Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to welcome our witnesses and, of course, my colleagues to another meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. I'm aware of the fact that we've had a moment before, actually, our witnesses, and Mr. Cameron will be introducing them. Before we begin, I would like to take the opportunity to invite my colleagues to introduce themselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps you could take the lead there, Mr. Cameron. We, of course, have already forwarded a copy of our opening statement, so there's no need to read that. I would like to remind you that we usually like to be able to get into the questions and answers within about 12 to 15 minutes, so if you and your witnesses could stay to that guideline, we would appreciate it; however, the floor is yours, sir.
MR. ANDREW CAMERON: My name is Andrew Cameron. I'm a geologist working with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and have been working in the field of water resources for over 25 years. My colleagues are Mike Langman, Director of the Resource Stewardship Branch within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries; Michael Johnson, Manager of Programs and Risk Management; and Natalie Webster, Communications Officer.
We represent 12 members, from most sections of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, on the deputy minister's Water Task Force. Due to the increased focus on water issues as they relate to our clients, the deputy minister created the department's Water Task Force group. He first mentioned this task group in the Fall of 2000, when we were a new Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and was looking for a theme that ran through all the departments. He saw water as one of those themes.
He asked me to chair this task group on October 31, 2001. We held our first meeting of the task group on November 22, 2001, which makes this our six-month anniversary. We've only been in existence for six months. We developed our terms of reference, which you have copies of, on December 18, 2001, and worked from there to develop a strategy, which we got approval to release April 5, 2002.
We're basically an internal task group dealing with some of the issues that we have, different perspectives in different sections of our department, but also dealing with the issues of our clients. The task group is basically driven by the drought or lack of rain issue, but in the long term we see water quality as an issue in our sectors. Our interests include agriculture; marine fisheries, especially those coastal resources such as seaweed, clams, mussels and lobsters; inland sport fisheries; aquaculture; and education and research at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.
We have a set of principles that we believe in. We believe that water is a shared resource, water quality and quantity issues are important to all Nova Scotians, and good water quality and water quantity are critical to the livelihood of our clients. As I indicated, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries' water issues are the drought conditions, actually, reduced rainfall during the growing seasons. There is a very narrow window that's critical for rainfall for the agricultural community, and that's what has heightened the awareness of water within that sector. Processed waters for all sectors are a concern, be it our fish processing plants or our vegetable processing plants.
In summary, we want good water quality for fish habitat and food production, an adequate water supply for fish habitat to grow, and to have that water to process food. We want to ensure that the agriculture and fisheries water needs and uses are compatible with the needs and water uses of others within the watersheds, and we want to have a sustainable management of water by the agricultural and fishery sectors of this province.
The objectives of our task group are to provide a coordinated approach to water issues within the department, to increase awareness for balancing resource development with environmental stewardship, and to deliver a strategy to ensure that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries' programs and policies are supportive of sustainable water management. Our goals are to provide advice on water issues to the deputy minister, to align water issues with government and department priorities, to provide program and policy
analysis, to plan long-term policy initiatives, to assist the industries to address water resource issues in an economic and sustainable manner, to help develop water technology, and to communicate and share information with our stakeholders.
From a regulatory standpoint, we have four Acts that are involved in our water issues within the department. There is the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act; the Agricultural Marshland Conservation Act; the food safety program of the Health Act, where drinking water is a major component of food safety; and the Ditches and Water Courses Act.
We provide a significant number of services to our clients. Among them are the environmental farm plans, which we provide in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture; the AWARD Program; the Farm Investment Fund; AgriFocus Tech 2000; and laboratory services at our facility in Bible Hill. We're involved in quite a number of consultations with other agencies, for example, the National Agricultural Policy Framework, the National Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment, the National Dairy Regulation and Code, the Atlantic Shellfish Area Classification Committee, and the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour environmental assessment process.
We have a significant number of projects that we're involved in, including things like the Kings County domestic water well survey, environmental impact of dairy waste water, winter management of wetlands, watercourse temperature monitoring and a hypolimnia study. The task group's activities include the development of a water task group strategy, which was produced by April 5, 2002. We chaired the water conference with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration and the Federation of Agriculture on March 27th and March 28th in Coldbrook. This was a conference where we brought experts in for the farming community to provide them advice on water management issues and irrigation. It was very successful. We had about 125 people who attended, 90 of them being primary producers.
We developed a Water Task Force group fact sheet and a Web site and you have the materials that have been posted so far on our Web site. We have some other materials that we would like to put up. We've been in some conversations with the Department of Environment and Labour. Because of their pending water strategy, we don't want to confuse issues too much and we've been holding back on some of our material recently. We are developing an inventory of Department of Agriculture and Fisheries activities and issues. I noticed in your reference material you have a great deal of research that is going on at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. I regret to inform you that your information is a bit dated and we plan to update that in the very near future. We currently have a document in draft form that's about seven pages in bullet form which just basically lists all our activities that our department's involved in in water areas.
We plan to carry out a policy analysis to identify gaps and reach resolution. We have a target date of July 1, 2002 on that. We're continuing to consult with the industry. We have presently a proposal that the task group, along with the Federation of Agriculture and the
Growers Water Group of Horticulture Nova Scotia, are putting forward to establish a number of watershed clubs across the province. We're working with municipalities, provincial and federal governments and non-government organizations. Federally, I mentioned, we're working with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. On the NGO side, we've been working with Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia and they're putting out a series of workshops at this point in time. They started on the 15th of April and they're going to the 15th of June. I think it's around 12 workshops that they're doing on domestic water supplies for the general public. The Women's Institutes group and the general public are both invited to those workshops.
We're working with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour and I would like to quote from a recent draft document of theirs about our task group. Their document says, "The NS Department of Agriculture and Fisheries' Water Task Group is moving ahead quickly with its water strategy. This is a NSDAF internal strategy, yet aligned with the Provincial Water Strategy and consistent in all respects with the Provincial Water Strategy. It is pro-actively dealing with the same agricultural water-related issues as the Provincial Water Strategy, and demonstrates that water is a shared resource, requiring action by government, industry, and individuals alike. NSDEL, as lead water resource agency, strongly encourages other departments to prepare water-related strategies or action plans, based on the NSDAF model."
I think that indicates how well we are working with the Department of Environment and Labour. The Water Task Force group will continue to work towards developing and delivering solutions on water-related issues in the areas of agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Thank you. We are open for questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, sir. Do any members of your staff wish to make any other comments after that statement or in conjunction with that statement? Our usual procedure is that we now turn the time over to the respective caucuses. There are 20 minutes assigned to each. It is 8:15 a.m. and the following 20 minutes goes to the Official Opposition. Mr. Steele.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I don't mind admitting that I've had a little bit of trouble formulating where I want to go with questions today and the reason for that is more to do with a comment that I want to make for the other members of the committee and not so much for you, who kindly agreed to appeared today. It's about the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee which, the way that I see it, is more backwards looking. Where our job is to review the Public Accounts; it's to review the report of the Auditor General, in broad terms, it's to see whether Nova Scotians have received value for public money that has been spent. It's the only committee of the Legislature really that, in that sense, is backward looking.
There are other committees of the Legislature, in particular the Resources Committee, that are best suited for dealing with the kind of topic that we have before us today. They're more forward looking, looking at policy issues within particular sectors like agriculture. In fact, there was a proposal at one point that this topic be given to the Resources Committee. But the government majority on this committee is showing an emerging pattern of voting in favour of agenda items that really are not within the scope of the mandate of this committee. The result of that is that the topics we ought to be addressing, real value for money issues, we're not addressing. As I say, that's a comment more for the other members of the committee and not for you who've kindly agreed to be here today.
But I guess my point is that it is difficult for me as a member of the Public Accounts Committee to formulate questions about value for money for a water task group that was formed only just a few months ago and whose work is just beginning and whose work, by its very nature, is forward looking and looking to see what's down the road. But with that preamble, I will address some of the issues that you've raised today. Let me start with a very simple value for money kind of question. How much money has been allocated to the work of the Water Task Force group?
MR. CAMERON: The resources for the Water Task Force are internal to the programs. We don't have a separate budget subject for the task group.
MR. STEELE: I will ask the same question about people resources. There was a time when I was a civil servant and certain government programs would be legislated or enacted and we would be told, we are very busy with full-time jobs, more than full-time jobs, and we would be told, okay, now that we've enacted this new program, you do this too, on top of everything else you're doing. So there were no real dedicated human resources, never mind no new dedicated financial resources. Does the Water Task Force have any dedicated human resources or is this something that all the members are doing in addition to their regular duties?
MR. CAMERON: I'm dedicated to this task group. The other members have other functions that they're carrying out.
MR. STEELE: If I am understanding you, your full-time work is to deal with the work of this task group. Is that correct?
MR. CAMERON: It is.
MR. STEELE: You mentioned in your opening remarks the provincial water strategy, which has been promised for a long time. To your knowledge, where is the provincial water strategy and when is it going to be released to the public - do you know?
MR. CAMERON: My understanding is that they hope to release it shortly.
MR. STEELE: Shortly. Do you know what shortly means? Do you have any more specific information than that?
MR. CAMERON: I know at a technical level, they would like to see it out during Environment Week, which is June 2nd to 8th.
MR. STEELE: Okay, because needless to say, it is a little difficult for us to evaluate how the work of the Water Task Force measures up against the provincial water strategy that of course none of us has actually seen yet. Of course, I will take your word for it that it does fit in with that water strategy.
I was struck when reading some of the material in preparation for today about the very, very close tie-in between agriculture, of course, and water quality, which is the issue I want to focus on for a few minutes and I was reminded of the fact that the whole Walkerton tainted water tragedy started on an agricultural operation. The best information that anyone could develop was that the tainted water started on a farm and spread to a well that was improperly protected from that kind of contamination, and I hasten to say that no one in Walkerton, or no one in the inquiry suggested for one moment that the agricultural producer had done anything wrong, the issue was the protection of the well, not the agricultural practices followed by the producer.
How much of a risk are Nova Scotians running of something similar happening here, of drinking water contamination from agricultural operations?
