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PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
Ms. Diana Whalen (Chairman)
Mr. Leonard Preyra (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon
Ms. Becky Kent
Mr. Mat Whynott
Mr. Maurice Smith
Hon. Keith Colwell
Hon. Cecil Clarke
Mr. Chuck Porter
[Mr. Gary Ramey replaced Ms. Becky Kent]
[Mr. Howard Epstein replaced Mr. Maurice Smith]
Department of Environment
Ms. Nancy Vanstone, Deputy Minister
Mr. Jason Hollett, Acting Director, Climate Change Directorate
Mr. Andrew Murphy, Manager, Air Quality
Department of Energy
Mr. Murray Coolican, Deputy Minister
Mr. Scott McCoombs, Director, Energy Markets
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Alan Horgan
Deputy Auditor General
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9, 2010
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Ms. Diana Whalen
Mr. Leonard Preyra
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'd like to call the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee to order. This morning we have guests with us from the Department of Environment and from the Department of Energy.
I would like to begin the meeting with introductions.
[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Just two things - today on our timing, we have quite a bit of committee business at the end of the meeting and I wanted to time it to about 10:45 a.m. to finish the presentations, so we allow 15 minutes for our committee business.
I would like to begin by asking for an opening statement, if you have one. I think we have two presentations before us. So who would like to begin, would it be Ms. Vanstone?
MS. NANCY VANSTONE: Thank you. No presentation from me, just a few opening remarks. We've already introduced ourselves. I just wanted to indicate about my colleagues who are with me here today and what their role is with respect to the area in which you are interested in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Jason Hollett is our Acting Executive Director of the Climate Change Directorate and that's a group within the Department of Environment that works with our department and with other departments, with municipalities, the federal government, is involved in our representations and international committees on climate change.
Andrew Murphy is our Manager of the Air Quality Branch in our department. In all of the work we do on greenhouse gas emissions, we work very hard to make sure that's integrated with other air emissions, so that's why both of these gentlemen are here with me today.
We're here to update you on our progress on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We've taken several steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so we're very pleased to be able to talk to you about that today.
We have put in legislation a commitment to reduce Nova Scotia's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 per cent below 1990 levels, by the year 2020. That is about an 18 per cent reduction from where we are today. We have developed a climate change action plan which sets us on a path to achieve the commitment. It outlines 68 specific actions which cut across many government departments. I'm happy to say that we've started or completed well over 90 per cent of those actions.
To fulfill the first action item in that climate change plan, we have put hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions from power generation facilities. That takes effect this year and this is a very important step for Nova Scotia, because it directly targets the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in Nova Scotia, representing about 50 per cent of our emissions.
We have developed greenhouse gas regulations which allow the electricity sector the flexibility to meet the caps with the lowest cost option, so they can ensure reliability of supply and minimize impacts to ratepayers. As the cost of fossil fuels continue to rise, this transition to cleaner sources of energy is expected to result in stable and lower costs for Nova Scotia, than if we were to continue on our high dependence on fossil fuels.
I'm proud to say that Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in Canada to place hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector. We are also one of the few provinces to have put our aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction target into legislation.
Achieving these targets is certainly a challenge for a province that gets over 85 per cent of its electricity from coal and other fossil fuels, but we believe we can meet that challenge. We believe that because of the careful analysis we've done and our consultations with many stakeholders.
When we put the regulations into effect to cap greenhouse gas emissions, we also updated our air quality regulations to include reduced caps on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen
oxide emissions. Reducing the caps reduces air pollutants, and that helps smog and reduces the effects of acid rain. We believe that these strict caps on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants will ensure more investment in energy efficiency and cleaner sources of energy. We also believe that the caps will help Nova Scotia become a cleaner, greener place for families in every region of the province.
To drive the transformation to a lower carbon economy, we are investing up to $42.5 million in ecoNova Scotia projects which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our province by more than 200,000 tons and air pollutant emissions by approximately 950 tons. These will be annual reductions achievable by 2020.
We are also working across government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation and to reduce our own government carbon footprint, and we're working with municipalities on their reductions. We are transforming to deal with the challenges of climate change and to put ourselves on the path to be one of the cleanest and greenest places in the world by 2020. We are making substantive progress on our actions in the climate change plan and we're well on the way to achieving those goals.
Our climate change initiatives have given us a leadership profile and we won awards for Nova Scotia at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December. We were recognized for placing our hard caps on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and received a second award for our commitment to green energy alternatives.
Meeting our targets and commitments will require significant investment in energy efficiency and in renewable energy. These will generate economic opportunities for us as well. Energy efficiency is a critical component of Conserve Nova Scotia, and looking forward, with Efficiency Nova Scotia Corporation, we will be using less energy in the future. This represents a tremendous opportunity in terms of new investment in Nova Scotia, and also significant cost avoidance for people and businesses in Nova Scotia.
As I mentioned, another important element to the approach is renewable energy. A new target will require 25 per cent of our electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015, and a goal to increase that percentage to 40 per cent by 2020.
For more on our renewable energy strategy and how it will help us achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions, I'd like to turn the podium over to my colleague, the Deputy Minister of Energy.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Coolican.
MR. MURRAY COOLICAN: Thank you very much. Thanks, Nancy and good morning everyone. I'm joined this morning by Scott McCoombs, who is the Director of
Energy Markets, who will help me to answer any technical questions, and on some of the broader questions, I may get a kick under the table from time to time as well.
It's an honour for me to make my first appearance before this committee and it's an honour for me to do so with Nancy Vanstone, who hopes she's making her last appearance before this committee, so I'll be brief. Nancy spoke about our GHG goals and I'd like to offer a summary of the work the Department of Energy is doing around renewable electricity. Clearly, this work fits together.
Our electricity sector, as Nancy mentioned, is Nova Scotia's number one source of greenhouse gases because it's so highly dependent on imported coal. I've circulated some slides that also have some of this information. It clearly shows our motivation to transition to renewable has many motivations, both environmental and economic.
Our reliance on imported coal leaves us vulnerable to the volatility of world market prices and exposes us to the costs of carbon policies, both nationally and internationally. This transition to renewable is not simply about running away from carbon, it's also about creating opportunities, opportunities for jobs, investment, and long-term energy security, and long-term price stability.
Our renewable electricity plan, and the legislation recently passed to support it, makes our target of 25 per cent renewable electricity law. That's equal to about 300,000 homes running on green power. We also set a new goal of 40 per cent renewable electricity by 2020, that's enough power for about 500,000 homes, more than all the homes in Nova Scotia. These are very aggressive standards, but the plan outlines a suite of tools that I think will get us there.
One of the foundations of the plan is providing opportunities for everyone to participate, from the power utility and independent businesses, to communities and individuals. The most economical way to produce renewable energy is through large and medium sized projects that can take advantage of economies of scale. Since keeping prices as low as possible for consumers is the number one objective, this plan calls for the bulk of renewable energy to come in equal parts from Nova Scotia Power and independent power producers.
The URB will enforce regulations that ensure consumers' best interests are being met, and the renewable electricity administrator will oversee competition amongst independents, to ensure fairness and best value for ratepayers.
The Mi'kmaq, municipalities, not-for-profits, and community-based co-operatives interested in running their own renewable energy projects will be able to operate with a certainty of a fixed price or feed-in tariff for their energy. All Nova Scotians, individuals and
businesses, will be able to participate through an enhanced net-metering program that will pay consumers for any excess energy they produce over a year.
Recognizing the unique opportunity of the highest tides in the world, we will also establish feed-in tariffs for tidal projects connected at both the distribution and transmission levels of the grid. Biomass already plays a significant role in providing energy for the province. That role will expand within cautious limits to ensure sustainability.
Over time government anticipates a larger role for natural gas, to balance the intermittent nature of renewable electricity sources such as tidal and wind.
This plan is expected to support up to $1.5 billion of investment in the province. That investment will create jobs in construction, supply, manufacturing, and maintenance, generating an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 person-years of employment inside the province, with opportunities in both urban and rural areas.
There are costs associated with moving in this direction, especially up front. We expect an increase of one to two per cent per year on electricity bills in the short term, but in the long run Nova Scotia will be better off. We will have a far more diverse and secure energy supply and we will have more fuel sources that are on 15-, 20-, 25-year fixed-price contracts that will help stabilize electricity rates and be less expensive in the long run. I can't predict when that break-even point will be because I don't have a crystal ball to predict the future costs of energy, but we are convinced that if we are going to meet the targets that Nancy talked about, targets that had all-Party support in 2007, renewable electricity must play a central role.
The draft regulations to support this plan are now public, and we'll have a public meeting schedule out shortly. Thank you for your interest in what we're doing, and now, together with Scott, Jason, Andrew, and Nancy, I'd be happy to answer any questions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Coolican. We will begin the first 20 minutes of questioning with Mr. Colwell for the Liberal caucus.
HON. KEITH COLWELL: Thank you very much. I'd like to thank everybody for coming this morning. It is a very important topic for all Nova Scotians and I realize that you're working very, very hard on this, and it is a daunting task, to say the least.
Just a couple of things: one thing in my area - I'm going to start with some observations and get some comments back. In my area the Atlantic Superstore installed a wind turbine in back of their store, which I think was a great thing, and the community thinks it's a great thing. Indeed, it will help offset some of their direct costs for energy, which is always very positive.
Then I understand that the Halifax Regional Municipality outlawed windmills at the rest of the Superstores in HRM. Is that correct?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would that be Ms. Vanstone or Mr. Coolican? Who would like to take the question? Okay, Ms. Vanstone. We'll start there. Thank you.
MS. VANSTONE: I'll start and then pass it over to Energy, because I can't speak about HRM's process, so maybe Energy can take that part of the question. In terms of what Nova Scotia Environment's role is with the approval of wind energy, we do require all wind energy projects that are over two megawatts to go through an environmental assessment and we give them approval through the Department of Environment. That would be the provincial regulation on this. I'm not sure if my colleagues at Energy know about the HRM approvals or not.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Coolican.
MR. COOLICAN: I can make a few comments, but I'd have to take that as notice. Obviously the municipalities do have the authority to regulate within their jurisdictions. I'm not aware of the specific HRM bylaw in question, and I'll get more information on that for you.
I am a bit surprised because I did meet with the company that installed that wind turbine for the Atlantic Superstore, and that was not an issue that he raised with me. There are a number of issues that our department has with HRM. We'd like to create an ongoing dialogue with HRM. I recently wrote to Mayor Kelly to suggest an ongoing discussion on a regular basis, so that we could resolve issues such as the one you've raised.
MR. COLWELL: The reason I ask this, and I just want to confirm it because I think that we've seen in the past, municipalities basically - I'm going to just talk about wind turbines, and I'm sure it applies to a lot of other things as well, so I'm using that as an example - taxed some of the producers and companies that had wind turbines to death, to the point that it was not profitable any more. If this is true with HRM, indeed, they're setting up an initiative here, they're going to stop these facilities being generated. I think it's about time that the province stepped in and said, if we're going to move toward renewable energy and get these kind of results that you're talking about here - which I fully support and I believe Nova Scotians fully support - but we run into this all the time, well, I don't want to see a turbine, but where do people think the energy comes from?
I think it's time that the province stood up and took some responsibility for this and ultimately the province can tell a municipality what the rules are. Is there any move toward
that, or is there any consideration to doing that, or is the province even interested in doing that?
MR. COOLICAN: The issue of community acceptability for renewable energy is an important one. I think you will note from the renewable electricity plan that the approach we're taking at this stage is a co-operative approach. We are encouraging, through the community feed-in tariff, an opportunity for communities to become engaged in a positive way in the development of renewable. We hope that will encourage municipalities to participate with us in achieving these goals.
I should also add that the government has done a fair amount of work with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and are funding some of the municipalities to do some work on planning for renewable energy in a desire to bring them onboard co-operatively. That would be our initial approach to this issue. I might also add that I've seen a video recently on the wind farm in Pubnico which showed residents and local municipal officials in the area talking quite positively - not 100 per cent of them, but the majority of them talking positively about the wind farm in their neighbourhood, including one gentleman who actually sold a house further away from the wind farm and moved to one closer to the wind farm. So there are signs that there is an acceptance of renewable energy in the province and we would like to encourage it at this point on a co-operative basis.
MR. COLWELL: I'm pleased to hear that. I'm not for just going in and putting the windmills wherever you want them, I'm not for that at all, that's not what I'm saying. But it seems to me that there is a reluctance in some of the municipalities to realize how important this is and just how they should help educate the people in their communities a little bit better to understand what these are. I mean this one they put up in Porters Lake, there was no issue, there is no issue, and people think it's a great idea but all of a sudden someone complains about it and, bang, there's a bylaw. I believe that's the case, that you can't put any more of them up. I would like to get that information to confirm that for sure. Hopefully, it's not accurate information, but I imagine it is, based on what happens all the time. So I appreciate your work in that area and I know it's very difficult.
