Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
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
[Ms. Marilyn More was replaced by Mr. John MacDonell.]
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Western Valley Development Agency
Ms. Janet Larkman
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2005
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Mr. Michel Samson
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR (Chairman): If we can bring our committee together, I understand our chairman will be joining us a few moments later. My name is Brooke Taylor, the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and the Vice-Chairman of the Economic Development Committee. Maybe we could begin by introducing ourselves. We will begin with Mr. Epstein.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, committee members. MLA Bill Dooks is in transit, I have been told. Bill represents the Eastern Shore and this morning we would like to welcome our guest, Ms. Janet Larkman. Janet is the Executive Director of the Western Valley Development Agency and we will turn the floor over to you.
MS. JANET LARKMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate the opportunity to come and speak to this committee. I am going to talk a little bit about what our organization does and a little bit about what regional development authorities do, but I also really want to talk about some of the issues that I see that our organization sees as facing our community and rural Nova Scotia, in general, as both challenges and opportunities. Before I begin, I want to extend regrets on behalf of the chairman of my board, Dr. David Woolnough who very much wanted to be here but he had surgery scheduled for today and it was kind of hard to change those plans.
So I am here by myself but I am here representing the regional development authority for Annapolis and Digby Counties which comprises seven municipal units within that region and, as you probably know, the regional development authorities are funded by a three-way partnership between the municipal governments, provincial government and federal government. This three-way equal funding structure is unique in Canada and by many people's assessments, it is considered to be the best model for community-driven economic development in that all three levels of government take a shared sense of responsibility for economic development.
The WVDA was the first RDA to be formed back in 1994. There are now 13 and we also have an association, the Nova Scotia Association of Regional Development Authorities. You may remember last year the Province of Nova Scotia signed a memorandum of understanding with the RDAs essentially confirming the commitment of the province to work within the regional development authority structure.
So, what is our mandate? Well, the way our board sees it, our mandate is to act as a sparkplug or a catalyst to promote economic development in the region. We consider ourselves to be very much a community-driven organization in that we consult with the communities on a regular basis. We ask them what their priorities are and we develop our plans and strategies around what we hear from the communities.
So we have been in business for a little bit more than 10 years now and the areas that we've focused on have included economic diversification, business retention and expansion, business attraction, innovation and technology, value added manufacturing and opportunities to get the most out of our natural resources, culture and the arts, creativity; we have also focused on things like international collaborations and lifelong learning.
As an organization, we take our own professional effectiveness very seriously and one of the things that we are doing right now to raise the standards there is we are pursuing ISO certification. In fact, all of the RDAs in the province are undertaking that as well so we are hoping that when we complete the process we will have a very strong and dynamic system of economic development in the province which will hopefully set the standards for the country because I don't think that there really are any other provinces that have collectively all agreed to take on ISO certification.
Okay, so to get to some of the specific challenges and opportunities in our community, I want to start with three statements. First of all, I want to state what I guess will be obvious to most of you because most of you are representing rural areas, maybe with the exception of Mr. Epstein. Rural communities are absolutely vital to the economy of Nova Scotia. The second statement is that community economic development is working, and I'm going to talk a bit about results to attempt to prove that, but the third statement I would like to make is that Nova Scotia can do even better. I think that we need to set our standards high.
So going back to 1994 when we were formed, it was a fairly critical point in the development of the Annapolis-Digby region in that the fishing industry was facing the downturn of the groundfisheries and the fishing industry is one of our most important economic sectors, and at the same time the military base, CFB Cornwallis, was closed. That had been an institution for more than 50 years and was the largest employer in the region. So those were two very strong blows at the same time.
Since then, we have seen a significant economic turnaround. At the time, in 1994, there were communities within our region that faced unemployment of as high as 58 per cent. Now, however, we have a much more diversified economy, much stronger economy and the general sense that we get from conducting surveys from the population is that there is a strong sense of optimism about the future and our businesses, when we survey our businesses, on average 98 per cent of them tell us that they intend on staying in the community and expanding their businesses. So, evidence of success in Digby and Annapolis Counties.
In the last three years alone, we have seen a net increase of 2,500 jobs. That is pretty significant when you consider the geographic area that we are talking about is roughly the size of Prince Edward Island, 5,600 square kilometres with a population base of about 40,000. So 2,500 net new jobs is pretty good. Our unemployment rate is averaging about 9.7 per cent now which is on par with the provincial average and our participation rate in the labour force has increased by 6.6 per cent. Family incomes in the last five years have increased by 12 per cent and we have a very stable economy. One of the indicators of that is home ownership, 81 per cent of our residents own their own home. That is 10 per cent higher than the provincial average and 15 per cent higher than the national average.
The value of building permits in the last year has doubled and in areas like population, we know that all of our rural communities have seen a population decline but we're hoping that it is possible to reverse the trend. In the 1991 and 1996 census period, our population declined by 4.8 per cent. Then in the next census period from 1996 to 2001, the population decrease was 3.3 per cent. We are hoping that in the next census we are going to see that levelling off and in the future we are actually hoping to see a population increase. Why do we think that is possible? Well, we are putting a lot of attention on immigration as the province is doing. We are very interested in that.
We are focusing on youth leadership and opportunities to bring youth back to our community, business attraction, and another key component is broadband infrastructure. We have, in the last year, completed the construction of a community-owned fibre optic network which we feel will put our rural community at a competitive advantage for attracting businesses and also attracting residents who want to be able to communicate internationally using the Internet and have a good rural quality of life at the same time.
So something that is rather interesting is to look at our education levels. A few years back we took a look at the census data and we were very alarmed because almost half of our adult population had not completed high school. That was back in 1996. Since that time, there have been a lot of groups that have really focused on bringing up the education levels, groups like the Digby Area Learning Association, the Nova Scotia Community College and groups like us. In that 10-year period, that figure had dropped in half so now only 24 per cent of adults say that they have not completed high school so that is a very significant change.
Taking a look at some of our important industries, fisheries continues to be incredibly important, certainly, as Mr. Theriault knows. The value of fish landings last year was $69 million, which is an increase of 32 per cent since 1996. What's interesting about that is that the actual size of the catches have not increased. The value has increased but the catches have not.
We have also seen, surprisingly enough, a significant increase in the value of farm gate. Agriculture, while we have seen a decrease in the number of farms, the actual revenues coming in the farm gate have increased by more than 76 per cent since 1996. Now, that is in large part because of the growing mink industry in Digby County which has doubled their revenues in the last, I think, three years.
Within Cornwallis Park, itself, which was, of course, the base that closed, the number of full-time equivalent jobs in Cornwallis Park is now at roughly 1,300. That is more than double the number of jobs that were there when it was a military base. Cornwallis Business Park is considered to be one of the most successful base conversion projects in Canada and we are very proud of what's gone on there.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: More successful than Slemon Park?
MS. LARKMAN: Well, I said one of, just to make sure that I covered myself. But when you consider that it was the largest employer back in 1994, and now we have more than doubled the number of jobs there than we did then, it's pretty significant.
Some of the other things that have happened in our community that have been significant are to do with the Nova Scotia Community College. We have the Annapolis Valley Campus and the Centre of Geographic Sciences within our region and they have become the first community college in Nova Scotia to establish an applied research facility within their institution.
That group that was formed, the Applied Geomatics Research Group, has secured close to $20 million in research grants in the last five years and they now employ more than 25 full-time research scientists. These are people from around the world that are considered
to be top in their profession. We are working now towards building some sort of business incubation centre that would look at commercialization of the research coming out of there and building on the expertise associated with the work of the college.
Another significant event happened in 2001. The region was named one of the 12 official Smart Community demonstration projects in the country. We were Nova Scotia's Smart Community. That brought with it a $4.5 million federal investment which was matched dollar for dollar by the community. The variety of projects that that program supported had contributed to our region having one of the highest levels of computer literacy of any rural community in the country.
I mentioned already the fibre optic network that was completed. This is a 145-kilometre fibre optic infrastructure that is owned by a not-for-profit community organization that is comprised of the seven municipalities in our region and the Nova Scotia Community College. This infrastructure is unique in Canada in its governance. There isn't another example that we are aware of out there where the community actually owns and operates the infrastructure. We are expecting that that is going to be a real economic driver for our region.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that construction has begun on the Lifeplex Wellness Centre which is a major new infrastructure in Cornwallis Park which will help contribute to health and wellness in the region.
So all of that good stuff that's been going on has actually garnered some attention from organizations, nationally, and in some cases internationally. I just want to touch on a couple of them.
Back in 1998, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements called the region's community-driven approach to economic development one of the best 100 practices in the world. Then again, the United Nations recognized the area as one of UNESCO's world biosphere reserves.
