NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Department of Energy
Department of Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal
Sustainable Transportation Programs
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Public Accounts Committee
Mr. Allan MacMaster, Chairman
Mr. Iain Rankin, Vice-Chairman
Mr. Chuck Porter
Ms. Suzanne Lohnes-Croft
Mr. Brendan Maguire
Mr. Joachim Stroink
Mr. Tim Houston
Hon. David Wilson
Ms. Lenore Zann
[Mr. Terry Farrell replaced Mr. Brendan Maguire]
[Mr. Keith Irving replaced Mr. Iain Rankin]
Ms. Kim Langille
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Ms. Nicole Arsenault
Assistant Clerk, Office of the Speaker
Mr. Andrew Atherton
Acting Assistant Auditor General
Department of Energy
Mr. Murray Coolican, Deputy Minister
Ms. Nancy Rondeaux, Director, Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Transportation
Ms. Mana Wareham, Senior Analyst
Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
Mr. Troy Webb, Area Manager, Pictou
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Allan MacMaster
Mr. Iain Rankin
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning everyone. I call this meeting of the Public Accounts Committee to order. Today we have, as a topic for discussion, Sustainable Transportation Programs. We have with us the Departments of Energy, and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Let’s start with introductions, beginning with Mr. Farrell.
[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We will start with opening comments. Mr. Coolican, would you like to provide some opening comments?
MR. MURRAY COOLICAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department of Energy’s sustainable transportation program, Connect2, with you today. My colleagues have already been introduced.
I should mention that Mr. Webb is responsible for the coordination of the various partners involved in the Blue Route project, and he will be able to answer any questions you may have about Blue Route.
Sustainable transportation is an essential ingredient for healthy, vibrant communities. Our mobility choices impact our physical health, our pocketbooks, our natural environment, and our carbon footprint. The availability of multiple modes of transportation helps turn communities into places people want to live, work, and play.
Connect2 was established in 2014-15 to support short distance, utilitarian travel, via sustainable modes of transportation. The aim is to improve connectivity and access to key community assets. Connect2 is based on a vision that all trips under two kilometres to key rural and urban community destinations could be made using sustainable mode of transportation.
Connect2 projects give Nova Scotians an option besides jumping into their car. Bicycle commuting is now 2 per cent of the modal share in Nova Scotia, which is a doubling from the 2011 baseline year when it was 1 per cent. That’s a significant increase. This increase is obviously not entirely directly linked to the infrastructure projects themselves, however, the enabling projects we funded have supported some of the cultural shift around bicycle commuting. We’ve also supported the Share the Road campaign.
By supporting initiatives that make it easier for people to walk or bike to work, to school, to their local bank or grocery store, we are also supporting Nova Scotians in their efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Quantifying the exact amount of emission reductions depends on a number of variables, and work is underway in many jurisdictions to develop reliable emission factors. The key metric we are tracking is the modal shift, as mentioned earlier. Each single-occupancy vehicle that is taken off the road has a direct impact on emissions.
Transportation makes up a big part of our energy consumption and it’s about 26 per cent of our GHGs. Curbing emissions from transportation will be an increasingly important part of meeting our GHG reduction targets. Up until now we had been focused in large measure on GHGs from electricity manufacture and home heating and buildings. So it will be important as we go into the future to put more emphasis on transportation issues.
Developing a culture of bicycle commuting will be important to meet further reductions. That being said, let’s remember that Nova Scotia is the national leader in greenhouse gas reductions and, as I mentioned, a large part of that has been due to our efforts in the electricity sector.
We’ve already reduced our total emissions by almost 30 per cent from 2005 levels. So just remember that the national target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is 30 per cent by 2030. Nova Scotia has already reduced our emissions by almost 30 per cent from 2005, and it’s not 2030 yet - we have another 14 years to go.
In the last decade no other province has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions as much as we have. We have reduced emissions faster than all the other provinces. As I mentioned, we are the only province on track to exceed the 2030 targets.
Based on the actions we’ve already invested in, we are actually on course to reduce our GHG emissions by 43 per cent or more from 2005 levels by 2030 - no other province is expected to even come close.
Through Connect2 to 2015-16, the Department of Energy supported about 26 projects aimed at providing solutions to sustainable transportation, and invested approximately $545,000 from one end of the province to the other. Connect2 has a total annual budget of $600,000. Grants cover up to 50 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of $150,000 for infrastructure projects and $30,000 for enabling projects such as awareness campaigns.
Some representative examples include the New Ross School to New Ross Farm Connector. This connects the school with the New Ross Heritage Museum and Learning Complex - I should say the new New Ross Learning Complex - it was built as part of the New Ross Farm. The road crossing is safe and obvious for passing motorists. This was a real community effort to build that.
The Cole Harbour Bissett connector. It connects Cole Harbour Road with residential neighbourhoods, schools, and commercial facilities. This section was one of the remaining gaps connecting Cole Harbour Place with major open space resources and part of the Trans Canada Trail. The connector completes the active transportation trail through the community of Cole Harbour.
The Chain of Lakes Bridge Connector connects the Chain of Lakes Trail - sometimes known as COLT - to the bike lanes on St. Margarets Bay Road and surrounding neighborhoods that were separated by the water course. An active transportation counter has been installed for HRM’s Chain of Lakes Bridge project to count traffic for that piece of infrastructure, and the Department of Energy will have access to the data collection after it is completed.
Bridgewater’s Generation Active Park Connector connects the Glen Allan subdivision through the Generation Active Park to the Centennial Trail. It has also opened up a connection to the LaHave Street sports fields into Bridgewater’s business community and school district.
The Hero Trail Connector in Port Hawkesbury connects a playground, elementary school, residential subdivision, and commercial area. The path was also not suitable for biking and now provides a safe option to get to the playground - prior to this path the only way to access the playground was to bike on a four-lane highway that has limited shoulder areas.
Projects are selected through a non-partisan process. Members of the committee are drawn from several departments that have expertise in different areas of sustainable transportation. Projects are assessed based on focus, impact, evaluation plan, innovation, community engagement, and partnerships and capacity to deliver. Successful applicants are required to submit interim and final reports along with a financial report.
The projects funded through the Connect2 program have provided many benefits in communities throughout Nova Scotia. They have supported Nova Scotians in leading more active and sustainable lifestyles, and also in building broader awareness of road safety and the need to share the road. The Connect2 program funding has been a key facilitator in the development of active transportation infrastructure from one end of the province to the other. There are environmental, financial, economic, and demographic reasons to pursue more choice in transportation options for Nova Scotians.
I am now open to questions. It says here that I welcome your questions but we’ll see.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Webb, it’s not necessary but I’d like to give you a chance, representing the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, did you have any opening comments you wanted to provide? It’s not necessary but I’ll give you the opportunity.
MR. TROY WEBB: I would just want to offer that I am here to speak about the Blue Route. To inform those who may not have the background knowledge on it, it is a provincial cycling network that we’re establishing, that consists of on-road facilities, as well as trail facilities. We’re designing it such that it encompasses the entire province and links communities - tries to make that connection, while supporting active transportation in our province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We’ll move to Mr. Houston for 20 minutes.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: Thank you for the opening comments. How much of the energy consumed in the province goes towards the production of electricity, versus goes towards transportation - just in broad percentage terms? You mentioned transportation being 26 per cent of GHGs, would that be a . . .
MR. COOLICAN: Yes, roughly it’s about half, give or take.
MS. NANCY RONDEAUX: It depends on whether you are considering input energy or useful input energy but I would say it’s about half.
MR. HOUSTON: So half the energy consumed in the province goes towards electricity and half goes towards transportation. If we look back five years ago, would it have been the same?