The other thing is, are you going to really get to the 2015 goals and the 2020 goals? You've readjusted them already, just upped the numbers, the percentage is a little bit higher but moved the years out. When you bring the percentage up, you've still got to achieve a tremendous amount. Is that real? Do you really think you can make that?
MR. COOLICAN: Yes.
MR. COLWELL: I like that answer, that's good. I'll believe it when I see it and I hope that you exceed it, quite frankly. There's also, there were fines, fines were installed on renewable energy producers: Shear Wind Inc., that had forfeited $0.5 million; security deposits of Nova Scotia Power for missing a November 30, 2009 deadline of providing the
utility with green energy; and also Renewable Energy Services of Lower Sackville missed their deadline and paid $550,000; but Nova Scotia Power was given an extension by the province. Indeed, the money that those two - over $1 million - was received by Nova Scotia Power. At the same time, Nova Scotia Power didn't have to pay the province anything and just walked away with another $1 million in their pocket and, for whatever reason, the province didn't charge Nova Scotia Power.
When that deal was negotiated, if an extension was necessary, sometimes that's necessary, but it should have been negotiated, I would think, a little bit better so these small companies don't help to pay for Nova Scotia Power. What happened in that case?
MR. COOLICAN: I'm not familiar with the details of that case as I wasn't here at the time. I think you raised an important question and that is the question of responsibility for achieving the targets that we'd all like to achieve. Your earlier question is related to that.
We like to view this as a target that the whole Province of Nova Scotia has to achieve, that the government has to be involved in supporting. As you mentioned earlier, municipal governments need to be on side with this. Obviously Nova Scotia Power has a role to play, as do the independent power producers. I think individuals - when we look at issues of energy efficiency and demand-side management, part of meeting the target is keeping our demand relatively low because if demand goes up considerably, the target goes up at the same time. So demand-side management and energy efficiency are important elements of this. These targets are something that we all have to take some responsibility for.
In doing that, the province has indicated some issue where it will hold Nova Scotia Power accountable. In all of these issues one has to make a judgment of what is the best way to achieve the target and the goal. That is the basis on which the government is making its decisions about the performance of Nova Scotia Power in this process.
The issue of Nova Scotia Power and the contracts that they have with their suppliers is an issue between Nova Scotia Power and the suppliers.
MR. COLWELL: I would have thought the province might have negotiated better. Indeed, if they let Nova Scotia Power off the hook, they should have forced Nova Scotia Power to let their suppliers off the hook at the same time, so it is probably a negotiation that should have been done - whoever did that - a little bit better.
A question I'll ask then, if Nova Scotia Power doesn't meet their new, extended deadline of December 31, 2011, are they going to be penalized for it or will they be let off the hook again?
MR. COOLICAN: Well I may be new to government but one of the things I learned a long time ago is not to answer hypothetical questions. So I'm very confident that they'll
meet their goals and that I won't be in a position of advising the minister or the government on making that decision.
Again, I think it is better for all of us to consider these goals as goals that belong to all of us. It is important that we all take steps to help to meet those goals in a co-operative manner.
MR. COLWELL: I don't think the small companies that had to pay $1 million to Nova Scotia Power would agree with your statement, but anyway.
To your knowledge, did the minister meet with the CEO of Nova Scotia Power? He indicated that he was going to do that regarding this issue.
MR. COOLICAN: I don't have knowledge of that. I know that the minister and I meet regularly with officials from Nova Scotia Power but I'm not aware of the circumstances around that discussion.
MR. COLWELL: On several occasions our caucus has introduced legislation to allow independent, renewable energy producers to sell directly to customers in Nova Scotia. What is your opinion on this legislation? Would that work?
MR. COOLICAN: I haven't reviewed the legislation itself so I'd be reluctant to express an opinion on the legislation. I think the province as a whole has looked at how the electricity system in the province is organized and has looked at examples in other jurisdictions where they have taken a different approach and opened up their systems to more competition. Our assessment at this time is that those examples have led to higher prices than jurisdictions that have kept the kind of system that we have where the major supplier is the regulated utility.
MR. COLWELL: What's the Department of Environment's role in the process of approving biomass projects in Nova Scotia? What's the process you have to go through for that?
MS. VANSTONE: We would need to look at biomass as an input into the approvals for plants that are currently burning other fuels, or there are some facilities that do burn biomass products now, so it would be part of their industrial approval and the requirements they need to meet there in terms of - particularly our concern would be around air emissions and, particularly, particulate emissions.
Maybe I'll ask Mr. Murphy to just speak in a little more detail about where that might get reflected in terms of our approvals.
MR. ANDREW MURPHY: Plants above a certain size, they would be considering an electrical generating facility, we have a set of regulations called the Designated Activities Regulations. Facilities above a certain size would require an operating approval from this department. In securing that operating approval, we would be looking at things like air emissions, what kinds of air emissions need to be managed, and what kind of technology might be put in place to manage those emissions.
MR. COLWELL: Likewise, the Department of Energy, what's your role in approving this process?
MR. COOLICAN: I think our role in this has been outlined pretty much in the renewable electricity plan where we've set out the role that we see biomass playing in meeting those targets. We've set some limits based on discussions with Department of Natural Resources about the biomass resource and we've taken a rather conservative view of that.
As we go further along, we will continue to consult with the Department of Natural Resources with respect to the kinds of guidelines they think should be put in place for the sustainability of the forests. There is a significant process that goes on at the Utility and Review Board and that process is underway now. The Department of Energy plays a role in that but that's the major regulatory process from an energy and electricity point of view, handled by the URB.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you for that information. Nova Scotia's 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions would cut the province's annual greenhouse gas production by at least five megatons, roughly equivalent to taking 1,000,000 cars off the highway. What are you doing to educate the public on this? It really goes back to talking about wind turbines going up. What are you doing to educate the public? I think that's, maybe, where we have to go, but again, that's not for me to say.
MR. COOLICAN: That's a great question. First of all, one of the things that we tried to do was to undertake a broad stakeholder consultative process in preparing the renewable electricity plan which Dr. Wheeler led, and which I had the benefit of being a participant in, and saw Nova Scotians from across the province involved in that process so they could be better educated about it. They could feel a sense of participation in what we were doing.
We also went to some lengths, as has been noted in the media, to ensure that the plan itself was well written, accessible to the public, and to ensure there was a good deal of publicity when the announcement of the new policy was made. We are now in the process of consultation on the regulations which, again, I hope will help to engage Nova Scotians in what is happening.
We've also been doing some work with the municipalities, as I mentioned, helping to educate people at the UNSM and individual municipalities, helping to educate them about the processes and also helping to encourage them to get involved. We've been doing some work in co-operation with the Department of Education to educate - it's Grade 8 or Grade 9 students, I believe, about renewable energy and the impacts it will have on the province. Often, in my experience, it's the kids coming home talking to the parents, which is one of the more effective ways of educating people. I certainly learn a lot from my kids - not always in a positive way - but it was helpful.
I think also the structure of the community feed-in tariff, which we hope will engage communities to learn more about renewable energy and their role in the process. The work of Conserve Nova Scotia is continuing until Efficiency Nova Scotia comes on board, and part of their work has been to educate Nova Scotians about the importance of reducing their energy use and using it more efficiently to achieve their goals and lifestyle in a way that helps us to achieve our targets for renewable electricity.
MR. COLWELL: In addition to that, do you have anything planned just for the general public who typically won't go to meetings? Those are the people who really push us as elected representatives, and it would be the same thing for councillors.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Colwell, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but your time has elapsed, so we'll save that for the second round, if we could. I'll turn the floor over to Mr. Clarke for the Progressive Conservative caucus.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Good morning to everyone and to our colleagues. I want to wish our NDP colleagues a happy anniversary today. Indeed, for one more year, one more day to truly getting back to balance, Madam Chairman. However, I want to welcome our guests (Interruption) Yes, I would have brought a candle for my cupcake for you there, but however, I digress.
I just wanted to start off and I just wanted to clarify, this is the document that the Premier, I think, released from the mountaintop?
MS. VANSTONE: Yes.
MR. CLARKE: So if I can ask our colleagues, if the Premier went up on the mount to pronounce this document, when he came down did he have any tablets with dollar figures inscribed in them?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: And who would you like that question to go to? Mr. Coolican?
MR. CLARKE: Just general, where are the numbers?
MR. COOLICAN: Let me answer that question. First of all, the Premier's choice of venue is actually one of the first independent power producers in the province to successfully develop a wind farm which is producing renewable electricity that's being used in the grid. I'm sure the honourable member would want to, along with us, celebrate his accomplishments and our approach to trying to draw attention to his success as an example of what others in the province can do.
It happens that the best wind is on the mountain, so that's why the wind farm was located there. If you want to celebrate the success of that project and go to the wind farm, you have to go to the mountain.
In terms of the cost of this plan, I think we've been relatively transparent, as you would know. Forecasting energy costs is not a simple matter and it's not possible to be completely accurate, but we have in the document and in my opening statement talked about what we think the annual additional costs of this program will be. On the other side of the equation it's not really possible to know what costs we'll be avoiding by taking this approach. We tend to talk about price stability as being one of the benefits, but it would be hard for me to predict with any accuracy as to when we can tell you our approach is less expensive than the other approach. Although I might add that through the IRP process, a lot of the best minds in the province on these issues were brought together. It was felt at that time that the kind of approach that we've embarked on is better for the province, long-term, in terms of costs.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. So I guess for starters, a picture of the mountaintop would have sufficed, but the Premier went up on the mountain and made a pronouncement, obviously did not come down with his tablets and budgets and numbers in a thought-out process and/or targets that are associated by year or by sector activity around the province, and spent, I think, well in excess of $40,000 in the process, during a deficit spending year when every dollar needed could have helped a community co-op to utilize energy efficiency and Conserve Nova Scotia could have helped people. So there is some - and it's not for the deputy, of course, this is a statement I'm making about the direction of the government and not about he or his colleagues, but the choices around this.
I guess what I'm getting at is it is very difficult for Nova Scotians to comprehend what the impact of this plan is going to be if they can't even - are there specific targeted regions around the province that have already been pre-identified, what scale of development can occur in those regions, what is going to be the feed-in tariff opportunity for small scale versus other commercial and a large scale feed-in tariff that would be competitive with the utility. Where are we going to be with the prospects? Does this envision tapping into any of the Lower Churchill or is this, in terms of if we have a subsea cable that brings green energy here, does that mean we just tap into that and try to use that as some credits, in terms of consumption? Are they anticipated? Are we going to be recognizing any power brought in from other renewable resources elsewhere that again, the government could be looking to try
and say, we've met our targets because we've accessed these other forms of renewables to displace our current reliability on fossil fuels?
Somewhere, if you're making targets and making a commitment of 40 per cent to 2020, there must be some projected numbers and expenses to that. Where I'm going is, and I'll ask that question, but it really relates to the ratepayers of Nova Scotia and how it is going to impact them, both short term and long term.
MR. COOLICAN: I mentioned a crystal ball and unfortunately we don't have a crystal ball that would answer a lot of those questions. Let me deal with a number of issues that you've raised. First of all, the feed-in tariff, we took a view that in the interests of costs, it would be better for the ratepayers if the majority of the renewable energy came from projects developed by Nova Scotia Power, which will be regulated by the URB, in terms of their costs, or from independent power producers who will be regulated through an independent administrator who will run competitions between the different proposals. We thought that was a better approach than setting a feed-in tariff for all the renewable energy that we were looking for. That is an approach that has been taken in other jurisdictions and we were concerned about the prices set for some of those feed-in tariffs and what that would mean to Nova Scotia ratepayers.
We did take an approach for a community feed-in tariff because, as I mentioned earlier, we thought it was important to give Nova Scotia communities across the province an opportunity to get involved. The member suggested that, perhaps, one approach might have been to set out regional targets across the province. I think our approach was to invite communities across the province to get involved. We think people across the province in different regions, that the experts in renewable energy will have better judgment about where those projects should be located; when and where they can come on stream; that kind of approach would be better than the government sitting back and identifying where and when different projects would be built.
The other question about who sets the feed-in tariff, we thought it would be important to give the job of setting the community feed-in tariff to the Utility and Review Board. They have a great deal of experience in examining the costs of electricity generation projects. They're very familiar with the industry, they're very familiar with a process that sets rates. We thought it would be better to use their expertise rather than do it within the department, which is a model that some other governments have used.
The member asked about Lower Churchill. I think it's important to remember that Lower Churchill is a potential project. There has been no decision announced to date, that I'm aware of, that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador or their corporation, Nalcor, is proceeding with that project. There has been discussion in the media of some of the options for how that electricity would get to markets, but there hasn't been a firm project proposal or decision on that. It's an issue that we're watching with great interest. It's a
potential source of renewable energy for the province, but I think for the province to have said in this plan that we will be taking so many megawatts from the Lower Churchill, I think the member would have been one of the first to say, how could you possibly rely on that? There's no project as yet, there's no certainty as to when it would be delivered. It is something that we're watching very carefully.
