HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2007
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Alfred MacLeod
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to call this meeting to order. Today we will be dealing with the Estimates of the Department of Agriculture.
Resolution E1 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $49,837,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Agriculture, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plans of the Nova Scotia Crop and Livestock Insurance Commission and the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Agriculture.
HON. RONALD CHISHOLM: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and good afternoon everyone. It is my pleasure to be here today to talk about the Department of Agriculture. I would like to introduce you to Deputy Minister, Paul LaFleche, and Director of Finance, Weldon Myers, who is on my left. Paul and Weldon will join me as we go through the budget estimates.
As you are all aware, agriculture is important to the economy and the fabric of our province. To demonstrate the government's commitment to agriculture, we will, again this year, invest more money, an additional $11 million from last year's budget. We will continue to provide important programs and services to our producers. In fact, this year's budget will see services, program delivery and staff resources enhanced.
I would like to table the document outlining our business plan commitments. This will give more detail than I will be able to provide in my remarks today. Mr. Chairman, I have a copy of that, which is basically the speech that I could do, probably 45 minutes. I'm not sure John MacDonell or anybody else would like to listen to me talk that long. Anyway, it's tabled and if anybody wants to get into the detail, we can discuss it.
The agricultural industry assistance program announced last December by our minister, Hon. Brooke Taylor, provides a $9.7 million investment in agriculture. One component, a margin enhancement of $2 million has already been paid to producers. Also, the $6.2 million in transitional assistance programs will be implemented in 2007-08 to pay loans held by Pork Nova Scotia, that would be $3.5 million in loans; in the Ruminant Loan Program, $2.7 million. The third component, the Strategic Infrastructure Investment Fund is a four-year program that this year we believe will take about $750,000 to start up this year in 2007-08. Funding will be made available for projects that demonstrate a benefit to the industry.
There also will be an opportunity to provide for the struggling pork producers through the Pork Transition Fund. This $500,000 will provide income support. Our food safety inspection program will be enhanced and we will hire two additional food safety inspectors this year. As well, we are providing for a food inspection data upgrade. We will invest $225,000 for a data management system for food safety inspections. This will improve our collection of information and record-keeping because it will now be electronically stored. In accordance with the government's commitment, we will create new industry liaison officers who will work with the farming community and be assigned to address pressing issues in the agricultural industry.
Of course, the Buy Local is important and this budget will see the enhancement of our buy local initiatives to increase this promotion, purchase and consumption of Nova Scotia products.
In closing, I would like to say that Nova Scotia's agriculture industry is a key component of the provincial economy and very important to our rural communities. As you have heard, the Department of Agriculture is an active partner and responsive leader in Nova Scotia's agriculture industries. I thank you for your time and I look forward to the questions this afternoon.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister. We will be starting with the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, in the interest of time, I am going to try to stick to half an hour because some of my colleagues want to get at the minister. I want to
say thanks to the minister and his staff. I really appreciate it. I know you probably don't have much choice in this process but I always look forward to an opportunity to get a chance to question the minister. I know the staff has a big part in keeping the minister's answers in line.
I want to congratulate Mr. LaFleche on his appointment as deputy, for sure. I do have a question and that is, what is your claim to fame? I would just like to know if you have a background in agriculture or how you got to where you are. I guess the minister, maybe, has to answer for you.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I would sooner he answer that because he is more knowledgeable and if the committee doesn't mind, I would ask him to respond to that.
MR. MACDONELL: That would be great, sure.
MR. PAUL LAFLECHE: Thank you. There is a CV on the Web site which the public and other interested parties can check out. My background is in public administration, rural economic development and I originally started in the field of earth sciences.
MR. MACDONELL: Have you been with the department a long time or did you move from another department?
MR. LAFLECHE: Technically, I started with the Province of Nova Scotia in 1994 with, at that time, the Nova Scotia Community College and the college was, at that time, an operating division of the Department of Education. I think it was in 1996, the Act was proclaimed and in 1997 the human resources provision of the Act were proclaimed which created a separate operating agency - an ABC, Agency, Board and Commission - out of the college whereby my employment was theoretically transferred to a Crown agency. I went through a series of positions there, principals and eventually vice-president academic for the college, in charge of all the campuses around the system.
MR. CHISHOLM: We had agreement from the committee to allow him to speak.
MR. LAFLECHE: I don't have to answer but (Interruptions) A few weeks ago I could not ignore him because he was one of my bosses. Then, after completing my term as vice-president academic, I was seconded by the college to the Treasury and Policy Board to work on the government's corporate plan, which I did for about eight months and then was named secretary and then clerk to the Cabinet, which is a deputy head position, just a different deputy with a smaller staff. In fact, during that tenure, as you will see in these estimates, maybe not you but one of the other groups, my staff actually disappeared and as of April 1st, they are all amalgamated in either Executive Council or Treasury and Policy Board. So the position was, in effect, combined with the deputy to the Premier position and that was a long-term plan.
That resulted in the need to look for something else and the opportunity came up when the Premier offered the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture and Deputy Minister of Agriculture position. As for specific background in agriculture, I did do my master's thesis on the campus of Macdonald College at McGill University but in the soil moisture area, the remote monitoring of soil moisture and much of my research work at the federal government was focused on looking at issues related to soil disturbance, environmental side. So that would be the degree of proximity of the background, but mainly in public sector senior management, which I have been a deputy head since 2003.
MR. MACDONELL: I see both avenues as valuable in your role in the Department of Agriculture. Can I ask the minister what happened to Ms. Penfound?
MR. CHISHOLM: First I should say that Paul has explained that a lot better than I could have, I can assure you. On Paul's behalf, I know in the last month or so that he has been the deputy, he is a quick learn and he is doing a very good job.
Ms. Penfound has now found herself to be the Deputy Minister for the Public Service Commission and I think probably Immigration and a some of the ones Minister Bolivar-Getson has. Deputy Minister Penfound was tremendously respected within the agriculture community. I think some of the farming community probably had some apprehension when she was first named deputy minister but they soon found out that she was a champion and really was a champion and did a remarkable job. I know in the short time that I was the Minister of Agriculture - well she was my Fisheries deputy as well - she helped me tremendously in the learning experience that I went through to bring myself up to speed on both of these departments. I wish her all the best in what she is moving forward into.
MR. MACDONELL: Probably her and my path will cross so I will have a chance to thank her for her help to me.
I don't think I ever put on the record to say thanks for your help with the money for the 4-H building at the Musquodoboit Exhibition Grounds so I want to know that somewhere that is written down that I did thank you for that. I know the people really appreciated it and with that, I make another request. Actually, it is in Minister Taylor's riding but there is going to be an exchange of 4-H representatives - I think it is from the Riverside 4-H Club, if I am not mistaken - with a 4-H member from Saskatchewan. So I was asked if there was any funding that would help with that and I asked if they knew whether the Saskatchewan Government was actually offering some financial help too. So I'll just leave that with you. If you can chase that down to find out if there is some way that they could be helped, that would be great.
MR. CHISHOLM: Certainly. We have staff here that are taking notes and any requests or any information that we don't have today, we can pass on later, or whatever, but I can tell you that the 4-H program is one that is very near and dear to me. I was part of a 4-H
program when I was a young fella and I was brought up in the birthplace of 4-H in Heatherton, Antigonish County. So, as I said, it is very important and if there is any support that I can lend or give to 4-H programs, it will certainly be there.
MR. MACDONELL: Thanks very much. I know they would appreciate it and I have to say I wasn't raised in the 4-H program but my kids have been involved. I noticed when I was a teacher, you could see it in the quality of the work for students who were involved with 4-H.
MR. CHISHOLM: I was tremendously amazed, I guess, a couple of years ago. I think Ernie Fage probably was the Minister of Agriculture at the time and he got me to go to the program that they do for public speaking in 4-H and it was a provincial thing that was going on in Truro.
MR. MACDONELL: Pro Show probably.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, it was public speaking province-wide and they went on to a different level somewhere else. I was just amazed at how these young people could get up and I said to myself, I think Ernie Fage probably threw me to the wolves here, just watching them and how they performed. I guess about a year ago, when I first became Minister of Agriculture in my home community, they had the Antigonish-Guysborough group for the 4-H doing their public speaking competition in my home community of Goshen. So I attended that and it was amazing to see 10-year-old kids and 11-year-old kids and how they could get up.
I know Angus MacIsaac and I have talked about this as well and Angus was a long-time educator in the Antigonish school system and he commented on how amazed he was at the students, the level of their public speaking and just how they handled themselves, kids that did come through the 4-H program. It is a valuable program and I can assure you that anything that the Department of Agriculture can do, and I'm sure I speak for my colleague, Brooke Taylor, who I hope will be back sometime soon, we all wish him well. If we don't get that decision on that request that you made, we will pass it on to Mr. Taylor when he gets back.
MR. MACDONELL: That would be great and I want to say for the record, I wish him well too. I hear things are going well and I hope they continue for him.
Last Spring the province had announced, and you have confirmed, 10 industry liaison officers. People who have approached me the most on this issue were sheep producers and they would like a sheep specialist. So I'm curious as to, if you have a breakdown, if you
know where these 10 people are going to go, how are they funded? Are they going to be department people?
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, they will be department people, probably similar to the agriculture representatives that we have now. It hasn't all been decided. We've had requests from different commodities. Sheep producers is one, you know, cattle producers, there's a whole number of groups out there that want a specialist in their area. We have more discussion I feel with the Federation of Agriculture and people who are involved in the industry before we decide totally how we're going to do this.
We do know, like we may not hire the full 10 this year, we may only hire two or three this year, but some of that will be put in place over the next 12 months, but only in consultation with the industry as well and the Federation of Agriculture. They have mentioned concerns, too, that they relayed to us, that they want input and they want to make sure that it's done right, and the money goes to areas where they feel it should go.
MR. MACDONELL: So are you telling me that you haven't budgeted for all 10 for the coming year?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, that's not what I said.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, you said you might only get two or three.
MR. CHISHOLM: No, it was a commitment that was made by the Premier and it's a commitment that our government, through the Department of Agriculture, intends to keep. Having said that, you know, there will be some of those people hired this year. It may take us a year or two years, maybe even three years to get up to the total 10, we hope not, but depending on budget conditions and where we are with our budgets, we'll be there, but only in consultation with the industry. (Interruption) My deputy points out it's the ability to hire the right people as well. We want them but we want to make sure we do it right and, like I said, in consultation with the federation as well as the industry and all stakeholders.
MR. MACDONELL: So since last June you didn't take that time to do the consultation, knowing that you're going to be at least hiring somebody?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, no, we've talked to most of the federation, with Frazer Hunter. Anytime that Frazer is in, we usually discuss it in one way or another. I guess, you know, there are so many different commodities out there that are interested and want specialists in their field, that's where we're sort of having - I wouldn't say a problem - that's where the discussions are leading us, as to how we can access those field workers as well as making sure that they're in the right positions and they are specialists.
MR. MACDONELL: I might come back to this in the fullness of time. I just have a few other issues I want to try to get back to. I've got to say the idea that perhaps all 10 of those people won't be hired this year kind of comes as a revelation. I kind of thought from the Premier's comments that, you know, just to say last June that they were going to hire 10 but they weren't coming until next year, I thought that was a bit of a stretch, but to make it sound like it might be three years, I know voters have a lot of residual goodwill but I think that's kind of taking it to the nth degree.
MR. CHISHOLM: It was probably a stretch for me to say three years but I just don't want to say something, you know, maybe it will take three years but I certainly hope it won't. I do know we will be hiring some this year. It would be nice to hire all 10 but we'll just see where it takes us over the next three to four, six, 12 months. I hope I'm not sitting here next year saying that we didn't hire any and I'm sure we won't.
MR. MACDONELL: I want to just come back to Minister Taylor's announcement in December - $2 million to producers. Is the $500,000 for write-off of Pork Nova Scotia's loan, am I right, or interest on the loan?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, that's $300,000. That was announced at the Pork Nova Scotia annual meeting, I think you were there.
MR. MACDONELL: Yes.
MR. CHISHOLM: And that $300,000, that's to deal with the interest on the loans that Pork Nova Scotia has for the farmers. This additional $500,000 is in this year's budget. It's money that we scratched for to try to, well, we found another $500,000 to be able to put into the, I guess transitional, or whatever you want to call it, to work with the pork producers, directly I guess to pork producers, as we have done in the last little while.
I know Derrick Jamieson from the Farm Loan Board has done tremendous work with a lot of our pork producers. I'm getting some fairly positive feedback from some of the pork producers in the province. I think some of the things that we're doing, that Derrick is doing, through the Farm Loan Board are working. You know, $500,000 may not seem like a lot of money to them but it is a fair chunk of change and I'm sure it will help. It's things we want to do, we don't want every hog farmer in the Province of Nova Scotia to get out of the business, we want a hog industry and we have supported them over the last number of years, as you know, considerably.
A lot of money has gone in and I think finally we seem like we're moving in the right direction, I think both government as well as the producer, you know, they're working towards, there is a light at the end of the tunnel I believe. Like I said, Derrick Jamieson has done yeoman work in the last little while in working directly with the pork producers. So that money is there to help them whichever way we can.
MR. MACDONELL: The $6.2 million that Minister Taylor announced, and I'm just going to read from this press release, he announced $9.7 million but I'm just going to speak to the $6.2 million of it. With $6.2 million available to retire producer debt under the Ruminant Support Program and the Pork Nova Scotia Hog Loan Program, to be eligible, applicants must complete a business planning process that points to profitability, move to a new business model or product, have a succession plan or an exit plan. So I'm curious, I'm thinking that $500,000 isn't part of that $6.2 million that was announced, right, and so part of it I think goes to beef producers, if I'm not mistaken - hogs aren't ruminant.
So you mentioned $3.5 million of the $6.2 million in your opening comments and that I think was to go to the hog industry?
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, $3.5 million was put towards retiring farm debt.
MR. MACDONELL: Retiring farm debt, okay.
MR. CHISHOLM: For the hog industry. Now, there's also $500,000, the Nova Scotia Margin Enhancement Program, that was also announced in December by Minister Taylor. Now, the $500,000 that's in our budget now is . . .
MR. MADONELL: It's not that?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, it's not that. This is new money. It's to work through the Pork Transition Fund that can be used for income assistance or whatever we think we need.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, I've got to say I'm a little confused how the new $500,000 is different because it would seem to me that if that's money for transition, it would look to me - as applicants must complete a business planning process that points to profitability, move to new business model or product, have a succession plan or an exit plan - so that, to me, definitely looks like there is money there already for transition. I'm glad to see that there's more money, but I guess my concern is - I think the latest numbers I have, Larsen's was killing 177,000 hogs and my impression is that those were Pork Nova Scotia hogs, those were Nova Scotia hogs.
Now if that's true, if that's the hogs that they are killing in a year, I don't see, whether people go to omega-3 or natural pork or whatever they might go to as far as a different model or a different product or whatever, these producers, basically 65 producers, are producing a commodity hog.
I can't see enough of those people changing to any of these other things, these are all kind of niche markets and I know the plant in P.E.I. might take some and the Antigonish plant now is under new management and I know they have been taking hogs. So I guess a succession plan or an exit plan, I'm worried, might be the plan for somebody, most people.
MR.CHISHOLM: Well, in some cases, you know possibly that is the plan. A lot of this funding depends on producers' business plans, where they want to go. If it is a plan that they can get into a niche market, like you say, like some value-added or whatever, we want to be able to work with them on that situation. If it is an exit plan, they feel and we feel, that there should be an exit plan, well, we will work with them to get them through that. Whether it is maybe to get them into a different commodity or whatever we have to do to help them out.