MR. MICHAEL LANGMAN: Thanks for the question. I think it's a very pertinent one. I think that the measures that are in place in Nova Scotia to protect water supplies, such as through the Environment Act regulations and the designation of watersheds, are probably at least as good if not better than the kinds of controls and protection that you will see in other provinces across the country. In addition, I think the farmers in the province have been very proactive in dealing with their own waste usage - I'm referring to manure.
We have manure management guidelines that have large components of those guidelines dealing specifically with the protection of soil and water resources, not with the nutrient value of the manure. Specific sectors like the hog sector have developed their own best management practices, and a good part of those practices deal with the proper disposal or proper use of manure, so that we have, what I would consider, minimized the risk to a level that's acceptable. With any industry, there's going to be some risk involved in the production of the food or the production of anything that you would consider. There's always going to be some risk, and we feel that the way the industry is going, the way the province is dealing with the protection of the water resource, as I said, it is probably comparable, if not superior, to what you will see in other jurisdictions.
MR. STEELE: I'm going to have to ask you to speak up a little bit, because I had to strain to hear you just now. Bear in mind, the microphone in front of you doesn't amplify, it only records.
Last year, at the Resources Committee, we had a presentation from the Department of Environment and Labour. One of the questions I asked at the time was if they could name the three places in Nova Scotia where drinking water was most at risk of contamination. They gave an answer, but before I tell you or remind you of what they said, I was wondering if any of you would care to give an answer to that question. Where, in your opinion, is drinking water quality most at risk from contamination?
MR. CAMERON: I would rather not venture an opinion on that. I would like to hear what they had to say.
MR. STEELE: I don't blame you. The place that they identified as being the top risk in Nova Scotia for contamination happened to be one that was at risk of contamination from surrounding agricultural operations, and that was at Sides Lake in Shubenacadie. I was wondering if any of you have any knowledge of that particular site, and if you would care to comment? If that's the highest-risk place in Nova Scotia and it involves agricultural operations, what can be done, what is being done to manage that risk, to assure the people who draw their drinking water from that area that they're safe?
MR. CAMERON: I'm familiar with the area. My understanding is that there's just been a recent amendment to the designated watershed at Sides Lake. It is a designated watershed; they have the mechanism in place to deal with the protection of that water supply. It's the municipality's responsibility to bring forward those regulations under that designation that would increase that protection from the current regulations that are under that designation.
MR. STEELE: So, in layperson's terms, how would you assess the degree of risk there of water quality contamination?
MR. CAMERON: Pardon? Could you repeat that question?
MR. STEELE: I'm just wondering if, in layperson's language, you were speaking to people in that area, what would your assessment be of the degree of risk that the drinking water would be contaminated?
MR. CAMERON: I don't know that I can put a degree of risk on it. There are activities that take place in that watershed. There's a transportation corridor through that watershed, in addition to agriculture and forestry lands within that watershed. The mechanism is in place that allows the utility to bring forward regulations to the Minister of Environment and Labour that control those activities. I'm not sure what the regulations are under that
designation at this point in time. I do believe that in the past they contained the two standard regulations that indicated you couldn't pollute in that watershed, a very broad definition, nor could you bathe in the water supply. Those are the two sets of regulations that have been in place in most water designations in this province since 1964.
MR. STEELE: When the Department of Environment and Labour officials appeared before the Resources Committee they identified the second-highest risk of drinking water contamination as being in the Annapolis Valley, and in particular some municipal wells that were located near the highway running through the Valley. Of course, the Annapolis Valley is one of our centres of agriculture production. I was wondering if you know or if you could tell us to what degree agricultural operations pose a risk to drinking water quality in the Annapolis Valley?
MR. CAMERON: There is evidence that there is impact on domestic and commercial water supplies from agriculture in the Annapolis Valley area.
MR. STEELE: What is the nature of those impacts?
MR. CAMERON: There was a report done in 1989 on pesticides and nutrients.
MR. STEELE: What's the degree of risk posed by those pesticides and nutrients?
MR. CAMERON: The pesticides that were detected in water supplies in the Annapolis Valley were all below, well below the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines for those pesticides.
MR. STEELE: And what about the nutrients?
MR. CAMERON: There is evidence of nutrients above the guidelines, depending on the size of the area that you're talking about, between 7 per cent and 30 per cent.
MR. STEELE: Now did I understand you correctly to say that those results were taken in 1989? If so . . .
MR. CAMERON: The first nutrient studies done in the province were done back in the 1960s. It was followed up with studies in the 1970s, 1989 and they have been revisited just recently.
MR. STEELE: What were the most recent results?
MR. CAMERON: I don't have those at hand, but my understanding is they are similar to the other four. Numbers haven't changed any since the 1960s.
MR. STEELE: I wonder if you could put this in layperson's language, bearing in mind that I'm a city kid representing a city riding. If you tell me there are nutrients in my water, what does that mean, in practical terms, for me? Let me clarify . . .
MR. CAMERON: The nutrient that we tend to talk about is nitrate; the impact to you, because you're neither an infant under six months of age nor a pregnant woman is negligible.
MR. STEELE: What about people living in the affected areas in the Annapolis Valley who are infants under six months or pregnant women, what's the degree of risk to them?
MR. CAMERON: They should be drinking from an alternate water supply.
MR. STEELE: How widespread is this problem in the Annapolis Valley? I mean the Annapolis Valley, of course, is a big area. I wonder if we could narrow this down a little bit and identify what specific parts of the Annapolis Valley we are talking about. Are we talking about the whole Valley?
MR. CAMERON: Well, that's why I gave you the range of percentages for the nutrients. If we go to the whole Annapolis Valley, if we go to the whole Province of Nova Scotia, the percentage of nitrate above the guideline is in the 7 per cent range. If we concentrate into some areas such as Canning, the number rises closer to 30 per cent.
MR. STEELE: To your knowledge, is this fact widely known in the Annapolis Valley? Has there been any government publicity around it?
MR. CAMERON: There's not a lot of government publicity around it. How much people have taken in . . .
MR. STEELE: Yes. For example, the suggestion that people in certain groups should be drinking from an alternate water supply comes as news to me, but then, as I said, I live in the city and I represent a city constituency so I'm not surprised that it wouldn't necessarily get through to me. Has there been a public relations effort in the Valley to make sure the people in those affected groups are aware of the risk, to your knowledge?
MR. CAMERON: I believe so.
MR. LANGMAN: If I can interject, actually the Department of Agriculture co-operated with the Department of Fisheries at the time in doing these studies and the studies were actually done on domestic wells, on individual wells, you know, an individual such as you would agree to let us take the samples and if we did find that there were elevated levels of nutrients, nitrates, in the water, that information would go back to the homeowner and
there would be advice given to the homeowner on what to do if there was, as Andy has said, a pregnant woman or an infant in the house. So that has been done.
In addition to that, we encourage rural people to sample their water every year. The Women's Institutes, the work that's going on right now, that's exactly what they're doing. They're conducting information sessions all over rural Nova Scotia and bringing people up to speed on how you take care of your water supply and are encouraging people to take water samples every year. So that information is getting out there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Steele, you have two minutes remaining.
MR. STEELE: Thank you. When the Department of Environment appeared before the Resources Committee last year, the third site they identified as being most at risk after Sides Lake and the Annapolis Valley was the area of Pictou County served by the East River and I was wondering if, to your knowledge, as members of the water task group or the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, whether agricultural operations have in any way contributed to water quality issues in the East River in Pictou County?
MR. CAMERON: I'm not aware of any specific information in that area, but the East River watershed is a large watershed with many activities going on in it and it's a very difficult watershed to protect a public drinking water supply in.
MR. STEELE: I do know there's a number of industrial operations as well. Just to close out, my last question has to do with your relationship with the Department of Environment. You mentioned that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is responsible for water quality in the food safety division. What is the nature of the relationship between the Department of Agriculture and its watchdog role over drinking water quality and the Department of Environment and Labour and its watchdog role over drinking water quality? What is the precise nature of that relationship?
MR. CAMERON: There is a draft memorandum of understanding between the two departments on that relationship so that information is transferred between the two departments on drinking water. When one department finds non-compliance, they will provide the information to the other department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The next 20 minutes is assigned to the members of the Liberal caucus and I'm informed the member for Cape Breton West will take the lead.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. For you, Mr. Cameron, I was reading your terms of reference for your task force. They seem pretty much the same as the terms of reference that were set out in the Resource Stewardship document that was printed in your annual report of March 31, 1999. Am I correct on that?
MR. CAMERON: I believe so.
MR. MACKINNON: Yes. So those terms of reference were established under the previous administration?
MR. CAMERON: No, those terms of reference were just developed in November and December of . . .
MR. MACKINNON: March 31st came before July 26th; the election was in July. The terms of reference were established in March, am I correct? Or even before that. The terms of reference that you're referring to were established under the previous administration?
MR. CAMERON: No, the terms of reference were established in November and December 2001.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, why do they read - not verbatim, but every point that's in the previous terms of reference is the same as what's in the terms of reference you're referring to?
MR. CAMERON: I don't know why they read the same.
MR. MACKINNON: Just a coincidence.
MR. CAMERON: Just maybe a coincidence, motherhood and apple pie, the right things to do.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Cameron, are you aware of any instances in the province where water is drawn from a water source for agricultural purposes contrary to the Environment Act?
MR. CAMERON: I'm not.
MR. MACKINNON: Do you know of anybody in your department who is?
MR. CAMERON: I'm not aware.
MR. LANGMAN: Two years ago, sir, we started to work with the Department of Environment and Labour because of the extended years of drought in the Annapolis Valley, in particular. We started to work with the Department of Environment and Labour to get a better handle on the irrigation practices of the agricultural sector in the Valley, and one of the things that the Department of Environment and Labour did was offer amnesty to anybody who may have been drawing surface water without the appropriate permits and approvals. I don't know the numbers, but it is my understanding that some individuals did come forward
and say that they had been taking water. They would obviously then be asked to get the appropriate permits and approvals. I don't know what percentage it was, but there were some individuals who were . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Where were they drawing the water from?
MR. LANGMAN: All the surface waters in the Annapolis Valley, Pereaux, Cornwallis, et cetera.