The government is in close communication, frequent communications with officials and at the government level, Premier to Premier, with Newfoundland and Labrador, with New Brunswick, with Prince Edward Island, to talk about ways we can co-operate in the region. Around the kind of transmission that would make the delivery of Lower Churchill, or wind projects from Newfoundland and Labrador, to Nova Scotia and other parts of Atlantic Canada and potentially to the United States. We're also discussing ways to improve transmission among the Maritime Provinces to improve the ability to share renewable resources between New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
It's important when you're looking at wind resources to try to balance the system and the more that you have that you're balancing, the more efficient the system can be. We think that could be an important opportunity for Nova Scotia to work with New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.
We are looking at all those opportunities. We're looking at the different areas of potential, but at this point they remain potential as there are not specific projects with specific timelines and financing, et cetera, to make them happen.
MR. CLARKE: So what I've got so far is that the Premier went up on the mountain, at this point I can only assume he just saw the other side, because he didn't come down from the mountain with any tangibles that Nova Scotians can look at. A lot of money was spent on putting this plan and that PR exercise out there. I do appreciate, again a picture of the beautiful Cabot Trail here, and the coastlines of Cape Breton, we all know about the statistics and information that's there. What has not been presented is one single, solitary number, one action plan by activity, what the incremental cost will be between energy or environment to collaborate on these things. The interaction of that with the major utility for Nova Scotia, which we know is a monopoly through Nova Scotia Power and thus with their parent group, Emera.
That being all said and done, the government - this is not a plan, I guess. This is a statement, it is not a plan. The Auditor General submitted his business plan and his business plan talks about their core roles, priorities, objectives, activities they'll do short term, long term and the costing associated with it. That's a plan, which we will discuss separately.
This plan isn't a plan because there is not one single, solitary number associated with it, any project-directed activity and - when I say the regions - there has been a challenge, I know. I'm sure when you've dealt with this, and dealing with the feed-in tariffs, for which I've applauded the minister and I think it's a great idea, and I think should be expanded further, so I think there are some positive things in terms of some objectives that are being set out, but there is no plan to meet those objectives in terms of specifics.
I know one of the challenges with operators from Cape Breton that want to be small-scale, that the current utility is saying, well the cost of that and the rates they would offer, so there wasn't a balance, we're not competitive and it was prohibited; thus the reason for having some regional understanding and the capacity of the current system in the grid. I commend the government working in a pan-Maritime and pan-Atlantic effort, with regard to the grid and where we're going to be. I think those are long-term objectives and I know some good work is happening there. Again, there is even no projection of what would happen and I do understand from the deputy, if there is a go-ahead today, with regard to Lower Churchill, we know the timeline of construction and actually electricity flowing on the grid.
So there is no plan, there's a renewable electricity statement that we've received at great expense, but there isn't one single number that the government can produce and specific project activities in a timeline to 2015 or 2020, when previously working between the province and Canada, there were at least numbers produced to be objectives that could be set forth and initiatives that could be undertaken.
Obviously, the Premier went up the mountain, saw the other side, had a photo op, came back down, contributed to being the politician with the largest carbon footprint in the province, and I don't think there was an award in Copenhagen for that. But one of the things that has affected, I guess, carbon footprints, is really the existing capacity within the electricity market for fossil fuel.
In Cape Breton, there is the situation of Point Aconi power generation plant, with its fluidized-bed technology, and subsequently over to Lingan, one of the number one polluters in the country, there was a discussion of scrubbers that went before the board. Where is the current status, either Environment or Energy, on putting scrubbers on Lingan and what is the impact on the targets of putting scrubbers in?
MS. VANSTONE: I'm going refer that question to my colleague, Andrew Murphy. You talk about scrubbers, specifically, but I do want to respond at a high level to the kinds of things that are in the Climate Change Action Plan and the steps to achieve the hard caps and the reductions of 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, because it is a whole package of activities. Some of it is in regulations such as the hard caps which have very specific numbers that need to be achieved, out to 2020, in terms of emissions. Some of it is in terms of energy efficiency, which also has programs that are approved to achieve specific targets on the electricity DSM programs. Some of it is demonstration projects like the Fundy Tidal
Energy Demonstration Project. There are specific actions about leadership and education, which is also very important in terms of how we're going to transform, as a province, in this direction. Specifically about scrubbers, I'll just ask Mr. Murphy to answer that question, please.
MR. MURPHY: There was a suggestion or proposal that scrubbers be put in place at Lingan, that was a number of years ago. The reason for that proposal was to meet emission reduction targets for sulphur dioxide. When that was being considered, the URB, I believe, suggested that there should be some deeper thoughts as to whether that was the best approach, so there was a URB process that looked into that.
What that process considered was not only how do we best meet the sulphur dioxide targets, but also the full suite of environmental targets that the utility faced, including things like greenhouse gases, as well as other air pollutants. At the end of the day, after the analysis was done, while certainly a scrubber would be very effective at removing sulphur, it was determined that there are other methods that would be equally as effective, that would cost less, and also allow us to advance further on some of our other goals. That's where you saw the focus evolve to things like demand-side management, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and so on, and use those methods to not only reduce sulphur dioxide but to also reduce all these other pollutants that we're concerned about and do it in a cost-effective way.
MR. CLARKE: But there was an application before the URB, which everything has been deferred to by this government, because that's the scapegoat aspect of all matters dealing with decision making, so why did the URB decline the request from Nova Scotia Power for scrubbers - again, just for my benefit?
MR. MURPHY: The process essentially looked at the best way of not only meeting the sulphur dioxide goal but also keeping in mind that we have these other targets such as greenhouse gases, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants. We need to look at all of those at the same time and not just sulphur alone. The analysis that was arrived at - and this was all stakeholders who participate in the URB process, I think, were part of this analysis - it was determined that the best way of meeting the sulphur dioxide cap was to integrate those actions with actions to meet all of the other environmental targets, and that the best way to do that was to do things like energy efficiency, renewable energy, demand-side management, and those sorts of activities where you could reduce all pollutants at once, so you're not incurring costs for each pollutant individually.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Your time has really elapsed at the moment, thank you. You'll have another round. I would like to turn the floor over, if I could, to Mr. Epstein for the NDP caucus.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: I would like to thank the two deputy ministers for their presentations. It's good to see two deputies in allied fields working together and coming to
talk with us. We had interesting presentations from them. We also had some interesting questions from my learned colleague, the member for Cape Breton North, although I have to say that the only part of his remarks that I would be prepared to accept would be the congratulations to the NDP for the one year of having formed a government.
I found it interesting that there was a suggestion made in his questioning - an assertion, really - that there were no numbers and no specifics in the Renewable Electricity Plan, and I would like to turn to that particular point, if I may. I don't know if you have your copy with you, but when I read the plan, I was struck by a number of specifics. For example, I saw on Page 9 that it was contemplated that there would be, amongst the targets for GWh, Nova Scotia Power and independent power producers would each be responsible for about 300 GWh, and that's specified fairly exactly. It "calls for a minimum of 600 GWh of new medium to large-scale renewable electricity, produced in equal parts by NSPI and independent power producers." I also see on Page 13 that there will be about 600 to 700 GWh contemplated to be generated by biomass and about another 150 GWh from co-firing in thermal plants.
So it seemed to me that this actually did have specific numbers that would get us a long way toward at least the initial numbers that are in your handout this morning, Mr. Coolican. Most of those numbers would add up to about 1,700 GWh at the 2011 mark. It's certainly true that there's more to come, but it seemed to me that this plan did have specifics in it.
I guess the first point I want to start with is whether you can help me understand if I'm reading this plan correctly. Are there numbers in there, and have I identified these numbers correctly? Are we on track with some ideas for specifics here?
MR. COOLICAN: Madam Chairman, I was trying to get the microphone to draw the member's attention to those very specifics that are in the plan and I'm glad the member has drawn attention to them. He certainly has found the specifics that are there. To reach the target in 2015, there are definite targets for different parts of the industry to meet those targets. We find that six of the seven approved wind projects are proceeding, and we're told that they're on target, so we see progress in that way.
But even leading to 2015, we felt there was a better approach for the government to set the broad targets, to assign responsibility for achieving those targets, to indicate where we felt those targets could be met. We have done that. We've done it in a way that engages all parts of the industry, the independent power producers, Nova Scotia Power, communities across the province through the feed-in tariff, and there's also an opportunity for individuals and businesses to get involved.
We did not think it would be wise for the government to lay out where each wind farm should be located, who should be constructing which wind farm, and what the schedule
of that specific wind farm should be. We felt it was better for the electric generation industry and the communities across the province to respond in a way that produces that electricity in a renewable form, at the best costs to the ratepayer, and with the most involvement possible across the province. So that's the approach that we have taken.
The target for 2020 is longer term and given the uncertainties in this business, and the reference to the Lower Churchill is a good example where we just don't know at this point, Lower Churchill could be possible to help meet those targets. There may or may not be improved transmission by then to allow us to import renewable energy from other places. We don't know yet the extent of the tidal resource that is there and how economic it's going to be. So there are a number of those questions that when we look at, out beyond 2015, we thought it was appropriate to set a direction and a target of where we're going, but not to be specific, at this point, because we certainly expect there will be opportunities at that time that are not known to us now.
MR. EPSTEIN: And as long as we've touched on Nalcor and the Lower Churchill, I wonder if anything is known now about the timetable that Nalcor contemplates in terms of how it might, itself, approach the possible development of Lower Churchill. Is there even a rough timetable that they seem to be contemplating?
MR. COOLICAN: I'm not aware of any specific timetable at this point. I've had recent discussions with the deputy minister in Newfoundland and Labrador who tells me that they are working on developing a project. They're continuing to do that. They continue to show an interest in the project, but they haven't shared any specifics around a timetable at this point. So anything I would provide would be guessing.
MR. EPSTEIN: That's fine. I hadn't heard any timetable and I was just wondering if I had missed any information. I opened with the observation that it was a pleasure to see two deputy ministers in an allied field here today and it certainly is. I'm wondering though if either or both of you could help us, and the public, understand the differing roles of the two departments and also what I understand would be the other two main players when it comes to this topic of greenhouse gases, particularly the electricity sector, the other two main players being Efficiency Nova Scotia and the URB. So unless I've missed any of the players, it seems to me it is the Department of Environment, the Department of Energy, Efficiency Nova Scotia and the URB. Could we have some comments to help us understand the main functions of those four entities?
MR. COOLICAN: I'll start. I'm relatively new so if I get anything wrong, Nancy can correct me - I don't have to ask her to correct me, she does that from time to time.
MR. EPSTEIN: She's not shy.
MR. COOLICAN: One of the things I've enjoyed about this position so far is the relationship I've been able to build with a number of deputies, but especially Nancy. I'm excited for her, but I was quite disappointed to learn that she's not going to be working with me for much longer. I have been impressed in my time with the government by the amount of co-operation there is at the deputy level in departments that are involved in this issue. I'll let Nancy describe more the role of the Department of Environment, but I'll just deal a little bit with the Department of Energy and some of the other organizations that are close to us.
First of all, I think we look at the GHG caps as pretty serious and we think we have a role to play in developing energy policy for the province to help to meet those targets. I think the renewable electricity plan is a good example of that where we had the GHG targets in our mind. Also, the role of EGSPA and other emissions, when you start to look out forward, the emissions performance of the province will improve as a result of the renewable electricity plan. So, as I mentioned earlier in my remarks, those are related.
In terms of the other departments and agencies that are involved, I would add that we've been working closely with the Department of Natural Resources. When you look at the question of biomass it's important to engage them in terms of the sustainability of the forest resource. It's not the role of the Department of Energy to determine what the sustainability of the forest is, that's the Department of Natural Resources. We work closely with them on that.
We also work closely with the Department of Economic and Rural Development because there's a significant portion of this plan which we believe will add to economic development in the province and jobs. One example is the investment of DSME in Trenton and we hope there will be a role that will be played by the renewable electricity plan in helping, or will lead to, the creation of jobs at the Trenton facility.
The other department that Scott mentions is the Department of Agriculture because we see longer term potential for biomass coming from agricultural lands. Also there's the longer term potential of energy from algae which is also there. The federal government is playing a role in research on that at this point. How the algae will be produced is not yet determined but there may be roles for other departments in that. Departmental co-operation is quite important.
You also mentioned Efficiency Nova Scotia. Efficiency Nova Scotia was established by legislation and I like to say it's at arm's length with a dislocated shoulder so it's an independent arm of government. Its role will be to work on energy efficiency and conservation as Conserve Nova Scotia was doing. In those areas, it will be the Department of Energy that will be setting targets and objectives for them and providing them with dollars to achieve those objectives. But the Department of Energy will not be overseeing the management of Efficiency Nova Scotia. Our role will be to ensure the objectives we want to have met, are being met.
Efficiency Nova Scotia will also have the responsibility for the demand-side management programs which have recently been the subject of discussions at the URB. As that money comes from ratepayers, Efficiency Nova Scotia will be responsible to the URB for achieving the plans it lays out in energy efficiency related to the use of electricity.