Again, just recently, the United Nations Environment Programme named the Town of Annapolis Royal as the most livable small town in the world. You may have noticed in the paper just last week the Government of Canada named Annapolis Royal one of the top five cultural capitals in the world. We're very proud of those things and there are quite a few more but I think that little sampling gives you an indication that the priorities in our community are focused on environmental sustainability, culture and arts, and technology and innovation.
These are some of the things that we believe are important elements of rural development. Number one, we believe that communities should be the primary drivers of economic development. Number two, we believe that natural resources are the backbone of the rural economy and it's absolutely essential that we ensure that their harvesting is
sustainable and that we maximize the spinoff benefits of natural resources by focusing on value added; in other words, we have to reverse the process of sending away our raw materials outside the country to benefit others and our communities not being the primary beneficiaries. The third thing is that because we have been involved in a lot of international partnerships, we feel that we have a lot to learn from other jurisdictions around the world. If we took a closer look at what other communities are doing, I think we would very quickly realize that we need to raise the bar within Nova Scotia.
To make that point, I want to draw your attention to a study that was done by Voluntary Planning which compared Nova Scotia to 15 other communities in North America of a similar size and of a similar economy. This study started back in 1981 and of those 15 communities, Nova Scotia ranked No. 4. Voluntary Planning again came back, 20 years later, in 2001, to see how we were doing comparatively, and of those 15 compared communities Nova Scotia had plummeted to No.15, we were at the bottom.
What they found was that there was a per capita income gap between Nova Scotia and the mean average of those other 15 communities of $7,750, which adds up to about $7.4 billion that is not coming into the economy of Nova Scotia annually. So, why did this happen? Well, the other 15 communities grew their economy while over the last 20 years Nova Scotia has been content to stay relatively stagnant. So there's the wake-up call for us. Now we need to take a look at how we can do better. Some of the areas that we think we need to take a hard look at are in areas like environment, energy and waste management. Those are areas that we tend to think we're doing really well but, in fact, we're not.
You've probably heard of a recent OECD ranking that took a look at Canada's environment record in comparison with all other industrialized countries in the world and what they found was that of the 29 countries they looked at, Canada ranked 28th. So we're down at the bottom on our environmental record. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities took a look at Canada's ecology footprint, in other words, the amount of natural resources it takes to support our lifestyle and what they concluded is that if every country in the world were to consume at the rate that Canada is, we would need four more Earths to go around. So, obviously, that's not sustainable.
In the area of energy, energy is vitally important to economic development, we can't run our businesses, our cars, we can't do anything without access to affordable energy. Nova Scotia, as you probably know, is dependent on coal to supply 80 per cent of our electricity needs. It made sense when we were mining coal but now we're not, we're importing this coal and we're burning it, it is a major pollutant and is one of the reasons why Nova Scotia is one of the largest per capita producers of CO2 and sulphur oxide emissions in this country.
What we found is that we have entrepreneurs who are literally lining up to develop new technologies and new ways of producing energy that will be focused on renewable resources, that will be sustainable and will be primarily driven within the local communities,
which will help, I think, address some of the problems that we have been facing around black-outs and the challenges of working with such a large power grid.
So in that area, in the last year our agency, WVDA, has been working very closely with organizations in Austria, where we feel that they have developed a model worth taking a look at. Last November I visited, along with some of our municipal and business leaders, the Town of Gussing in Austria. What we found was that Gussing, which has been designated the Renewable Energy Capital of Europe, receives about 350 visitors every week who come to look at their model. What we learned was that this community, very similar to ours in climate, in natural resources, in economy, 12 years ago their economy was in the doldrums, they decided to focus on renewable energy as a way of turning that around, because they observed that their money was flowing out of the community to buy fuel, electricity and heat from outside. They're now 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy, so much so that they are now exporting energy and are making money, in fact, they're considered to be an economic growth centre.
So we took a look at that and said, well, since so many of the qualities of this community are so similar to ours, climate and access to resources and so on, why have they progressed when we have not in this area? One of the things that we found was that the Government of Austria has developed some very progressive policies which are designed to promote renewable energy. It's what they call an ecology-oriented tax structure, which rewards producers for using renewable energy technologies. That's really helped to move it forward.
What we hope to do, is we hope to see our region become a renewable energy centre. We're looking at biorefineries that will produce ethanol, biodiesel, biomass electricity and heating. We're looking at district heating systems that will use byproducts of industrial waste. We're looking at the potential of the Bay of Fundy tides to produce power through marine current turbines. Of course, wind turbines and we're obviously very proud to have Nova Scotia's first commercial wind turbine in our area. We're also going to be focusing a lot on research and development into other energy technologies that we may not even know anything about at this juncture.
Another area that we've taken a look at and realized that we're not doing as well as we thought was in the area of waste management. In Nova Scotia, we tend to be very proud of the fact that we're the first jurisdiction in North America to have managed to surpass the 50 per cent mark of diversion of solid waste to landfills. When we went to Austria we were bragging about that essentially, we quickly realized that when you get to Europe, that's not a very impressive figure because in Europe they don't have landfills anymore, they're essentially diverting 100 per cent of their solid waste and they're finding ways to recycle this material, ways to turn it into other products and when they run out of other products to turn it into, they turn it into energy or heat. I visited a plastic factory, for example, that uses all of that stuff that we're not collecting as part of our streaming recycling system, these are low-
grade plastics or gum wrappers and chip bags or styrofoam and so on. They're collecting those and they're turning those into very durable construction materials that will essentially last a lifetime.
We've been looking at recycling that's being done in other parts of the world and what we found is that recycling can be a money-maker, can be a real driver of economic development. For example, in some areas they're using glass to manufacturer fibreglass for insulation. With the growing demand for so-called healthy homes, people are paying a premium product for houses that are built with clean materials that are not going to be gassing off, and that's one of the materials that can be used in that way.
We also discovered that even roads are being recycled in Europe and if that sounds like a strange concept, think about it. Here, when we need to repair a road, we add more material on top, we just keep adding more and more material. These are non-renewable resources that we're extracting and we're adding and adding, and it doesn't need to be done that way.
In Europe what they do is they grind up the pavement and they reconstitute it and they repave it, essentially, recycling the original material. This is something that we're going to be forced to look at soon because our understanding is that we are starting to run out of available supplies of materials, based on our existing quarries in the province. By the way, please interrupt me at any time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Larkman, I was just about to do that. Usually we permit 15 to 20 minutes and you've certainly well exceeded that in your presentation so if you'd like to perhaps entertain a few questions from members, we would welcome the opportunity to do so.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: I had a few questions. First of all I want to commend you, certainly, on the great work you're doing with the Western Valley Development Agency, it's all positive, all good and it's great to hear about it. I'm sure there's a lot that we can learn from you and that other RDAs around the province are in contact with you and trying to find out what the secret to your success is. Maybe that's my first question, are you sharing your success with other RDAs or are they coming to you and asking you how you're doing it and how you are being so successful?
MS. LARKMAN: As I mentioned earlier, we have developed an association of regional development authorities and we meet on a regular basis, and the RDAs have made it a real priority to share best practices. What's interesting about the regional development
authorities in the province is that we're all different, we're all shaped by the priorities of our individual communities, and we all have developed different areas of expertise so we all feel that we have a great deal to learn from each other, and we do that on an ongoing basis.
MR. PARKER: It seems like you're covering all the bases, you're looking at all of the aspects of the economy. You touched on a lot of the primary industries like agriculture, fishery, forestry, high-tech, tourism and education, you're looking at the whole broad range. Is that part of why your area in particular has been so successful, you're not leaving any stones unturned?
MS. LARKMAN: I would say, yes. Many of you were probably around the table in the early days of the creation of the RDAs and there was lots of debate about just what areas should be focused on. The decision that was made in our region was that we were going to look at economic development in a holistic way, that economic development is really about the growth and prosperity of the community and that involves quality of life. So there are so many facets to it, it's about providing an environment in which people can fulfill their potential. So education is obviously a priority there, promoting arts and culture, and the things that make a community a good place to live are part and parcel of that as well as business development and job creation.
MR. PARKER: I read through your material and I guess one step you did take was you went out into the communities and talked to people on the ground, first-hand, you got their ideas and saw best how you could run with that and incorporate it into your overall plans. I assume you continue to do that?
MS. LARKMAN: Yes, we do.
MR. PARKER: Do you have meetings on a regular basis in communities?
MS. LARKMAN: We do. One of the things that we do is we provide our staff services to assist groups in their planning process, in facilitating processes to help community groups and municipalities organize and plan. We're in the process right now of working with each of our coastal communities to help them develop an individual plan which we will then help develop into a regional plan. So it is something that we do on an ongoing basis.
MR. PARKER: A couple of particular questions, you mentioned immigration. I know we have the Nominee Program here in Nova Scotia that is trying to get off the ground, it hasn't been overly successful yet but it has potential. Any particular initiatives you're undertaking in the field of immigration?