MR. MACKINNON: Do you know how much water has been exported from Nova Scotia? Does anybody in the Department of Environment and Labour know?
MR. CAMERON: I can't speak for the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: But you work closely with them? You have a memorandum of understanding.
MR. CAMERON: On a number of issues we do have memorandums of understanding with the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: As a hydrologist, do you monitor the water that's being drawn from different aquifers for potential sale or export?
MR. CAMERON: I believe there's a piece of legislation, and I'm not sure if it has been brought into effect - it certainly has been passed in the House - that the Department of Environment and Labour works with with respect to exporting bulk water shipments. Our concerns at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries when that legislation was brought forward were that ice was defined as water, and we were concerned about the ability of the fishing industry to take ice out and ice down fish, also for water to be used in the export of live fish. There is an exemption in that piece of legislation for those activities to take place, and that has been our only role involved in that piece of legislation.
MR. MACKINNON: As a hydrologist, what's your relationship with the Department of Environment and Labour in terms of water quality and water quantity?
MR. CAMERON: I was a 21-year employee of the Department of Environment prior to moving to the Department of Fisheries six years ago. I was manager of the Water Resources Branch, so I have historical background in water issues within this province. My last six years I've been involved in horizontal initiatives and not directly involved in the water issue.
MR. MACKINNON: So you would have a working knowledge of the points that your colleague made in terms of people drawing water from water sources without permits?
MR. CAMERON: I left the Department of Environment in 1996. Prior to the consolidated Act, farms and the activities of farms were not regulated under the Environment Act. Under the Water Act which allocated water, there was an exemption for use of water for less than six weeks, so irrigation waters did not require approvals prior to 1996; therefore some of these farmers who were in non-compliance in the late 1990s only got into non-compliance because of a change in legislation in 1996.
MR. MACKINNON: The issue - I'm not sure if you would agree with this - the figures seem to point to this particular conclusion I've come to, that the highest percentage of boil orders in the province are in the Annapolis Valley. Would you . . .
MR. CAMERON: I haven't seen any statistics to that . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Anybody there among your colleagues have knowledge of that? You're working with the Department of Environment though, on this task force, aren't you? I mean, this to me would be a rather basic piece of information that you would want to know, where compromises of water quality are in various areas of the province, in order to be able to address the issue because that's outlined in your terms of reference, is that not correct? A simple yes or no would suffice.
MR. CAMERON: I don't have an answer to that.
MR. MACKINNON: So you don't know?
MR. CAMERON: I guess not.
MR. MACKINNON: Is there anybody else in your department on that task force who could answer that question?
MR. CAMERON: I don't believe there is.
MR. MACKINNON: I want to focus on the issue of the Walkerton situation because the point's been raised. The overall strategy - your colleague mentioned that we have as good, if not better, legislation than other provinces. Prior to Walkerton, that's what the Ontario provincial government was saying as well, so what comfort level can we take from that comment that you've made that we can't take from Ontario?
MR. LANGMAN: I don't remember all the details of the Walkerton situation, but my memory suggests that it was an extraordinary rainfall event that actually caused the pollution event to occur. There are going to be situations - Nova Scotia has erratic weather conditions - where the risk is higher, but what I was suggesting to you was that I think the province has taken significant steps in protecting water resources through regulations and legislation, and the industry itself, the agricultural industry has been extremely proactive in this province in
identifying the issues, especially the livestock sector, and has taken measures to deal with manure containment, manure use. You travel this province and you will see thousands and thousands of dollars spent by individual farmers on manure storage, the latest technology in manure spreading.
We have some of the most innovative ways of dealing with grey water. In Nova Scotia, there's a technique we use called constructed wetlands, which is actually a method of using nature to treat the grey water coming off the farm, in an environmentally friendly way. That's very innovative technology, and farmers are grasping these things and going with them so, as I said before, I don't think you can reduce the risk to zero, but I think what you're seeing is a very proactive approach to dealing with the risk of water contamination in this province.
MR. MACKINNON: I would like to focus on - because this committee does value for dollar - there seems to be, at least through the media reports and individuals I've spoken to, a growing concern about drought conditions in the farm belt in the province and the cost effectiveness of being able to continue farming. We've noticed a reduction in farming operations - the number, not the size. How prepared is the provincial government to be able to meet the financial needs of the farming community on the issue of drought assistance?
MR. MICHAEL JOHNSON: I will take that question, if I can. It's very difficult for the last little while for me to be quiet - I'm usually very talkative, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to speak. Just for background, we all play different roles on the committee. I was just asked about different resources and my role is involved with the programs in risk management for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. My expertise on the committee is dealing with the program side, the delivery of programs. Your question would fall under that mandate. We have programs in the province to assist producers - it's commonly referred to as a drought issue, but we're looking at a water management issue. We're looking at the water, the last few years we still get a lot of precipitation, but it comes at different times of the year. Ideally it should come during the growing season, but the last few years it's coming in the Spring and the Fall and is very dry through the Summer.
So we do have programs in place provincially. We have a couple that - one specifically that's for producers on farm to help put in place infrastructure for water management issues to allow them to increase their capacity to deal with times of the year where the water supply isn't coming from precipitation through natural rainfall. They have to be challenged with the ability to either transfer the water or store the water so it's available to them during those critical times of the growing season. We do have programs in place to try to assist producers in that area to give them the capacity to manage that important resource for them.
MR. MACKINNON: But you didn't answer my question.
MR. JOHNSON: Are they adequate?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes. Are they sufficient to meet the needs?
MR. JOHNSON: This past year, to address that, to make them more adequate we've increased the assistance available to individual farms. We have a good participation in that program the last couple of years. I expect to see that participation be the same. We've been able to handle all the applications received under that program for funding so I believe that the program is working well and the farmers are participating well. Is it adequate? I think when we're looking at, going back to the investment of public dollars, I think those dollars are being used in a good way. Are they meeting all the needs? Based on applications and putting them through, yes. Could the programs be richer? We again, this year, are addressing that by trying to increase the assistance in that water management area.
MR. MACKINNON: Just as a sidebar to that, your colleague, Mr. Cameron, indicated about the provincial water strategy that's soon to be announced, in a timely fashion to paraphrase his terminology. The fact of the matter is, it has been postponed three times by the government so far, by the government's own admission. The minister indicated that it would be completed by the end of September last year and then again in October and then again in April of this year it was supposed to be unveiled and now we're talking July. With a little bit of luck, we will be able to get a cake with a candle and have our first anniversary of delays.
On the issue of flooding, one of the goals in 1999 of the Resource Stewardship Branch - that document I referred to - was to focus and enhance the department's capacity to provide staff and industry with timely and appropriate information on agri-environmental issues. My question to you, Mr. Cameron, have these staff reductions had an impact on your ability to meet that objective?
MR. CAMERON: I don't have the answer to that question. I don't know . . .
MR. LANGMAN: I happen to be the director of that branch and the focus of the branch has changed very significantly since the staff reductions. In the past, those staff dealt with production issues in agriculture, extension work in agriculture and mostly in the area of crop and livestock. The new focus of my division is on resource management - issues such as flooding, drought, soil conservation, wildlife habitat. So I would say that, although we have fewer staff, those staff are dealing with those issues and those issues only.
MR. MACKINNON: Do you feel that you're able to meet that objective?
MR. LANGMAN: I believe we are able to meet the objectives and the goals that we've established.
MR. MACKINNON: With less staff and less financial resources?
MR. LANGMAN: Because we're focusing on less issues.
MR. MACKINNON: Less issues? That's because of the privatization of certain aspects within the department?
MR. LANGMAN: That's correct.
MR. MACKINNON: So, it's really not a responsibility of the department anymore.
MR. LANGMAN: Well, the issues that you had raised there - the flooding, drainage, drought - those are the issues that we are now focusing on. The resource concerns of the province.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, let's look at that, then. The Truro Dykeland Park in Saint Mary's Marsh. As you would be aware, there has to be considerable capital expenditure on replacement of those dykelands surrounding those areas. What's the department able to do to address that issue and protect the farmers in that area?
MR. LANGMAN: As part of my division, we have a section dealing specifically with the dykelands in the province. There's about 43,000 acres of dykelands, 17,000 hectares. We have staff who work on those dykelands. There is a budget dedicated to the maintenance of the dykelands and that budget is more or less the same as it has been for a number of years.
MR. MACKINNON: Back to Mr. Cameron. You referenced the document with regard to pesticides and nutrients at considerable length. There is a rule here in the committee that if you refer to a particular document in an extended form or quote from it, that you table that document. Will you table that document for the committee and the subsequent documents as well?
MR. CAMERON: You are referring to the study that was done in 1989?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes, and the studies after that. You indicated the same study was done at later dates as well.
MR. CAMERON: At earlier dates, 1964, 1974, and 1989. To the best of my ability, I will provide that information.
MR. MACKINNON: The Tantramar Marshes, there's considerable growing concern in that area about water quality and the dumping of sewage sludge. How has your department been able to deal with that issue or are you familiar with it?
MR. CAMERON: I'm not familiar with that issue.
MR. MACKINNON: You're not familiar with any of the issues on water quality in the Tantramar Marshes or hydrology issues? No?
MR. CAMERON: No, I'm not.
MR. MACKINNON: You are the lead hydrologist for the department, though, aren't you?
MR. CAMERON: I'm a geologist who works with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
MR. MACKINNON: Is there anybody in your group who can speak to the issue of Tantramar Marshes and water quality?
MR. CAMERON: I'm not aware of the issue.
MR. MACKINNON: No, nobody?
MR. LANGMAN: Are you speaking about land application of sludge?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that's part of it but it also has to do with the impact on the water table.
MR. LANGMAN: Well, we do work with the Department of Environment as the mandate to permit the land application of sludge and they consult with us whenever it's going to be applied on farmland. We're working with them in the Antigonish area, I believe, and actually monitoring the impact of land application on some of the industrial waste. So we're doing a bit of monitoring and research to see what the long-term impacts will be. We have not seen any negative impact on water quality in any of the studies we have been involved in.
