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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
Mr. Michel Samson (Chairman)
Mr. Brooke Taylor
Mr. William Dooks
Mr. Mark Parent
Mr. Howard Epstein
Mr. Charles Parker
Ms. Marilyn More
Mr. Wayne Gaudet
Mr. Harold Theriault
[Mr. William Dooks was replaced by Mr. Gary Hines.]
[Mr. Charles Parker was replaced by Ms. Joan Massey.]
[Mr. Harold Theriault was replaced by Mr. Stephen McNeil.]
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage
Ms. Kelliann Dean
Ms. Marsha Andrews
Executive Director of Tourism
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2005
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Mr. Michel Samson
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning. I want to call this meeting of the Standing Committee on Economic Development to order. We are pleased this morning to have with us as witnesses representatives from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. The standard procedure for our witnesses is we do permit for an opening comment, followed by questions from the committee members. We will try to provide some time at the end for some closing comments by the witnesses. To start off with, I would ask that the members first introduce themselves and then I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves and then they can proceed directly to their opening comments. Ms. Massey, if you would like to start for us.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we get to our witnesses, Mr. Parent.
MR. MARK PARENT: Mr. Chairman, just a point of clarification. I don't have the letter in front of me but my understanding from the letter, what I agreed to when I agreed to this meeting, when I gave my approval it was because it was an emergency issue in regard to the airport authority. Traditionally, we don't sit in the Summer and my understanding is we would only sit in the Summer if there was some sort of emergency meeting that we wanted. My understanding from the letter - now I don't have the letter - from my memory, which could be wrong - if we could get the letter and take a look at it - to me it was dealing simply with the airport authority and not with tourism in general. I'm just curious. If someone has the letter, perhaps I could be proven wrong, but that's my understanding of it and on that point I cast my vote that we should have this meeting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: My understanding, from speaking with different members and from the clerk is that we had a request for the department to appear before us to discuss not only the airport situation but its overall impact on tourism in this province. I believe our correspondence did indicate to the department that there would probably be questions relating to the impact of tourism on this province as a whole. My understanding is the department indicated a concern in not being able to provide specific numbers to us on this date because those have not been received, but they will be appearing before us again in September with some more specific data to provide us at that point. But certainly it was indicated to the witnesses that there would be questions overall about the tourism industry.
MR. PARENT: Is it possible to see a copy of the letter, does the clerk have a copy?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have two letters here. We had one from Mr. McNeil. I can certainly provide the letters, but it makes it clear that the intention was to not only discuss the Halifax International Airport situation but also discuss the effects on the tourism industry overall.
MR. PARENT: As to the Halifax airport or overall, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe it was left fairly broad on that topic.
MR. PARENT: That isn't how I read the letter. I wouldn't mind seeing it again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's fine. If the witnesses would be prepared to introduce themselves and go to the opening comments.
MS. KELLIANN DEAN: Good morning. I'm Kelliann Dean, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. With me I have Marsha Andrews, Executive Director of Tourism.
Mr. Chairman, and committee members, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. Before I begin - well, I've already introduced Marsha, so you know who she is but - I would also like to mention that Scott MacAulay, who is the President of Cape Breton Island Resorts Ltd. and the Past-President of the Tourism Partnership Council, had planned to be with us today to bring an industry perspective to the table because, as you know, we work very closely with the industry in Tourism. However, his business is keeping him busy in Cape Breton.
So with your indulgence, I would like to focus my opening remarks in two general areas. First, our partnership between government and industry to strengthen and grow tourism, often in the face of many factors beyond our control, and second, our relationship with the Halifax International Airport Authority and its important role in tourism.
There are few industries in this province as important as tourism. Tourism touches every community in Nova Scotia. It's a $1.3 billion industry with 3,400 businesses putting directly or indirectly almost 34,000 Nova Scotians to work. Tourism generates tax dollars for all three levels of government, more than $120 million in provincial and municipal taxes alone. Nova Scotians are passionate about tourism because they understand how important the industry is to our economy, and they take a keen interest in how our province is marketed because many aspects of Nova Scotia's personality are reflected in the marketing and the materials which motivate visitors to explore our province.
In Nova Scotia, we are fortunate to have a strong relationship between our department, the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Tourism Partnership Council. TIANS has been the provincial voice for the tourism industry since 1977. Both Carol Thorn, the new president, and Nicholas Carson, the General Manager of the Prince George Hotel, who is this year's TIANS Chairman, work hard to represent the interests of the tourism industry.
The Nova Scotia Tourism Partnership Council is a different but equally influential partner. Established in 1998, after several years of consultation with the industry, the TPC is a true partnership between industry and government. The council, made up of 14 industry leaders, Marsha Andrews and our Marketing Director John Somers, share in the annual planning and decision making for tourism marketing, research and product development in Nova Scotia. Charles Clerk, President of the Island Beach Company, serves as current Chairman of the Tourism Partnership Council and is supported by a team of volunteer councils and committee members from throughout Nova Scotia.
This approach ensures that our tourism planning and activities remain customer-focused, research-based and relevant in this competitive global industry. When the council developed the 2005 tourism plan, when our department developed our 2005-06 business plan, research showed that motivation to travel was strong and there was an opportunity to build on the momentum from 2004. The province had experienced a 5 per cent increase in total visitation and a 3 per cent increase in overall tourism revenues. So we invested $7.7 million in our most extensive tourism marketing campaign to date to reach further into key markets: Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern United States.
Our 2005 marketing campaign in print, magazines, e-marketing, TV, direct mail and radio has been successful. Inquiries for Nova Scotia travel information have increased 37 per cent. Since April, however, market conditions and fate have thrown Nova Scotia and Canadian tourism in general a number of curveballs. First the cancellation of the Scotia Prince in April. This ferry link between Portland, Maine, and Yarmouth has served as a major entry point into Nova Scotia, particularly for southwestern Nova Scotia, for three decades. Our department has been working hard to keep the lines of communication open on possible restoration options. Last week, a local delegation of business and community
leaders, led by Ministers MacDonald, Hurlburt and d'Entremont, visited Portland to move toward a lasting solution.
The second curveball came with very poor weather in May and June. As more of our visitors make their travel plans only a few days in advance, weather plays an even bigger role in their decision to travel or stay home.
Third, industry-wide issues have affected tourism in many jurisdictions throughout Canada and the United States. High gas prices appear to be reducing long-distance travel. Americans are still not travelling in great numbers outside of the U.S. Statistics Canada recently reported that for the month of May, overnight road traffic from the U.S. into Canada was down 8 per cent. We are also hearing concerns from other provinces about a soft start to the season and for the first five months of 2005, January to May, total visitation to Nova Scotia is down 5 per cent. However, we won't be satisfied until we have more people coming to Nova Scotia than last year, more revenue growth and more business for our tourism operators. So, how are we responding?
In Nova Scotia, we report regularly on tourism stats as the season unfolds. This gives industry and government timely information to make adjustments to our programs. Based on the advice from the Tourism Partnership Council, we are stepping up our marketing efforts to offset some of the challenges. With more than half of our visitors coming from our Atlantic neighbours, we are rolling out an enhanced mid-Summer marketing campaign this month in Atlantic Canada. We've also moved up the launch date for an expanded late- Summer campaign for the northeastern United States for earlier this month. In an effort to zero in on the travel motivations of Ontario and Quebec, we are working with Tourism Atlantic, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick on a research project in these markets right now.
But no tourism marketing campaign in the world would be successful if there isn't the transportation infrastructure in place to support it, which brings me to the second area that I would like to address and why you invited me here today, our relationship with the Halifax International Airport Authority and its important role in tourism.
The Halifax International Airport Authority has played a major role in the growth of tourism in the province. Over the past five years, the number of air travellers visiting Nova Scotia has increased 18 per cent, despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks. About 70 per cent of these visitors are Canadian, 20 per cent are from the United States and 10 per cent are from overseas. Air visitors also stay in Nova Scotia the longest of our tourists, nearly nine nights, and they spend nearly two-thirds more than the average visitor to Nova Scotia. Five years ago air visitors represented 25 per cent of all visitors to Nova Scotia, and this past year that figure stood at 28 per cent. So we've been working hard with the airport and also with the Canadian Tourism Commission to build international air links to Halifax. This was a major challenge in the aftermath of 9/11, and instability in the U.S. and the Canadian airline industries.
As a fallout from 9/11, in 2002, 52 per cent of Halifax's international seat capacity was lost. So we came together, as I said, the airport, our department, with assistance from the Canadian Tourism Commission, to ensure that Nova Scotia remained open to the world as an air destination. As a result of the collaboration, we now have direct access to destinations such as Gatwick and Manchester in the UK; Belfast in Northern Ireland; we also have flights from Halifax to Frankfurt and Munich; we have direct connections to Boston, New York- Newark, New York-JFK and Detroit. For every five seats that we lost following September 11th, we've restored four.
This year, for the first five months of 2005, while U.S. and Canada air travel into Halifax remains steady, overseas travel to Nova Scotia is up 28 per cent. The airport authority also provides our department with space for a provincial Visitor Information Centre, which is now located in a prominent position in the Arrivals section of the main terminal. I should also point out that the Nova Scotia Government continues to have a strong collaborative relationship with the airport authority.
Our department, along with the Departments of Transportation and Public Works, Intergovernmental Affairs, and Agriculture and Fisheries, is a member of the government- airport consultative committee. This committee meets quarterly to update members on collective issues of interest with the airport. It was at one of these meetings that the HIAA informed the department of the runway construction project. We were not made aware, however, of the potential impact that poor weather could have on flight schedules during this time. So when extreme weather conditions started to play havoc with the air landings, we immediately contacted the authority to determine the scope of the impact. We also took action to ensure that the LPGA event at Glen Arbour was not disrupted.