MS. RONDEAUX: I would say roughly the same.
MR. HOUSTON: Okay, and if we look five years forward, where should we be? Is there a plan, I guess that’s the question. Is there a plan to get us anywhere?
MR. COOLICAN: Our focus has been on the GHG reductions and one of the strategies for doing that is spending on efficiency to reduce the electricity that is used, but also home heating oil that might be used to heat homes, so it’s hard to come up with a specific plan.
I would also add that one of the most important factors, in terms of transportation efficiency, is the design and construction of the vehicles themselves, which tend to be regulated at the federal level, in co-operation with the United States, so that we’re not in a position to predict the kind of efficiencies that are going to be created in the transportation sector that will have a significant impact on the use of energy.
MR. HOUSTON: I guess what I’m just trying to get my head around is - there has been a lot of focus by the department on the electricity side of it, but very little focus on the transportation side, so I was just trying to - like is that the next phase? I’m sure the Blue Route plays a part in that, but it’s not going to solve the biggest challenges we have. The biggest challenge we have is that people get in their car by themselves and drive somewhere, and that’s the biggest challenge. Deputy, how did you get down here this morning?
MR. COOLICAN: The application for Connect2 program from my house to the office didn’t get accepted, so I took my vehicle. (Laughter)
MR. HOUSTON: I guess where . . .
MR. COOLICAN: Let me just carry on a minute. I drive a Volt, so I drove using electricity. It’s not always that simple.
I should mention that one of the approaches that we’re looking at taking as we consider the next steps is to electrify - as we reduce the carbon content of our electricity - that we would move some of our transportation, and we would move some of our home heating to be electrified.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned the evolution of vehicles. I do want to talk about that, but the biggest challenge that we have in this province is in the rural areas where they don’t connect - 2 kilometres is not going to help you at all, trying to get to town to your doctor’s appointment or anything. So the big weakness we have, and I haven’t seen anything from the government to try to address this, is transportation in rural areas, buses and those types of things. I don’t know if there has been much attention given to that by the department at this stage.
Would you say that the department has looked at that? I guess the specific question I’d ask is, has the department looked at how much it would cost to develop bus routes across the province? I think it’s a couple of million bucks, but does the department have an estimate of how much it might cost to get some buses in rural areas? What is the department’s approach to that?
MR. COOLICAN: The question of support for transportation - whether it’s in the rural areas or the urban areas - does not rest with the Department of Energy. That would be primarily Municipal Affairs.
I think the honourable member is correct that there are significant issues for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal in both the urban areas and the rural areas. We don’t claim that the Connect2 program is going to solve all of those problems, but we do believe in certain communities where there are community assets that are close by, that by connecting those we can encourage people to use active transportation modes. It also improves the safety to do that, as well as the ease of . . .
MR. HOUSTON: I’m not saying there is no room for that program. There is definitely room for that program, but I guess what I’m trying to understand is, it’s not getting to the real issue. It’s window-dressing. So I can talk to Municipal Affairs about what they might be doing on buses and stuff, and how they can improve transportation in rural areas.
You mentioned driving in a Volt this morning. If you buy a Volt in Nova Scotia do you get a rebate? If you buy a Volt in other provinces you get a rebate. I don’t know how many options you had on yours, but my understanding of that market is a Volt could be a $40,000 or $50,000 vehicle, whereas in some provinces that same vehicle is $30,000, because of incentives from the government. Do we have such incentives in Nova Scotia?
MR. COOLICAN: We don’t have any incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles in Nova Scotia. There aren’t incentives in every province. I would say Quebec is probably the furthest ahead, and one of the reasons for that is their electricity system is primarily renewable at the moment.
I think for the Province of Nova Scotia to move strongly into electric vehicles at this stage, and to provide subsidies when we still have carbon content in our electricity system - it’s not as significant as it used to be, but it’s still there. I think there is probably still room to - I mean one of the things that you look at is where you can make the biggest bang for your buck in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. My view would be that given the carbon content in our electricity system, it wouldn’t be the first place to put funding.
MR. HOUSTON: If electricity is 50 per cent and transportation is 50 per cent, you can’t ignore that transportation 50 per cent, so . . .
MR. COOLICAN: No, the second, the electricity is 50 per cent; transportation is 26 per cent. You still have large industrial emitters and you have the heating of buildings when it is not done through electricity.
MR. HOUSTON: But the 26 per cent - this is why I wanted to kind of clarify this - I think the 26 per cent you referred to in the opening was greenhouse gas emissions and I was talking about the energy that we’re consuming, how much of that goes towards - is there a distinction there to you?
MR. COOLICAN: No, I thought I heard you say that it’s the other 50 per cent, so transportation is about 26 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. I think as a long-term strategy, as we decrease the carbon content of our electricity it will make more and more sense, and as the technology improves it will make more sense to do that.
I think at this point you see more and more electrification charging stations and when we look at what kinds of policies would encourage use of electric vehicles, whether a direct subsidy is the best way to go or not when we get to that stage, it’s not 100 per cent clear at this point, it may be better to put money into charging stations.
MR. HOUSTON: So there’s a place for electric vehicles, for sure. That place at the moment is more suited to metro areas than rural areas, but we have hybrid vehicles as well. What’s the plan around hybrid vehicles? Those would be very useful in rural areas, especially for fleets and stuff like that. Does the department have any incentives for the move to hybrid or any plans to come out with any incentives for a move to hybrid which would help rural areas?
MR. COOLICAN: Actually before I owned the Volt I owned a Prius, which is a hybrid, and actually the Volt is a hybrid. One of the reasons I bought the Volt as a hybrid rather than an all-electric car is that I do have a cabin on Sherbrooke Lake and I happen to be in a place where I have no electricity - I want to totally get away from work when I am away.
Given the range of a Volt, it’s 100 kilometres for me to get to my cabin and 200 kilometres if you take the round trip, which I usually like to do the round trip. The Volt has a range of - depending on the time of year - anywhere from about 45 to 65 kilometres, so I need the hybrid part of the Volt as backup.
I think you make a good point that the hybrid vehicles are important until the range is significantly increased, especially in rural areas. To answer your question, we don’t have a program to subsidize hybrid vehicles. I think that more and more, some of the hybrid vehicles are actually - if you live in a rural area and you drive a considerable distance, those vehicles will be more economical over the lifetime of the vehicles.
MR. HOUSTON: Yes, we’ve just got to get people to use them, and that’s the challenge.
I do want to talk about some of the community-based organizations that are providing transportation services around the province, and there are a number of them. They do great work, but one of the challenges they face is they can only cover certain geography; in other words, like Community Wheels in Chester, they may have a client who needs to get to an appointment but it’s just outside their catchment area so they can’t service that.
Is there any focus in the department on how to kind of bridge that gap that’s limiting use of some of these services - how can we provide a more seamless network? I’m sure you’re aware of the problem, can you offer any solutions today?
MS. RONDEAUX: We funded an enabling project which is called Go Maritimes. It’s an online tool that links up all the rural transportation authorities, so the community transportation options that people have. It allows you to enter in a location, say Bridgewater, and you want to get to Halifax. It gives you options connecting the different services that are available within those communities.
MR. COOLICAN: One of the things we did a number of years ago when we started work in this area is we pulled together a workshop of all the stakeholders, which included municipal leaders and some of the organizations that had community transportation in their neighbourhood. It’s not necessarily buses; I think vans often play an important role in rural communities. We also did a little bit of work looking at jurisdictions where there had been significant progress. One of the lessons that we learned from the Netherlands was the importance of connectivity between the transportation modes that are available.
As Ms. Rondeaux mentioned, we have developed this program that allows better connection. One of the things that . . .