MR. MACKINNON: With regard to composting, I know there are different composting entities that provide sewage sludge and so on to farming operations in the province. Can you give us an indication of how extensive that is, how many acres are covered and the source of where that sewage sludge comes from? No?
I'm getting a little confused here because the minister seems to have given a different indication during his budgetary estimates. I'm referring to the Minister of Environment and Labour, of course. There doesn't seem to be the coordination that you seem to refer to and I'm getting a little concerned here.
MR. CAMERON: The only recent issue that I have seen, with respect to dispersal of sludge, was a recent newspaper article on the HRM proposal for sewage treatment. I'm not
aware of any dialogue that has taken place about the disposal of that sludge on agricultural lands.
MR. MACKINNON: You don't know of any farmers who are accepting sewage sludge on their farms?
MR. LANGMAN: Well, as I said, we do, in fact, we are working with farmers . . .
MR. MACKINNON: You do? How many acres are covered?
MR. LANGMAN: Again, the only ones that I'm aware of personally that we are working with are the farmers who are co-operating in the monitoring program and the evaluation program. It is not a significant acreage; I don't have those numbers available but I would suggest to you it's not a large acreage. In fact, I do recall that I don't think any additional permits are being issued for land application of sludge until some of this work is completed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon. It's 8:55 a.m., and the next 20 minutes goes to the government caucus.
The honourable member for Preston.
MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, I will also be sharing some of my time with my colleague, the member for Kings West, depending on the length of time of the questions or answers I receive. First of all, could I ask the panel before us today to clarify your roles in regard to the various departments. You talk about other departments and water-related strategies that we have. Today we have the Department of Agriculture of Fisheries, we have the Department of Environment and Labour, we have the Department of Natural Resources, we have the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and to some degree we probably have the Department of Health as well as the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. I will tie in that one in a moment.
We have situations such as water life habitats, groundwater, water removal permits from waterways and rivers or well drillers; we have fish habitats. Could you explain further the words you said, horizontal initiatives, in regard to the coordination of the various departments, how they work together with this water strategy?
MR. CAMERON: The lead agency for water in this province is the Department of Environment and Labour. They're responsible for all water management, which would encompass a good number of those topics that you spoke about. There are a number of horizontal initiatives taking place that not only deal with water issues but deal with a wide range of issues.
One of those initiatives is called the sustainable communities initiative, which is a program between the various levels of government: the federal government, provincial government, municipal governments and Aboriginals. There are as many as 40 agencies involved in that initiative. It's basically funded by federal money, provincial support is in kind. It's established with a coordinating committee of senior bureaucrats, and it has two pilot areas, one being the Bras d'Or area and the other being the Annapolis-Fundy area.
There are other horizontal initiatives, such as the Gulf of Maine Council, the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition, the Coastal Communities Network. There are a lot of those types of things out there that aren't specific to water issues and aren't specific to agricultural water issues, but deal with co-operative approaches to stakeholder issues. At this point in time, the Bras d'Or component of sustainable communities is trying to deal with the disposal of waste from pleasure craft in the Bras d'Or Lakes, among other issues.
That's the labyrinth that goes across, horizontally, all these silos where the decisions are made. Our Water Task Force group is trying to deal with water issues within those sectors that I mentioned, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, inland fisheries and our research capabilities at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. It's part of the silo, and not part of the horizontal aspect. We try to keep the communication lines open and provide that information back to the Department of Environment and Labour, the lead agency for water resources in this province, so that they know what we're doing.
MR. HENDSBEE: In regard to the comment you made earlier about this draft MOU, this memorandum of understanding, with the various departments, I would assume that the Department of Environment and Labour would be the ultimate authority or take precedence over the other departments in the coordinating of any water crisis in this province?
MR. CAMERON: I believe you're correct. What happens within the Health Act and our inspectors on site is we try to react to an individual incident before it becomes a crisis. They may not be involved in every case. We have people out on the ground.
MR. HENDSBEE: In regard to the members of the Water Task Force, how broad is it presently? We have three panellists here today, but how broad is the Water Task Force at the present time? Does it contract or expand upon necessity, depending on the need?
MR. CAMERON: We currently have 12 members. We haven't come to that issue of expansion or contraction at this point in time. We've gone with the original 12 so far. I chair the task group, and I was working in these horizontal initiatives prior to that. We have people from the resource stewardship section, program management, policy, marketing, aquaculture, and inland fisheries. I think that's where our people come from.
MR. HENDSBEE: I want to make reference to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. Has there been any discussion either with that department or the municipalities or the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities in regard to land use bylaws and zoning, and perhaps the redefinition of using zone boundaries, be it watershed boundaries, instead of "political" boundaries, be it town limits or county lines, whatever the case may be? Has there been any discussion of redefining land use planning by watershed boundaries?
MR. CAMERON: Not as a result of this task group. The only interplay with Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations was that I met with their director of community programs and provided him with a copy of our internal strategy. Those issues that you brought forward are long-standing issues and have long been discussed as being addressed through various mechanisms to protect water supplies. As I indicated to Mr. Steele earlier, there's the ability under the Environment Act to designate water supplies; there's also the ability under the Planning Act or its successor that allows for land use planning by the municipalities that would address the protection of watersheds.
MR. HENDSBEE: In the wake of the Walkerton water crisis, the inquiry and the investigations, there has been a lot of speculation about of government cutbacks, the privatization of testing or the deregulation of the industry, whatever the case may be or not, the monitoring of the municipalities. Mr. Chairman, could I ask a question of the Auditor General? Has his office done any operational reviews of any of our water authorities?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Salmon.
MR. ROY SALMON: I will turn it to Mr. Horgan.
MR. ALAN HORGAN: At this time, we are doing an audit of the drinking water safety as managed by the Department of Environment and Labour. The audit is in process right now, and we're not at a stage where we can draw any conclusions yet. We expect to report on that audit in our 2002 Annual Report.
MR. HENDSBEE: So the concern about drinking water, and then there was also the concern i.e. groundwater results and surplus water runoff and stuff. Could you clarify in regard to - this is not just an agricultural problem. It's also a residential problem; my colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, might understand this or appreciate it better, about the pesticides or fertilizer runoff, even from urban areas, that are affecting waterways, lake waters and stuff, and recreational swimming areas. They have elevated nitrates and phosphates in the waters. We have algae plumes appearing in urban lake waterways.
We also have the Department of Transportation and Public Works, or even the municipalities, with road salt runoff and the infiltration that has, not just on the surface water but groundwater. What initiatives has this task group been looking at in trying to address those urban issues, not just the agricultural/rural issues?
MR. CAMERON: As I indicated, we're not the lead agency for the water management in this province; that's the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour. We're trying to deal with our own sectors, and we aren't doing anything in the area of urban responsibility.
MR. HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to pass the remainder of my time to my colleague, the member for Kings West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Carey, you have just under 10 minutes.
The member for Kings West.
MR. JON CAREY: Mr. Chairman, in the Annapolis Valley, for some time, there has been a farming group that's had a water study. I expect you've been working with them over the past number of months. The Valley, as I understand it, is sitting on aquifers, and I don't know the depths, but there is some thought about doing deep well drilling to acquire water for irrigation and for other purposes and also I know that government has been involved, the Department of Agriculture, in reservoirs. At the present time, what's the status of using deep wells or encouraging more reservoirs or whatever, and are you involved in the budgeting and the cost that's going to be involved in doing that?
MR. CAMERON: As indicated earlier, we have some programs that would assist with financial matters for the development of water supplies, be it surface water or groundwater, I believe.
MR. CAREY: On the farm?
MR. CAMERON: On the farm. That's our only involvement. We don't have a budget as such with the task group.
MR. CAREY: I'm concerned that there are farmers who are in financial problems and part of it I think has to do with the last three or four years of lack of water and they're dropping quite drastically. I'm just wondering, is there not an urgency to get something in place to help these people sustain their livelihoods and to continue farming? I mean, is there no budget of any kind - or am I misled to think that we're not supporting reservoirs on farms and considering deep wells or whatever options that are viable and user-friendly?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, regarding programs, we do have programs available specific to the water question, and that's what we're talking about this morning. There are programs, as I described, that we assist on those water-type initiatives for producers in this province. So there is some assistance available for them to take on projects, on farm, to allow them to deal with their water management requirements and management issues.
MR. CAREY: I guess I'm confused because some of you are connected with the Department of Agriculture, are you not? How much money is - I mean Public Accounts, how much money is made available to help the agriculture industry in this situation for drought relief, or water supply, or whatever you wish to call it?
MR. CAMERON: The Farm Investment Fund is the program that I'm talking about that allows producers to apply for assistance for several categories, water management being one of them; that particular program provincially has a budget of $3 million.
MR. CAREY: For the last, at least I'm aware of, 30 years we've been contributing to the farming community financially in doing drainage land tile. In the Annapolis Valley you would be hard-pressed to find a farm that doesn't have tile on it for drainage.
MR. CAMERON: Correct.
MR. CAREY: I'm not sure that I'm, from what we've seen in the lack of water supply, as an afterthought, should we have drained all of these? Maybe the person who designed it originally did a pretty good job and we should have left it alone.
MR. JOHNSON: I won't speak on the water, but going back to the question, it goes back again to a water management issue and at the time, depending on the weather, we had a wet Spring again, the tile drainage that was put in a lot of those farms allowed them to have early access obviously under the land and, again, if we think of it as a water management issue rather than a drought issue, again we're getting into precipitation annually. It's just a matter of when we receive it. So the issue is still water management.
At different times the water management wants to get the water off the land. Now it's a matter of having the water available during the growing season when typically we would see a normal rainfall. So the investment into that tile drainage, it was probably a sound investment to allow the producers to deal with their drainage issues, their land access issues. There are discussions looking at how the water coming off the land in the Spring could potentially be used for later application.
MR. CAREY: Are we continuing that drainage policy and subsidizing it?
MR. JOHNSON: There is a tile drainage part of the water management program that's still in place. It's part of the Farm Investment Fund, that's correct, yes.
MR. CAREY: And does that have anything to do with your group being able to collect this water and have it stored, or whatever, is there a procedure going to be put in place to use this water that we're draining or have we advanced that far?
