NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Critical Infrastructure Resiliency -
Nov 2016 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 4
Monitoring and Funding Municipalities -
Nov 2015 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 5
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Public Accounts Committee
Eddie Orrell (Chair)
Gordon Wilson (Vice-Chair)
[Hon. Gordon Wilson was replaced by Bill Horne.]
Legislative Committee Clerk
Chief Legislative Counsel
Department of Municipal Affairs
Director of Municipality Finance and Operating Grants
Emergency Management Office
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2019
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Hon. Gordon Wilson
THE CHAIR: Order, please. I’d like to call the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee to order. Before we start, I’ll remind all those in attendance to put your phones on vibrate or silent.
We’ll ask committee members to introduce themselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. Today we have a three-hour meeting. We have officials with us from the Department of Municipal Affairs and the Emergency Management Office for the first 90 minutes to discuss critical infrastructure resiliency, from the November 2016 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 4. The remaining 90 minutes is with the Department of Municipal Affairs, and we’ll be discussing monitoring and funding municipalities, from the November 2015 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 5.
At this time, I’ll ask the witnesses to introduce themselves, please.
[The committee witnesses introduced themselves.]
THE CHAIR: If the witnesses would now make their opening remarks on critical infrastructure, please. Ms. Dean.
KELLIANN DEAN: Thank you for inviting us to join you for a discussion on two specific chapters from recent Auditor General Reports: Chapter 4 from the November 2016 report on critical infrastructure resiliency, and Chapter 5 from the November 2015 report on monitoring and funding municipalities.
Joining me today are Paul Mason, as you’ve met, and Kathy Cox-Brown.
I’d like to begin by saying that we take the Auditor General’s recommendations very seriously and have made it a priority to respond to them. I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made in response to both of these chapters. We’ve completed our work on all the recommendations, except for two related to critical infrastructure, which are well under way and will be completed before the end of this fiscal year, if not sooner.
I will first speak to our work to respond to the critical infrastructure resiliency recommendations. Critical infrastructure is defined as the processes, systems, facilities, technologies, and networks that are essential to the health, safety, security, or economic well-being of Nova Scotians and the effective functioning of government.
Disruptions of critical infrastructure could result in catastrophic loss of life, adverse economic effects, and significant harm to public confidence. Not all infrastructure is or can be critical, Mr. Chair.
Similar to jurisdictions across Canada, we focus our efforts on provincial infrastructure that falls under one of 10 categories defined in the National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure. These categories are: energy and utilities, information and communication technology, finance, health, transportation, safety, food, water, manufacturing, and government. We also focus efforts on provincial infrastructure that poses a significant regional, provincial, or national threat in the event of a major disruption or infrastructure whose loss would present the risk of catastrophic loss of life, adverse economic effects, and/or significant harm to public confidence. Lastly, critical infrastructure is defined as infrastructure requiring priority with restoration ideally within 24 to 48 hours of a disruption.
Mr. Chair, critical infrastructure in Nova Scotia is owned and operated by a variety of organizations and levels of government. The federal government, for example, regulates telecommunications, transportation providers, motive fuel, and the financial sector. The private sector owns and operates key pieces of critical infrastructure, such as grocery stores, home heating fuel suppliers, and gas stations. Municipalities are responsible for water supply, municipal streets and roads, and municipal fire and policing services.
NGOs such as Canadian Blood Services and public utilities such as Nova Scotia Power play crucial roles. Other areas fall under the jurisdiction of the province, such as our provincial highway system, the Canso Causeway, hospitals and our health care system, correctional centres, homes for special care and small options homes, and provincially owned public housing.
However, we know that Nova Scotians expect that critical infrastructure will continue to operate regardless of who the owner/operator is. Therefore, enhancing the resiliency of Nova Scotia’s critical infrastructure requires a collaborative approach.
Our role at EMO is to lead prompt and coordinated responses to emergencies in Nova Scotia. This includes collaborating with all critical infrastructure owner/operators during an emergency. It is also important to note that EMO does not own any critical infrastructure. We have the utmost confidence in our partners and in the owner/operators of critical infrastructure in Nova Scotia. They are professional world-class organizations that know and understand their business and their accountabilities.
EMO assumed leadership for critical infrastructure in 2018 and since then we have made significant progress in addressing the Auditor General’s recommendations. For example, we’ve established a critical infrastructure resiliency committee that is comprised of key private sector partners and representatives from provincial departments that own, operate, or regulate critical infrastructure. The role of this committee is to identify potential risks to critical infrastructure and to ensure there are plans in place to address them. We continue to build and maintain strong relationships with critical infrastructure owner/operators.
Along with our colleagues at the Department of Internal Services, who are responsible for the province’s business continuity management program, we are working across government to ensure there is a coordinated approach to information, training, and exercising opportunities. We have developed a strategy to enhance the ability of critical infrastructure owners and operators to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies with a goal of providing continuity of service across all sectors.
We continue to collaborate with our critical infrastructure leaders across the country to share best practices, lessons learned, and to explore new approaches which may benefit Nova Scotians. Last Friday, we participated in the region’s first critical infrastructure exercise, which simulated a hurricane hitting the Tantramar Marsh area, cutting off transportation, power, and communication to the province.
Exercises like these allow us to practise the actions, processes, and procedures that would be required in a real emergency. They also allow participants to discuss interdependencies, evaluate emergency preparedness plans, test or validate procedures, strengthen teams and collaboration, increase coordination, and other benefits. We’ll be participating in a second critical infrastructure exercise in November that will be focused on the Canso Causeway.
Mr. Chair, the Auditor General formally recognized that we have completed two of the four recommendations made in his 2016 report regarding critical infrastructure. These are assigning critical infrastructure to EMO and identifying critical infrastructure owners and operators having an impact on the province and ensuring that all 10 sectors are addressed. As I mentioned earlier, we are nearing completion on Recommendation No. 4.2, which is to “develop and execute a strategy for implementing the National Strategy and Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure in the province.”
I’m also pleased to report that significant progress is being made on Recommendation No. 4.4, ensuring that “all critical infrastructure owned by the Province is identified and have documented all-hazards risk assessments which consider interdependencies on other critical infrastructure and mitigation strategies.” Completing these two recommendations is a top priority for us, and we are working diligently to have them both completed as soon as possible.
As part of responding to these two recommendations, we have established a committee of key critical infrastructure partners, including members from provincial governments, other levels of government, and the private sector. We have developed a draft critical infrastructure resiliency strategy which focuses on critical infrastructure that is of regional or provincial significance in the 10 sectors that I referenced earlier. It will engage owners and operators of critical infrastructure in a provincial approach, focus on the most critical and vulnerable critical infrastructure, increase collaboration among sectors, develop best practices, and develop training and exercising opportunities.
Nova Scotians can have confidence that government and our partners have strategies in place to continue providing goods and services if a disruption or emergency occurs. They can have confidence that EMO is committed to enhancing the resiliency of our province to respond to emergency situations.
As the deputy minister responsible, I have full confidence that EMO is working as it should with its partners to enhance our ability to prevent, respond to, and recover from any threats to our critical infrastructure. Now, Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to take the committee’s questions regarding critical infrastructure.
THE CHAIR: We’ll open the round of questions now beginning with the PC caucus. Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Good morning, everyone. Deputy minister, thank you very much for your opening remarks. I was wondering, Mr. Chair, if this committee could get a copy of the opening remarks from the deputy minister. That would be very helpful. There was a lot of very important information outlined there. I’m sure my colleagues would like to have those opening remarks.
I have many questions. My first question is with respect to your opening remarks. You indicated a critical infrastructure resiliency committee. Would you be able to outline who is on that committee, and is there money allocated for the functioning of that committee?
KELLIANN DEAN: I will ask Paul Mason to outline who’s on the committee. At this point, we have sufficient resources within our current budget to handle the administration of any of the committee work.
PAUL MASON: The committee is formed around the 10 sectors that are identified in the national CI strategy. Under energy and utilities would be Nova Scotia Power. The fuel sector would be Imperial and Irving. Under information and telecommunication, Bell and Eastlink are two prominent players under that section or category. Under finance, we’re dealing through the Canadian Bankers Association - that is generally administered more at the federal level and we work very closely with Public Safety Canada as our partner, federally in the CI initiative.
Under health, we’re working with the Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Department and Canada Blood Services. Transportation is under the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal provincially - Halifax International Airport, Sydney Airport, and CN are some examples under that section.
Under safety, we’re working closely with the RCMP, municipal policing services, and also fire services. Under food, we’re working with the Retail Council and also the Department of Agriculture, and Fisheries and Aquaculture. Under water would be Halifax Water and also the Department of Environment. Under government, we’re working with the various municipalities and provincial departments along with Public Safety Canada, as I noted earlier. In manufacturing, we’re working with Michelin and IMP - once again, that tends to be more at the federal level, so we’re working with Public Safety Canada and their industry association.
TIM HALMAN: Certainly, that’s a comprehensive list of stakeholders. How often does this committee meet?
PAUL MASON: It generally meets three times a year. The first meeting was in September. There was a meeting in February and the third meeting will be on May 30th of this year, and that will be to evaluate the exercise which the deputy noted was conducted on May 17th.
TIM HALMAN: I’m just curious as to the budget of that committee. What’s the money allocated for the operation of that committee?
PAUL MASON: As the deputy noted, we’re able to do that within our existing funding envelope, so we’ve allocated some of our staff - our FTEs - to ensure that that work gets done and they’ve been moving that ahead vigorously.
TIM HALMAN: It was stated within the Auditor General’s Report that the Emergency Management Office was committed to implementing a national strategy. Could you provide to us a detailed state of that plan? Is it completed? If you could provide us some details on that, please.
PAUL MASON: Certainly. The plan is currently, as the deputy noted, still in draft phase. It is largely complete. It’s going through a final review with stakeholders in the coming weeks. It’ll be reviewed at the May 30th meeting and once any final inputs are incorporated the plan should be ready for further review and hopefully finalization within the coming months.
Really, the structure of the plan is to support and build upon the national strategy. That national strategy is really focused on enhancing partnerships and sharing and protecting information. That’s really what our strategy is focused on; to identify the players within those 10 categories and to meet regularly so that we can ensure that the relationships are in place, that the stakeholders are identified, and the interdependencies are considered so that when events occur, we’re well positioned to respond in a coordinated way as is our mandate.
TIM HALMAN: A few weeks ago, I attended a climate change protest outside this very Chamber - I know my colleague the member for Halifax Needham and others were there. Among Nova Scotians, I believe there is a sense of urgency for us to adapt to the realities of climate change. I think what we’ve witnessed this Spring throughout Canada, with all provinces and our federal government - there is the need to adapt our systems.
