HALIFAX, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2004
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Mr. Russell MacKinnon
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today's meeting of the Economic Development Committee. Today we have before us representatives from HRM to speak on the Capital Transportation Authority. Our guests that will be representing the issue today, I believe, will be Mr. George McLellan and Ms. Cathie O'Neil (Interruption) O'Toole, I'm sorry, Irish nevertheless.
Perhaps, Mr. McLellan, you can start off. Generally the format is we allow our guest to open up with 15 minutes or so of opening remarks and then we will turn the forum over to the individual members of the committee to ask questions of yourself or anybody else. I notice you have some other guests with you as well. If you would like to introduce them as well, feel free.
MR. GEORGE MCLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As mentioned, we have been asked, I guess going back a few months now, to appear before your committee and we have been anxious to appear to discuss the Capital Transportation Authority which has been - I guess, in some general discussion has appeared, I believe, in the last provincial budget or estimates document, I believe, is where it may have first appeared and has been - the subject of some discussion with the provincial government and Halifax Regional Municipality for some months now.
Joining me here today are John O'Brien, who is our Communications Officer, HRM. I should, first of all, point out the councillors present today. Councillor Sue Uteck, Councillor Sheila Fougere, Councillor David Hendsbee - no stranger - and the rest aren't as august but I will go through them anyway. Immediately behind me is Dan English. Dan is the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of HRM. In the middle is Dave McCusker. Dave is the Manager of Traffic Services. He is seconded to the regional plan. Dave is a transportation planner and has been heavily awarded for bravery in the Armdale Rotary conflict and got the Medal of Honour for rescuing 23 engineers in the conflict over Bayview by simply cutting the power at a public meeting. Next to him is Rick Paynter. Rick is our Director of Public Works and Transportation, which includes transit, et cetera, and of course Cathie has been introduced as well, Cathie O'Toole who works with me.
We have a brief presentation here and I will speak to that, first of all, I guess on some of the current transportation challenges that we have in Halifax Regional Municipality. As you know, Halifax Regional Municipality is a pretty sizeable place, certainly by Atlantic Canadian standards. Our population is getting upwards toward 400,000 people now and we are beginning to see some pretty dramatic growth here. There has been a bit of an implosion in terms of Nova Scotia relative to population here. The last census indicated that, exclusive of Halifax, the population of Nova Scotia was fairly static around the million point and I think the rest of Nova Scotia went down about 5 per cent to 6 per cent while HRM went up 5 per cent to 6 per cent. That largely is not due to the influx of a healthy immigrant population which is something that we do aspire to change in the upcoming years as a matter of intent and policy at HRM.
Different aspects of transportation are controlled by different agencies. I guess that will always be the case, no matter what the outcome of this discussion and the future of the Transportation Authority conflict. Our roads will always meet yours at some point. That is just the way it will be but there is a degree whereby we can reorganize this issue perhaps for better results for both levels of government. First of all, the province has still the 100-Series Highways coming into HRM, the Bridge Commission. The federal government has some road maintenance activities with regard to their properties, whether it be naval, military or Port Authority, et cetera.
So we have a bit of a mosaic of who is responsible for transportation even within the core of HRM and we have increasing traffic demand. In the last 20 years the population in HRM, Mr. Chairman, has grown about 20 per cent and we don't have anything new here in those 20 years. It's not something any of us should be particularly proud of. We have twinned some 100-Series Highways, the new lane on the bridge. Oh, sorry, I forgot to also introduce Bruce Smith and Steve Snider from the Bridge Commission who we are very pleased are here today as well. I apologize for that oversight. The situation is, having grown 20 per cent, having nothing new, everything seems to be at the margin in terms of how people feel about the traffic issue. The light you are at is that much longer. The people ahead of you are that many more, et cetera, and even though it may not be on the same dimension as some other
cities in Canada or North America for that matter, it is a change for our residents. It is an issue for us that we have not been able to add new infrastructure in order to support the growth and the complexity of our traffic patterns that we have seen in HRM over the past 20 years.
There is a lack of funding for new infrastructure from all levels of government. Two are financially strapped, one purports to be and the situation for us is we have the ability to keep this municipality running at a pretty clean rate but the fact is that when it comes to extra money to reinvest in these large infrastructure issues, it's just not there, it's simply not there.
The age of the infrastructure, it's an outcropping of the earlier comments. Everything is older here. The ferries are 20 or 25 years old. The ferry terminals are 30 years old. The buses, at the time of amalgamation, we tried to replace about one-tenth, I think it was, of the fleet each year. There was funding from the provincial government at that time to encourage the fleet replacement program for buses. That fell away. Our replacement program was cut, at best, in half. Consequently, on a 20-year life of a bus, we have fallen way behind in terms of that age. It's only this past year, and partially because of the showcase program, we have actually added to our fleet.
As the population has grown the size of the transit fleet has actually stayed static and it is only this past year that we have ordered additional units to see the transit fleet grow. If you look at some of the difficulties we're seeing now that are heavily reported, with regard to the difficulties we have around homelessness, around low-income housing, things of that nature, and where most of the jobs are, 65 per cent of the jobs in HRM are here on the peninsula. If you look at the complexity of the task and the cost, not just on housing but on related activities and support to employment, our failure in this regard has a relationship to the social situation here in HRM and we do seek to reverse that, as should we all.
The connection between land use and transportation planning. Here, again, the amalgamation, at least in HRM, we feel is working. It has given us the ability with the regional plan to look at all of the issues in the connective sense, and to plan accordingly. It creates opportunities to make those connections and it gives us the ability to deal with the issues that we see.
Some of the features of transportation here is we are home to 40 per cent of the population in Nova Scotia and about 48 per cent of the assessment base of the province. We have Canada's largest naval facility, the fastest-growing airport in the 1990s, the second largest, ice-free natural harbour in the world, the eastern-most hub for service for CNR, and we have traffic problems on the Halifax peninsula with the population growth. We have a lot of people coming into the peninsula.
I think it's significant to note that on the peninsula now, too, in the past year or so, we have seen for the first time actual population growth on the peninsula as well. For the first time in 30 years, actually, the population has stopped declining and a lot of that is because of the type of housing you see developing here with high-rise condominiums, et cetera, here on the peninsula. So that has led to a reversal in the outward and inward migration twice a day. We are home to 12 business parks, 8,000 acres of business park capacity.
Increasing traffic demand. As we see, we have a rapid growth in population. I mention earlier, Mr. Chairman, the shift in population to HRM. The aspersion of growth puts more commuters on the road. I will show a graphic indication of what has happened in the past number of years to support that comment in a moment. An additional 75,000 to 100,000 people over the next 20 years is what is forecast by the Greater Halifax Partnerships economics, and it does not seem unrealizable.
The bottlenecks are here, as you see, they're all peninsula related, really, given the fact of where we're seeing most of the growth in HRM and where - as I mentioned earlier - most of the jobs are.
Here is a slide that indicates the growth patterns. Back in the 1950s you can see the red dots, you can pick them up there. There is an idea of where the population pattern was in the 1950s in Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and the old county area, that gives you some idea. Then look at what the middle slide indicates there, it's not just the size of HRM, it's not just the way that we've grown in terms of numbers, look at the dispersion. Not only does that show the growth that we've seen but it also - we would like to think - heavily reinforces the urgency with which we see a need to do a regional plan and to manage our growth more appropriately, as you look at that.
As a matter of fact if you look at that, from your recollections you will probably see where most of the highway systems go. It's not the best planned growth plan in the world, if there's a highway there then people tend to grow off it, if there are a lot of people, we tend to run a road to it. Those are the logic elements that seem to have dictated growth to date and doesn't apply, it's not appropriate, and it's expensive.
The third slide you will see there - just go back for a second, Cathie, if I may - just shows settlement by 2028, based upon if we do not do anything about the growth issue and we don't control it better, that's the kind of dispersion that we will see, it's not pretty. Well, it is pretty, actually, but it's dangerous.
Lack of funding for infrastructure. As you will see, we have an annual funding gap in HRM of about $50 million here, that's how much we should be spending relative to what we do spend. Our financial situation in HRM has, of course, been the subject of periodic debate
provincially and we know that, relative to other places in the nation, we are blessed, we know that relative to other places in Nova Scotia, we are very fortunate. We have, I think, taken the approach of trying to be as helpful as we can to all of our brother and sister municipalities where we can. Nevertheless we do have a huge infrastructure issue here in HRM that I don't think is necessarily visited upon other municipalities.
HRM, it must be remembered, is about four times as large as the second-largest regional municipality, and it's probably about 12 times as large as the third-largest municipality. The funding gap really stems from the fact that once you pay the uniforms, the gasoline, pay the salaries, get some equipment, run around, spread some lawn seed, put some salt down for the ice, by the time you get through all that, you have pretty well gone to what is a respectable tax rate.
We had huge debt. After amalgamation there was $141 million in working capital we inherited. Total debt was over $300 million and we're paring that down in the next fiscal year to the $280 million range. That, as you know, the challenges of debt and we are also trying to create some financial backbone by reinvesting in our reserves. We don't think it's appropriate - it has been hinted at times, I guess - that reserves are a bad word. Anywhere else in North America, we still - and Standard & Poor's reinforces this - have too much debt relative to Canada and our competitors, as Canadian cities, way too much debt.
The fact that we need to reinvest in reserves is only appropriate, we won't always see this economy, I can't imagine this economy, I wish it would continue for a long time. But we have to look in terms to what will happen to our public and to our service levels if, indeed, there were to be a retraction, and reserves matter, and sometimes they are not enough.