MS. LARKMAN: We have, I would say, put the shingle out, indicating that we are open and welcoming of immigrants. I would say the majority of the interest so far has been
from immigrants from the U.K. and the U.S., so primarily Anglophones who are going to have a fairly seamless job of fitting into the community. We're interested in expanding that and some of the initiatives underway involve attraction of foreign students, English as a second language training for professionals from around the world, these are all things that we're doing in collaboration with the province.
One of the things that rural communities by and large lack, is immigrant settlement programs, support for new immigrants who may be from a significantly different culture. I think the only area where there is a really organized and well-funded immigrant settlement association is in metro Halifax. If we really want the immigration thing to be successful, we have to roll out those services across the province.
MR. PARKER: I have another question. In this Building Tomorrow book, you have an initiative in the agricultural community, especially in the niche markets around specialty crops like tayberries, raspberries, cranberries and so on. You've hired somebody, I believe, somewhere I read, a specialist in that field. Can you give us an update on how that's working or what your potential there is?
MS. LARKMAN: Yes, I'm glad you asked. We did a project, in partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College, where we put some 50 data loggers out in the region to try to get very detailed information about our microclimates - this is heat, precipitation, soil, wind and so on - and then analyze that to determine what specialty kinds of crops could be grown in those areas.
What we're seeing now is a proliferation of different kinds of crops being grown that have never been grown before like grapes, things like hazelnuts, peaches, cranberries - we're the cranberry growing capital of Nova Scotia right now - raspberries, and we have about a dozen farmers who are growing raspberries on a commercial basis now. Those are some of the kinds of things that are proliferating. Organic farming is a niche that is very well suited to our area because there isn't a history of industrial-scale agriculture and spraying, so that's all making progress.
MR. PARKER: Do you have a specialist, someone you've hired who is initiating the project?
MS. LARKMAN: We don't presently have an agricultural specialist on staff, we need one. You may remember about five years ago the province downscaled its agricultural services and its agriculture field officers - I know that you remember that very well, Mr. MacDonell - and that has continued to be a concern in our communities. Our farmers tell us all the time, we need the support of specialists, we want the support of people who can help us explore these new areas. If we had the resources we would be doing that.
MR. PARKER: To get real potential. I have one final question, in your discussion just before we started the questioning, you were talking about environment, waste management, energy. Is that material in our notes or is that something that might be available, any information on that?
MS. LARKMAN: The notes that I prepared for today are actually quite a bit more detailed than I'm able to share with you so I would be happy to circulate this document here around for anyone who's interested.
MR. PARKER: That would be great to have, if we could. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Thank you for your presentation which was really interesting and very impressive. Could you tell me the name of the Voluntary Planning study from 2001? I have to say I don't remember it.
MS. LARKMAN: I will have to find that.
MR. EPSTEIN: Could you check that? That would be a big help. For information like that you can communicate with the clerk of the committee so everyone can get the information, it will be circulated around. That's helpful, thank you.
I was wondering about your comments on the fibre optic broadband system that you seem now to have in place. You described it as community owned. Could you just amplify that, could you tell me in what sense it's community owned?
MS. LARKMAN: The seven municipalities in the region and the Nova Scotia Community College together incorporated a not-for-profit society, so they're the legal owners of this infrastructure. How it works is that we negotiated a deal with two private sector companies, RuSh and EastLink, which are the cable providers serving our area. We have a 20-year agreement with EastLink to use their existing network to get from Middleton into Halifax and they, in turn, get access to some space on our network; we have 48 strands, so we have lots of capacity.
What that means is that it's a win-win situation for the private sector company and also for us because it means that our network gets into Halifax, into the basement of Dalhousie University where we're plugged into not only any Internet service provider in Nova Scotia, but also into the CAnet for the national research network. So suddenly our communities can tap into this huge network of information and ideas.
MR. EPSTEIN: It is actually the ownership structure I was particularly interested in. So what you have described sounds, to me, like a co-op, in which the partners are really the municipalities plus the community college. You didn't really mention co-ops directly and I'm wondering if there are other examples of co-ops in your area or whether you see potential for them. I wonder particularly about energy, whether there is some potential there or whether you're aware of any getting formed?
MS. LARKMAN: I'm not aware of any co-ops being formed right now in energy but it is something that certainly is under discussion. For example, we're looking at the creation of a biomass district heating system in Cornwallis Park because we do have a large industrial producer of biomass and we have a lot of industrial users of energy, so it's a perfect environment to experiment with that and probably a co-op structure will be the governance that we choose.
You're probably aware of Scotian Wind Fields or Bay Wind Field in our area, which is using the Community Economic Development Investment Fund, CEDIF, process to raise money. It's not exactly a co-op but it's using that kind of co-operative structure to get local investments into renewable energy opportunities.
MR. EPSTEIN: When you discuss energy from renewable resources, you surprised me a little bit by listing first biofuels and wind last on your list. I would have thought it was the other way around, that wind would normally be at the top of the list, given that the technology is established and that you probably have land resources that would lend themselves to this potential. So can you just speak to that a little bit?
MS. LARKMAN: If I had been invited to meet with this group five years ago, I would have just been talking about wind. Wind is something that we've been talking about and pushing for and doing research into for the last five years. At this point in the evolution of Nova Scotia, I think it's safe to say that wind energy is a sure thing. The province organized a wind energy conference last Fall which was just crawling with entrepreneurs who are eager to invest in wind energy and were outlining their plans to do so. So, I am assuming that within the next five years we're going to see a proliferation of wind energy across the province. Certainly, more could be done on the province's part to raise the bar. Right now, as you know, the percentage of energy required by Nova Scotia Power to come from renewable resources is only voluntary and that it's only 5 per cent.
MR. EPSTEIN: It's 2.5 per cent.
MS. LARKMAN: That's right, 2.5 per cent; the other, 5 per cent, is the dream. Other jurisdictions, in Europe are anywhere from 20 per cent to 50 per cent coming from wind energy. I didn't name it because I'm assuming that it is obvious it's going to happen, whereas the other areas like biomass have not been explored as fully. I didn't even mention solar,
that's another area that we're looking at, so there are other kinds of renewable energies that nobody is really talking about now that I think have lots of potential.
MR. EPSTEIN: Why is there so much potential in your area, in Digby and Annapolis, for biofuels? Do you have the resources to put into that?
MS. LARKMAN: I believe that we do. We have more work to do in developing sustainable harvesting processes, that's really important. We've done the assessments. We know that we have the resources in our forests and we also have the potential for growing the resources in our fields; crops like hemp, for example, make great raw material for biofuel, bioethanol, that sort of thing. We're hoping that we will be able to reclaim some of our underutilized agricultural land for that purpose.
MR. EPSTEIN: With respect to natural resources generally, you emphasized the potential for value added and suggested, of course, that it's a missed opportunity not to have some kind of value added associated with it. I'm wondering if you can give us any examples of ways in which the natural resources are now lending themselves in your two counties to value added. What do you have in mind right now?
MS. LARKMAN: Ways that we are value adding?
MR. EPSTEIN: Anything now or where you see potential.
MS. LARKMAN: I have to say that we're not doing it enough right now. Our forestry industry, for example, the major emphasis has been on the production of construction materials, stud lumber and so on, for the construction industry in the United States. This past year we saw the Irving mill in Weymouth temporarily close down largely because of the combination of tariffs imposed on imports into the U.S. and also the increasing value of the Canadian dollar is making it less attractive for companies to do that.
In some ways that presents a good opportunity for us to take a step back and take a look at it and ask ourselves, is that giving us the maximum return for Nova Scotians on those wood products, is there more that we could be doing in the area of furniture manufacturing or hardwood flooring or even production of plywoods and MDFs and so on? We've done the business plans, we have done the studies, we're really working now to find the entrepreneurs to turn those into business opportunities.
MR. EPSTEIN: What about the fishery?
MS. LARKMAN: Actually, fish, that's an area that we are, and have been for many years, processing and actually our largest private sector employer is Comeau Seafoods which employs as many as 1,500 people, depending on where in the season to process fish. So, there is lots being done there but, again, there could be a lot more.
MR. EPSTEIN: But is it packaging or is it adding additional value?
MS. LARKMAN: It's canning and processing and it's a wide variety of things. Actually, probably one of the best examples of value adding that's going on right now would be Acadian Seaplants which is taking seaweed and they've invested tremendous resources into research and development. They've opened up a new R&D facility in Cornwallis Park where they're doing intensive scientific research to determine how they can maximize the value-added potential of seaweed. One of the things they're focusing on is the production of highly specialized fertilizers largely for the grape growing industry in California and around the world that are based on seaweeds.
[9:48 a.m. Mr. Michel Samson took the Chair.]
