water flows north.
MR. RAMEY: Really? That’s good to know.
MR. BILLARD: People think of the canal as flowing this way but it doesn’t really. I mentioned Shubie Park, I mentioned the Fairbanks Centre, I mentioned Lock 3, that’s in Dartmouth and that’s where the water goes north, believe it or not. The canal is 114 kilometres long, it’s 100 kilometres north and because of that black powder and muscle power, they actually turned some of that water south so it actually looks like it flows south but naturally, almost all the water flows north. The watershed of the Shubenacadie River area is huge, it’s the largest watershed in the province and it just about all goes to the Bay of Fundy.
MR. RAMEY: So if I start on this end and enter the canal system, I would put in at what point?
MR. BILLARD: Basically you’d put in at Lake Banook, the canoe club there, the Mic Mac club, and you’d go up through those two lakes, which there is no current in. It’s not like you’re going to be paddling uphill. Once you get there, you’re going downhill from there and all of your portages will be downhill. When you get into the river, you’ll actually pick up a current which is five or six knots, which is kind of fun, and it’s a great assist to a paddler.
MR. RAMEY: So it’s 114,000, so when you do it, how long does it take you to do it?
MR. BILLARD: It can be done in 13 hours. You can break that up into however many ways you want. We’re always promoting the campsites and the B & Bs along the way. But here’s the one problem you have to think about. Some of the highest tides in the world flow up that river. I said that it’s all downhill; it’s only downhill for half the time so it’s uphill half the time.
MR. RAMEY: Check the tide schedule before you go.
MR. BILLARD: You watch your watch when you’re doing those last 30K.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, so that sort of covers that. And there are campsites along the way.
MR. BILLARD: There are some wonderful campsites along the way.
MR. RAMEY: Okay. Now my next question relates to - I think Mr. d’Entremont hit on it, I know Ms. Kent hit on it and several others too - it’s about the money. You can’t do stuff without money - everybody knows you can’t do things without money - you can have great ideas.
I think you at one point said - correct me if I’m wrong - that with some reasonably expensive work, it would be possible to get a fishing-size boat through there but you’d have to do some expensive work to a couple of things. How much work would you have to do to get a fishing-size boat - not everybody can paddle through there because not everybody is healthy enough or young enough to paddle through there but I’d bet you there are people who would love to go through there on some kind of a power boat, if they could take a tour right across the province, through a canal system. What would it cost to do that, in your opinion?
MR. BILLARD: We’re suggesting that you wouldn’t really ever be able to go across the province in a big boat. Nine locks and two marine railways, we ain’t never going to get those marine railways back in operation and I will never suggest that the canal will be operable. It would be a terrible way to spend the money that you have available, I’m not asking you for that. I’m saying that parts of it are and I’m saying there are two locks very close together; they’re in Shubie Park. You can actually have a tour boat for 40 people . . .
MR. RAMEY: Starting in Lake Banook.
MR. BILLARD: . . . docking in Lake Banook at Lock 1, going through one of the most famous canoe-racing sites in the world, by the way, underneath the Conrad Bridge and into Shubie Park; go through Lock 2; go through Lock 3, which is a thrill in itself. How many people have ever been in a lock and seen it operate? A lot of lucky people in Ontario have where the Rideau Canal works. And then proceed down the length of Lake Charles, which is four kilometres long. That’s where this archaeological dig is; that’s where these wonderful resources are. That’s where the Chappell land is, by the way. That is, I’m suggesting, the end of a voyage. You’d see that part of the canal, you’d see two locks, you’d see a marine railway under archaeological assessment, then you’d get back in your boat and you’d go back through the two locks and you’d get off at Lake Banook. What a great day.
MR. RAMEY: Is that a day or a half-day?
MR. BILLARD: That’s a day. For the kind of people that you’re saying wouldn’t be able to paddle it, they wouldn’t be able to actually get out and do a lot of walking.
MR. RAMEY: Are there petroglyphs or pictographs, or whatever, in there?
MR. BILLARD: Yes, there are.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, so there are Indian artifacts.
MR. BILLARD: They’re in Dartmouth East, by the way.