As a former teacher, climate change is of utmost importance to young Nova Scotians, as my colleagues know as well. With respect to that, the question is this: What took so long for us to get a notion of this sense of urgency with the national strategy? What were some of the obstacles to getting us to where we wanted to go?
KELLIANN DEAN: The national strategy has been in the works for many years. Recently in the last two to three years, there has been a finalization of the critical infrastructure resiliency piece of the national strategy. Then it’s up to provinces to take that and adapt it for their own provinces and to try to determine how they’re going to roll that out with respect to the overarching umbrella strategy.
As Paul Mason discussed, we are at that stage now, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been working diligently on mitigation and emergency management planning with municipalities or with our partners. There is, yes, a formalized strategy now that we are all connected to and that does enhance our focus but over the past several years we’ve been working closely at the local level and the regional level, so every municipality has to have a Municipal Climate Change Action Plan. Those were funded through the gas tax several years ago and we’re supporting municipalities in implementing those plans.
They also have to have an emergency management plan and those are reviewed on an annual basis by the Emergency Management Office. So again we look at what their plans are, we look at how they are mitigating challenges in their communities. There is also a number of programs available for municipalities to tap into, as well as the provincial government to look at, to address areas of mitigation and to strengthen infrastructure.
I would say that the work has been ongoing and the national framework has brought some focus and continuity and I would say consistency to the approach across Canada and how provinces would be shaping their provincial plans and adapting.
TIM HALMAN: Within the Auditor General’s Report, it states that the Emergency Management Office does not have a legislated mandate from Executive Council to implement a critical infrastructure program in Nova Scotia. I’m curious as to what the main obstacles are to obtaining a legislated mandate.
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say that we are doing the work so there is an Emergency Management Act and it made sense that EMO be the lead agency or the lead department in government to coordinate the work around critical infrastructure because it is so closely related to emergency management. We’ve been assigned the lead by Executive Council Office and we’re fulfilling that mandate.
TIM HALMAN: I guess I’m curious, has the office tried to obtain a legislated mandate in the past?
KELLIANN DEAN: Well at this stage, we have a mandate from Executive Council Office and we’re executing it, then we operate under our legislative framework for emergency management. So further to that, there hasn’t been any further need for additional legislation.
TIM HALMAN: So EMO does have a staff position that has a job description assigned to it and it is described as the following: developing and implementing policy related to a critical infrastructure program in the province. Can you clarify what policy has been developed as of late by this position, or, in a general sense, the position’s existence? Sort of outline the responsibilities of that.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’ll actually ask Paul to respond to that.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Mason.
PAUL MASON: We do have a dedicated position which is moving the CI file forward on a day-to-day basis. That position of course is supported by their manager/director and of course myself in that work. The CI file is certainly a high priority file with EMO right now and I would say that is also the case with the federal government.
As you noted earlier, there have been a lot of events nationally just this Spring and in prior years so the need to look at CI is well known.
What that position has really been focused on in the past year or so has been building out the strategy, working to identify stakeholders, bringing them together in the meetings, which I touched on earlier, and also working to coordinate the exercises and what have you.
There’s also some more granular work which that position would either do themselves or oversee. It’s simply some of the day-to-day things that have to be done to ensure that we’re well prepared to respond when events occur. It’s simply making sure our stakeholder lists are full and have a full representation of the contacts that we need to have, making sure those lists are checked on a regular basis so that they are up to date and current so we are well positioned to respond when an event occurs.
TIM HALMAN: The Department of Justice has a unit within the Public Safety and Security Division called Security Intelligence Management Services, which has critical infrastructure responsibilities. Is there any interaction and coordination in sharing of information with your department with this unit?
PAUL MASON: That unit is with DOJ. My understanding of their work is it’s more around security and intelligence gathering and what have you. They do have representation through DOJ on our committee and information would be shared on an as needed or as required basis.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying that there are informal meetings or points of contact between those two different agencies? Is that a correct statement?
PAUL MASON: Yes.
TIM HALMAN: Okay. My understanding is the unit is supposed to have five members, but only two positions are filled. Do you know if the five positions are filled now?
PAUL MASON: I can’t speak to that. It’s with DOJ, so I’m not familiar with their current staffing levels.
TIM HALMAN: Have you or someone in the department ever voiced concern that these positions were not filled to maximum capacity? Do you think we could get better policy, more or less - better review - if these positions were filled?
PAUL MASON: It hasn’t impacted our work, so I haven’t had a discussion with DOJ. That’s really an internal staffing matter for them. It’s had no negative impact on our work.
TIM HALMAN: The province does not identify critical infrastructure and does not have a list of provincially-owned infrastructure to conduct threat assessments. Would you agree that a list of this information would be an asset moving forward?
KELLIANN DEAN: Actually, that is part of one of the recommendations that the AG made that we are working on that’s in progress. I have reached out to all the provincial departments to ask for lists of their critical infrastructure - again, respecting the definition of what we’re using for critical infrastructure - to begin to compile that list and also to see whether or not there are plans associated with that.
That work will be ongoing because once we compile that information, we’ll have further conversations about what might be required subsequent to that. That’s one of the first steps in trying to create a good plan for addressing any issue that might be there. All departments have business continuity plans, but not all departments have critical infrastructure or responsibility for critical infrastructure. That assessment has gone out and we will look at the information that comes back and work with departments.
TIM HALMAN: In Section 4.25 of Page 62, it states, “. . . the provincial entity responsible for the program needs the authority to require provincial government departments to comply.” What would you say are the main obstacles in getting that authority?
KELLIANN DEAN: I think the first step is really to understand what we have, and an approach that we have as a coordinating agency here at EMO is to reach out to others to see what plans are in place and what information is required that we have to act on.
At this stage, we’re in the process of gathering that information and I’m not aware of any barriers to compliance. We’re beginning to assess what we have here, and I’m not anticipating any resistance from our partners or from other departments.
TIM HALMAN: Turning to Recommendation 4.1, it says, “Executive Council should clearly define if the Emergency Management Office is responsible for establishing a critical infrastructure program, and if not, assign responsibility to another department.” Has this recommendation been implemented?
KELLIANN DEAN: Yes, absolutely. EMO is responsible for coordinating all critical infrastructure.
TIM HALMAN: Section 4.26 on Page 62 states, “The requirements of the National Strategy and Action Plan have not been communicated to Government departments.” I’m curious: Is the responsibility of communicating this the responsibility of the minister or the Premier?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would suggest that’s it’s the minister responsible for emergency management, which is our minister, and we have reached out to government departments to make them aware of the strategy and to share with them the draft strategy. That is the role of EMO.
TIM HALMAN: It was stated in the report that the departmental representatives are not engaging these owners and operators for purposes specific to critical infrastructure resiliency planning. Is this still the case? Would you be able to expand on that?
PAUL MASON: That is not the case. We are reaching out to all owners of CI, both within the various provincial departments and privately, so those contacts have been made. They have been invited to participate in the Critical Infrastructure Resiliency Committee so we have definitely reached out to them, yes.
TIM HALMAN: One of the national strategy’s primary objectives was to engage in partnerships and promote information sharing. Could you outline how many partnerships have been made since its inception?
PAUL MASON: The partnerships really would be the entities which I noted earlier and a few others. The total on them would probably be in the vicinity of 20 or so but I’d have to add them up.
What we’ve looked to do - as per the AG recommendations and the national strategy - is to identify CI that would fall within those 10 categories outlined in the national strategy, utilizing the definition that is within that strategy and then to reach out proactively to all those groups and that has been done. As the deputy alluded to, it is work which is always ongoing so there may be groups that come into that working group or that committee as time moves along but as per the definition now, we have made contact with them.
TIM HALMAN: It was stated there are other mechanisms available to identify national and regional threats and risks having an impact on critical infrastructure in Nova Scotia. However, it was stated that not all of these resources were properly and fully utilized. In effect, some would say a waste of resources. What are these other mechanisms that the Auditor General was alluding to in Paragraph 4.29 on Page 63? What are those mechanisms he is referring to?
PAUL MASON: My interpretation of the comments made by the AG - one would be just through the fulsome identification of CI and ensuring that that communication is happening. That’s one of the things that we’ve executed since the November 2016 report. We’ve always had longstanding relationships with many different CI partners but I would say that our business processes now are fulsome and representative of all 10 categories. That’s one source of better risk identification, just that communication and identifying those interdependencies and what have you.
There’s also more kind of granular or tactical things that can be done. One example is better LIDAR mapping to understand flood risks and flooding in different areas of the province, so there are benefits that can be gleaned through better communication and collaboration. There are also tools and technology that can be used to help inform those discussions. We’re looking to move along on both of those fronts.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Halman, 50 seconds.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying that the individual in charge of directing the complete utilization of these mechanisms would be the minister? Is that a correct statement?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say that the minister is certainly in charge of emergency management, so he provides oversight on matters with respect to emergency management.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much - that will conclude the time for the PC caucus. We’ll now move to the NDP caucus and Ms. Leblanc.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for being here. My first question is about the strategic emergency management plan. I’m wondering what studies or analyses have you used or are you using to project the impacts of climate change on Nova Scotia in the coming decades? I guess the operative word there is “project”.
PAUL MASON: There’s a number of studies which are at play that we’re utilizing. I’d have to get a list together to respond in detail but there’s a number with regard to - obviously the area around the Tantramar Marshes is an area that has had a lot of attention so there’s a number of studies which we’ve analyzed there. We’ve also worked with Environment Canada and other entities as well, to kind of help gather information.
As I noted earlier, the increased LIDAR mapping which helps us to have a better understanding of areas which may be at a higher risk for flooding and what have you, through climate change, more powerful storms, rising sea levels, those types of things. Those are some of the sources of information which we are utilizing in our planning and projections.
SUSAN LEBLANC: It would be great if we could get a list of those. That would be welcome. Do these studies or analyses include estimates of the potential cost to the province of climate change impacts?