The $30 million to replace ferries is a good example, they are over 20 years old now. That $30 million right now would be about half our capital program. If we were to replace those ferries next year, we wouldn't be able to pave any roads. Those are the kinds of tradeoffs we're into when you look at the infrastructure issues that we have here.
We have the highest level of reliance on property tax in North America. If you put in the payments in lieu of taxes we get from other levels of government, if you include those - and we have a lot of relationship with other levels of government, particularly the federal government with Shearwater, the naval base, Citadel Hill - we're getting around 68 percent or 69 per cent of a reliance level on property tax, as a percentage of total expenditures. The average in Canada for cities our size, comparable nine cities, would be in the range of 52 per cent, 54 per cent. In the U.S. they trade as a percentage of property tax of total expenditures, more around 34 per cent. We don't get any help. Now that's not a plea to the province, you have your own issues. We're just trying to make it clear to you the issues as they stand in front of us as a municipality.
The funding source related to use could be used to pay for road upgrades, and there we have in there the comment about a share of the gas tax; were that to be something the federal government were to agree to, this would be a dedicated stream, obviously, to the transportation issue, as was originally intended, I believe.
Growth creates new traffic demand. I dealt with that one.
The aging infrastructure. There are have been few major investments, as I mentioned earlier, in the last 10 years, and we have a declining ability to maintain roads. We've gone - I think, Cathie, I think the intent of this comment is that we had the capacity to do 80 kilometres a year in our budget and now we're down to about 30 kilometres of road annually. This is just the pressure that we're under.
As a provincial capital and the region's economic and urban centre, the state of transportation infrastructure directly impacts economic growth, tourism and individual taxpayers. I might also add, as it may resonate with the province, that it also greatly affects insurance rates, safe highway and transportation network, health and safety, and the health care system, as well as emergency management, which is something we feel we do well here in HRM.
Land use and transportation planning. As I indicated earlier, growth patterns have been dictated by transportation planning. There is no co-ordination here. We have to go back to that map again. I don't suggest that, Cathie, but please refer back to that and have a look at where we've grown and the relationship to the road system. That's not necessarily the best logic from which to begin. The dispersion of growth has resulted in dilation of transportation resources and investments. Not only that, but the dispersion of growth has resulted in a lot of extra cost.
Once people have gone and they've subdivided and they're in their home and sure they don't need the water, they need the water, they need the sewer, et cetera, in a matter of time, it's almost predictable, people want the amenities that they moved there, in some cases, not to have. Once families begin to grow (Interruptions)
The issue for us in terms of dispersion, as it affects our costs, is not just related to the transportation issue but sewer and water as well, and recreation. It's not very long, once people have families and they're living in the outlying areas, whereby they expect, and should expect, amenities. Now for allowable growth and for issues of that nature, if we're going to provide those amenities and if we're going to have to provide infrastructure and in-ground services, if indeed there is any future problem with regard to those services, as can happen with subsequent development, that's expensive.
To some extent governments created the current transportation problems due to a lack of co-ordination. We're trying to change that with issues such as the capital transportation. We have a responsibility to stop it as soon as possible, and with our activities under the regional plan and with concepts such as the Capital Transportation Authority it's our intention to do that.
Control of various aspects of transportation. Here, as you can see, in HRM, we have the bus fleet and the ferry fleet, Metro Transit, Public Works, Planning & Development, for everybody within HRM, these groups all have a role in how the transportation mosaic rolls out. We want to take the approach, first of all, in HRM that transportation isn't just a matter of filling the potholes and paving the streets. The transportation issue is probably more sensory than we allow for it. People coming in, let's say, from Herring Cove or coming in from Timberlea, people who are driving along there, they basically - I think if they were to reconsider their journey to work every morning would probably not just look at the potholes and not just look at how wide the road was, they would be concerned about how many times they had to stop, how long they had to stop for, how threatened they felt, and if their bum hurt when they got there. That's the sense of transportation that we're trying to encompass and change.
In addition to our role in transportation, there's the provincial Department of Transportation, as we indicated, that has a huge responsibility still within the key corridors into HRM, as well as with the core service exchange, the management responsibility for subdivision roads, et cetera, and those arterials that may exist outside the core area. There's the Halifax Regional Bridge Commission, a provincial agency reporting, I believe, through the Department of Finance. Relationships with the Halifax International Airport Authority, the Halifax Port Authority and CNR - what can you say, in some cases, here? The difficulties we have with the federal agencies is there's not much leverage on our part, with regard to the port. So the traffic we see along Lower Water Street, et cetera, is a good economic indicator but it's also risky. We would like to change some of those traffic patterns, but we have little leverage to do so.
Control of parking availability. Provincial, HRM, private ownership, in terms of the parking lots downtown, it's certainly not our intent, with that comment, to sound too negative on that. We don't want to get into the parking business any more than we are. I suspect the province doesn't either, but nevertheless there's not a good relationship in terms of cause and effect between parking policy, parking availability and parking cost to the behaviours that we would seek to reinforce, such as more transit-related activity. So there's a bit of a smorgasbord out there in terms of the responsibilities. It's tough to get a handle on, if you're going to make meaningful change or difference.
Now, how would the Transportation Authority address these challenges? Our intention would be to bring together responsibility for the strategic planning for an integrated, interactive, inter-modal transportation network under one umbrella. It sounds bold. It's been
done in other places. Vancouver, of course, is probably one of the more compelling examples. It's not meant to create another level of bureaucracy. It's intended to encompass and be populated by the existing responsibilities and resources, some of which we would hope to exchange with the Province of Nova Scotia in order to make this best. I would also add that if there is not to be such an agreement with the Province of Nova Scotia, we would stake our claim, if that made the most sense, and we would probably ask our council to move ahead anyway, even without those assets, and hope that at some point in time we would all be in a position to catch up.
Purpose. To enable an efficient transportation network that would implement regional growth strategy and the regional plan, move people and goods efficiently, support environmental objectives. Let me pause on that for a moment. As you know, there's a bit of an urban agenda afoot now from the federal level of government. One of the things we would like to do at the Capital Transportation Authority is position ourselves, for a change, to be able to take advantage of that. It's our view that if we go to Ottawa and say, we have a problem with this road, we have traffic problems, help us, they're going to say, go talk to the province. Well, we can't do that in the context of Nova Scotia, because the province has its own issues. As I say, we're not lamenting that - well, we do lament a bit, but not as much as you do, I'm sure. We are just trying to be realistic about where the solutions and the help might lie.
If we're not prepared to have a bold vision or a strategy that represents a solution, no one is going to listen to us, we're not going to get that extra quotient of help. If we're not prepared to put it in terms of a business case that appeals to their objectives, which is increasingly what should happen and probably is happening there, they're not going to listen to us. But if we talk in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the leaning on the road network that we have and those expenditures, and using our geography to best advantage, then at the same time we're trying to plan for a more effective basis and a safer transportation network, we think those are the hot buttons to which people will be responsive. That's our intention here.
We have already had a number of discussions with the provincial level of government with regard to the Capital Transportation Authority. Everything we do, obviously, we've gotten the go-ahead to consider this concept from our council, all of the followed and all of the individual outcomes are still the domain of our council to approve or not. We are talking informally about some of the elements of this vision. An example would be, let's say there's been a lot of talk about rail, we don't know how feasible rail would be - so far, how that would work out coming in from Windsor Junction, Sackville, Bedford, we're not so sure about that. There are other options however. We do know that there are other options, a line in from Timberlea is an example that we're looking at.
One of the things that we're beginning to look at is the fact that prior to amalgamation and probably for a few years after that, this harbour represented something that divided the communities and has for many years. In our view, that harbour is God's given highway to the people of Halifax Regional Municipality. That is the cheapest, most effective and visually splendiferous asset that we have, and we should take better advantage of it. Right now, we're running a few 25-year old ferries across it everyday. The opportunity is there and we're looking at the ridership, for example, we have talked to the developer of the Bedford Waterfront, Phase II, we're looking at the feasibility before we go back to council with anything here, to look at the options to run that ferry service out of Bedford, with the ridership. We've looked at the type of equipment that would be required to do it. We've looked at the opportunity and the cost that might be associated with amending our existing ferry terminal downtown here. We have written to the Province of Nova Scotia and have asked for the Law Courts building, either trade or pay, when that no longer is of use to the province; we want that asset.
We would like to think that the options are there to run ferries to Bedford, if there is a community college going to go over to the Dartmouth side, go to Woodside all day, maybe consider Shannon Park, particularly if there is going to be affordable housing there, Purcells Cove. I mean there are some things, some mountains, we may not best be able to climb. Maybe the Armdale Rotary is one. We know these ferries coming into Bedford, you might get three turnaround runs an hour, 175 people a run, most of the people coming in from Bedford; now a lot of the car pooling that goes on is all coming out of Chester and Hantsport. Further in, you see most of the people sitting alone in their car on the Bedford Highway. That's almost person for person, car for car off the road, into an environmentally-friendly, unique asset of this community and blowing right into the guts of the downtown, where 65 per cent of the jobs are. It's so there, we just have to make it make economic sense. If it doesn't, we don't do it. But these are the challenges that this Capital Transportation Authority needs to undertake, a broader vision, get outside the box, look at what the solutions are and look at what our God-given options are and they are there.