MR. HOUSTON: If I may, in that scenario you would have a series of transfers, I guess. You would get on one service and you would transfer to another. I think that’s potentially another impediment to use - right?
MR. COOLICAN: The point I was going to make, if you allow me to finish, is that that point of transfer is a question of how easy it is to transfer. That goes to the cost of the transportation service; it also goes to the scheduling - is it easy to make that transfer? I think that a lot of the providers of transit services are aware of those issues and are working to try to improve the connectivity between the different services.
MR. HOUSTON: Have you considered the licensing aspect of it? Would you look at offering a difference licence to these services? Would you allow them to expand their different areas? I guess you’re broaching into the motor carrier licence area then, but is that something that . . .
MR. COOLICAN: You would have to bring in Municipal Affairs to talk about that issue. I think also a lot of these organizations are community based, and they’re focused on the communities that they live in. They are certainly gaining an understanding of the importance of connectivity, which is helpful to the ongoing development of these services.
MR. HOUSTON: In terms of the bicycle routes, obviously getting people out and active on their bicycles, we can all see the benefit in that - what are your feelings on the helmet law in terms of bicycle use?
MR. COOLICAN: I’m the deputy minister; I don’t have feelings. (Laughter)
Let’s just put it this way - when I’m riding my bicycle, I obey the law, and I encourage my kids to wear a helmet, and I encourage my grandchildren to wear helmets. I think one of the important things about programs like the Blue Route and increasing awareness about the importance of this kind of transportation is that we’re starting to get more and more facilities that make it safer for people to ride their bicycles along major roadways and highways. I think the Share the Road campaign has been important, not just to encourage a culture of biking but also to inform the driving public, like me in the morning, that I should just wait until there is space for me to pass a bike rider with sufficient room, so that there are no issues.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned one of the projects, I think it was under Connect2, where the department will have access to the data. I guess you were talking to the number of users of it and maybe use that data to do some analysis on the impact on GHG reductions, but the discussion of data and access to data is always an interesting one, particularly in this Chamber, where we are used to dealing with the most open and transparent government in history, but it is a question that there is a lot of community groups out there that would like access to this type of data, about how what they are doing can help push towards the overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So, is there a process where community groups can get access to data on greenhouse gas emissions and some other plans to some of the - let’s call it the impacts - of some of the existing programs? What’s the process they would follow to get it?
MR. COOLICAN: A fair amount of the data has been collected by an organization at Dalhousie University called DalTRAC, and, subject to confirmation, I think they make that data available. It’s available on the Department of Energy website and there’s certainly no intention to hide any of those statistics. As I mentioned, there is a community of people in municipal governments, in some of our post-secondary institutions, and among community groups, that are paying attention to this issue, and are aware of the work we have with DalTRAC and . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Time has expired. We’ll move to the NDP caucus and Mr. Wilson.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for being here today. A number of interesting areas where we can go, but I want to start off with a bit of my colleague’s questioning around, and your comments on, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the role the government plays, and hopefully Nova Scotians will play, on continuing a good trend. I think you indicated we’re meeting our targets, and that has contributed immensely to past decisions to ensure that the province is on the right track, no matter who is government today, tomorrow, or in 10 years. I think Nova Scotia should be proud of the commitment that government made, and a commitment that I think the current government is trying to live up to - past commitments.
One of the things, definitely – and you mentioned this about our carbon content in the production of our electricity in the province - we know, around the corner, Muskrat Falls will be online. We should see a dramatic decrease, I would assume, on that carbon content of the electricity produced in Nova Scotia - or used. Would you agree with that, that we should see even better results once that project comes online, and we can gain access to that electricity?
MR. COOLICAN: I think that is an important question. You mentioned the role of previous governments - I think I should remark that the Legislature has been very clear over the last number years, under governments of Conservative stripe, NDP stripe, and Liberal stripe, that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and the increase in renewable electricity, is something that this Legislature has supported, pretty much unanimously, in most cases. I think that has made it possible for Nova Scotians to make the contribution that we have made to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the province, and a contribution to the national agenda. It’s certainly to remember that if Nova Scotia represented Canada, we would have already met the current Canadian targets for the Paris climate agreement.
Muskrat Falls will be very important to reaching both our targets for renewable - but also I mention a number of 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The role played by Muskrat Falls will be important in that, and it will not just be the electricity that we’re contracted to. We have, in a sense, already purchased through our investment in the Maritime Link - but there could be other renewable electricity that will be available through the creation of the electricity loop connecting Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and then Québec again, into a loop, that will give us access to more electricity that is renewable.
We also believe that improvements in transmissions throughout the region will make it easier to tax as other forms of renewable that are intermittent. So, for example, we have more wind per capita, or per megawatt, or however you want to measure it, than any other province with the exception of Prince Edward Island, and their system is integrated into New Brunswick, so it’s a bit different. When you look at total megawatts of wind, we’re small in comparison to even a place like Alberta, but when you look as a percentage of our system, we’re way ahead of other provinces – again, with the exception of Prince Edward Island in terms of wind.
One of the challenges that we’ve got is making sure that we’re able to operate the electricity system with the amount of variable electricity production that we have. So, we’re gaining experience that no other province is gaining, in learning how to do that. The view is that the better the transmission connection among different jurisdictions the easier it will be to do that. So, as an example, we not only had a summer without a lot of rain, we also had significant periods in the summer when there was no wind, and so we’ve got to be cautious when some people recommend that, you know, we can go 100 per cent wind power – you know, it just doesn’t work. Until somebody cracks the storage issue, it’s not possible to rely 100 per cent on intermittent renewables.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for that. So, I think that the message is that, listen, we’re in a great position. What we can do is definitely show not only that we’re leaders in Canada, but across the world. We can exceed any kind of Paris climate agreement reduction in GHGs here in Nova Scotia, and I think what I don’t want to see is a government, whoever it is, become complacent. We can exceed far beyond what the goals were a number of years ago, and that’s my strongest message, that I don’t want to see the government just say, okay we’ve met what the commitment was, let’s back off.
It’s interesting; often we don’t see this and hear about our province being on a positive end of an agreement, or some kind of plan that was signed, but I know reading recently the new CEO of Nalcor Energy indicated that Nova Scotia will be getting electricity for next to nothing when Muskrat Falls comes online, and, you know, I enjoyed seeing that, because it shows that I think our province will benefit into the future for that. So, I’m good with that.
I’m going to get into some of the sustainability transportation stuff now. I know in my community, we have a lot of organizations working towards active transportation routes, and creating the trails, and ensuring that people have options in the community. We have Friends of First Lake, we have Sackville Rivers Association, Second Lake Regional Park Association, now the Sackville Lakes Park and Trails Association, has been working hard for decades now to try to gain access to funds. I hope they’ll be able to continue to do that.
I notice under the application guidelines you provided for today, for 2014-15, in the package it states that organizations can receive up to $200,000, can expect to start by mid-August and finish the end of March of the following year. But there is a concern that I think I read into it that if a project is not complete within that timeline, that groups risk potentially not receiving their full funding. Can you explain why there’s such a stringent timeline on these projects? Often many of them depend on in kind or they get companies that will do the service at a much reduced rate, but it’s when they’re not busy. So there are always times when it’s not the fault of the organization that there’s a stall in the project. I’m just wondering, why such a stringent timeline and the potential for an organization to maybe not get the full funding they were approved for?