MR. EPSTEIN: That's very helpful, thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Larkman, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michel Samson, I'm the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee and the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Richmond and I'm with the Liberal caucus. I apologize, I was at a breakfast with Energy Minister Cecil Clarke informing us of all the wonderful things going on in the Department of Energy at the Environmental Industry Association breakfast this morning. I understand that Mr. Dooks walked in after the meeting started, if you want to introduce yourself, Mr. Dooks.
MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do apologize for being late, I had a bit of a social issue in my riding this morning. My name is Bill Dooks, MLA for Eastern Shore and I'm certainly enjoying your presentation. Well done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have next on the list Mr. MacDonell.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, I really appreciate your presentation. I have to say that there is an awful lot of good coming out of this, I think. Mr. Epstein caught one of my questions but the money used for community economic development through the CEDIF program, those projects all have to be for-profit, they can't be non-profit.
MS. LARKMAN: Right.
MR. MACDONELL: I like the approach that you seem to be taking around the sustainability issue. I think that's very important. It's a road we seldom go down here.
Around the biofuel initiative, I have one small concern. I read an article recently where they were turning the slash in forestry operations into biodiesel or biofuel.
MS. LARKMAN: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: If my information is correct, I think this is something you can't sustain. Slash really should stay in the forest, on the forest floor. I think even in Sweden, where they used to bring everything to the landing and process it, either into logs or whatever, that the lack of material going back in the forest really reduced the ability of the forest to regenerate and to actually grow a crop because you're taking the fertilizer out of it.
MS. LARKMAN: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: I only raise that just as a concern of something I think . . .
MS. LARKMAN: Yes. I very much appreciate that concern. We are trying to really understand how come it's working in Austria the way it is. They're only harvesting 2 per cent of their forest. We have more forest than they do, we are harvesting a lot more than 2 per cent and we are not getting maximum return on it.
This community of Gussing that we have been working with, it's a population of only 4,000 people. They have a hardwood flooring plant that employs 600 people and, in addition to that, they are producing all of their energy needs from biomass, from primarily the forest.
When I looked at the forest, what I saw was healthy forest with a stump here, a stump here, a stump here. It's something that's very different than the way we do it here. The majority of our forestry practices are based on clear-cut. That is the most common practice. I think, actually, 99 per cent of our forest harvesting is through the clear-cut method. When visitors come from Europe or Scandinavia, they're shocked because it is not done there any more. It may have been in the past but clear-cutting is not done.
I think the best answer I can give to that is that we don't have the answers but we know that there are communities that have been doing this practice for some time and there is a great deal that we can learn from them so we can avoid making those mistakes.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, some of us are stumped as to why we do it here.
I'm kind of interested in what your background is, how you came to this position and what education, experience or whatever brought you there, and with this approach, as well.
MS. LARKMAN: Wow, that's an interesting question. (Laughter) I actually come from a fine arts background, originally, and have been involved in community development issues all of my life. I was really drawn to the work initially of the Annapolis County
Economic Development Commission which is where I started working before the creation of the WVDA and the RDAs across the province.
When the RDAs were created I was hired to coordinate the strategic planning process and, from there, became deeply involved in the whole community economic development potential in the region, and have been actually with the organization now for 11 years; five of which I have been serving as the executive director. So my original areas of study wouldn't indicate this direction. But I think it makes incredible sense in that the approach that we take, as was pointed out earlier, is very broad. It touches on all aspects of society, economy, environment, technology and so on. Being a generalist with a very sort of creative approach to problem solving has been, I think, beneficial.
MR. MACDONELL: I have only one more. I think, in rural communities, it is so important to recognize the importance of natural resources because they really do fuel the economy. If you have a relatively stable resource base, then you can bring in the service sector, have schools, teacher salaries, you know, maybe have a health clinic, whatever. I think, quite often, the resource base is ignored as almost antiquated, you know, that an economy can still run but any area that is renewable and sustainable can provide economic development for years and years to come.
I was glad to hear about some of the diversity and the look at microclimates, and actually quite surprised that the mink industry still provides such a large part of that economy - actually has grown, considering all the concerns around furs and so on. Has there been any repercussions or any flags go up around this issue?
I guess I will squeeze in another question. With that is around the lack of expertise in agriculture. AgraPoint is supposed to be the vehicle for this. Has that provided any help in that area?
MS. LARKMAN: Yes. I should acknowledge that, certainly, we have worked closely with AgraPoint on all of our agricultural-related initiatives and they provide an excellent service. It's not quite the same, though, as having somebody who is physically on the ground floor whose mandate is to work on an ongoing basis with the farmers in an area.
On the question of mink, Digby County is probably the largest mink producing area in Canada right now. That does come with some concerns related to things like Aleutian disease and environmental impacts. I would say that our mink industry is doing some very progressive work in finding the best ways to handle the environmental impacts associated with mink. I don't feel that I can go into very much more detail than that at this point but I feel very confident that they are taking very progressive steps in that regard.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacDonell. Mr. Taylor.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the presentation this morning. It's a big undertaking to promote the region, I'm sure, to investors and visitors alike.
In your presentation here, you speak about the state of the region's infrastructure and there will be a limitation to growth and productivity. You claim that many of the harbour authorities are having difficulties maintaining their wharves that are landing points, of course, for fish catches, et cetera, and that the deterioration of several wharves are of great concern.
MS. LARKMAN: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: Would you want to, perhaps, expand on that a little bit, Ms. Larkman.
MS. LARKMAN: Well, if you have been reading The ChronicleHerald over the past three days you will be very aware of one of the major issues that's facing our region right now, pertaining to the Digby wharf. The Digby wharf is a critical piece of infrastructure to our region's economy. There are about 400 fishermen who fish from that wharf and about 100 other people who work in fish plants in the immediate surrounding area. We estimate that more than 10 per cent of the workforce in the Town of Digby and surrounding areas are directly reliant on the wharf for their livelihood so it's hugely significant and we are at risk of losing it right now.
The situation is, as you know, the federal government has been undertaking a wharf divestiture program for the last 10 years. This piece of infrastructure was essentially given to an organization not based in the community and is now up for sale. The community desperately needs to get that infrastructure back. While I recognize that it is a federal issue, there certainly is a role for the province to play in putting the necessary pressure on the players to resolve this issue as quickly as possible because we simply can't afford to lose that infrastructure.
That is the biggest concern right now but we do have many other wharves in the region, all of which need ongoing investments for repair and maintenance and the viability of our fishing industry is dependent on their being sustained.
MR. TAYLOR: Does the Western Valley Development Agency have any involvement at this point regarding that Digby wharf? I know it must be distressful for you and the agency but do you have any status, any intervention efforts being made?
MS. LARKMAN: We are working with a community-based organization that has formed and has made known to the Minister of Transport Canada their interest in taking over the ownership of the wharf and of course there is a request with that for operational maintenance funding. Right now the decision really rests with the Minister of Transport Canada. He has made it clear that he supports the community's initiative; whether or not the federal government would be prepared to actually buy the wharf back at its market value at this point, I don't know. Because of the steps that were taken in the past to hand over the ownership to a corporation, there aren't a lot of other interventions that we can take as an RDA at this point.
MR. TAYLOR: It would seem rather contradictory or at least ironic if the federal government was to purchase it, or re-purchase it I guess, seeing as how they have, as you indicated, been moving toward divestment.
You said the folks who own that wharf are from away, like they are out of town. Where are they from?
MS. LARKMAN: Based out of Bridgewater and Halifax and different parts of Nova Scotia. Suffice it to say that they are not residents of the local community.
MR. TAYLOR: So has specifically the agency, the Western Valley Development Agency, put a proposal, I guess, a formal proposal or application to the federal minister and the area MP?
MS. LARKMAN: No, we have not but, as I said, we are working with a local group who had a chance to present their case to the Minister of Transport Canada about a month ago. As far as a formal proposal goes, no, we haven't at this juncture.
MR. TAYLOR: Now this local group you are working with is that, as far as you are aware, the only group that is actively seeking . . .
MS. LARKMAN: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: What actually is the local group trying to achieve?
MS. LARKMAN: Trying to achieve ownership of the wharf so that the wharf can be brought up to safety standards and can be run in a way that is in the best interest of the fishermen who rely on the wharf, their livelihood. This is comprised of representatives from the town and municipality as well as fishermen's groups and concerned citizens.
MR. TAYLOR: Again, I'm not sure, Mr. Chairman, if there is just the one proposal but if there is, I would think where the Western Valley Development Agency has done such a commendable and remarkable job promoting the region and not only to investors but to
visitors alike that if it wasn't impacting other potential proposals, I think the committee should seriously look at supporting the agency. I don't believe, quite frankly, there is a whole lot the committee can do but if I was, I guess, certain that the group that you are supporting, the Western Valley Development Agency is supporting, if there is a proposal then I certainly would be willing to, as a committee member - I can't speak for the committee but it is something I think we should perhaps deliberate a little later on. I will, with that, yield the floor.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I have Mr. Theriault.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Janet. That was a good presentation. I know what work has gone on there for the last 10 years. I've known you for quite a while. I know Annapolis is one of the best towns in the world to live in but Digby, right next to it, is the most romantic. Side by side. (Interruptions)
I would like to go into the details of what you mentioned about the WVDA doing a study on recycling our roads. That is very interesting. I didn't know that but I would love to see the study of this, especially when we have 80 per cent of our people down there in Digby-Annapolis up in arms over this proposed American quarry coming in to take 200 million tons of rock away to fix their roads and we are doing a study to recycle our own? That is very interesting. Could we get a copy of this study to see what has been done?