Coordination - anyway I should finish this darn thing here and then I'll talk. Sorry, next slide. What would it be responsible for? Well, there's coordination, transit, road networks, parking, bridges, possible commuter rail as I mentioned. Let's say that the Department of Transportation and Public Works for the Province of Nova Scotia, which I know had at least some informal discussions because of the heavy loads that are on Highway No. 102 right now, of making that six lanes. Well, that's fine, there is nothing wrong with doing that but it still comes into the same two- or three-lane Bayers Road or Joseph Howe Drive. It might deal with your problem but it's not dealing with our problem, it's just moving it.
If the Bridge Commission decided to twin the MacKay, there's some discussion about that, I don't know what the cost of that is, but it's probably not going to be cheap. Why couldn't we look at what we can do with Shannon Park down there? How many people can we move off Magazine Hill? To our regional plan, how many jobs can we move, so we get more of a reverse flow on our traffic in the years to come?
I don't have the answers to these things, I just know that they're best dealt with in a collective forum as one issue. I don't have the answer to that but I know if you have one job and your responsibility is to take care of 100-Series Highways, chances are you're going to do that. That's the good news and the bad news. But taking care of it well, you may well be just delivering the problem elsewhere in an uncoordinated fashion. If you run a bridge, chances are you're going to run a bridge. The other options may be compelling and we just want to create a forum whereby that's fully on the table.
The structure we're talking about here is a municipal agency with a board compromised of 11 directors suggested as followed - I think you have a sketch, that Cathie and a former deputy minister, Bill Hogg, have been looking at and we've delivered to the province some time ago for consideration. I think all of you have that in your package as to a rough structure. We know that this is a bit of a hill to climb and we're not fully prepared to take total advantage of this concept ourselves right now.
That's why what you have in front of you is a framework for strategy, a framework for identifying what the elements of the problem are, and looking at where we need to draw things together to have more impact. With regard to that, the funding - there's a number of options here. Clearly, I know from our point of view, some of our traditional funding from Transportation and Public Works - sorry, Rick - would probably have to move, as would some of the responsibilities and the costs, into this concept. A share of the gas tax, I mentioned, as was originally intended, that should be fully dedicated to this concept, were it to evolve. A share of vehicle licensing fees, a share of transit revenue, or all, since transit, in our model, Metro Transit and the ferries would be moved, operationally, to this responsibility. A share of the bridge tolls, a parking surcharge or a share of parking revenues, certainly that would be the intent for our parking properties.
Opportunities. They exist elsewhere, successfully. Ours would be even simpler because all we're talking about here, now, thanks to amalgamation, is one municipality and the province as opposed to trying to co-ordinate too many municipalities and different needs and concerns and perhaps histories. Working together through the transportation authority, we would be more effective in leveraging those federal dollars, based upon not going with a problem but going with a solution to the benefit of the entire province.
What we're asking for, I guess, currently, from the provincial level of government is their continued support for the evolution of this and the consideration of the assets of the Bridge Commission, which you're probably aware of from that document that was
distributed. If we don't have all of the assets to play with and pull together, then we don't have the ability to effect a total solution. At this point in time I guess we really are coming together at HRM in the sense that it's been a bit of an iterative thing, from the amalgamation we had a lot of financial problems, cultural differences, issues, which we've kind of come through and now we're beginning to see, in the clear light of day, probably, where this journey can be better, and we're beginning to try to invest in the future and not just sustain ourselves today.
This is one of those mechanisms that we, as staff, at least, at HRM are promoting. In order to bring it, conceptually, even that much further for presentment in more finite terms for our council, we would need the support of the province. Certainly, no matter where we move the lines, we're going to run into each other as we started out. At some point in time, our road will hit the provincial responsibility. That's happening now. That's nothing to be thrilled about. Our capital budget goes to the end of our road and your capital budget starts there. We're not even phasing that well.
We could do that today without a whole lot of discussion. In some cases we do. There's been some good work done co-operatively. Lacewood Drive at Highway No. 102 is an example, et cetera, and some of the talk currently going on with Highway No. 111, those are good, co-operative discussions, and we have those regularly but it could be better.
At some point in time those roads will run into each other. Our intent through this, whether it be if the Bridge Commission were to be an asset considered as being included in this concept or whatever other responsibilities were to be considered, let's say 100-Series Highways inside the core, more ancillary or collective roads, responsibility transferred to us, we would consider, we have promoted this within the province, at your staff level, as being revenue neutral. This is not something we're looking for from the province. We're not looking to take revenue from you. We will take no revenue without offsetting responsibility. We know that's only realistic, and it's only fair. We're looking to have more control over the destiny of our transportation issues. We're not looking to take advantage of yours. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will now start to open up the floor to questions. Just before I do, I will ask each one of the members if they would introduce themselves, just to make it a little easier for you to know who they are right on the spot rather than down the road. We will start off with Mr. Hines.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our first series of questions - and I will note to individual members, if we lock our questions into at least five-minute time frames, there will be enough time for a second round for everyone, or if you are a little anxious and you want to get all
your questions in, you could use your whole 10 minutes right up front and you won't be recognized a second time. Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: George, thank you very much for coming this morning and making this presentation. Thank you as well for bringing so many of the key players at HRM to be here. I have, potentially, lots of questions, but I think I would like to start by making a few observations to you about where I see this whole question of the Capital Transportation Authority.
When I was on HRM Council, I remember that staff came to us with a proposal, it was in draft form, for a whole transportation plan for the region. This would have been shortly after the amalgamation, I forget the exact date. Now I may have lost track of this, but I don't think there's ever been formal adoption of a regional transportation plan. I think it bogged down and it went away and sort of re-emerged, I thought, in the context of your current project of doing full-scale regional planning and not just transportation planning. Is that correct?
MR. MCLELLAN: That's correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. Well, I have to say one of the things that struck me about the plan that we saw at the time, just the part that focussed on transportation, was that it was enormously expensive. It contemplated a huge amount of road building and maybe even a new bridge over the Arm. Whatever it was that was there, it really contemplated a huge amount of road building that I thought was enormously expensive and was probably counterproductive in terms of the finances of HRM and in terms of planning for land uses in the region.
I want to go back to one of your early remarks, which was that of course there's been a big change in traffic in the HRM area, but it's not on a scale of other cities in North America. I think we have to get a grip here. I don't think we can panic about this. I don't think we should kid ourselves that the problem here is of such an enormous scale that we have to suddenly start thinking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on building new roads and widening existing roads.
I certainly agree that the existing infrastructure, some of it is in bad repair. I think that it's certainly fair to see money put into maintenance and upkeep of the existing system. I also agree that the idea of a Capital Transportation Authority, to co-ordinate, is a very good idea. But to embark upon such a huge building project, as was originally contemplated a number of years ago, I think is mistaken. I think, as well, that I want to commend HRM for including transportation in the context of land use planning, that clearly the whole pattern of planning considerations has to be looked at. That's the right approach to take. That means all of the values that are bound up in a municipal planning strategy, economic and environmental and social, all have to be looked at together, and transportation is just one part of that.
I want to say, particularly about the environmental concerns, that even given that you're engaged in a regional planning process at the moment, I found that one of the things, although it was referred to this morning, that is, the environment was referred to, it should have been somewhat more central to the concerns of HRM, and I hope that message goes back, through you and through those who are here today to listen. There is an enormous deficit in terms of what it is that HRM could be doing. I remember when Bill Stone, as councillor, came to us from the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and said, never mind Kyoto, which you referred to today, but we should be signing on to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities 2020 plan, and council did it. I think they did it unanimously. They basically said never mind 6 per cent, we want to be 20 per cent below the 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by the year 2020. This is the commitment and I don't think that has ever been overthrown by HRM council but I sure don't see huge advances towards it. So I think you have to remember that.
You have to remember that there are huge health costs associated with emissions that come so much from cars. I think the emphasis has to be on bus and ferries and on rail, all the commuter transit options, as well, of course, on bicycles and pedestrians which is the other part of what should be going here. So I was a little disconcerted that although there was passing reference to regional planning and environmental concerns, that the whole of the rest of the presentation really focused on roads and expanding them and how we are going to accommodate a kind of greater traffic. I think, in fact, although the problem may be to move people around, we shouldn't be assuming that we are moving people around in cars, in private automobiles. I would like to see this a lot more central to what it is that is in the thinking of HRM and I hope that emerges from the regional planning exercise that is going on right now.
The last point I want to make, just to remind you, is that that the money has to be found, clearly, to pay for the upgrades on your ferries and the commuter rail, if that is ever going to go ahead, and for the other things that are associated with public transit. That money should be there. One way to do it, I suggested this when I was on council, is to look at not spending money on expanding roads because that has been built into the several year projections of the budgets of HRM. I would take that money out. I would ask your councillors to think seriously about saying unless we absolutely have to build a new road, let's not do it.
I'm quite appalled to hear today that the province is thinking about six lanes on Highway No. 102, never mind the money. This, as you say, just shifts a problem around because it's the wrong response to traffic pressures. This is not a good way to go.
Let me ask you this. The Capital District Transportation Authority is something the province has indicated it is interested in. Have they now committed to you in any way at all as to either the structure or the funding or a timetable on this?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. McLellan.
MR. MCLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, may I have an opportunity also to address some of the remarks as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, he has decided to use his entire 10 minutes the first round, I suppose, so we will go with that.
MR. MCLELLAN: The direct answer to the question, they are working closely with us and the things that we have talked about are on the table. The approach of the province has been that the document that you have, which is our sketch as to the governing structure for this has been in their hands for many months. We haven't received any formal response. We believe that it is the government's intent to proceed with some legislation which we hope and believe will be somewhat reflective of this structure soon, in the spring sitting, but that is best asked of the government of the day and it is best not for me to speculate as to what they plan to do with it. We certainly put forward this. We mention to staff that this would be distributed to members of this committee, et cetera. So they have been, I would only say cooperative. We would like to have moved a bit more quickly with this. This is something we have been talking about for some time.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is the independence of the Bridge Commission a sticking point at all?