MR. COOLICAN: I just want to comment on some of your preamble to that question, which was the issue of meeting that commitment. I think I indicated that we’re not only on track to meet the 30 per cent goal, but we’re on track to meet a 43 per cent goal. I think the province would like to move to greater electrification, and a precursor to that has to be to increase the renewable content of our electricity. So to make sense for us both in the transportation sector and in the home heating sector, especially where oil heat is concerned - and that’s probably more of an issue in some of the rural parts of the province - to try to get people to move to heat pumps, even today, is a good move and we’re starting to put some emphasis on that. So we’re not resting on our laurels, we are continuing to see this as an important move.
I think I would also mention in terms of the province being ahead of others in the amount of work that is done in improving the efficiency of buildings in the province through EfficiencyOne, the free-standing organization that is handling that program, we’re ahead of all the other provinces in terms of the annual reductions, in particular electricity use as a result of that program.
We’re also at an advantage because that’s an organization that is not controlled by the electricity utility and it’s not controlled by the government, so it’s regulated by the Utility and Review Board. So unlike other provinces that either have a government-run organization or a utility-run organization, our efficiency organization has been able to be much more aggressive.
I’m going to resist saying anything about the Nalcor deal. (Laughter)
MR. DAVID WILSON: Oh, go ahead.
MR. COOLICAN: The president and CEO did say that we are paying the capital cost so there is a price that we are paying.
The point about the timing of when projects are concluded, we think it’s important to set some goals for these projects to try to get them done within the fiscal year that the money is provided. But where there are unusual circumstances, we have provided extensions to allow projects to be completed if they haven’t been able to meet their goal, or the kind of example you reference of a community where someone is providing free or low-cost services and the timing hasn’t quite worked out, that would be a reasonable reason. We do want to keep - we’d rather see the projects completed in the fiscal year.
I think it’s like everything, if I think back to my school days, there are not a lot of essays I would have finished if I didn’t have a date when they were due.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that. The 25 per cent portion, it can be a challenge for some groups. I know that seems to be part of funding arrangements or programs for as long as I’ve been elected, on the federal side it was 50 per cent sometimes. Where did the 25 per cent come up? I know you want some commitment from the organization, so kind of a two-part question: where did the 25 per cent come up, and I would assume that the in-kind services can be used towards that 25 per cent?
MR. COOLICAN: That’s right. The 25 per cent, I don’t think there’s any magic to it. As provincial officials, we probably didn’t want to go 50 per cent because we don’t like the way the feds treat us on those things. I think it was a combination of not wanting to put too great a burden on community groups but also wanting to make sure there was community participation and there was a strong commitment from the community to make it work. It’s unfortunate - but often that kind of work that’s done to get support for that level of funding, it not only achieves the goal of getting the funding but it also achieves the goal of making sure that there is strong community buy-in to making the project work. That kind of buy-in makes a very positive difference in the completion rate of these projects.
MR. DAVID WILSON: In the application guidelines it suggests that priorities of the programs can differ from year to year. To what degree is that part of – is it if government has more of an initiative on a certain aspect of active transportation - I read that through when I went through the guidelines - do you have a comment?
MR. COOLICAN: I think that would have been a change to the program that was made in 2015, and that was to create more of a focus on projects that actually connect community services. The previous program had us too much in what I would call the “trail business,” which would be longer and often were recreational, not connecting community buildings and hubs. I would say it was more on the health and recreation side or the wilderness trail side rather than on active transportation.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Do you have a sense of whether organizations find the program, the process, easy to go through, the application process - have you gotten any complaints from any groups saying this is just too hard to get funding? I know it’s a new program, so hopefully there’s some type of evaluation.
MR. COOLICAN: We do ask for feedback from the applicants at the end of the process and we act on things we hear about, things we can do to improve the project or improve the process. Nobody likes filling out forms.
MR. DAVID WILSON: No, definitely if it’s a volunteer organization, that’s some of the challenge.
Do you have a rough timeline on the length of the process - an application is submitted, how long, on average, or can you give me the information on how long it would take for approval or denial of access to the funding?
MR. COOLICAN: The applications are usually due at the end of May or early June. We take two to three weeks, maybe a month, to review that and come to a decision. Then we have to go back to the organization, and there’s a certain amount of work that has to be done; there may be some questions to be answered. We have to develop an agreement with the organization and that will depend on work that comes from that group, not just from the department. We try to do it on an expeditious basis.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Maybe just a quick last question: Was the total budget exhausted last year for the program, yes or no - what was left or was it exhausted?
MR. COOLICAN: Last year, we had $600,000. We had projects worth $545,000. A couple of those projects didn’t go forward, and the funding that had been provided was repaid. We used those funds for other sustainable transportation projects.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Chairman, am I out of time?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have about two seconds left, but you are now out of time. We’ll move to the Liberal caucus.
MR. KEITH IRVING: I would like to begin by just getting a better sense of the purpose of the program. A lot of your comments were focused around greenhouse gas reductions, but clearly active transportation has a number of other benefits. I’m just wondering if you could expand on that - is it solely greenhouse gas numbers that we’re focusing on here - what other aspects are the purpose of the program?
MR. COOLICAN: I think, as I said in my opening remarks, we see other benefits. It’s not just about greenhouse gas emission reductions. We see benefits to this program in the area of improving safety for people using active transportation and in the area of health - I would be healthier if I walked to work instead of taking my electric car. There are benefits there, and some of that can be seen in the makeup of the officials committee that reviews these projects. The Department of Health and Wellness, for example, sits on that committee and is an active participant in the issue because they see the importance from a health benefit perspective.
We also think that there are some community benefits as well to making it easier for people to connect some of those community assets, especially if they don’t have easy access to vehicles, not to mention the feeling of pride. I spent some time in the summer around New Ross, and there is a sense of pride in the connector between the New Ross School and the Ross Farm Museum.
MR. IRVING: The criteria is focusing around 2-kilometre connections, but I do sense some flexibility that longer distances are eligible. What’s the origin of 2 kilometres, given the dominant rural nature of Nova Scotia? Is that being in the criteria perhaps limiting folks from thinking that they can access this program? Do you want to comment a bit on where 2 kilometres came from and whether you are accentuating some flexibility there?
MR. COOLICAN: There are a number of answers to that question. The first would be that when we looked at communities around the province, and we included rural communities in that, when we looked at where the community assets are located, in most communities that’s within a 2-kilometre radius. Now obviously, in rural areas a lot of people live farther than 2 kilometres from the community, but where our objective was to connect community assets in the community, a lot of it falls within that 2-kilometre radius.
I think also that we want to encourage communities to start thinking - when they’re looking at the placement of community assets - to start thinking about active transportation, and the ability to connect those easily. So instead of putting a community town hall 10 kilometres outside the community, near one of the major highways for example, we hope that people will, more and more, start to think about proximity to other community assets, to make active transportation an easier choice.
I think the other point is that we wanted to - the 2 kilometres was there to enable us to put some focus to this program, given that there isn’t limitless funding, where we can have the biggest impact on active transportation in the community. We felt if we focused on connecting the community assets, and given that most of them are within the 2-kilometre radius, that that would be the best way to do it.
We also do have some projects, although some of it is historical and we’re not intending this to happen on a regular basis, but there are some projects that have been under 2 kilometres this year, and may be under 2 kilometres next year. We have demonstrated some flexibility, but there are still lots of projects in the under 2-kilometre range that can be useful and viable.
MR. IRVING: I really appreciate the comments there with respect to, perhaps, us being much better in understanding active transportation and promoting it in communities, because I think it is important that all departments in government, and other organizations such as school boards, give much more thought to the locations of schools, et cetera. We’ve been building new schools on cheap land outside communities, because we think we’re saving money when, in reality, we’re just creating longer bus routes, for 40 years.
I like the idea that this is bringing better understanding to communities of staying compact and walkable. I just wanted to comment on that.