MR. JOHNSON: I would ask Mike or Andy to speak to that question, but there are discussions about looking at all alternatives on dealing with water and looking at the water when it comes off the land in the Spring, whether it's through tile drainage or storage, or whatever.
MR. LANGMAN: We do have research dollars dedicated to water management as well and we are conducting a number of projects looking at ways and means of not only capturing run-off water, but managing the water in the soil more efficiently. It's well known that the more organic matter you have in the soil, for example, the better able the soil is to hold the water throughout the season. As Mike was saying, the problem is not the amount of water, it's the seasonality of the water. We have enough water. It's just that when we need the water, it's not available. So what we're trying to do is to blend that availability throughout the year through the use of things like farm ponds, better soil management, mulches, a variety of means. There is all kinds of research going on, both at the Agricultural College and farmer-driven research looking at these very issues and your point about taking the water off in the Spring and why not capture it is a very good one and it's one that we have thought about and are doing some work on.
MR. CAREY: The Annapolis River, particularly in the Aylesford area, 30 years ago it used to be fit to swim in and, secondly, you could have areas that had depths of 10 feet to 15 feet. Today you can walk across the same spot. Does this have anything to do with the amount of rainfall, or the drainage, or why are we getting this type of silt, or whatever it is, built up? There has been a tremendous change in that river and I expect others.
MR. CAMERON: Geological processes are dynamic, not static as people tend to think in common practice. Erosion is always taking place. Deposition of sediment is always taking place and the likelihood of it being accelerated exists with increased activities of man in the watershed above those watercourses.
MR. CAREY: So would there be any correlation between that and the amount of irrigation that's removing water from the Annapolis River?
MR. CAMERON: I don't think so.
MR. CAREY: The Canning area, I think you indicated that the nitrates possibly were in the 30 per cent range there. You said the low was 7 per cent and the high was 30 per cent. What connection can we put between that, and that it's one of the best farming areas in Nova Scotia, and the amount of manures and sprays and fertilizers that are used there?
MR. CAMERON: Agriculture is one of the sources of nutrient that has been identified, also malfunctioning of septic systems and feedlots and other sources of nutrients besides agricultural fertilizer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Carey. We are going to go to our second round in just a moment. I would like to welcome the MLA for Shelburne, Mr. O'Donnell, who has replaced Mr. Morash for Queens. To allow for a wrap-up at the end and a couple of items of business, just basically direction of the committee, I'm going to ask each caucus to stick to 10 minutes. That way it will take us to a bit of a wrap-up at the end for our witnesses. It is 9:16 a.m. and the next 10 minutes goes to the members of the NDP caucus. Mr. Steele.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, before I move on to my next round of questioning, I would like to clarify something because I may be mistaken but I thought I was hearing different answers from different people, and this relates to the information the department has on the level of nutrients in the drinking water in the Annapolis Valley. I think Mr. Langman said that there are results more recent than 1989, but then, Mr. Cameron, I thought I heard you say the most recent results are 1989. Obviously, we are interested in the most recent results. What are the most recent results? Are there results since 1989 or are there not?
MR. LANGMAN: I believe Andrew said that there is an ongoing study and that is the one I was referring to. There is work right now and I believe we have final report . . .
MR. CAMERON: I haven't seen the final report.
MR. LANGMAN: So we may be in the draft . . .
MR. CAMERON: The latest version that I have is 1989, but I do know there is work having been done in the last year.
MR. STEELE: So I'm going to summarize what I think I heard and you can tell me if I'm right or wrong. There is an ongoing study that is complete or nearly complete, although the final report has not yet been submitted. Is that a fair assessment of where things stand?
MR. CAMERON: Yes.
MR. LANGMAN: Yes.
MR. STEELE: Okay. I would like to move on then to pursue some of the ideas that the member for Kings West raised and that's this whole issue of where this is all going. Now there was some reference to, what I will call, farm level or micro level ways of dealing with water management issues, because certainly what I have heard this morning is the same as what's in the briefing material, which is that Nova Scotia doesn't have a water quantity problem, it has a water timing problem and so the real issue is how we manage the timing so that when we need the water in the growing season that it's there.
Apart from what I will call those farm level things, like having a farm-specific pond or following some kind of mulching practice, what proposals or projects or concepts are out there at what I will call the macro level, projects that would serve more than one farm? What's out there and at what stage of development are those proposals?
MR. CAMERON: The task group, along with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture and the Growers Water Group of Horticulture in Nova Scotia are putting a proposal forward to develop watershed clubs across the province. Those would be groups of farms, 12 to 20, in a watershed or adjoining watersheds that would deal with water issues on a broader basis than just on farm. For instance, because of crop rotation a farmer doesn't use the same amount of water every year and when the allocations are being made to the farmers, they are given a volume of water on an annual basis. They may not need it two out of the three years but there may be the possibility that their neighbours could use that water. The concept behind these clubs would be that they would deal with those local management issues on a local basis to get a broader solution to water issues than individual on-farm solutions.
MR. STEELE: You mentioned that some of these clubs could span watersheds, that some would be in one watershed and some would be the other. What kind of issues are raised by the idea of moving water between watersheds?
MR. CAMERON: We're not talking same-size watersheds. You are when you're talking about the Old Man Dam and transfer of water into the Columbia River and that sort of thing. We're talking about small brooks adjacent to one another that the downstream impact is going to be negligible.
MR. STEELE: Because, for example, I'm aware of one particular project that's of enormous importance to Manitoba and that's the proposal in the northern United States - North Dakota and Minnesota - to move water from one watershed into the Red River watershed which is . . .
MR. CAMERON: We don't have a watershed anywhere near that size here in Nova Scotia.
MR. STEELE: I know we're not talking about that size, but I'm wondering about the issues raised simply by moving water from one watershed to another. Is it fair to say that the issues simply are not the same in Nova Scotia?
MR. CAMERON: They're not the same.
MR. STEELE: Okay. When the Federation of Agriculture appeared before the Resources Committee of the Legislature late last year, one of the people who appeared gave an estimate of the amount of public investment that might be needed to provide water at a satisfactory level. He was talking in particular of the Annapolis Valley and his projection, depending on the cost per acre, was anywhere from $60 million to $300 million. I don't know if it's a fair question or not, but within the Department of Agriculture, are there any cost projections, how much public investment might be required to deal with the water management issues that we're facing?
MR. JOHNSON: No, I can't give an answer to that question regarding the cost. To answer your question though, I don't know of any analysis - I know that was an estimate that was given at the time. One of the things, if I can add to Andy's comments regarding what we're doing though, is part of the other thing we're doing is that the department is investing at a higher level in the research side to get a better feeling of what resources are out there - collecting data, doing research on water quantity and quality issues. So we do have a better sense of the resources that are available to the industry and also what is needed to help answer those types of questions.
MR. STEELE: Now, when that representative of the Federation of Agriculture - actually, no, I think it was from Horticulture Nova Scotia, the growers' water group, Mr. Melvin, I think it was . . .
MR. JOHNSON: Richard. Richard Melvin.
MR. STEELE: His projections of cost were based on a specific target for the number of acres that would be affected by new water management strategy. Does the department itself have any targets?
MR. JOHNSON: For?
MR. STEELE: For an area of land that would be served by water management projects. For example, Mr. Melvin was talking about improving the flow of water to 60,000 acres, I believe it was, 60,000 acres. Does the Department of Agriculture have any targets at all?
MR. CAMERON: I don't believe we do. We have a couple of studies that are going on right now as far as water resources in the Annapolis Valley area. Actually, the Habitant and Pereau watersheds are being evaluated by the consulting firm CBCL under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, monies that were brought into the province in December and those may address some of the questions that you're asking.
MR. STEELE: Does the department have any estimate at all of how much public investment is needed or is it fair to say that the work of the water group is not at the stage of even projecting costs?
MR. CAMERON: I think the latter is where we are right now. We haven't come to address this issue at this point in time.
MR. STEELE: So, what's your reaction to Horticulture Nova Scotia's projection of $60 million to $300 million worth of public investment?
MR. CAMERON: Pretty big number.
MR. STEELE: Is it a realistic number? Is it a ballpark figure? Is it unrealistic? I wonder if you could be a little more specific about what the department's reaction is to that particular estimate?
MR. CAMERON: I can't.
MR. STEELE: Okay, thank you, those were my questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West, Mr. Downe. It's 9:25 a.m.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, I want to welcome our guests here today. Listening to the discussion, Mr. Cameron, it seems to me that for a committee that's been working as long as your committee has been in co-operation with other departments, there are a lot of questions not answered. Obviously, either the questions are not being posed in the committee or somehow or another, they're not being dealt with. In the structure of the committee, have you got any farmers involved with that? Have you got the Federation of Agriculture involved or have you got hort. council involved, have you got the livestock industry involved to talk about their requirements and their needs and their aspirations within the structure that you're talking about?
MR. CAMERON: This is an internal task group, but we have had dialogue with those agencies that you indicated.
MR. DOWNE: But as an internal task force, why wouldn't it be appropriate to have representation from industries that are being dealt this serious blow of survival in the area of drought and of legitimate concerns that either Richard Melvin has brought up or the Federation of Agriculture has brought up, or others, year after year after year. This is not a new phenomenon - this is something that's been going on since 1996, that farmers have been crying out about this issue. Why would you not consider bringing in part of that team for their expertise or their knowledge of the problems that they are currently having, for the committee?
MR. CAMERON: We are getting their information, we are getting their input. They're not being forced to come to a meeting every second Thursday, as our task group members are.
MR. DOWNE: So you meet every second week of the year, for the last three years?
MR. CAMERON: No.
MR. DOWNE: How long?
MR. CAMERON: Last six months.
MR. DOWNE: Last six months. I want to go back to that six-month period that you mentioned. In 1996 we started having some serious drought problems, and the problem of drought has been ongoing for a number of years - it's been on and off, on and off - but certainly from 1998 there have been some pretty severe problems. Four of the last five of those years were devastating to the farm community. Recently we've seen farm statistics showing that the number of farmers in the Province of Nova Scotia has declined by approximately 12 per cent. Some of the people who have been interviewed because of the decline have indicated the drought situation has caused severe hardship to those operations and they are forced to leave because they just do not have the cash flow to sustain their operation. They plant a crop and they get a 40 per cent or a 50 per cent yield, and they cannot survive with the current price/cost squeeze that's there, as well as the capitalization costs and return on those investments.