MR. MCLELLAN: I don't know if it is a sticking point. I would imagine it is a sticking point since it, in a few years' time, turns to be quite a positive revenue generator. I would imagine, I guess, it would be neglectful if it weren't, in a way, but the vision we have, we think, is fairly compelling and the reasons why it should be just part of the broader consideration of the transportation issue, we think is appropriate to consider. I would frame the involvement of the Bridge Commission in terms of our commitment that this be revenue neutral with the province were to be considered, then we know that that represents probably something for which we would have to offset with additional responsibilities that we would undertake.
MR. EPSTEIN: George, in one of your slides, you identified $50 million as the deficit that HRM hasn't spent. Was that meant as a funding gap for the whole of HRM for all purposes or a funding gap? That wasn't just transportation?
MR. MCLELLAN: Sorry, no, it wasn't just transportation.
MR. EPSTEIN: That was for all purposes. Okay, thank you very much.
MR. MCLELLAN: If I may just mention as well, I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Epstein's sum of characterizations or interpretation. I thought I was done my life of upsetting Howard, but I'm back again. You referenced the environmental aspect of it. I would like to
emphasize that we, too, are emphasizing that. My spiel about the harbour and the ferries there is emotional for me. I think it just fits so well and it does so much for the environment and for HRM. There are a lot of opinions but few of them are supported by finances and that includes our own.
The situation that we have here, I tried to allude to, as best I could, I know the problem, as they portray themselves now with regard to transportation in HRM and I did mention, are not a world crisis. I recognize that but we are a growing municipality and nothing has happened to your roads. Nothing. So nothing has happened to even make it better. We spend every nickle we have. We are the highest proportion of expenditures. As I say, I can't rephrase it any more compellingly. We would love your ideas and your help but we don't think that is realistic. We are trying to change it ourselves.
The relationship between transit strategy, the bridges, the ferries, parking, it's all interactive. That's old news. We know that. If we are going to change the behaviours and get more people on buses, then we have to have those buses, we have to have those routes and in order to sustain them, we have to encourage people to use them. There is an interactive side to that in terms of what your cost structure is and availability for parking and things. We have to nuance this event without being punitive because the whole interactive piece that would be the responsibility of this is to make it more environmentally responsive, I portray the problem as its relationship to roads and lack of them. I clearly agree with Mr. Epstein that the solution can't be along that vein. It doesn't make any sense. It's not using our assets to the best advantage. It's not helping the broader issues regarding the environment. I think HRM and the council have done some wonderful leadership things, whether it be on pesticides, smoking, whatever you have it with regard to the environment in HRM in particular and even on solid waste or to clean up its harbour. It is tough decisions that have caused this municipality disproportionate amounts of money relative to support in other provinces for other cities I think just shows the commitment of this council to the environment, beyond certainly the province, certainly other municipalities either here or elsewhere.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McLellan, thank you and thank you to your colleagues for your presentation this morning. I have been following this Capital District Transportation Authority from a distance, so to speak. I certainly think that it does have some merit. However, when you look at the envisioned or proposed composition of the traffic authority, and again I realize that the Capital District Transportation Authority is in the preliminary stages. However, when you look at a proposal that sees three members of council, three residents of HRM appointed by council, three members of HRM staff appointed by the CAO - you, Mr. McLellan - and two members appointed by the province, I perceive or at least would misperceive that there is an imbalance as far as the authority goes. I mean you, yourself, Mr. McLellan, talked about a collective approach. On most authorities,
committees, ABCs or whatever you have, you have a balance where the stakeholders or the perceived to be stakeholders, are represented in terms of their actual numbers or vested interest. So I'm not sure what shape the proposed service exchange may take down the road but perhaps you can allay my concerns about that, if you would.
MR. MCLELLAN: Easily, Mr. Chairman. That structure was originally put forth by the provincial side.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes and that doesn't allay my concerns, Mr. Chairman. I wonder if the CAO has any thoughts on the perceived imbalance on the traffic authority.
MR. MCLELLAN: Well, you know in terms for this thing to operate, and given again the realities of the fiscal situation for the province, our intent, and this structure that you see here was originally put forth by the provincial side. So I guess I would love to leave it at that but in fairness to the whole issue, we have offered to take on additional responsibility within HRM, so these will be HRM responsibilities. One could ask, why is the province there at all? Well, if indeed some of the issues are going to relate to whether it be larger highway assets, such as the 100-Series or even the bridges, things of that nature, the province has to have some comfort - at least with regard to the economic development issue - that we're maintaining those and you have to be in early and up front with regard to what our plans are for the maintenance of those assets.
One thing, in talking it over briefly, and we haven't met as often as we should with the Bridge Commission on this, they do a report up for the Department of Finance but it would be our intention that obviously, that's why you see part of the Bridge Commission tolls. We do not want to see any deterioration in those key assets, they're very important, and we would not want to let the side down with regard to any of the responsibilities we would undertake. But once we undertook them, they are an HRM issue, and then you have to ask the question, what is the provincial responsibility given that role change? Clearly, you still have one. As I mentioned, your roads still hit our road. In terms of economic development or knowing that the smooth flow of commerce is not impeded, there needs to be provincial representation. But since we're paying the shot at that point, you would wonder why there would be anything other.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I will have a question later and I'm certainly not convinced by the nature of that response of the membership and authority. Thank you.
MR. MCLELLAN: If the province is prepared to join us in ongoing funding, you know, we would be pleased to see a change in the structure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Probably the structure issue is maybe something Mr. Taylor could raise with his colleague, the Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: First off, I should say that I do support a regional transportation plan. In saying that, we talked this morning in your presentation, we put out comments that the metro area has an influx of traffic coming from different parts of HRM: Sackville, Bedford, Timberlea and so on and so forth. Also, we're seeing tremendous residential growth on the eastern side of Halifax Harbour, and these people are funneling into metro, there's no doubt about that. I would say that 70 per cent of the working community of the riding I represent, are employed in the greater HRM, the core part of our municipality.
I think we should focus now on that particular issue. I know the first 50 kilometres that I travel takes approximately one hour, to enter the city, and it takes approximately one hour - and I speak of the extreme now - to go from Dartmouth to downtown Halifax. That tells me clearly, the first 50 kilometres move quickly but once you enter the core, then because of traffic congestion or the elements, you certainly move slowly.
I'm a great believer in utilizing the ferries, transit and rail. I would like to see a rail from the Cole Harbour area to downtown Halifax, however, we would do that. The greatest thing that I speak of today is let's look at the Eastern Shore, let's look at the residential growth, and start preparing now for that potential issue, as we talk about the regional plan. Most people travel in on Highway No. 107 or Highway No. 207. For instance, if we could have a connector road from Highway No. 207 over to Highway No. 107, that would move traffic from the Cole Harbour area, which would allow the people from Eastern Passage, that section, to move quickly, so we could do some inexpensive moves now to help a potential problem probably 15 to 20 years down the road because we can alleviate some of the pressure off the other arterial routes coming in.
With the federal government, I will tell you, they should definitely share some of the gas tax. It is unbelievable in our society today that they're not recognizing this and hopefully, with the new leader at the federal level of government, they will recognize that and support the HRM in sharing some of that windfall they receive from our province.
I have a lot of other issues. You know one of the issue I take up strongly are subdivision roads and my gracious, when we talk about the core, inner core, and outer core - and for those who do not understand what that means - one part of HRM receives a service different than another part. The province owns the subdivision roads and maintains some of the summer service and the HRM does - and we thank you for that - provide good winter service. But in other subdivisions, the province looks after all of the road maintenance, it's a confusion. One house is receiving one type of service and another house is receiving another and I will tell you, it's a confusion.
The province and municipality have worked together on this but we can't quite seem to get it put to bed, who is responsible for what, it's according to whom you are speaking to. Yes, George will come up and tell us about amalgamation agreements, we understand all of that. But what I'm saying is, I believe that in this regional plan, one body should look after all subdivision roads because we know the condition of our subdivision roads, they're not paved, most of them are still gravel roads.
We are seeing literally hundreds of people travelling daily over graded or gravel roads that haven't been properly built because the standard 20 years ago was certainly not at the level of the standard today. We see subdivision roads with ruts and mud in the Spring, this is annoying people, and we must pull together to have these subdivision roads addressed and paved. So I hope that is a part - and that's why I'm supporting George - of the regional plan.
Still, down in the eastern part of the HRM, I have to tell you, we are growing as a community, residential growth, we're a bedroom community, so to speak, and people are flowing in there. So in 10 years time, George, you will be back addressing the committee and saying, Timberlea is flooding into the metro area, Sackville, Bedford, what can we do? And you will say, the Eastern Shore is creating a problem, so this is the appropriate time to look at the eastern part of the HRM and understand the issues that are forthcoming there. We would be able to address them in a more gentle way now, which would take off stress from the other parts of metro.
Look, if there was a tunnel underneath Halifax Harbour, I would be a major supporter of that. I know the biggest part of people working today is getting to and home from work. If we could move the traffic quicker and sooner, I think it would be better for all of us, better for the environment, better for, I guess, the stress that surrounds the working community. I could go on and go on, I don't want to go over my five minutes . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are well into your second five. You'll be into that English Channel tunnel soon. (Laughter)
MR. DOOKS: I know. I am in favour, I think it's important for the committee and for you to know that I do favour ferries, I know how successful they are, living on the eastern side, I have used them from time to time. I don't know how we would put rail across the harbour, unless we put it through a tunnel, and I speak of these things seriously. I know it may be a thing of the future, we have other tunnels crossing other harbours in Canadian cities.