MS. LARKMAN: Yes, I will make that.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you very much. We talked about the high-speed Internet that is going in down there, Janet, how far is that going? Is that going to end up in every household and when do you think that will happen?
MS. LARKMAN: The backbone infrastructure runs along Highway No. 1 from Meteghan to Middleton. The areas that will be able to access high-speed Internet through the two private sector partners that we are working with right now, EastLink and RuSh, are basically any areas that those cable providers presently serve. So that includes areas off the grid and in the Digby area which would be your primary concern. EastLink tells us that they can service 80 per cent of their customer base with high speed. Now Digby Neck and Islands, which are not on the grid, have been a big concern of ours for a long time in terms of being able to get the service out there with such a small market demand because of the small population.
We are working with wireless companies that are very interested in sending signals, using the backbone that is up and running now and using that to send signals out to the outlying areas. So the business plan for this is to reach 80 per cent of the population base in Annapolis and Digby Counties with access to affordable high speed. When I say affordable, that is comparable to what they would pay in Halifax or in a metro area.
MR. THERIAULT: Getting back to the fishery, to aquaculture, we are starting to get a little growth in the aquaculture and that area. I know it has been slow but I think it has come to the point where we were talking about - you were talking about value added. Has the WVDA looked at anything into the processing of the fish that is going to be grown there in the future? Right now I believe what few are being grown are taken to New Brunswick. Is that something that the WVDA has looked into?
MS. LARKMAN: We haven't at this point but I think that with the new interest in aquaculture that has surfaced in St. Marys Bay region, it's something that we should be really turning our focus to. As I am sure this committee knows, aquaculture has not been pursued as aggressively in Nova Scotia as it has in areas like New Brunswick, for example, which maybe is a good thing because what it means is that we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other areas and we know that there have been a lot of issues that have arisen around aquaculture, around environmental waste and of introduction of non-native species into the oceans and so on. There have been some concerns. So I think we have an opportunity to do aquaculture differently, maybe introducing solid bottom cages that can capture the fish waste and have a higher level of control than in other areas. I think that your suggestion that we do some more detailed investigation into this and come up with some proposals is an excellent idea.
MR. THERIAULT: I just want to touch on the Digby wharf for a second. I could go on for an hour about it but I won't. You can probably read it in the paper in the next two or three days. This wharf, for the Digby area is vital to its economy. That wharf alone brings in $30 million or $40 million per year in the fishery and if it's not settled and that wharf, by next Winter's storm in the area of it, will collapse. That is how bad that wharf is getting.
I believe we, as a committee - and I agree with Mr. Taylor - that we should maybe put a letter to the Minister of Transport, saying that this has got to be pushed, and we need to get this wharf back to this community, or at least into some hands that we can take control of it somehow and get the restructuring done that is needed. It's just being left there now and within the next year, I'm telling you that wharf will fall down in a good northeaster, it's going to happen. I can't understand why insurance companies that have hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in those big boats there are not saying something about this. I can't understand that. Anyway, I will leave it there and maybe we can talk about this after the meeting. Thank you, Janet.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Theriault. Mr. Gaudet.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I want to thank Janet for her excellent presentation and sharing with us just a few of the successful stories from the WVDA.
I want to, first of all, touch on the funding. Looking through your information that's been provided here, I understand that the WVDA is receiving $125,000 from ACOA, $125,000 from the province and another $125,000 from the seven municipal units within the Annapolis-Digby Counties. I guess my first question, is that technically the entire budget of the WVDA?
MS. LARKMAN: No, it isn't. That would represent our core operating budget and, in addition to that, we do undertake a lot of projects and different special activities that often involve funding from other sources. Sometimes those sources would be federal, provincial or municipal and, in some cases, we have tapped into international funds like the North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation, just as an example.
MR. GAUDET: Coming back to the core funding, is that the same level of core funding that's being provided to all RDAs in the province or are we different?
MS. LARKMAN: Yes, the municipalities are asked to come to the $125,000 level, as a minimum. Some, in some instances, are contributing higher. It's determined on the local level. There is a proposal right now that's under review to increase the level of RDA funding to $150,000-$150,000 matching funding, which would bring the standard RDA budget to the $450,000 level.
MR. GAUDET: I want to focus on one of your successes. Earlier, you raised the topic about 2,500 new jobs being created. I guess with economic development and RDAs, that was one of the prime reasons they were created in helping communities create jobs. I am just curious in terms of, are there areas where creating jobs is easier than others, or is there - I guess, on the reverse side of that - more attention given to specific areas in our area to help create jobs? I guess that would be my first question.
MS. LARKMAN: I think this is probably true of most rural areas but I will speak specifically about ours; 80 per cent of our people are employed in companies that employ five people or less, so small- to medium-size enterprises represent the majority of companies. Over the years we have put a lot of work into supporting small companies and their development, providing them with the necessary tools that they need to grow. That represents the diverse foundation of the employment sector.
Then we have the larger employers and one of the newest large employers in the area
would be Convergys, the in-bound call centre in Cornwallis that got up and running less than a year ago. They officially opened their doors and they are now employing 500 full-time people. So that has made a very significant difference in our employment situation.
We also have a Wal-Mart that has just opened up in Digby and they are employing over 100 people. What the Department of Community Services is telling us is that they can't keep up with the demand from employers to fill these positions with jobs. So in the service sector we have a greater demand for employees than we have for supply. We also have significant employers in manufacturing as well. Shaw Wood, for example, that manufactures furniture in Cornwallis Park is employing approximately 300 people. So we have a lot of employers like that.
That being said, we did suffer a severe setback in the last year with the closure of the Britex textile manufacturing plant in the Bridgetown area last year. That saw just under 100 people lose their employment. That was roughly at the same time that Avon Foods in Berwick closed which affected a lot of the farmers in our area. So we are really focusing right now on trying to get new activity happening in that facility there and get some manufacturing and farm processing-oriented activity happening in the Bridgetown area.
MR. GAUDET: I just want to touch on farming and fishing because they are certainly very important in our local economy at home. I'm just curious, what kind of role is the WVDA involved in, a partnership - and I'm not going to go specifically into different areas of farming but I am just curious, in terms of overall farming or fisheries, what kind of role is the WVDA involved with?
MS. LARKMAN: In the area of fisheries, back in 1997, we realized that there needed to be a centre for support for the fishing industries, so we collaborated with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association to help create the Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre, which has been going strong as an independent organization for the last eight years, I guess. We support them, we collaborate with them and so on, but their primary function is to provide the fishing community with the information that they need to make the best possible decisions about the sustainable harvesting of the fisheries. We would have liked to have established a similar kind of facility to support agriculture and forestry, and we actually tried to do that, but we weren't successful in getting the resources together to get that off the ground.
The way that we tend to support those sectors of the economy is on a project-driven basis. So when we have an opportunity to pursue a new project - for example, if Mr. Theriault has proposed that we pursue new opportunities in the area of aquaculture - what we will then do is put together a proposal and go after the funding to be able to hire the expertise we need to really move forward with opportunities in an identified priority area. I don't know if that answers your question.
MR. GAUDET: I guess I will close with this last question. I want to focus in terms of challenges that the WVDA is faced with. You mentioned earlier that we have an unemployment rate of 9.7 per cent. I imagine that's a pretty good challenge to have. I guess my final question would be, what kind of challenges does the WVDA face, currently? What kind of challenges do you have to address?
MS. LARKMAN: Wow, that's a big question. I think that a lot of the challenges, we have already touched on. I don't feel that we have focused, as a province, on ensuring the sustainable harvesting around natural resources and putting the necessary incentives in place to encourage value adding to happen in our community. We still have a structure that favours exporting raw materials.
Mr. Theriault mentioned the proposed quarry on Digby Neck. If we look at that as just one example, in this province we allow foreign companies to come in and mine our rocks and minerals but we don't actually charge any royalties, we don't actually ask or demand that they put something directly back into the local economy, even though those are non-renewable resources.
Our challenge is to work with the communities, hear what their priorities are and support that, yet still operate within a legal and policy-oriented environment that doesn't necessarily always support what the communities are saying are their priorities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Gaudet. Mr. Dooks.
MR. DOOKS: One, maybe two quick questions. Talking about the quarry, what status is the quarry? Where is it at this point?