PAUL MASON: There have been studies which have come out looking at costs. IBC, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, has been fairly proactive on that front. They have released studies that look at some of the dollar value costs that could be associated with climate change and the resulting impacts. They’re primarily focused here in Atlantic Canada on flood and those types of damages. In other areas of the country, forest fires and what have you have also been more prominent. Of course, there’s significant costs that go along with those. There have been a few other private studies which have been done. The University of Waterloo has been proactive through their Intact Centre and what have you. Those are some of the sources of information which we can utilize. Of course, Public Safety Canada is also an excellent source of information for us as well.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The province itself has not been doing any of those cost forecasts - would that be safe to say?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would have to get back to you on that. I don’t have specific information on provincial studies that were done. What I do know is that as a result of climate change and as a result of past flooding and some of the programs that we have done with Public Safety Canada, there is proactive work that’s happening around mitigation. By strengthening some of the critical infrastructure, we can avoid some of these costs in the future.
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the Department of Environment, and the Department of Agriculture would be very engaged in looking at ways around dikes, for example - how that can be strengthened and how we can move to ensure that some of the flooding is mitigated in the future. The past actions have certainly informed where we’re going in the future around adaptation and mitigation.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I just want to be clear. You mentioned flooding quite a lot. We’re talking about sea-level rise, but we’re also facing drought, forest fires, erratic and severe weather, electrical grid disruption, and also of course health impacts of climate change. I just want to be clear that the government - please say yay or nay on this one - in your view has no idea how much climate change impacts might cost our province. Is that correct?
KELLIANN DEAN: What I would say is that I do not have specific information on what other departments may have with respect to those costs.
SUSAN LEBLANC: A study by a team of geographers at Saint Mary’s University has indicated that about 70 per cent of the 241 kilometres of dikes in the province could be overtopped in a severe tidal surge coming up the Bay of Fundy. What estimates do you have of the cost of investments we need to make over the next decade to make our critical infrastructure more resilient?
KELLIANN DEAN: I’m not going to quote other departments’ information because I don’t have it in front of me, but there has been work done on the dike system, and there have been applications made to federal programs in order to access money that’s available for mitigation around the dikes system. I know that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has been very involved in that. In fact, there may have been confirmation on some of the funding for those projects. I would suggest that if there’s further details around that, perhaps we could provide that to you.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Great. We will take any and all information that you have that you can send to us. Thank you.
I’m wondering if your work has done any comparison about the upfront cost adequately addressing the risks now compared to the range of possible future costs if we don’t address some of these pieces of critical infrastructure.
PAUL MASON: Within the scope of EMO, we haven’t done an exercise or an evaluation on that cost focus. Our focus, of course, is more on just the response and what have you. As the deputy alluded to earlier, with regard to the dikes and berms and those types of structures, we work with the departments that have the legislative mandate for those to try to add value to those discussions.
Our focus is more on the mitigation but of course the response and recovery aspects as well. Our department hasn’t done an analysis on what the up-front costs to mitigate versus the downstream costs of what may happen with regard to property damage and what have you.
SUSAN LEBLANC: To your knowledge, do you know if other departments have done those cost comparisons?
KELLIANN DEAN: At this point, I’m not going to comment. I don’t want to speak for other departments, although I do know that those that have critical infrastructure would be constantly looking to assess what the needs and the requirements are and how they need to mitigate for the future. Analysis would be done at the departmental levels, but I don’t have complete knowledge of that for all those departments.
That is something we would begin to evaluate and discuss as we continue to meet as a critical infrastructure resiliency committee across government. We are at the beginning of gathering information from all of the departments around their critical infrastructure, so as we begin to see that information, we will have those kinds of conversations and I think we’ll have a more robust understanding of what some of the risks are and what some of the mitigation activities are that are currently under way in departments.
As Paul mentioned, the role of EMO is a coordinating role, so what we seek to do is to gather all of the information and look at what then needs to be done and what plans need to be in place. Some departments may have plans in place already. What we’re trying to do is to collaborate, to gather all of that information, and then determine where we may need to improve or strengthen or what other information we may require. It is very much a collaborative effort.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I would think that it would be a collaborative effort and to me, it seems like EMO is perfectly poised to be the leader in that and to break down some of the silos that we hear about all the time across various aspects of the way our government works.
I’m just going to go off-script for a second and ask you, in terms of mitigation - if I was in charge of the fire service and was dealing with increased forest fires, for instance, because of climate change, I would have a vested interest in making sure that people don’t go into dry forests and drop matches. We don’t want that to happen when we’re in that situation.
I’m wondering what role EMO can play in being a leader in terms of climate change mitigation and not just for mitigating specific issues like at the Tantramar Marshes or on the dykes, but in terms of how we can mitigate climate change overall. Do you have any thoughts on that?
KELLIANN DEAN: I think EMO’s role is coordinating efforts, but we also have a role in educating so that’s the proactive role that we play. It is in the response, but it’s also increasing awareness of things that municipalities and others can do with respect to emergency management and mitigation. Paul, I don’t know if you wanted to add to that.
PAUL MASON: The main thing I would add is that I think EMO does certainly have an important voice at the table. It’s a fulsome discussion that involves, in my view, not just government but many different stakeholders.
I think EMO can bring value to that discussion through some of the work that we do on the planning side for emergencies, but also our ability to have discussions with our counterparts across the country and also federally with Public Safety Canada so that we can learn from our experiences here in Nova Scotia, but also learn from some of the other experiences or events that have occurred nationally and therefore be better positioned to respond to them here in Nova Scotia.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Has the Emergency Management Office calculated the total value of all the privately owned and publicly owned critical infrastructure in the province, and if so, what is that total value?
PAUL MASON: We have not calculated the value.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Has the EMO analyzed critical infrastructure in the province to determine how vulnerable it is, and what proportion of the critical infrastructure in the province would you say is at a high risk versus a low risk of becoming non-functional due to climate change impacts?
KELLIANN DEAN: As I indicated earlier, we’ve just reached out to all of the departments to understand which ones actually have critical infrastructure. We’re at the preliminary stages of gathering that information, so we currently don’t have that information.
SUSAN LEBLANC: A recent federal report on climate change projected that as the coast continues to subside and oceans warm, the Atlantic Canadian coast could see up to a metre of sea level rise over the next century. What level of sea rise are you currently projecting and preparing for?
KELLIANN DEAN: While I wouldn’t have the specific level of sea rise to share with you, what I can tell you that what we’ve done is we are working with municipalities on mandatory planning with minimum planning standards. Those are designed to ensure that municipalities are taking into account in their planning where they are close to potential flood zones, where they may be close to the ocean and that they account for that as they move forward. So as the climate has changed, areas that previously were deemed fine to build on may not be any more and there may be other areas that need to be identified in the future as zones where perhaps there should not be any buildings. Those standards will help clarify that for municipalities. We’re working very closely with them on that.
The other piece is that the Department of Environment introduced the Coastal Protection Act so that’s another measure that has been put in place to help municipalities and ensure that as we look to the future we’re taking into consideration the impact of sea level rise and coastal protection as we look to develop and build.
I guess the other point I would make is that the department is also working on a flood line mapping study - LIDAR mapping - that will provide information to municipalities. It is a provincial program that we’re doing in conjunction with the federal government, again designed to help municipalities make decisions based on areas that are deemed high risk for flooding. This information will be provided to municipalities so that they again will be able to make decisions around zoning and land use planning.
It’s a complicated answer, but there are many different considerations and pieces that are at play to support and address building near coastal areas and zoning and land use planning, particularly with respect to municipalities.
SUSAN LEBLANC: What about the areas that are already built and planned? I’m from Prospect and in the Village of Prospect, there are many homes that are right on top of the water. I know that Hurricane Juan, for instance, really hit Prospect hard. Even when I was a child, there was a big storm that flooded many homes. What about those kinds of villages, of which there are many in Nova Scotia? Are you looking at anything to mitigate the risks to those already made, already developed municipalities or parts of municipalities?
KELLIANN DEAN: Well again, municipalities are responsible for zoning and for land-use planning. We hope that some of the tools that are being made available now around minimum planning and certainly the coastal protection will provide some guidance in the future.
In terms of existing, it is challenging and those have to be dealt with in the context of the current climate, and municipalities also need to consider what measures might need to be in place for adaptation for some of the areas that may be at risk.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Can you talk a little bit more about the climate change risks to the drinking water supply in Nova Scotia? Can you paint a picture of what the risks might mean for Nova Scotians?
KELLIANN DEAN: I personally at this stage can’t. Again, as we continue to work with our partners and assess what the risks are with respect to emergency management and with respect to critical infrastructure, and of course water would be considered among those, we may be in a better position to look at that and we’d be working with our colleagues to assess that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: So we know that last year in southwestern Nova Scotia those communities like Argyle and Barrington and Yarmouth experienced droughts - sorry, not last year, in 2016 - well last year, 2018 - but last year the Emergency Management Office said that providing bottled water to those areas cost $6,000 per truckload. How much did each of those droughts cost the province in total? Do we know that?
PAUL MASON: As I recall, I believe the cost in 2016 was around $50,000, and 2018 I believe was around $70,000. I’d have to confirm, but that’s my recollection.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Have you looked at how much more frequently your office will be projecting droughts like that are likely to happen?
KELLIANN DEAN: With respect to the drought situation that happened in southwestern Nova Scotia, what we have done is looked at how we can help municipalities mitigate against that in the future because it’s difficult to predict whether or not you’re going to have a drought situation or not. Sometimes that’s predicated on what kind of a winter we’re having, as well.
For example, we amended legislation so that what municipalities could do if they wanted to is to provide a funding program to residents should they have water issues in the future. In some instances, wells may not be deep enough, or they may want access to cisterns in the future to try to help mitigate individual situations. That’s now available and four municipalities have put that program in place.
As well, what we’re looking at is whether there may be sources of public water that need to be upgraded in the event of drought, so it’s about looking ahead and seeing if some of the measures that we have taken in the past are enough and what more might need to be done. I know that TIR stepped in with tankers and also brought water from other water supplies into the communities, so it really is a collaborative approach to help in the moment.
We are doing things to look at how we might mitigate in the future. Our minister has asked all of the impacted municipalities to come forward with some suggestions about what they see could work in their areas to help mitigate against a drought situation in the future. They have provided some of those suggestions to us and then we’re going to be meeting to see which ones of those are feasible and how we might be able to further support them.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The Nova Scotia Power grid is perhaps one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure in the province and it’s privately owned. Does your office have any analysis of how private ownership versus public ownership impacts the resiliency of critical infrastructure and our ability to make sure necessary investments are being made to protect it?
PAUL MASON: We don’t have a recent study on the resiliency or what have you. I can say that we work very closely with Nova Scotia Power. When an event occurs, we generally will activate our Provincial Coordination Centre to help coordinate a response. Representation from various government departments and private sector entities will be on site to kind of help promote that information sharing and what have you.