As I said before, I know Derrick Jamieson, through the Farm Loan Board, has done a tremendous amount of work with the producer, individual producers. I know I've had some calls from some of my colleagues on both sides of the House, asking to intervene on behalf of a pork producer and we've done that, through Derrick Jamieson. I believe in most cases we would have been quite successful.
So anyway, we're working our way through it, I think the industry seemed to be - I know I did the pork producers AGM in Truro at the Agricultural College and I can tell you that the feeling I got there this year was a lot better than it was last year. A lot of them seem like they know where they're going and they know where they want to be and as a government, as a department, we're there to help them get there.
MR. MACDONELL: I think that's a good thing. I guess for me, well I've been the Agriculture Critic for nine years and I don't see any big bloom in the industry. As a matter of fact, looking to the horizon, I'm worried. You know with the province just finished and the minister introduced a bill on process for closing schools, so I often wonder if the government sees a connection between doing a moratorium on school closures and the reduction of young families in rural Nova Scotia.
We're going to see a definite downsizing in the hog industry and that is going to - if Maple Leaf hasn't already decided for sure that they're going to close that plant - but as critical mass in hogs goes down to a certain level, then they are going to pull the plug, I think. So your government has announced $250,000 and Buy Local, there won't be any local to buy and there's not really any local beef to buy in Nova Scotia.
So I'm curious as to - well I guess I'd like you to explain to me what you're going to do with the $250,000 for Buy Local?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well there are some things that we do now and this will enhance what we are doing now. You look at Taste Nova Scotia for an example, doing a tremendous pile of work on the Buy Local program, we're very pleased to see the Women's Institute take the initiative that they did to take on a Buy Local campaign. They did a very good job of getting information and presenting it to government as well as the industry.
I know the farmers themselves are doing a lot of work and we're working with them to do everything they can, so that their products are identified. You know I probably said it last year - I wasn't in Agriculture last year but I know I did say it - when I go to Sobeys or I go to Superstore and I'm looking to buy a steak, I have no idea where this comes from. I look all around it, to try to find out, so I'm hoping that this - we haven't actually determined exactly how we're going to play this out, how it will play out as far as the Buy Local campaign and how that $250,000 will be used but we're working on that and I can assure you that as soon as we get sort of a plan in place - and we will work with the industry on this as well - I know the people in our department will have probably been in contact already with the industry and we will definitely make the critics for both sides aware as to where this is heading and what we're doing with it.
I think it is a very important program and as long as we can get Nova Scotia products identified on the shelf, we're going to be where we are today.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, I'm going to let you in on a not really well-kept secret but we had a plan, we will be willing to let you have a look at it. As a matter of fact, you could even incorporate it and say it was yours. The Taste of Nova Scotia really isn't a buy local - oh, what's the right word - it's kind of a monitoring and the Women's Institute is not costing us $250,000. So I guess I was hoping for a little more, certainly if he had said well, you know, a labelling program, number one, would be certainly a step to go.
I see my time is going to run short here. I guess in my last few minutes I want to raise the concern about the impact and not only in terms of the hog industry but in terms of Canard Poultry, if I was looking at whether or not I wanted to invest in the hog industry, and I have to say I see some sense in the government's direction around trying to transition some of the industry to do other things.
The big problem for this industry is grain and grain pricing and transportation of grain and I think the province may be able to do something in that regard purely on the volume side. If it is true that they generate $100 million in this economy and you were to take the provincial portion of the HST on that money, it would be plenty to invest in that industry for a few years, every year for a few years and there would be no great loss to the province, as long as there was somewhere - not only a light at the end of the tunnel but a tunnel.
In a province, if we're going to talk about buying local, if this industry goes down, we're going to still eat pork, it just won't be Nova Scotia pork, it'll be Quebec or it'll be wherever. So I leave that, I guess, with you, Mr. Minister, that I think this is worth investing in, in the long term, and I think there probably are strategies that you could apply that could affect the grain price situation.
I think that because the consumer is paying enough in the display case for the product they buy, that the farmer should be able to get a share of that and that's something we should
be looking at, too. So with those comments I'll say thanks. If you want to just respond, I won't interrupt but I want to say thanks to you and your staff, I really appreciate the time, I wish I had more.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you. Well, you know we understand where the farming community is - the problems they've had, the issues they have had over the last number of years and you are absolutely right, the transportation costs for the grain is basically when the real problems started, when that federal subsidy was gone, and there are other things as well, I mean the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar is an issue, so there's a whole host of things that really have brought the industry down.
When you look at the hog sector, well, I don't think we will lose the number of hogs that we're producing now, I think if some of the smaller guys do happen to get out, get into a different commodity, the bigger guys will probably pick up the slack, and that's what we kind of hope. I know I hope that'll happen.
Don't get me wrong, we're not trying to get people out of this industry, but we are trying to help them come up with good business plans, good business models, and we will work with them to get them to that end.
Anyway, thank you very much. The door is always open as far as you go with the Department of Agriculture.
MR. MACDONELL: I appreciate that and I'll turn my time over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister I appreciate the opportunity just to talk for a couple of minutes about two entities that I'm dealing with and I'm certainly deferring all of the policy things to our critic.
I want to talk for just a moment and put a couple of questions forward in relationship to the Pictou County Cattle Producers Association. I have several of the members of that association in the riding of Pictou East. I find it very disheartening that we, in Nova Scotia, are consuming 8 per cent Nova Scotia beef and importing 92 per cent of our beef from western Canada, primarily, but also from other places as well. So we're not just producing sons and daughters for western Canada with our out-migration but we are also sending a lot of dollars that way. That's why I felt good about the Buy Local program that we developed and I feel equally as good about the one that you people have adopted, very much like ours with the same amount of money in it and so on, so we certainly appreciate that.
However, we have, in Pictou East, a number of farmers who would like to somehow get involved in selling locally. One particular family, one farmer that I have purchased some
beef from, has the best beef that I have ever consumed and he actually sells his at the end of his driveway just periodically. We have the East River Valley Community Development Association trying to do things in the East River Valley. One of the things they're discussing just in recent weeks is in relationship to a farmers' market. Is there anything that you, anything that your department can do in relationship to helping these two entities come together - the Pictou County Cattle Producers and the East River Valley Community Development Association, to develop such a farmers' market?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, you know, I guess we're always open to working with any cattle producers, pork producers, any group that wants to expand their business or maybe work together with another business or organization to better the industry. I don't think we'd have any problem talking to those groups individually or together. Staff will - if you want to make that request - certainly coordinate a meeting with us and we'll sit down and talk and see if there is some way we can work together on whatever they would like to do.
MR. MACKINNON: I appreciate that very much, Mr. Minister and it will be pursued by the two groups. A concern that has been raised in Pictou County - which I will raise again because it's not the first time it came to your department - but the area used to have its own agriculture rep but it has been serviced from Antigonish in recent years and there's still a feeling of desertion. I know the person in Antigonish is probably doing a very good job, no slur toward staff whatsoever. But how many agriculture reps are there in comparison to what existed a few years ago?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, there certainly are not as many as there were a number of years ago. That has been reduced. I can't recall the exact number right now. I know the commitment that we have for the new ones. We have committed 10 more. Maybe not necessarily agriculture reps, maybe some specialists in different commodities, different areas. The number of reps we have now is five.
MR. MACKINNON: That compares to perhaps 10 years ago, of how many?
MR. CHISHOLM: Like I told the previous member, we have some work to do to figure out exactly where we want these reps - or whatever we want to call them, specialists - located. I do know that Pictou County is a large area. There are three ridings in Pictou County and the farming community is a big part of Pictou County. Everything will be considered when the time comes, like I told the previous member. We definitely want to make sure that we do it right. We want to work with the Federation of Agriculture and the commodity groups to make sure we do it right and get these people placed in the proper places. Those discussions are ongoing. We'll be working on it and every consideration will be given to Pictou County, I can assure you. I'm sure the member for Pictou East will make sure that I'm aware of that as well as the member for Pictou West. Pictou West is an area where there is a lot of farming activity.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. One of the things that farmers are saying about the absence of someone in the local area is the fact that agriculture reps traditionally have not just been able to explain the provincial programs, but they have been there with federal information as well and some of that federal information is new and changing and so on and to take advantage of everything that there is out there, some of them feel that the services should be there.
The critic has, in fact, zeroed in on a number of the supplementary things that I was going to pump out very quickly. But getting back to Buy Nova Scotia, how quickly will the department buy into that program? Because I find it disheartening, discouraging that there isn't even a little flag on Larsen's bacon - and Larsen's plant going through some real possibilities of closure and here we could in fact be going from 65 of our consumption, coming from Nova Scotia production, to much less, if we start looking to Manitoba and other places that are heavy on the pork side of things. Just on Sunday, being in a Foodland in my hometown, I've encouraged them on several occasions to carry Larsen's products and they always have Our Compliments and something else, which we know is coming from elsewhere but I'm sure if we had people who are asking for our products - even though sometimes they might be a few cents more expensive - that we, in fact, would be supportive of such a thing. So how soon can we expect to see something like that? I mean, to develop a little flag or whatever the heck we want to put on those, is not going to be a super big deal, I'm sure it doesn't even have to be a costly, colourful Nova Scotia flag or it doesn't even have to be a flag, but there has to be something there, signifying that a product is Nova Scotian.
MR. CHISHOLM: I guess my first comment, you asked at first how committed we are. We have put $250,000 in this year's budget to at least get us started on a Buy Local campaign. So when do we get it? The information that I have from staff is that we feel by probably sometime in July or August the initial stages of that will be up and running and we hope that we can meet that target. But this will have to be an ongoing process. We have $250,000 this year. Next year's coming as well. In my mind, we'll have to keep going and it will be an ongoing process and we'll do whatever we can to make people more aware of the products that we do have locally, that are produced here in Nova Scotia and we'll continue to do that.
MR. MACKINNON: One final, very quick question. The wild blueberry industry is important in my riding in the East River Valley and out Blue Mountain way and so on and there has been a concern expressed, only by one person so far, but this was in relationship to Crown land. To actually be able to expand a few acres on Crown land, and there was a great deal of difficulty in trying to do this. Yet we have forestry companies - and I'm not taking a shot at them - that have hundreds of thousands of acres that have been made
available to them. So can someone be designated from your department to work with people who are having difficulty in getting a few acres here and there?
MR. CHISHOLM: Sure, definitely. I can't see any problem with that. The blueberry industry in my county in the summertime is great. There's always a lot of people. It's very good for my county. I wish it was bigger. But sure, staff will make a note of that and we will follow up on that just to see where we can go with it and see how far we can get with the Minister of Natural Resources and we'll report back to you on that one.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this opportunity to have a few minutes to ask a few agricultural questions, and like the previous member, I come from the other half of Pictou County and we have a mixed variety of dairy, beef, vegetables, greenhouses, blueberries - just a good mix of the agricultural industry in Pictou West. But for many of them, it has been a struggle. It has been difficult the last number of years and it certainly is not made any easier when we no longer have an agriculture rep in Pictou County and a number of our extension people have all disappeared. You used to be able to call Truro or Kentville and get some answers. Many farmers almost feel abandoned. There's nobody out there they can turn to. My colleague, the member for Hants East earlier asked about the specialists who are going to be hired. I remember in the election campaign last summer, new agricultural specialists will be hired and I assumed that was going to be right away. Am I correct in assuming that none of those people have been hired at this point in time?
MR. CHISHOLM: There have been none hired at this point in time, no.
MR. PARKER: Zero, zilch?
MR. CHISHOLM: None.
MR. PARKER: In spite of the promise of 10 or 12 new specialists, they're not on the books yet. I'm hearing from horticultural producers, I'm hearing from greenhouse growers and livestock producers - who do I turn to when I need help? Yes, they can go to AgraPoint and pay $85 an hour, or whatever, but that's not really feasible when you're struggling to make a living. So, how soon are these new specialists - so-called, I say new but they've been promised for quite some time - when are they going to come on-board?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, we hope very soon. One of the reasons, the question I had from one of the previous members, some of the industry have some concerns as to where we're going with this one and how we're going to go about hiring these specialists, or
agriculture reps, whatever we want to call them. So, consultation with the federation, with the people in the industry is still ongoing. As I said before, we want to do that, do it right. Hopefully, sometime later this Spring or summer, we will have some people in place. But, we have to do it in consultation with the industry.
MR. PARKER: Well, the industry is telling me they would like to see these people in place yesterday. I've heard from livestock and horticulture greenhouse folks that very much feel they need this support. As I said, when there's no agriculture rep to turn to locally and there's nobody they can call in the extension department, it makes it difficult. They're really on their own. I would urge the department to move forward with that as soon as possible. In these particular times, agricultural producers need all the help they can get. I hope that's near the top of your priority list.
MR. CHISHOLM: It certainly is, it is on the top of our list. Getting job descriptions and that sort of thing is where we're at now, trying to get that sorted out. Once we get that out, I guess postings will be going out and we'll see where it takes us.
MR. PARKER: Okay. In the interest of time, I'm going to move along here then. The Buy Local program, we talked about it a little bit, could we expect to see some labels on local food products before this year is out in our grocery stores - Sobeys, Superstore or Co-op? I guess that's the plan, there will be identification of the product that is grown or made here in Nova Scotia - is that likely to happen in 2007?
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes.
MR. PARKER: In 2007 we're likely to see some labels on Nova Scotia food products in our local grocery stores?
MR. CHISHOLM: We certainly hope so.
MR. PARKER: Hope is not really enough, Mr. Minister. I think we need a plan to make this happen. We need those now. Not only is the consumer demanding it, it's really going to be a big benefit to our farmers. It's important our foods be labelled local so people will know what they're buying.
MR. CHISHOLM: I was just talking to staff and I guess there's some discussion going on as to exactly how this will be implemented - will it be labels on all the food products, or will it be a sign that will be above a showcase with Nova Scotia products, that sort of thing? Those discussions are ongoing, we have to determine exactly which is the best way to go.
I understand there is some concern with labels themselves. There's some thought being given to signs above showcases. I believe we're working with the two major food stores in the province as to which is the best way to go.
Some other components of the Buy Local campaign we think will be a media campaign, billboards, radio and newspaper ads and as well, a Buy Local Web site. There's a whole host of things being discussed right now. Farmers' markets is another area that we'll be working with. We'll be moving forward with our campaign. The government has committed $250,000 this year for that initiative and hopefully it will be successful and help our producers and our agricultural community.
MR. PARKER: I have one final question in relation to that, Mr. Minister. There was a lot of hoopla about our local institutions being supplied with local products - our schools, our jails, our nursing homes and so on. I was in our kitchen here the other day where we, as MLAs, are served and I asked about the product that was being served and I said, is this a local product? The chef tells me, no, I can't access that, I can't get any local pork here for our kitchen, the kitchen that serves us, the MLAs in this House here, the people's House. Not even here in our own House of Assembly can we get locally produced products. That's something I would hope the department would be able to address and find out why it is that in our institutions, including this one right here, that local products cannot be found to serve Nova Scotians.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I think one of the first things I would have to point out is that any beef that's bought for any of our institutions - hospitals, jails, whatever - has to be from federally inspected facilities. I think the only one that's federally inspected is the Borden plant in P.E.I. where a lot of our beef from Nova Scotia goes to be slaughtered.