So the problem is very acute. I remember as a former member of the government talking about drought assistance programs and $20 million that we put in, so this issue has been ongoing for a long time. When the government took over, they indicated that they were going to continue to develop a water strategy. The annual report - the Resource Stewardship Branch back in March 31, 1999, this is an ongoing report - work was going on in this prior to March 31, 1999, because I was Minister of Environment during that time, earlier than that. On Page 7 of the document it talks about staff working with the Department of Environment and other provincial agencies developing and finalizing - finalizing - a water strategy for Nova Scotia. Back in 1999, and here we are in 2002 and we're still talking about sometime soon -
soon, I don't know when "soon" is. Farmers are leaving their farms because they do not have the ability to sustain themselves growing crops, and you're telling me that you've been on this committee for three - well you've been in charge of this for two or three years, and the committee's only met six months. I don't understand that.
MR. CAMERON: I don't understand your question because this committee was only established six months ago, not two or three years ago.
MR. DOWNE: Well, it seems to me it's part of the policy of the government to establish a water strategy in the Province of Nova Scotia. Campaigns were run on that basis, and that was back in 1999.
MR. CAMERON: That's not this committee, that's the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour - this is the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
MR. DOWNE: So you were over at Environment, you're now in Agriculture, and you have representatives of Environment and Agriculture meeting in a joint committee, internal committee, to develop a water strategy for Nova Scotia agriculture. You're telling me that because it's over in the Department of Environment and Labour, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries does not have an input into developing a water strategy now, but it's only been six months? I mean, I think the farm community is pretty upset. They're telling me they're frustrated by the fact that we haven't developed a strategy.
We talked about this back in March 1999. That's three years ago. This document didn't get pulled out of the air overnight. This was worked on for some time and the strategy needed to be finalized for the industry. Now we've been working for six months. We're losing farmers every day. Statistics show that we've lost 12 per cent of our farming community in the Province of Nova Scotia, and the committee has only been working for six months on developing a water strategy for Nova Scotia when, I think, farmers across the province are concerned that water strategy should have been developed a long time ago. Do you agree with that or not?
MR. CAMERON: I think the department shares some of your concerns. I think some of what you're talking about is apples and oranges. Fortunately, they're both fruit. We recognize within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries that the provincial water strategy, with its delays, hasn't been serving the agricultural community well, and as a result, we have decided to try to deal with our own sectors in a quicker manner. So we established this committee in the late fall and have been working for the past six months to do exactly what you're suggesting, provide a service to the farming community.
MR. DOWNE: So you're telling me that it's the Department of Environment and Labour that has dragged its feet. The minister, who is from the Valley, dragged their feet on this program for the last two and a half years or thereabouts. It was only because, finally, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries grabbed it from the attention of the Department of Environment and Labour that they're finally going to do something about the water strategy in the Province of Nova Scotia. Is that what I just heard?
MR. CAMERON: I hope not.
AN HON. MEMBER: That's what he said.
MR. DOWNE: It's awfully close to what this side of the House heard, I think.
MR. CAMERON: I can't tell you what is causing the provincial water strategy to be held up. I'm not privy to that information. I do know that our input, my input as the representative for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, has been with them - my last input - since last August. I do know that I've gone to many conferences and heard, as you have heard, that the strategy is soon to be delivered. I was asked to deal with agriculture and fisheries issues with an internal task group. I will admit that hearing that strategy was imminent for the umpteenth time, as you all have, put some fire under me to put some strategy and say it's not happening to me. It's not going to sit there forever. That's what has precipitated some of this recent movement.
MR. DOWNE: I appreciate the fact that you're hired to be putting fire under somebody because we're losing farmers, and these are not statistics. These are not apples and bananas or oranges and grapefruit or apple pie and whatever. These are human beings and families who are leaving the farm because this government, whether it's under the Department of Environment and Labour or the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Premier himself, has been dragging its feet on the issue of water strategy for the Province of Nova Scotia's farmers. They are losing their farms and this is a serious problem. They talk about a drought assistance program of $20 million that we announced back in 1998 or 1999, and they fast-tracked that to try to solve a problem. But the problem is not solved because we haven't found the vehicles to be able to enhance the opportunities of those farmers dealing with drought.
I understand the PFRA came and they met down in Coldbrook. I believe that the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture supported that and brought them in. Those are the experts, and they talked about we have enough water; we just don't know how to manage it properly. They are talking about new management strategies. That's the type of thing we need to start developing in Nova Scotia, not committees that are finally putting fire under people, but finding results. That's what farmers are expecting in Nova Scotia, results to the problems they have so they can sustain their family farm operation and agriculture in rural Nova Scotia and all Nova Scotia. Thank you, and I appreciate your effort, but it is frustrating for you. It's
equally frustrating for the farmers that are losing their family farms that they have farmed for generations. I have to express that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Don. I know you feel passionate on that topic and there's no need to apologize for it. Would anyone like to respond to any of the comments that Mr. Downe just made before I turn the next 10 minutes over to the government caucus.
MR. JOHNSON: I would like to. I think what Mr. Downe has described, there are a lot of issues that have affected the exodus of producers from agriculture between the last census and the one that was just released. The question of water is a key one for the producers to be successful and I think what we're trying to do is to develop ways of strategy to try to deal with the water issue by looking at it and dealing and working with industry to put programs in place to deal with producers, to deal with the question of water in a proactive way so they have the infrastructure, the have the ability to deal with the water question. It's not the only solution to many of the problems facing that ag sector, but I think we are approaching it.
It is a priority. I don't think anybody in this province would have ever thought that in four out of five years there would have been a drought and some of that has, I guess, maybe provided some complacency in all levels about how we deal with it. But we're dealing with water management. Whether it rains this summer or not, it's still an important issue, both water quality and quantity issues, for Nova Scotians and obviously, in our case, for the agricultural community we deal with. We are working diligently. It is a priority within our department and I appreciate his comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. It's just 9:37 a.m. and the next 10 minutes will go to the government caucus and the MLA for Pictou East.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, welcome to members of the task force and Andy, in particular. Andy and I go back to the 1970s when Andy first showed up in the government. Also, the communication officer. It is nice to have you here. With regard to irrigation, it's certainly a viable option for the farming and agriculture communities that have suffered several years of drought. I am just wondering what the effect of diverting stream water to agricultural land would have on the water quality as that seeps out? If you put more water onto agricultural land like that, does it run off and get into the streams and is there a problem in doing that? Every time you do something that's good, there's often something that's not so good that comes out the other end. I'm just wondering if that is a problem? I don't know who would like to address that.
MR. MICHAEL LANGMAN: Irrigation is not a haphazard event. Irrigation is based on soil moisture, based on the crop needs. I would suggest to you that in most circumstances, farmers are not putting more water on the land than the land can use or the crop can use. There's very little risk of runoff back in the stream directly from the field. So that would be
the first issue that I would be concerned about. That doesn't happen on a regular basis. The way that water is actually purified is in two ways. It either goes through a natural buffer like a wetland, a marsh, or it filters down through the soil. Irrigation is just the process of putting artificial rainfall, if you like, on the soil. It goes down through the soil into the water table and that process would purify the water. It might even enhance water quality. We never studied that, but it's an interesting concept.
MR. DEWOLFE: I know that growing up on the farm, the way to deal with the waste was spreading the well-rotted manure on the fields and it was well rotted. I don't know what problems arise now with the modern systems. In fact, I noticed, coming through from Pictou County when I passed the Stewiacke-Shubenacadie area, they're out with the slurry-type machines. I don't know if that's what you call them, but it sprays a slurry of the waste or the fields. It doesn't smell any better, but I guess it's a fairly effective way of dealing with it and perhaps better even spread. I don't know what aspects are involved there or why that's done today rather than the old system of the rotted manure because I don't expect that the manure has an opportunity to rot when it's stored in water like it is. I'm just wondering if you're looking into that type of runoff and then when you have heavy rains perhaps, or irrigation in conjunction with that, are you going to get a problem runoff and damage the water quality?
MR. LANGMAN: There are a number of questions there.
MR. DEWOLFE: I know.
MR. LANGMAN: The reason we use water now compared to what you remember is that it's really because of the way the manure is managed in the barn, less hands-on. The manure is usually moved through the barn with the help of water. A lot of farms today actually reuse the water over and over again. The water never actually leaves the building. They will have a system to take out the solids, either a mechanical or chemical system, and that water is contained within the building. They will even have a storage tank on the farm, so that water sits there.
When you put it on the land - you've already addressed the issues of the advantages - you get a more even spread. There's actually very low manure content in a lot of this manure that you're seeing spread on the land. For instance, hog manure can be as low as 2 per cent, 3 per cent, 4 per cent manure, the rest of it's water. So it absorbs more rapidly. You get less odour for less length of time because it dries up and gets solid very quickly and, as you said, there's a very even spread. So the advantage there is that you get better nutrient value, a more even spread of the nutrients.
MR. DEWOLFE: Is coliform a problem with this type of system any more so than the other?
MR. LANGMAN: No, we're doing work on that right now, in fact, to see what the residence time is in the manure and the research suggests that when you spread manure, especially on a sunny day or in dry conditions, the pathogens don't survive very long at all. It's not really a concern.
MR. DEWOLFE: Are there other ways to facilitate industrial irrigation?
MR. LANGMAN: Injection would be another way but as you well know, coming from a farm, Nova Scotia isn't blessed with the best soil in the world. So it tends to be a problem. We have pretty dense soil. We have a lot of stones, so it makes it very difficult. The other issue is that we have a livestock-based industry, so we have a lot of hay land and forage land. You can't cultivate the manure in, so the traditional way that you were relating to is the way that we did it in the past and we continue to do it because there's a hay crop on the ground. We do encourage farmers to use manure rather than chemical fertilizers.