The URB obviously plays a role in Efficiency Nova Scotia. From our perspective around the renewable electricity plan we see a couple of roles for the URB. One is that the URB will be reviewing any of the projects Nova Scotia Power comes forward with to help them meet their share of these targets, that the URB will be reviewing those projects as it does in a normal fashion with Nova Scotia Power to ensure that the expenditures are reasonable and at the lowest cost possible, and we also have assigned to the URB the task of developing the community feed-in tariff, which I mentioned earlier, given their expertise in establishing rates.
They obviously have a much broader role in the electricity system and I'd probably leave a lot out if I tried to explain all that, so I'll turn it over to Nancy to describe the role of the Department of the Environment.
MS. VANSTONE: That's very impressive, Murray, you've been here three or four months and you obviously have a good, quick grasp of what maybe it took me 33 years to think about what I think about in terms of different department responsibilities.
Just picking up on that - and Murray went through most of those elements - in terms specifically of the role of Environment, we have a couple of key roles. One is that Environment does have regulatory responsibility in terms of protection of air, water, and land quality, so in some areas we are the regulator in terms of meeting our requirements and getting approvals - so we certainly have a role there in terms of this work.
We also have a very important role in terms of leadership, in terms of promoting the environment and the economy and sustainable prosperity. That comes partly from our responsibilities in terms of the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which does link many activities across many departments, many environmental goals, and also economic objectives.
Also, our climate change leadership role is very important to us directly in the Department of Environment, and in turn our relationship with other provinces and territories, their environment departments and their climate change role in the federal government, but we have tried to set our climate change directorate up in a way that ensures that it's working right across government departments because that climate change file is not at home in any one particular department.
The other thing I wanted to pick up on, and Murray mentioned the importance of working with Economic and Rural Development, we do have an interdepartmental
committee of deputies that is co-chaired by Environment and the Economy. It was working initially with a broad focus on achieving the goals under the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act but, really, when we think about so many of these initiatives, renewable energy, the greenhouse gas regulations, they're important on the environment, which is the sort of first place people go often, but very critically important on the economy in terms of positioning Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia businesses so that they are productive, efficient, competitive in the world marketplace, where increasingly markets are looking for what is your carbon content of your product, what are you doing about water conservation, what are you doing about solid waste - so it's a very important element of our economic story as well.
MR. EPSTEIN: Thank you. Those are very useful answers. I think my colleague, Mr. Whynott, has some questions now.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Whynott.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, as we answer these questions and hear the presentations today - and even in your presentation, Mr. Coolican, the motivation of why we're going forward with this renewable electricity plan, you know, the 90 per cent electricity comes from fossil fuels at the moment, and the interesting one I want to kind of bring forward here is that in the last five years, so that's under previous governments, the rates have climbed by 30 per cent. Nova Scotians certainly saw that and I think this is part of the overall plan of this government, making life more affordable for the people of the province.
I just want to focus in - I know you talked a little bit about good jobs and more investment, can you talk a little bit about what that looks like and is there some sort of an estimate on how many jobs could be created as a result of this strategy?
MR. COOLICAN: Yes, thanks. I think the plan itself and the numbers that I talked about earlier, we're looking at an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 person-years of employment inside the province. It's important to remember that a lot of those opportunities will come in both urban and rural areas. One of the benefits of encouraging people across the province to participate in this policy through the community feed-in tariffs and in other ways, we think will mean that many of the benefits will get spread to rural areas, as well as the urban areas of the province. It is also facilitated because of the fact that the wind blows in many different areas of the province and is not solely located in rural or urban areas.
Also, because of the use of biomass, we think there will be employment in many of the rural areas of the province that depend on the forest industry to help them out. Then longer term, also the agricultural jobs will come in those areas.
We hope that perhaps we can do better. These numbers are based on evidence collected from existing projects and, as I mentioned, with the DSME investment in Trenton, we hope that we can add to the benefits that will come from this policy.
MR. WHYNOTT: That's really good to hear because again, a commitment from this government is to create good, well-paying jobs for Nova Scotia families and obviously that's part of the strategy. Madam Chairman, I believe my time is up.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, your time has elapsed. Thank you very much, Mr. Whynott. I'll turn the floor over to Mr. Colwell and Mr. Colwell will have, I'd say, with closing statements we should say a nine minute session. Nine minutes for you.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you. I'm going to ask you different questions this time. Moving Efficiency Nova Scotia away from Conserve Nova Scotia, there has been a $2 fee put on the power bills. From the information we have, it looks like that will generate $42 million a year, is that correct?
MR. COOLICAN: I think the amount that was approved by the URB for the demand- side management program was $43 million for this year. I am not aware of the average impact on the bill of being $2, the member may be correct on that.
I think it is important to remember that the approach to demand-side management was also the result of a consultation process that was undertaken by Dr. Wheeler. Again there's a strong belief, across the industry as well as in Nova Scotia, that demand-side management is an important part of achieving renewable energy targets and also of creating rate stability. The least expensive way to produce electricity is to save it, to not use it, both from the point of view of ratepayers as a whole but also if you're looking at your own electricity bills. If the price of electricity goes up but you're using less, your overall bill may go down even though the price of electricity might be going up. So from an individual point of view, as well as a broad ratepayer point of view, the investments in demand-side management are extremely important to us achieving these targets.
The recommendation made by Dr. Wheeler, and that the government adopted, was the creation of an independent, arm's length, Crown Corporation that could manage both the demand-side management funds and the funds for energy efficiency in other areas. It's important that the demand-side management funds be spent on electricity conservation, but we think the expertise that group will gain and develop, as they work on demand-side management on electricity generation, will help them on the conservation and efficiency of other forms of energy that may be used in the province and that there could be efficiencies created by efficiency in the knowledge they have in working in both areas.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, I agree the demand-side management is a good program, but it seems like you're putting increases on the power bills to start with to generate this, instead of being a government program that should be funded, probably, out of general revenues. If you take that, if indeed it is $42 million that's generated from this $2 on the bills, you're going to add the harmonized or GST on that as well, which will be another 15 per cent that the government will get, so it's a significant amount of money, and when you look at that part of it, $2 doesn't seem like anything but you add, again, the GST on that.
Another question related to that, that I haven't got a clear answer from and maybe you could clarify this, government came out with the 8 per cent reduction on the heating part of your power bill. Has that been increased to 10 per cent with the increase in the GST?
MR. COOLICAN: The last part of your question, I don't know the answer to that. (Interruption) We'll get back to you on that.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, if you could provide that to the committee, I would appreciate it.
MR. COOLICAN: I can deal with the first part of your question and that's the issue of whether demand-side management should be paid by ratepayers or taxpayers. I think the position that has been taken by the government - that's a longstanding policy position of the Government of Nova Scotia - and that is that the cost of electricity should be borne by the ratepayers and demand-side management is a cost of the electricity system. The benefits go to all ratepayers and, therefore, it's viewed that the costs should be on the ratepayers as well.
MR. COLWELL: Before we had Conserve Nova Scotia there were all kinds of discussion on whether that worked or not but they did some very positive things. They did actually affect some of the demand-side management without putting $2 on power bills. How is Efficiency Nova Scotia going to be any different other than they're going to have money to deal with that Conserve Nova Scotia didn't have? So how is it going to be different and how is it going to work any different?
MR. COOLICAN: It is going to work differently from Conserve Nova Scotia partly due to the fact that the money is coming from ratepayers, that Efficiency Nova Scotia will be responsible to the URB for its spending on those programs and achieving the objectives that they set. Demand-side management is not brand new. Nova Scotia Power has been spending ratepayer funds on demand-side management, so while Efficiency Nova Scotia is new and the size of the funds that are being put forward are new, the demand-side management program itself is not new.
Exactly how Efficiency Nova Scotia is going to achieve its targets, I haven't had a chance to review the proposals they've made before URB but I will be doing that. They are
assembling a very good team to work on these projects and I think they're going to be very successful.
MR. COLWELL: When will they be set up, they were supposed to have been set up by April 2010, but that hasn't happened yet. When will that be completed?
MR. COOLICAN: I'm not aware of when the transition will take place, but certainly Conserve Nova Scotia and the Department of Energy and Efficiency Nova Scotia will ensure that there is a careful transition. Conserve Nova Scotia has not stopped its work or its programs, and I think the same would apply on the demand management side.
MR. COLWELL: The monies that were allotted by the government for Conserve Nova Scotia in the budget, where are they going to go?
MR. COOLICAN: The money for energy conservation and efficiency will come to the Department of Energy. Those funds have been in the Department of Energy's budget. What the level of funding will be for next year, I can't predict at this point.
The Department of Energy will then be discussing with Efficiency Nova Scotia the objectives that we want to achieve and the funds that we will be making available to Efficiency Nova Scotia to achieve those objectives. We will be holding Efficiency Nova Scotia accountable to those objectives and for the expenditure of those funds.
MR. COLWELL: What is the goal of Efficiency Nova Scotia? What is their ultimate goal? Besides broad brush answers, what's the ideal situation they should be able to generate, and in what time frame?
MR. COOLICAN: I don't have a specific answer for you as yet. I think it's a good question in terms of what their specific objectives will be. As you've mentioned, the general objectives are well known, and that's to keep the electricity demand flat or declining. We will be setting goals for the funds that the Department of Energy provides to Efficiency Nova Scotia, but I think it's premature to give you a specific answer on that yet.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Colwell, your time has elapsed now. We will turn the floor over to Mr. Clarke for the Progressive Conservative caucus.
MR. CLARKE: Just to go back, and I know my honourable colleague for Halifax Chebucto, in referencing back to the renewable electricity statement that was put in place and saying yes, there was a plan, refers to the sentence on Page 9, "The Renewable Electricity Plan calls for a minimum of 600 GWh of new medium to large-scale," to be split amongst NSPI and independents. What he did confirm is there was a reason why he went from elementary to secondary school, but being as learned as the honourable member is with his post-secondary good education, he also knows from statements he has made when he was
on the Opposition side of the House that this is not a plan and that he could not, in his complimenting and kudos of welcoming the deputies - where I thought he was going to break into a chorus of Solidarity Forever - say that there is a plan.
However (Interruption) What's that? My sympathies for him, then. However, the honourable member knows the difference and I don't need to say any more on that, but I'll come back to where I left off with regard to scrubbers at Lingan.
One of the things that I think we can confirm is that at the time it was deemed to be too expensive. The cost was one of the overarching reasons of not doing the scrubber initiative, even though it would have helped with regard to immediate reductions, especially at that plant. Because the URB at the time said there was a cost issue and then talked about the ratepayers, that was not done. I'm wondering, because that was not done, what is the analysis that the department has done with regard to and the reference on the reliance of an imported coal with the fact that there has been an enabling process to allow Donkin Mine to go forward, looking at what the combinations would be and what would be required for Donkin Mine to be used as a domestic supply of coal? What factors have been considered in utilizing that at Lingan or between Lingan and Point Aconi?
MS. VANSTONE: Thank you. In terms of the Donkin Mine and the role of Nova Scotia Environment in that, our role was with respect to looking at that proposal in terms of environmental impact assessment, which we did. So it wasn't with respect to where the coal was going to be used, it was with respect to the operation of that mine. That was done based on the plans they had at that time and, as I'm sure you are aware, they did receive their environmental assessment.
The other role of Environment would be an industrial approval associated with the actual operation of that mine.
The other place where this comes in is your question about domestic supply. In that regard our regulations and our approvals on Nova Scotia Power are on the output in terms of the emissions generated, not on the fuel mix that they decide to use to generate that power. We focus on what comes out in terms of the outcome that needs to be achieved on that, and there are many things that go into deciding on their fuel mix and the mix of fuels and technology and approach that they use on that.
MR. CLARKE: Well thank you very much. We have issues with regard to and I guess overarching planning and issues that are current day and long term, and one of them would be the life cycle of existing fossil fuel-based power generation in context with a renewable electricity statement that the Premier went up on the mountain to try and maybe get some Divine intervention so he could get some numbers added in at some future point, to actually make a plan.
Part of it is the lack of linkages between the discussions around where we are with agriculture in terms of switchgrass, in terms of being able to use it for biomass to get away from traditional wood fibre use and the concerns that have been raised in this Legislature about that. The fact that we do have - and I know the deputy may say we don't want to look at regions, but he is also aware that there is extensive wind mapping that is done - there are prime areas for development versus other areas, is there a linkage between what the Annapolis Valley, or other farming areas, to complement from an economic and a rural economic development basis, where that can contribute toward an energy sustainability plan for this province long term and how it deals with small, independent, the large-scale production that Nova Scotia Power does.
Those linkages - the plan has not been there to take the different roles between the departments, to articulate that with a time frame that shows that the government has properly considered all of the linkages necessary, and what I come back to is the ratepayer of Nova Scotia. So we have an issue with regard to one area, where it was the rate base. The government has deferred everything to the URB. We have a plan that we do not know what the cost is going to be to the ratepayers of Nova Scotia - can anyone tell me if there has been a plan or an assessment done internally that factors in getting to the 2020 estimated impact of the renewable standards on the rate base of Nova Scotia?