Just recently we partnered with the Office of Economic Development, getting more of our local products into our institutions. Nova Scotian Health Care Purchasing Ltd. just recently awarded a tender with close to 60 per cent of the beef of Atlantic Canadian origin. We are making some strides in that area. I know there's more to be done and we'll continue to work on it.
MR. PARKER: I'm going to pass my time to my colleague, but I will point out that I know of institutions in Pictou County that are buying locally from abattoirs and whatnot that are certainly not federally inspected. You may want to check your facts on that.
With that comment, I'm going to pass it to my colleague.
MR. CHISHOLM: Right, I was wrong on that, it's export that has to be federally inspected. Sorry about that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens.
MS. VICKI CONRAD: Thank you for the opportunity to ask a couple of quick questions. The importance of agriculture in Nova Scotia, without question, we need to be valuing the importance of agriculture. I want to ask if the department . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: Did you say aquaculture?
MS. CONRAD: Did I say aquaculture? Agriculture. Land farming, very important to our communities. I just want to point out a fact that was provided to me at a meeting several months ago. This meeting was around food security. The fact that was brought to my attention and to other members of this particular meeting was that when 9/11 happened and our borders were shut down for a period of time, that if our borders would have been closed for any longer than a nine or 11 day period, the Province of Nova Scotia would have been shut off from food exports coming into the province.
That is a scary fact, to know that if our borders, for whatever reason, were to shut down, our food security would be a serious issue in this province. I'm wondering if the Department of Agriculture is working with local farmers, working with the federation to discuss our food security issues, when we talk about supporting our agriculture community.
Another question that arises from that - and in the interest of time I'm going to go bang, bang, bang with my questions - is the department consulting with the federation and farmers about the support for food security in our province?
Secondly, does the department see a role for traditional farmers, also known as hobby farmers, in our province? We have a number of small farming operations across this province in rural communities that kind of don't fit into the mix of a huge farm, they're not necessarily part of the bigger industry, but certainly continue to play a role in many of our communities by keeping some traditional livestock, traditional horticultural products. They contribute a lot to their communities. I'm wondering if the department sees those small traditional hobby farmers as still playing a vital role in the communities?
Another quick question after that, I want to talk about protection of agricultural lands in the province. Is there any discussion in the department and with farmers as to what type of land mass we need to protect for future agricultural purposes? The reason I'm asking that question is a couple of years ago when I was making my yearly - not yearly, I go more often - trip into the Valley, driving by many cornfields with for sale signs on the fence posts. It's very sad when you see land . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: Maybe they were selling the corn.
MS. CONRAD: Maybe they were, but I suspect they were selling the land. Those are my quick questions.
MR. CHISHOLM: You had about four there, so you may have to remind me. I'll try the food security one first. I know exactly what you're saying. It was a scary time, there's no two ways about it, when 9/11 happened, and what could have happened if the borders were closed, that sort of thing. I do know we're doing a lot of work with the federal government, when I was full-time Minister of Agriculture there were meetings I attended with the federal minister as well as all the provinces.
Food security was certainly pretty well on the list of every - I'm pretty sure we have staff that work with the federal government that go to meetings and are discussing these issues all the time, so, yes, it is ongoing. It will continue to be ongoing. We do work with the federation, we do work with the Department of Health, Department of Education and all our regional agricultural associations on the food security part of it.
What were some of the other questions?
MS. CONRAD: Small farmers.
MR. CHISHOLM: Small farmers are very much an important part of the equation as far as agriculture goes in the province. I know back in my riding I have three large dairy farms, but I do have a number of small hobby farmers - they could be teachers, doctors, whatever - that play an important role in the agriculture community in my riding. So, yes, it is very important and in most cases, I think they get the benefits of whatever the Department of Agriculture has to offer as far as programs. I believe our infrastructure fund, they would be eligible for those types of programs.
Our agriculture reps, which we don't have enough of . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed.
MR. CHISHOLM: Anyway, any questions afterwards, if you want to finish, I'll get you again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Annapolis.
MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: I'm going to share my time with my colleague, the member for Kings West. I want to thank the minister for being here and welcome him back to the Department of Agriculture. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the former deputy, Ms. Penfound, for her support in the Department of Agriculture, she has been very supportive of our caucus in terms of giving us the information we required and I know she
was a real champion of the agricultural community. I know farmers on the ground were very appreciative of her role and support.
Of course, welcome to the new deputy, who I know. Welcome to your new post. I look forward to solving all the agricultural problems in the Province of Nova Scotia with you.
Mr. Minister, first of all this is really the first full year of the division of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture I want to ask you, as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture and filling in as the Acting Minister of Agriculture, do you believe this separation has provided the individual industries with better service, better access to government?
MR. CHISHOLM: That's a very good question. I certainly believe that it has, for the most part, other than it being a tremendous job, a tremendous amount of work for one individual minister to be doing both Fisheries and Aquaculture and Agriculture. I know in the five or six months that I was there, when I first started a year ago in February, I'm glad my constituents didn't know that I was probably only home about five days out of five months. It was just non stop. It was hard to concentrate or be totally dedicated to the one portfolio. As I said, it was a lot of work but I believe with the staff that I had in both those departments, the staff that we had in the field and the people who we worked with in the industry, I think it worked quite well.
Now that we have separated, both the agricultural industry as well as the fisheries industry wanted it. They asked for it. The Premier responded to that so right now we do have a separate Department of Agriculture as well as a Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. My workload - since the unfortunate illness of my good colleague, Brooke Taylor - has gotten a little bit heavier but it is going very well. As I said, I have great staff in both departments that I work well with and I believe they work well with me and I believe they work well with the industry. So I think the transition has been reasonably smooth and we are moving forward.
MR. MCNEIL: I hope your workload reduces and the minister is back in the very near future.
MR. CHISHOLM: I am looking forward to it. Having said that, though, I certainly enjoy the Agriculture portfolio. I enjoyed it immensely when I was there before. I met a lot of interesting people, worked with a lot of interesting people, good people who are involved in the industry and work hard in the industry, I mean put their heart and soul into the industry. So it was a very good experience for me and this is no different this time. There are some tough situations out there and we have to try to work with them and get them through the situation that they may find themselves in. I think we are doing quite a good job at it.
More needs to be done, sure, but I think we all realize that we need a good, strong agricultural sector in this province. Somehow we have had it over the years.
We have had a good agricultural sector, and I think it is still a pretty good sector. I think there are a lot of good stories out there. Sometimes the only thing we hear are the bad ones but I do think there are a lot of good success stories out there in our agricultural communities. There are some bumps along the way but we will get through them.
MR. MCNEIL: One of the difficulties, of course, that has been well documented is around the hog industry - and you mentioned earlier that there wasn't an exit strategy by your department for people in the industry, yet when the minister announced the $6.2 million at the federation's annual meeting, in December, many people in the industry viewed it as that, an exit strategy. Where is the disconnect?
MR. CHISHOLM: You know, in some circumstances - and we hope there are none, but if there are some we hope there are not too many - we do have to help people exit the industry. The funding for those programs was based on farmers bringing forward a business plan. The Farm Loan Board people, Derrick Jamieson in particular, worked with those farmers to get them through the business plan. I guess if it was determined in the end that the only hope or the only plan could be an exit strategy, we will work with those individual farmers to get them through that as well as getting them into different commodities, whatever, and that's basically what the funding was set up for.
As you know, over the last number of years I would say there was a tremendous amount of money that went into the hog sector, and it seemed like we weren't getting anywhere. It seems to me that in the last number of months we've come a long way. I know being at the hog producers annual meeting this year, it was certainly a lot different than it was last year. I stayed the whole afternoon with them and at that time announced another $300,000 for the interest on the loans to Pork Nova Scotia. So we know there are problems in the hog industry.
I think we spoke before that the transportation cost for feed, for grain, was one of the major things that hurt the industry a few years back. There's also the Canadian dollar versus the American dollar that hurts the industry, as it has hurt a lot of the cattle producers who ship across the border, and it has hurt our fishing industry. So there are a lot of reasons why the industry is struggling, and I think we've done our very best over the last number of years to help them as much as we could with the financial situation that we found ourselves in as a province - but is there more to do? Definitely.
MR. MCNEIL: Any idea how many farms have already exited or are in the wind-down phase to leave? As you know, it takes nine to ten months to close down an operation.
MR. CHISHOLM: I don't know of any directly, but I will certainly talk to Derrick Jamieson to try to get that information. Like I said, personally I haven't heard of any that have totally exited the industry - I know some of them have reduced their capacity as far as the number of hogs they've had. I do know that there are some hog producers who have gotten into a different commodity, or I guess along with some hogs they have another - well for example, mink, they've gone into the mink business. Through the Farm Loan Board and Derrick Jamieson, we've accomplished that. We've helped them with that.
So, you know, there are some pretty good stories out there I think over the last little while, hopefully some of these farmers maybe will come and tell us their stories at some point. As far as farmers who have totally exited the industry, I haven't personally heard of any, but I will check with Derrick and I'll get that information for you. I don't think there are very many, if there are any.
MR. MCNEIL: You announced in the budget $500,000 in income support. How long after the budget is approved will farmers begin to see that money?
MR. CHISHOLM: As soon as possible - farmers need that money - as soon as the budget is passed we will be working with them, writing cheques.
MR. MCNEIL: How will it be distributed?
MR. CHISHOLM: That probably will be through Derrick Jamieson and the Farm Loan Board.
MR. MCNEIL: What will be the criteria around the distribution?
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm told that would be a Nova Scotia Margin Enhancement program that would be through Mike Johnson's shop in - they will be dealing with the producers and it'll be advanced through there.
MR. MCNEIL: What will be the criteria you use to determine how much each individual operation or farmer receives?
MR. CHISHOLM: I guess it would be based on the CAIS, the program, whatever would trigger funding for the CAIS program would be the trigger for that transition or that income assistance fund. (Interruption) Okay, basically the same as the program that we had before Christmas - I think where we had the $2 million that was given to pork producers as income assistance and that sort of thing. So it would be the same program as we had back then, and the criteria would be the same.
MR. MCNEIL: And the criteria for that was?
MR. CHISHOLM: Based on the CAIS, yes.
MR. MCNEIL: It seems strange that we keep referring back to CAIS when you hear so many negative issues around CAIS from farmers, in particular around the trigger points, and how it doesn't serve the needs of a lot of farmers here. Why would we not just, as a province, if we're going to do a direct $500,000 income support program, why would we not just deal with Pork Nova Scotia and distribute that money directly to farmers, based on production totals instead of referring to really, quite frankly, a program that's flawed?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, you know, I'm not sure that the program is totally flawed. I mean I've had a lot of farmers, when I first became minister back in February of last year, I heard a lot of - I shouldn't say a lot, I heard a number of farmers complain about the CAIS program, how it was implemented and that sort of thing, but I also had a lot of farmers say be careful what you do there because it is benefiting me and benefiting my farm and I know of other farmers who are benefiting and I guess the CAIS program is based on income . . .
MR. MCNEIL: How many of those were hog farmers?
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm not sure how many would be hog farmers; I'm not sure that any of them were hog farmers. I know there were hog farmers who did get funding out of the CAIS program. There have been some changes made to the CAIS program in the last six or eight months of last year, that I think have benefited - know the federal Minister of Agriculture just in the last few weeks has put - what? - about $1 billion that is going into agriculture, Canada-wide.
MR. MCNEIL: I wonder, of that $1 billion, what Nova Scotia's portion will be?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I think it'll be considerable. You know we have to apply for these things. All the details of this haven't been totally worked out yet. I know our officials in our department are working with the federal officials to see what the farmers in this province will be entitled to. But I do know, as far as the CAIS program goes, there was considerable money. I think there are probably some figures around as to exactly what Nova Scotia's share was. I believe to that program we contribute - 40 per cent of that comes from the taxpayers of Nova Scotia to help with that program, it is a 60-40 split with the federal government.
MR. MCNEIL: One of the challenges around those programs - nor was I suggesting that, because you have no control over whether CAIS stays or doesn't stay, that's obviously the responsibility of the federal government - but considering all the negative stuff I was hearing about it, and I'm sure if you read Hansard, including members from your own Party would be complaining about the CAIS program, it just seems strange to me that if it is an
income support program we would not be trying to get it directly in the hands of the farmers in another manner than tying it to a flawed program. But having said all that, I appreciate your response.
MR. CHISHOLM: There were a lot of farmers, hog farmers included, who qualified for the CAIS program. The biggest problem that I saw with the CAIS program was the application process, and the problems they had to get the application in place to even apply for it, that was the biggest complaint that I heard. Once they got their application in place and it was dealt with by the administration of the CAIS program, as well as our department, I guess, would have been a part of that - no, there were a considerable number of farmers received benefit from that program, so I think some of those issues have been dealt with, and you know in our program all we're saying is that if you have had income assistance on the CAIS program, you will qualify for the program that we have, that $500,000, as well as the $500,000 that we've already had in place and given to farmers.
It was pointed out to me, too, and I know that the federal minister of the day, that Minister Taylor and I met with him out at the airport, probably three weeks or a month ago, that we are looking and he is looking at putting a CAIS office in the Atlantic Region. Anyway, that's being worked on and hopefully in the next short little while there will be a . . .
MR. MCNEIL: I hope he's putting a CAIS office in the Maritimes for making it more efficient for farmers to access it and not as an acknowledgement that the program is flawed.
MR. CHISHOLM: That is exactly the point. I think now in order to get an application you had to contact Winnipeg or somewhere out West. That was one of the biggest concerns that I heard from the farming community when that program was first initiated.
MR. MCNEIL: Enough about the CAIS - but I'd be surprised if the biggest complaint from the agricultural community would be where their application was mailed from. I don't think that would cause them that much angst if the actual administration of the program was flexible enough to deal with the needs of the agricultural community, but enough on the issue.
You had mentioned earlier in your remarks about a "Buy Local" campaign which has been talked about, $250,000, and you said in your remarks - and I'm going to give you a chance to clarify them - that it is a work in progress. I was elected to the House in August 2003 and a buy local campaign has been talked about by both critics and by every Minister of Agriculture since I've been elected. All of a sudden there is $250,000 available, that's now coming into almost four years and there's no plan. Is it standard practice of government to say here's a blank sum of money, this is the protocol but there's no plan in place, just use it and at the end of the year we'll figure out what we're going to do next year? Is that not, it just
doesn't seem - maybe you were misquoted in that, but it has been four years, a plan in the making, and now money has been announced and we still don't have a plan.
MR. CHISHOLM: This buy local issue has been on the table for quite awhile and, you're absolutely right, there are critics, there are Agriculture Ministers, there are Premiers, we've all, I guess, talked about buy local. I know I have in the time that I've been Minister of Agriculture and there are some things we have done - I mean some of our institutions, I mentioned before, Halifax Capital have put a tender out for red meat, I guess it was, and you know it's at least Atlantic . . .
MR MACNEIL: You mean the health district.
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, the health district. And it is at least Atlantic Canadian beef that is being purchased, that won that tender. And there are other things that we have done - I don't have the list with me now, but I know there are a number of things that we have done and a number of things we hope to be able to get done this summer with this $250,000 that we have in the budget this year. It's the first time that we do have a line item of $250,000 to put towards our Buy Local campaign. As I said before, I think this has to be ongoing - it just can't end with $250,000 this year, we have to think about next year and keep the process going.
There are a number of ways I guess, as we've talked about before, whether it's a label on a product in a store or a sign over a showcase that says this is a product of Nova Scotia, whether it is pork or beef or any other fruits or vegetables, or whatever. Maybe we have been a little bit lax on commitment, but I think the commitment is there this year obviously, we have the $250,000 there to show for it.