Further, department officials attended the stakeholder briefings held recently to better understand the impact of weather on the construction project. Last week I met with Peter Clarke, the acting president and CEO of the authority, and just yesterday Minister MacDonald spoke with new President and CEO Eleanor Humphries, her second day on the job, and a further meeting between the minister and Eleanor is planned for this month. Minister MacDonald is also contacting the airlines to gauge their willingness to allow our department to communicate directly with those passengers affected. We recognize that the federal Privacy Act may preclude this kind of contact between our department and air travellers, but we would like to ensure that inconvenienced visitors are not left with an unfavourable impression of Nova Scotia and that we have an opportunity to demonstrate our hospitable nature.
Our message is clear, the airport authority is an important tourism partner. We value our strong working relationship, and we believe that enhanced communications and defined contingency plans will help to mitigate any future disruptions caused by the airport improvement plan. Visitors to Nova Scotia deserve no less, and we will do what we can to
help. Thank you very much. I would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions that you might have.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that presentation. I have on my list Mr. Stephen McNeil.
MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Thank you both for coming in today. I want to be clear, from my perspective and I think from the perspective of all Nova Scotians, at no time are we suggesting that the safety of the travelling public coming into Nova Scotia should be put into jeopardy and at no time are we suggesting that your department can control the weather. What has been interesting for us is that a few days after the work had begun to take place at the Halifax airport, it became obvious to everyone in the province that we had a public relations disaster on our hands.
We had travellers coming into the province who were being asked to stay at the airport. They had no idea what was going on, sleeping on the floor at the airport, looking for someone to turn to, and there was nobody there. Where was the department? You just admitted here a few minutes ago that your department was aware that this project was going to be taking place, and yet there seemed to be no contingency plan in store for a visitor who may be stranded at the airport. What was happening?
MS. DEAN: Well, I think we really need to keep in mind that the communications with passengers happen with the airlines and their passengers. The airport authority briefed its stakeholders, and at the time those stakeholders were the airlines. The airlines have the main contact with passengers, and that's definitely something that the airport authority has acknowledged.
I think it's also important to keep in mind that the airport authority didn't have a contingency plan in place, and they have talked about that, and they have gone to great lengths to talk to their stakeholders and broaden their stakeholder communications, and to try to look at what we can do better in the future. The circumstances were definitely unfortunate. The airport authority has acknowledged the fact that perhaps they weren't as prepared as they could have been.
MR. MCNEIL: One of the problems for me is every tourist who spent however many days at the Halifax airport, is leaving Nova Scotia and going home and saying, you know what, the Halifax airport didn't do a very good job of looking after us, we had a lousy stay in Nova Scotia, and nobody showed up to help us out. We were stranded at that airport. What they're wanting to know is where were you, where was the department, where was the province to ensure that those visitors, when they left Nova Scotia, were leaving with - at some point, mitigating some of the distress they had and being able to say, we'll do a return
visit, because the people of Nova Scotia showed up at this airport and showed us the hospitality that they are known for around the world. Nobody was there. They're not mentioning the Halifax airport, they're mentioning Nova Scotia.
MS. DEAN: With all due respect, I think we have to take a look, also, at some of the complaints. We haven't received a large number of complaints about the province or how the province has treated passengers. I think you need to look at this in the context of circumstances that come beyond our control. The issue is that obviously we don't want anybody to have an unfavourable impression of Nova Scotia, that's not in the best interests of anybody. We'll do what we can to try to communicate with those passengers, but keep in mind that the passengers are dealing directly with the airlines to try to have their travel arrangements improved or mitigated to get from point A to point B.
It is unfortunate, and it is discouraging, and it's unfortunate for the passengers. We really do not want them to have a negative opinion of Nova Scotia. I think one of the areas that we have to look at is contingency planning, and the airport has acknowledged that that is an area that needs to be looked at. When you have a major event, for example, like the LPGA, what you need to look at is how you're going to get people from point A to point B. The organizers have a role to play in that.
MR. MCNEIL: I think it's wonderful that the LPGA was looked after. My concern is that the men and women from around North America who were bringing their families into Nova Scotia, coming here on vacation, were left stranded at the airport. It's wonderful that we looked after the LPGA, but what about the families that might return here to spend a week or two on vacation? What about them? What about the families who were sitting at the airport in Halifax? Imagine this, having a four- and five-year-old at the airport for two days, waiting to get out of there.
MS. DEAN: I think that you will also benefit from having the perspective of the HIAA, because they do look after the passengers who are stranded at the airport. It's my understanding that they did take measures to try to accommodate those passengers. I think that question could be addressed to them as well.
MR. MCNEIL: If our weather doesn't co-operate tomorrow, two days from now, and we have a plane that is there, what is in place by the department? What is the department going to do to ensure that this public relations nightmare doesn't continue for people who are leaving the province?
MS. DEAN: Well, the department is keeping the lines of communication open with the HIAA. They are taking responsibility for informing their stakeholders, as I said, the airlines, and the airlines are doing what they can to ensure that they move those passengers around. This is a transportation issue and, again, of course, we want to make sure that we can do what we can. We have a Visitor Information Centre at the airport, and the staff there do
what they can in circumstances like that to accommodate passengers and to help them find accommodation.
MR. MCNEIL: Has the province provided any passenger who was stranded in Nova Scotia a voucher, perhaps, saying, you come back to Nova Scotia, we can give you a discount? Have they done anything to encourage somebody who may have had an unpleasant stay in Nova Scotia over the Summer months a reason to return to this province?
MS. DEAN: Well, that's specifically why Minister MacDonald is writing to the presidents of the airlines, because we have no way of accessing those customers. That is privileged information, and we're trying to find out exactly who those passengers were so that we can communicate with them or get a message to them. We will have to hear from the airlines on whether we can actually do that.
MR. MCNEIL: Has the province put an ad out, suggesting to any tourist who had come into Nova Scotia, show us that you were in Nova Scotia over this period of days, prove you were here and we will do anything possible to ensure that you return and that your stay is the way it should be, the way Nova Scotians will treat their visitors on a regular basis. Have you done any of that?
MS. DEAN: Certainly, like I said, we're going to look at what we can possibly do to ensure that anybody who was inconvenienced knows that Nova Scotia is a hospitable location. Again, I have to reinforce the fact that we need to find out who those passengers are and we don't have that information, specifically. The contact is through the airlines. I also know that the HIAA is handling complaints that they have received directly. They may also be in a position - you may want to ask them some of the things that they are doing to mitigate that as well.
MR. MCNEIL: You had mentioned that the department sits on a board - and I apologize, I forget the name of the board - you mentioned it would be the airport authority and there were a couple of other groups sitting on that board. It was at one of those meetings that you were informed that the work was going to be taking place at the airport. When was that?
MS. DEAN: Well, these are quarterly meetings that were held. There was a meeting in February, there was a meeting in June. The airport authority - and you can ask the airport authority this - briefed us on the construction project, which, by the way, was important, as you have acknowledged. It's going to improve the airport. It's badly needed upgrades that are being done. They did not mention contingency planning or did not address potential issues that could happen as a result of poor weather. That was deliberate on the part of the HIAA and they have acknowledged that in their stakeholder briefings and they have acknowledged that to us.
So, again, you know, I have to reinforce that we were aware of this construction and we're very happy that it is going on. It is important and it needs to be done. But, I guess, you could use an analogy, I suppose, of road construction. We do road construction and we continue to market the province aggressively and we tell people to come here.
MR. MCNEIL: I dare say, if you left me stranded on a highway for two days because you were holding up traffic, you might hear from me or you might hear from any other tourist who is coming into the province.
MS. DEAN: I guess my point is that construction is necessary, it has to be done, but we still encourage our visitors to come here and it's a similar situation with the airport. They're doing construction but we still want our visitors to come here.
MR. MCNEIL: It's interesting, when you're talking about the minister writing to the airlines and encouraging them to do what they could for their passengers to come back into Nova Scotia. If the minister had been proactive, would it have not made more sense to have somebody out at the airport for the day, or the two days that that passenger was stranded in Nova Scotia? He didn't need to talk to anybody other than the passenger, other than the tourist. If somebody from the department had been there, willing to say, you know what, we understand the frustration you're experiencing. This work had to be done. We could not have envisioned that the weather was going to be the way it is. What can we do to make your return to Nova Scotia a much more pleasant one?
MS. DEAN: Well, I think, again construction, the work that's being done, this is being done at the airport authority. This is the responsibility of the airport authority. Our people at the Visitor Information Centre do everything they can to assist the volunteers at the airport authority in making customers more comfortable, if they're experiencing difficulties. It really is a collaborative effort but, again, the airport is in control of this situation, the construction and the communication with the airlines.
Marsha, I don't know if there is anything that you would like to add to that?
MS. MARSHA ANDREWS: No. I mean, we do operate a year-round, bilingual, full-time Visitor Information Centre right as people are coming off - as I'm sure you know - as people are coming into the airport, wherever we can. That is what those people do for a living, they counsel visitors, offer them information, share with them the detailed information that we can, and the reason I say we can is that we can give them everything they want to know about Nova Scotia and we will give them the reason to return which is way beyond whether or not they've had, without a question in some cases, a very unpleasant situation, as they are either coming or going in their transportation source. But their reason to return to the province may be, for a period of time, impacted by a sense of what happened when they were coming or going. But, realistically, the reason to come here and the reason to return
here isn't because you can travel quickly through an airport, or you don't have to worry about your weather on a difficult day.
MR. MCNEIL: A reason for coming back might be that if you run into a problem, Nova Scotians will do as they have always done and respond. Unfortunately, the government didn't respond and the people who arrived here in the middle of this public relations nightmare got left stranded at the airport with no one there.