You mention, and I just want to clarify this a little bit, that the uptake last year was $540,000 of the $600,000, and I’m a bit unclear whether the lapse there was lack of applications, or projects that just didn’t go forward. So if you could clarify that, and then perhaps provide some information to us on how you advertise. Do we feel that community groups throughout the province have a very good sense that this program is there, or are there other advertising tools that perhaps should be considered to ensure that the maximum benefit of this budget is maximized?
MR. COOLICAN: Good questions. I think the first point I would make is that the less-than-full amount was based on some projects that were cancelled. I would say that we have more applications than we have funding for, but as we go through the process, sometimes one or two projects may fall away, and that’s always difficult to judge whether - I’m actually going through the planning for my daughter’s wedding and there’s the whole issue of, can we assume that 10 per cent aren’t going to show up? So, that’s something that’s difficult to plan, but we certainly feel that we have really good uptake, and as we get more information out there about the way the program operates, we’ll continue to see improvements in the projects that are coming forward.
We use social media to get the word out. We send emails to over 250 people who make up a stakeholder list that we’ve developed over the last number of years, and it’s also made available on our website. There has also been quite good coverage of the programs in local community newspapers, when the projects are announced and when they’re built, and there’s usually a bit of a celebration when they’re completed, so that has helped to spread the word. There’s a fairly good community of people across the province who are interested in alternate transportation and help us to spread the word as well.
MR. IRVING: That would speak to my next question. In terms of distribution across the province, are applications fairly evenly distributed from across the province, and then the selection and distribution of where the projects are happening - are we doing a good job at reaching all corners of the province and not being too, being the rural MLA, too focused on HRM?
MR. COOLICAN: So, I think the answer to that is yes. We are getting pretty good regional representation because a certain amount depends on the quality of the applications. You know, it’s impossible to divide it up equally, but if we look at 2015-2016: 35 per cent were in HRM; 11 per cent in Cape Breton; 4 per cent in the Valley; 15 per cent on the North Shore; 11 per cent on the South Shore; 12 per cent on the Eastern Shore; 4 per cent central; and 8 per cent southwestern Nova Scotia. So it’s certainly broad. We don’t look at population statistics and make sure that we’re exactly even because, as I say, a lot depends on the quality of the application. When we look at that, we would say, a pretty good distribution around the province, both rural and urban, and also, in terms of the difference between HRM and the rest of the province, we think it’s not a bad balance.
MR. IRVING: Fair enough. Thank you. Just with respect to the projects, some are funding for capital projects and improvements, some are for plans - if I am understanding the briefing notes I have here. Do we have a sense of percentages of what is being spent on studies versus infrastructure and, as a supplementary to that, do you need an active transportation plan in your community to then apply for funding for a capital improvement?
MR. COOLICAN: Can we take that as notice …
MR. IRVING: Sure.
MR. COOLICAN: In terms of the differentiation …
MR. IRVING: I’m not looking for exact numbers, just roughly.
MR. COOLICAN: Yes. I don’t have a sense of – I think about 70 per cent for infrastructure, 30 per cent for enabling projects. We’ll refine that number and inform the committee.
MR. IRVING: And is a transportation plan, or active transportation plan in the community a prerequisite for funding a project?
MR. COOLICAN: No, I don’t believe so. It would certainly help if we can see a plan behind it, but it’s not a prerequisite.
MR. IRVING: Just in terms of access to programs - and I’m asking this question to try to give communities a sense of how accessible this is for them - this program is really about leveraging money and energy from communities. Can you give a good example of a project where the community has been able to use in-kind to help leverage this investment by the province? Can you give a sense of a project that’s really been able to leverage this, from a community perspective?
MR. COOLICAN: Most projects contribute about 25 per cent in in-kind - sorry, 12.5 per cent of in-kind. I don’t have any specific examples off the top of my head, but we can provide some of that to you.
MR. IRVING: Okay, great. Thank you. Moving now to evaluation. I was wondering if you could comment on how you’re evaluating the effectiveness - I think you touched a bit on this in terms of some numbers from Dal or something - but if you could expand on what your evaluations have found with respect to the program and how you would deem it in terms of success. This is a small amount of money, but its effectiveness with respect to our active transportation networks throughout the province . . .
MR. COOLICAN: I would say we’re a bit early for specific numbers about the success of the program overall. I think we would need at least another year of experience, and going back to the applicants, the projects that were funded in 2015-16, to get a sense after a year or two of how actively they’re being used.
I would say, based on some of the anecdotal evidence at this stage, that it’s been very well received in the communities where it has happened. They see changes in the way it’s being used. The other thing we’re looking to do, in addition to the funding of a counter at HRM, is we’re looking at purchasing some counters for the department that would be made available to some of the projects to do some very specific measurement of what the impact is.
MR. IRVING: I’m not sure if I read this or not, but going forward are we anticipating - budget permitting, of course - that this program would continue in upcoming years? And, in light of that question, if someone receives a grant this year, can they apply for a grant next year?
MR. COOLICAN: Subject to budget considerations, we anticipate that there would be funding next year. I think with three years of this under our belt is probably a good time to do a review and an assessment of how it’s working.
An organization can certainly apply for - it has to be a different project or a very clear add-on to a project they’ve done, and it still has to meet the criteria, but just because you’ve gotten one doesn’t mean you can’t apply for another.
MR. IRVING: Related to going forward, are there any concerns or indications that any of the federal initiatives with respect to greenhouse gas reductions, carbon pricing - do you think that that would affect this program in any way, or is that just an unknown at this point?
MR. COOLICAN: I would say it’s an unknown. The federal government hasn’t announced any of its programming in the area of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that I’m aware of. We are hopeful that there will be some funding that will help deal with transportation in the rural areas. There is always a lot of talk in the national media about funding for urban transit in some of the major cities, and having driven in Toronto a few times in the last few years, I feel their pain, but we think some of the work that we’ve done, to better understand sustainable transportation in the province, that there are significant things that the federal government could do in the rural parts of the province.
I think some of the Pictou East member’s questions earlier on give a strong indication that there is some work to be done to improve transit for the rural areas of the province and, obviously, for HRM as well, and what those might be. You know, we’re not going to build a subway, but there are some very good targeted investments that could be made to improve the issue of public transit in the rural parts of the province.
MR. IRVING: Yes. I’m tempted to …
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Time has expired. We’ll move to Mr. Houston for 14 minutes.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I did talk about incentives for electric vehicles, or hybrid vehicles, and where those might be going. It doesn’t seem like there’s a big appetite for that just yet, at this stage, but there used to be incentives to switch a fleet from a hybrid - to a hybrid, I should say. But I just want to make sure I understand properly that that is then and this is now - there’s no talk about going back to those incentives.
MR. COOLICAN: I think the program that you’re referring to was through a program called Ecotrust Canada, which the province administered on behalf of the federal government, and it might be a good example for the current federal government to look at as a way to do that. I think that the incentive for hybrid cars was probably more important then than it is today - the price of those cars has come down, and the economics and the evidence of the economy of using those kinds of cars in fleets, where paying attention to the gas mileage of the cars that you’re using seems to be more acceptable.
I shouldn’t tell this story, but I had a friend of mine when I owned a Prius, who said he was looking for a new car and he was wondering what to buy. He noticed that I had a Prius, and so, would I recommend a hybrid? I said, “Yes, it’s a great car.” A few weeks later I called him up, and I said, “So, did you buy the Prius?” And he said “No, it wasn’t economic for me.” I said, “What do you mean it wasn’t economic?” and he said, “Well, I don’t drive enough during the day to pay the additional cost for a Prius compared to a Toyota Corolla.” I said, “So, what did you buy?” He said, “A top-of-the-line BMW.”