MR. MCNEIL: I want to acknowledge my support for a Buy Local campaign and our caucus' support for a Buy Local campaign. What is surprising to me is that the former Premier had talked about this, it was an election promise as well, and now we are into money for the Buy Local campaign and there is still no structure around it. It just seems odd to me. Having said all of that, you had mentioned two things here in your remarks - one was to perhaps put a sign above the showcase saying it's a Nova Scotia product, and the other one was maybe label it a Nova Scotia product - all of which are positive things. But the biggest issue I hear from the agricultural community is what percentage of the food dollar they are receiving, so selling 100 items and losing money - selling 200 items just means you are losing more money.
In the last election your Premier, the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia, had committed to developing a long-term strategy for agriculture in working with the industry. I want to know where we are in developing that strategy.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I guess as far as the strategy - we have worked with the industry over the last, I think it is going on eight years that I've been around; we have the Federation of Agriculture; we do have an Agriculture Policy Framework Agreement that ends, I guess, on March 31st; and we are working with the federal government to . . .
MR. MCNEIL: Who is that framework with?
MR. CHISHOLM: That is a Canada-wide agreement.
MR. MCNEIL: What this was talking about was a Nova Scotia strategy, how we in the industry, the industry in the Province of Nova Scotia, and its government were going to develop a long-term strategy to deal with agriculture issues. As long as I have been in this House - and I can say almost as long as you have been in this House and maybe even longer than that - we have been dealing with crisis management, one crisis after another and not really with a long-term plan. All I'm wondering is where are we in terms of developing that long-term plan which was committed to in the last campaign?
MR. CHISHOLM: You know the Competitiveness Transition Project, that is aimed at helping industry move forward towards greater profitability and self-sufficiency; the industry and the government are working together to develop and analyze a range of options and possible recommendations to government; and the committee will contract an independent consultant to draft a report that will focus on the outcome of the committee's work. We expect this report in late June or July. Like we said, we acknowledge the challenges facing the industry. We've worked with the industry over the last number of years to get them through the hard times that some of them find themselves in.
There are a lot of reasons, like we've indicated before, as to why the industry is in the situation that it's in - the cost of feed, the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar, all kinds of reasons why, and it's not only the agriculture industry that's having those same problems, it's the fisheries and . . .
MR. MCNEIL: But the U.S. dollar is not unique to Nova Scotia; the U.S. dollar is not unique to just the Province of Nova Scotia, the U.S. dollar would be a challenge for the entire country.
MR. CHISHOLM: I think that's what we're discussing here, what is happening in the Province of Nova Scotia, and I'm just indicating to you where the industry is telling us and government sees - government knows what the issues are and we're working with the industry to try to get them through them. Over the last number of years, like I said before, with the hog industry, I think over probably four years there has been about $11 million that has gone directly to the hog industry in this province, and something like $25 million in the
last number of years has gone to the agriculture industry as a whole, you know, in direct, call them what you want . . .
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Minister, we can acknowledge that number as many times as we like. Pork Nova Scotia put a long-term strategy in front of your government. The industry knows they need a long-term strategy; the industry knows that you can't continue to throw money at it - the industry knows that, what we're asking and what the Premier committed to was a long-term strategy for agriculture.
MR. CHISHOLM: As I said, we're working on a long-term strategy for the industry, for agriculture, and that's why the minister announced that it was part of our strategy - $9.2 million in December for the agricultural industry. That's why we've put another $500,000 in this year's budget for income assistance in transition for the hog industry. So, you know, that's part of our long-term strategy and we're moving forward on it.
MR. MCNEIL: The election is coming up on a year in June - can we expect to see a plan within a 12-month period coming out of the department?
MR. CHISHOLM: Like I said, we have the plan. We've committed to the agriculture community, just a few months back, $9.2 million. We have the Farm Loan Board that's working with the hog industry, commodities that are challenged, that are having their difficulties, so we're moving forward.
MR. MCNEIL: The $9.2 million plan is now just going through the decline and the exodus of Maple Leaf in the Valley; Larsen's is on a slippery slope if the hog industry continues to go in the direction it's going. The numbers are in front of you - you know our hog production has gone from over 200,000 hogs per year down to around 170,000, I think (Interruption) 173,000. The crisis that's in front of the industry is going to continue to decline net production, so to say that the $9.2 million is a plan - and many of the people in that industry are saying the only plan it is, it's an exit strategy for us to get out of here, it's not a plan in terms of growing agriculture - I want to know if the plan is just to close the agricultural industry down, we're looking for an exit strategy for everyone who's in a non-supply commodity, and if that's the plan we just need to articulate it to Nova Scotians.
MR. CHISHOLM: Absolutely not, you know we want to see a good, strong, vibrant agricultural industry in this province and I think we're working towards that. You mentioned Maple Leaf and the closure of the plant down there, the chicken producers, there's an area where we have an opportunity I believe - we're probably going to miss that opportunity, you know 80 per cent of the chicken that was produced at the Maple Leaf plant is now going to be heading to New Brunswick, and no fault of ours, the chicken producers in that area are business people, and they operate and manage their own business the way they see fit, and they see fit to ship chicken to New Brunswick to be processed.
MR. MCNEIL: Were they doing that prior to the plant closing down?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, they weren't . . .
MR. MCNEIL: So it's kind of the chicken or the egg scenario, right - pardon the pun.
MR. CHISHOLM: They were part of the Maple Leaf group, they sold to Maple Leaf. There are two plants that process chicken in the Valley. ACA, which I'm told could probably right now process 50 per cent of the chicken that Maple Leaf had, and within a short period of time probably up to 100 per cent of that chicken could be processed in the Valley - I've met with both groups, the suppliers of Maple Leaf and the people from ACA, trying to, I guess hopeful that maybe they would look at processing locally. All I'm trying to say is we have to work with the industry to try to at least convince them too that we do have in this province the capacity to be able to do a lot of things, and chicken is one of them - we can process chicken here.
Anyway, I know we have work to do with that. That may be a little off the subject there, but . . .
MR. MCNEIL: In closing, just before I pass to my colleague, I guess I would encourage you to - and I'm sure your department's doing that - deal with the industry itself to ensure that as much chicken as possible to be processed in the Province of Nova Scotia is processed here. It makes no sense that it's cheaper to truck it to New Brunswick - producers are doing that now because they don't have an option. We need to broaden the option with the increased capacity to ACA.
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes.
MR. MCNEIL: So I'll pass the rest of my time now over to my colleague for Kings West.
MR. CHISHOLM: Just to comment on that - the department is working on it and I'm working on it, as I said, I've had meetings with both groups, and we feel that it's not the right thing to do but, as I said first, the farmers involved that supplied Maple Leaf - which was a good business deal for them at the time - they are independent business people, and we can suggest, we can talk to them, but the end result is they make the final decision as to where they ship their product, and we would hope it would be in Nova Scotia, not New Brunswick or any other province, but we have to wait and see.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West, with the time being 3:54 p.m.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm certainly pleased to have the opportunity to ask a few questions around agriculture and, while we may not always agree, I am certainly pleased with my relationship with your predecessor who, hopefully, will be back , Mr. Taylor, and with yourself, Mr. Minister, in the last month or two.
Certainly I feel a lot like my colleague - and I will address the hog industry first because it is a very major sector in my riding - I'm having a little difficulty sorting out whether or not the department took its lead from Michael McCain's announcement that there would probably be one plant, that's the Brandon plant, or whether or not government had finally reached the point where they said they would put no more money, or - I shouldn't say "no more", but less money into the industry as we go along, and therefore that would set the course of the future of the hog industry, which is now undergoing a pretty considerable change, transformation really, and even as early as October it will look very different.
There will be people out of the industry, and others who will get hit pretty hard still placing a lot of hope in the future of the Larsen plant. Some however have started to make some changes, and along that line I'm wondering if you do consider a hog farmer who feels that if he invests now in an operation that will sell his piglets to the United States, that by raising them there, selling them there, it can be profitable for him - is that farmer part of the transition model? In other words, to perhaps get some money for additional hogs because he's going to get rid of his market hogs and he's obviously now going to need more breeder hogs, if you wish.
MR. CHISHOLM: He definitely does qualify. Through the Farm Loan Board, that way he would qualify, he would be eligible to take part in any programs that might be available. I believe there have been some farmers in that same situation that have taken part in that.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the Farm Loan Board, how much money would the Farm Loan Board have at work in the hog industry right now? I know the Farm Loan Board deals with the whole numbers sectors, but in terms of the hog industry, what kind of a figure would be out there? I forgot to check that out earlier today, but it was a piece I wanted to know.
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm told that it would be about $30 million that would be available through Pork Nova Scotia as well as the individual farmers.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of this new program, you're going to administer it directly through the Farm Loan Board or through another program within the Department of Agriculture?
MR. CHISHOLM: That would be administered through Mike Johnson's department. That's another service of the department.
MR. GLAVINE: Will it be a specific program under . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: It's the same as we've had early in December for 2006-07, that same program, but $500,000 will be put in that fund and it will be administered there, it's called the Nova Scotia Margin Enhancement program.
MR. GLAVINE: I certainly have been one of the people asking for assistance through the hog farmers in my area and there are about, probably ten of them in my riding. I've appreciated all the help that they received, however I see now that you're moving away in terms of supporting the hog sector by putting monies through the Farm Loan Board and through this enhancement program. Have you lost some faith in Pork Nova Scotia?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, I never really thought about losing faith in them. I think Pork Nova Scotia plays a valuable role in the hog industry in the province. We work with them with loan programs and that sort of thing for hog farmers and we will continue to do that in any way we can. A lot of this income assistance and that sort of thing, we feel that working with individual farmers, one-on-one when they need it, is probably the best way to go.
Sometimes through an organization like Pork Nova Scotia an individual farmer may not want to discuss everything that needs to be discussed with that organization, and that's basically the reason why we are now trying to work with individual farmers. It's certainly nothing negative against Pork Nova Scotia. Like I said, some of our farmers find themselves in some pretty tough situations, especially those hog farmers. I know working through the Farm Loan Board and through that Margin Enhancement Program, I think a lot of the ones we dealt with, from the information that I have, had felt pretty good working one-on-one with the department - it certainly had nothing to do with any negative things about Pork Nova Scotia for sure. I think they're . . .
MR. GLAVINE: It's just one of those things where Pork Nova Scotia obviously registers all of the comings and goings of every hog, literally, that's sold in the province, whether it's Larsen's, Tonys, Bowlby's, Armstrong's, et cetera, and know every hog that is produced and has a great handle on that.
MR. CHISHOLM: Pork Nova Scotia does a lot of the marketing and that sort of work. From what I understand they're doing a very credible job of finding new markets and getting some pretty good things going there on behalf of pork farmers in the last little while. They play a valuable role and we want to see them continue to do that.
MR. GLAVINE: Certainly one aspect of helping to transform our unmanaged supply sector will be some of the ideas that have already come forth in the draft of the Kelco report -
I guess that's just around the corner now in coming forward. I'm just wondering if you have a timeline when you may start to act on the Kelco report.
As all those who have come before estimates here today, we've addressed the fact that if farmers were getting the percentage that they need to cover their inputs as well as have a small profit margin we wouldn't hear too much from the farm community. They're a group of people who are absolutely the salt of the earth, hard-working people who put in hours beyond belief in some of the sectors, but they really do need to get more money in their operations.
During the past year it's been pretty disturbing in the Valley to actually see four or five dairy operations go out of business. They have no margin now on their fat cows, they're old cows that they're getting rid of and they're starting to see a change in their sector, especially after a bad hay season. So the state of agriculture is certainly not as healthy as the new Statistics Canada stats reveal. Are you committed at this point to saying Kelco recommendations will go forward?
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm not comfortable in saying that all the recommendations of Kelco have moved forward. I know we have an independent consultant who will be looking at this draft report. It will focus on a lot of the work that committee did and we expect that this report will be out somewhere around the end of July. As far as the recommendations, I haven't really looked at what's in the Kelco report, but we will be reviewing it and we will make a determination at some point in time as to where and how we move forward with that report.
MR. GLAVINE: I hear different statistics around what percentage of beef we grow in Nova Scotia, of the total amount which is consumed. One of the members opposite mentioned 8 per cent today - I hear as high as 20 per cent. I know the percentage of consuming Nova Scotia pork used to be 65, but it certainly isn't that now. So what is it in terms of beef?
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm told that it's about 25 to 30 per cent of the beef that we eat is local.
MR. GLAVINE: It's an area where I'm still quite astounded, when you think at least about five years ago, I know this was a big initiative of Premier Hamm at the time, that Nova Scotians would truly move to eat more locally grown beef. It certainly can very well be grown to the quality that we can get from western Canada. Beef can be produced in all 18 counties of Nova Scotia, and we find counties now, like Annapolis, where there's probably as much quality farmland under alders and scrub trees as there is actually land that is now in use. And, again, as part of an agriculture strategy, I don't understand why we could not have mapped out that by 2010 we will produce 40 per cent of our beef, and by 2015 we'd be up to 50 per cent.
It was really interesting that at the event in Port Williams to take a look at possible solutions, and that's where most people are heading now - I'm finding among the agriculture community and certainly among my constituents that it is time to move on. Agriculture has been in decline for the last decade, or perhaps longer - we need to recognize it, and we need to ask what are the solutions. During that time my good friend, the member for Kings North, talked about the contracts and the amount of Nova Scotia product that goes through Armstrong's, for example, into an institution like the QE II.
The reality is most of the meat that goes there is boxed beef from Australia or New Zealand - that plant alone brings in 5 million pounds of boxed beef from New Zealand a year. Now can you imagine translating that into Nova Scotia-grown beef? Imagine, if we substituted that with Nova Scotian, what the state of our agriculture would be. We'd be talking about a much more vibrant agriculture sector, and that's why while we have some hooks over in PEI we still are not getting anywhere near the amount of beef. I'm just wondering, is there a true real plan, a strategy, to get more Nova Scotia beef? I can tell you the farmers are willing to engage in growing more beef, but we don't seem to be able to market it, we don't seem to be able to get it in our plants for slaughter and on to the Nova Scotia market. So is that part of the strategy that we're moving forward with?
MR. CHISHOLM: I believe it's part of the strategy. I'm told too that our institutions, we believe now that 50 per cent of the beef that we have in our institutions is at least of Atlantic origin. Is that enough? Probably not. We do have a ways to go. We know what you're saying; we certainly heard it before. I don't know what the capacity in the province is right now, we couldn't probably supply Sobeys or Superstore with the amount of beef, pork, or chicken that they go through in the run of a week. The capacity, does it need to grow? Well hopefully, the marketplace, I guess, will dictate how much the market will grow.
But it's an issue that we're concerned about. We hear you and hopefully, working with the industry, our government can expand, I guess is what we'd have to do, greatly, to accommodate what you're saying. We're hoping that it will grow. It is our commitment to work with the industry to see that the industry does grow. We'll also be working with the public sector buying groups in the province, and the beef processors, distributors too, to ensure as much local beef as we can possibly get is being used in municipal, schools, and health care institutions. Like we said before, we feel right now that about 50 per cent of the beef that's being supplied to our institutions is at least Atlantic-grown. We're working on it, but there's more to be done. We know that and we'll continue to move forward on it.