Subdivision roads are a major concern. My support for this regional plan will come if the subdivision roads are a part of it, understanding the tremendous cost and pressure. The riding I represent has 40 kilometres of unpaved subdivision roads on the periphery of metro, in the Lawrencetown-Porters Lake areas. We have to do something about this inner and outer core, there should be no inner and outer core, there should be one resident living in the HRM and everybody should be treated equally. I know it surrounds the dollar figure.
Maybe I shouldn't say this but I don't know if the Department of Transportation and Public Works is geared or prefers to look after subdivision roads, and I say that respectfully. They're more rural, the 100-Series, the rural routes, and this type of road, and they do a good job. I must say our roads are looked after very well, as far as maintenance is concerned, on the Eastern Shore, but there's that division of inner core and outer core.
So I wish you all the success and hope that the province, the Bridge Commission, and I think the federal government should be in concert with the regional municipality to provide a plan not only to meet the issues that we're talking about here today, but the issues in the future as well. Thank you.
MR. MCLELLAN: If indeed I'm back here in 10 years time still talking about the same issue, the chance is it won't be me you will be talking to, if that's still a problem.
The regional plan is intended to give us some predictability as to where the growth is. To talk in terms of Cole Harbour and things of that nature, and out that way, is if that is an established growth corridor, then we can plan our transportation assets accordingly. It's difficult now because we don't have those specifics and we have to work with the development community who have made existing commitments to land ownership and things in areas that are going to be affected. So this is a complex issue that right now is a little on the shrill side, but we do think it will calm down and we will get back and make sense of it with the development community and homeowners.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: I would like to thank you first, George, for coming in. It's always nice to have a plan, and it seems like it's a well thought-out plan. However, I would have to say that right off the bat we have a huge money problem here, therefore, I think we have to reflect back and look at ways that we can fix and maintain some of the structures we already have within the province and the HRM. Some of the things that we could do that would make a difference now, that wouldn't be so costly to us, would be such things as designing streets that are more accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists.
I would like to see - and I see it's in your plan, there is talk about places for people to place their bicycles when they're going to hop on a bus. I see right now, within even my own community, there have been bus stops that have been torn down and they haven't been replaced, for whatever reasons, vandalism, perhaps the city thinks something untoward is happening at these certain bus stops. I don't see that we're really treating bus users in the best way that we could. I think that can be improved.
I think we have to look at, and continue to look at, trails, our trails system, as a way of transportation. We certainly need sidewalks on more of our streets, and this is a safety issue with children in our school system, especially benches and places for people to sit while they are waiting for transportation, as I say again, especially around our public institutions, the downtown core and our schools. I know at Prince Andrew High School, there isn't a bus
stop right in front of the high school. It's sort of up the street a ways. It's just one bus stop and it's very small.
I think we need to look at things like designing car-free streets, when we're looking at our long-term plan, keeping the streets narrow, as opposed to these wide streets that I'm seeing built in certain parts of the city. I think we do need to shift our priorities from thinking more and more roads, bigger, faster highways, and look at the possibilities of commuter and freight trains and the things that will move more people faster or in a more efficient way, let's say. I think we do need to invest in more commuter ferries.
Another issue is that I don't believe in the HRM we're preserving our open spaces and our wilderness areas. I think we've cut off a lot of wilderness corridors - we don't have wilderness corridors. For example, just a couple of weeks ago I was coming home, and a deer headed right straight towards the taxi I was in. We're just totally cutting off ourselves from nature. I think we have to look at that as a sensitive issue. Therefore, I think we do need to identify some more greenbelt areas within the HRM and within the whole province.
I would like to speak on the issue of the plan seems to be a big plan. I want to just say bigger isn't always better, bigger versus smaller. One of the reasons people live in this province and in the HRM is because they want to live here, they don't want to live in Toronto. I don't believe we want to be Toronto, because if we wanted that we would move there. I think we have to keep our feet on the ground; faster versus slower, if you have had the chance to live in Toronto, you would know that it takes a heck of a lot longer to get to work than it does here. I will often hear people speaking, well, if we did this or that, we would get to work 10 minutes faster, we would get there half an hour faster. We have to think about the issues that come about, trying to get to work faster.
When I was going through the booklet, there were a couple of things that I came across or didn't come across; one of them is the Access-A-Bus. I think you may have 17 Access-A-Buses at the present moment. I would like to put a couple of words in there. I think we need to look at more accessibility for people using that system. Right now it's a challenge. I think you have to book two weeks in advance, to get on this bus. I think we need to offer the same access, mobility and freedom. I'm quoting from something in the booklet here, you say, ". . . opportunities to people from every walk of life by providing access, mobility and freedom to accomplish what's important to them." I don't think you're referring just to one specific group of people. I think we have to remember there's a group of people who need us to advocate for them.
I think I will also speak about the community involvement in the structure of this proposal. I don't agree that there should be three appointed people. We need to find people from the community who are willing to go forward and look at this strategy. I know the mayor indicated that there was a possibility of road tolls, and I'm wondering if you can
address that when I finish. I will be finished shortly. I need to ask, has the province indicated that they will share some of the gas tax? Do we know where we stand on that?
I don't know if I've used up all of my time, but I will end there. Maybe if I have a few seconds left, later I will come back.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly there was a considerable number of points. I guess some would say the questions are a bit loaded. We will let Mr. McLellan answer as he feels comfortable.
MR. MCLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, there are a lot of issues involved there in addition to transportation. First of all, the question at the end, no, the province has not indicated it would share any of the gas tax with the municipalities, not to my knowledge. With regard to the mayor's comments on toll roads, to my knowledge I don't think he is in support of those, but I haven't seen any reference that he made with regard to those. I will have to pass that along to him.
On the matter of the other issues, two years ago we started something called the Capital District Commission - you may aware of it - that encompasses most of the BIDCs primarily, on the Dartmouth side and Halifax and along the Quinpool Corridor. Council made a decision a few years ago that that was an area of special interest for a number of reasons. Consequently, we've been trying to allocate funds to appoint it in a somewhat different fashion. This year we will be looking, again, at trying to extend wider, friendlier sidewalks, more bicycle racks, benches. The trail system - we've been working with the province in trying to extend the trail system to include bicycle access. Councillor Fougere has, for a number of years now, been, I think, if not the chair then on the bikeways task force. So not only on many of our streets are we beginning to line and demarcate bicycle routes, but the trail system as well.
Part of our vision, I guess, with regard to bicycles, is, let's say, on the Dartmouth side, where if we were able to run Woodside full day and that old Nova Scotia Hospital property were to see more use, we look forward to being able to extend the service of Woodside. You would be able, based upon some of our concepts here, to use your bicycle from anywhere in Dartmouth, to get on a ferry, ride along those trails, come to Halifax, either take a trail here or use one of the bikeway paths that we're demarcating now. That's all part of our vision, just trying to take the Law Courts, create an amenity, a public space amenity there with some nice appointments, perhaps some retail opportunities, make the place fun, and to just kind of change the whole way people look at how they move themselves around the HRM.
That's clearly on the table, but I have to come back to it, people seem to be somehow mystified by the fact that HRM has all this money. Well, I was there the days and I did some of this, laid a lot of people off at HRM in order to address our problem. I saw the diminution of our revenue streams. I have seen surpluses that we try to make every year, including this
year with that hurricane, simply by telling people they're no longer going to get on planes, they're no longer going to have discretionary expenditures; everything you can do to try to make something else happen. So, we cherish the dollars and I think we do okay, but it's not because there are too many of them. Relative to any other city, they are far from that condition. So, all of this takes money.
To the extent that you don't have money, you try and work your problem and that's what we're trying to do, is work our problem because we can't pay our way out of it. So if you take the harbour, you take the bikes, you take the pathways, you take the Law Courts building, you take everything else and you try to make sense, because there have been so many years now, for me and many people on council and staff, who have seen the baling wire and the scotch tape and the duct tape keeping everything together for so long that for everything that everybody's paying in HRM, it's time - and we do have, by the way with regard to some of the money, council has allowed for a strategic growth reserve to be set aside in the last few years that has a significant amount of money.
For example, the vision I'm talking about that ferry run or one of those rail runs, we could pay for that with cash, because of what council has allowed to be set aside, so that people in the Halifax Regional Municipality one day, hopefully within the year, will be able to stick their head up and say, my God, this place is changing, look at that, there is something new, innovative, uses geography, environmentally friendly, gets me somewhere quicker, is neat. They can look at that and they can lift their heads up a little bit higher because we're doing something different that's good, and neat.
At some point in time we have to challenge ourselves to make those things happen. That's the dividend people pay us for and we are in the position of making it happen and we're challenged to do it. We don't have any more money than that. But that's part of the game of a city, it's not just a matter of keeping it safe, there's a soul that has to be nourished and people should feel better. I don't know what that means but that's what we're trying to do with this too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hines.
MR. GARY HINES: Thank you, George, for bringing a wonderful, distinguished group of individuals to the table.
MR. MCLELLAN: Just about.