MR. HOUSTON: Well, I think that’s interesting, because I think the reality for most Nova Scotians is both of those vehicles are out of their price range, so it’s something we’re going to have to work through over time . . .
MR. COOLICAN: Yes, that’s a reality for some Nova Scotians - it’s not a reality for all Nova Scotians. I think there are a lot of things that have to - I think we all need more experience with these kind of vehicles to understand the importance of them, I think the issue of the cost of gasoline, so as the cost goes down, people are less likely to look at cars that have better mileage. I think that’s human nature.
MR. HOUSTON: The government at some point commissioned a study and I’m not sure which department it is so it might not have been yours, but they commissioned a study on ride-sharing services like Uber. Are you aware of that study?
MR. COOLICAN: I think that was a study that was - actually I shouldn’t - it wasn’t done within this department. I know there has been some work done on Airbnb through Tourism, but I’m not sure about Uber.
MR. HOUSTON: In terms of the - Mr. Webb - in terms of the Blue Route, the bicycle route, I wonder, that’s all about making roadways and paths more accessible for bicycles, I guess I’d be curious if there’s any consideration to adding like the Laggan Road, the Arbuckle Road, the Lawrence Station Road, and the Little Harbour Road, major thoroughfares that you couldn’t bike on - you can barely drive on them. Is there any consideration - how would we go about getting those added to the Blue Route so they can get fixed up to the point that you could drive or bike on them?
MR. WEBB: We’ve established the Blue Route across the province as a cycling network to connect communities and we try to follow the pattern where we went through all 18 counties. Certainly there’s going to be some segments and areas within various parts of the province that will not have this direct assignment or dedicated Blue Route, but in addition to the Blue Route there is certainly opportunity for some scenic diversions we’ll say, that could be considered.
Those roads you reference, I am familiar with those, they are local county roads and as are . . .
MR. HOUSTON: We’ve chatted about them before.
MR. WEBB: Yes, and as the Blue Route develops, the pattern we are following, the process includes upgrading the roads to a Blue Route standard when a paved shoulder is required, through our Capital Highway Improvement Program. So when we identify that a section of the highway network is on the Blue Route, we always consider that during a repaving program so that we can incorporate those upgrades to that section, and I guess we’ll call it, make if Blue Route-able.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you for that. Deputy, it has been over two years since the government introduced what it called a ban on high-volume fracturing. At the time it was meant to be defined in regulations. Time is passing, there is still no definition for what it actually was that was banned. I wonder, could you share with us today a definition for high-volume hydraulic fracturing?
MR. COOLICAN: I’ve been studying the Connect2 program for the last couple of days and I haven’t seen the definition of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the description of that, but no, I’m not prepared to share a definition with you today.
MR. HOUSTON: Okay, does a definition exist anywhere in the department for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or is it just a mythical event that has been banned?
MR. COOLICAN: It’s not a mythical activity that has been banned and, I think in terms of the oil and gas industry, they’ve certainly reduced their level of interest in what’s happening here until they see what the definition is.
We’ve discovered through our research that it’s not as simple as people thought it was when we began the process, and we’re continuing to work on it. As we’re continuing to work on - and that was for onshore geology, to get a better understanding of what the opportunity might be.
MR. HOUSTON: I’m sure the seriousness of your comments is not lost on you. We have a government that banned an activity that definitely impacted economic activity in this province, and here we sit today and we are hearing, well maybe we have banned something that was more complicated than we knew we were doing. That sends a message to businesses across all industries, certainly the people in the oil and gas it sends a certain message, but it sends a message to all industries that Nova Scotia is a province where the government can take dramatic action without really understanding the ramifications.
We did, our caucus did receive a FOIP response that show that Minister Samson received a presentation in September 2015 – I’m not talking yesterday, I am talking September 2015 - that included recommendations for the definitions of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Obviously those definitions were not accepted; nothing has happened. We don’t know a definition, so can you share some information as to why those might not have been accepted?
MR. COOLICAN: No. I think I would not share the current status of that at the moment.
I would take issue with your assessment of the potential opportunity at the moment. There has not been significant interest in our onshore before that action was taken. The industry had a number of years in which there was no ban, no restriction. I think the provincial government did undertake a very careful public review of the situation and there was not, through that process, a dramatic interest on the part of the oil and gas industry at that time. Since then conditions in terms of natural gas prices and conditions in the industry have worsened, so the interest in going into an area which is unexplored, which would be the equivalent of frontier areas in the offshore, the industry is not clamoring to explore in Nova Scotia.
There are lots of other opportunities in North America where they are better connected, where the resource is better understood. That is one of the reasons why we are doing more work on the geology - to have a better understanding of what the resource is. I think the oil and gas industry understands the position of the government, and the government has done proactive work on the geoscience in the offshore which has led to significant interest on the part of the industry with bids by Shell, BP, and Statoil. We recently had a call for bids where they were no bids. I think a number of factors, but probably the most important is the concerns of the industry given the current price of oil, therefore the size of their budget for exploration - and when oil and gas companies make decisions about where to spend their exploration dollars we are competing not with just Newfoundland and Labrador offshore for example, but we are competing with other potential basins around the world.
So as the exploration budgets have become constrained it becomes more difficult, and I think the . . .
MR. HOUSTON: None of those observations or statements mitigate the damage that can be done to an industry by an unstable regulatory environment. I can’t think of any more – well, I am sure I could think of more unstable things that could be done than for government to ban something and then put their hands up in the air and say, well, we’re not really sure what we’re banning but you probably didn’t want to do it anyway. It’s a little hard to take, especially from a government that sends a film industry away after telling them they extended credit, bans this, and just kind of sends all these signals to industry. They really don’t know what they’re doing. It’s damaging to a province in a highly competitive world.
In terms of legislation that comes before this House from this government that they have to pull back because they didn’t know what they were doing - and we see example after example, time and time again - we saw one this week with the accessibility legislation, a signature piece of legislation from this government and they didn’t do their homework. Was the active . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has expired.
We’ll move to the New Democratic Party caucus. Ms. Zann.
MS. LENORE ZANN: Thank you very much. Well, it has been an interesting conversation so far; we’ve been kind of all over the map when it comes to this particular topic for today. First of all, I would like to say I think it’s - the Blue Route sounds like a wonderful thing. I know that we need to encourage more people to get out, to be active, to get on their bicycles as they do in Europe and have been for many, many years. I think we’re behind the times here in Canada, and in Nova Scotia in particular. So anything we can do to try to make it easier for people to get out there and get active is a good thing. I commend the government for that, and I also think it’s very important for our tourism as well to be able to encourage people to come to Nova Scotia and be able to safely manoeuvre our highways and our byways.
I know that there have been accidents, and I know from talking to many cyclists, they told me that it was very dangerous. They were concerned, and they would bring in groups from other provinces who would come here to experience the beauty that we have and they did feel they were oftentimes taking their lives in their hands. So I think this is a very good start and I look forward to continuing that.
I remember when there would sometimes be talk in local newspapers among municipalities about oh, they want us to put in a bike lane and putting in bike lanes and things like this, but yes, anybody who has travelled knows this is the way of any civilized country and any civilized community. So I really look forward to seeing how far we can go with this and, again, kudos to the government and to you guys for working on this.
I’m also very interested in energy and green energy, and you’ve touched on a number of interesting topics. I think it’s interesting that Muskrat Falls is again in the news. We figured it would be as we got closer to the time when we could actually do the infrastructure in order to bring it onshore here in Cape Breton. I remember sitting around the caucus table when we were discussing it with the former government and the fact that the idea behind it was to try to create 35 years of a constant, reliable source of energy and a price for that energy. That was the original idea behind it.