We have seen excellent collaboration from Nova Scotia Power with regard to having their representation in our centre so that we can help coordinate and prioritize power restoration to critical infrastructure assets.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’m short on time, so I’ll just ask: Can you specify what grid improvements Nova Scotia Power is making and how much they will cost?
PAUL MASON: I don’t have information on that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: We know that the #CodeCritical campaign for Nova Scotia paramedics has been ongoing. We know that climate change impacts will make that even more critical. What is the province doing to better prepare our emergency care system for large-scale emergencies?
KELLIANN DEAN: The Health and Wellness Department has a robust emergency management plan and that would be captured under their plan.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. That ends the NDP time. We’ll now move to the Liberal caucus and Mr. MacKay.
HUGH MACKAY: Thank you very much, and again, thank you very much for being here today. Your opening remarks were very thorough and provided some answers. It also prompted questions, of course. It was a very thorough presentation and I appreciate that.
I’d like to start just by returning to a question posed by my Assembly colleague, the member for Dartmouth North who mentioned silos. Obviously, this is a very important thing for us in critical infrastructure resilience. I would suspect that the CI Committee is formed to address exactly that concern of silos.
I appreciate that that committee will have a lot of work to do. It’s one thing to talk about protection but I’m also wondering if you could comment a little bit more on adaptation, the progressive proactive plans that the committee will develop in regard to not just climate change and other natural disasters but industrial accidents, intentional threats to our critical infrastructure, could you comment towards those things, please?
PAUL MASON: Certainly. As you touched on, our focus through that committee is really to help kind of promote that information sharing, best practices and what have you. With regard to specific events and being proactive on the planning side of things, per se, our focus and the value we bring to the table is that coordination piece.
For example, you could be looking at a fairly large-scale industrial facility that could have an event which obviously could impact on life and property and could also engender some supply issues and what have you. Generally our discussions with the owners of that asset would be look, do you need a coordinating capacity to respond? They may be able to respond within their own capacities on that.
Beyond that, assuming that they do have the capacities to respond, which in most cases they would, our focus would be more on are there specific assets, skill sets or capabilities that need to be brought to the table that we can obtain for that owner of private assets, where that could be reaching out to our counterparts in other provinces or even within Nova Scotia.
It would also be focused on the interdependencies. So even though the immediate issue may have been addressed at that location, if that site will be out of commission for a period of time, what might that mean for some of our other CI assets? Will that impact them or not? That’s some of the planning that we are doing and will continue to do as that committee stands up and gets more time under it.
HUGH MACKAY: Thank you very much for that. As a former - maybe even present - mapping specialist, I was glad to hear of the increased emphasis of using the LIDAR mapping and hopefully a broader range of geomatic tools to assist us in emergency management and critical infrastructure management, LIDAR of course being just one tool in the toolbox. It’s not the be-all and end-all but it’s certainly going to help us a lot with the flood plain mapping and I think the efforts from the NSCC Centre of Geographic Sciences will go a long way towards that. I know they are an applied research group down there is doing a lot of work in that area.
Mapping, of course, is a very broad thing though, as I said, beyond just LIDAR mapping. One of the responses to Recommendation 4.3 says that EMO will undertake a mapping initiative to identify contacts in all 10 sectors. Identifying contacts could be done on a spreadsheet, that name and a phone number and an email address. Mapping would involve more precise location-based information, attribute information and so forth for assets.
I’m wondering if you can comment towards what information we currently have and what directions we might be going in, in regard to asset mapping and asset management of provincial properties and other partner properties and assets and perhaps including federal and municipal.
PAUL MASON: We’re very fortunate, as you alluded to, to have a lot of very skilled people working in the mapping and GIS kind of space here in Nova Scotia. We have some of them in our shop at EMO and others within government and what have you.
We are, as you touched on, looking to build out the physical mapping capacity through the various layers that we would utilize in our IT systems. So the types of things that we have mapping are things like a lot of the CI work that would come to mind. For example, key assets around fuel, hospitals, power grids; those types of things are mapped. Comfort centres, highways, railways, gas pipelines - all those critical assets - we need to have those layers available to us so that we can utilize that both for our planning but also in responses to events.
For example, a telecommunications issue which occurred a couple of years ago - that may engender or lead us to populate map layers and our response will be different than a large snowstorm or what have you where it would be focused more on transportation. We’re looking to build out all those various layers. Most of them exist now but we’re constantly refining it.
We’re looking at our various IT platforms that we utilize and that are utilized in our counterpart Emergency Management Offices across the country and also with some of our colleagues in the United States. We’re looking at that now to ensure that our technology platforms are well positioned, and the mapping is a key component of that.
HUGH MACKAY: One of the things in communications that we’ve become so dependant upon, particularly in rural areas such as I represent, is the Internet and cellular services that are available. I’m glad that both the provincial and the federal governments have embarked now on very aggressive and ambitious programs to ensure that the vast majority - almost all of our residences and businesses - will be connected.
Both the Internet services and the cellular services are operated by the private sector, by ISPs and so forth. Sometimes that can be proprietary information. I’m wondering within EMO, is there any legislation, capacity, or ability to acquire that information in times of emergency?
PAUL MASON: Really, our model is highly collaborative, so we have excellent working relationships primarily on the telecommunications side of things, on the telephone companies per se. We work with Bell very closely, as we do with Eastlink and some of the other providers here.
In our general day-to-day business or response to an event, it wouldn’t be a situation where we would be acquiring the information. We would have their representation within our provincial coordination centre, and we’d be working with them to prioritize their restoration efforts and coordinate that with our other stakeholders we’d be partnering with. We do that historically, and have been, and will continue going forward.
It’s not unusual during a weather event to be coordinated between the power grid and the phone companies. There are interdependencies there. Fuel is another key factor. We would look to coordinate them, and we’ve had excellent partnerships with those companies in the past in helping to respond to events.
HUGH MACKAY: Thank you very much. I think my colleague, the member for Halifax Atlantic is biting at the bit here.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Maguire.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Just two quick questions and I’ll throw it on to my colleagues.
I know there’s a program in the works and I’ve seen it through HRM in particular. I know that your department is potentially working on a program for EMO centres and generators, potentially supplying generators to community halls and community centres. Where are you on that?
KELLIANN DEAN: We’re actually in the process of looking at the program and designing what the criteria would be for it. As you mentioned, this came out of the 911 surplus and our desire to strengthen telecommunications and strengthen efforts in comfort centres around the province so that we would be able to provide enhanced services to Nova Scotians during times of emergencies.
We’re currently looking at the criteria for that program and hope to be able to roll it out probably within the next month or two, at the very latest.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Do you have any of the criteria for community centres; what are the criteria for a community centre to become a comfort centre?
KELLIANN DEAN: As I said, we’re working through the details of that right now, but the way we’re envisioning it now, it would have to be part of a municipality’s emergency response plan. It would have to be documented as a centre where people would typically go in the event of an emergency. Again, we’re looking at the criteria for that now and we should be done that fairly soon.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: The other question I had is, I wanted to go back to the well programs. Recently in the news, we saw an article around checking wells for magnesium levels. With the well program that was implemented, is there any thought of - I look at Efficiency Nova Scotia and helping homes get off the grid. They help finance the solar panels. Is there thought to doing something like that for reverse osmosis to make water more potable, especially in the more rural areas of Nova Scotia?
KELLIANN DEAN: At this stage, we haven’t looked at that. Where we have gone is with the cost borne by the individual with respect to a residential well. We could certainly have a look, but at this stage, we haven’t given that consideration.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: How many applicants did you get for the well program originally?
KELLIANN DEAN: It’s not our well program, it is a municipal program. What we did is enable municipalities to allow residents to pay back the costs of increasing the capacity of their well or furthering their water supply over their tax bill. That’s how the program works. We aren’t specifically administering it; it’s individual municipalities. Four municipalities have adopted that program in southwestern Nova Scotia.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: So a kind of betterment charge was put on by the municipality. Do you know which municipalities actually took part in that program?
KELLIANN DEAN: I can get those for you. It is on the individual’s tax bill. If they make changes to their well, and for example let’s say it costs $10,000 to finance, then they can finance that on their tax bill over a period of time. The municipality is allowing them to pay that back. That’s how that works.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: Mr. Chair, would you please clarify whether we’re going to stick to critical infrastructure specifically for now, or can I jump back and forth? You’re going to give us the nod?
THE CHAIR: We’ll do critical infrastructure now. We’ll do Municipal Affairs later.
BEN JESSOME: Thank you. I’m wondering if the deputy can give us some historical context. It’s sounding a lot to me like this piece around identifying critical infrastructure and the risks associated with critical infrastructure is kind of like a national initiative that Nova Scotia is now participating in. I’m wondering if the deputy would comment on the history or the point in time when this type of conversation was initiated.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’m going to ask Paul to comment on the history with respect to that.
PAUL MASON: I believe that the national strategy was rolled out and implemented or accepted by the various provinces, including Nova Scotia, in 2010. Public Safety Canada, of course, is the federal lead on that. This is prior to my time with EMO.
Basically, of the initial period of time, from 2010 to 2013, my understanding is that a lot of the federal efforts were focused on the national entities, for example, large telecommunication carriers and other kinds of CI providers that would be playing at that national level. There was also a lot of focus on the development of a CI gateway which is an IT platform that different partners - federal, provincial, and private - can gain access to share information.
In 2013, an updated action plan was rolled out by the federal government focused on the same key deliverables around sustaining and developing partnerships and sharing and protecting information. That was in place and went from 2014 to 2017.
There’s a new action plan which is currently in place. It was released in 2018 and goes through to 2020. The deliverables around those, especially in the most recent action plan at the provincial level is to make contact with the CI providers within our various jurisdictions. As I noted earlier, some of those would be provincial departments and provincial companies, and some of them would be the local contacts of national organizations - really to build those relationships, train, exercise, and share information with them and go forward from there. That’s really kind of the history of it.
What I would say, as was kind of touched on earlier, is that there has been a heightened interest federally which has allowed us to kind of be more proactive provincially over the last three years or so. I think a lot of that is driven by some of the large scale events which have been happening across the country, so there’s a recognition that critical infrastructure needs to be protected and managed from an emergency management perspective and those relationships need to exist so that when these large-scale events happen the impacts can be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.
BEN JESSOME: Thanks for that answer, Mr. Mason. I’m wondering, I guess I’m kind of baffled that this wasn’t embedded as part of the process when things got built, whenever the case was to assess how their upkeep is being completed and what is more high risk. I’m just kind of confused about why this is just becoming a - and it’s not limited to Nova Scotia, it sounds like. Anyway, I’m digressing.