MS. LARKMAN: The proposed quarry is undergoing a joint federal-provincial environmental review process. An independent panel was appointed, there were a series of public hearings that took place at the beginning of January. The review panel - I can't remember the exact date - are scheduled to put forward their guidelines for the environmental impact statement that the company will be required to produce. Once that's produced there will be another series of public hearings and an opportunity for the community to respond.
MR. DOOKS: Is your organization supporting that?
MS. LARKMAN: We don't have a position on that per se. Our position is that we think the community needs to have a primary role in determining the outcome of that so the review process is a good thing. Certainly, the communities did come forward with concerns, we were one of the organizations that did come forward with concerns. We want to make sure that whatever happens is in the best interests of the community and that the net impact is positive, rather than negative. We want to make sure that all of the potential negative impacts are addressed in full.
MR. DOOKS: Is the community in support of the process? Is the community saying no to the environmental study, no to the involvement of the panel, no to we just do not want the quarry? Are they supportive of a process that will address the concerns because the environmental impact, I think, is one of the major concerns there? When you put a process in front of the community, they may welcome that process or they may not, the community at large.
MS. LARKMAN: There were four public meetings that were held as part of the review of the draft guidelines process. At each of those four public meetings there were at least 60 people in attendance - between 60 and 100 people - and these sessions took place over a three-hour period. At each of those four meetings in the three-hour period, the number of presentations by people coming forward, filled the time available. What we heard from the organizers of the panel was that they had never seen a public review process that has had this level of participation. So I think that the community is taking this as an opportunity to make sure that their voice is heard.
MR. DOOKS: Getting back to the wharf, I represent a fishing community as well. Wharves are problems throughout Nova Scotia. Has an engineering study been completed on the Digby wharf?
MS. LARKMAN: Not to my knowledge.
MR. DOOKS: So we talk about it being in bad repair. Is there a harbour authority? I missed that because I was a little late, who owns the wharf once again?
MS. LARKMAN: The wharf is owned by a not-for-profit organization called the Maritime Harbour Society and as far as doing any kind of engineering study at this point, it would be very difficult to get access to it to do that without the permission of the owners. Right now it's up for sale on the open real estate market.
MR. DOOKS: I have some experience with wharf upgrades, of course, an engineering study is necessary before you determine the structural integrity of the wharf. Also, an engineering study has to be done so they can calculate the cost of repair. I'm just saying to the member, you're a long way away from any hope of improving that unless this type of thing has taken place. It takes a good solid six months to get an engineering study completed and so on and so forth, so you do have a bit of a challenge there for sure.
Thank you very much, I have enjoyed your presentation this morning. Being the member for the Eastern Shore, we do struggle with enhancing or creating opportunities for our people so I've taken this with good light, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before we go to Mr. MacDonell for our second round, I had a few questions myself. Again, I apologize that I missed the first part of your presentation but, Janet, I'm curious, as an RDA you've indicated you receive $125,000 a year from the Province of Nova Scotia. What interaction does your development agency have with the provincial government, whether it be the Office of Economic Development, or NSBI, for example?
MS. LARKMAN: First, to explain the breakdown of the $125,000 that comes from the province, $100,000 of that comes from the Office of Economic Development and $25,000 of that comes from the Department of Community Services. As such, representatives of both those departments sit on our board of directors as non-voting resource people.
We actually work with all provincial government departments because our work crosses all sectors, but certainly we work very closely with the Office of Economic Development, with NSBI, and with the Department of Community Services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess my next question is, what funding has the province made available to you for projects that have been initiated by your development agency?
MS. LARKMAN: In general, the province has been quite supportive within the fiscal capacity of recent years; I understand that that might be changing. The province was a partner, for example, in the broadband network that we described, they've supported us in doing regional marketing initiatives, I would say that the province has been involved with a lot of programs and projects in our area.
I'll be honest, five years ago there were a lot of programs that were cut, we mentioned agriculture being one of them. There were other programs like the Waterfront Development Program and the Community Opportunities Fund and so on, that were taken off the table. If not for federal groups like ACOA, to kind of pick up those requests, I think that we would have seen a greater impact on our communities than we did.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's the reason that I asked that question. I know in my own community, whether it be the RDA or some of the community economic development groups like Development Isle Madame Association, which has been recognized internationally for some of their efforts, unfortunately, they've received basically zero dollars for almost all of their projects from the province. Had it not been for ECBC, ACOA and HRDC, many of those projects would not have been able to have been realized.
As you just mentioned, the Waterfront Development Program and a number of other programs that were with the province, that benefited many communities, no longer exist which is why I was curious on your projects, whether it was just our area that wasn't getting provincial money or if it's a matter that other areas are not. I guess on that specific question,
when it comes to infrastructure, that the RDA is involved with, and the communities, are there any funds being made available from the province to go toward those projects?
MS. LARKMAN: There has been some. I think in the last five years, all of the RDAs and all of the organizations involved in community economic development have essentially trained ourselves to expect that the larger contribution is going to come from federal sources than provincial. We've just adapted and worked with it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So it is safe to say that you're getting little to no funds from the province for specific infrastructure-type projects undertaken by the RDA?
MS. LARKMAN: Well, no, I don't think that that would be completely fair to say. As I mentioned, we did have a contribution from the province on the broadband infrastructure that we did. It was proportionately smaller than other contributions but, nonetheless, it was important.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can you give me examples of some of the other projects you have undertaken that the province has put money in?
MS. LARKMAN: We are doing, for example, an e-business program right now where we have 20 small- to medium-size enterprises that we are working with. It's a two-year program where we are providing mentoring to these companies, to help them expand their markets, expand their capacity by using technology in a really strategic way. The province is a partner in that initiative, just as an example.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess I'm curious, I know in our area there has been some waterfront development that has taken place. There have been some community developments taking place with some infrastructure, some small boardwalks, some community type - that sort of real infrastructure that you can see, touch and feel and it's permanent there in the community. Has your RDA been involved with those kinds of projects?
MS. LARKMAN: We were very actively involved with waterfront development projects during the lifespan of the Waterfront Development Program. Certainly, we saw activities in the Town of Bridgetown, the Town of Annapolis Royal, the Town of Digby, Belliveaus Cove. There were lots of different projects across the board. We are hoping to see some new activity happening in the Village of Weymouth right now, for example. Without having that specific fund, like the Waterfront Development Fund, it's quite a bit more challenging to get that infrastructure money to do those projects.
If the province is in a fiscal position to reopen a program like that, it was extremely beneficial to our community, and I think it's safe to say that we probably wouldn't be getting the United Nations saying that Annapolis Royal is the most liveable small town in the world if we didn't have that kind of infrastructure in place to support that good lifestyle.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am pleased to hear that because I think all of our communities have suffered with the loss of that infrastructure from the province. Certainly, waterfront development is essential to life here in Nova Scotia and for attraction of visitors.
I'm curious, you mentioned, I believe, that 80 per cent of all of your workforce is employed through small businesses. What involvement do you have, as an RDA, with small businesses that are looking either to expand, that are looking for adding a piece on their business or growing their business? What involvement are you having with the smaller type businesses?
MS. LARKMAN: A lot. We have a Canada/Nova Scotia Business Service Centre satellite resource centre in our office. We meet with about 150 small- to medium-size businesses on an annual basis, providing them with whatever kind of support they're looking for. We host seminars, workshops, business breakfasts, conferences and so on, on an ongoing basis. Annually, we have about 500 businesses participating in those kinds of activities. There is quite a bit there.
I actually wanted to just, if I could, take an opportunity to add something to your previous question about the province's role in infrastructure. Roads are obviously an area of provincial jurisdiction and I know that you hear all the time from rural regions that roads are a concern. They are in our area as well but there are two items that are of particular concern that I would like to put on the table. One of them is the Highway No. 101 connection between Digby and Weymouth. It still ain't done. It's not a controlled access highway, it's a residential area that has heavy logging trucks and transport trucks passing through there every day. It's a safety concern, as well as an economic development concern.
The second road-related issue is the interchange on Highway No. 101 at Exit 23A, which is the one that goes into Cornwallis Park. Right now it is only accessible to and from the east. If you're coming from the west or if you're going to the west, the only way to get on or off the highway is to do a U-turn, which is obviously a safety concern.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Janet. Mr. MacDonell.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just two or three items. I represent, basically, a rural constituency and, certainly, roads are an issue. I question road policy, but certainly in terms of the tourist routes, Glooscap Trail makes up part of Highway No. 215, along the Minas Basin, in my area; we have the only remaining original lighthouse in Hants East which is in Walton; we have, I think, three river rafting companies along that shore; we
have Burntcoat Head which has the highest recorded tides in the world; we have Anthony Park; we have Maitland Heritage District, Lawrence House, all of this along Highway No. 215, part of the Glooscap Trail, one of the worst roads in Hants East, for sure, and, I probably could argue, in the province and can't seem to get - even in terms of economic development, if the province was to look at roads at all, you would think the tourist route that they identify would be ones that they would want to see, really, in a decent condition. I think last year, Walton lighthouse had 12,000 visitors and those were only the ones who signed the book.