MR. GLAVINE: Just a last couple of concluding questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have seven minutes.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you. One of the areas that government talked about, and as part of an election promise, was to do a consultation with farmers to develop this long-term
strategy for sustainable agriculture. How do you see that unfolding? How is that going to take place, because I certainly would have a recommendation in terms of the unmanaged sectors.
It was interesting during the hog rally that we had here in January, and one of the subsequent meetings was to have a number of representatives, in many cases it was the presidents or heads of associations, like Greg Webster for example, and about ten or twelve people spoke from different sectors that day, whether it was the horticultural, blueberry, and so forth, and it was amazing to hear the positive ideas that they had that I thought could be assets and assist to helping agriculture, and also what was perhaps even more enlightening was a number of these people where this is their constant daily intense look and how they were looking around the corner at changes that are already coming around the corner that will be trends.
I'm just wondering if the Department of Agriculture had looked at an advisory committee, of taking a representative of each of about fifteen to twenty sectors and use kind of as a sounding board, a couple times a year even, would be, I think, an opportunity to get some pretty sound information and advice. There does seem to be that disconnect sometimes between the farmer at the gate and the department.
MR. CHISHOLM: We have lots of discussion with the Federation of Agriculture. Frazer Hunter, I'm sure you know, is quite aggressive, I guess, in talking about pretty well everything you've talked about here. As well as others - I mean Frazer's not the only one, there are people in Pork Nova Scotia, Henry Visssers, and some more of them, Herman Berfelo, they all basically say the same thing. We have to work together - but I think this Competitiveness Transition project, that's aimed at helping the industry toward a greater profitability and self-sufficiency, and we have to make sure that we work with that committee and the consultant that we're going to have draft a report for us. As I said before, we expect that report to be ready towards the end of June, early July, and we will act on the recommendations and see what comes out of it.
But, like I said before, we have work to do and we'll continue to do that. (Interruption) Okay, yes, also along with that we do have an advisory committee that meets four times a year with the federation and in a few weeks time, I'm told, they'll be meeting again, and I'm sure that everything that you commented on here today will be discussed at that meeting.
MR. GLAVINE: One further question, just a small little point, I have met in recent months three or four people who have participated in the Youth Agricultural Leadership Forum, Atlantic, and we're the only province that doesn't give sponsorship to that, and I'm wondering if the minister would take a look at this. I think it's a very, very valuable endeavour and when I look at two or three of the people whom I know have gone to that, I'm
wondering if in fact there could be some support for that because it is that group that I feel are the ones who are going to help us in a strong leadership role.
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm told we do support the program. (Interruption) Yes, but on an individual basis we do. I'll commit to talk to staff and we will discuss it to see if there's any way we can enhance that, or leave it alone or whatever.
MR. GLAVINE: I felt it's something that, as a province, we should be supporting.
MR. CHISHOLM: I'm told too that there is a lot of support that goes through to the 4-H program, through leadership and that sort of thing, but we will talk about it to see what we can come up with. Like I said before when I talked to one of the previous members on our 4-H program, it's one of the programs that is near and dear. We will do everything we can for our 4-H groups and 4-H programs that are in the province.
MR. GLAVINE: I would like to thank the minister and the Department of Agriculture staff for supplying and supporting some of the questions that I asked today - so thank you very much.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you. We certainly understand the farming community and the problems down in your area. Thank you as well for the advice and the discussions we've had over the last while on different commodities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there going to be any more questions for Agriculture? No? Then we're going to move on to Fisheries and Aquaculture.
I was just wondering if you have a closing statement you would like to make, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I guess I just wanted to thank all the members for their participation and their questions. I think it was a good dialogue. I'm not sure I would look forward to it all the time, but anyway I think it was a good day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E1 stand?
Resolution E1 stands.
Resolution E41 - Resolved, that the business plan of Nova Scotia Harness Racing Incorporated be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E41 carry?
Resolution E41 is carried.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Chairman, with the indulgence of the committee I wonder, could I have a "Baker" break?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I was just going to say we should take a break so that people can do what needs to be done. We will recess for five minutes.
[4:21 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[4:28 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will reconvene the meeting and we will call the estimates of the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Resolution E10 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $5,773,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plan of the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time is 4:29 p.m. and we call on the minister to make his opening statements, please.
The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
HON. RONALD CHISHOLM: Thank you very much, again, Mr. Chairman. It is my pleasure to be here today to discuss with you the budget for the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. I have with me Paul LaFleche, my Deputy Minister; Weldon Myers, the Director of Finance; and our new Assistant Deputy Minister, Mr. Greg Roach, is sitting here beside me as well.
Our fishery is important to our economy, particularly in our coastal communities where we catch and process our product for home and the international marketplace. Our exports are projected to be close to or maybe even a little over $1 billion again this year; as well, our sport fishing industry continues to be a great success story for our province. I would like to table a document outlining our business plan commitments - this will give you more detail than I will be able to provide in my opening remarks, and it is right here, as well as the one for Agriculture.
The budget of 2007-08 has increased from previous years. This increase demonstrates our support of the industry as we have invested resources to support this continued success. We will continue to provide important programs and services; in fact, this year's budget will see services, program delivery, staff and operating abilities get a boost.
There will be an increase of $175,000 for our recreational fishery through the enhancement of the Margaree Salmon Hatchery - as many of you know, the Margaree River is nationally and internationally known, and this program will increase the salmon production in the area and assist in its management.
The department will also provide $50,000 toward a lobster quality research project. We all know how important the lobster fishery is to our province, and this science study is a real boost to its sustainability.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to reiterate that Nova Scotia's fishing industries are key to our provincial economy and very important to our rural and coastal communities. These sectors provide employment and career opportunities that enable Nova Scotians to work in traditional industries, train in Nova Scotia, and live in our coastal areas. The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture is an active partner and responsive leader in Nova Scotia's fishery. Thank you for your time and I look forward to any questions that the members may have.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Shelburne.
MR. STERLING BELLIVEAU: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, staff, my colleagues across the way, I appreciate the opportunity here and as I look around the particular table, I will let the staff member identify himself probably later on, but I have been working with some of your staff, Mr. Minister, for three decades now - so I am very proud of that - as a fisherman, representing different groups and at the municipal level. So I am very familiar with your department. I welcome the time here today and I do agree with you totally that the fishery is very important to our coastal communities.
It's interesting that in my leading question I want to point you toward the Budget Address that you identified in your introduction in that I can bring attention to Page 19, and I will quote from that particular third paragraph: "To enhance productivity and opportunities in the agriculture and fishery sectors, we are investing in more research. This year we will provide an additional $50,000 for the lobster research programs and $175,000 for salmon research at the Margaree River Hatchery."
Mr. Minister, if your memory serves you correctly, I just want to point you in another direction now, talking about enhancement of our fisheries. I had the pleasure of touring Scotian Halibut in Shelburne County with you a number of months back. One of the interesting scenarios - I will put this out there - is that the groundfish is going through a crisis situation now, and we are talking about codfish, the finfish, the moratorium and the present state of the groundfishery. One of the suggestions is that we know that Scotian Halibut hatchery in Shelburne County has raised halibut from the wild hatchery and the scenario I'm going to put to you is that we should be creating, or the provincial government should be creating, an enhancement project of basically taking juvenile halibut from that hatchery, releasing them, tagging them and collecting the information and the history on that.
My question is - in a long-winded approach - would that be something that your government would be interested in? I'm just looking at the numbers that are in that particular paragraph in the Budget Address and if we could introduce a tagging program for halibut and get some science and research information on that.
MR. CHISHOLM: Some of what you are talking about there is, I think, starting in the aquaculture industry. I guess the issue that you raise about the halibut facility down in Shelburne County, there would be a lot of discussion, I would believe, that would have to take place with the federal government. As you know, it is something to think about, something to move forward with the federal government. In order for us to release those halibut to the wild, they definitely would have to have approval of the federal government. That facility down there, the operators of that facility certainly have to be complimented - Brian Blanchard and his crew down there are doing a tremendous job of operating that facility.
Another guy that I would like to mention, who is associated with that facility, is Marcel Comeau of Comeau Seafoods in Meteghan. He has done a tremendous job of supporting that industry and he is to be commended because it did have its problems as it was growing. The last time I was talking to Mr. Comeau and Mr. Blanchard, they indicated to me that they now can see a light at the end of the tunnel. They are making some good contacts, some sales. So, anyway, that operation is looking pretty good as it stands. As to introducing them to the wild, there would have to be a lot of discussion take place with the federal government in order for that to happen.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Next I want to take you in another direction, one that some of your staff members will identify that I have been bringing this to the government's attention for a number of decades and that is dealing with the provincial loan board and access for capital for new entries. I just want to bring your attention to Bill No. 257, the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, and that was given Royal Assent dated December 8, 2005.
If I can just read a portion of this, it states in Section 38A(2): "The Board or a financial institution may accept a core fishing package as collateral for a loan from the Board or institution, respectively, to a first-time full-time fisher . . . Chapter 25 is further amended by adding immediately after Section 41 the following Section:
41A (1) The Minister shall conduct a review with independent advice and make a report of the options that are available and can be made available to first-time fishers to improve their access to loans or guarantees of loans by the Board.
(2) The report referred to in subsection (1) must be completed no later than July 1, 2006, and must be tabled by the Minister in the House of Assembly if the House is then sitting or, if the House is not then sitting, filed with the Clerk of the House."
I'm asking you, has that particular action been done? Has this review taken place and has this report been filed with the Clerk or is it tabled in the House?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, that hasn't been tabled. We have some work to do with the federal government, with DFO, to be able to do what that bill says. We have been working with the federal government on a number of issues, that one included. I guess I have to say it's a work in progress at this time. That package is supposed to have come forward from the federal government with the owner/operator package. That hasn't happened yet. We are hoping that sometime soon the federal government will bring forward their owner/operator policy and this will be part of it, that licences will be, at some point in time, able to be used for collateral or whatever, or for the Fisheries Loan Board. As I said, it's a work in progress and we continue to work with the federal government to get to where we want to be.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I don't want to get ahead of myself, but you lead me in the direction of the federal guys, and we will get there eventually here in the questioning.
I just want to point you back, Mr. Minister, to last summer. The Irish moss harvesters in Shelburne County - if you are familiar with these Irish moss harvesters, many of them, if not all of them, participate in the lobster fishery during the seasonal time frame. Usually when the summer months come around, this is a great opportunity for some of the people who work on the back of those boats to be engaged in a seasonal fishery, which is Irish moss. If not, they may make a choice of going out West - and we have lost a number to out-migration because of the lack of jobs in coastal communities.
But just on the theme of Irish moss, last summer there was a request to license Irish mossers in Shelburne and Queens Counties to have access to a farther district which is east of the Queens County line - I'm looking at Lunenburg, Chester, that area, and the fishermen, believe me, they know that that biomass is in there, and there has been a reluctance for the federal people to give them permission to do this.
One of the scenarios last year was to go in and have a survey done by some of the harvesters, and we successfully predicted that that survey was going to fail because it did not have enough Irish moss harvesters in there to participate. Three or four, or eight, would not go in there simply because of safety reasons, that you need at least 20 or 30 to have a safety conscience to go in to look at the area. The fishermen know that that biomass is there. The Irish moss is a seasonal industry - it's only two to three months in the best time of our summer, the best time to be around that particular area.
I just want to make note that we have different sectors of the fishing industry from the Gulf - and I'm making reference to the herring fleet - we have the tuna fleet from P.E.I. basically going down to southwestern Nova Scotia; we have the dragger fleet; and we have the scallop fleet that travels great distances to have access to the particular species that they're pursuing, and if I can just make this case that you have, what I just described earlier, all this power, all this technology, and they basically can go from the Gulf around P.E.I. and
Nova Scotia, and they can go down and go back and forth and the reverse happens, people in southwestern Nova Scotia travel to Cape Breton, but the point I'm trying to make here is that the lonely Irish moss harvester who has a skiff of 12 to 14 feet in length, their technology hasn't changed essentially since its beginning in the early 1940s, and there's a historical link to that particular area and they are denied access.
Now that has been very troubling to me, because who is going to stand up for these small individual harvesters. I just want to make a point that that is a very lucrative business right now and I think that the provincial government should take a leadership role and be banging on the desks in Ottawa for those people to have access - and I'll put that as a question, do you think that's something that your provincial government would look more favourably at doing this year?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I guess everything you've said, I've heard; I do know the issue very well. I know there have been a number of meetings. At one point in time I thought there was an agreement by - you know, there are two different associations there, there are two different areas, I guess, that are involved and I had thought that there was an agreement but I guess, like you said, it was only for eight harvesters to work from area 12 to 11.
So it's an issue that I know we've discussed with DFO. I certainly would like to see a resolve to that issue but, like I said, there are two different areas that are involved, there are two different organizations that are involved, and if somehow we could get both those organizations to agree to a harvesting and a management plan for that area 11 or 12 (Interruption) Yes, it's one or the other - if we could somehow get them to agree to a proper management plan and harvesting plan, I would be happy. We can certainly keep discussing it with DFO through the people we have in the department who monitor these things, work with both groups to try to bring them together, as well as DFO, to come up with an agreement, and we have to figure out how much harvesting can take place there, how much is there. So there are some things we have to do and, you're absolutely right, we'd like to see an Irish moss fishery that's viable, that's manageable, and sustainable.
Anyway, our people will continue to work with DFO, as well as with the two different areas, to try to come up with a solution to that issue.
MR. BELLIVEAU: If I could just take another direction. I feel these people here too don't have a voice - I want to bring that to your attention - the clam harvesters. A number of them, particularly in the tri-counties in southwestern Nova Scotia, feel they're isolated or nobody is speaking for them. I talk about the clam industry where there are contaminated areas, basically clam flats are closed due to contamination. Right now, the only way they can go in there is that they have to have authority or permission to sell to particular processors who can go in and cleanse these - "depuration" is the word I was looking for - depuration facilities.
This is not rocket science, this is only giving clams access to clean water for a period of time and the clams do the work. These are not rocket scientists; there's no great magic trick here; these companies are basically creating clean water. And to me, where I'm going to lead you is we're talking about the new Fisheries Act, and we're talking about giving processors access to buying contaminated shellfish for a large number of years, 10 to 15 years, and I'm saying that's going down the wrong path because these individuals know the resources out there and, to me, why we just simply can't have access to these cleansing areas for these independent harvesters and not to give a monopoly to two or three companies across Nova Scotia - I just want to hear your views on that.
MR. CHISHOLM: The whole issue of closed beaches, how the clams are harvested on those beaches, it's an issue that involves the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They are closed beaches and I think there's quite a bit more to it than just - I don't know all the details or how they're cleansed, but I do know it's a requirement of CFIA that clams that come off closed beaches have to go through a depuration facility - and there's quite a process to that, they tell me.
I do know of the issue that you're bringing forward. I do have a meeting tomorrow morning, I think 9:00 o'clock tomorrow morning, with some of those people who are involved in that issue around the Digby area. I do know there's a very real concern over food safety with those clam flats on beaches that are contaminated.
We have to be very careful and I think that's basically the reason why both the federal government as well as ourselves in the provincial Fisheries, that we monitor, we work with any company that has these depuration facilities. It's very concerning, if we get clams or any kind of food that's contaminated out into the marketplace we have problems. That's basically, I guess, the reason that both levels of government have decided to go that way.
Anyway, tomorrow morning I will, no doubt, hear from the people who are involved in that issue from down around the Digby area and I'll certainly let you know what transpires from that meeting.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Mr. Chairman, I would like to defer my time now to the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Cole Harbour.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Opposition, and the time is 4:51 p.m.