MR. RAMEY: Now the final thing is about the money again. Any time I’ve ever dealt with ACOA - and I have on three occasions now, successfully, believe it or not, and it’s to their credit, I think, so it’s not a criticism of ACOA - they love it when you have partnerships. They don’t like it when you go in there with your own idea and say, give us a bunch of money. No matter how good the idea is, they want to know who your partners are. They always want to know who your partners are.
I seriously can’t imagine that if there were some way of pulling together a joint meeting of ACOA, federal politicians - I don’t know which ones they are yet because I haven’t thought about it enough - the provincial people who are interested in this - I know for a fact there are people at this table who are very interested in this, and me more so than when I came in; I’ve always been interested, but I’m more interested now - and municipal politicians to go together with a joint proposal to say, this is what we want to do. We’ve had success before, but it has never been in a united way where we could actually get anywhere because we had this and you’d have to have the history of that, because they’d want to know that for sure so they’d know we were telling them the truth; we had this $500,000 but we couldn’t use it because we don’t get that; we had that, but we could get this - exactly what Mr. d’Entremont was saying.
I can’t believe that if it was put together properly and the meetings were held and a level of interest was shown, that I think would be shown, and specifically from your group, that we couldn’t pull off a significant coup and get the money that you need to do some of this stuff. I really can’t believe that that’s not possible.
MR. BILLARD: Good for you, thank you very much.
MR. RAMEY: I think we should do it. I think it should get done.
MR. BILLARD: I’m going to offer one more input. The former vice-president of ACOA for Nova Scotia was Debbie Windsor. The first thing that Debbie did, the day after she retired, she put in an application to become a volunteer on the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.
MR. RAMEY: Wow. Good for her.
MR. BILLARD: We were so pleased. I happen to know when she put that application in - and that’s why I was bugging you, sir. It was there a long time; she was appointed last month. We’re so pleased. She has been able to attend one meeting and she will be our facilitator. She is so keen to be able to put her skills to use now for her community and for her province. The background that she has gleaned over years with ACOA will help us facilitate exactly what you’re talking about, Mr. Ramey. Thank you very much.
MR. RAMEY: We have a colleague there, too, with ACOA who we worked with for many years - closer over on Mr. d’Entremont’s - Mr. Cecil Clarke is involved with ACOA and I’m pretty sure he’d think this was sensible. I just think maybe the time is the best it has ever been to try to get something going here.
My final question is, have you applied for a United Nations heritage site or any of that, or is that just a horrible idea that you want to stay away from?
MR. BILLARD: Never thought of that. What do you think, boss?
MR. ELLS: I think walk before you run. A heritage river designation within our own jurisdiction is probably a nice first start.
MR. RAMEY: It has worked quite well in Lunenburg. The Town of Lunenburg is a heritage site.
MR. BILLARD: Lunenburg is a treasure.
MR. RAMEY: It is indeed. Anyway, thank you.
MR. ELLS: Just one last comment on your ACOA suggestion. One of the projects that we’ve started to put some teams together around and do some legwork on is to potentially try and put a pedestrian bridge linking Hants County and Colchester County close to where the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park is. In doing that, we have some Dalhousie students working with us on some designs and drawings. This might be the type of project that ACOA might be interested in.
MR. RAMEY: With the partners you’ve got , absolutely.
MR. ELLS: And that, combined with linking up with people with the Trans Canada Trail organization, that involves also some different jurisdictions at the county, municipal, provincial and federal level, that type of a project could work well.
MR. RAMEY: May I just respond to that? We’d want everyone – did you say nine counties, did I get that right on the way through? (Interruption) Yes, would want each one of them to declare separately, as a partner in some way. The more names on the sheet of paper, the better. Each one of those separately, HRM separately, the province, feds, everybody on the ask, right? And Dalhousie and any other connection; you have the Native groups, all of that, consolidated into one document. Then I think the chances would be much better, I really do think that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Ramey. Mr. Billard, before Mr. Ramey takes his trip, is there any chance you might put some flagging tape up so he won’t get lost?
MR. RAMEY: That’s just nasty stuff. He’s got a mean streak.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Younger.