You talk about job creation and it's a very positive outlook there. Part of my constituency is along the corridor and Highway No. 2, from Enfield to Shubenacadie, a bedroom community, basically. A lot of people work at the airport or in Halifax. A friend of mine owns a construction company and he said on most jobs that you go to, as far as finding skilled workers, they're all 40 and older. I'm wondering if the access to skilled people is a problem that you've identified and what you see as possible lapses that are attributing to it.
MS. LARKMAN: Yes. I'm glad that you bring that up. Education and lifelong education is incredibly important to the economic future of the province. We're very fortunate to have groups in our area like the Digby Area Learning Association that has an adult high school. I know that they struggle every year to get the funding that they need to deliver the programs that they need, even though they are getting tremendous results and those results are having a very direct impact on the ability of our residents to access employment, and also on employers deciding to come into our area. They are deciding on the basis of skilled labour. So it's really important that we invest in those continuing education programs.
One of the programs that we have been involved with is called the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition Program. What that involves is, as you described, a worker who may be older who is trying to get into a new area and maybe doesn't have the credentials that the employer thinks that they are looking for. The prior learning assessment process helps that individual understand what their inherent knowledge and skill base is, and puts it in a format that the employer can understand. It goes through a certification process so, essentially, the employer looks and sees that that person has what they have to offer. That program has been a really good tool in our area.
MR. MACDONELL: I used to be a teacher before I became an MLA and I noticed a change when we went from the vocational schools to community colleges and have wondered if some other additional vocational component might be added, either at the high school level, or wherever. I notice students who were not going to finish Grade 12, which is a requirement to get into community college, who used to get Grades 8, 9, 10, they would start their vocational training and finish their high school as well. That component kind of seems to be missing and I'm thinking that, perhaps, that's a way to fill the skills gap, with people who would ordinarily have gone a vocational route, that it's more difficult.
MS. LARKMAN: Absolutely. I don't think it's news to anyone for me to say that we have skilled trade worker deficit in this province. When we talk to construction companies and businesses in the trade sector, they tell us that they cannot find the skilled workers that they need and they would be very interested in the province supporting an apprenticeship program that would make it possible for them to train new workers in trades, without it costing them money in terms of running their business. There has to be some kind of incentive or support program put in place to make that work.
MR. MACDONELL: One more, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: A quickie.
MR. MACDONELL: A quickie, I'll do this as fast as I can. The question is around agriculture and funding. I know from a presentation by ACOA, when they listed the industry sectors they supported, agriculture wasn't one. I think they supported the value-added side, like if you were canning apples or whatever, as far as on the ground. Actually fishery and forestry were on their list and I tried to make the point that access to funding for agriculture is as tough there as it is anywhere else.
In terms of community economic development in rural communities, this might be an area they could take a look at. If they actually believe that the value-added side is important, you have to have something to add value to and perhaps the support there. I just wonder if that's something that people in your area have commented on or you've noticed or questioned?
MS. LARKMAN: One of the points you make is something that we in the economic development business face all the time, that government departments tend to compartmentalize . . .
MR. MACDONELL: Silos.
MS. LARKMAN: Silos, and we have to jump through hoops to fit what we want to do in those silos. It would be a tremendous benefit if we could see more collaboration, more integration of programming at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, and across departments. Actually, we have a pilot project running in our area called the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is trying to do just that but it's at the staff level of those three levels of government. At the political level we need to see that kind of integration happening as well.
On specifically to your point about agriculture, we actually have - amazingly enough - had support from ACOA in agriculture, particularly a project to develop new crop varieties of raspberries, we've been doing crop trials in that area and they've been very supportive of that.
MR. MACDONELL: The R and D end, research and development?
MS. LARKMAN: The R and D end of things. So there are sometimes ways to get that support, I guess.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parker.
MR. PARKER: I had a question around, I guess, threats or challenges that you're facing. You've identified some of them here earlier around the Digby wharf, around infrastructure on our highways, the quarry was mentioned, those are all serious threats.
Another one I had a letter on just last week was from the LFA 34 executive in the fishery, particularly considering the erosion or the problem with owner/operator policy and the fleet separation policy and how DFO maybe is not enforcing that like they should be. There is a real concern there about trust agreements and how they're really allowing large fish corporations and outside interests to come in and maybe eroding fishing families, the small businesses that have been the heart of the community and the backbone of the fishery. If that goes out of the hands of the fishing families and into outside interests or large fish corporations, then it's really going to hurt the economy and it's a serious threat to our whole fishery in coastal Nova Scotia, but particularly in Southwest Nova, I think. I'm just wondering if your association is working in any respect to combat that very serious problem?
MS. LARKMAN: I agree with you 100 per cent that that is a huge issue of concern. Even though there is a federal policy in place that prevents the sale of quota to processors, we know that that hasn't been enforced, it is happening and we are seeing the lives of the owner/operators, small business, small family-run fishing business being affected.
We think that it is a very serious concern and certainly have made that concern known
and think that it would be helpful if the province added some additional pressure in that regard to enforce that policy. It's not an area that we can do very much more than put pressure on the federal government to enforce its existing policies.
MR. PARKER: I agree, it's an issue that the province should be going to bat for to try to protect our fishing communities and I guess all of us working together, your RDA, us as a province, and whoever, to try to see that there is a prevention from that happening. If it gets outside the community level and gets into foreign interests, it sure doesn't help our local communities so I guess we have to work at it together. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just one closing question on my part, Janet. The current funding formula you have right now, how long is that for?
MS. LARKMAN: We're actually in the process of renegotiating for a long-term funding contract. I'm trying to remember, we have different contracts with the federal government, the provincial government, and then we negotiate on an annual basis with our municipalities. I think that the provincial agreement actually runs out this year. What we would like to do is we would like to have a federal/provincial/municipal agreement where all three levels of government are onside for a long-term commitment, at least five years, so that's being negotiated right now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: In the past, how long were the commitments for?
MS. LARKMAN: It has varied, two years, three years, five years, there have been periods of time where we have had no contract and we have managed to receive the funding for that year, but without having an actual contractual agreement in place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You haven't been given any indication that there should be any problems on the provincial side to do that?
MS. LARKMAN: No, I don't think so. I think that the province, in the signing of the MOU and in other indications, have certainly shown that they're committed to the RDAs, that's the sense that we get at this point.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Great. On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you for your presentation today. I think it was very informative for all committee members, especially those of us who are not from the region, to learn of some new development going on. I think we can all speak of the success that community economic development has had and I think we all support communities directing their future, rather than Halifax making decisions on behalf of communities. I think it has been a tremendous success throughout our province and obviously, from your presentation today, it's certainly a great success in the Western Valley. We wish your organization well and we encourage you at any time, when issues do arise, to feel free to communicate with our committee. We hope that you might be a regular visitor to update us on both the progress and challenges being faced by your RDA. If you have any closing comments, I'd invite you to do so now.
MS. LARKMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It certainly was an honour to be invited and would be an honour to have the opportunity to come back any time you wish. There is just one last issue in our conversation, in our dialogue we didn't touch on and I want to make sure that it is mentioned and that is the issue of health care.
I know that you're all aware that health care in rural areas is a concern. We have three hospital facilities within our area: Digby, Annapolis Royal - which is actually a health centre - and Middleton. We have seen the steady decline of the number of beds and the number of services and so on that are available - both basic and emergency services - and it's a huge concern.
We also have issues in every single one of our communities with respect to doctors. We have, on average, one in five citizens without a doctor right now and we have doctors who have caseloads of more than 3,000 patients. We're finding that just as fast as we can get a doctor into the area, we then lose them. It's really impossible to continue to grow a region's economy if people can't feel safe about being able to access basic health care. So that would be my final issue that I would like to leave on the table, as being something that we need a strategy policy and a real proactive approach from the province to help us at the community level to address.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Great, thanks. Mr. Taylor, you had something?
MR. TAYLOR: I want to just say, Mr. Chairman, we spoke a little earlier about the Digby wharf. Ms. Larkman reinforced the significance of the Digby wharf to the area, and the MLA for the area is very concerned and he's been concerned right along. I'm wondering if we shouldn't, as a committee, send a letter off to the federal Minister of Transport and to the federal government, encouraging them to expedite, carefully, the ownership, I guess, or the change in ownership from the present - I guess we could call them come from aways but I won't do that, I will be kind - from the present group, in the interest of the Digby and area community. It may be more appropriate if the motion came from the MLA for the area. I would certainly be pleased to support it and second it if he thinks there's some value in sending a letter.