You talk about the information centre, did you put any extra staff on at the information centre at the airport, when the airport was full of people, people who couldn't leave, people who were angry? Did you put any extra staff on?
MS. DEAN: The Visitor Information Centre, you mean?
MR. MCNEIL: Yes.
MS. DEAN: Well, our Visitor Information Centre was staffed. I do know that we had an extra staff member moved from our Halifax location to go out to the airport to assist in any way that they could. But, again, you know, the situation is terribly unfortunate, but when you're dealing with the passengers and in various numbers, too - the numbers that I have is that there were 185 flights that were impacted between June 27th and July 11th. Now, there were three of those days, July 1st, 2nd and 10th, that were extremely problematic, where 45 to 62 flights were affected. Those days were particularly problematic. But on the other days most of these delays and cancellations can be handled in a regular manner as a matter of course of business and the airlines are able to make adjustments. These other ones were extraordinary because they were impacted, again, by intense fog.
I think the other thing we've got to keep in mind here too is that in some of these instances flights wouldn't have gone at all, landed or taken off, because the fog was so dense it would have been like White Juan. The airport could not move anything. That is truly extraordinary and, of course, impacted by the fact that there was construction.You know, it is, as I said, terribly unfortunate. Passengers were inconvenienced. We acknowledge that and we really do not want them to harbour a negative opinion of Nova Scotia.
MR. MCNEIL: Let's assume that the airport authority, as you would like to suggest, is at fault here. How many tourists do you think would have left Nova Scotia and went home and said, you know what, the airport authority didn't treat me well in Nova Scotia? How many? Zero. They would have said, we had a lousy stay in Nova Scotia. It is the department's job to promote the province, to ensure that what is taking place in Nova Scotia is being done at the level that Nova Scotians are known around the world for, with the hospitality and warmth. When someone arrives in Nova Scotia with a problem, it is normally our tradition to show up and help. Where was the department? It goes right back to that very simple question. You say you put one extra person on at the Visitor Information Centre.
When did you do that? Was that done 10 days into this, 15 days into this, was this done on a rotating basis?
MS. DEAN: Well, I can check on that. I don't have the exact date but, again, it is the department's role to market the province, it is the department's role to ensure that visitors experience Nova Scotia and enjoy their visit. We will assist the airport authority where we can, where it's realistic, where it's feasible, but again, this is a unique situation. The contingency plans need to be improved, obviously.
We have resources at the Visitor Information Centre available to help but in a situation like that where we are not directly involved in moving passengers from point A to point B, that is the airlines. We are there to do what we can to help but we cannot take the lead in that situation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the information of those who may not have been to committee meetings recently, what we have done in the first round is allow each caucus 15 minutes. Mr. McNeil started at 9:14 a.m. and ended at 9:29 a.m. Ms. Massey, you will be granted 15 minutes as well. I would invite you to begin now.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My question is for the deputy minister. In the binder, the information we have been given on this topic, it is stated - and you have probably stated here already this morning - that 26 per cent of tourists arrive here by air, so the airport is a very important factor for tourism in Nova Scotia. When we're talking about, for example, last July, 83,000 people arriving here by plane, that is a big chunk of change that's coming into this province, as far as economic development is concerned. Also American traffic has been down by 22 per cent, and also Canadian traffic has been down by 5 per cent. So we're looking at some numbers on the downward trend.
I was looking through this information and trying to figure out my line of questioning and what kind of relationship your department has with the Halifax International Airport Authority. You have mentioned here this morning that you have quarterly meetings, but also, do you not have a representative on their board, a one-member appointed person on that board?
MS. DEAN: The department does not have a representative on the board of the airport authority.
MS. MASSEY: The province.
MS. DEAN: The province does, yes. That's Paul Gurr. He is appointed through Transportation and Public Works, through Minister Russell.
MS. MASSEY: Is it not also true that he actually is on a leave of absence and has been since January? He has been on a leave of absence from January to July, because he's actually applying to be the president of the HIAA.
MS. DEAN: It's my understanding he had been, yes.
MS. MASSEY: So what I would like to know is if he was the provincial appointee on that board, I'm wondering, how does he report back the comings and goings? We all knew that this operation was going to happen at the airport, that there was going to be a lot of construction going on for 10 years. If the one appointee the province has was not even there from January to July, how is that information going to be reported back? A quarterly meeting doesn't seem to me to be a lot of communication between a big authority like the airport and the Tourism Department. I'm just wondering if you actually have contact with the provincial appointee on that board, also?
MS. DEAN: We would have contact with the provincial appointee through our quarterly meetings. I guess what I'll say is that we do get in-depth information at these quarterly meetings. These are two- to three-hour meetings that we have. They're full briefings. So there is a fair amount of information that is disseminated between the departments. Again, that's a higher level, and it involves ourselves, Transportation and Public Works, Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as Intergovernmental Affairs. So the kinds of issues that we may be updated on could be regulatory issues, major construction projects, things that we collaboratively would have an interest in.
But at a staff level, we also work very closely. So our staff, our Director of Sales and Partnerships actually works very closely with the Directors of Marketing and the Directors of Sales at the airport on a very regular basis because we're involved in specific marketing initiatives. So there's contact at many levels of our organization with the airport authority for specific purposes, in addition to those quarterly briefings. I guess my reliance on the provincial appointee, that's not where I would be getting my information, I'm getting it from the quarterly briefings and also from our staff who work very closely with the airport authority staff.
MS. MASSEY: I just find that when I look at that, it's kind of a convenient lapse of a person being there, just at the right time when the whatever is going to hit the fan. It sort of takes the heat off the province, because the HIAA can say, well, it's not really the province's fault, because their appointee wasn't there, he had taken a leave of absence. So I just find that it's kind of a coincidence of convenience, perhaps.
MS. DEAN: Well, with respect, I have spoken, as I said, to Peter Clarke, and I know that he has held extensive briefings. I don't think that would be perceived as an excuse in any way. I think that the airport has clearly acknowledged that it could have done a better job of briefing, but I can't speak for Paul Gurr's role and where his points of contact are.
MS. MASSEY: What I would like to move on to, in the same topic, is the communications and the relationship that the Halifax International Airport Authority has with their stakeholders. My understanding is that - and I'm assuming that as Deputy Minister of Tourism you would have a lot of contact with that organization - the airport authority had some kind of an agreement that they thought the stakeholders wanted them to not really let the public know all the nitty-gritty details of what actually could go on and happen with the construction that was going to go on out there, and that maybe if they gave out too much information prior to the construction occurring that it would scare off tourists, that perhaps too much information might be a bad thing, and they didn't want to talk about worst-case scenarios, they wanted to keep that away from the general public out there, from American tourists and Canadians and the rest of us here in Nova Scotia.
So one of the things they didn't do was talk about worst-case scenarios. What really happened was that tourists were never pre-warned of what the bigger possibility could be, and one of those was sitting around the airport for two days. We've heard some examples of that here this morning, so I won't go into all the sad details of children and parents at the airport. Do you believe that the public did have the right? Would your department say that the public really did have the right to know what the worst-case scenario could be at that airport with construction going on?
MS. DEAN: I think that better information could have helped people plan better.
MS. MASSEY: Is your department recommending to the Halifax International Airport Authority that in the future they need to really upgrade their communications, and that they're not a stand-alone organization, that their operation has a huge impact on the economics of Nova Scotia and what's going to happen here in the future as we move along this road? The company that the airport authority had hired never really looked into worst- case scenarios. Is that going to be a problem with your department? Have you had talks with the airport authority so that in the future they would do things in a different way?
MS. DEAN: I did have those discussions with Peter Clarke, and he did brief me on the enhanced communications efforts that they have undertaken. They do realize, and hindsight is always 20/20, and again I don't like to speak on their behalf, and I know that when you have the opportunity to ask them questions, they will tell you this, they do recognize that better updates, more public advisories and a more aggressive communications plan is something that's required, and we certainly support that.
MS. MASSEY: I guess now that the damage has been done, it is going to be hard to change the perception out there. The airport had worked very diligently in the past in really building a reputation out there. So we're not sure of, everybody sitting here this morning - that's one of the reasons we're here - what kind of damage has been done. I'm sure there has been some. I would like to know, what is your department going to do as far as damage
control for the tourism industry in Nova Scotia? What specific steps are you taking or have you taken to do some damage control with what happened out at the airport?
MS. DEAN: I think we have to put this in perspective. We don't know the true impact yet because we don't have the numbers and the airport is trying very aggressively to calculate exactly the number of passengers that were affected and our visitation numbers. So in terms of the actual economic impact of this on tourism, that one is difficult to know right now. I'm where you are, I don't know exactly what the true impact is.
In terms of the reputation of the province, we will continue to market aggressively. We will continue to market Nova Scotia as a tourism destination, as a hospitable destination, and we are going to be working closely with the airport authority to ensure that the kinds of contingency plans are in place to help those passengers who may be inconvenienced. They, in turn, are also working closely with the airlines and are having discussions with them to see if they can improve their response in some way. So there are a number of things along those lines and, as I said before, if we have the opportunity to communicate directly with some of those passengers who were affected, we are going to do it, but we need to have the airlines' co-operation in order to do that.
There is going to be continuing dialogue between ourselves, as there always has been, but even more now that we are aware of what fog can do under these circumstances. The airport authority says that the worst of it is over because a lot of the impact was felt when the intersection was being worked on. That is completed but we can't sit on our laurels and expect that we might not have a similar situation. So we will continue the dialogue with the HIAA, we will make sure that those contingency plans are in place and that the communications strategies are sound.
MS. MASSEY: So you have requested some contact information, have you then, from the airport authority and their stakeholders, the different carriers to contact people who were stranded?