MR. COOLICAN: Yes, we've done an estimate of the specific plans to 2015 and we're looking at one to two per cent a year of a rate impact. I would go back to my earlier statements, that we hope that Nova Scotians in communities across the province will take this plan and will respond to it in ways that we might not have considered if we were developing the kind of detail that the member suggests - of deciding that this firm here is going to be producing this kind of grass, and this woodlot over here is going to be producing this much biomass to go to this plant in this specific community or to this wind farm in another place.
We think there is tremendous creativity across the province that has been demonstrated to date, and the interest in this plan and the kind of positive comments we've been getting about the plan indicate to us that people across the province are looking at it seriously. They've seen the targets, referred to by the other honourable member, related to what their opportunities are - they've seen them and they're starting to respond to them.
We're pretty confident that we'll be able to meet the targets that have been set for 2015 in the way we've laid them out, and that we will have a better opportunity meeting those targets in that way rather than deciding which firm is going to grow which kind of grass to put in as biomass. I think when we get beyond 2015, we've set a longer-term goal at this point. As I've said before, I think it would be premature for us to be indicating exactly where those benefits are going to come from in the detail we have for the 2015 target. As the
honourable member knows, there is a lot of change in this industry; there's a lot of work being done that's of a research nature, especially in the Bay of Fundy, and the kinds of opportunities that may come as a result of that. The honourable member also mentioned the Lower Churchill, and there may be some opportunities that come from that that will be important to the province.
For us to get into a detailed plan beyond 2015 would not, in our view, be productive at this time. We will be watching the industry as it develops. We're in close contact with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and with Nalcor to get a better sense of their plans when they're willing to share them with us. We're working with the other provinces to look at opportunities to improve transmission across the Atlantic Provinces in a way that I think will change the future beyond 2015 in quite a dramatic way.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: If I could interrupt just for a moment, and I'll give you another minute at the end. I wanted to introduce our guests who have joined us in the gallery today. They are Grade 3 students from St. Stephen's School, which is here in Halifax. We certainly welcome them and their teacher, Nicole DeLory, who is with them.
I was asked if I would tell you just briefly what this committee is. It is the Public Accounts Committee. It has nine members - eight plus myself as Chair - and we represent all three Parties that sit in the Legislature. Each week we invite witnesses from our government departments to answer questions about the spending and the programs and planning of government. We focus primarily on money, which is what "public accounts" means. We have with us today two different departments, the Department of Energy and the Department of Environment, and we have their staff and their deputy minister. Deputy minister means the top civil servant in that department. I hope that explains it briefly and I'm sure the staff can give you more information later. Thank you very much and welcome to the Legislature.
And now, if you would like to take another minute, Mr. Clarke.
MR. CLARKE: Yes, thank you very much. To our students I say welcome, because the topic we're talking about today is about the long-term electricity, when you turn on your lights and your computers and when there's an opportunity - what we're discussing today is the fact that these Grade 3 students are going to be paying more for electricity as consumers in the Province of Nova Scotia. It's going to be very important to think back to your time here because public policy will affect you when you start paying the bills your parents are currently paying on your behalf. You'll be able to say you were part of history and it may not be so great.
Madam Chairman, what I will say to our colleagues is that this is a serious matter, one that is affecting future generations of Nova Scotians. While the government does not want to commit because they want to look at where the leavers may come to take credit
another day and another area, what we know is I'm glad to see the Deputy Minister of Energy had indicated in response to the member for Halifax Chebucto that the government would look at Lower Churchill as maybe a way of backfilling provincial commitments that were made on the mount by the Premier and looking across the way - maybe he saw P.E.I. He looked across, and maybe he would know that they have detailed plans in the Province of Prince Edward Island that don't exist here. Maybe someday, someplace, maybe these children will find there will be a plan in the future.
I can assure them there will be a plan because there will be a new government. We're one step closer today to the next government to make life more affordable for Nova Scotians and back to balance. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: With that, your time has elapsed, Mr. Clarke. I'll turn the floor over to Mr. MacKinnon and the NDP caucus for your nine minutes.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you. It's a pleasure to have the Departments of Energy and Environment before us today. Also, great to have those young students here. I think they were very well behaved and perhaps some members of the House might learn something from them.
I would like to begin by talking about the role of natural gas. I have to think about my own area for a while - looking at Pictou County with natural gas running through the county but no distribution taking place. We are told that for $10 million, natural gas could be brought in to one of the top industrial areas of the province and about the third largest concentration of population as well. What do you see as the role of natural gas in this province?
MR. COOLICAN: We see natural gas playing an increasingly important role in the province. It is a cleaner energy; it's not as clean as wind, but it's certainly cleaner than coal. We see that the supply of natural gas across North America seems to be increasing, which, as a consumer, bodes well for the price. From the point of view of a taxpayer, or the government looking for revenue from offshore or from onshore developments, it's not quite as good news because the royalty revenues are connected to the price.
We think there's a long-term supply of natural gas, and because we are connected to North American markets through the pipeline system and given the increased exploration and development, particularly of shale gas in the United States, and there is potential for that in New Brunswick as well as in Nova Scotia, we think the supply is there in the long term. We think it does make sense for consumers to switch to natural gas, that there are savings to be incurred.
At the same time I think it's important to remember that it's important that the development of the natural gas system be done on an economic basis. One of the issues, even
in Halifax, is the extent to which the distribution system expands and does so in a responsible way, given the costs that are incurred. You may have seen references to that through hearings at the URB recently.
MR. MACKINNON: Nova Scotia Power spent about $45 million in the last year, about $30 million for a bag house in Trenton and about $15 million in upgrades. It's interesting that natural gas could, in fact, be brought into the county for $10 million. Looking at the caps on greenhouse gas, will those caps have an impact on possible shutdown or closure at Trenton's NSP?
MR. COOLICAN: The caps that Nova Scotia has set for greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a lower use of coal and our renewable electricity plan will result in a lower use of coal. Nova Scotia Power will also be increasing the percentage of natural gas that it burns and so there will be an impact. I've not heard Nova Scotia Power talk about closing any specific coal plants.
I think also, in terms of your comment earlier, it's important to consider not just the cost of the bag houses, but it's important to consider the cost of changing Trenton, if that were the case, from a coal-burning facility to a natural gas-burning facility. When you do the math you have to look at that, as well. I don't have the exact math in my head, but that's an important consideration.
MR. MACKINNON: The Minister of Environment and the three MLAs from Pictou County met with a group very concerned about, not just the fly ash coming out of Trenton, but also the sulphur and other nitrous gases and so on. That was last Friday and there is a development taking place in relationship to a health study. Could we get some information on that?
MS. VANSTONE: I understand from that meeting that they were discussing some longstanding concerns that people have in that area. Two items that came out of that meeting - one is certainly a commitment to continue to exercise our current approval processes, which we have been doing, in terms of making sure that we have requirements and the approvals in that area. We are making sure that they are performing to standard, that we are inspecting, that we're following up, and that we're continuing to work on the emissions associated with that.
The other item that I think the honourable member was referring to is that there were discussions with Nova Scotia Environment, Health Promotion and Protection and also with the Pictou local health authority on looking at the situation in terms of reviewing information on health events. Particularly cancer rates in that area and looking as well at conditions around the local area and seeing from that information what kind of connections there were. So from Environment's perspective, we're certainly participating in that review. We will be
providing them with the information we have around air quality results and emissions to contribute to that review.
MR. MACKINNON: With nearly 90 per cent of our electricity coming from fossil fuels, I'm wondering about - we have some coal being produced locally through strip mining - a lot of it is imported coal, and we've always been concerned about that imported coal. We're concerned about all of the effects of fossil fuel. However, people used to talk about Columbian coal as blood coal and so on, what is the percentage, do we have any idea of that?
MR. COOLICAN: I don't have a specific number on the percentage. I think the great majority of the coal is imported and I can get back to you with a number on that. I think the considerations that Nova Scotia Power would look at would be questions of the cost, questions of the quality of the coal, which has an impact both on the emissions but also has an impact on the output of the generating station as well.
MR. MACKINNON: What is the history of NSP emissions perhaps over the past five years in relationship to, do we have any information on the tons of emissions from NSP in the province throughout recent years - better, worse?
MS. VANSTONE: Yes, we do have some information on that. Andrew, did you want to just provide that?
MR. MURPHY: Sure. I'll speak to a couple of different emissions. So we'll start with sulphur dioxide. We put in place a cap in 2005 that reduced that cap by 25 per cent from what it was previously. Then starting this year, in 2010, that cap was reduced a further 25 per cent - so a total reduction of 50 per cent in that cap. In the recently announced climate change action plan further reductions were put in place for 2015 and 2020 that will ultimately bring that number down by 75 per cent.
In terms of nitrogen dioxide, it's another pollutant that we're concerned about. There was a new cap put in place in 2009, that caused a reduction of around 20 per cent in that pollutant. I'll also talk about greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases in 2004 were around 10.5 megatons; in 2008 around 9.78 megatons. So they were down slightly. So that will give you a sense of where emissions are going in the last five years or so.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Murphy. I'm going to interrupt now. The time for questioning has elapsed and, as is our custom, we give a short amount of time for closing remarks if you wanted to say anything after our questioning. So perhaps I'll begin with Mr. Coolican and then go to Ms. Vanstone.
MR. COOLICAN: I appreciated the opportunity. I think if the school children were still here, I would add to the honourable member's reference the notion that we believe that over the long term the price of electricity will be more stable in Nova Scotia as we move toward more renewable energy, and also that the kids would be interested in the level of emissions that we see will be reduced through this plan.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Vanstone.
MS. VANSTONE: Thank you very much, it has been a privilege to be able to be here on one of my last days as a public servant, so I appreciate that very much. I guess I would just like to add that I think we've made great progress on our environmental goals. I think we are approaching them in a different way that really talks about their intricate relationship with our economy, as well as our environment. I look forward to hearing how that continues over future years.
I'd just like to say what a privilege it has been for me in the last couple of years to work in the Department of Environment and with the other departments of government on trying to move forward on changing our economy, our approach, and many of our behaviours, so that we really are moving forward on sustainable development to achieve both prosperity and a clean and healthy environment.
We have a great story in what we did on solid waste and I'm confident that we're going to do the same kind of transformation when it comes to renewable energy and many other areas that we need to achieve in terms of meeting the goals of that legislation. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Vanstone. We have three items that were promised for further information, I can share that with you later. The third one just added was the one on Columbian coal, so we will ask that you send that information to the committee. I would like to thank you, as well, and wish you well, Ms. Vanstone in the future. I believe, Mr. Preyra would like to say a quick comment, please. We do have committee business.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Madam Chairman, on behalf of the government caucus and other members of this committee, I really do want to thank you for your great service. You have served a number of governments in your term here and you've served them all with distinction. I know that over the last several years you've led a really ambitious strategy on climate change and energy conservation and we thank you for your service to the people of Nova Scotia. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We do have some committee business, but if our witnesses would like to leave, you're welcome to gather up and go out.
On the issue of committee business today we have before us, first of all, the Strategic Plan from the Auditor General which you all have. I have a motion or a couple of motions from Mr. Colwell, so I'm going to turn the floor over to Mr. Colwell for some discussion on that.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, these motions were brought forward as a result of the Auditor General not being able to get the information he required to do audits. I'll read the first one into the record and I'll have this one circulated for everybody.
Whereas during the course of attempting to conduct full performance audits of Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, Department of Economic and Rural Development (Industrial Expansion Fund), and Department of Health (Mental Health Services), the senior management of the above Crown Corporation and departments refused to provide the information required by the Auditor General; and
Whereas the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee includes the review of the report of the Auditor General which requires full transparency and accountability without exception; and
Whereas it is clear that the current Executive Council gave direction to senior management to withhold from the Office of the Auditor General documents that were required for the completion of the above mentioned performance audits; and
Whereas the Auditor General has pointed out that "this practice constitutes an unwarranted interference with the audit process" and that " it represents poor accountability to the House of Assembly"; and
Whereas this resulted in an incomplete audit in one instance and compelled the Auditor General to issue a denial of an opinion on his audit of the operations of Nova Scotia Business Incorporated and the Industrial Expansion Fund, and pointed out that denial of an audit opinion is the most severe audit sanction available to him;
Be it resolved that:
(1) The committee direct the clerk to arrange for the transfer of the complete files as requested previously by the Auditor General for the purpose of a performance audit to have been published in the June 2010 Report of the Auditor General to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from Nova Scotia Business Incorporated to the Office of the Auditor General no later than noon, June 15, 2010;
(2) The committee direct the clerk to arrange for the transfer of the complete files as requested previously by the Auditor General for the purpose of a performance audit to have been published in the June 2010 Report of the Auditor General to the Nova Scotia House of
Assembly from the Department of Economic and Rural Development to the Office of the Auditor General no later than noon on June 15, 2010;
(3) The committee direct the clerk to arrange for the transfer of the complete files as requested previously by the Auditor General, for the purpose of a performance audit to have been published in the June 2010 Report of the Auditor General to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from the Department Health to the Office of the Auditor General no later than noon on June 15, 2010; and
(4) If the Department of Economic and Rural Development, Nova Scotia Business Incorporated and the Department of Health fail to comply with the committee's wishes as expressed in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, the Public Accounts Committee authorize the Chair to issue a subpoena to compel production of the files.