MR. YOUNGER: Just very briefly a couple of things. You might need some flagging tape because I think Cecil is with ECBC so unless we’re going to move the canal to Cape Breton (Interruptions) that might be a challenge. He’s got connections, though.
Just a couple of things have come up from the other members that I just thought I’d flesh out a bit. On the appointment side, I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the issue is at the HR committee, but we just don’t know – like you just don’t know where the holdup is. I know that with Ms. Windsor, and I was thrilled that she got appointed but it was like a year and a half that her application sat somewhere and I have no idea where it sat but it sat somewhere. But when it came to the committee, it was just boom, done, just like that.
MR. BILLARD: The outline of the application process is here, by the way, it’s one of the early pages. They go to the Executive Council Office and then they go to the deputy minister’s office and there is a long process within the system. That’s why I don’t know who has applied or how many are there.
MR. YOUNGER: The other thing is, you have mentioned Shubie Park a lot and I think there’s probably some confusion on the ownership because of the convoluted municipal-provincial thing. I know that some of the land from the highway side is provincial and then from the canal side. Could you just outline that so people know because obviously the municipal stuff isn’t the responsibility of the province.
MR. BILLARD: I think if you consider the canal as the waterway and then reach out on each side 100 feet, the province was very good, back in the 1980s, to purchase for us a strip of land protecting the canal on both sides. So we basically have the canal and 100 feet on each side, as it runs through Shubie Park.
The rest of the land was privately held until, again, back in the 1980s or 1990s, when the city purchased it from the private landholders. So the park, as you see it, is a combination, it’s a partnership. There are no stakes indicating provincial land, city land. It’s just a wonderful example of the partnerships that we are benefiting from every day and so are the people in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Whynott asked what I thought was actually a good question, about the legislation. He asks a lot of good questions, but the one on the legislation was a good one, I thought, because you and I have had meetings with the tourism, not tourism (Interruption) heritage - Minister Corbett and Minister Paris set it up a little while ago.
We were looking at – and they’ve agreed to support, depending on how it is worded – an additional piece of legislation around designating historic sites . . .
MR. BILLARD: The special places.
MR. YOUNGER: Yes, the special places. Could you just describe why that’s important, because hopefully when that gets finished off that will be coming back to the Legislature? I think it’s useful for people to know what that’s about.
MR. BILLARD: Well, I hope it does because that helps us with raising our profile. There are only six special places - and I use that term specifically because that’s what they’re called in the legislation - in Nova Scotia, and I mention the Joggins fossil cliffs for one, lovely resource, needs to be designated as a special place. As a result of that legislation it has given very much more protection, probably more funding, probably more profile, and probably more marketing because it’s a wonderful resource in the province.
We are asking that land that we’ve talked about, the Chappell land, where the marine railway is, where those remnants still extend, we’re asking that that be nominated as a special place because there’s an awful lot of history there, an awful lot of my heritage, your heritage.
MR. YOUNGER: And that’s already recognized as archaeologically significant, so that kind of legislation doesn’t actually take away rights that haven’t already been taken away, because you can’t build an apartment building on an archaeological site anyway. I just want to clear - this is really just clarification because this will come back later. There is no cost to the province in that legislation, it doesn’t suddenly mean they have to fund something. It’s more for your purposes so you can go out and say yes, the province recognizes it.
MR. BILLARD: Another flag we can raise, I love it.
MR. YOUNGER: I’m trying to look for free stuff, for obvious reasons, right?
The last thing I wanted to ask was DNR has a park strategy that you alluded to and I don’t think anybody else really asked questions about it. You alluded to the fact that the Canal Commission potentially could - they were talking about the possibility of community groups taking management responsibilities for parkland. There’s a lot of provincially-owned parkland especially through Fall River and up as you get into Hants, along that corridor. Were you suggesting that the Canal Commission - obviously it needs some funding - may be able to do it, manage those lands for the province, with their existing ones, and do it less expensively than the province is now?
MR. BILLARD: Exactly and Cameron is leading that initiative. We’re very close with the director of parks for the province.
MR. YOUNGER: Maybe Cameron should talk about it.