MS. DEAN: We have letters ready. The minister is signing letters to the airport CEOs to ask them for that information or to have an ability for us to get a message to them on our behalf.
MS. MASSEY: I have about three minutes left, Mr. Chairman, I think. In some of the information in this binder, it's pretty clear that two-thirds of our visitors arrive by car. That's a lot of people who come here by car but as I stated, some of those numbers have dropped by fairly big chunks. Since 2002, there appears to have been a trend, as stated in here, that more visitors are coming by air and less by road. That's from the information that we were given. It also states that gasoline prices may be contributing to this trend. It's called "the trend" in here. Can you make some comments on how you think the government that you are the deputy minister for can address those high gas prices and maybe reverse that trend?
MS. DEAN: There are a number of trends, as I mentioned earlier, that are affecting tourism. These are worldwide trends. These are global trends affecting tourism and high gas prices is something that is being felt throughout the industry, throughout Canada, throughout the United States. I know that Nova Scotia is looking at alternatives. I think Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations is doing a study right now, so we'll have to see what the outcome of that is. But there is no doubt that that may be affecting people's desire to travel beyond their own borders.
The other thing we have to keep in mind is that the U.S. travellers, who represent a significant portion of our visitors, don't appear to be travelling in as great numbers as they had in the past. Our year-to-date stats are showing us that our visitation is down 5 per cent, but it's not unusual for Nova Scotia to experience a slow start to the season and the travel patterns are changing, people are making their plans later, our season is shifting slightly. So there is a trend, it is continuing, but we are experiencing this along with Canada, along with our neighbouring Atlantic Provinces as well. Marsha, is there anything you would like to add to that?
MS. ANDREWS: No, except to say maybe they are two different questions: what can we do about gas prices and whether we can continue to motivate visitors. They are definitely connected but they are not always the same question. We may not be able to do anything about gas prices in the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, realistically, and honestly, we can probably do very little about gas prices or the perception of what increased gas prices will do in other places, like the United States. Realistically, Americans don't have an idea until they come here, frequently, what our gases prices are. They know that theirs are the highest they have ever been and their government is talking about increasing daylight saving time and doing all this kind of stuff because energy in the United States now is one of the things that is squarely on their radar screen.
Can we continue to motivate visitors from the United States? We absolutely believe that we can and right now, in 2005, this year, our campaign generated double digit increases from the United States in inquiries. There are market forces at work that, by the way, we are trying to pinpoint. We've got a pretty good idea, a lot of what those market forces are, that from the time someone receives the Doers and Dreamers Guide or downloads a pile of information or whatever they do and then actively decides to move out of the United States to come here, because I think particularly the question is about the United States, there are market forces at work and there are motivational forces at work that are affecting every single province in this country and that we are struggling with as well. They are a challenge for us. The question is, can we continue to motivate visitors? We absolutely believe we can.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Andrews. I would now like to move to Mr. Taylor.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, before I begin, my colleague to my right wished to bring up another issue relative to his earlier dialogue with you. So for a few minutes, could I yield to him?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Of your time? Sure, no problem.
MR. PARENT: Mr. Chairman, I just want to follow up on what I mentioned earlier at the start of this meeting. I'm referring to the initial letter that was the occasion for this meeting, from the NDP Critic for Tourism, Culture and Heritage, calling on the Halifax International Airport to be called to appear before the Economic Development Committee, and that's what we agreed on. What's happening here, because we have deviated from that, is that we are asking the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage to respond to questions they cannot respond to, to speak on someone else's behalf when they are not entitled to do that and it would be improper for them to do it. We are also being critical of the Halifax International Airport without having given them a chance to respond directly.
So I guess I just want to reiterate my point. The meeting is going on and we are going to have the meeting but really it's a meeting that is going to be rather fruitless because it was to be directed toward the Halifax airport. There are some questions we want to ask them. They are an excellent organization but we want to ask them some specific questions about what happened vis-à-vis the work they are doing there. Instead, we've pulled in the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.
The initial letter, the letter that I responded to, Mr. Chairman, is very clear that the Halifax International Airport be called upon to appear and that's going to happen on September 9th. So I think we should have waited until September 9th to have that meeting. I just want to state very clearly that what is happening then is we are asking the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage to respond to questions they can't answer properly and we are making criticism of the airport that they can't respond to because they're not here.
MS. MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. The airport authority is coming, I believe, on September 8th and I think it's only fair to the public that we get whatever answers we possibly can. Unfortunately, if the honourable member at the end of the row here can't see the connection between the Halifax International Airport Authority and the tourism industry, then that just points out that this government does have a bigger problem than we think.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parent, you still have the floor.
MR. PARENT: I can certainly see the connection but I see it done in the proper order. You ask the Halifax airport, which is where the initial problem - you ask and speak to them and determine what has happened with them directly and then you have the follow-up, which is what we are doing. We are meeting with the airport on September 9th and then we are
having a follow-up with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage on a wider perspective as well when there are some more facts. That's the order it should be done in. This meeting right now is not going to result in anything productive. I rest my case and I will turn it back to my colleague, through you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I'm just looking for clarification. Is our colleague from the Valley indicating that we should close our meeting and wait until the airport authority has a chance to appear before this committee, before we speak with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage? I'm confused. Listening to the deputy minister's opening comments this morning, I think many people here have many questions in response to those comments that the deputy minister made. I'm just looking for clarification from my honourable colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Gaudet. Mr. Parent.
MR. PARENT: I'm simply stating what I stated before. The initial request was for the airport and when they couldn't come in until September 8th, then in that case we should have scheduled the meeting for September 8th. We're in session now so I'm not asking this meeting to close down but I'm pointing out the unproductiveness of calling for a meeting, asking for a certain witness, and then when they can't appear or can't appear for a few weeks, instead of holding the meeting, which is normally what we do with sessions, Mr. Chairman - we want to meet with the Halifax International Airport Authority, they say, well, we can't appear until September 8th, we'd say, okay, well, we'll have our meeting on September 8th.
This is self-evident. That's what we normally do. I'm sort of puzzled as to why, instead of doing that and having that meeting on September 8th, and then following up on it with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage if we wanted to, why we decided to go ahead with this emergency meeting when the very people we want to talk to can't be here until September 8th.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I could provide a bit of clarification on that, Mr. Parent, you may want to refer to a letter received from Mr. Stephen McNeil, who did ask that the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage be brought in. The Halifax International Airport Authority was unavailable until September 8th but the Department of Tourism and Culture indicated that they would be prepared to come and meet with us here today. I should remind Mr. Parent the department has come here on their own free will and that is why we are having our meeting here today. The airport authority will be here on September 8th and the department will return on September 13th to give us an overview of the tourism industry in this province.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Perhaps I could begin by saying that I am extremely proud of the Halifax International Airport Authority and am extremely honoured that the international airport resides in my constituency. Over the last nearly 14 years now of being a politician, both municipal and provincial, I've had an opportunity to attend numerous stakeholder meetings. Just last year, in fact, we witnessed American Eagle Airlines launch service to New York's JFK three times a day; Continental Airlines added a fourth daily Summer flight to Newark, New Jersey; Northwest Airlines resumed daily, year-round service to Detroit; I attended a function recently by Zoom Airlines where they launched a service to Scotland and London; and on and on it goes. This is a first-rate, professional, classic entity.
Not only are they a dynamic international airport authority, as far as I'm concerned, when the federal Liberals decided to get out of running international airports across this country and become landlords and regulators, right in our backyard here in Nova Scotia, the Halifax International Airport Authority rolled up their sleeves and have done a bang-up job.
At no time was I any more proud than when on September 11, 2001, I was going home from the Legislature here, I believe, and saw all the planes lined up with various flags that they were flying, sitting at the Halifax International Airport. The hospitality that not only Nova Scotians, individual people, demonstrated to the world, the airport authority as well did a first-rate, bang-up job. So it's quite disappointing and somewhat disturbing that certain provincial and municipal politicians, and some media types, find it fashionable and a little bit sexy to bang up on our international airport authority. They manage one of the biggest economic engines in this province, and do it with a lot of grace and a lot of dignity. The awards, for example, that they won this year - they broke all kinds of awards on that particular front. They received three first place awards for customer service performance.
Well, we can't expect the provincial government to send somebody out to the airport every time a flight is cancelled. Do you realize, Mr. Chairman, that farmers, landscapers, road builders are, in certain situations, some three weeks behind because of what, because of the weather. We only need to look at the events of Tuesday at Pearson airport to realize how important decisions made relative to passenger safety are.
So while I'm not going to ask any questions of our presenters here this morning - I think they did, certainly, a very good job coming in here under a difficult situation and circumstance - it is very disappointing that the meeting seems to be focusing on the negative when we should be accentuating the positive of the Halifax International Airport.
Mr. Chairman, I think we should give the tourists who come to this province, whether they're Americans or whatever they are, wherever they're from, they're more sophisticated and more educated than to say, well, I'm not going back to Nova Scotia because my flight was delayed. Sure, a few golfers had some difficulty, and some other people with flights, and maybe the communication could have been a little better. I think that has been acknowledged
in spades, not only here this morning, it was acknowledged in our media across the province. So why don't we quit beating up on the Halifax International Airport and the authority. They're doing a great job and I'm going to continue supporting them every way I can. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor, your caucus still has approximately five minutes left. Does anyone wish to take that time? Mr. Parent.
MR. PARENT: Well, speaking about the airport, I want to follow up on what my colleague said about safety. We'll have a chance on September 8th - and, again, I feel sort of funny talking here when the people I want to talk to aren't here. I would want to reiterate his comment that it is absolutely crucial that patient safety be put first. If the Opposition are suggesting that patient safety should have been compromised - they wouldn't be saying that at all, I know that - in order to up tourism numbers. That's one thing.