How does Nova Scotia compare, on a national scale, with respect to our position, I guess, in terms of the integrity of critical infrastructure and our subsequent response and activity around preparedness?
PAUL MASON: Basically with regard to the critical infrastructure, it’s really just focusing on that coordinating role and that coordinating capacity and ensuring that our contacts are current and that we’re sharing that information.
It has been a longstanding piece of our business per se. I think there has been an awareness that this CI has to be kind of included within the realm of what would generally be considered a response to an emergency or emergency management.
I would say that the change over the past seven or eight years or what have you is a recognition that there needs to be more of a formal strategy dedicated specifically to it. That of course has been led by the federal government but supported by the various provinces. I think, as was kind of touched on earlier, climate change and those types of physical events that can occur, of course you know, looking at things like cybersecurity and those things as well, it heightens I think the prioritization of CI in the broader EM realm, for lack of a better term.
BEN JESSOME: With respect to the strategy that has developed here in Nova Scotia, is there anything concrete that you can communicate to the committee with respect to explicit evaluation standards around the urgency to respond or to improve one piece of the CI versus the next?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say that at this stage we don’t have anything specific identified because we’re still gathering some of that information. What we would do is work collaboratively across government with respect to anything provincially and then also work with partners outside of government and trust that their plans are in place and robust to deal with any of the critical infrastructure issues that they may have.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, Ms. Dean. That ends the Liberal time for questioning. We’ll go back now with three five-minute rounds, starting with Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: It has been an issue in the past that there was a significant issue with the Emergency Management Office’s response time during two recent events impacting critical infrastructure, specifically post-tropical storm Arthur and the 2015 fuel disruption. An independent review panel prepared a report on the Nova Scotia fuel shortage and made 21 recommendations, six of which were specific to communications. Could you please outline the status of those six recommendations? Were they all completed?
PAUL MASON: With regard to the fuel review, I believe there were 21 recommendations. All of them have been implemented with the exception of two and they were not related to communications. I believe one was with regard to fuel additives and the other one was with regard to virtual reserves. The communications recommendations within that report have been executed.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to those two recommendations that have not been implemented, what’s the timeline attached to those two? When can Nova Scotians expect the follow-up on that?
KELLIANN DEAN: We’ve deemed that we will not be implementing them at all, so there will be no timeline for follow-up. We did work with the private sector partner to determine whether or not it was feasible to implement them. We had that conversation with them and together determined that it would not be a realistic recommendation to implement, so we agreed. There were just two out of the 20 that wouldn’t be implemented.
TIM HALMAN: The time that we have here - so many questions. I’d like to turn the attention to dikes. There are 82 provincially-managed dikes. As we know with climate change, especially scientific reports of rising water levels in and around the province, could you comment on how these dikes are being treated and maintained in relation or in response to these reports?
KELLIANN DEAN: I am aware that the Department of Agriculture has been spending significant time and analysis on the dike system and that they do have a plan in place. What I would propose is that I provide that information to you after consulting with the department to make sure that I have it accurate.
It speaks to the point about how important it is for us to deal with individual departments that are looking at different pieces of critical infrastructure around the province because they do have plans, they are doing research, and they are working on these. The fact that we will have a committee in place to gather that and to look at it across the system will be beneficial because then we’ll have a total picture.
TIM HALMAN: I certainly appreciate your comments. As you know, deputy minister - and my colleagues have alluded to this as well - Nova Scotians have come to expect a breaking down of the silos that often we know exist between various government departments.
On the topic of dikes, to what extent is information siloed between, say, the Department of Agriculture and the EMO? Am I correct in saying there’s constant communication when it comes to this file?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say that we are aware of the work that’s being done. We want to formalize how we gather it and formalize how we deal with it through the critical infrastructure committee. I do know that EMO works closely with the Departments of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal as well as Agriculture and that if there is an event, that we would be working collaboratively together on it.
TIM HALMAN: Could you outline any plans in place now in terms of modernizing all of our dikes to ensure that they’re capable of dealing with our changing climate.
KELLIANN DEAN: Again, I am aware that there is a significant effort under way and would endeavour to get that information to you, but I want to make sure that I provide it accurately to you so I would prefer to consult with the department to make sure that you have the proper information.
TIM HALMAN: I appreciate that. I think we’d all agree it’s critical that Nova Scotians get accurate information and I know the committee will appreciate a follow-up on those comments. For those of us that know people in rural Nova Scotia, this is a major issue impacting them. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Halman. That ends the PC time. We’ll now move over to the NDP caucus and Ms. Leblanc.
SUSAN LEBLANC: In your opening comments, you referred to the exercise that you did at the Tantramar Marshes; that was on my list of things to ask you. Just in a general way, can you talk a little bit about that project and maybe what some of the outcomes were. Did you learn that things need to change, you need to tighten up some things or is everything ready to go in the event of a disaster?
PAUL MASON: The event was conducted on Friday, so they’re still conducting a formal debrief on it. I think some of the preliminary outcomes - as outlined in the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy - are really just to have those relationships in place.
I was pleased with the participants that partook in the training exercise at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels as well - once again, based on very preliminary discussions that I had with the participants afterwards. We were pleased with the outcome but it will still be awaiting a formal debriefing after the event.
LISA ROBERTS: Thank you. I know I have just a couple of minutes. I’m wondering about this committee which you are coordinating around critical infrastructure and really what we are talking about is the resilience of the province moving forward.
If you think about it in terms of sort of strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats, then clearly the threat is climate change and all the various things that are likely to present. I guess the opportunity is certainly federal funding, as you’ve identified. There are green jobs, there are opportunities for employment, for more complete communities.
I don’t think the opportunities are insignificant but I’m curious about the weaknesses as you sit around the table with that group of people representing these 10 different sort of areas of critical infrastructure. What weaknesses are you aware of? I’m wondering, for example, about succession planning. Do we have the people with the right skills sort of next in line below the folks maybe sitting at that table who might have 30 years of experience in particular areas? Or are there other weaknesses that we should be aware of, as elected officials, where we need to shore up to be sure that we’re ready?
PAUL MASON: What I would say is when I sit around the table and the folks that I am fortunate enough to work with at EMO, and sit around the table with our counterparts both provincially and also of note in the private sector, I feel there’s a lot of strength there, there’s a lot of knowledge of their individual departments and the private entities that they oversee.
I think really where we’re focused and have made good progress, as was touched on a couple of minutes ago - one of the challenges that has occurred at certain points was the communication and coordination needed to be better. I think the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Committee will help us achieve that.
We’ve had a number of fairly significant events occur over the past couple of years. Some of them have been infrastructure-related with regard to telecommunications, and some have been more power grid and those types of things, in many cases due to storms and what have you. In all those cases I’ve certainly been very impressed with the support we receive from our various partners provincially and in the private sector and federally as well and have been pleased with the way that they have been able to communicate, share information so we can respond in a coordinated manner.
I think the best way for us to mitigate risks and achieve the greatest value add from a resiliency perspective through an EM lens is really just to stay focused on the communication, the information sharing as is outlined in the national strategy and ensuring that we do our due diligence around that.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Roberts, you have 30 seconds.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to ask a 30-second question. (Laughter)
I would say I’m curious to know where the committee is that is actually trying to contribute as much as Nova Scotia can contribute to avoiding the worst of climate change. I was at the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities meetings and one of the little facts that just caught my ear during a presentation on climate change is that Nova Scotia is one of two provinces - along with Alberta - that has the greatest potential to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions because we currently emit one of the highest proportions of greenhouse gases per kilowatt hour of any provincial jurisdiction in Canada.
It’s great that we are doing this work on mitigation and response, but we’re actually not - as far as I’m aware - doing the work on the front end of the pipe, which is a little bit frustrating.
That’s the end of my 30-second rant and we’ll switch to the next.
THE CHAIR: Thank you. We’ll now move back to the Liberal caucus, Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: I’m going to lump two questions into one, just in the interest of time. Given that Nova Scotia is a participant as part of a federal initiative towards improvement around critical infrastructure, are we bound by or hindered to move forward with respect to anything, or are we able to create and implement our own strategies regardless? Are we waiting for the federal initiative to initiate anything or are we bound to anything around that?
I think it’s important that Nova Scotians hear about our ability to respond positively and recover promptly. How does your shop intend to communicate that capability to Nova Scotians?
KELLIANN DEAN: I’ll try the first one. In terms of the national strategy, there isn’t really anything prohibiting us from implementing our strategy. What we want to do is ensure that we are within the national framework and that we are developing our strategy consistent with the national framework.
Some of the entities that we would be dealing with may be nationals so that might slow us down in some areas, but that will not prohibit us from developing our strategy, working with our partners, and trying to shore up our own plans moving forward. And the second question?
PAUL MASON: How would we communicate the work that we’re doing? Part of our mandate is public awareness, whether it be through our 911-related public awareness or whether it be more in our general incident management or responding to emergencies awareness. We do some work there, as well. It could be small local events or, in some cases, advertising and what have you.
Another means that we can demonstrate the work that we’re doing is through our departmental business plan where we outline what our objectives are for the upcoming year and what some of the key projects will be.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Lohnes-Croft.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: In the past sitting of the Legislature, coastal action legislation was introduced. What input did your department have into this from your experiences?
KELLIANN DEAN: We worked very closely with the Department of Environment as they consulted on the Coastal Protection Act, keeping in mind that it was very closely connected to the minimum planning standards that we were also introducing.
When we’re talking about land use planning and zoning, that is a municipal responsibility so it was important for us to work with the department and for them to also connect with municipalities to understand how the Coastal Protection Act would interact with their own planning regimes and with the standards that we were introducing.
That’s an example of a really good collaborative effort where there were no silos as we moved that initiative forward.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Going forward, how do you see this legislation as helping you in your work each and every day and working with municipalities? I know when we’ve had flooding situations, we have people saying, I had a permit to build my house here. Is this going to make a difference in how we develop land, taking in what’s happening with climate change?
KELLIANN DEAN: Yes, actually. I think it will do that and in particular, it will set some parameters up around coastal areas so that we can avoid issues like that in the future around sea level rise or flooding. That should be one more measure that helps municipalities make these kinds of decisions in the future by creating some parameters around the land use in those sensitive areas.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. That ends the time for questioning. If you have any closing remarks on this topic, you can make them now.
We’ll take a short recess to let you get your thoughts together for the second part of the morning.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’d just like to thank members for their questions and also thank staff for their participation in addressing your issues, and we’ll follow up with the information that you’ve requested.