MR. CHISHOLM: There is a great lobster fishery in Eastern Passage.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: No, that's Mr. Deveaux .
MR. CHISHOLM: Oh, that's Mr. Deveaux. Okay, sorry about that.
MR. DEXTER: He's involved with another endeavour at this moment.
Actually my questions don't have to do with my particular riding association or riding area. It actually has to do with an area around where I grew up, which is in Port Mouton - I actually grew up in around Liverpool, but the first job I ever had in my life was in Port Mouton. I worked for a guy named Crosby MacLeod. Everybody in the area there knew him as "Bud" . Bud MacLeod ran MacLeod's Fisheries there in South West Port Mouton.
As you know - and I know that you are intimately aware of the situation that exists in Port Mouton Bay - there is an application before your department for the expansion of an existing fish farm that is there in the bay. Lest there be any doubt whatsoever, there is a unanimity of opinion in respect to that expansion among the local residents and among council that I would challenge anyone to find on very many issues. They simply feel left out of this process; they feel extraordinarily disappointed; they believe that there is an application going forward that will fundamentally alter their way of life, that potentially will damage the existing lobster fishery in that bay; and they don't believe that they are being heard by the department or by departmental officials.
I guess what I would like to have is for you to address that very question and, if you could, explain - and this is not just particular or peculiar to this group of people, but it is part of the bigger difficulties that governments are having with its citizenry which is that the citizens believe that government has become completely disconnected from the communities which it is supposed to serve and that those communities, on issues like this, have no mechanism for control. As you know, in addition to the citizens in and around Port Mouton Bay, the municipal council for the area has also stated their complete opposition to this proposal as well. So I would like to just hear you on that particular project - where the application is and what avenue the people of Port Mouton have to get through to the department with respect to their opposition to this project?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I guess over the last year since I have been the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I have heard a great deal about the expansion of the fish farm, the application for Aqua Fish Farms to expand in Port Mouton Bay. As I have stated many times, there are 10 different government agencies that review this application, and it is still in that process. There is Transport Canada, which deals with navigable waters, DFO, Environment - so overall there are 10.
The process, probably on a daily basis I get 10 to 15 e-mails or letters, and I respond to each and every one of them, to whoever writes them. I know the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage gets those. He responds and a lot of times he will get me to respond on his behalf; I know the Premier is getting numerous, numerous e-mails on this issue, and I guess most times we respond on his behalf.
Staff have met with the Queens County Council at least once that I know of; we have the member for Queens, and I have met with her on many occasions dealing with this issue;
and I've met with some of her constituents on this issue that she has brought to the Legislature. I do know the company has had a couple of open houses in that area and I do know as part of the process there will be an open house held by the department before any decisions are made.
It's a process that we have to go through, and I guess I had hoped that the community was not feeling left out of this process because we are doing everything we can to really meet their concerns. We know they have concerns, but I can assure you that no decision can be made without the concerns of the community being considered. Like I said, it's an issue that I know very well, and the member for Queens is concerned as well and she has relayed her concerns. I think just probably a week ago she was up in our department reviewing some of the monitoring systems that we have in place with that site. She hasn't indicated to me, or I'm not sure anybody in the department, that she has any major concerns with that.
I guess in defence of our aquaculture, I think there's great opportunity in this province for aquaculture. We do know probably 10 years ago maybe 10 per cent of the fish that we ate globally was aquaculture, today it's up well over 40 per cent, going to 50 per cent. It is an area where I think a lot of our coastal communities can grow, it will create jobs. I know even in the Port Mouton area one of the things that I hear is that is not going to create any economic development, but you know it will. I think there are five jobs there now and the expansion would hire another four to five people, and then the spinoff jobs with that.
I was down in Shelburne County not very long ago - and Cooke Aquaculture in Shelburne is doing a great job of farmed fish down in that area. While I was in their office there was a young guy, probably 22 or 23 years old, came into their office with his resumé and his application, looking for work.
Having said all of that, I wish sometimes we could grow salmon down in Guysborough County because I'm sure we could find lots of places down there where people would be happy to have a finfish farm that would employ some people and create some spinoff jobs as well. But, like I said, the concerns of the community will be taken into consideration when decisions are made.
MR. DEXTER: What you've underlined are exactly some of the points that I think you should understand. The reason why there is concern, and continues to be great concern, is because they have made their concern known over and over and over again and what they don't understand is why it is that the process continues. They have said over and over again that this is not something the community wants.
And I want to draw a distinction between a particular project and the industry as a whole because people in Port Mouton are not saying that they are opposed to aquaculture, they are not saying that the industry doesn't have an appropriate place, and they have made
peace, if there was ever any upset, they have accepted the farm that's there already. They're not asking that that be removed, they're just saying that the expansion, or the size of the expansion, is such that it has real liabilities associated with it that they're not prepared to accept and, in part, what would be better for the aquaculture industry would be if they knew right at the beginning which areas of the province they were going to be able to set up in. There needs to be a coastal management plan that says some areas will be available for development and some areas will not - the same way that we have development plans anywhere else.
So that is the real concern that the people have. They believe they are not being heard because they have put forward their opinion on numerous accounts and the process rolls on, and that's it.
MR. CHISHOLM: The way the process is set up right now, anyone who wants to become an aquaculturalist in the Province of Nova Scotia can make application, pay a fee and then the network of agencies do their thing. The application is processed - I mean I'm not sure that I can stop it right in the middle. I guess I probably could say well, you know - I'm not even sure I can say that, but there is the process, the policy, and the process is in place and all the network agencies - we've made it quite clear to people that have written to us, have called us, as to the process.
Like I said, 10 different agencies review it before it gets to me. I don't even know right now where it stands, and I guess I kind of deliberately stay out of it because once all the information is compiled, the data is in place, the science is in place, the environmental assessments are in place, then I will take it and I will review it and make a decision - and I can assure you the concerns of the community will be taken into consideration when I make the decision.
We've had lots of concerns, but I think the responses that have been given to the community, the people who have written me, the people who have called me, the people I have talked to about this issue, and the member for Queens - you know they have a group down there they call themselves the Friends of Port Mouton and I totally agree with them, good for them, but we're not the enemies of Port Mouton here, I can assure you - we're not going to go in there and put a fish farm on a site that's going to be an environmental hazard to the community, we're not going to put a fish farm in there that's going to be a navigational hazard to the fishermen or any boats that want to come in there. So everything is considered and everything will be considered.
MR. DEXTER: This is a matter of community control and the point they are trying to get across is that they feel that the decision with respect to what is going to impact on their community should not be imposed upon them by outside agencies, that the community itself should have control over what happens to it - and that is the crux of what they're trying to get across to their provincial government.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, like I said, we totally understand. We're not the enemies of Port Mouton. As I said earlier, there are tremendous benefits that I see, and I think other people will agree with me, that there is real opportunity in aquaculture in this province. I mean we have 7,500 kilometres of coastline in the Province of Nova Scotia, a lot of good bays, a lot of good harbours that are just ideal - and you know, honestly, Port Mouton is one of those, it's an ideal location for fish farming.
There are lots of good benefits, as I see it, to fish farming. I met with a fish company today, a fish processor from Port Mouton, this morning, who at times is struggling to keep his fish plant operating. Maybe if the capacity is there with finfish farming in Port Mouton there's an opportunity to process the fish that is farmed on that location. So, you know, there is opportunity. I didn't approve this or anything today, I can assure you, but I can assure you the concerns of the community will be taken into consideration when the decision is made.
I mean this application has been going on since 2002 I think, or 2001, in order to get a fish farm or an aquaculture site in the Province of Nova Scotia. You know you can go to New Brunswick and drop your line in the water, you can go to Prince Edward Island - the assessment process that we have in Nova Scotia compared to other provinces, I mean I don't know why anybody would come here to want to do it anyway, it takes you so long to get through the process, to get an answer, and it costs you money, it costs you a lot of money.
So do I support aquaculture? Definitely, yes, and I see great opportunities for the province here, too, for its coastal communities. I hear people from the Opposition, I can hear people from my own Party, complaining about the out-migration of our people - in Guysborough County, I think 17 per cent over the last 10 years, or whatever it was, we're down in population, and other counties are the same thing, so 10 jobs in a small community in Guysborough County is 100 jobs in Halifax here, I can assure you. So there are, I believe, lots of things to consider but, like I said, the concerns of the people of Port Mouton will be taken into consideration before the decision is made.
MR. DEXTER: Thank you, and just for the record I'm going to reiterate this, because I think it's important to have it on whatever record that we make out of this - there's nobody suggesting that the aquaculture industry isn't a valuable one for the province, that there isn't great opportunity there. We all agree with that, and certainly my caucus agrees that there are great opportunities in that industry, but what we want to ensure is that when communities - and it wouldn't really matter if it was, I mean my colleague, the member for Digby-Annapolis, has the same problem in Digby, only not with an aquaculture facility, he has a problem with a quarry, and this is part of, and I'm sure you understand this, this is a democratic deficit if there ever was one - when people feel they do not have control over their community, they feel as if they are being abandoned by the process and that's what I'm trying to get you to understand.
It's not a problem with the industry itself; it is a problem with the way in which the government is responding to the issue that is before the community. So I just wanted to make that point.
I'm going to ask one last question which you may find odd and it's very tangential but I'm going to ask it anyway. Through the course of your ministerial duties, did you have occasion to attend the Winter Games?
MR. CHISHOLM: The Winter Games?
MR. DEXTER: Yes, just past.
MR. CHISHOLM: No, no.
MR. DEXTER: That's the only question I have. Thank you.
MR. CHISHOLM: No, but I can say four years ago, when it was in New Brunswick, in Bathurst, I did attend and it was a great experience. I was there representing the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage at the time and I'm telling you it was a great experience - all those young people walking out in front from Nova Scotia, waving the flag, it was great. I would have liked to have gone to the Yukon.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East, and the time is 5:11 p.m.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, I'm not going to take very much time - the member for Shelburne is the critic and certainly has all kinds of information on policy and questions and so on. I just want to discuss very, very briefly one situation of positive news in relationship to Pictou East and, Mr. Minister, you and I have had a brief discussion in relationship to this.
Ocean Choice, which has a plant that has not been operating, in Lismore, is looking at taking back on 50 displaced workers; they're currently advertising for those workers. Yesterday, I put to the Minister of Economic Development the situation involving a budget matter of reducing from 50 to 25 the numbers of people needed to qualify for the payroll subsidy program. I was delighted to hear that the minister indicated that if there were, in fact, enough seasonal workers, we are talking five months, 50 people for five months, which would not in fact qualify, but with a little bit more time and a combination of a little bit more time and just three or four more workers, we end up qualifying. So I just want to state that I hope that the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture will do everything possible to bring about this payroll assistance.
Having said that, I hope that there are staff members who will be encouraging Blaine Sullivan and Colin MacDonald, and others involved in this project, George Wright who will
be managing the operation. This is really, really good news for that area. There is a line going to be moved in there and it is a species that has never been processed in Lismore before. All the ducks seem to be lining up very, very nicely in relationship to this, so it's nice to have some good news.
Having said that, I know that you will give me the assurances that you will do everything possible to bring that about, because that's so important to Pictou East. The Minister of Economic Development talked about five or 10 jobs and the importance of those five or 10 jobs to any rural constituency, and when we have 50 jobs on the verge of coming back to a community that has been without those jobs, it's really super important to Lismore and surrounding areas.
The interesting thing is, Mr. Minister, which you will appreciate, there are a number of people in Guysborough County who have come out to the initial recruitment sessions that have taken place, and there is a concern with getting people who are experienced because with the plant having been closed and out-migration and people aging, we have had a bit of a problem in getting the experienced people, so I think it can be a spinoff to your constituency as well.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you very much for that but, you know, I was pleased too when the minister and the government, as far as the tax credits go with NSBI, they've gone now from 50 down to 25 - I would really like to see it at 10, but 25 is better than it was at 50. Companies can come in now and they're going to employ 25 people and we'll be able to take advantage of the tax credits that are available.
Your point with the people from my area - I do know that there are a number of people from the Canso area, as you would know well, who worked in the fish processing for a lot of years are going to places like Prince Edward Island, and they know Lismore is certainly a lot closer to Canso, where they live, than Prince Edward Island.
Greg and I did a tour of the province over the last year, and one of the biggest issues I saw down around eastern Nova Scotia was the processing sector and where we are with it in eastern Nova Scotia. With the exception of some crab processing in Louisbourg, some in Cheticamp, a little bit in Canso, Aulds Cove, a few more places, our processing is not the greatest in that part of the province. Down the South Shore it seems to be the smaller plants are doing reasonably well, doing quite well, a lot of them. There are a few that had their struggles, I guess as any other company would have. But we are doing a processing industry study, and it's being done right now by Michael Gardner from Gardner Pinfold. I'm looking forward to it - they're doing the tour around the province to get the data and the information we may need to see what we can do to help the processing sector.
I know there are a lot of people who did work in the groundfishery - and they're hurting and we are as well - trying to maybe get the federal government to take a more active part as far as older worker adjustment programs, or whatever you want to call them, because we do have people who are, I guess, my age and your age and that's all they've done all their lives and right now, if not for a little bit of unemployment, they're in other places that we don't really want them either - you know, in the Community Services area.
Anyway, it's a concern for us and the processing part of it, I wish them well in Lismore and if there's anything I can do, or the people in our department can do, to help that out with NSBI, with Economic Development, we're only too glad to do that.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Shelburne. The time is 5:19 p.m. and the time will elapse at 5:32 p.m.
MR. STERLING BELLIVEAU: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, I'm going to ask my question first and I'm going to have a preamble to it, so I'm preparing you.
Mr. Minister, I think if you could just briefly go back and recap what I asked, the questions earlier, and my question that I'm going to end with is that I think that you, under your leadership, and your government should take an all-Party delegation to Ottawa to address the issues I'm trying to point out here today. I'll just quickly recap because they are serious issues and I think they can enhance and improve our community, particularly the halibut research tagging program, the loan board issue, the Irish moss issue, and we never had the opportunity to talk about EI hours, why one particular region, same resource, needs 560 hours to qualify where another region across Nova Scotia, same resource, only needs 420 hours.
One of the main issues why we need to go to Ottawa to address some of these is something that is in front of our coastal communities now, and I think we all know what I'm going to say in the next few words here is the new Fisheries Act, Bill No. C-45. I can draw your attention immediately to one clause that has a lot of people concerned across Nova Scotia - in fact across Canada.
I'm going to quickly recap and point out and I'll quote from the new Fisheries Act, Section 30(1), and it states: "A licence confers privileges and not any right of property, and may not be transferred." That is in the new Fisheries Act and, in fairness to the federal minister, this has created a lot of concern throughout our coastal communities. We all, I think, have encouraged fishermen and stakeholders to read this new Fisheries Act.
In clarification, the federal minister has sent out to his regional departments, and our MP, Mr. Gerald Keddy, who is a Fisheries Standing Committee member, has issued a press
release, a newsletter, and I'm going to quote from that - and both the minister's clarification and Mr. Keddy's news release basically say the same thing, but I'm quoting from Mr. Keddy's newsletter:
Under Bill C-45, licensing regulations will continue to authorize 'a request for transfer'. This involves the relinquishment of an existing licence and the issuance of a new licence to another fisher recommended by the licence-holder. This request for transfer is what exists in the present Act and will continue in the new Act.
To me, that is clear, that is the present policy, but a lot of fishermen are reading what I quoted earlier in the present Act and, Mr. Minister, with all due respect, I think that we all should go as an all-Party delegation, and that's one quick fix and we can comfort a lot of people, across Canada in fact.