MR. HINES: There may have been days when you disagreed with me (Laughter) but I hope not. Anyway, I'm a realist, I appreciate your suggestion that there's no money. There's no money in your coffers, there's none in ours. But when I look through all the
documentation I have here, I see one thing that interests me and that is that if need be, we may be able to levy tolls to support some of the problems that we have with moving people and goods. That being said, when I was still in council, we had a discussion one day regarding the Burnside Expressway and an opportunity to have it built by private sector. The discussion that day was positive in terms of looking at that and perhaps moving on with it. But I was taken back a little bit last week when I watched the council session and I heard your comment that that memorandum of agreement that was to be looked at in June was now collecting coffee stains on your desk. I wondered if the fact that your leader and my leader isn't an exception from this, his propensity not to want toll roads because it doesn't bode well with the voting public. I just wondered if that might be the reason that that fell by the wayside, and you can answer that when I am finished.
So, that being said, the Burnside Expressway is a wonderful opportunity to get goods out of a congested area in the City of Dartmouth and is supported by the councillors from the Dartmouth side and by those in Sackville and Bedford as well, and my residence. As a provincial representative and we have a mechanism - and I'm glad to see the Bridge Commission here today - that's presently in place that do fantastic things with collections regarding the bridges and they're in good financial position and I suspect they will remain in good financial position and so we have a natural collection mechanism by which we could operate the Burnside Expressway by sitting down with the private sector and putting it together.
So, George, I would just like to have your comments on what the feel is within your governing body towards toll roads and why we're not realizing that those opportunities exist. We are in the 21st Century, most peninsular cities now have tolls of one sort or another to get in and out. So, I don't think the political need or satisfaction of political ideas should be stopping us from going forward, at least fixing a piece by private sector that's not going to cost us or you big dollars.
MR. MCLELLAN: Mr. Hines, you and I have had a lot of discussions on this.
MR. HINES: That's right. We did regarding a tunnel, too, as well.
MR. MCLELLAN: There are a lot of variables involved in that toll road situation. I would agree with you that the skill set of the Bridge Commission, lends itself to that and that's great and that would continue under any aegis as far as that goes. But right now, I guess it's kind of curious, I mean, if everything that everybody says about that road is true, it's on private property, it would be a collector road, thus a provincial responsibility currently, it's curious as to why anybody is really involving us in the discussion, because it's that simple to . . .
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, if I might. George, isn't it in the Municipal Government Act that the private sector would have to have a memorandum of agreement from your body before the province could proceed with it?
MR. MCLELLAN: Yes.
MR. HINES: So, that's the stumbling block right now, would be a memorandum of agreement on your part.
MR. MCLELLAN: It would have to be a development agreement, I guess, on what would happen here. That does open up those lands for some subsequent other development as well, of course, but that's neither here nor there. The coffee-stained agreement is phrased that our consideration and involvement in such a thing is totally dependent upon the transportation authority and the Bridge Commission. So it's very important to understand that about that agreement. The only reason it's there in draft is because it has those elements in it. But to the extent that it doesn't . . .
MR. HINES: If I might, Mr. Chairman. Without your signature or HRM's signature on it then the province and the Bridge Commission can't proceed with an agreement, they have to have the memorandum from your office first, would they not?
MR. MCLELLAN: No, no. The memorandum from my office isn't necessary. The province can go ahead and do that is my understanding. But in order to get the development approval, yes, but that wouldn't be through my office, that would be through the departmental offices.
The memorandum of agreement that I have and it was referenced in council is from Dexter and it deals with their intent to work with us to do this road. We have no responsibility for that road currently. One of the things under the transportation authority discussion that we look to do is, if, indeed, the province wants to give us that responsibility, certainly within the urban area, what's the offset? Those are the terms under which we discussed it.
Also, I guess, there are other issues too. In order for this to be a toll road and that would be up to council to determine that, Dexter could do it on their own, the province could do it on their own, if we're going to do toll roads, right now we have no legislative approval under the Municipal Government Act to run toll roads. That would have to be a change and I don't know if our council would want to pursue that change. It would have to be something that we would request and I really don't know how they would go on that. That would be interesting.
Also, in terms of doing the road, I think it would probably be a positive thing, Mr. Hines, because of my knowledge of what's happening in Burnside, but we would still have to do the traffic pattern analysis and a kind of a business case around it. But intuitively, the road makes good sense. I don't know if it would be our first priority if we had the money but it would be up there, certainly. So we would need some more of that kind of analysis. Then with regard to toll roads, we believe that whatever did happen, a lot of people wouldn't want to take that. They don't want to pay that. So, the issue then becomes, are you going to let Magazine Hill fall into disrepair, because you know, we have to make the necessary commitments that that won't happen. So it is a big of a long road, no pun intended. But right now, it's going no further and any reason why we would be involved in that would be tied to this discussion.
MR. HINES: I appreciate that. In saying that, your discussion or HRM's discussion is over regarding that, so now it would be on my shoulders, to go to the province and say, it seems as though that this can't be constructed without being done private sector and if we came forward and said we want to build a private sector then HRM would sign off on this, is that what you're telling me?
MR. MCLELLAN: We would have to go through, if there is any approvals that are required, they would have to be under analysis and I am sure that that would probably be fine, the people involved have done this many times.
MR. HINES: For your information, there has been a survey done and it came in somewhere in excess of 60 per cent who would pay for a toll road. In my discussion in the area and as the member, it is one of the things that has been on my plate and I have had considerable discussion and the recognition that we're not removing any access or egress, we're offering an opportunity for people to get out of the park and go to work and to get the trucks off Magazine Hill and so on and remove that web and allow people to go to work and
business, and I think in the 21st Century we have to look at being aggressive in those things. I would appreciate the city's co-operation, though, if we do get things happening.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: George, thank you very much for coming in to talk about this. I know you do believe quite passionately in these other things that you've said. I know I've kind of ridden this hobby horse into the ground, but I guess I would just say, as always, I take exception to the word bottlenecks every time, because to me a bottleneck is in fact a safety valve. The peninsula, at this point, is not growing in size, it's not going to be.
You mentioned that 65 per cent of the jobs are on the peninsula, is that right? I didn't catch what percentage of the inhabitants of HRM are in fact there as well. Do you know?
MR. MCLELLAN: I was just asking Dave McCusker with regional planning, he said 25 per cent or 30 per cent, I don't know if that's . . .
MS. RAYMOND: Okay, so 65 per cent of the jobs, but . . .
MR. MCLELLAN: It is growing, the population on the peninsula.
MS. RAYMOND: Yes, okay. So that's a pretty major discrepancy, though, isn't it?
MR. MCLELLAN: It's a fair discrepancy, one we would like to somehow mix up and change a bit.
MS. RAYMOND: Yes, but in the meantime there's going to continue to be a huge need to move people onto that peninsula.
MR. MCLELLAN: Yes.
MS. RAYMOND: As I say, the best way to jumpstart a party at any time, for me, is just to say the words Armdale Rotary, because everybody has something to say about it. It's a very real part of everyone's lives. I know it's the same thing with the bridge tolls, everything else. This is still a peninsula, it's going to continue to be one, as far as I know.
I guess what worries me in the discussion at this point, there's always talk about arterial roads and so on, and I'm not sure how committed this plan is, in fact, to doing micro-surgery. If we continue to work just on the arterial roads and increasing the capacity of the highways and so on, there's going to, inevitably, be a huge impact on the neighbouring municipalities. I worry when I hear that the projected growth of HRM is something that seems to be sort of concomitant with the projected decline in population of CBRM and the outlying areas. You talked about the implosion. Have there begun to be discussions with outlying or neighbouring municipalities? Is there any mechanism for doing that?
MR. MCLELLAN: Michele, through the UNSM, in formal discussions, there's been no discussion regarding a plan as to how this could unfold or how we would work better. The issues are there, though. I know East Hants, for example, is a rural municipality, and it has a huge residential component. As a consequence, they have a demand for high-level infrastructure services with some areas with density in East Hants. But they don't have a commercial base, which a lot of municipalities use to leverage paying for a lot of those services.
So there are some anomalies that are created by the relationship and relativity to HRM that do bear some monitoring, I would agree with that. That would really not be our responsibility, but certainly we would be prepared to discuss . . .
MS. RAYMOND: I guess I would just register that because if the interest is increasing, the number and capacity of the arterial roads, right out to the borders of the Halifax Municipality, then there's going to be, obviously, just an ever-growing problem, as
you mentioned. I'm a big proponent of sort of microsurgery rather than the kinds of band-aid solutions that you and I have talked about in the past, places which are band-aid in the sense that they're small not that they're necessarily impermanent but by virtue of having people able to walk to a fairly small, fluid transportation, low-cost, low-impact things like the Northwest Arm ferry, or one of those things, obviously, the bicycle and pedestrian routes as you try to squeeze all those people on the peninsula to work.
One of the other things that I had been wondering about is they say that multi-modal transportation, when people shift from walking to a bus, to a ferry, to whatever, they say there's about a 25 per cent loss of ridership, 25 per cent leakage, people who don't get on the next bus, they don't get on the next ferry. Have you heard that statistic as well?
MR. RICK PAYNTER: There's some truth to that in terms of present capacity. So in terms of expanding your multi-modal transportation network, that's one of the aspects that you have to consider, you have to make sure that you have - and Mr. McLellan talked earlier about the problems with the number of buses, for example . . .
MS. RAYMOND: I guess I would just like to register that loss of ridership there can also be viewed as a health promotion opportunity for many people. Those people, when they don't get on the next bus, when they don't pick up the transfer because they have to wait for five minutes are actually deciding to walk for five minutes. I have no idea whether that may be a source of funding as well, in the health promotion because that's one of the things we're looking at.