THE CHAIR: We’ll take a short recess to allow the witnesses to regain their composure. (Laughter) Then we’ll start with monitoring and funding of municipalities.
[10:24 a.m. The committee recessed.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. I would like to reconvene the meeting’s second round today. We have the Department of Municipal Affairs regarding monitoring and funding for municipalities. I would now invite the deputy minister to begin with her opening remarks, please.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’m now pleased to give opening remarks regarding the Auditor General’s Report on monitoring and funding for municipalities. I’m pleased to say that we have completed all eight of these recommendations. This was verified by the AG when he followed up with us in April 2018.
Mr. Chair, I would like to start by explaining the context for our department’s work with municipalities on financial matters. Our mandate at Municipal Affairs is to promote responsible local government that supports healthy, vibrant, and safe communities. It is generally not to intervene but, rather, to provide advice, support, and guidance to municipalities as they strive to operate efficiently and effectively.
Our municipal planning and advisory services section includes Kathy Cox-Brown’s group, Municipality Finance and Operating Grants. Kathy and her team manage operating grants such as the municipal financial capacity grant and grants in lieu of property tax. They also review municipal financial information to ensure municipalities are meeting reporting requirements. They analyze the financial health of municipalities and offer recommendations for improvements. Kathy’s team works closely with our municipal advisers, who are in regular contact with municipalities across the province.
Municipalities are governed by the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and the HRM Charter. This legislation gives municipalities their authority to raise revenue, to manage planning and development, and to deliver services such as water, wastewater, and solid waste management; police, fire and emergency services; and public transit and libraries. It gives them these powers as individual locally elected governments that are accountable to their citizens. That gives them a fair degree of independence, and we respect that.
All municipalities are also accountable to the province within this legal framework. The MGA requires that municipalities submit their audited financial statements by September 30th each year. Reporting is outlined in regulation, specifically our Financial Reporting and Accounting Manual (FRAM) which municipalities must follow. We are continuously strengthening this manual to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of municipalities. Municipalities are required to provide to us annually their financial information return, a statement of estimates, a capital investment plan, annual expenditure reports, audited financial statements, and a management and internal control letter.
The department uses the information from these documents to populate the annual Financial Condition Indicators (FCIs) which the department and individual municipalities use to monitor trends in their financial health. Municipalities use the FCIs to better understand their own financial position and their ability to meet existing financial obligations. Nova Scotians can use them to learn about the financial health of their municipalities, and the department uses them to assess the financial health of municipalities.
The department’s analysis through the FCIs helps identify strengths and improvements. We monitor the financial indicators and follow up with municipalities to provide guidance and advice. Municipalities that have six or more of their 13 indicators fall into the high- and medium-risk category are required to submit an action plan which details the steps the municipality will take to mitigate the identified risks and to clarify the steps the municipality and council have agreed to take to improve outcomes or mitigate noted risks.
Kathy’s team works with and supports municipalities in developing these action plans. In fact, our staff are available and work with municipal officials year-round to better manage the long-term financial health of municipalities.
To make this process faster and more efficient, we launched a new municipal reporting system in 2017. This new system has made it easier for municipalities to prepare and submit the financial information required under the Municipal Government Act. This means we’re now conducting our analysis and providing municipalities with their FCIs earlier. We are now providing FCI reports in about 90 days compared to 150 days just two years ago. A draft FCI report goes back to the municipality as soon as they submit their forms. Prior to the new system, municipalities would have to wait for their forms to be reviewed by the department, delaying the FCIs by months.
Mr. Chair, as much as we already support municipalities to ensure prudent financial management, we’re continuously working to improve. We have completed all of the Auditor General’s recommendations from the 2015 report, including strengthening our internal controls and processes and doing some restructuring in the financial oversight section of the department to better support municipalities.
We also work through a collaborative approach with the Municipal Indicator Committee with participation from Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, the Association of Municipal Administrators, Municipal Affairs and Dalhousie University.
Mr. Chair, Nova Scotians expect and deserve their local governments to be accountable and transparent when it comes to spending public dollars. I am pleased with the action we’ve taken to increase transparency and accountability regarding municipal expenses. New regulations require municipalities to post all their travel and hospitality expenses online, submit an annual report on these expenses to the department, and have an independent member on their Audit Committee.
The regulations also outline Audit Committee policy requirements. These changes are helping to ensure that Nova Scotians have confidence that their municipal government officials are upholding the highest standards with respect to accountability and transparency related to their expenses.
Our approach reflects the fact that municipalities are individual, locally democratically-elected governments that are very much accountable to their citizens for the decisions they make and the actions they take. That is why our partnership approach is vital to the success of our municipalities.
We are in regular contact with all our municipalities, providing guidance and advice on financial and other matters and doing our best to help them be strong and sustainable.
Mr. Chair, I would now be pleased to take the committee’s questions on monitoring and funding municipalities.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, Ms. Dean. We’ll open up the questions starting with the PC caucus and Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: I want to thank you, deputy, for your opening remarks. However, my first question is for the Auditor General with respect to equalization, a topic that I hear raised as a provincial issue, with respect to Nova Scotia municipal equalization I’m curious whether or not, Mr. Pickup, you’d be interested and willing if asked by government to perform a full audit on the budget on the question of equalization.
MICHAEL PICKUP: Any question from an audit perspective in terms of something we might be willing to do, I mean a question or a direction, I guess, are a couple of different things, per the Auditor General Act there is a way to go about directing or asking us to do an audit. That’s a more formal way.
There are informal ways to do that, but always I would say on any of those types of things I would encourage people to think about what the audit question is, so what would you be looking to answer from an audit perspective? Is it truly an audit of implementation of policy of the way things are working versus trying to influence or discuss a policy? The lane I would be in, if you will, would be looking at an audit of the implementation of policy, in no way suggesting what a policy should be or trying to influence policy.
I know equalization and I don’t mind sharing with you that I’ve had plenty of discussions with the folks in Cape Breton who were very concerned about equalization and I have met with them and spent, I would think, considerable time listening to them and chatting with them as well. I talked to them about this audit and the look through this audit on the grants and funding, particularly if you look on Page 67 and in Paragraph 5.5 some of the work we did on the equalization grants as well.
Obviously I am here as the independent auditor to serve the Legislature but my encouragement always to those looking for us to do audits would be to think about what the audit question is and whether that really is the responsibility of the Auditor General. Then if people want to talk to us or direct us about doing something and then we take it from there.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying that based on your conversations with folks about this particular issue of equalization, do you see value and worth in investigating this topic, as an Auditor General?
MICHAEL PICKUP: A few of the things that I said when I met with that group - the audit that we did on the funding really looked at whether the policies in place were implemented appropriately. That’s what we look at.
A lot of the discussion that I had with them was around policies themselves and on legal frameworks and on the way they would like to see policy work. That really is not the lane for the Auditor General to be in. We are looking at auditing the implementation of policy and in no way trying to set policy. I had to remind the folks of two things, and I do believe they listened to me and understood me without talking about the validity of what they were doing. I don’t mind saying at the time that I reached out to the deputy minister as well, and had discussions with her in terms of my discussions with this group.
Like any topic, when that many people reach out to me like they did from Cape Breton, I take it seriously. I listen to them. I meet with them. I think about it a lot. I go talk to the folks and then I determine that what they were really looking for was more in the area of policy. Some of the implementation of policy was done through this audit in terms of if the money given out as it was intended to, per policy.
It was a long answer, I know, but I think it’s a very complex situation.
TIM HALMAN: Based on your comments, am I correct in saying that there has never been a comprehensive audit on this topic before in Nova Scotia? Is that a correct statement?
MICHAEL PICKUP: I think I would go back to this audit looking at the various grant programs and looking at whether the funding that was given out was done so in accordance with the criteria. To the extent one thinks of that as being comprehensive - I would argue that that is comprehensive, in that it is a performance audit.
If we’re into a situation where whether things are being given out in accordance with policies that people like, that’s not an audit question. That’s a question for people in the Legislature. That is a question for the public.
TIM HALMAN: Thank you, Mr. Pickup. I appreciate those responses. I’d like to direct my questions now to staff with respect to equalization.
One often hears about federal and municipal equalization. This is certainly a topic I think the principle of it is a point of pride for a lot of Canadians. The notion federally is that no matter where you live, everyone should have an equal opportunity to have access to programming.
I guess we often hear a lot about federal and municipal equalization - could you clarify if they are the same thing? What are the fundamental differences between the federal and municipal equalization?
KELLIANN DEAN: To your point, there is considerable confusion because the programs are named the same. The federal equalization program is completely different from what we used to call the municipal equalization program. We changed the name of it in this recent sitting to provide some clarity.
It really is a municipal financial capacity grant. The grant that we provide to municipalities is, as you stated, to help provide services to citizens and there is a very complex formula that’s in place in order to calculate what each municipality would receive. It’s a $30 million program, half of which goes to Cape Breton; CBRM received half of that amount.
That grant has been frozen for almost five years because there has been a desire to look at it. There’s an acknowledgement that perhaps there’s a better way to look at that grant, a better way to support municipalities, and perhaps a way to look at the objectives of that.
There was considerable work done on this in the past. There was a recommendation under the fiscal review that was a report done in collaboration with the Nova Scotia municipality as well as the department. We spent considerable time working with our partners in the Association of Municipal Administrators and the NSFM to see if there was a better formula for this grant and a better way to distribute it. At the end of the day, after considerable work, we could not agree on a way to redefine this program and to rework it.
It has been frozen for the last five years. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t continue to look at it and to see if it is meeting the needs of municipalities because it is a significant amount of money that goes to municipalities and there are always opportunities for improvement in how we’re providing grants. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to look at it completely differently, so we’re certainly open to continuing to have a look at that particular grant and to see how it could better meet the needs of municipalities.
TIM HALMAN: Deputy, I certainly appreciate you outlining the background and I guess the history of the municipal financial grants. It’s the history teacher in me - I’m curious as to historically why the names have ended up being similar to one another. Why do you think that’s the case?
KELLIANN DEAN: I’d be speculating because I’m not fully aware of the origin of that grant; it has been in place for many years. What I can tell you is the purpose that it serves now is to try to provide support for municipalities in the provision of service where perhaps they need assistance.
There are challenges with it, it’s not perfect in terms of how it supports municipalities - in some cases it doesn’t act as an incentive or for service delivery. All of that is to say, I think there’s confusion because of the name. I guess calling it an equalization grant probably was meant to provide some sense that we were trying to even out support. But at the end of the day, it is based on the capacity of municipalities to raise revenue and to provide service to citizens, so the calculation itself is very cumbersome and it’s made up of different components, and I probably don’t want to bore the committee with that.