I'll just take you back - in February of this year, I attended an Eastern Fishermen's Federation meeting. There were senior DFO officials there and I was in just to observe what was taking place, and we went through the different paragraphs and some of the things that fishermen were pointing out that they had concerns about, the tribunals, this particular clause, and I'm quoting this individual. The quote from him, the senior official at this particular meeting, was: "I am not comfortable with some of the wording." And this was a senior official who was there to interpret, and I mean there's evidence right there that one is contradicting the other, and to me I guess the question I'm asking is why would they continue to put that clause in there where it says you cannot transfer when their policy is giving a different direction? To me that's a simplistic question, and you just go and ask the minister to get that one paragraph out of there and you actually comfort a lot of people across Nova Scotia.
It is interesting, too, because the only sitting MP in Ottawa who has a commercial fisheries background is John Cummins. I stand to be corrected, but I think my information points that is the only individual, John Cummins, and I'll read to you from the Web site of John Turner - I apologize, from Garth Turner, who is a sitting MP, an Independent MP. I'll read to you just what he says there, and I quote from Garth Turner's Web site:
John Cummins was a commercial fisherman before being elected to Parliament for the Delta area of southern BC more than a decade ago...
But yesterday John discovered - after years and years of serving Stephen Harper - that if you disagree with the man, you're going to be thrown overboard. John learned what I also came to know, and that is Mr. Harper could care less what constituents think and MPs who try to put voters first will end up at the bottom of the lake.
Cummins, despite his expertise and experience, was thrown off the all-party House of Commons fisheries committee yesterday because he does not support the Harper Administration's policy . . .
But instead of having that voice legitimately raised, Mr. Harper is moving to silence it. Remove it. Conservative whip Jay Hill, said the government had no choice. Dig this quote: 'We need to have all of our committee members solidly on side with the government's agenda.'
And, dear voters, so much for what an MP does in Ottawa. Even on an all-party committee where MPs are supposed to be acting as independent agents.
And this begs the question: If John Cummins, fishery expert, is thrown off the fishery committee because he disagrees with the government's fishery policy, who will represent the fishers in his area, or the rest of the country?
The people running the government right now are toying with democracy, pushing the limits to see how far they can go, and how much MPs can be bruised and bullied into submission. Thank goodness for guys like John Cummins, as few and far between as they may be amid Conservative ranks.
That was taken off the Garth Turner Web site.
What I am saying here is there is a lot of mistrust. A fisherman called me up just as I took my trip to Halifax and he says, excuse me, Mr. Belliveau, but I do not trust politicians - there is the wording there, but I think we can put this political partisanship aside and go as an all-Party delegation and address some of the issues that I raise here today - especially this particular loan board issue in the new Fisheries Act - and get some clarification. And I'll put that out as a question, and hopefully my colleague from Digby will agree with me on that and he may address it in his time.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, thank you very much for that. I don't want to get into any debate or any discussion as to what the Prime Minister has done to one of his members or former members - I would just as soon leave that alone. But I do share the concerns that you have raised. I've talked to quite a number of fishermen as well over the last little while, and I know my staff have contacted associations as well as individual fishermen when they're talking about whatever issue. I think most agree that we do need a new Fisheries Act. As you fellows know, the present one is, I think, 139 years old, so it is out of date and there have to be some changes made to it. We all agree to that.
Are there some concerns out there in the fishing community with the fishermen and with the processors, with others? Yes, there are. And I think that you are absolutely right, maybe a trip to Ottawa is in order. I noticed the member had quite a long list there. What we've been doing the last week or so is staff have been trying to get a meeting in Ottawa with
the federal Fisheries Minister to deal with the Fisheries Act. We haven't got a date for that yet, I'm told, but I would assume it will be very soon - I hope it will be very soon, and it is my intention that the member for Shelburne and the member for Digby will be part of that delegation when we go there.
Some of the other concerns that the member for Shelburne has raised are all very legitimate concerns, but I think when we make this trip to Ottawa we should make the Fisheries Act our priority. I think some of the issues that you raise, probably even meeting with some of our local fisheries people with DFO would maybe be in order - Faith Scattolon, or somebody - to talk about some of those other issues. But as far as the Fisheries Act, I think you are absolutely right. I made that commitment before, I confirm that commitment today, and as soon as we can make it happen we will be there.
Now if it happens while the House is sitting, it is probably just going to be a trip where we leave in the morning and come back that night, with the support of our House Leaders. So I guess budget votes and that sort of thing will come into play, but I would hope that we can get that very soon, and get our day and get up there.
MR. BELLIVEAU: If I could just have one minute, quickly I just wanted to make note that there are environmental groups across Canada who are opposed to this particular bill in this present state. There are 29 groups that have been identified and there is a petition that is being circulated on the East Coast and the West Coast, of Canada, as we speak. So I think we raised a lot of concerns and I identify that one clause as a comfort zone for a lot of people. Thank you.
MR. CHISHOLM: I would suggest that when we do go to Ottawa, our focus of our trip to Ottawa is the Fisheries Act and to get clarification and discussion on that. I hope you both agree to that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The time has expired so we will now move on to the member for Digby-Annapolis. The time is 5:32 p.m.
MR. CHISHOLM: I ask the member for Digby-Annapolis for a "Baker" break, if I may.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll recess for a few minutes..
[5:32 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[5:35 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I'm pleased to be here today to speak on the fishery. I want to start where my colleague, the member for Shelburne ended. I would like to touch on that Fisheries Act just for a little bit. For one reason, too - I know it's provincial and this is federal, but in this document, this new federal Fisheries Act, it says that the provinces of this country, and territories, are going to have more power. I can't quite read out how this power is going to be, but some way there's going to be more power.
And I would like to also point out that what can't be figured out here - a new Act makes it clear that a licence reflects a privilege to fish which does not convey any property rights to the licence holder or anyone else. Furthermore, it confirms that a licence is the property of the Crown and not transferable. Then it says the minister no longer issues fishing licences. Provision in the new Act authorizes the minister to designate individuals or classes of individuals to issue licences for fishing or other activities involving fish or marine plants, as required for the purpose of the Act.
Now if I read that to you, could you tell me who these individuals are or who these classes of individuals are? It also says a new Act includes a provision stating that the minister may establish policies and regulations for the issuance of licences, including eligibility criteria. What the hell is the criteria? There's nothing in there about criteria. So like the member for Shelburne said, I mean we need this spelled out, we need this in layman's terms so that people can understand this. I don't know if anybody in this room can understand what this is saying. There is some good stuff in this Act, some real good stuff about bringing groups together and working with groups and I believe the province may have quite a little authority in that.
I just want to read a letter - this will give you an idea of where some fishermen are coming from and how they feel. It is from the Vice-President of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association:
Hello Junior, I'm getting tired. - that is how he starts it - It has been eleven long years as vice- president of our association. The issues we faced in the fishery was led by large corporate agendas and internationals' interests. From day one we protested the agenda, and yet was told take it or leave it. To get agreements or make changes, you would have to be God Himself. In spite of examples we have tried to set by example in our communities, we are losing the battle anyway. Are we wasting our time? At the age of 51 years old, I'm sure you understand my question.
We know that the crisis in the fishery didn't just happen. We understood, from the beginning, the Kirby report of the '80s, of when we would be done. I don't prescribe to the scenario that it is easier to manage the fisheries in a few hands; it's easier when we have a show of leadership that respects the people and the resources of this nation. When officials made inshore boats
poor it provided companies the tools to buy them up in order to stack lobster licences. All this took place in order to be recognized as a real fisherman, without us understanding at the time what it meant or what it was all about.
That's just some of this letter, and they're repeating the same thing to me today about this new Act. The same thing is being said as what this man is saying and what was said 11 years ago when we all sat around the tables in Dartmouth and the corporate agenda was on that table. We've seen what has happened from that day on to this one. So there is fear - big fear - out there in the coastal communities especially, because they cannot understand this document. Who meets the criteria? I'm being asked that - I say I don't know, I don't know what the criteria is to be a fisherman.
So getting back to giving the province more authority in this Act, and I think that could be a good thing - I think we always said, as fishermen, it would be nice to have more authority in this province, to be able to deal with some of the issues that come into play - so I want to ask a question. One question is the budget of Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture versus the budget of New Brunswick and P.E.I. they have double the budget we do in helping such things as training. In this new document, it is saying - which I think is good - that they will work with groups of people. Now I'm taking that, and I'm not sure, but I'm taking that as if we form good, solid groups, have a good president, have a good vice-president, secretary, the works, that the federal government may deal with that group.
We have people around this coast who don't know how to run a meeting, in the fishing industry. We have people around the community - and I'm not saying they're stupid - they have just never had any training in this matter. We're out there trying to take our wharves over. We lost a wharf in Digby, Nova Scotia, because we weren't sure, there weren't people enough in that community to come together to form a group and take that wharf over. I think that was one of the problems, and it's all around the coast. You go around the coast and fishermen are so independent, they don't really know how to work together.
So my question is, with New Brunswick and P.E.I., with half the fishery we have, they put double the money into training people for fishing matters and running their communities, is that something that the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture could look into to make sure that people in the coastal communities have proper training to run meetings and to run fisheries, so they could deal with federal counterparts and deal with taking over their wharves, and all these other things that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is laying down on them - is that something that could happen, is that possible?
MR. CHISHOLM: I guess I do know that a lot of the training that is provided to fishermen, maybe not so much how to run meetings and that sort of thing, the training of fishermen would go through our community college system, through the School of Fisheries, and that would be in the budget of the Department of Education. The community colleges,
as far as the School of Fisheries, that sort of thing, as far as training fishermen, different courses might be available through those programs.
As far as running meetings, people who need training in that, I'm not quite sure. I do know there are some training programs, in my area at least, that come through the Regional Development Authority, put on at different times, some sort of two- or three-night training programs, different issues like that. I don't know, there are some things I think we do within our budget that allows for training. Could there be more? Probably.
The member mentioned our budget, I think we have increased our budget this year a fair amount - it's better than it was last year and I think a lot of good things have come out of it. It allows us to put more people in place in our office. We now have an Associate Deputy Minister, Mr. Roach, who is here beside me, who has a long history in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and has worked all his life in fisheries. So it allows funding to operate the minister's office.
We have allowed more for lobster science this year - we did $50,000 last year and we increased that by $50,000, so it's now $100,000 for lobster science. That is a tremendous program, and basically initiated by the fishing community on the South Shore, Ashton Spinney and Denny Morrow, these people who are involved in the lobster fishery, and others, and do the science down there - I guess maybe most of their work was dealing with the soft-shell lobster, the problem that we had on the South Shore for the last few years. They're working on that, and the information that they're gathering is tremendously important for the lobster industry, as well as to folks in our department, to try and find out what is happening with the lobster. And there's more - in my community of Guysborough, the Guysborough inshore fishermen are doing work on lobster larvae, I guess it is, and so we help them fund that and we do have $50,000 more to be able to contribute to those programs this year.
Another area, the salmon - I don't imagine you're too interested in what's happening in the Margaree, but I think that's a very good project for the province to take over. I guess DFO operated that, or the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture operated that facility in Margaree at one point in time and got out of it probably about nine or 10 years ago, and the community came together, took it over, managed it, and did a tremendous job of managing that fish hatchery there, the salmon hatchery - it's basically salmon that come out of the Margaree River. They've restocked it over the years and did a tremendous job, and this is a small community group, you know, and as far as our department, I know in the last couple of years at least, our department was allowing $50,000 a year to help them with the work that they were doing there with that hatchery.
I have met with them a couple of times. I was very impressed with the work they did and how they have managed that facility, so in consultation with my Cabinet colleagues we
were able to find money to be able to take over and operate that facility in Margaree. I think it was time. The community, the people who were managing it, I know it seemed like they were getting tired, they put a tremendous amount of work into it and fundraising, you know, having to raise money every year, and there's only so much you can get out of a community.
This salmon hatchery down in Margaree will just enhance our hatchery program right across the province. We have a great one in Antigonish County, in Frasers Mills. We have another great one down in Queens County that's operated by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. So our budget maybe is not as great and as big as some other provinces, but I think we do well. We manage it well and we get a lot of things done, I feel.
Over the last year I've talked with a lot of the industry from one end of the province to the other. T he processing study that we're doing now is basically coming out of our budget. We have marketing people in our department working on the marketing side of our department (Interruption) That's right. I guess the marketing side of our budget, as well as our compliance side of our budget, basically now comes out of the budget of the Department of Agriculture, which doesn't show in ours.
So that's one area of the department when they made the split, or the two departments when they made the split, that stayed together because it worked, it is working and working well - the marketing and the compliance. So, you know, we have fish representatives that we still have on staff who are working in the communities all the time. Every area has one, but they have their region that they service and I think they do a great job of that. I know the guy in my area, Gordon Greencorn, he goes from Musquodoboit Harbour through to Canso - he has a large territory, but I think with the money that we have in our budget and the staff that we have, we do quite a good job working with the industry.
Like you said, it's an industry that's worth about $1 billion a year to this province. I think our lobster alone is somewhere around $400 million in export sales that we have on a yearly basis. Last year in part of my riding, I guess just in the Guysborough side of my riding, the lobster industry generated $45 million in sales, that was the landed value of the lobster just in Guysborough County last year.
So, you know, we can always use more money and we can always use more programs - every department. When you look at the whole scheme of things, when you have health care probably taking 45 to 48 per cent of our total provincial budget, Education is way up there, and Community Services is the other big one, a tremendous amount of our tax dollars goes to those three departments. I see my colleague, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage going out there, and I'm sure he would love to have some more money to be available for his budget, but you know we work within our means. It's against the law to not balance our budget, so we have what we have.
I think we do good work. We do a good job with the money that we have. I think overall in the Province of Nova Scotia that our fishing industry is a vibrant industry. It's a
great industry, great people in it, hard-working people, and I'll tell you I had a pretty good year last year working with the them, with the department and the staff and the people in the industry. I enjoyed it greatly.
MR. THERIAULT: That was a long answer for not getting one. (Laughter) Speaking of marketing - and we do need more money, we certainly do, this province could stand a lot more money for our education, for our health, for our fishery, for everything we could use more money - we've got a fishery here worth $1.4 billion in this province, and we've got a lot of unprocessed fish leaving this province; we've got one of the biggest lobster fisheries in the world in southwestern Nova Scotia, and for years they've been leaving the province to be canned in New Brunswick, et cetera, et cetera; and now we've got fish being caught and sent to China.
As the minister knows, we were in Boston here two weeks ago and the talk of the floor was over the past 10 years - 550 booths in that trade show, the Boston trade show - that 1 per cent was covered by China 10 years ago and this year it was between 10 and 15 per cent of China covering the show here. So that shows you what we're up against.
In Newfoundland and Labrador they have legislation that the fish cannot leave that province unless it's processed - I think there probably could be something going on in a court action there, where one big company has shipped fish out of there without being processed - has this province ever looked into legislating something like that, which possibly somehow we could look at maybe putting a third more value into that $1.4 billion that we do now?
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I hear what you're saying about Newfoundland and Labrador. I'm told that countervails are in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador for snow crab. The rest of the species we can - we are open and Newfoundland and Labrador is closed.