But from that point of view again, my own experience is HRM Council has had a policy, and I don't know if it still exists, of not funding anything which could be argued to be in competition with Metro Transit. Is that policy still in force?
MR. MCLELLAN: That's true within the transit boundary.
MS. RAYMOND: How defined is that? One could even argue that that extends to not funding studies on bicycle lanes and things because that's competition with Metro Transit. Is that policy going to stay in place as well?
MR. MCLELLAN: The policy - Rick, help me here - I don't think it was passed by council, I think it's part of a collective agreement that's been in place for a while. It doesn't have to do with anything other than another public bus system. I think the concern going back some time may have . . .
MR. PAYNTER: For example, take the Beaver Bank area, if there's a private bus service that's operating in areas of that particular community, we would link in or link up to that particular service, but at this point in time we would be a bit careful in terms of stepping in to sort of undermine the competition there or the viability of that particular private bus service.
MS. RAYMOND: Yes, I think it's maybe transit in general. Okay. That's one thing that I would flag that could be a real worry in terms of the ability to use the local solutions in modular development.
I guess the last question or the last observation that I would make is I think it's quite true, we have this coastal area and we have a peninsula and we have all kinds of natural pressures leading us to a particular development pattern, and traffic has historically driven development in HRM. I know the regional plan is in process and so on, but the transportation authority would be composed when? It would be peopled or staffed or whatever you called it after the completion of the regional plan, or is it already in place?
MR. MCLELLAN: No, it's not in place now. As I mentioned, the necessity of the province being involved would be an outcropping of any change in asset relationship, and depending on what else we were going to do, as I mentioned, about toll roads or something. Right now we don't have those abilities. We could set up, relative to the management of our own assets, i.e. parking and transit and the existing ferry structure and our high-end road planning, because we do have some arterials and collectors or at least we have operational responsibility for and things, and parking, we could set up a structure that could oversee the relationship of a lot of those assets now, without having to involve the province. It just wouldn't be complete.
MS. RAYMOND: I just wanted to know if it was or was not complete before the regional plan . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gaudet.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Again, I want to thank Mr. McLellan for his presentation this morning. George, listening to your presentation in trying to address the variety of transportation issues facing HRM, it's no doubt very challenging for council. I'm trying to get a better understanding of the Capital Transportation Authority, and at the same time I'm trying to get a better understanding in terms of how involved the province is. Many residents from outside HRM travel to Halifax for work and I would certainly agree that the province probably has a larger role to play, in terms of trying to solve or facing these challenges. I guess my first question, in terms of the Capital Transportation Authority, I understand there are a number of representatives of the province on that, is that it?
MR. MCLELLAN: Mr. Gaudet, currently the discussions with the province are departmental. We have had some discussion with the minister, who is aware of it and has expressed an opinion - and that's really where we get our opinion - that this may be something that might be reflected in legislation. We don't know what that would look like, however, we have not been privy to any of the internal discussions as to the approach the province would choose to take, relative to the document we have presented. There may well be something quite different, we're not certain. We do know that we have made our case.
We have indicated what we would like to see, in terms of the assets, to be involved. We have also indicated that we recognize the reality, as Mr. Hines indicated, of cost neutrality, in terms of how that could be achieved. Basically, I'm waiting now for the province's response.
MR. GAUDET: If I understand this correctly, currently there is a proposal before government for the provincial government to get involved?
MR. MCLELLAN: Yes, based on the governance structure that you have, which has been in place with the province for some months now.
MR. GAUDET: So I guess the obvious question is what's the next step? Nothing is moving, nothing is going to move until HRM hears from the province, in terms of how we're going to . . .
MR. MCLELLAN: That's right and if the province does not want to involve themselves in this - and even if they do - we will still go back and talk about the terms with our council. So if the province decides not to then we will go back and talk about the utility of moving forward with our own issues and the assets we do have, as to whether we should reorganize them along the lines of this effort with our council.
MR. GAUDET: Is there a time frame involved here that you're looking at?
MR. MCLELLAN: My understanding and again, I guess the government or province should be the one to confirm this, my formal understanding is there is an attempt to move forward with this in the Spring, but that has not been confirmed. That is why I'm glad to be here.
MR. GAUDET: Just off the top of my head, I can certainly look at a number of departments that are involved. Others are Transportation and Public Works, or Service Nova Scotia, or the provincial Department of Environment and Labour, and probably others. There is no doubt that the province should be at the table, collectively, in trying to work at addressing some of these challenges.
I want to look at the funding issue. You indicated earlier that council has a capital budget of roughly $60 million in trying to address all of these problems. I think everyone recognizes it's practically impossible with the funding that is available. Has there been any discussions with any possible sources to try to help out in any possible way?
MR. MCLELLAN: With regard to these transportation issues?
MR. GAUDET: Yes.
MR. MCLELLAN: We would like to time this vision to further evidence of substance to the urban agenda in Ottawa, and that's one of the reasons why we are pushing this forward. We have had discussions for some time but with this issue, seemingly, with Mr. Godfrey's visit to us last week from Ottawa, and the statement from the Prime Minister, et cetera, we would like to be in a position to take advantage of that.
Like I said, this is not something we have not carefully thought through, as I indicated. With the support of our council we have been able to put aside a bit of our portion of the money to leverage this we have through this strategic growth fund that has come at the sake of immediate opportunities, and council has allowed this. Now is the time for that payback, we would invest that as our share to leverage additional dollars from other levels of government in order to make some of these things some true.
The appropriate way to confirm the vision, however, is through the authority and its membership, then through council. All of the things, of course, we are talking about today, have been through a good relationship and general dialogue with the members of our council,
and all of it still remains for their approval. They have certainly allowed us to move forward with these elements and to try to position them so that they can put some final consideration to them. The funding remains a challenge but we have tried to put aside our portion to leverage it and to add more substance to it when we do get into that hopeful discussion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Theriault.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, George, for your presentation. This is all very interesting and is all new to me, all this traffic, but I'm getting used to it. I'm getting to know how to get into the city now without getting run over. (Laughter) I left Digby last night around 10:00 p.m. and when I came across the bridge about 1:00 a.m. this morning, it wasn't bad. But when you try to get in from Sackville to downtown Halifax between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. you want some good nerves or a lot of cigarettes. I understand that part of it.
What I don't understand is you are talking about solving a problem here. Why don't you try stopping the problem? Why are we going to shove all the sardines that will fit in two cans into one can? It sounds like that's what you are doing on this peninsula. In Digby, where
I come from, the biggest traffic jam we have is at Tim Hortons and that's only half a dozen cars.
You just said a while ago, George, that in the next 15 to 20 years, you're looking at 75,000 to 100,000 more people coming into this peninsula, probably. There are going to be companies coming here to hire those people, I suppose, they're not just going to come here and be homeless like a few people here but there are going to be a lot of companies coming here. Why not direct these companies out to where there is a lot of space? It's common sense. Why are we pushing this peninsula full of people, jamming it, and you're sitting here worrying about what you're going to do with the traffic; and how to fund it is another thing.
Every one of those cars from Sackville has just one person in it, just like you said, I agree. All those cars, I don't know what the parking bill would be in this city but if you could convince those people to come in on a rapid train of some sort and leave all the cars at home, you would have lots of funding. You are talking $15 to $20 a day parking, $10 at least for gas to get here, the cost for keeping your car up and the city is the worst place to run a car. How many millions of dollars are we talking about to bring those cars into the city with one person in each one, there's lots of money there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps, Mr. Theriault, it would be okay, to let Mr. McLellan answer, you've asked three questions. Then you can come back and ask more.
MR. MCLELLAN: Mr. Theriault, you're right, those are questions we have asked ourselves and I think in my remarks I mentioned that we're trying to change that where everybody comes in.
One of the interesting things in the HRM right now, just to digress for one minute, if I may, Mr. Chairman, is that we are seeing some great growth here unquestionably but it's all residential. There has been a change in the demographic it seems here in the HRM, whereby our housing growth is outstripping the population growth and a lot of that is because it is on the peninsula, what you see is a lot of residential demand on the peninsula, which you can see easily from any window here. It's not commercial demand, we have commercial space here that's vacant but we have huge demand for residential construction, and yet we still have demand for additional housing in the outlying areas. The demographic has changed. In other words the number of people per dwelling unit has gone down, that's really what makes up the difference.
The way we're structured here, not just in Nova Scotia but in a lot of places, is not helpful to that whole issue that you raised. It's another issue for another day perhaps but let me just mention that if you are a developer and if you had this land and there is all this demand for residential, it's punitive for them not to be able to take advantage of that. It would be nice in some of these large master-planned areas if we could nuance them into allowing and preserving some commercial opportunity land mass within the development to anchor people
in the community or, heaven knows, have somebody leave from down here to go to work out there.
Right now there's no advantage or even neutrality on that issue in terms of what they pay for their land or for idle land, which is maybe a bit of a different issue. We need to look at the complexity of that issue within the regional plan, and we're trying to do it. The assets at play here, whether it be the Bedford Highway or the ferries or even a rail, our hope would be, so that we don't go broke, we provide a public service but we have to provide it with as little cost disadvantage as possible. It's certainly to our advantage, if we're going to take these people in on a ferry, we would really like to think there's a lot of people going with the ferry, back. Because to run a lot of deadhead stuff in here, that's great but that's not helping the cost factors at all. We would like to see that duality of destination. We have to work through that.
Right now, systemically, I mentioned one of the reasons, it's difficult to overcome that, but we definitely see that as an issue, and one that we have to work towards. There's no question about that. I would agree with you, that is a challenge that will greatly reduce the scope of the problem in the years to come.