Again, it feels very odd when we're talking and the organization we want to talk to and ask questions of, Mr. Chairman, isn't here. We do have some questions. The communications plan could be improved, clearly. That's been acknowledged, second-hand, from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. I'd like to hear if the airport authority, themselves, say that and what suggestions they would have for improving the communications plan.
I do want to reiterate with my colleague that patient safety is first. We've seen what happened at Pearson and with the abnormal weather, with the fog. We want to commend our airport for putting patient safety first. If that inconveniences some tourism, then that is unfortunate and, certainly, we don't want that to happen, but we do want patient safety to be first.
Mr. Chairman, I don't have questions, really, to ask of Tourism at this stage until I do the proper questioning of the airport authority and find out exactly what happened, what they delays were caused by. I've read some of the literature in here from the Halifax airport. It seems that they were giving good advance notice, that they had everything on schedule, were planning well and then had this sort of abnormal fog condition. I want to ask them that and I won't have the opportunity until September 8th, so I have no questions of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. I will turn it over to my colleague from Fall River.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hines, you have approximately three minutes.
MR. GARY HINES: Mr. Chairman, first I would like to reiterate the reason that I am here today. I'm here today because I responded to a request by Ms. Massey to appear on an emergency situation regarding the HIAA. I know our chairman suggested there was a following letter by Mr. McNeil but I'm not sure that it indicated the urgency and the
requirement that there be an emergency meeting. We are scheduled for September 13th, so I would just like to say that I am here today expecting and wishing to talk to the HIAA first.
However, I am going back to the old adage, you can lead a horse to the water but you can't make it drink. I had a conversation with the Halifax International Airport as an HRM Councillor before I came to Province House. I attended all their stakeholder meetings that I was invited to. It was suggested back in 2003 that there would be disruption at the Halifax International Airport as a requirement by international inspections to make them capable of handling international flights. So in 2003, the conversation began about projects at the Halifax International Airport. So if there are some who didn't make it a point to get the information that they need or chose not to use the information to make the situation better and put a positive spin on it, then they missed something because the opportunity was there to get the information.
As recently as last week, the HIAA provided two stakeholder meetings and I attended one. I didn't see any faces in this room - yes I did see one face in this room - in attendance. Others could have been there and got the answers from HIAA. It's also made available in 127 media events. That leads me to my comment. I think that the media in this province severely let the people of this province down in the way they handled this event, with the exception of perhaps CBC Radio. They got nothing but backhanded comments about how incompetent they were and that really disturbs me when you see the HIAA running the environmental engine that they run and economic engine that they run in this province, then I think it is asinine that we accuse them of not observing the safety of the passengers arriving at HIA as the number one priority.
Now there was a statement made earlier that the HIA seemingly doesn't understand the economic impact that interruption in air travel would have. I assure you, Mr. Chairman, if there is anybody in this province who understands the economic impact of air travel, it would be the Halifax International Airport Authority. So with that I give of my time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Hines. For the next round, I invite members - we will be taking about 10 minutes for the next round and with the third round it will be about seven or eight minutes, if that's acceptable to the members. I have Ms. More next.
MS. MARILYN MORE: Welcome. I agree we can't change what happened but I see this committee's role and particularly in the next two meetings, today's and the one in September with the authority, to encourage the various stakeholders to actually analyze their role in what happened and act on the lessons learned. We can agree that many factors affect tourism in this province and your department's own figures admit that tourism was down 5 per cent before July's fog and the runway upgrading.
So I'm just going to veer off in a slightly different direction and ask about your department's responsibility for maintaining and strengthening not the airport infrastructure, but perhaps the cultural and heritage infrastructure that acts as a huge draw to tourists to this province. We've heard some concerns expressed by community museums, for example, that their funding was down and I'm just wondering if you could respond to the concern from that sector and the cultural sector that they don't have as much support and resources from the Province of Nova Scotia to not only maintain what they are doing both for our own citizens and for tourists, but to hopefully strengthen and encourage an improvement in that sector.
MS. DEAN: You raised a really good point. Culture and heritage are a key component, a critical component in tourism. They provide the experience that many of our tourists have when they are here and they come seeking that. They are critical to the province. You are right. There have been many community museums and organizations that have expressed some concern about the support for the organizations in the province. So that is specifically why we've started a heritage strategy.
The province is partnering with the Nova Scotia Federation of Heritage as well as Voluntary Planning. We are going to be headed to public consultation in the Fall on heritage because we need to determine what we are going to do in the future for heritage, what kind of resources are needed and what the roadmap for that should look like. Although I didn't come here specifically to talk about heritage and culture, I can assure you that we recognize that there is an issue there and we are very much looking forward to hearing from Nova Scotians about what they value in heritage in the province and what their ideas are for preserving it and protecting it and ensuring that it remains attractive to our visitors and that it's also protected for future Nova Scotians.
MS. MORE: Unfortunately, under this government sometimes consultations are almost a code word and a code process for delaying decisions on putting the resources where it's well known that they have to go. So why, if this strategy development is underway, would you cut funding for some of these organizations and groups so that they have to struggle even more and also when do you expect to be able to have some concrete results to be able to provide those supports to these groups? There is concern that many of them will go under. In the meantime, it's going to make our province less attractive to tourists and it's going to compound the problem.
So I think we all agree that there are many factors affecting tourism, but I hold the department responsible for the ones that they have the control over. Not providing necessary resources and timely strategy and plans for them to connect with is totally within your department, so why the delay and why lower the amount of resources available? It doesn't make sense.
MS. DEAN: I guess I'm not aware, specifically, of what you are referring to in terms of lowering the resources available. We do have our overall budget which has remained stable for Culture and for Heritage. There were some slight increases, actually, in Heritage within this fiscal year but, again, the department has a limited number of resources and it makes evaluations based on those resources through the application process and we do our best to be fair and to provide the resources and distribute the resources that we have to work with on a required basis.
Actually, we have 27 provincial museums that we support through our core budget and there is also a community museum program that we use to help some of those smaller museums around the province. I guess what I can tell you is that we do the best with the resources that we have and we are hoping that through the strategy we will be able to identify what other resources may be required or where those resources are best placed.
MS. MORE: How quickly will that strategy take effect?
MS. DEAN: Again, as I said, we are starting the public consultations in the Fall so I'm hoping that we will have the results and the recommendations of that in early Spring.
MS. MORE: So it could possibly be included in the upcoming budget in the Spring?
MS. DEAN: That would be nice. I can't promise that in the public consultation process.
MS. MORE: No, I realize that those decisions are made by the politicians and the best you can do is make recommendations, but I actually serve on the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Board so I've recently become much more aware of the struggles and challenges facing these local organizations. Their costs are just increasing unbelievably and the amount of resources and the competition among organizations within communities is increasing, so it has become a very difficult challenge for them. I would hate to have that kind of infrastructure disappear or weaken in the meantime. So it's something that really both your department and Cabinet have to take a serious look at.
The other question I want to ask is to follow up on my colleague's concern about the leave of absence for the provincial appointee on the airport authority. I got a sense from your earlier answers that you may have been suggesting that your department had not been made aware of the worst-case scenario. I'm just wondering if that provincial appointee had been at those meetings, obviously he would be up to date on all the implications of the airport upgrading and possibly would have been in a position to inform the relevant departments as to the full, comprehensive impact of some of that work. In the past, have you received that kind of relevant information from provincial appointees?
MS. DEAN: As I said, I haven't required it because I felt that the information I was getting was comprehensive. It's difficult to speak for the provincial appointee and his relationship with the different departments.
MS. MORE: I can only assume that if you didn't get the full picture, as you suggest, from your meetings with the government-airport collaboration committee - was that what you called it?
MS. DEAN: The industry consultation committee.
MS. MORE: Okay, industry consultation committee, that obviously a higher level of decision making, which would have been the authority's own board of directors, they must have been fully informed of possible impacts, depending on certain situations. So I see it as a real gap in the communication between the government and its departments and the airport authority, the fact that that representative wasn't in place during some of those crucial months. I'll just leave that. I'd like to pass my remaining time over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein, you have just under two minutes.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: What I'd like to know is this, you suggested that the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage is seeking the opportunity in a legal way to contact people who might have been inconvenienced, passengers that is to say. What's the minister going to say when he writes this letter? Let's assume that he finds a way to send a letter, what will the message of the letter be? What's the minister going to say to these people?
MS. DEAN: I'll have to discuss that with the minister.
MR. EPSTEIN: It seems to be a good thing to think about it now, and speed is of the essence on all of this.
MS. DEAN: Absolutely.
MR. EPSTEIN: It seems to me that the sooner the minister figures out what he's going to say and whether he's going to simply apologize or make an offer of some kind in a tangible way to either offer a free meal if people come back or a free hotel night or something like that. It seems to me it's essential to get a letter in people's hands with speed, because that matters a lot in terms of PR, if you're looking to reach out and make contact with people.
Let's just look at the mechanics of this for a second. When the airlines that the minister is trying to . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein, if it's the will of the committee, I can let you continue on your last round, if you want to proceed with your line of questioning. You have about eight minutes left on the last round, if you wish to take it now.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can I take it out of the next round? That's fine, okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Continue.
MR. EPSTEIN: When the minister writes to the airlines and says we would like to contact these passengers, can we find a way to do it, will that be the first the airlines will have heard of it, or has there been some preliminary contact with the airlines at a staff level, at a lower level than between the minister and the presidents of the airlines? Has that happened already?
MS. DEAN: The minister is writing - the letter is going out. He has written. We have to get contact and . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: The question was, is this going to be the first they'll hear of it, that this is a request, or has it already been lined up?