A couple of years ago I think there was an issue where a lot of our crab was going to Newfoundland and Labrador. I believe there is a part of the Act that says that if one province is doing something to the detriment of another province, that you can take action. I believe we have done that with Newfoundland and Labrador. It's an interprovincial trade agreement and, through that agreement, that clause was there and we enacted that clause and most of the crab that - well, it doesn't all stay in Nova Scotia, but there is none that goes to Newfoundland and Labrador because of that agreement. So that was one area.
I have done a tour of the province. I didn't get to every fish plant or every processing facility in the province, but I got to quite a number of them. I look at some of these areas, Pierce Fisheries is one, in Lockeport I believe it is, that is doing the vacuum, they put the lobsters in this big tank and they pressurize it and they just take the meat out. It just separates the meat from the shell, raw, and it's just amazing how they process it and they package it and all that sort of thing. They are doing a great job of that. That's one plant.
You look at Comeau Seafoods, down in Meteghan, and the herring. They process all the herring there and ship it out one way or another. Solomon Gundy, tank after tank. When I was there - Chris D'Entremont was with me - I was picking it right out of the tank. It was pretty salty, but it was good. So those are just a couple of the plants that are processing here in the province.
I know Clearwater, down in Arichat, have a major holding facility there for lobster and they do ship all over the world, whole lobster, but they have a facility there that I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of pounds, millions of pounds of lobster and they can hold them there for six or eight months. They have them in trays, they are individualized in trays, and there is water going through them all the time at a certain temperature. They sort of go dormant; they don't gain any weight and they don't lose any weight. But it is facilities such as that that we have going that are really doing a good job. They can provide their customers with lobster pretty well year- round because of that one facility. There are 15 people, maybe more, who are employed in that plant.
The one down in Lockeport, Pierce Fisheries, there are 70 or 100 people probably employed at different times in that plant - I'm not sure of the exact number. So you know some of our processing is doing quite well. I know when the crab is on, Aulds Cove, there is a small plant there that employs 50 to 70 people processing crab. Down in Louisbourg there are two different companies there that are processing crab, and most of it that is caught locally is processed there as well. Is it exactly where we want to be? Probably not. There is more we could probably do, more we would like to see.
With lobster, most of our lobster, or a lot of our lobster, is shipped out as you know. As I said, $400 million of our export in fisheries is lobster and most of that goes to the U.S., and most of the lobster that's shipped out is individual fishermen who sell to the buyers, the buyers have their markets, business agreements that they have all over the place. Can we do more? Probably. But I think with export sales in lobster of $400 million - not bad, not too shabby. It's pretty good for the economy of this province.
MR. THERIAULT: But we could do better.
MR. CHISHOLM: We could do better.
MR. THERIAULT: Especially in our groundfishery, that's for sure.
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, the groundfishery. And I think there are some other things, too. You look at Acadian Seaplant and the things they're doing. Maybe not really fish products, but seaweed - they have a site down in Charlesville, where they're growing it. It's just amazing to go in there and see from a little - I don't know what it is - Irish moss or
something, and then you go out and these tanks, or these raceways or whatever they call them, and there it is, seaweed. They're growing it on the land now, Junior.
MR. THERIAULT: That's a part of Acadian Seaplant, isn't it?
MR. CHISHOLM: It is so, yes.
MR. THERIAULT: Which is situated in Cornwallis.
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, and they have a drying facility, I think, there . . .
MR. THERIAULT: Rockweed.
MR. CHISHOLM: Rockweed, yes. Sometime soon after the House rises, it's my intention to go down there and visit that site. They've invited me down and I'm going to do that. If either one of you is in the area and you want to go, you're welcome to join us.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you. I want to touch on the owner/operator for a minute because the province, in this document too - I've read it two or three times and I'm just trying to put my own thoughts together out of what I'm reading in it - it's giving the province more power. So if this owner/operator, the scenario I'm seeing here is when I die my licence will die with me, but another one could be issued to my son, I think, if he fit whatever this criteria is. So there would be no money changing hands for licences. Maybe this is an answer to the owner/operator - I don't know - of stopping the financial transactions for licences. I'm not sure, I'm surmising this, but if my scenario is right, if I end up being right about this, what's going to happen to all the young men, in the last four or five years especially, who have paid $400,000, $500,000 and $600,000, for licences? Is this something that the feds may say - Nova Scotia, you take care of that one?
MR. CHISHOLM: That's something that the federal government, the DFO, the minister I guess, has said that's not going to happen. If this owner/operator issue had been resolved before the Fisheries Act came out, I think we might be in a little different situation, the federal government may be in a little different position with their Fisheries Act. A lot of the concerns I think I've heard have come back to this owner/operator thing and people are scared of not being able to transfer their licence to their son, their daughter, whatever. It's an area that we have to discuss, Junior, but they tell us that that's not going to change.(Interruption) Yes, they are going apparently to make it better, but I would like to see them come out with this quickly.
At the last federal- provincial meeting of Fisheries Ministers I attended, we asked them to move it along as quickly as possible. Greg and I met with the federal minister in Ottawa a few months back and made the request again, and he told us that it would be coming soon. Same as the Fisheries Act, at our meetings we pushed him to get this out. When you look at the federal Fisheries Act and how it played out - another complaint I've
heard, as well, is that there was no consultation. But the federal government as well as the provincial government, we're in, I guess, consultation with the fisheries and industry all the time.
DFO has numerous meetings, whether it's on quotas or the Fisheries Act, and I'm sure they've had different discussions with different associations or groups dealing with the Fisheries Act. But how it operates or how it comes into being is, you know, the government, or we'd be the same I guess, when we present a bill we introduce a bill in the House. That's what they did; that's first reading. In order to get the discussion and the debate going, you have to get it to second reading, and that's the process that they're trying to get going now.
The way I understand it, if it does get the second reading then it will get to the standing committee, which can either hear presentations in Ottawa or I understand there is the possibility that they can go out on the road to discuss the Fisheries Act, but in order to move it on and to get the discussion going, if the three of us here go to Ottawa to meet with the federal minister, we're going to probably get some clarification on some of the things that are in that Fisheries Act, but really it - it could be taken into consideration at some point in time, but if it doesn't get to second reading, it doesn't mean anything anyway. If it is hoisted by the Opposition and doesn't get to second reading, it'll probably die. In six months time we don't know what is going to take place here, but if it does get to second reading, does get to the standing committee, then we have an opportunity.
The three Maritime Fisheries Ministers - myself, Rick Doucet from New Brunswick and Jim Bagnall from P.E.I. - we meet every couple of months to discuss issues that are of common concern to us, to them, to the industry. One of the last things we discussed is the Fisheries Act and, when it does get to second reading and the standing committee, how are we going to do it - are we going to just go individually and make a presentation, or will we go as a group?
Basically we decided it would be a group, and we would consult with our industry. And I guess it would be my thought - and I haven't thought about it and I don't know if I discussed this with Greg or not, and he may not agree with me, but if we do get it to second reading, my thoughts were that we'd maybe convene a ministers' conference, like we do in the Fall, to discuss with the industry - and we have to do this fairly quickly, you know we're not going to get a lot of time probably to be able to do that. So that was one avenue that I had thought about that might work for us, so at least when we do go to the standing committee to do the presentation, I would do my thing as part of that group on behalf of Nova Scotia, Bagnall would do it on behalf of P.E.I., and so forth.
The key to this whole Fisheries Act, I believe, is to get it to second reading. That's where we can get the changes made, that's where we can have the discussion and I would assume at some point in time, if those discussions are not the way the industry and the provincial governments think it should be, I would imagine that there is some avenue where it can be voted down in the federal Commons, especially with a minority government. Right
now might be the best time to get this to second reading, get the discussions on it and get it before the federal government for a vote. You know what happens in a minority government, the opportunity might be there to - well, it will be there if it is not what the industry is looking for, not what the province is looking for.
With a majority government you can see whatever I did wouldn't matter, I mean it would just go to a vote and that would be it, the government could possibly put it through. I don't think they would do that - I think the industry would have their say, I believe that. But anyway, that's my thoughts on where it should go.
MR. THERIAULT: I'd like to touch on the clam beaches. I heard you say that you may be meeting tomorrow morning with the clam industry on this issue? I want to point out that it is more in the commercial industry - I believe I've got a letter that was cc'd to me from the recreational group in Clare, and they have great concerns about these provincial leases of ten years going to one certain company. I believe it is more than the commercial fishery - like I said, people in the community are concerned about this.
The feedback I've been getting from a lot of people, and they are asking me and I've asked this of Environment - why aren't we working towards cleaning up these beaches instead of fighting over who's going to get them with a depuration system? Let's put our energy into cleaning up the beaches. I think more people in the community are saying that than the clamming industry itself. In the clamming industry itself, one company wants to control those beaches and then you have the clamming industry on the other side, an association of them, that want to have access to those beaches, too - so it is kind of a three-way tug-of-war there right now that's going on. I don't know what the decision is going to be on that.
MR. CHISHOLM: Like I said before to the member who asked the question, the first concern is that it's a food safety issue for a lot of them. You know contaminated clams kill people, and it can happen. It has happened before and I would imagine - I hope it doesn't happen again, but it could. So that's the first concern and I think that's the major reason for both DFO and the province to try to get into this agreement.
Yes, I am meeting with a group of people tomorrow, They've asked for a meeting and I'm certainly going to hear them out and get all their concerns and we'll see where it takes us. We certainly support cleaning the beaches, the flats, that they can be used, that we do have good clams, that we have good clamming areas - and people have made their livelihoods over the years from these clam flats, but there is concern. You know I have back in my riding - to come back to my riding again - a small restaurant in Sheet Harbour, and if you want good clams and chips you go to the Sheet Harbour Motel and Restaurant in Sheet Harbour. They have excellent clams and chips.
Where does he get them? He goes to Digby. He makes a trip every two weeks, he gets X number of bottles of clams, or however he gets them, and brings them home. He has people come from a long way just for the Digby clams - they're great.
So we have to be very careful, and we have to manage the flats as well. We have to make sure that they remain sustainable, but the food safety issue, CFIA have concerns over that, DFO have concerns over it, so somehow we have to come up with the best plan to manage the flats, the food safety aspect of it, and go from there. We'll talk to the people tomorrow and, like I said, we'll take all their concerns into consideration and see where it takes us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the committee's awareness, there appears to be about ten minutes left for the four hours.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you, I didn't think I was that long. I want to touch on the seals of Atlantic Canada, on Nova Scotia's shores, especially, and I don't want to go too deep into it. I've heard some disappointing things from associations that are working to try to do something there. I know there were quite a few thousand more of the grey seal born this year. I won't talk about up in the Gulf so much, but the grey seal herd is certainly growing. They're moving down on the American shore now - they've never seen them down there before in their lives - clear to Cape Cod. I suppose that's what they have to do - to go look for food they'll spread out where they need to, to find food.
The environmentalists are certainly saying, save the seals, save the seals. But I want to repeat again what I said here last year and probably many times before, they watched this in Iceland, what happened to the seals as they populated. Mother Nature took care of that because anything that overpopulates in the wild will get a distemper and they'll all go to waste. I just want to record that again today - that will happen, that will happen in our seal population and what a sin, what a shame.
I don't want to go too much farther with it today. I was going to tell you another little story, but I'll steer clear of that. But I would like to know what the department knows about what is going on and whether - I believe DFO has the hammer there anyway, the same as everything else, and they seem to be pulling back from it, and I believe it has discouraged the grey seal harvest society - anyway, maybe you could fill us in a little bit on what you know.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I really don't have a lot more to report than we did last year. I know we do have a modest harvest in Nova Scotia - I think 10,000 seals is the quota. I guess the problem is getting them and getting where you need to be to be able to harvest those. I mean, it is a harvest that we certainly agree with. It doesn't matter where I go in the Province of Nova Scotia, especially in fishing communities, the seal issue keeps coming up
over and over again. You can't put out mackerel traps any more, your nets are all torn to pieces because of the seal population.
There's no doubt, there are a lot more today than there were five years ago and a lot more than there were ten years ago. It is of a concern to fishermen, and fishermen tell me that when they throw small lobsters back they know the seals are chasing them. It is a concern. We do have a small harvest, and the people involved in that harvest have a market for most of the seal. The way I understand it, they ship it offshore in containers. I think there's sort of an experimental harvest that they're into right now - or not right now, but they've been doing it, and so we'll see where that takes us.
I guess one of the issues that we have as far as seals go, as far as the people that do harvest them, is getting to the proper place, the right place, to be able to get them. There are only certain areas where they really congregate, Sable Island is one and Hay Island is another, and both of those areas are in protected areas.
There has been some discussion going on between the three departments - DNR, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Environment and Labour. We have staff people who have had a couple of meetings and so we'll see where it takes us. I don't think we're looking to go to Sable Island after them, but we do think that Hay Island, off Scatarie Island, off of Main-à-Dieu, that it would absolutely hurt nothing if we were to go on that small island which is just, I'm told, a very small island and a lot of seals congregate there, but anyway we're working towards that. It would be great at least to, you know, the 10,000 that we have quota for, and expand the market and work towards more marketing in trying to at least eliminate a little bit of the population. As it is now, it's massive, we know it is, and the fishermen will tell you, as you would know. So, anyway, that's where we are with the seals.
MR. THERIAULT: You talked about, and I know about this - it is hard to get at these animals; it's hard to be able to harvest them. Has the province looked at - well, first of all, I want to say I was going to tell you a little story, but I won't, but we trap mice when mice get in our homes. We've all set a trap, we all catch them. There's no trouble to catch them, and we all do it - there's not a person on this Earth who hasn't set a mousetrap for catching mice because you don't want them eating your crackers up. They would eat you out of house and home if you didn't bring them down. Has the province ever looked into building some sort of a seal trap, similar to a mousetrap only bigger - as big as this table or something - because I mean what a more humane way than we do it with little, cute mice - I mean this is humane, isn't it? Has the province ever looked into other ways of harvesting, catching these animals?
MR. CHISHOLM: No. I can honestly say we haven't considered any seal traps or anything of that nature. I guess I would say though, the Native population in the province do have a bit of a hunt that they use for themselves, and it's quite interesting in talking with some of the Native people who do harvest seals, they use them in their communities and that's a way of life for them. I recall, I guess a year ago, I was at a federal-provincial
ministers' meeting in Newfoundland and Labrador and a member of the Legislature in Nunavut was there - and hunting seals is just a way of life for them up there - and he was actually wearing a sealskin vest at the conference.
For some people it certainly is a way of life, but there are groups out there that certainly don't agree with the seal hunt and they're a group to be reckoned with. I certainly don't believe in going out and harvesting everything that we can find. I think it has to be managed and I think you've said that before, there has to be a management plan and a certain number of seals taken each year. I don't think there's anything wrong with that as long as we can find - and there are markets out there. Pretty well all the seal can be used. People will buy that product.
So hopefully there's some way between the federal government and the provincial governments that we can somehow all work together to come up with a good sustainable plan that's agreeable to everybody - the environmental groups, the fishermen, as well as the governments, because somehow we do have to come up with a plan to control the seals or our fishery will be in worse shape than it is right now.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I guess my time's up, is it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has elapsed. There is time for the minister, however, to make a comment.
MR. CHISHOLM: Okay, if I could. I look at the two critics, one for the Liberal Party as well as the member for Shelburne, and how good it has been over the last year working with those two individuals. Both of them are fishermen, very, very knowledgeable in the fishery and have been a great help to me over the last year as far as their information and help has been to me, as well as staff in the department. It has been, I think, a very good working relationship we've had and I look forward to that continuing over the next while. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E10 stand?
Resolution E10 stands.
We are adjourned.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 6:28 p.m.]