What I will say is there are always opportunities for improvement, and it is a program that has a significant amount of money in it that we need to continue to look at and see if there are other ways to provide that support to municipalities.
TIM HALMAN: Deputy, you would never bore this committee getting into the nuts and bolts of public administration. It’s a huge part of our mandate to get into the details of the operations of government.
With respect to federal equalization, could you take us through the process you did with municipal financial grants? That is, could you give us some background to the federal equalization, how that works, where the money comes from, and how it’s distributed?
KELLIANN DEAN: With respect, I would like that to come from my colleagues at the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. They are intimately involved with the equalization program and that’s their purview. Respectfully, I would probably attempt to get information from them to provide to you on that one.
TIM HALMAN: Certainly we’d appreciate that, deputy, thank you. Could you clarify whether or not municipalities in Nova Scotia are entitled to funding under the federal-provincial equalization programs?
KELLIANN DEAN: Municipalities don’t receive funding from federal equalization. The province receives funding through the federal equalization program. They receive funding through the $30 million municipal financial capacity program that we have.
TIM HALMAN: As many are aware, Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness maintains that CBRM is not receiving the proper amount of equalization from the province. They claim that out of $1.8 billion in federal transfers, only $32 million is being distributed to municipalities in the province. Is that correct? Could you clarify the extent to which that assertion is correct?
KELLIANN DEAN: I can’t validate that assertion. What I can tell you is that I have a $30-million program in Municipal Affairs that used to be called equalization, that often was confused with the federal equalization program. To try to avoid that confusion, we’ve tried to name it for what it really does: to provide support to municipal capacity. That is a $30-million grant of which the CBRM gets half, so $15 million. That’s the extent that I can comment on that.
TIM HALMAN: I’m curious, deputy, have you engaged with this group? Has the department engaged with this group in conversations? Obviously, they have expressed a lot of concerns. Is there ongoing dialogue between the department and Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness to arrive at some clarity as to what’s happening?
KELLIANN DEAN: There’s been correspondence between the department and these individuals to attempt to clarify the position and explain the difference in grants.
TIM HALMAN: Moving on to municipal governance, if a municipal unit becomes divided, and there’s an even number of councillors on each side, some decisions may end in deadlock. How can those deadlocks be broken?
KELLIANN DEAN: That’s a good question. I will say, if there’s a deadlock and they can’t agree, they would have to go back and have another vote. That would be what my expectation would be. If there is some other way to break a deadlock, I can certainly validate that and check back in the Municipal Government Act and see what other processes they may have to follow.
TIM HALMAN: I’m curious regarding the mayor or warden of a municipality. Are there precedents where they vote twice to end that deadlock, as far as you know?
KELLIANN DEAN: At this stage, I would have to say I’m not aware of anything.
TIM HALMAN: Just one follow-up question to that: If at this stage there’s no other means to end the deadlock, at what point does the minister step in to ensure the municipal unit remains functional?
KELLIANN DEAN: What I will do is just back up for a second and say if there’s advice that’s required by municipal council in the course of decision-making or while they are deliberating, they have legal counsel that they can go to for advice to suggest courses of action. Typically if a council is in doubt, if they want clarity around their powers or clarity from a legal perspective, they consult their legal counsel and take advice from their legal counsel.
It’s very rare that a minister is required to step into the affairs of council. As I said earlier, they are democratically elected, they are independent bodies, and we do respect that. Only in extenuating circumstances would the minister be required to act.
TIM HALMAN: Again, so many questions - I’m trying to get to as many of them as possible. With respect to monitoring and funding municipalities, within 5.16, it states that it took two files two years to be finalized. It does note that the department admits that it was significantly behind in reviewing the financial reports. I’m curious as to how long it would typically take to finalize two files such as that.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’m going to ask Kathy to respond. There have been some significant improvements made, and those could be extenuating circumstances.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Cox-Brown.
KATHY COX-BROWN: We do have standards on how long it takes us to process a particular file. All municipalities are required to have their information in by September 30th. January 30th is when we send out what we call their finalized draft FCIs. When they fill out the information that they are submitting on September 30th, they do have draft FCIs immediately as part of the automatic calculation, so on January 30th, we are up to date in our reviews.
If there is a delay, it may be because information wasn’t obtained from a municipality, that they couldn’t provide the information. If that situation does occur, we have the power to withhold the grants until they are compliant.
TIM HALMAN: Would you be able to cite how many grants were withheld as a result of non-compliance, say last year, just for example.
KATHY COX-BROWN: We withheld seven. For seven municipalities, we withheld their grants for a certain period until they became compliant. All seven are now compliant.
TIM HALMAN: What mechanisms does the department use to ensure compliance? Could you outline some of those mechanisms or checks and balances that are in place?
KATHY COX-BROWN: We’re in constant contact with them, and we do some municipal finance officer sessions. We do that twice a year with them. We’re trying to get upfront looking at if we see some issues that may have caused them to be non-compliant, and we are upfront with them to discuss those issues to make sure that it will be smooth for the new year.
We looked at their new municipal reporting system and what we did was we streamlined the process, so we were only asking information that we require. We put in a lot of controls within the new system, so basically some information is automatically downloaded so they don’t have to put in prior year information where you would get some data error in that information.
We also have some automatic calculations. Municipalities cannot submit their information unless it balances now, so with that, it makes it easier to be compliant because it’s an easier process for them to complete it.
Also, when we are aware there’s a new finance office or a new director, our team will go down and meet with them to explain the process, to see if they need any support in implementing it. Right upfront, before waiting for them to have issues with it, we’re upfront to give them some education around how to fill it out; this is some information from prior years. We have now also developed a guide to help them, too, for new officers.
When we do not have compliance, we are on the phone. We are talking to them. We do send reminders, as well, to let them know when the deadline is so they all know September 30th. We do send reminders out. In addition, when they’re not compliant, a letter is sent from the minister to their council copying the CAO and the directors of finance notifying exactly what information is missing. We may have not received all the information, there may be a few things missing, and notifying them at that point that their grants are withheld.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. We will now move to the NDP caucus. Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: Clearly, the department has completed the recommendations from the Auditor General’s Report and that’s great. Related to municipal finance, I’m going to take this opportunity to explore some other issues related to municipal finances.
I guess the big issue that we’re hearing from municipalities is that they are not getting the fiscal support that they need from the province. Most municipalities in the province are facing costs that their property tax base can’t support. You’ve referenced that this $30 million grant program has been frozen for five years because there wasn’t agreement on how to move forward but at the same time, municipal costs have continued to rise.
I’m wondering, to start, Ms. Dean, would you agree that more local services and infrastructure that Nova Scotians rely on are currently being paid for through property taxes than a few years ago as a result of that grant being frozen? Is the burden on the property tax base increasing as a proportion of funded services?
KELLIANN DEAN: That would be difficult for me to comment on specifically. I think what I would say, if I could just go back to funding for municipalities - the $30 million grant, that is the financial capacity grant, is not the only source of funding that goes to municipalities and I will elaborate on that a little bit.
There are other grants, as well, that go to municipalities. There’s a farmland grant, there is a grant in lieu for property tax that they have where they have provincial infrastructure. There are grants that they get for an HST offset. In general, what I’ll say is, the $30 million is actually $61 million, so there are other resources that go directly to municipalities.
I’d also like to highlight the fact that there is significant infrastructure money available to a municipality that they can leverage. There’s a direct grant but there’s also the ability to access and leverage other funding in order to support the delivery of service or the creation of infrastructure or the completion of infrastructure projects for municipalities.
I would like to stress that it’s not just limited to a $30-million fund. Then, in addition to that, there are other application-based programs that are available to municipalities to support some of their efforts and projects. All in all, there is a broader suite of programming available to them.
In terms of property tax and property base, that does vary through the years depending on what’s happening in various municipalities and it isn’t the same from one to another. Kathy, I don’t know if you wanted to comment at all on the property tax piece.
KATHY COX-BROWN: We look at the average on a non-consolidated basis how much percentage of the revenue is coming from assessment just to monitor it. It has not consistently changed that much - on the average, it has been 80 per cent.
We have seen a couple of municipalities maybe a bit lower. One in particular, because they have such a reliance on a single business, has chosen to focus on that vulnerability and started looking at more own-source revenue.
What you’ll see, too, is we have two indicators that we monitor around this. One is we look at the - it’s a three-year change and tax base we’re looking at - is their tax base keeping up with the cost of living? That is one of the indicators that we do monitor.
We can see in the 2018 results that we had about, I think, only four that were not keeping up with the cost of living, so if they’re keeping up with their assessments, keeping up with the cost of living, at that point we know they are able to keep the revenue and meet their obligations without having to change anything.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that municipalities’ revenue may be keeping up with the cost of living, according to that indicator. However, that doesn’t guarantee that the revenue of actual citizens who are paying the property tax is keeping up with the cost of living.
I think it’s fairly widely accepted that property taxes are a form of regressive taxation. Lower-income people who own property, and even renters who often bear the burden of their landlord’s property taxes, tend to pay more by percentage of their income in property tax than higher income groups. This is a quote from an older report from Statistics Canada: “While income taxes are clearly progressive across all adjacent income groups, property taxes are consistently regressive . . .”
Is this something you are aware of and would agree with, that property taxes are regressive? Regressive means that they impact lower and middle-income people more than they impact wealthier people.
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say at this stage the residential tax effort is the one measure that we do have. I would also point out, too, that some municipalities also have low-income tax relief programming for citizens, so I think that may help to mitigate some of the challenges. The provincial government has similar programs as well.
At this stage, in terms of how municipalities source revenue, property tax is the lion’s share of the revenue source for them. If there are alternatives at this stage, we haven’t looked at those in terms of how municipalities would raise revenues. Now the measure we use is the residential tax effort.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that. At the same time, according to the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, $1 from every $5 collected in property taxes is actually transferred to the province. The 2014 municipal fiscal review found that on average, municipalities pay more money to the province than they receive.
As a first step to address this, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities has asked the province to freeze mandatory education payments that municipalities make to the province. Is that something the province is considering?
KELLIANN DEAN: I will verify, but my understanding is the mandatory contributions you’re speaking of have not gone up - they have been flat over the last several years.