MS. DEAN: It will be the first they'll hear from the minister. I'm sorry.
MR. EPSTEIN: Has it already been lined up at the staff level? That's my question.
MS. DEAN: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: So someone in your department has been in touch with people at the different airlines to say the minister is going to be making this request, and will you facilitate it? Is that really what has been going on?
MS. DEAN: Well, the mechanics of that - I've spoken with the airport authority, I've let them know our approach, and they are giving me the contact information. The letters are ready to go.
MR. EPSTEIN: Let me tell you, this is very inefficient. It's a really bad idea. It's a month after this has taken place, and if the first the airlines are going to hear is when it lands on the president's desk, a letter from Rodney MacDonald, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage for the Province of Nova Scotia, that they would kind of like to send a letter out to people who were passengers and who were inconvenienced, this is way too delayed.
Some kind of staff level contact should have taken place immediately after this, to make sure that the airlines knew that this request was going, to feel out what it was that the legal obstacles might be, to find a way to get around the legal obstacles. You suggested that
there might be a protection of privacy issue. If that's the case, then the suggestion should have been made at the staff level that the government doesn't need to know who these letters are going to, that we'll pay for the postage, and the airline, who will know the passengers, can send those out. All those kinds of mechanics should have been laid out before. That's my point. Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You still have until 10:20 a.m.
MR. EPSTEIN: No. What I'm saying is we'll skip over and come back to this round, but the two minutes or whatever will be taken out of the next round. Isn't that what I thought we had arranged?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. We can do that. Mr. Gaudet.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I think it was said here very well, the role that the Halifax International Airport plays in the provincial economy and the impact it has on the tourism sector, but looking back as it was mentioned here this morning by a number of my colleagues, the difficulties that took place at the airport, especially in the last month, early July.
I thought coming in here this morning we were going to find out exactly what kind of role that our provincial Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage played in this disruption. When I look at a press release that the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage issued this morning, Mr. Chairman - and I will table this if people would like to see a copy of it - that the minister, ". . . and senior department officials will also meet with the new president and chief executive officer of the Halifax International Airport Authority to discuss remaining runway construction work and ensure contingency plans are in place." My first question is, where has the department been? Why do we have to wait until August 4th to try to set up a meeting?
As it was mentioned here this morning, many of our tourists are leaving the Province of Nova Scotia with a bitter taste in their mouths. I'm very disappointed that we are still waiting, I guess, to meet with the airport authority to try to see if there is any possible way that we can help, if there is anything we can do. We are going to be writing letters to these passengers to apologize, to try to make them come back to visit us. I guess my question is, I'm trying to find out, did our Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage play a part in trying to help out in any possible way that they could?
MS. DEAN: Our department is in close contact with the HIAA, because I may have quarterly meetings, but I think we need to also remember that at a staff level we work very closely with the HIAA so there would be constant contact there. In the wake of this
unfortunate situation, the department did what it could do through its Visitor Information Centre, keeping in mind that again I have to say that moving passengers from point A to point B is the responsibility of the airlines and they have to deal with their passengers.
The other point that I would also like to remind you of is the fact that at the airport authority, during this period, the new president hadn't taken over. She has just started now, so we need to build a new relationship and need to build a solid relationship with her. We are paying attention, obviously, and so is the HIAA. Again, as I indicated before, they are going out of their way to enhance their communications efforts and they have acknowledged that they need to do that. We are one of the stakeholders that were not briefed in as much detail as we needed to be and we are looking forward to what we can do on a go-forward basis to, as I said, ensure that the right kinds of contingency plans are in place to deal with these situations.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I've heard at least several times mentioned here this morning that it's the airport, it's the airlines' responsibility to move the passengers through the airport. I'm just wondering if our provincial department did not feel that they had a responsibility at all to try to offer any way they could help, to try to talk to these passengers who were being moved by the airlines or by the authority. I'm just curious why the department did not extend, offer, come forward and try to help in any possible way they could inside the airport, speaking with these passengers who were - I suspect many of them were unhappy at the time.
MS. DEAN: You know I think, again, we need to speak with the HIAA to talk about what they did do. If there was something that our staff who were there at the time could have done to help, absolutely, I'm sure we would do that, but the HIAA has an extensive network of volunteers throughout the airport who take care of passenger comforts and do what they can to help in situations like this. At times like this, the passengers' main concern is how they are going to get from where they are to where they need to go and the airlines - again, I'm not trying to lay blame here at all, but I'm saying that you need to look at the whole picture and who has the answer that the customer wants and that's the airlines - they have to be the ones to say we can get you where you need to go or we can't. Again, as I said before, it's an unfortunate situation and we hope we don't have it again in the magnitude that it happened.
MR. GAUDET: I'm just wondering, did our provincial Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage offer to help? Did we step up to the plate? Did we extend our hands out to those passengers who were caught in those lineups at the airport? Did we offer to help? Did we?
MS. DEAN: I'm sure that our staff who were on-site at the time offered to help in whatever way they could.
MR. GAUDET: Did the provincial government, did the Minister and Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, make any contact with the airport authority to extend our open arms?
MS. DEAN: Absolutely, there was contact made.
MR. GAUDET: There was?
MS. DEAN: There was contact made after the event happened because we were very concerned about the impacts that it would have going forward on some of the significant events that were happening in the province. So we did make contact to find out what it was we could do. As I indicated before, we talked specifically about the instance of the LPGA because we were concerned about how that would impact a very significant tourism event.
MR. GAUDET: So contacts were made and we were told to do what? Just to help with the LPGA?
MS. DEAN: No, contacts were made and the airport said they would find ways to have alternate arrangements made and ensure that the organizers of the events knew what kinds of contingency plans to put in place which would mean diverting flights to another location, arranging for ground transportation to bring players or spectators in who couldn't have gotten there. Those are the kinds of contingency plans that would have been put in place.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I just want to pick up on a point. I want to move on to something else because in the opening comments that the deputy made this morning, she talked about something that really touched me and touched many people in the western part of the province. She mentioned about the cancellation of the Scotia Prince. I think everyone agrees with her that the Scotia Prince plays a very significant role in the economy and the tourism sector of the western end of the province and in all of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Chairman, I'm looking at the department's 2005-06 business plan and I see absolutely no word mentioned about the Scotia Prince, yet we knew last August there were dangerous levels of toxic mould that were discovered in the terminal facility in Portland and then in April of this year, Scotia Prince was cancelled. So my question to the deputy is, what did the department do to mitigate the damage to the industry with the loss of the Scotia Prince?
MS. DEAN: As I indicated, the loss of the Scotia Prince was a very difficult circumstance for us to deal with because it happened at the end of April, two days before the Scotia Prince was set to sail. So a lot of the planning and a lot of the initiatives that we were looking at that may have involved the Scotia Prince, we couldn't follow through on.
Our department has been very actively involved in this since it happened. Staff have been working with people in Yarmouth and also working with the other operator, Bay Ferries, to see if there is a way to mitigate this unfortunate circumstance and to see if there is a way to increase the capacity or to move the capacity from the Scotia Prince over to The Cat.
When the situation first happened, immediately we were in contact with the tour operators, those who had group bookings, to see if we could encourage them to find another route to Nova Scotia and to let them know that Nova Scotia was indeed open for business even though we didn't have one of the major carriers, one of the major ferries. Since that time, we've also undertaken aggressive marketing campaigns.
Marsha, I'm going to let you expand on that because you've been on the ground with that, and also recently in Portland to discuss the restoration of a route.
MS. ANDREWS: To say that we aren't missing the Scotia Prince would be stupid because this province, overall, is really missing the access from a core area close to Boston, a service that has been coming into this province for 30 years. Unfortunately, southwestern Nova Scotia - not southwestern Nova Scotia as much as Yarmouth and the western area of the province - is actively being affected. In some cases, the traffic is being diverted. In some cases, I think it is fair to say that motivation to travel here has been affected by the fact that we only have one service - well, road traffic is being affected by someone who would be motivated to come by a ferry and then to drive through the province. So there is no question, from day one, we knew this was going to be a problem and day one, in our case, was April 2nd.
We have been working with the Yarmouth County Tourism Association. We have been working with Bay Ferries. We have been working with the National Tour Association, AAA, a whole variety of people actively to promote the fact that Nova Scotia remains open for business. There are ways to get here. You can take The Cat. Aside from the circumstances at the airport, the airport is a very effective way to get here and, of course, passengers are still driving. In fact, access into the province through the entry point, which is Digby, is up because customers are actually coming through New Brunswick, getting on the Princess of Acadia and travelling to the province through the Digby area.
To give the top line of what we've done, the very first thing we have done and have continued to do is be in very constant access with the people in Yarmouth County and that tourism association and the operators in that area. We have met with the Destination Southwest Nova group and we all know that we are on the same page. We have worked directly, as Kelliann mentioned, with the tour operators who bring primarily motorcoach into this province because Scotia Prince was an active source of motorcoach.
Immediately, literally the day after Scotia Prince - because we were notified in the evening, and then the next morning we sent a note, we did a couple of things right off the bat. First of all, we contacted all of the motorcoach companies directly through our own sales staff and through Bay Ferries sales staff, actively saying we can accommodate you if you want to move. A vast majority of that motorcoach traffic, which was then booked at that point in time, in fact transferred to another source, whether it be the Princess of Acadia or Bay Ferries, to get here.
For the passenger who drives and frequently takes a ferry to get here, in the United States, AAA is profoundly influential. The American Automobile Association is profoundly influential and we have been doing a lot of work this year and actually using the 2 million member database of AAA Northeast, which is obviously the northeastern part of the United States, and actively talking to, as best we can, through AAA, the customers who would be interested in coming here. We are working with Bay Ferries on a constant basis, we are in constant contact with them, and we've been talking to the City of Portland so we know what is happening in and around Portland. They are missing a ferry service to Nova Scotia. We are missing the ferry service from the United States and they are missing the one from Nova Scotia, so we are working with them as well.