I so move.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Is there a seconder for that motion?
Mr. Clarke has seconded that, any discussion on the motion. Mr. Preyra.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Madam Chairman. As the member for Preston knows, the government really does want to work with the Auditor General and give the Auditor General all the files he needs to complete his audit, not just these particular files, but all the files in the future.
As you know, Madam Chairman, on this committee and elsewhere, we've had endless, really mindless, discussions about who should get access and under what conditions and the member for Preston has been a party to those discussions over the years.
What we really would like is what the Auditor General would like, to get access to documents, particularly documents relating to the Cabinet and relating to his audit and documents relating to solicitor-client privilege, but in a way that protects the confidentiality of that information and protects the Office of the Auditor General itself against third party claims. So there is really no debate here between us, no difference of opinion between us, as to whether or not these documents should be made available.
It really is a great opportunity for us at this time to put something in place that would ensure the capacity of the Public Accounts Committee and of the Auditor General to get documents that are needed for both of us to perform our duties. So I think it's an important time for us to act; it's an important time for the government to act and I think the government is in discussions with the Auditor General at the moment as to how exactly that transfer of documents should happen and what kind of legislation needs to be in place.
We agree in principle with this motion, that documents should be made available, but we believe that those documents should be available when that legislation, and when those safeguards, are in place.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. Colwell, did you want to add to that comment?
MR. COLWELL: I think it's appropriate at the present time - I'm not convinced that the government is as committed to providing the information that the honourable member indicated, because if there was no issue with anything that the Auditor General may find, I would think that, probably, they should provide this information, as we've requested, to the Auditor General, immediately.
There has been some discussion in the past about a court case that said this information may not be secure in the Auditor General's hands. The Auditor General made it very clear that all the information he provided will be held in confidence and it is going to the Auditor General, not to the public, or not in a public forum here in a committee.
There have been rulings, court rulings, that indicate that - or lack of court rulings - that Cabinet privilege and the Auditor General, and I can bring the committee's attention to the Cabinet privilege, and Justice Wright cited Carvery versus Ontario in order to weigh the compelling interests of secrecy required decision making at the highest level. It goes on to say, basically, that there is no ruling in that particular case.
Then we go on further, solicitor-client privilege. Again, there was no waiver of privilege when it's given to the Auditor General and these are justices who have said this although the government's Finance Minister indicated that indeed that may be the case. So there's a difference of opinion here. I think the gist of the whole process here is the Auditor General has a right to get these documents. He should get these documents immediately so he can properly do an audit. If the government is not willing to do that immediately - putting up a bill that they will bring in the future- I think they're just trying to hide behind that and not provide the information that the public really deserves to get.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Clarke.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Madam Chairman, to my honourable colleagues who have spoken to this matter, I do know, and to the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, there has been precedent in the past where access to documents has been able to be facilitated. They've been done in-house and on the very caveats of the principles of confidentiality being maintained whereby access is granted for people to review documents. They don't get to take those documents but they definitely can review the documents in accordance to the audit process they want to undertake, that any opinion with regard to any differences between the auditor and/or department, or the ministry, that those matters - the Attorney General in terms
of what is commercially sensitive or proprietary and subject to confidentiality - are worked out.
So if it is the intent of the government to be sincere in meeting what they publicly said, the motion that is offered and/or any of the mechanisms that can be associated with it, that there is a precedent in place that could facilitate the Office of the Auditor General undertaking its work to maintain the confidentiality and the proprietary matters at hand. Quite frankly, it would also show the goodwill and the basis of coming here in the Fall session of the Legislature to enact enabling legislation to support it. So for the government to say it can't be done, it's about the will of the government to want to lead. To show Nova Scotians, whose trust has been shaken in the very institution of government, both the Legislature and that of the Cabinet, to show goodwill and to show that we're moving forward steadfast in our resolve for transparency.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Preyra.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Madam Chairman, we just want to make it clear that we are in no way questioning the integrity or the efficiency of the Office of the Auditor General. We believe that he has the capacity to hold those documents and in our experience with him recently he has treated those documents very responsibly. What we would like to do is clear up once and for all the question of what the limits of Cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege are. We would like to know to what extent the Office of the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee can be protected from releasing documents to third parties. There are very big issues here and those are issues that go back for a couple of hundred years now, Madam Chairman. This is a good time for us to resolve them but this has nothing to do with this particular report but it has everything to do with some pretty important principles.
I do want to say also that the mandate of this committee itself as spelled out in our documents say that in carrying out its role the committee will seek to obtain all financial information and documents necessary for the committee's work except for records which are privileged in the narrowest sense such as Executive Council papers. That's in the documents in our terms of reference and there is a question there, and there always has been a question, as to what that means, what does it mean in the narrowest sense such as Executive Council papers?
I also want to add that the member for Preston has talked about precedents and I want to say that the precedent he cites involves a series of hearings that he was involved in in 2007 and 2008. At that time there were three questions that were put on the agenda, none of which involved Cabinet confidentiality. The committee met in camera and dealt with it and decided
that they were not confidential documents. The committee itself ruled out looking at Cabinet confidential documents in that process.
On solicitor-client privilege, I want to quote the member for Preston at that committee. He was talking about documentation. He said, "When we got the documentation, and in the documentation, . . ." relating to that hearing, ". . . it was blanked out 'Cabinet confidentiality', and it was a memo between staff members - that's beyond belief, actually." So the question of memos between staff members are protected.
"I can understand in one way, and I'm not protecting the government in any way, don't get me wrong with my statement that I'm going to say here, I can understand where certain things in Cabinet are confidential. Being a former Cabinet Minister, there are certain things that are confidential and could hurt companies. I know as a committee, we did everything we possibly could to ensure that the companies were not hurt in any way, except for the negative publicity that came out of this because of the nature of the grants - they are not loans, they are grants. That I can understand, when the Cabinet Minister comes and says, this I can't discuss because it may cause some problems for the companies."
In other words, Madam Chairman, the member for Preston knows full well that there are Cabinet confidential documents, and the issue at hand is whether or not those Cabinet confidential documents can be broadly or narrowly defined. He knows that there is also solicitor-client privilege related to the actions of companies and documents given to the government in trust.
Those issues have been dealt with before and it is that experience that has led us to the conclusion that we do need some definitive legislation to deal with this question of Cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege. That's why we would like to introduce legislation in the Fall and at that point give the Auditor General all of the documents he needs to continue his audit and to do the great work that he does.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Preyra. Mr. Whynott, did you want to add to that or is that complete?
MR. WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, my honourable colleague for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island did a very good job at summing up what I was going to say, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you very much, I appreciate that. I also wanted to say that as Chair of this committee, we are all aware and we've had our training as well about the important role we play in supporting the Office of the Auditor General and that the work of the Auditor General reports here to our committee. We do all that we can to facilitate, in a very positive way, the work that he does so that we are the eyes and ears, really, of the Legislature as his work is reported. We have a responsibility I think as well, to facilitate and to support that work.
When a report is brought to us that suggests that the Auditor General's Office was impeded, I think it is important that we consider what we can do, so this is an appropriate motion, I believe, before us.
In the report we got last week, just in a little summary, I would like to remind the members it says, and this is from the Auditor General himself, "The Auditor General Act requires that all documents, whether confidential or not, be provided to the Auditor General and does not contain any exemption for Cabinet submissions or solicitor-client communications." So for the Auditor General Act, we should consider that the auditor feels he is empowered to do this.
Mr. Clarke, and I know we're moving towards having the motion called.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. On the issue of the ability to look at the transactions with regard to a file relating to a department, there is an ability to have those documents reviewed. With the matter of Cabinet confidentiality, Cabinets must have the ability, and I do echo the fact to have discussion around a document and not be impeded from those discussions in confidence. However, the issue of, if government wants to allow the actual mechanics or the technical aspects of a file to be looked at, in terms of accounting and due diligence around the work associated - not the decisions because Cabinet can make those decisions - but the work associated with files being in accordance to the proper processes and procedures and accounting, that's a totally other thing and that's my point, the government has at their discretion and ability to allow for that with a negotiated process that protects the other covenants that would be in place around Cabinet confidentiality.
I would say here, never would I vote to impede Cabinet's ability to do its work, as the Executive Council needs to do its work, and as the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island said, there is a centuries-long process and our parliamentary tradition has honoured that. Precedence has been, when that has been tampered with, it has not benefited the jurisdiction that has dealt with it in the political expediency of the moment or the day that has been there. So I do agree with common ground and I welcome the legislation. It's a matter as time moves on, issues come before government and the public. We know we're under greater scrutiny at this time and need to respond in an appropriate, transparent manner.
Again, if the will is there for government to work out a process that allows for the viewing of documents for the actual processing of a loan or the like, and those transactions to be reviewed is one thing separate from the decision-making of a Cabinet around them.
Again, in being supportive of this, I also think this has also presented further discussion. I know the government's position on this and I suspect if we go to a vote, I know the outcome, but I will take the government at its word that we will find a way forward. It's still not impossible for the government to do the right thing in the interim and show some
next steps and to set their own precedents of collaboration and co-operation to move forward with legislation that will show examples of how it can work.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Clarke. I have two speakers, Mr. Colwell and then Mr. Preyra.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, I respect the comments by my honourable colleagues. Unfortunately the quotes were my quotes from the past which were accurate - for information being supplied to the Public Accounts Committee- not to the Auditor General. My comments in that regard were taken out of context.
I still stand by those comments when it comes to this committee. We are asking in this resolution that the information go to the Auditor General, not this committee - very clear on that - to the Auditor General. The Auditor General has a right to get this information, he has a right to report on the processes that he has to review in these different departments to ensure the public interest is protected. Not in the future when an Act is put into place, which if the Act is written properly and follows through properly, it's something I'm sure our caucus will support.
In the meantime, the work of the Auditor General's Office has been impeded by this government. It appears there is some information they don't want made public and I can only draw conclusions as to what that may be. But without the Auditor General going through the process and doing his work that will not be released from the standpoint of any confidential information that would come from either Cabinet documents or from staff reports or from businesses that may be affected by this. I think the government has taken a very poor position on this and this information should be provided immediately to the Auditor General - I stress to the Auditor General.
We have no precedent on this before, that I'm aware of, that the committee has come forward and asked for the Auditor General to be provided information because he simply can't get it. I would ask my colleagues to consider that. I'm sure they're going to vote against this. I will be requesting a recorded vote when the time comes to ensure we have this on the record, that the government has no interest in providing the Auditor General with the information to do his work.
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, I want to say that I agree completely with the member for Cape Breton North. There have been occasions in the past where we have been able to, after a very long, drawn-out debate and struggle, come up with some arrangements to transfer some documents.
What we want to avoid are those constant one-off fights and establish a strong base for the Auditor General to receive those reports so we're in complete agreement with him. He clearly agrees with us that we need legislation to clear up this area so we don't have to
deal with these situations. The member for Preston has a very short-term memory if he thinks there is no precedent for these types of debates. He and I sat together for a long time when we were looking at the immigration files. I think he has forgotten that.
On the question of the powers and authorities of the Act and how they relate to Cabinet confidentiality, there is a great deal of litigation. There's a conflict of law here if not legal opinion and that needs to be cleared up by legislation. What we're saying is, we want to strengthen the capacity of the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General to get the documents without going through the rigamarole that we usually go through. We want the Auditor General to get the documents he needs to do the job.
Most of the information the Auditor General is looking for happened under a previous government so it's not that we have any particular political gain. You can't make any particular political gain from saying that was done by the former government. There is a very important principle at stake here and those principles of Cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege and we shouldn't just deal with it just because of some political posturing or grandstanding by members of the Legislature.
These are important principles and they need to be discussed in a rational, logical way. That's all we're saying.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You had asked for a recorded vote, Mr. Colwell. Is that seconded? It has to have two members, I believe. Mr. Clarke has seconded that. So we will have a recorded vote on the motion before us, and I will begin with Mr. Epstein.
Mr. Colwell Mr. Epstein
Mr. Clarke Mr. Whynott
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I will vote in favour. For, 3. Against, 5.
The motion is defeated.
Mr. Preyra, did you want to add to that?
MR. PREYRA: Yes, Madam Chairman. I would like to move another motion.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, you may move another motion.
MR. PREYRA: I move that the Public Accounts Committee recommend that the documents requested by the Auditor General, pertinent to Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Industrial Expansion Fund, be released to the Auditor General as soon as the appropriate legislative safeguards are in place.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is that clear to everybody? I know we haven't had the opportunity to have a look at it. Mr. Epstein is seconding the motion, which makes it official. Any questions or comments? Mr. Clarke.