MR. BILLARD: That’s why I’m saying that, Cameron is the one who’s very close with the director of parks and he’s leading that initiative.
MR. ELLS: And we’re scheduled for a one-on-one consultation with DNR, specifically on the park strategy, for Monday, March 26th.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, this is the last thing I just wanted to raise because I think it’s important that you’re looking for a way to actually - yes, you would need some money for it, but the net to the department is actually to save that money.
MR. ELLS: Our contention, the $100,000 that Allan has used here today is the exact same number we have used in a budget request to DNR. We’ve elaborated a little more and we have documentation that goes with it. For each item on that list that you now have, we have an individual photo and we’ve provided those to them as well. All of that is to help with the cause, but we also contend to you folks and to DNR that putting resources through the Canal Commission can be creatively leveraged and applied in ways that those dollars can achieve more than if others, including some DNR staff, were doing it themselves.
MR. BILLARD: In that respect we’re not asking for a budget increase, we’re suggesting transfer some money so that we can do exactly this - and this is from the provincial statement of mandate for DNR - “. . . transform service delivery, improve productivity or share services with other government departments or entities.” I read that as us and I read that as being able to take some of the current budget allocation and stretching it, leveraging it, making it more productive on the ground, and doing exactly what that says it’s wanting to do.
MR. ELLS: We’ve done our best for several years with $32,000 as an operating grant. In doing that, yes, it has hollowed out a little bit on some maintenance and whatnot, but we’ve also achieved an awful lot. Many of the other revenue sources that we have from municipalities and whatnot are typically project-specific, not to operations in general, and that’s where we got starved a little bit in 2011 and worked our way out of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to begin with perhaps a comment on how you, Allan and Cameron, have really sparked a lot of enthusiasm here today. I know my friend, Andrew, the member for Dartmouth East, has talked about it so often but the fact, Allan, that you’re trying to maintain yourself at 62 for a period of time by using the canal and we have another person in his 60s who is now going to get involved with the canal, I think a younger person like myself should kayak down from the beams and get involved as well.
Cameron talked about being the catalyst and you can be a catalyst with not a great deal of money. My wife and I are members of the Westville Rotary Club and we went to the district convention in Newfoundland and Labrador last year. She was actually the delegate and I was the tagalong on that occasion. Some clubs like ours are really quite pleased to be doing $30,000 worth of good work in the community. But Bonavista northeast, a club in Newfoundland and Labrador, is actually able to take on, as the catalyst of multi-million dollar projects, two of them. So my comment after a presentation was how can you possibly do this as a club? The comment was, we have a lot of contractors who are either members or friends of the club and in-kind work is something that we have really tapped into with these contractors.
I see an engineer’s ring there, do I, on your hand, Cameron? I’m sure you have lots of contacts around the province and so on. In being the catalyst, are there those kinds of people that you can tap into, to take on some of the projects that you are looking at?
MR. ELLS: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: A simple answer. Have you worked on any of them?
MR. BILLARD: I’ll just give you another name, Conrad Brothers, a big gravel pit operation, successful businessmen, third generation, and one of our best friends ever, Kim Conrad deserves to go to the sainthood, because people like that help us bring projects in under budget and on time. He might not help you as gleefully but he certainly helps us.
MR. ELLS: And if not sainthood, perhaps Order of Nova Scotia.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, I just want to conclude by saying that certainly I have an interest in things historical and you’ve certainly sparked my interest to get involved in some way in the coming summer. Thank you.
MR. ELLS: Well, thank you. The next time the local Member of Parliament, Mr. Chisholm, comes by for a visit, perhaps it can be with a few other people as well.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon. If there are no further questions, I guess we’ll let our witnesses make their final presentation.
MR BILLARD: Mr. Chairman, I can’t say how pleased I am that we’ve been so welcome here in front of your committee. I actually have addressed a lot of committees, both provincially and in the House of Commons, and I don’t remember being treated so well and, more importantly, with such interest. I really appreciate the fact that you have become supporters of the Shubenacadie Canal in a lot of ways. It’s a Nova Scotia resource that we’re all very proud of and now I can add you to my friends list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. There being no further business, I guess probably our meeting would be adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:34 a.m.]