A couple of the things that we have done and are just about to happen now, we are actively moving pieces of our campaign in the northeast and in Atlantic Canada, we are moving it up. There are certain pieces of material, actually I have copies here of a newspaper insert which I think is Saturday. It goes into Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire on August 7th, to be dropped on August 7th actually. It is a newspaper insert of about 300,000 that is going into newspapers in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire: Just a little to the north you will find a lot of warmth, based on the campaign that we currently have in the market and full of packages to come to Nova Scotia. These are the Bay Ferries packages so these are the ones that will land in and around the Yarmouth end of the province. That is going in now. This is a piece that is being moved up from later in the year.
We are also doing a direct mail piece of approximately 95,000 copies as well that is being dropped this week to Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and those are the key capture areas now that we believe we can influence on a short-term basis to take a trip to Nova Scotia over the next number of months using either The Cat, the Princess of Acadia, or to drive or fly. I mean we are open for business, come here. From the very outset, a lot of what we've been doing is to reinforce to customers that even though the Scotia Prince has a 30-year history of bringing people here, it's not the only way to get here.
The industry associations, the motorcoach companies, the tour operators and that sort of thing are saying to us now, okay, we know you are managing through this year as best you can, what's going on for next year? We are actively working with them to ensure that we are
able to provide them with the answers that they need to sell an enhanced Nova Scotia service, an enhanced Nova Scotia product to their customers again next year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Andrews. I would now like to move some time to the Tory caucus. Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to focus on the Halifax International Airport again, if I could. I just want to point out, as I understand it, the work on the runway was largely unavoidable because runways, as unfortunate as it seems, are at the end of what is their 20-year life cycle. I know that the appropriate people regarding the authority did speak with all airline partners about the pending construction and you know they have people in place obviously for operational and communication matters and again, I just want to say that I'm well satisfied that they did their job.
I can't speak for the airlines because obviously we don't have the necessary knowledge on that front, but I would like to say that the Halifax International Airport had received over 3.2 million passengers, which is an unbelievable number, that number is up. As well, cargo service increased I think nearly 9 per cent. That's a very important component of the good work that the Halifax International Airport Authority does.
Certainly we are competing for tourists and we are competing on all fronts. The minister and the department are certainly working hard, but we have a lot of private enterprise in the Province of Nova Scotia that doesn't get the credit that they actually deserve. So I just want to vouch for not only the airport authority but for all people in the Province of Nova Scotia who bring tourists to this province because people come for different reasons and believe you me, in most cases, if stars align correctly, people will come back. I can tell you that.
I spoke about the Halifax International Airport breaking records on the so-called awards front, but one very prestigious award that the airport received - and I believe they didn't receive enough acknowledgement for - was the Superhost. The Halifax International Airport is the first Superhost airport in the world and it's internationally recognized and it's recognized because of their customer service training programs, and that requires a high level of participation from the first-class, front-line staffers at the airport. So possibly folks who have concerns with the airport haven't really had the opportunity, and as politicians, irrespective of level, we are very busy. I would encourage members who have issues or feel they have issues with the Halifax International Airport Authority to find time in their schedule to go up and visit with those folks, and take advantage when the numerous e-mails are sent out to people across the province to attend their stakeholder briefings and/or general meeting.
I have to say that while it's apparent that there may have been some communication concerns regarding the difficulties that were experienced in July, it hasn't been provided to me in black and white that that was the case, because a lot of communication did take place. Are they going to try to improve and come up with a contingency plan? Yes. But I have to say that as far as I understand it, the worst is probably over now. There are going to be upgrades, and you can't repair runways when there's frost. It is all focusing on the weather.
I trust that members will give the Halifax International Airport Authority the benefit of the doubt, and continue supporting this entity that had to take management of the airport because of the move that the federal Liberal Government took. The federal government, again - I think it's worth repeating - decided, Mr. Chairman, that they no longer are going to manage and run the day-to-day operations of airports. They are now the landlord and regulator.
So we're left with a very responsible body here in Nova Scotia, the HIAA. If you attended their most recent GAM, the results are fantastic, they're absolutely unbelievable. I'm very proud of them, and the fact that 3.2 million-plus passengers travelled in and out of our airport is certainly, I believe, evidence that things are working well at the airport. I'll leave it at that and, if there's any time, I'd like to yield to my colleague, the member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hines.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I would like to go back to a statement that I made earlier about the media getting the proper message out. I would like to make the statement that in this morning's ChronicleHerald, in the Business section, there's an information piece there. They did a fantastic job of getting the message out that Chairman of the Board of Directors Bernie Miller wanted to put out there and that was available to them some time ago. The ChronicleHerald did do a good job with that one, and I want to make that plain.
I would also like to make some comments regarding the Halifax Regional Municipality's approach to this whole issue. I think that it would be fair to say that the mayor spoke before he really had any information available to him, when he made the derogatory comments and attempted again - as he does on occasion - to put the province down, in not responding to these issues. Since that time, I know that Mr. Miller, the chairman of the board, and Peter Clarke, the acting president, met with the mayor, and certainly the mayor's feelings towards the job that the HIAA did in handling this situation have been rectified in his mind - I've had that relayed to me personally.
I think that when the information that's out there and the opportunity is taken to study it, and to go back to the initial onset of the project in 2003 when it was known that it had to take place, because it's required to upgrade this facility, and the fact that it was indicated there would be five years of disruptions, as Mr. Taylor said before me, the major part is done
now, because the intersection that services both of the runways that are available has been looked after with the lighting and so on that needed to be done. So that part is done.
I think if there was any area that maybe we need to put some renewed efforts into, it would be in relation to passenger comforts; however, at the meeting with Mr. Miller and Peter Clarke, the acting president at the time, it was brought to their attention by Air Canada and WestJet that they were totally satisfied with the way that the HIAA had handled this, because all the information that needed to come, with the Canadian navigation systems, Transport Canada had given their blessing for all these things to take place at the airport, and short of weather conditions, it's to be understood that there would be disruptions and these disruptions were made plain to the transportation people who handle the passengers. They also indicated that they had increased staff during these events, that they had also increased the attendance to the concerns of the passengers at the airport.
Now to suggest that that's the responsibility of the province, I think it's certainly something we need to pay attention to, but they were satisfied in their conversation that those things had been looked after by the people responsible for passenger comfort, the airlines and the concessions people and so on at the airport. That concern didn't seem to be that evident. I'd like to leave the international airport issue and go back to the tourism sector.
This weekend gone by, I had campers set up in my yard because there were no accommodations available in metro, so perhaps a late season is going to help turn around the tourist situation. I just wanted to put that in there to indicate that last weekend - the figures aren't out yet, but I'm sure they would add to your numbers, drastically, within the HRM anyway.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein, your caucus has approximately four minutes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Perhaps I'll just use them to make a couple of quick points to you that I think would be useful to bear in mind. First, of course, is that I really do agree with my colleague, the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, that in general the HIAA does a good job. What we're focused on here, however, is an instance in which we have some concerns. The concern is a concern about service, not safety but service, to passengers who are very important to the provincial economy. I hope that when you participate in the industry consultation committee that you'll take that message back, that we are concerned about the service side of it, to make sure that efforts as great as possible are made to make sure that the service side of it is always looked to and borne in mind.
Second, though, is that when I think about the beautiful Musquodoboit Valley, I'm aware that it's beautiful but it's foggy. I'm old enough to know when the airport was established. One of the factors in choosing an airport that's 33 kilometres outside of the central metro core is that a site was chosen that, in part, was found not to be foggy. But then, of course, hundreds of acres of trees were cut down, and the site became an extremely foggy
site. Over the years, if you look at the history, there are lots of times when fog is a serious problem. Now I don't know the full pattern, year in, year out, as to what time of year it's the foggiest.
I guess what concerns us is it's not clear to what extent the fog factor was actually taken into account by the HIAA and the company that it is dealing with for the repairs when it came to scheduling those repairs. If it wasn't, then that's really an error. If, in fact, it was deemed just sort of beside the point because the work had to be done, then there's a knock-on effect in terms of fairness and service to the potential users of the airport. That's really what I think would concern us.
What we haven't heard - and it's likely you don't even know the answer to this - is whether it's possible to have done this work at any other time of the year or a little later in the season or to split it up and do it partly earlier, partly later, ways that might have avoided the foggiest of potential seasons. And we don't even know if these were the most at-risk months or not. If you know the answer to that, I'd be happy to hear it.
MS. DEAN: I can try because I asked that question, too. What I was told is that this was the best time of year to do it, that they had looked at the weather patterns, and they'd looked at fog, and actually in their briefing they have an indication of fog weather data . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: It's just two years of data, I saw that, which isn't good enough.
MS. DEAN: No, and I don't have the answer to your question. What I do know is that apparently they needed consecutive months of uninterrupted time to do the work that they needed to do. They're better qualified to answer that.
MR. EPSTEIN: The last quick point I want to make to you is this, I think it's important that you define your own role. Some of the questions that were asked of you today indicate that I think the department has to think about what its own role is going to be in extraordinary circumstances out at the airport, or at any other point of entry into the province. If it's just business as usual and we'll hand out maps and if people ask us questions, we'll give them directions, fine. But if you do expect of yourself, and I think we probably expect it of you, that there be something else done, given that even though you're not directly responsible for the airport, there's such a consequence for the economy of the province that we have to be proactive from time to time.
I hope that you do think about your own role and define in advance what you expect of yourselves and what you think is your appropriate role when these things do come around. I don't know if you have a contingency plan there in which you define your role, or whether you can encapsulate it for us right now; if so, that would be useful to hear.