MR. THERIAULT: But you're talking 75,000, 100,000 more people just coming here to live, where are they working? You say it's not happening commercially, there are no more businesses starting. What are they doing? How are they earning an income to live? It costs three times as much here to live.
MR. MCLELLAN: Some aren't, as recent information shows. I would suspect that a lot of the 17-year-old kids sitting on the steps of the post office in Digby today are probably going to be 19-year-old kids sitting on the steps of the Khyber Building in Halifax in two years time. It's not as simple as just jobs. I wish it were that simple. There's a lot involved in the relationship of our success and failure and the success and failure of the province and the success and failure of every other municipality to whom we represent opportunity. Seventeen Access-A-Buses are cited here today, that's because we have Access-A-Buses. If you are a physically handicapped person in the Province of Nova Scotia, you probably, at some point in time, better find your way to Halifax.
We have a burden beyond our numbers that isn't always financially viable, but that's part of the job, that's part of the job of being the city. We're trying to live up to that. Where the jobs are going to go, I'm concerned about that because, as I say, if we fill, if we, without reservation and preservation and thought, occupy every piece of land for the current in-vogue use, then that's not well thought out. That's why we want to really push the regional plan ahead, to put those perspectives and to preserve those opportunities and direct where that growth will be, so that we can have the duality of use, have people going both ways on our
avenues of transportation, have people have the opportunity of being nearer to their place of work, as much as possible. That's part of the challenge.
The opportunities of today create a lot of enemies. The needs of the current day are very compelling. Our job is to take that into account, not to offend, not to prejudice, but to make sure that the opportunities of tomorrow are just as real. It doesn't get you a lot of friends, but that's the job. It's a challenge, and I don't know how it's going to play out, but that's why we have these people working on it.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you finished, Mr. Theriault?
MR. THERIAULT: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes round one. There's only one person who put in for a round two at this point. I was wondering, with the committee's permission, if I could ask a few short snappers, just for some detail?
Mr. McLellan, has there been any consideration to building a truck route above the railroad line that comes into the city, down to the container terminal? I ask that because of the immense truck traffic in the downtown core and I'm concerned about the contents of a lot of these containers. We have some 400,000 a year going through the port here, being trucked out. You can go out to Highway No. 102 or Highway No. 101 or whatever highway you would like, and every minute there is a tractor-trailer passing; that's on average. It works out to about the same number that's in. What consideration has been given on this issue?
MR. MCLELLAN: Not much for a long time. Now we are involved in a study with the Port Authority. I think it was in the paper a month or two ago about putting them on a barge and perhaps taking them across and things. Anyway, the more you handle these containers, the more cost prohibitive it is. It's a tough thing. It's very feasible, I guess, is the best thing I can say. They are the ones who are leading the study. We are involved in it, our regional planning staff are working on this and I guess it is preliminary now but it is at least feasible to consider using that existing rail cut that goes through that "Grand Canyon", you know. If you are going to handle a container once, handle it there on the flatbed car, out. If we can do that, then we get most of the traffic, except local traffic, off Lower Water Street and Inglis Street or whatever it leaks, and then there would be a transfer point outside of town which is much easier and really kind of neat, actually.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I've seen it done in other jurisdictions - Boston, Toronto, that sort of thing and I'm perplexed as to why it hasn't been done . . .
MR. MCLELLAN: That is under discussion now, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: . . . because there are a lot of forward-thinkers in this city, I do believe, and I'm surprised it hasn't come to that level yet.
MR. MCLELLAN: Well, we are looking at it now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Another short snapper.
MR. MCLELLAN: It's the port's jurisdiction. We need them. It is their decision, ultimately, that is part of it. So we are counting on their forward-thinking at this moment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any documentation back and forth? Have they committed to this?
MR. MCLELLAN: They have committed to the study.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time frame?
MR. MCLELLAN: I would have to check. David, do you have anything on the time frame? (Interruptions) Six months, I guess.
MR. CHAIRMAN: With regard to the Capital Transportation Authority, obviously that was in the Speech from the Throne in this session, or the last session, after the election; that requires legislation. Have you received any clear indication that legislation will be introduced this Spring?
MR. MCLELLAN: I have heard it from the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What do you mean, you heard it at the water cooler or is there a memo?
MR. MCLELLAN: No, there is no memo.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Were there any discussions?
MR. MCLELLAN: I have been told that it would be proposed as legislation when the House sits next.
MR. CHAIRMAN: By whom?
MR. MCLELLAN: The minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So the minister has committed to introducing the legislation this Spring.
MR. MCLELLAN: Well, I don't know how these things work with the committed part but it was mentioned. I took him at his word that's his best intention. Perhaps the minister is not the sole arbiter of that but it certainly was his intention.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have one final question and that is with regard to this new initiative by the federal government. It seems to me - and maybe for a better reason - that the federal government is almost bypassing the province and going right to the municipalities with this HST rebate. What is the benefit to the HRM and has that been calculated into your equation with this new . . .
MR. MCLELLAN: Of the HST rebate?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLELLAN: There is another matter, Mr. Chairman, in which we haven't seen anything in writing but in discussions, I know again when John Godfrey was here, who is, I think, Parliamentary Secretary for these matters in the Prime Minister's office, this came - also the next day after the Speech from the Throne there was some discussion on it. First of all, that is about, for us, $5 million or $6 million next year, about $1 million they, the next day, backdated to February 1st so it's like it is in effect now. How it is going to be administered, we don't really know. I suspect now, because some of that money has been spent, there will have to be a rebate application process, I would think, or hope, going forward that it won't be an application, it will just be the law of the land that municipalities don't pay it and so therefore we don't get charged, I hope, to keep it simpler. We haven't seen any of that.
Now with regard to your question about what that does for us, there was an indication, and I'm not sure exactly if it was the next day from the Prime Minister in the House or if it was just informal from Mr. Godfrey, I don't know, but we and other cities have the clear impression that this is to create new capacity, not to relieve tax burden, that if indeed our spiel, nationally, has been that as assets in cities are deteriorating rapidly, then this is intended to alleviate pressure on services and capital capacity. So that is what it would do for us, is that that money would come off our current expenditure pattern and create a little bit of a free board in which we can reinvest. The breakdown for us would be about $3.5 million operating implication and about $2.5 million capital implication.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will recognize Mr. Taylor for a short snapper.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, just again, I guess, to explain to Mr. McLellan as he already well knows, out in eastern Halifax County, there are thousands of families, literally and there is a good number of businesses. My colleagues and I from the HRM have been able to ensure that as far as provincial programs and projects go, whether it is schools, roads, et cetera, that we get our fair share and we have a job to do as MLAs. By the way, I have subsequently been told that as far as the composition of the proposed traffic authority goes, that it was co-authored. I also still have serious concerns that without knowing the parameters of the - we will call it the service exchange for lack of a better word - I'm concerned as to what level of confidence or comfort the folks in eastern Halifax County can have. I don't know the implications and, of course, you don't know but there were some concerns back in 1996 when the HRM was amalgamated.
I'm wrapping this up, Mr. Chairman, but I want to point out when we are talking about the HRM being host to two-thirds of the Nova Scotia Government's workforce and the benefits and the spinoffs that are accrued and we are talking about a sharing of gas tax, vehicle licensing fees and so on and so forth that I want to be darn sure that that authority - and I will be lobbying my provincial counterparts as well - I want to make darn certain that we have equity on that authority. Right now I don't see that and maybe I don't have to be concerned, Mr. McLellan, but I am.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes our questions. Mr. McLellan, if you would like a couple of moments for closing remarks or whatever, it is entirely up to yourself.
MR. MCLELLAN: I guess, Mr. Chairman, I would only want to add that this concept, it's difficult, I guess, in the HRM. I know that some members would propose that we have great benefit and indeed we do. We are very fortunate in the HRM, not just because of the beauty of the city but of its character and its history and it's a special place. I know that throughout the province people appreciate the amenities which we share with all of the province. Having said that, we are looking to leverage ourselves with this vision. We are looking to bring ourselves to a point whereby we can meet a lot of the things that we have just kind of in ersatz fashion talked about, whether it be the environment, whether it be traffic, whether it where people live and the pressures and all the costs and mess that we have by trying to service people. God knows where they will be next.
What we are really trying to do is get our act in order. This requires nothing of the province. If we are committed to cost neutrality, if we are prepared to take on additional responsibilities, I would hope there shouldn't be too much concern about the level of maturity we have shown to date and how responsibly we have handled the municipal responsibilities given to us under the Municipal Government Act. Considering the pressures that we are under, relative to any other place in this country, I think we should at least have a high degree of trust and comfort from the provincial level of government. All we are asking is our own unique destiny to be able to manage those assets to take ourselves to the next step. That is
all this represents is an opportunity to do that and we are looking for the province's support. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. McLellan. I would like to thank you, Mr. McCusker, Ms. O'Toole and also just a moment of special recognition again to Mr. Hendsbee, Ms. Fougere and Ms. Uteck, our HRM representatives. Thank you for coming and attending and all the staff and stakeholders from the HRM. We really appreciate it and I hope you feel like you have been treated fairly here. Sometimes it can be wide-ranging.
Coincidentally, for members of the committee, the next meeting is going to be March 9th at 9:00 a.m. and we will be having another regional municipality coming before the committee and that is the Cape Breton Regional Municipality on a slightly different issue called governance. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend.
Motion to adjourn.
MR. EPSTEIN: I move to adjourn.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So moved.
[The committee adjourned at 11:00 a.m.]