MR. CLARKE: In terms of when we get a process in place that we'll think about what we're not going to show you in advance, or disclose that, I'm wondering, could the honourable member just read the statement fully again for me?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes. If you could repeat it, Mr. Preyra.
MR. PREYRA: The effective part of the motion reads, that the Public Accounts Committee recommend that the documents requested by the Auditor General, pertinent to Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Industrial Expansion Fund, be released to the Auditor General as soon as the appropriate legislative safeguards are in place.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Colwell, did you have a comment?
MR. COLWELL: Yes. I can see where we're going with this, and I know we're going to lose this whole thing, but I'd like to make an amendment to that motion. I think we should include the Department of Health, the section under Mental Health Services that was also a problem for the Auditor General. I would like to make that as a friendly amendment.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is that acceptable to you, Mr. Preyra?
MR. PREYRA: Yes, definitely. The motion really speaks to the legislative power that will be granted to, I suspect, all departments in the Auditor General, so we have no problem with that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: It just highlights the fact that three departments were impacted in the last report.
MR. PREYRA: Sure, I think that's a good amendment.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Very good. Is there further discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye - (Interruption) As amended, yes. The motion that we've just accepted as amended, including Mental Health. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The motion has passed unanimously, for the record. Mr. Colwell.
MR. COLWELL: Madam Chairman, I have another resolution here and a motion:
Whereas during the course of attempting to conduct full performance audits of Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, Department of Economic and Rural Development (Industrial Expansion Fund), and Department of Health (Mental Health Services), the senior management of the above Crown Corporation and departments refused to provide the information required by the Office of the Auditor General; and
Whereas the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee includes the review of the report of the Auditor General which requires full transparency and accountability without exception; and
Whereas it is clear that the current Executive Council gave direction to senior management to withhold from the Office of the Auditor General documents that were required for the completion of the above mentioned performance audits; and
Whereas the Auditor General has pointed out that "this practice constitutes an unwarranted interference with the audit process" and that "it represents poor accountability to the House of Assembly"; and
Whereas this resulted in an incomplete audit in one instance and compelled the Auditor General to issue a denial of an opinion on his audit of the operations of Nova Scotia Business Incorporated and the Industrial Expansion Fund, and pointed out that denial of an audit opinion is the most severe audit sanction available to him;
Therefore be it resolved that the committee direct the clerk to request of Mr. Darrell Dexter, MLA for Cole Harbour and President of the Executive Council, that he appear before the committee on June 16, 2010. I so move.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. That is seconded by Mr. Clarke, thank you. Mr. Preyra, a comment?
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, once again we're here into this silly posturing and grandstanding on the part of the member for Preston, and I'm not even going to dignify by responding to his whereases, but I would like to say that he knows . . .
MR. COLWELL: On a point of order, Madam Chairman. It's unparliamentary language that the member is using and I would ask him to withdraw all those comments.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, I wonder if you would withdraw those comments, please.
MR. PREYRA: Which part of the comments would he like withdrawn, Madam Chairman?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, "grandstanding, posturing", I think what we're working on here is to try to further the work of the Auditor General, and the comments of the Auditor General were clear that he has been denied his audit opinion, particularly the preamble comes almost directly from the Auditor General's Report - many of the quotes are from there. So, you know, I think I see it as attacking the Auditor General's words as well, so I think it's important that we look at this.
MR. PREYRA: I'm sorry, I thought I was pretty clear when I said the member for Preston was grandstanding and engaging in silly posturing. I thought that part of it was relatively clear, Madam Chairman, but if you would like me to withdraw that, I will.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well it's a personal comment, that's all - yes, thank you.
MR. PREYRA: I apologize to the member for Preston that he feels the need to engage in this kind of behaviour to get the attention he lacks.
MR. COLWELL: On a point of order. This is an important topic for this committee; it's an important topic for the people of Nova Scotia. If I'm being accused by this honourable member of using this posturing and silly approach to this thing, he wants to reconsider his position on this committee. This committee is here to ensure accountability for the people of Nova Scotia and that the Auditor General gets the information he wants - and if he keeps to the topic here, I would appreciate it very much. This is not silly; this is not out of order. This is what this committee should be doing and, if the government would have done what they were supposed to have done in the first place and released this information to the Auditor General, we wouldn't be having this discussion today.
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, I would have been less likely to treat this as posturing if he had submitted his motion to this committee first and not released it to the media, and he had a general discussion before actually introducing it to this committee or engaging in some kind of a sane debate of this issue. That's what I mean. It's really playing to the galleries more than trying to do something important, something that will serve the long-term public interest of Nova Scotians - and if he had been serious about that, he would have presented a well-thought-out motion to this committee and submitted it for discussion and debate before engaging in that type of behaviour.
I do want to say, Madam Chairman, that he knows full well that this committee does not have the authority, it does not have the precedent, and it does not have the necessity to do what he proposes to do - and that, too, leads me to conclude that it's nothing more than posturing.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would just say that I had the opportunity to speak to our legal counsel before the meeting and he, as well, had seen the motions and said that it was certainly in order and there have been precedents for the Public Accounts Committee to do very similar, in fact perhaps the same model of approach that is in place today. So that would relate to 2006 when we invited people from the Executive Council around the Magic Valley and S&J Potatoes - so just to know that it is in order and it has been reviewed by our legal counsel.
Mr. Preyra, we want to have the motion, but I will give you the opportunity . . .
MR. PREYRA: Yes, thank you. I have looked at the minutes from those meetings very carefully and I know that the minister who appeared there had resigned at that point; he was no longer a minister and he came voluntarily. I also know that the former Premier was there, and he was no longer the Premier and he, too, came voluntarily. Those are not precedents, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Colwell.
MR. COLWELL: I just want to address the honourable member to my left here. This posturing he calls and all this, the way this has been done, this was sort of a precedent set by Mr. Steele, the present Finance Minister - and I have the minutes of that meeting where Mr. Steele did ask for the Premier to come forward, and these documents in place. So I would assume that the negative comments that the honourable member has presented towards me, he directs the same comments towards Mr. Steele as Finance Minister.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, I would just like to go on record that Mr. Steele will be a very integral part of the solution that will be brought forward in the Fall to this. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for that comment.
MR. COLWELL: A recorded vote.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay we have a request for a recorded vote.
Seconded by Mr. Clarke.
So we will have a recorded vote on the motion before us, which is that: "The committee direct the clerk to request of Mr. Darrell Dexter, MLA for Cole Harbour and President of the Executive Council, that he appear before the committee on June 16, 2010."
Mr. Colwell Mr. Epstein
Mr. Clarke Mr. Whynott
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I will vote yes. So it is For, 3. Against, 5.
The motion is defeated.
Is there any further business for the committee? We are going to have an agenda setting as well. Are we finished with this business now? Okay, we'll put that aside and look to setting the agenda for the Public Accounts Committee.
We have a list before us, I believe the clerk has given everybody the list that we had been working on. I want to draw your attention to the fact that the Auditor General last week, in making his presentation to us, asked very specifically that we look at the three chapters that were reviewed in the report we had just received. So that was one request that I think we should all be well aware of and take note and, I hope, we will have on our upcoming list. So that would include NSBI and the IEF, which was the business loans section; Mental Health Services; and the third one was contaminated sites. We do have Mental Health - just so the committee knows, Mental Health is on the agenda for June 23rd. We already had that in advance of the report, so that means we have one of those already attended to.
The way we have done this in the past to set up our meetings - again just to reiterate, we really have a full schedule for June - we don't have a meeting set on June 30th and that's really in light of the fact that it's graduation season. I know a lot of MLAs are busy, and we also are on the eve of Canada Day which is another day when we are very busy in our constituencies.
We were looking at not going beyond the 23rd of June this year. Our precedent is not to meet during the summer months, and so as long as I see agreement among our committee members we'll maintain that precedent. What we're doing now is trying to arrange several items so that we can have them all lined up for September and begin the committee's fulsome work in the Fall.
That's why I would ask that we start looking at the list. Does everybody have the list before them of both the new items from the Progressive Conservative caucus - there's a memo that was sent out June 4th - and also the previous list of topic witnesses which has all three caucuses on one page. Is everybody well prepared?
What we would like to do in setting that up, our pattern in the last meeting we had where we've begun now to set the agenda in public, was to give the floor, in turn, to each caucus to propose an item and then to have that voted upon.
Mr. Preyra, did you want to talk about the process?
MR. PREYRA: Yes. Thank you. As you know and as I said earlier today, we would like very much to discuss the Auditor General's recent report. We had agreed in previous meetings this would be our top priority once the report was released. To that end, we had put Mental Health on the list, and I'm glad to hear that will be dealt with on the 23rd.
I would also like to have environmental remediation put on that list, and I propose that we do that on the June 16th.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We also have an item on June 16th, I'm sorry, so we are booked through this month - June 16th is the Gaming Corporation and we've been waiting for them. As the members may remember, I actually sent a letter to the CEO asking that she make herself available because there have been a number of cancellations. It's scheduled now - we have, on the 16th, the Gaming Corporation and, on the 23rd, Mental Health - so can we go into September?
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I'd like to formally move that we look at the Auditor General's chapter on environmental remediation on June 16th.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So you want to move the Gaming Corporation?
MR. PREYRA: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That is what is before us.
MR. CLARKE: Madam Chairman, if it's scheduled, it's scheduled. If we would like to do an additional meeting that day I have no issue with that, so we can accommodate both. We just have to meet and maybe, you know, forego another meeting, but we'll do a morning
meeting and then a 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. meeting - why not? Then we've accommodated both of them. So if that's the case, I have no issue with that, from our caucus.
MR. COLWELL: I would agree with that approach.
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, I notice that the Progressive Conservatives have put the Atlantic Lottery Corporation on their agenda, and I'm wondering if perhaps, given that there's a review of the whole gaming strategy that will be released in late September or early October, would it not make sense to roll those two up and do that at the same time?
There's no particular urgency but we do have a principle that has operated through this committee that the Auditor General's Report gets priority. He has talked not just about environmental remediation, he has talked about other things and we have agreed that we will pay primary attention to the Auditor General when those reports are released. When we discussed this topic earlier, we had put Mental Health on the agenda in that parking space, but we had also agreed in principle that we would look at the other chapters in the Auditor General's Report and I'm suggesting that we follow that practice and look at Mental Health and environmental remediation next, and hold the Industrial Expansion Fund subject to that motion this committee has agreed to.
MR. CLARKE: Madam Chairman, I have no issue with adding to, but it has already been moved and scheduled, so you can't go and rescind that - but I have no problem whatsoever with having an additional meeting or sitting that day to deal with the matter he's presenting. So as far as what I'm looking at is I have no problem moving and expanding our time that we meet on that day to have a separate, second, stand-alone session, but you can't go and start moving motions to change what has already been set.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I appreciate that, and one of the comments I would make is that this committee will look silly if we push the CEO of the Gaming Corporation to please make herself available after cancelling us on, I think, two occasions prior to that. We had indicated to her that this is a serious committee, that we expected government officials to make themselves available, and then if we bump her at the eleventh hour I don't think that's very good management of our committee. So I would, you know, certainly feel that that's just not the right stance.
I agree with the member for Cape Breton North and appreciate that he has made a suggestion that we just make our committee available for two meetings. I would be fine to do that, and I would also say there's some doubt about whether or not we could schedule within one week - I'm sure that the support staff, our clerk and research staff from the library might be concerned about getting everything ready for us in a single week and finding whether or not our Environment Department could return in one week's time.
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, we do have a motion that we replace Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation on June 16th with the environmental remediation.
MR. CLARKE: On a point of order, Madam Chairman, the agenda has already been set. If he wants to add to that it's one thing, but if any given meeting going forward can just be suppressed by whatever other topic that comes up - there has to be some continuity, I don't think it's in order that you can change that agenda that has been set and agreed to prior by this committee. The suggestion that both can meet and basically a movement of an additional meeting that day is totally in order, and I would support that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: And so would I.
MR. CLARKE: But with all due respect to my honourable colleague, it's not in order because this committee has already set that in motion and I think we can add to that, but I don't think it's in order to start changing it or there will never be continuity. There's an agenda set for a reason.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I agree with you there, too.
MR. PREYRA: Yes, Madam Chairman, you know, the committee is the author of its own fate. The committee can do what it wants in terms of setting the agenda, in terms of when it wants to meet, and who it wants to call. Earlier the members for Preston and Cape Breton North had said we have the authority to compel anyone to do anything - and I think that includes the ability to change our agenda in the light of circumstances.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would just ask, Mr. Preyra, whether there is a compelling reason to change this agenda, and I've made the point that the only letter I have written on behalf of the committee this year has been to the CEO of the Gaming Corporation urging her to make herself available as fast as possible and as soon as we could arrange it. (Interruption)
Mr. Colwell has been waiting, is that okay?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, this really disturbs me because here is a member who actually agreed to, and the members from the NDP caucus, or members here, agreed to having the Gaming Corporation here and now they're going to change the rules. I think the honourable member from the PC caucus, his idea of having two meetings in the same day is an excellent idea, and I just wonder if this is an approach by the government to suppress the gambling report. If that's the case, I'm a little bit concerned about that.