MR. DEWOLFE: Aside from agriculture, what other industries use water in large quantities that perhaps you would be looking into as a task force on water quality?
MR. CAMERON: Land-based aquaculture . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Land based aquaculture.
MR. CAMERON: . . . would be significant volumes of water.
MR. DEWOLFE: How does that industry, for instance, fit into your studies?
MR. CAMERON: We hope to address issues in those in due time. The primary factors here have basically been agriculture, but we do recognize that the department does have those other clients that we should be dealing with.
MR. DEWOLFE: So you're talking fish health and so on, are you? Is your task group and the government looking into good conduct with regard to fish health and health of other water habitat?
MR. CAMERON: Our department deals with those issues, but that task group will not deal with the fish health issue. We just deal with the issue of sufficient water of sufficient quality to the industry.
MR. DEWOLFE: Andy, I know there's kind of a crossover here with Environment and some of these water-related topics that we're dealing with here today and I know you have a vast background with Environment, so you would like to put that behind you in some respects with regard to today, but what legislation has this government introduced to protect our water quality?
MR. CAMERON: The primary legislation for protection of water quantity and quality is the Environment Act which is an amalgamation of 16 Acts that existed before 1996, including the Water Act, an Act that has been around since 1919 to allocate the resources. That was an allocation document that only became a water protection mechanism in the mid-1960s, and it was during the mid-1960s that, under the Water Act, the mechanism of designation for public water supplies was brought forward. That legislation evolved through the early 1970s to deal with issues such as waste disposal.
MR. DEWOLFE: But there was, I believe, under Mike Baker, when he was Environment Minister, legislation put forward for water quality, very progressive legislation with regard to testing, monitoring, and management guidelines?
MR. CAMERON: They brought some regulations in for public water supplies in October 2000, and that was to provide water quality monitoring of public water supplies, defined as supply that supplied more than 25 people for more than 60 days. There's a requirement under that to do quarterly bacteria sampling and annual chemical and physical parameter sampling.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cameron and your staff, we usually have a wrap-up comment of various lengths, but I would encourage you to keep it to a couple of moments for the convenience of the committee. So the floor is yours, sir.
MR. CAMERON: We haven't got much to say. I would just like to stress that this task group is internal. I am the only resource dedicated to the task group. We're working with our sectors: agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture. The Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour is the lead agency for water management and a lot of the questions and issues that were brought forward here this morning should be directed toward that department, not ours.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I thank you for your time this morning. I would like to call for a two-minute recess as our witnesses leave, and then we can get together again for a few moments.
[9:48 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[9:50 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would encourage Mr. Downe to take his witnesses outside, if the record would show that.
Could we move to a couple of items of business. I just want to clarify them for various committee members. At this stage we do not have any kind of confirmation on the Public Accounts Committees Conference this summer in Newfoundland. As soon as we get it, we will share it with each of the caucuses. We do have one commitment thus far scheduled for June 11th, that was the earliest (Interruption) June 12th, it is a Wednesday in June.
We've also been provided with a list of upcoming - from the members of the NDP - proposals for Public Accounts Committee agenda items. What is your wish to deal with this? It has been suggested that we have a further meeting next week to discuss this issue of future witnesses, the direction of the committee during the next number of weeks, and the Newfoundland discussion. I will turn the floor over to Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: I will be quick, Mr. Chairman. We're quite agreeable. From a Liberal caucus point of view, the three issues at this point that we seem to be focusing on are from the Auditor General's Report, that was the Fire Marshal's Office, the Director of Occupational Health and Safety . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may just - I don't mind you going to the list.
MR. MACKINNON: I'm leading into the other issue, it ties into that. The third is the Director of Public Safety.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm sorry, could you start again? There was the fire marshal . . .
MR. MACKINNON: The Fire Marshal's Office, the Director of Occupational Health and Safety, and the Director of Public Safety. They are the only three. We didn't bring a written submission, unless my colleague, Mr. Downe, has anything. I think that covers some of the major topic issues in the AG's Report. We will just serve notice with the Conservative caucus for that.
On the other issue, I noticed that we have a set of witnesses coming in on June 10th. I know the Conservative caucus is intent on not wanting to go into June or thereafter. To me, if June 10th or 12th is the only witness that we have, I think we're quite agreeable, after that date, to not meet any further for the summer months.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's get it right for the record. June 12th would be our next scheduled witness at this time. Mr. Steele.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, the NDP caucus has just now circulated to other members a proposed list of topics, not in order of priority, and we would be happy discussing any of these. We're quite prepared to meet over the next few months, with the usual summer break. My understanding is it lasts no more than about a month or so. If your next scheduled
witnesses are on Wednesday, June 12th, that gives us two meetings between now and then. Frankly, I think it would be a shame for this committee not to fill in that time.
I would just like to say that I concur completely with the suggestions of the member for Cape Breton West, that based on what we've heard so far we really need to hear from the Director of Public Safety, we really need to hear from the Director of Occupational Health and Safety, and we really need to hear from the Fire Marshal's Office. Frankly, I see those as separate items. I would think that out of those three possibilities, we can easily line them up for the next two weeks. I would concur with that completely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have heard from Ms. Stevens who says that the fire marshal would be one that she could, hopefully, line up as soon as possible. My original suggestion was that next week we would have an organizational meeting, but now I'm hearing from some members of the group that you want to arrange a possible witness for next week. Is that correct? Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: What in the organizational meeting would take all morning, or take two hours on a Wednesday morning?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It was on my not-so-hidden agenda that if we go to an organizational meeting next week, we would meet at 9:00 a.m. and we could have a one-hour meeting to line up further witnesses. I just want to, if I may - because I see no further speakers - go to Mora on the likelihood of having a witness for next week.
MS. STEVENS: The problem with getting them in a week - now usually the fire marshal is very good, I don't mean to put him on the spot, it would just mean picking up the phone and calling him, I've dealt with him on a lot of things, especially fire safety. If he is available, with his schedule, I'm sure he would be more than happy to come, because he's very . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I want to point out to committee members that the staff, Ms. Stevens and so on, then take the lead in putting together these packages for us, which does involve a lot of time and preparation. We're talking at this stage about the possibility of having witnesses next week, with the fire marshal being the lead topic. Mr. Carey.
MR. CAREY: If I could get some clarification, we've been here, we had Mark-Lyn in, we had some other people over the last four or five meetings that really, in my opinion,
anyway, didn't have a thing to do with the Public Accounts Committee's responsibility. It had to do maybe with environment and other issues. I'm wondering, where are we going? Is the fire marshal coming in for financial implications or what?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, Mr. Carey, you and I are beginning to read our minds here. On that topic, I have a speakers list: Mr. Steele and then Mr. MacKinnon, in that order.
MR. STEELE: Thank you. I would like to say that I agree with the honourable member for Kings West. My feeling is that this committee has veered off the road of what it is that we're here to do. Our job here is to evaluate value for money and we veered off that. But what puzzles me about what the honourable member for Kings West said is that these topics were, for the most part, suggested by his caucus and voted for by his caucus. If they're not appropriate topics, then his caucus has some thinking to do about what it is that they think they're here for. I just wanted to remind Mora and the others that for the next two weeks, we've suggested three separate people, all of whom work in an office building just a few blocks straight down the road from the Legislature. They're all civil servants. I'm sure there will be little or no difficulty in getting at least one of them lined up for next week.
My feeling is that we are dealing entirely with the relevant chapters from the Auditor General's Report, except this time, instead of putting it to the Auditor General, we're putting it to the people in charge of the functions that were evaluated in those relevant chapters from the Auditor General's Report. That's exactly what this committee is here for and I would think we would have no difficulty at all in lining up at least one of those three people: the Director of Public Safety, the Director of Occupational Health and Safety and/or the fire marshal. Now if you wanted to put two of them together, the Director of Public Safety and the fire marshal are related, but the Director of Occupational Health and Safety is a different topic. But I really think that we will have no trouble lining those up, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacKinnon, you're next on the list, but you said I could cede the floor to the Auditor General's staff.
MR. ALAN HORGAN: Just a point of clarification. At the time of our audit, the Director of Public Safety was the fire marshal. So both of those positions are one person. So in fact, in this regard, you are probably talking about two people, not three.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There's some clarification that we will take. Now I have Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, because I do want to speak to the question put by my colleague, the honourable member for Kings West. I think it's a legitimate question. We are doing value for dollar and that's what the Auditor General did in doing his assessment of the Department of Environment and Labour and that's what the focus would be - are we getting value for dollar in the way that department is being conducted. He's raised some rather significant concerns. I thought it would be only appropriate just to bring closure to that particular issue since they were the personnel in charge at the time of the assessment. I think it would be a good healthy analysis for all of us and it would be easy to access those individuals because, as has been raised today, they are within a moment's notice.
The fire marshal has already proven that on a number of occasions, as my colleague, the honourable member for Kings West, fully knows just from the Select Committee on Fire
Safety. The fire marshal attended just about every hearing except for one. So it was very easy for him to travel around the province, following the committee around, to ensure that the Fire Prevention Act was followed from A to Zee. I think it would be very easy for him to walk half a mile from the Terminal Road Building to the Legislature.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I know your mother would want me to correct you. It's A to Zed, okay, Russell. Let the record show that Russell's mother and I have served on a number of things with the Credit Union. Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: I support that. I just want to, if there's an option to add or support some other possible presenters before we conclude, I would like to do that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: It's fine for my colleague from the NDP to suggest that these witnesses are attainable on short notice and so on, but he doesn't have to try to pull it together, our clerk does. Just for instance, the Seniors' Pharmacare, that the clerk tried to attain for next week, wasn't available for May 29th, wasn't available for June 5th, and it's only tentative for June 12th. These are the problems that you run into at this time of year. I'm looking at value for dollar here, and I think we've been spinning our wheels, to some extent, on this committee with regard to the fire marshal.