As my colleague to my left had expressed earlier, it is rather amusing to see it in the newspaper that expressed that Nalcor, they’re saying it was a bad deal for Newfoundland and Labrador but great for Nova Scotia - well, I was there the day the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador at the time, a female, came over and signed the papers alongside Darrell Dexter, and everybody was happy at that point in time. So I’m very curious to find out when in fact that will go online - do you have a date or time, a timeline of when you expect to see the work being done, being finished, and have that hydroelectricity available for Nova Scotians?
MR. COOLICAN: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to thank the member for her interest and comments about the work being done in the government on the sustainable transportation file and the Blue Route. We do see that there are advantages to a program like the Blue Route for tourism, and we also understand the importance of the safety issue, and I think that’s something not only important for the Blue Route, but in the Connect2 program - that we’re providing routes that may not even be on the highway, but are connecting areas that are taking people off walking along the highways. So I think that’s positive.
On Muskrat Falls, the member is right that when the agreement was made between Nalcor and Emera, and the Government of Nova Scotia and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the idea behind the agreement was that we would be purchasing a percentage of the energy for the exact same percentage of the capital cost of the project, and that worked out to be approximately the Maritime Link. Emera undertook the construction of the Maritime Link and that is on time, and on budget.
The Muskrat Falls dam has suffered some delays; I don’t have a firm or updated date at the moment on when that will be complete. We think there are a number of aspects to the project that will be positive for Nova Scotians beyond the block of energy that we have purchased through paying the capital cost. We think we will have access to other-market energy that will be competitively priced, that we’ll be able purchase through increase even further the amount of renewable energy that is available to the province.
MS. ZANN: Thank you. So, with regards to the actual work in Cape Breton and the underground cable, where are we on that process? Could you – do you know, can you catch me up?
MR. COOLICAN: I don’t remember exactly where they are in terms of the laying of the cable, I just know that they are on time. They have certainly done most of the clearing in Cape Breton and in Newfoundland and Labrador for the portion that’s going on land, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to the member on exactly where they are in terms of the other work.
MS. ZANN: Thank you, I’d appreciate it. I would like to acknowledge and be on the record as saying I do now also accept and notice that part of the delay is the fact that our First Nations people in Newfoundland and Labrador are saying that they have grave concerns about mercury in their water, possibly because of the work that would be done over there with the dam, and I think that definitely needs to be addressed. You can’t just walk all over people in order to help others - I mean, I think that those are very important concerns and that we need to accept and take responsibility and of course, the government over there will be needing to look into that properly before the work goes ahead. But I remember the idea behind it all being that it would be so wonderful to have hydroelectricity here in Nova Scotia.
I’ve lived in Ontario, British Columbia, and in New York, where we had hydroelectricity, and I lived with that for many years and the prices were much lower than what we have here in Nova Scotia. I remember when I moved back to Nova Scotia, approximately 10 years ago, I was shocked at the prices of utilities here - they were about four or five times what I was used to paying. I have an older home in Truro, and I had an older home in Toronto, and the price was like night and day of how to heat my home, including trying to put in all the different new things you can do to be able to keep the heat in, and to be able to preserve - to be able to be as green as possible. So going on with that, the idea about the heat pumps, I’ve always been a big heat pump proponent, but also geothermal - I’ve always liked the idea of geothermal as well.
Now the problem with these of course is that they are so expensive for homeowners. I looked into it myself, in Truro, when I first bought the house 10 years ago and it was going to be about $25,000, so a lot of people don’t have that extra cash to do that.
Heat pumps, it’s about $7,500 to $8,500 for a large one and $3,500 to $4,000 for, say, two small, split ones. Are there any programs right now available for homeowners that would be incentives to actually put heat pumps or geothermal or any other kind of thing like that in place?
MR. COOLICAN: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to thank the honourable member for the question. When it comes to heat pumps, if you have an electrically heated home, Efficiency Nova Scotia has a program that provides an incentive to move to a heat pump. Regardless of your form of heating, you can go to Nova Scotia Power and get an on-bill financing program where you are paying for the heat pump out of the savings from your bill. It doesn’t result in you paying any more for your energy; in fact often it will result in a reduction in your bill. Obviously once you’ve paid off the rental or you’ve paid off the heat pump if you purchase it, you will be in an even better position. Heat pumps are more efficient, from an energy point of view, than baseboard electric heating. It does provide comfortable, steady heat.
The other thing I would say is that the technology is improving. I think the first thing is that it’s important that people investigate the best option for a heat pump because, as with everything, there are different levels of quality and that can have an impact on the performance of the heat pump.
MS. ZANN: Thank you. I’m so sorry to interrupt, I know it’s so annoying when people do that, but I don’t have very much time left and I have another question.
I wanted to also ask you - there was a cut to provincial funding from the Ecology Action Centre’s Walk to School Program. That program had been there for about 12 years and involved 24 schools and over 2,000 students. At the time, the Minister of Health and Wellness said the cut was a strategic decision - can you explain or comment on this strategic nature of that decision?
MR. COOLICAN: No, I’m not aware of the detail of that decision, so it would be unfair of me to comment.
MS. ZANN: Okay. What about solar energy? I know that Tesla is now offering - so where are we standing with our solar energy here in Nova Scotia in trying to get more people to switch to solar, and what are the incentives there?
MR. COOLICAN: First of all, the department is in the process of putting together a program to allow community buildings to take advantage of solar. There are improvements being made in batteries and in the solar technology and we’re monitoring the latest offering from Tesla.
It’s also significant that there’s a professor at Dal . . .
MS. ZANN: Yes, the guy who does the batteries, yes.
MR. COOLICAN: . . . he’s now doing research for Tesla, so I think that’s a feather in Nova Scotia’s cap.
MS. ZANN: It certainly is.
MR. COOLICAN: One of the big issues with solar is that at the moment - and we’ll examine the Tesla technology, but at the moment it would not be economic. Part of the issue for us is that our peak demand is five o’clock in the winter, whereas for a jurisdiction like Ontario or Arizona, the peak demand is the summertime when the sun is shining.
MS. ZANN: That’s why we need to store it; we need to have batteries to store it.
One other quick question: I heard recently that the future for cars was hydrogen, that only 2 per cent of cars being sold are electric . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired, we’ll move to Mr. Stroink, of the Liberal caucus, for 14 minutes.
MR. JOACHIM STROINK: Thanks for your presentation. It’s great to have you guys here. It’s very interesting to hear your conversations. It’s also very interesting to hear a political Party that has no regard for the environment, and I’m sure the people of Halifax will be very pleased to know that. It’s kind of sad, in a way, that that’s the way they want to go.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about the Blue Route, and that’s what is more important right now. I guess the big thing about the Blue Route for me is that it has a huge impact on Nova Scotia in the sense of tourism. Before I get there, I want to have an understanding: are there other provinces that have taken this Blue Route model and have implemented it? How far have they come? What are the learnings from there that we can apply here to Nova Scotia?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Webb.
MR. WEBB: Basically, the thought of the Blue Route originated based on the cycling network in Quebec. It’s is known as the Route Verte. It’s quite an extensive network. We’ve been modelling that here in Nova Scotia. The model they have is somewhat suitable, but we are approaching it basically more on a short-term - or it’s a longer-term program based on how we’re evolving it through highway upgrades.
MR. STROINK: Highway upgrades, what do you mean by that? I think people aren’t quite clear on the Blue Route. They think maybe it’s just trails. Is it on existing roads? Is it on the Rails to Trails? Where does it fit really into the road structure of Nova Scotia?