MR. CLARKE: On a point of order, the motion is not in order and the honourable colleague who talks about due process, well there is an established due process of agenda setting, it had been committed to. There are no superceding reasons or extraordinary reasons that would change that, that has been set.
I don't believe - and I'm asking you to rule - that that motion is in order. If it is deemed that there is not consensus in that opinion, then I would seek the interpretation of the Speaker or Legislative Counsel.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Clarke. I was actually going to turn over to Mr. Hebb, as counsel for our committee, and see if he could advise me whether this motion is in order, and advise the committee.
MR. GORDON HEBB: Madam Chairman, I believe the motion is in order. I think it is always open to the committee. It may not be appropriate, the result may be that you won't have anybody next week, because you have no guarantee that you have someone to replace, but I think the committee can always change its mind with respect to its agenda.
MR. CLARKE: Madam Chairman, the . . .
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Question.
MR. CLARKE: Yes, well I heard, and I've got something to say so you can call the question as much as you want.
There's a motion on the floor if that's the case - and what is the motion, because I've asked now, Madam Chairman, with regard to this position. What the government is clearly saying is they do not - and to the point of Legislative Counsel, they may have their parliamentary procedure with regard to doing it, but they're setting a very bad precedent and for the honourable member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island to sit here previously on motions that I would understand and argue about us doing the right things, what they're saying is whenever Cabinet gives them a direction that they're not comfortable with the topic of the day, that they come in and use their voting majority to change the agenda even though an agenda has been set up, has been set for the appropriate reasons.
We're seeing that time and time again, and there's a parliamentary issue that will come back before the House that there is no agenda any more because this government is showing it can't honour its word.
So there is an issue of this committee's ability to function if we, as a caucus, have prepared for a meeting next week, or a subsequent meeting, and cannot have any ability for us to be able to do that because they will come in when they are not comfortable and have been told to change the direction, told to come in here and to bring those matters forward -
and then, at the same time, Madam Chairman, try to tell Nova Scotians that this is open and accountable, that they want to change the way that politics is done in Nova Scotia, that they want Nova Scotians to believe that the Dexter Government is somehow ushering in a new era of parliamentary decorum when we, as parliamentary caucuses, are being totally dismissed from what was built as consensus and put in place before, that these types of things that come forward are totally, in my opinion, inappropriate for them to start doing.
If they want to gerrymander the legislative agenda or the scheduling agenda of the Public Accounts Committee, then there is no need for Public Accounts to meet. Why should we come to this Chamber if the government can't maintain and honour their word of previous decisions and meetings, and when the Opposition is willing to have an additional meeting to accommodate their request? So if the government wants to keep superceding and adding new topics, we'll come and we'll discuss those topics if that's the case, to be able to bring those forward.
Madam Chairman, what I know is that the government, as my honourable colleague from Preston has said, is uncomfortable with the topic, doesn't want it discussed because they haven't finished the fix of what the report is going to be, even though there are ongoing issues that have been brought before this committee and are of public interest to have considered.
So the government members may have a majority on this committee, but they needn't think for a moment that they are somehow going to go out and say they are doing all these good things. We agreed, and I understand if the government is going to come back with legislation on one front to try to make themselves open and transparent and then highjack a process that has been in place in this committee - I mean the government has got to look at what their actions are. And the same concerns that in this Legislative Chamber, when we were in session, that I raised in my place with regard to a government that won't listen to processes and changes that the public deems to be necessary, needed, and appropriate, and we offer up constructive solutions, the government uses its voting majority against that to get whatever the Minister of Finance has predetermined over there to destroy the Speaker's administration, to not uphold the parliamentary supremacy of this House.
That's what we have experienced from this government, and now it has transcended from the Chamber to the committee - and what other committees, Madam Chairman, are going to have to suffer the same fate because the government, when the issue of the day doesn't suit their purpose or cause, will use their voting majority to just change the topic because they want to make sure that they're managing a message and manipulating an outcome that was previously agreed upon by the members of this committee, when they do not want to uphold or agree with regard to a consensus that we were willing to offer up as Opposition Parties as part of trying to make the Public Accounts Committee function?
How can they sit in this Chamber and try to praise the Auditor General and his staff, how can they sit here and do that when they're manipulating the working efforts of the people that this committee should call before it? How can we have an agenda- setting process right now when the NDP members have hijacked the process and will not be equal in their consideration? How can the Auditor General do his work effectively and appropriately if the government is going to continue - and the member before talked about grandstanding and silly positioning, about the member for Preston, well, I'll tell you, Madam Chairman, he has lots of experience at it.
If he was truly sincere about his previous words and if he wants to pull Hansard out, I'll go tit-for-tat any day with the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, but he also better make sure that when they want to come forward and bring further motions to have this committee not do its work appropriately, then there's a concern. We've seen it from the floor of the House and my concerns that I raised here that were dismissed by the government are proving true about what this government's agenda is . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Stick with this one, Mr. Clarke.
MR. CLARKE: Well, it is appropriate to this because it's consistent with the approach of the backroom manoeuvres of the Premier, his political staff, and Cabinet, to try to change things - that's exactly what we're witnessing here in this committee again today; that's exactly the concerns that we would have. So my point is, Madam Chairman, we needn't take a summer break, we needn't meet at all if issues are not going to be appropriately met. We might as well just let the Auditor General go do a report and have government respond through, I guess, legislation to deal with these matters, because that's what we are effectively in the position of today.
The fact that the members are caught in their own process because what they've clearly said is we're derailing the Gaming Corporation from coming forward, because we've offered to have a second meeting. That's what it's all about - it's political strategy on behalf of the government. It's not about a practical process of administration or meetings of this committee. So let's be clear about what the NDP members are trying to pull here today - and if that's the case there is no need for this committee to meet because it will effectively have been neutered by the government from actually being effective in responding to what the role and function of the Auditor General is supposed to be.
If the Auditor General himself were here today, I would like to ask his opinion of what he thinks of the agenda-setting manoeuvres of other people in terms of what he has tried to establish in a constructive, planned, thought- out process associated with these things. I know staff are here, but I'm just talking about the spokesperson that has been key to a lot of issues that we've been dealing with in the public fray, and I would welcome any comment from them. But how can this committee possibly work at all? By virtue of the motion that
the government NDP members have put forward here today, we might as well, when we walk out of this Chamber, not return to have a Public Accounts Committee again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I do understand you feeling very strongly about this, Mr. Clarke. I would like to just say a few comments as chairman because we've had this discussion in our agenda setting over the year about maintaining momentum and not missing weeks and not cancelling meetings. We have not met as frequently in this past year as we did the year before - and we've done a count of the meetings. This committee is actually noted across Canada as being one of the busiest - we have the most meetings - and if you look at this year, we did not, and part of the problem, and I had articulated it clearly to the vice-chairman of the committee and all members of the committee, is that we have not been effective in setting our agenda, sticking to our agenda and getting items lined up and the witnesses in.
It's very important to me that we don't lose ground. Right now we've come, today, with the next two meetings scheduled and ready to break for the summer and come back in September with a good list of committee business. I wanted to have all of September filled up with good items, and the departments in the Auditor General's Report could be brought forward at that time. He didn't say we needed to meet them immediately or meet in the summer to meet them, he just said please schedule them.
The other point is that the environmental contamination issue had been dealt with this Spring - we had Sysco and the environmental contamination group in once, earlier, prior to the report. When we had tried to schedule maintenance enforcement, we were told it wasn't necessary because they had been in recently at another one of the committees. I bring up that point that it was not so urgent that we would bump an established witness who is already lined up and, as I say, to add difficulty to that, this is a witness we had pushed to come to this committee, and having done so with the approval of all committee members - the fact that I wrote to Ms. Mullally was approved by all committee members. I feel that we are then backtracking, we're losing ground on the momentum of the committee and the work of the committee - and I do fear that we wouldn't be able to schedule anything next week as well.
Those are my concerns as chairman, and I think it's important that all committee members consider that because this committee, unlike other committees, is really charged with accountability for government, and in a perfect world it operates in a very non-partisan way to further the work of accountability on the Public Accounts.
Mr. Ramey, you look like you don't believe me, but the training that we had in January was about the non-partisan nature. It should be non-partisan, in its most perfect way - maybe we'll schedule another training session. It is a privilege and a responsibility to be on this committee, I will say that.
Mr. Preyra, if you'd like to follow up.
MR. PREYRA: Well thank you, Madam Chairman. We called this question quite a long time ago and we certainly would like to see it go, but our main concern is that the chapters in the Auditor General's Report be moved on, be examined and that is what we're moving. So I move that we call the question and we move on.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, Madam Chairman, on the point of order. I agree with my colleague in the PC caucus. This committee, I've never seen the like of it. I've been on this committee longer than anyone else in this Chamber here today - longer than anyone, both in government and in Opposition. It is unbelievable - I mean we come here and we have an awful battle setting an agenda. It is very clear that my honourable colleague, the deputy chairman of this committee, doesn't have support from his caucus when he goes back and agrees to something here. We've seen this over and over, and over again.
If this committee is going to work - and this committee has to work, this is the accountability section of this Legislature, this is part of the Legislative Assembly. The government decided to stack the committee so they can do anything they want here and not really have questions answered.
Quite honestly, when we come here and we ask staff, like today, people didn't have the answers. They did not have the answers today that they should have had. They should have been better informed and provided us with more information - is that because they're being told not to provide us with the information?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Colwell, to this motion.
MR. COLWELL: On the point of order that has been brought up - this has already been set. We went through a huge wrangle here to get this agenda set and the Gaming Corporation to come here - and it wouldn't matter if it is the Gaming Corporation or what it is, the point is we already have our agenda set. I do believe that it's going to be an affront to this committee, to the people of Nova Scotia, that indeed this government wants no accountability - none - and this is a place to get accountability.
I've seen this more and more in other committees, and I'm just completely disgusted with the whole thing. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Are you calling for a recorded vote on this?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, is that seconded?
MR. CLARKE: It is seconded.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
This is the motion to cancel the Gaming Corporation next week and try and replace them with the environmental remediation.
Mr. Epstein Mr. Colwell
Mr. Whynott Mr. Clarke
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I vote no.
For, 5. Against, 3.
The motion is carried.
I will instruct our clerk to move that forward.
MR. CLARKE: One of the things I was going to raise as well - you know there is the annual meeting coming up in Quebec City with regard to the Public Accounts Committee. As you would be aware, the Progressive Conservative caucus will not be participating in that because of our policy given the fact of the financial position we're in in this province and the duplicity of the government on one front versus another, so this is just more consistent.
I don't see why this committee needs to meet, because the government can just come in here and have their own session where they can sit around and pontificate about whatever spin they want to put on things - and with that said and done, Madam Chairman, I have no need to stay here in this Chamber and participate in a process that has been manipulated and is not sincere. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Clarke. I do think it's a sad day to see our agenda manipulated today or changed. It has never happened before in such a way without full committee agreement, but we are here and I would urge the members of the committee to help us set an agenda for September so that this committee can do the work that is very important to accountability in this province.
This is a committee that has a long history. We've talked about democracy and history, and it is an element that we, in fact, go abroad to try to introduce to other new developing democracies, and I hope that we can have a good, functioning committee here. So I would ask, Mr. Colwell, if you could put an item forward for September?
MR. COLWELL: Madam Chairman, . . .
MR. PREYRA: Madam Chairman, on a point of order. We're not comfortable proceeding with the agenda at this time given that the Progressive Conservative Party is not present. We have always worked on consensus and we have always worked with the three Parties together. I would be hesitant to go forward with an agenda at this time without the presence of the Progressive Conservative Party.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Preyra, there are a couple of issues. We actually set the original agenda with consensus and the Gaming Corporation was on there - this has been arbitrarily removed based on your motion.
I would like to just draw your attention back to the need to have an agenda set for September, and if we don't handle it today - and I realize it has been a long morning - I would like the permission of the committee to call a separate agenda-setting meeting because I feel very strongly as chairman, and I know you do as vice-chairman, that this committee has an important function and it has to have the co-operation of members to set the agenda. I would hope that we will never see again a time when we are removing items that are duly set and organized. I think that has certainly created some concern today.
Mr. Preyra first, and then Mr. Colwell.
MR. PREYRA: If you are proposing to have another agenda-setting meeting with the Progressive Conservative Party and all three Parties present, we would concur with that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would like to hear from Mr. Colwell.
MR. COLWELL: Unfortunately, you didn't recognize me initially - I move we adjourn the meeting today, it's a waste of time to be here. We come here every day, and the NDP are coming here and not wanting to really find out what's going on in the province, not providing us with that information, so I make a motion we adjourn.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We are adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:51 a.m.]