MS. DEAN: I mean, that is definitely important, particularly in emergency situations. We do participate with EMO and look at what we do in times of crisis. Marsha, you were here with 9/11, so perhaps you can indicate what the department's role would have been in responding to that kind of situation, which was truly extraordinary.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I can stop you right there, Ms. Andrews, we are running low on time. Your last answer was approximately seven minutes. Something tells me, 9/11, you're good for about 15 minutes.
MS. ANDREWS: Easy. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would ask if you could, maybe, provide written correspondence to Mr. Epstein and the committee on that subject. With that, I would like to move on to the Progressive Conservative caucus, Mr. Hines.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I have a couple of items I would like to bring up, one being the fog conditions. The information that I have on fog conditions was that on the July 1st weekend, the fog conditions were - there was a 100 per cent increase in airport downtime over the 10-year average on that particular weekend, so they did have an almost unprecedented fog weekend, and that caused a great many of the problems in terms of being able to land there.
The other thing I would like to speak about is construction management. That's something I have a background in and I know something about. I know that the window of opportunity to move earth in the Province of Nova Scotia is a five-month window at best, this season being an exception because we had two particularly rainy months when you couldn't do a lot of the excavation work that required dry conditions. So to suggest that maybe we might have done something different in July, it was absolutely, totally impossible in order to get things cleared up, and the paving done and so on that's required for those runways, to have full access to them in the winter season. It was absolutely necessary this year, in particular, that that be recognized.
I know that in the excavation business - and, in particular, if you're digging a foundation or doing work around the house - individuals don't know that, nor should they need to know that, but I know that you have to make recommendations sometimes, that weather does affect you. So that explains why they identified a five-month contract, a five-month time period. That was agreed to by NAV CANADA and all the players, that they needed that five months. The fact that the weatherman rained on us big time over the July 1st weekend, and somewhat the following weekend, was quite important.
But I guess, in my closing remarks, before I pass to Brooke for a final statement, if you want to return to the glory days - I understand the federal government is anxious to take our airport back over because of the economic success that they've had - and let pyretic slate lay in state and pass it on, maybe, to the next owner so they have a $10 million remediation project, to protect the public and provide safety, then we can pass it back to the glory days of the former federal Liberal Party.
Now I will pass it to Brooke for the remaining time, Mr. Chairman, if you will.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor, you have two minutes.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I don't have a lot to say but, again, I want to point out that I am somewhat troubled that it seems as if we came in here this morning and focused on the Halifax International Airport Authority, realizing that no one has control over the weather, and so many other vocations are behind time because of the weather. I trust the worst is behind us. I'm confident it is. But maybe as a minority government we could do something positive and maybe that would be to establish an all-Party fog committee (Laughter). Maybe there's something we can do about fog being as thick as pea soup. Of course, I say that tongue-in-cheek.
Anyway, I just want to conclude again by saying that I'm confident that the airport authority, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, and the minister, are doing a bang-up job and Nova Scotians should not question for a moment the credibility and integrity of either of those very astute teams. I pass the time back to you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Taylor. If I could, for a few minutes, take my hat off as chairman and return as the MLA for Richmond and member of the Liberal caucus, let me preface my comments by saying, first of all, it would have been my hope that we would have seen leadership from your minister, that he, himself, would have come here today to answer the concerns of this committee. We know now that your minister is quite sensitive to criticism and, in fact, when criticized he has shot back by questioning others as to showing real leadership. The purpose of bringing your department here today was to ask why there was no leadership shown by your department in a unique situation when your department could have been there to help Nova Scotians and visitors to our province, who were in distress.
The Liberal caucus has not criticized the Halifax International Airport. The airport authority is responsible for running an airport, not the tourism industry in Nova Scotia. That is your department's responsibility. Their responsibility was to say when flights would be and when they were cancelled and when they would be rescheduled. They were not responsible to answer when people asked, where do I take my kids for the rest of the day, what can I go see in and around Halifax to spend time, rather than sitting in an airport, where can I stay tonight? Those are the kinds of questions those stranded travellers had.
I can tell you, I was one of those stranded travellers, both leaving Halifax and returning. I know the frustration. I heard what people said. Nova Scotians were saddened to see that people coming to our province were delayed at the airport for one and two days because of fog. Your department's lack of action and your minister's lack of leadership was an embarrassment to Nova Scotians, because of the fact that you didn't take this unique opportunity to step up and say we are going to do what we can to assist these individuals. This didn't happen one weekend, it happened two weekends, three weekends, and so on. So there was time there for the department to react, and there was time for the department to take a leadership role.
You are telling us that you were told in the Spring that there was going to be construction. Mr. Hines, a government member, has told us that the government was aware of this in 2003. We are being given conflicting messages. I must take exception to Mr. Taylor's and Mr. Parent's comments about Opposition members and the media attacking the airport. I would point them to a Daily News article, dated Thursday, July 14th, which has as its headline, Hamm: airport must own up, where the Premier himself is saying that the airport authority must account to the public for delays. So I think it's important to keep in mind who has been criticizing the airport.
We were looking, here, today, for you to show leadership, for you to be there once people were stranded. The airport authority, whether people return to our province or not, it may affect their numbers but it doesn't, overall, affect their operation. They continue to run as an airport. When Nova Scotians have tourists leave this province and go back home and tell everyone they know of what a miserable experience they had in our province, they do not refer to the airport. They refer to the Province of Nova Scotia. Those people went back to the States, they went back overseas and they went back to other Canadian provinces.
When they were left stranded - in some cases people had flights on a Friday night and did not leave before Monday morning - where was the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage? They should have been there at the airport to say, what can we do to make your stay more pleasant? Here's where you might want to visit, here's a shuttle bus that's going to take people to Peggys Cove, here's a shuttle bus that will take people to a hotel that has a set rate that we have managed to negotiate with them for stranded travellers, because of these unique circumstances. That is leadership. That is where your department could have stepped forward, where your minister could have stepped forward.
Again I state, I find it unfortunate that the minister is not here, because, at the end of the day, you are employees of the Province of Nova Scotia, he is the one who bears the political responsibility, who is there to take credit when the times are good, but certainly is not prepared to show that leadership when times are bad. As I said before, I sat in that airport, I heard what people had to say, and I was embarrassed to watch young families sleeping on the floor of an airport, saying they had no one there to tell them where they could go, where they could stay, what they could do with their kids for the day. I don't have
children, but I can tell you, dragging around three and four kids, in an airport, is not fun on a good day, let alone when you were supposed to fly out on a Friday night, and Sunday, you're still waiting to get out. In the end, they only got out on Monday morning. That is unacceptable.
The airport did the best it could, but at the end of the day they are responsible to run an airport, not the tourism industry in this province. It is not the airport that will suffer from what has taken place here, it is the Province of Nova Scotia, it is the taxpayers, it is the rural communities that rely on these tourists to be able to operate.
On the issue of leadership, on the Scotia Prince, we knew in April the Scotia Prince would not operate. The release this morning from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage tells us that the ministers went to Portland last week. Why were they not there in April, May, June, July, August? Every single opportunity possible to find a solution. By only meeting with them now, how much longer do we have to wait before there's an opportunity for a solution? Again, it's leadership.
If you, as deputy minister, tell us here today that you're not aware of any complaints about what took place at our airport, I regret that I must say shame on you and shame on your department for not being aware of that. Clearly, obviously, you are out of touch with what was taking place at that airport during the Summer months this year, where, unfortunately, Nova Scotians and those who visited our province were left with a very negative impression of our province. It is our belief that some leadership from your department could have helped mitigate that had you been there when it happened. You couldn't predict it was going to happen, but you had two months, watching it happen, and you stayed silent and, again, did not step forward. That is what we find unfortunate. That is where your minister should have shown leadership, and your department.
With that, I'll throw my chairman's hat back on, and would invite you to provide us with some closing comments. You have about three to four minutes.
MS. DEAN: Thank you very much for your comments and also for your perspective. As I said earlier, what happened was extremely unfortunate. We care very deeply about the reputation of our province, and we know that people were inconvenienced and that it was a difficult situation for them, and that it was a difficult time for them. We are encouraged, though, by HIAA's recognition of the situation, their willingness to enhance their communications efforts and the actions they actually took during these unfortunate circumstances.
I will say that we are there to do what we can to help, if there is a role for us to play, and we will work very closely with the HIAA, as we always have, to continue to market this province as a tourism destination. It's also my hope that our efforts to contact those
customers who were inconvenienced will give us a further opportunity to restore the reputation of the province in their minds, and hopefully to have them return to Nova Scotia.
So thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to being here again on September 13th, which is my birthday - just so you know that. I hope that the HIAA is able to answer some of the questions that you had today that I couldn't, when they appear before you on September 8th.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: I've heard two references to September 13th, is it not September 8th, has it been moved to September 13th?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Right now, if the members look under Agenda, it will show that our next committee business is on September 8th, the Halifax International Airport Authority, and on September 13th, we'll have both the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, and the Tourism Industry of Nova Scotia appear before us to give us an overview. Then we have the Office of Economic Development and NSBI coming in to speak about HRM business parks.
With that, again, Deputy Minister, Ms. Andrews, I want to thank you on behalf of the committee for making yourselves available on relatively short notice. It is certainly appreciated by the committee. We appreciate the information you provided here. I think, Ms. Andrews, if you wanted to provide us with some of the written correspondence relating to 9/11 and the province's role in that, we'd certainly appreciate receiving that and any other information that may have arisen out of the questions here today. With that, again, thank you to the witnesses.
Members, we stand adjourned until September 8th.
[The committee adjourned at 10:58 a.m.]