Whereas, I think our witness would appreciate a letter being sent off, where she had - I think you were in the room, Mr. Chairman, when she indicated that the Western Valley Development Agency supported a proposal from locals. We spoke about keeping decisions like this in the hands of the community. I'm just wondering if we couldn't . . .
MR. THERIAULT: We have formed a committee down there, Mr. Chairman. It is headed by Chairman Reg Hazelton. We are all prepared to take this over. It's just a matter of how it's going to go through that channel of getting this back. We don't know. We know there is a court date set for May 16th of this year. We do know that because Transport Canada is claiming that the company, Maritime Harbour Society, has broken its contract by not fulfilling the $3.07 million that it had for infrastructure of the wharf. So that is going to court in May. We know that.
In the meantime, I don't think it would hurt one bit for this committee to support us down there in saying to the federal government that we are prepared and we are just reiterating that we are prepared to take it over. We have told him this publicly down there that we are prepared. I would like to see it come from this committee that we're ready to take this over, if, in any way, the federal government can help us do it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. I think we do have a motion from Mr. Theriault to write a letter. Putting my legal hat on, the only thing I would recommend is that we be very careful around the language of the letter because, from my understanding, it's not just an issue that the community wants the wharf back and have control of the wharf. I think the great concern is that the federal government turns it over without any money to fix the wharf. I don't think the community is in a position to accept a wharf that's in the state it's in without any sort of financial support to bring it up to the standard it needs to be done.
Now, for those of us involved with the divestiture of wharves, it's a one-shot deal. They give you money, you take the wharf, fix it and then it's yours. The problem in this case, as far as the federal government is concerned, they have done that but we all know the wharf hasn't been fixed. So what I would suggest is, maybe we can sit down and draft a letter, and be that we're meeting again on Thursday, maybe at that point we will have the letter for the committee's consideration. If it meets the support of the committee at that point, then, certainly, I would have no problem sending it off but I would recommend that we at least sit down and try to - and I will certainly speak with Mr. Theriault and Deputy Chairman Taylor, and hopefully have them have a look at the letter before Thursday, and then the committee can look at it.
I don't think it's an issue that this committee supports what the community is doing, I think we just want to make sure that our plea to the federal government is put in the proper format so that the community not only gets this wharf, but that it gets a properly functioning wharf and that it's not left with a liability that, in the end, will cause the community greater headaches, which is the last thing any of us want to see. So if that has the support of members, that would be my recommendation that between the three of us, we'll put a letter togther and present it to the committee on Thursday for final approval.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Thank you, Janet. We have a few matters to deal with as a committee and you are free to leave. I would ask you to maybe stay - I'm sure members would like to chat with you for a second prior to leaving.
Members, quickly, we are on schedule for Thursday - is it morning or afternoon?
MRS. DARLENE HENRY (Legislative Committee Clerk): Afternoon.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thursday afternoon with Nova Scotia Power representatives. Is it still Ian Thompson who is coming for Nova Scotia Power?
MRS. HENRY: Ian Thompson and . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I simply ask that because it's my understanding he had announced his resignation with the company which is why I'm curious if he is coming. Can you check with Nova Scotia Power to see if that's still who they're sending?
MRS. HENRY: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The other item is that I know from a conversation with Mr. Taylor he expressed some concern about the meeting location in light of who we're having coming before us. I think all committee members know there has been great public interest in Nova Scotia Power on the issue of the November power outage. I spoke with Darlene and we are going to endeavour to have the meeting held at the Legislature, which is much more convenient and will accommodate any individuals or media who might be interested in the meeting on Thursday and it will also be more convenient for committee members here. That's what we have scheduled for Thursday.
A question is we do have quite a list - as you can see in front of you - of the approved and unapproved items. The committee has only been meeting once a month and I'm curious if the committee would be interested in meeting on a more frequent basis to deal with some of the log-jam that we have of witnesses who are looking to come before us. As we know, there are always witnesses who come as issues are raised, so I'm curious as to who the committee would like to see appear next and whether we should be looking at meeting every two weeks for the next few months to try to clear up some of this log-jam, or if the committee wishes to remain at just meeting once a month. I would like to hear some discussion on this.
MR. GAUDET: Can we think it over and come back?
MR. CHAIRMAN: On Thursday? Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: I was going to say twice a month, that makes sense to me. This is a committee that is pretty important and as you correctly point out, we have a long list of topics that we've all previously expressed some interest in having a look at.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Then maybe on Thursday we'll add that to our agenda. I would ask that members would leave 10 to 15 minutes extra time after we meet on Thursday so that we can deal with some of these matters. I don't want to eat into any of the time we have with Nova Scotia Power, I'd like to use the full two hours just for that and then we can deal with those matters.
Another issue that I'd like members to consider is we have received two pieces of correspondence about the Directors Guild and the other is from ACTRA. Both deal with the issue of tax incentives and movie productions here in the province. That's certainly an issue that has been in the media recently so I would ask members on Thursday to consider whether
we should get that group in earlier, in light of the pressing situation they have indicated to us. Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: I'm wondering about this. I certainly know that the film and television industry has been very active recently and going around and talking to all the caucuses. It seems to me that if we look at this topic, an answer to their question may appear in the next budget, I wouldn't be at all surprised. So I'm thinking if we decide to look at this to not turn to it until after we hear what's in the next provincial budget or there may be a specific announcement from the government about what they intend to do. (Interruptions) It may be that the sector may not feel it has to come talk to us if there's an appropriate announcement. Anyway, just a factor and we can discuss it next time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll leave that for discussion on Thursday but I have no problem if that's what is recommended. The other item I would ask committee members to look at, although they're not on the list - I certainly think in light of recent developments it would be interesting to have them in here - would be the Department of Energy to maybe brief the committee on the offshore accord and the impact it will have on the province. I think this committee is probably best suited to hear that, so I would certainly recommend that we bring them in as soon as possible being this is fresh in everyone's mind. On Thursday, we'll have that discussion as well. We will make a final decision on ACTRA and the Directors Guild, we will deal with the meeting schedule and who we want to have in next.
One other issue I wanted the committee to discuss is as you know, it has taken us a while to get to this meeting because of some cancellations. There was some issue about notification to members when there are cancellations. It became readily apparent on a couple of occasions where even the Civil Service was closed and it became extremely difficult to communicate with members. Unfortunately, we tried to reach some of the members at home and left messages but it was extremely difficult to do so, especially with the other caucuses.
I'm more than open to what protocol we have in place. The first time we did try to contact the deputy chairman and unfortunately, were unsuccessful. The second time we had a request from the NDP caucus, which was more than reasonable and which everyone respected. The third time, unfortunately, again, was due to a storm and the Civil Service was closed on Monday so it made notification extremely difficult. Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: As you know we've had postponements and reschedulings and cancellations regarding our witness for this coming Thursday, Nova Scotia Power. I think, generally, at the standing committee level, we pretty much stay on schedule for different reasons and some of them are very supportable and I think you and I have noted that in e-mails. I think rather than creating the wheel here or throwing the baby out with the bath water, I think that might have been more an anomaly than what has traditionally happened
at the committee level. I feel comfortable now that we do have the proper notifications in place and understand how we work as a committee. I know the author who sent the missive to you was concerned and I think he, too, feels more comfortable with the way things have been going. If you want to discuss it further, I will be prepared to partake in that as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One of the things we have done is gotten the home number for Darlene now, in the event we get into a situation again. Hopefully, the weather will not put us in that situation again but we will try to communicate with members and put out a notification to the media as timely as possible, should there be any requirement to cancel again in the future. I'm pleased to hear that the deputy chairman is content with what took place and we'll continue to work co-operatively to make this committee work as best as possible. Mr. Parker.
MR. PARKER: I'm not sure what the request was from our caucus but I guess our only request was the conflict that the meetings not be at the same time, like the Economic Development and Resources Committees, I think, were scheduled for both at the same time at one point and maybe if you can keep that in mind that some of us serve on both committees.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, we've noted that and tried to avoid as much as possible any conflict with that because we were initially scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon with Nova Scotia Power, which would have conflicted with Resources, but our regular meeting time will continue to be Tuesday mornings to avoid a conflict. In this case it was Thursday because of the extenuating circumstances and trying to accommodate getting our witness in as soon as possible.
MR. TAYLOR: Regarding our witnesses, the specific witnesses from Nova Scotia Power, do we know if it's Mr. Thompson or . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: The notification we received, I believe, is Ms. Tower and Mr. Thompson. The only concern I raised today is that I believe in Friday or Saturday's paper there was an announcement that Mr. Thompson has submitted his resignation to the company so I'm a bit curious if we're still having him come here to speak on behalf of the company he has effectively resigned from. I'm hoping Darlene will contact Nova Scotia Power and if someone different is coming in, we'll send out notification to the members to advise of any change. A media notification will go out to indicate we will now be meeting at the House of Assembly.
With that, thank you and we will see you on Thursday.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:05 a.m.]