I can't, for the life of me, see that as being a clear agenda item for the Public Accounts Committee at this time. I would suggest that, perhaps, what we could do is take some possible agenda items, have an agenda-setting meeting next week as a wrap up for the summer.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. My colleague, the member for Pictou East, has indicated that the clerk is having difficulties setting these up. She's already indicated quite clearly that having the fire marshal come before the committee wouldn't be a great difficulty, because he's always been easy to access. To preclude what she is able to do or not do is a stalling tactic by the Conservative caucus, that's simply what it is. I think this is a good issue that's been addressed very thoroughly by the Auditor General's Office, and it's an opportunity to bring some closure to this so that we can move on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize your point of order, and the editorial comment about our clerk is recognized. I think the Speaker would say it's a difference between two members, so I will opt to that one. I will go back to Mr. DeWolfe, then Mr. Downe. Not that I want to cut if off, but I have another commitment.
MR. DEWOLFE: I do apologize to my colleague, I shouldn't be speaking on behalf of the clerk. I was using one example, the Senior's Pharmacare, where it is sometimes hard for staff to pull this thing together. The other thing is the fire marshal wasn't approved as an agenda item, and it has been our policy, I believe with all Parties, that we caucus our agenda items and set our course for upcoming meetings. Having said that, I would suggest that that's an item that should be put on the agenda by the Liberal caucus.
MR. DOWNE: We are putting it on the agenda now. Why couldn't this committee simply agree to having them come to the next session of the committee next week, assuming that our hard-working and dedicated staff are able to perform miracles as they have in the past here? I don't think this is going to be a big reach.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I could bring some focus to this, I'm under the impression that the members of the Opposition want to have witnesses next week, if possible, and hearing from the government caucus, Mr. DeWolfe in particular has said that next week he would favour an organizational meeting. Is that a capsulized way that I can put this in some focus?
MR. DOWNE: I sense that there appears to be a great desire by my colleagues in the government to leave this committee as quickly as possible. Clearly this is an issue that I think we should be able to resolve sensibly here. The Auditor General spent a fair amount of energy reviewing the occupational health and safety issues, the fire marshal; it's not a new issue, it's been out for awhile. Clearly, if we're here to do our job, why are they so reluctant to go forward with this agenda, rather than next week going through this one-hour session to say, yes, we agree to what we've already agreed to.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Don, I appreciate your editorial comment. Mr. Hurlburt.
MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: Mr. Chairman, this Public Accounts Committee had Mark-Lyn Construction in here twice. What did that cost the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and what did we accomplish? There were two or three members of this committee who were adamant that we come in here and we harass one or two departments and what did we accomplish from that? They were within the law and here we are. We're arguing again over witnesses coming into this committee. When are we going to be accountable?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I don't answer the questions, I run the meetings. I'm trying to get some focus to the fact of what we're going to do next week. Now, I will recognize Mr. MacKinnon and then I would like, if it's possible, for someone to put a motion forward, of one form or another, to bring some clarity and get a decision. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I move that we invite any one of the three potential witnesses, the Director of Occupational Health and Safety - or two witnesses, I guess the Auditor General's staff has corrected me on that - or the Director of Public Safety/fire marshal. Let's be very clear. We're dealing with an item that has been dealt with
through the Auditor General's Annual Report on value for dollar. This is not a witch hunt. This is not some kind of an exercise for partisan political purposes. It's an issue that has been addressed in substantive measure in the Auditor General's Report.
Why does the Conservative caucus want to shut this committee down? When they were in Opposition, we met through the summer months. They didn't seem to be too exercised about that, and neither were the government members, of which I sat on that committee. We were prepared to work as long as required to address the issues. So this is not some kind of sideshow, as has been alluded to by the honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I have the motion put. Any speakers that I recognize now are going to speak to that motion. Are we clear on the motion? Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Would you read the motion or have the clerk read the motion?
MS. STEVENS: The motion put by Russell MacKinnon is to invite any one of the two witnesses from the Department of Environment and Labour. That would be the fire marshal in his capacity as fire marshal or Director of Public Safety, or the Occupational Health and Safety Director for next week - that would be May 29th.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, are we clear? Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Were those approved agenda items?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that's what we're trying to do now.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's what I want to know. Were they prior approved? Was the Occupational Health and Safety Director prior approved? Is it on our list?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think your point, Jim, is that usually we take them back and caucus them. However, the motion is that in lieu of caucusing or having an organizational meeting next week, we direct our clerk to go ahead with this ASAP, with these two possible witnesses. (Interruption)
There's been a recorded vote called for. Are we clear on the motion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye, and I will call the names.
Mr. Steele Mr. Hurlburt
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
Let the record show that we had a free vote.
I am going to recognize you here, Jim, but now the direction goes to Ms. Stevens to see what she can do for the next two weeks. Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I would like to make a further motion that following next week's agenda item, we will adjourn for the summer, recess for the summer, and we will then have our agenda-setting meeting at the end of the summer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just to clarify, the end of the summer means what to you?
MR. DEWOLFE: Usually after Labour Day we have our first meeting at the call of the chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, Jim, I was distracted there. Okay, I have some speakers, I'm sure. I will begin with Mr. MacKinnon and then Mr. Steele.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, with the greatest deference to my colleague, the member for Pictou East, it flies in the face of all logic that we set up witnesses for June 12th and he's already elaborated on the responsibility of the clerk in lining up these witnesses. We do that on a pre-approved agenda which he already was so concerned about and now he's saying, oh, things are getting a little hot in here for us, so let's pull the plug, let's shut the committee down and run for cover. I mean, this is absolutely ridiculous what's happening to this committee. It's absolutely ridiculous and I don't support the motion.
MR. STEELE: I think the member for Pictou East would like us to believe that this motion is somehow normal. Let's be very clear about this, this is highly, highly abnormal for the committee to take a break of June, July, August and then by the time we have our first organizational meeting in September, we won't be able to line people up until late September. So that's a four month break for this committee and that is highly unusual. I know that the members of the NDP caucus are prepared to work, we're prepared to work through the summer with the normal break that we have, which my understanding is it's about a month. We've distributed today a long list of topics that we think this committee should deal with that are important, that are necessary and that are not well served by this committee taking a four month hiatus.
I have to say, for the record, that I was deeply disturbed by the comments by the member for Yarmouth who suggests that because it costs some money to run this committee, then maybe we shouldn't run the committee, that we're not being accountable to the public because we hold meetings somehow.
MR. HURLBURT: That's not what the member said.
MR. STEELE: Well, it sounded like what the member said and, on top of that, we have a meeting scheduled for the middle of June . . .
MR. HURLBURT: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I did not say that. What I said is that we had witnesses in here from Mark-Lyn Construction that was a witch hunt by one or two members of this committee, that it was recognized the very first meeting here. We had about 8 or 10 bureaucrats enter this Chamber and they answered all the questions and we called people back in here after and had another meeting on the same issue. That is wasting taxpayers' money in my estimation. That's what I said.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Hurlburt. That's a point of clarification and I will take it for what it's worth there. Mr. Steele, could you wrap up your comments, please?
MR. STEELE: I sure can. The last thing I wanted to say is that we have witnesses tentatively scheduled for June 12th on what, to me, is an extremely important topic, namely Seniors' Pharmacare and how that program has evolved over the past number of years. The idea of cancelling that topic so that we can take a summer break is, to me, just the height of irresponsibility. Of course, I can't support the motion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to recognize Mr. DeWolfe and then I'm going to, if possible, call for the question. Is that agreed? Thank you. Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Just a point of clarification first. The Seniors' Pharmacare - and I will repeat - were asked to appear on May 29th, which would have been fine but they weren't able to do so. They were asked to appear on June 5th, they weren't able to do so. They were asked to appear on June 12th and it's only tentative; they don't know if they will be able to appear at that time either.
MR. MACKINNON: That's not what the clerk said.
MR. DEWOLFE: That is precisely what the clerk had passed on to me. Now, having said . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will confirm that. That is what my understanding is too.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One other point is, if the Official Opposition feels that this committee is not meeting its mandate, it indeed is. In fact, this committee meets more than most Public Accounts Committees across Canada. I feel no shame in shutting down for the summer. We won't be shutting down all of September, we will be having an organizational meeting in September at the call of the chairman. When you call us back, Mr. Chairman, we will be back. I call for the question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Downe, I'm sorry, unless it's a point of order or a point of whatever, I . . .
MR. DOWNE: I'm just trying to find an option here. Would it not make sense that if we have next week already booked, that we would go to the following week to at least do the organizational issues. That at least clears that off the table, so the staff will have the summer to deal with the numerous presenters. We're only talking about a meeting that would be an hour long, but at least it clarifies what we're doing in the Fall. It just makes a lot more sense. I don't think we're really doing anything wrong there, but I think if we're going to have an organizational . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to point out to you, that's not the motion. I appreciate your point. I'm going to ask - I don't think that would be considered a friendly amendment. (Interruptions) You're always friendly, I know that.
MR. DOWNE: I think maybe you might want to . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe, would you consider this amendment?
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I think that that's a real possibility if we wanted to incorporate that into this motion, that indeed we could meet for an hour the following week to set an agenda. That gives the Liberal caucus and the PC caucus time to put some possible witnesses together. I agree that will give a head start to the committee in order to facilitate the fall agenda.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to go to what Ms. Stevens understands is the amended motion.
MS. STEVENS: The original motion is, following the next week's agenda item that we would recess for the summer, and then hold the agenda-setting session, which is traditionally after Labour Day. With the amendment, it would be the possibility of having the agenda session on the following week, which would be June 5th, instead of doing that in the Fall, in order to set the committee up for the summer. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I hear the question being called for. (Interruptions) A recorded vote is being called for. (Interruptions) No. It's all incorporated in the amended motion. On the amended motion, and it's a recorded vote, so I will again be asking each member.
MR. STEELE: I just want a clarification, are we voting on the amendment or on the motion as amended?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It's a friendly amendment, and it's all together.
MR. STEELE: My vote is no.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: Could you read the amended motion as (Interruptions)
MS. STEVENS: What the motion is now with the amendment is that we would meet next week; following that we will meet again on June 5th for the agenda-setting session; then recess for the summer; and come back at the call of the chairman in the Fall after Labour Day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. I understood that.
Mr. Downe Mr. Steele
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
I would ask for a motion for adjournment.
MR. MACKINNON: I so move.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, we are adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:19 a.m.]