MR. WEBB: Overall, what we have mapped out now is roughly a 3,000-kilometre network across the province. About 15 per cent of that rests on trails. Many of those are Department of Natural Resource-managed former rail corridors. The remaining part of the facility is on roads. We have approximately 41 per cent on roads with paved shoulders, and the remainder of 44 per cent is just on low-volume paved roads.
The factor that we use in determining whether a road requires the paved shoulders is to look at traffic volumes. We use a threshold of 1,000 vehicles per day on a particular highway section. When it’s greater than 1,000 vehicles per day, that’s when we consider it for a paved shoulder during a capital highway improvement upgrade.
The other ones are a more rural road. Less than that threshold is considered suitable for designation as a Blue Route provided it meets our other criteria of connecting communities, being a link. We also consider the scenic value along that route as well. Are there services and amenities for the cyclists that we can build upon for tourism and support those local businesses along the way?
MR. STROINK: I guess that’s a good segue into the impact on tourism of this plan. I know, like you said, that Quebec has been working towards this. Have they seen an increase in their cycling? What do you predict here for Nova Scotia? How is this going to help our tourism?
MR. WEBB: I don’t have any figures on Quebec’s growth. I understand it has definitely grown. I just do not have that historic record.
Here in Nova Scotia, it’s growing at a slow pace. We have been able to open two segments of the Blue Route. In 2015, we opened a segment between Colchester and Pictou County, running from East Mountain through to Pictou. That was our initial section. It was a very good candidate to choose because it contained some of this low-volume paved road, pavement sections. It also included some paved shoulder sections with the higher-volume traffic and it also included a trail segment as you enter into the Town of Pictou, and that also had a gravel surface and a paved surface, so it was a very good combination and introductory section of the Blue Route.
The second segment we opened this year was from Masstown in Colchester County up through the Wentworth Valley and on to Wallace, in Cumberland County. That’s a very scenic area to travel as well and very good paved shoulders through a vast majority of that section, where the volumes dictate.
MR. STROINK: I guess looking at the map here that is available, there are holes in the plan, specifically the big one I see is in Halifax, that the Blue Route kind of starts on the periphery of Halifax versus right in the downtown core. I saw that today council is having a meeting about the cycling plan for Halifax - where does the Blue Route fit into Halifax’s plan?
MR. WEBB: We went across the province and did consultations with various communities, trying to select the Blue Route, where the most suitable location is for that. When we approached the boundaries of municipalities, such as towns that manage their own highway networks, such as HRM and CBRM, we did leave those segments out because we wanted to have further consultation with the organizers in those municipalities to try to establish it so that it complemented their active transportation plans that may be in place. We’ll be working with those municipalities, and we believe they know the best way to pass through their communities, so we want their input as well. We’re relying on that and those consultations will be coming forward.
MR. STROINK: It’s a huge plan and we’ve done only a very small portion of the Blue Route. It’s a beautiful area of Nova Scotia, don’t get me wrong, but where do you see the timeline to make this come to fruition? It’s a big project with a chunk of change that’s going to cost to make this happen - what is the timeline?
MR. WEBB: Right now we’re projecting it’s going to be upwards of 20-plus years, going at the current process that we are following. And that is, as I mentioned earlier: doing upgrades, introducing paved shoulders through our capital highway improvement program - when the road is repaved we look at it to see if it warrants upgrading for active transportation routes.
Some of the ones that have been upgraded were not necessarily dedicated for the Blue Route but there are also other active transportation networks within communities that when the opportunity arose to rebuild and resurface a road that these additional paved shoulders were incorporated into the project.
MR. STROINK: So with that, who is part of the Blue Route strategy plan? I know TIR is part of it - who else and what other organizations or government organizations are really spearheading the Blue Route?
MR. WEBB: Well it has been a unique model of collaboration and co-operation within government with non-government organizations, and primarily our big partner is Bicycle Nova Scotia - they have been a tremendous lead in promoting this idea and bringing it forward to government.
We have a Blue Route team, as it is referred to, and it is represented by Bicycle Nova Scotia and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal being the co-leaders. We also have representatives from our colleagues here, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Wellness, and the Department of Natural Resources - they certainly have a role to play in being that they own the Crown lands that a lot of the former rail corridors exist on and issue letters of authority to community groups to operate those trail segments.
There’s Communities, Culture and Heritage are involved, and also Tourism Nova Scotia, as we discussed previously - a very big player in here to promote tourism and attract people to our province. We also have some participation from the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities so we can make that municipal link and they are aware of our process. We are moving with that. We also have some involvement from QUEST - the Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow organization here in Nova Scotia.
MR. STROINK: Great, and it seems like it’s a well-oiled machine in order to make this happen. How can we speed this up? I mean, 20 years is a long time. How can we make this project come to fruition at a quicker pace?
MR. WEBB: Well, as I mentioned, right now there’s no dedicated, direct funding for the program. We certainly are - government is very supportive of it in-kind, in providing the department resources to organize, collaborate, and have meetings. The province, through our department, is repaving shoulders through our programs.
To accelerate this, we are looking at some - we could use additional funding. We are very fortunate that Bicycle Nova Scotia was successful in receiving some major funding from ACOA earlier this year, in June, and to direct that toward improving some of the destination trail systems in Nova Scotia. We are hopeful that that is going to boost our trail side of the development. Certainly some targeted links, some targeted funding toward closing some of these gaps that exist, would be beneficial.
MR. STROINK: I don’t think I have much time left, do I?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have until 10:54 a.m.
MR. STROINK: Great. So I guess my question to you really is, as active transportation in Nova Scotia broadens as a discussion piece - right now the Blue Route is designed for cycling, but the ability to do other activities on that shoulder is increasing; for example, rollerblading, Nordic skiing on rollerblades, training roller skating, skateboarding, and longboarding are all forms of active transportation. Technically, they are illegal on the roads of these Blue Routes, because on any paved shoulders, you’re not allowed to participate in those activities.
I guess my question is really getting an understanding, if we are going to encourage people to do active transportation, encourage people to be using the Blue Routes and encourage people to be more physically active, do you think we need to have that discussion to change that policy or regulation so that more people will have access to the Blue Routes?
A gentleman, a kid, just skateboarded around Nova Scotia through the Blue Route system, but technically he was breaking the law. How do we, as TIR, look into the expansion of the Blue Route? How do we create a culture of acceptance within that for other forms of active transportation? It’s a bit of a cultural shift, too, from cycling to say it’s not just cycling, it’s everything - everything that moves, everything that is physically active.
I think we, as a government, need to have that conversation - how does that fit into the Blue Route? That’s part of Bicycle Nova Scotia, for sure. I guess that’s what my discussion is asking you to have a look at.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The time has expired. Thank you for all the questions.
Mr. Coolican, Mr. Webb, would you like to provide any closing comments?
We’ll start with Mr. Coolican.
MR. COOLICAN: I’d just like to thank the committee for their interest in our work to create a more connected Nova Scotia. We look forward to continuing our work in favour of active transportation and to help more Nova Scotians reduce their carbon footprint - or car print, I guess. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. Webb, do you have any closing comments?
MR. WEBB: Yes. Thank you very much for this opportunity to share some information on the Blue Route. We feel it’s a very exciting project for Nova Scotia. We’re very pleased with this initiative and hope to continue supporting the expansion of the cycling network across the province for the benefit of Nova Scotians and visitors to our province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Webb.
We just have two items of committee business. They’re both correspondence, one from the Department of Health and Wellness, information requested from the November 2nd meeting, and we also had information requested from the October 26th meeting which we received from Auditor General’s Office.
Any questions on that correspondence?
Any other business to come before the committee?
Seeing none, we stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:56 a.m.]