LISA ROBERTS: At the same time, I had the opportunity in my role as the NDP spokesperson on Municipal Affairs and also housing - I won’t go through the other six - to travel to Cape Breton. It was raised to me there that one reason, for example, that the Municipality of Inverness has not been able or willing or had the political energy to take on investment in affordable housing is that they currently pay to the province a portion of the province’s debt on the regional housing stock.
There are all these different transfers that go back and forth between the province and the municipalities and then back from the municipalities to the province, but the province has many more ways at its disposal of raising revenue, whereas municipalities don’t have that ability. I think it varies, but many of the people that they’re taxing don’t have the money to pay it.
What opening is there to open up a conversation, given that there was this fiscal review as you said, yet we seem to have stalled in those conversations about how to finance and how to review the financing of municipalities in Nova Scotia?
KELLIANN DEAN: I would say that we are always open to reviewing the programs that we have and working with municipalities to see what we can do to support them. Part of that comes with the reviews and the conversations that we have with the municipal advisers as well as Kathy Cox-Brown’s group. It also does come to some of the larger program areas that we have. What I can say is that the department is open to having those conversations with municipalities and seeing if there are alternate ways that we can provide support.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m sure you’re aware the Federation of Municipalities has called for a conversation about the property tax cap, based on some of the particularly unanticipated and sometimes regressive impacts of that property tax cap. That is obviously a very difficult issue. I’m wondering what you can say about where we are as a province in terms of having that conversation. Certainly one thing that we are concerned about is that that conversation be transparent and open and have lots of opportunity for input, but also that any change not come in one fell swoop - if a change is in fact agreed to.
KELLIANN DEAN: I’m aware that that is a priority of the NSFM, and they’re actively engaging stakeholders in a conversation about the cap and potential changes to the cap. I would say that we have had those discussions within our department, and we look forward to having them with the NSFM and with stakeholders. If there are changes being contemplated, absolutely the right parameters have to be in place for them to ensure that citizens aren’t adversely affected. No decisions have been made around the cap at this stage, but we are certainly willing to have those conversations with our stakeholders.
LISA ROBERTS: The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, I think at its last convention, resolved that the province enable pilot projects to be undertaken as soon as possible. Has there been a formal response from Municipal Affairs?
KELLIANN DEAN: We have had conversations with the executive of the NSFM around the cap. They presented information to us, and we’re happy to continue to have those conversations. Whether or not a pilot project approach would be the best way to actually implement changes is something that remains to be seen, but we certainly continue to have the conversations with the NSFM around the cap.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m aware that the Federation of Municipalities is also asking the province to cost share 50-50 all municipal projects required to comply with the Accessibility Act. Is that something that the province is considering?
KELLIANN DEAN: We’re certainly having conversations around accessibility and the parameters around those plans. I do believe there is a program at Communities, Culture and Heritage with respect to support around accessibility, so we certainly have further conversations about that.
LISA ROBERTS: The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities is also requesting that the province legislate extended producer responsibility for printed paper and packaging. This would relieve some fiscal pressure on municipalities without costing the province anything. Is that something that the province is considering? If so, when will there be a decision?
KELLIANN DEAN: That was one of the resolutions, as well, around extended producer responsibilities. That’s an area of continued discussion. I would say there are no decisions made with respect to that yet and, of course, that would be something on which we would have to work closely with our Department of Environment.
LISA ROBERTS: The minister has also received a letter from the NSFM outlining municipalities areas of concerns and I’d like to quote from it: “If municipalities are to continue to meet the needs and expectations of their citizens, the property tax burden will become unbearable for many . . . The ability of property taxes to remain as the primary source of revenue for municipalities needs to be examined.”
As the first step to address this, the NSFM proposes that the province needs to support municipalities in conducting research on the future trend for property taxes and what can be expected for the average homeowner’s tax bill. Has the minister or the department discussed this request by the NSFM and is it something the province is considering?
KELLIANN DEAN: That comes within the context of discussions around the cap, so we are doing internal analysis as well around that, and are continuing to have the conversation with the NSFM.
LISA ROBERTS: One thing I’ve become aware of in conversations around taxation is that both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island tax non-resident owners differently than resident owners and that’s not something that Nova Scotia has done. Is that something that was considered as part of the fiscal review and if we haven’t elected to go that route, why not?
KELLIANN DEAN: I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for you on that one. I’m not sure if that was a specific recommendation, but we can follow up on that for you.
LISA ROBERTS: I will note - and it was a great surprise to me - that there was a Globe and Mail story fairly recently where it pointed out that Nova Scotia has a higher percentage of non-resident ownership than British Columbia or Ontario. Mind you, we have a pretty small land base, so maybe that’s not entirely surprising.
It does seem to me that there are people who own property in Nova Scotia who are living and earning income in much higher wage jurisdictions than Nova Scotia. I think there’s a number of different factors that we might want to consider.
Nova Scotia is one of only three provinces where no funding has been approved yet through the 2018 bilateral agreement, the Investing in Canada Plan. Can you talk about why not?
KELLIANN DEAN: For clarity, the new ICIP program - the infrastructure program - is that the program that you’re referring to?
LISA ROBERTS: Yes.
KELLIANN DEAN: We did a call for one of the streams - the green stream, the wastewater stream - and applications have come in and they’re being assessed now. That call wound up in January of this year, so we’re going through the approval process and working with the federal government on those projects. I would anticipate that we would see some approvals coming on that first round of projects very soon.
LISA ROBERTS: There is a federal election coming up. How confident are you that funding commitments under that agreement will continue after, potentially, a change of government?
KELLIANN DEAN: We have a signed agreement with the federal government, so my expectation is that that program funding will continue. I can’t speak for decision-making timelines, but it is our expectation that we should be hearing back shortly on the first round of projects that have gone up for approval.
LISA ROBERTS: When I was at the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities meeting, there was a presentation from Windsor and West Hants about their consolidation project. They praised staff in your department for all the support that they have received through that process.
Is there a vision of how we, as a province, learn from that process? Is it entirely one-off? At one point, there was a bigger conversation and it seems to have fallen away and we’re left with this example that we can learn from. What are we learning and what do we anticipate will come out of that process, not just for those residents?
KELLIANN DEAN: Where I would start there is around this concept of municipal modernization, and I think that’s where we have been having some discussions with municipal units, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, and the Association of Municipal Administrators.
Our partners have been engaged in trying to identify ways to encourage more collaboration among municipalities. It doesn’t necessarily mean amalgamation or dissolution or consolidation, but it’s finding ways to come together. There are benefits, synergies, and possibly even efficiencies in collaborating on certain projects between municipalities.
What we like to see is municipalities coming together voluntarily because they recognize that there are greater benefits to them working together than to them working separately. It’s one of the reasons that in the minimum-planning standards, what will be mandatory is when municipalities are doing land-use planning, that they consult their adjacent neighbours to ensure that what they’re doing isn’t going to be offside of other municipalities. This notion of modernization and coming together is one that we want to see more of because we think it’s in the best interests of citizens, in the best interests of municipalities.
There have been a number of dissolutions and amalgamations in the past where municipal units have come together. The one with Windsor and West Hants is a little different because they decided to come together voluntarily, so the mechanism under which we did that was to have special legislation enacted for them to do that.
What we hope to learn is whether that process is a model that others could follow because some of the studies and the things that are within their control can be done more effectively and quicker. Then the boundary review piece, for example, would be left to the URB. The processes are different under the MGA for amalgamation and dissolution. What we like in this example is that it is voluntary and we’re trying to create the framework for them to do the work that needs to be done to have a seamless transition and coming together.
As they work their way through that and the transition committee builds the new governance model, we’ll see what works. We’ll see where there may have been some hiccups along the way and then other municipalities might want to adopt that process. We may even see through this that there are things that we would like to amend if another municipality, two municipalities, or more wanted to go down that road.
I guess it’s my long-winded way of saying that we believe in and support municipalities working together. This is one demonstration of two municipalities that were absolutely committed that they wanted to consolidate; there are other opportunities, as well. In the recent budget, we created a municipal modernization innovation program so that if a couple of municipalities wanted to come together for, let’s say, a regional planning initiative or to look at ways where they could collaborate on different areas of service delivery, we could support them in doing that.
Again, it’s based on the recognition among municipalities themselves that they want to change the way they’re doing things. We’re not going to be prescriptive about it, but we want to be open to the ways that maybe they want to do it.
THE CHAIR: We’ll now move to the Liberal caucus and Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: Just a point of clarification on the Progressive Conservative member’s line of questioning with respect to transfers to Cape Breton. Deputy, you referenced a pool of funding, half of $30 million, going to Cape Breton. Did you mean Cape Breton Regional Municipality or Cape Breton in its entirety?
KELLIANN DEAN: Cape Breton Regional Municipality. That would be half of the municipal capacity grant, so half of the $30 million.
BEN JESSOME: Thank you for that clarification. We’ve talked in reference to a variety of grants - whether they are application-based or what have you - that the department is responsible for translating to municipalities. Could you give the committee a general sense of the types of projects that we’re referencing here?
KELLIANN DEAN: Absolutely. I did mention the direct grants, so that’s $61 million worth of direct grants to municipalities, so those are based on different criteria. The project funding, I guess I’ll start with the federal-provincial agreements that we administer that provide support for various projects. As an example, there’s the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) which you may recall was launched several years ago and it wound up this fiscal. There’s the federal gas tax program that does flow through us and goes directly to municipalities and they can use that for many different kinds of projects in their communities.
We have the Small Communities Fund that was under the new Building Canada Fund that is winding up as well and also national and regional projects, so those are part of a previous federal-provincial commitment that is at its end. Then the new program is the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) which has various streams in it and that is just coming on board this year.
In total, in our budget for 2019-20, we estimate $108 million worth of potential spending against some of the projects in all of these categories under these various agreements, which is a significant commitment for municipalities, and that’s joint provincial and federal funding that is going directly into municipalities for these programs.
The other piece that I could describe is the application-based programs, so not the infrastructure pieces under the federal-provincial agreements, but ones that the department administers. There is a beautification program which I believe we launched last year that is a $0.5 million program match for municipalities. There is a new CommunityWorks program that helps them put people to work in their communities - that’s a $0.5 million program.
We also have the Emergency Services Provider Fund that provides support to fire departments in municipal units around this province. The Flood Risk Infrastructure Investment Program supports projects related to flood risk mitigation or studies. Our new municipal innovation program and then our Provincial Capital Assistance Program (PCAP) which is also for smaller waste-water projects that you couldn’t necessarily accommodate under the federal-provincial programs, is another $3 million as well that the department administers directly for programming in the municipalities.
These are programs that help them create infrastructure, fix infrastructure, do new infrastructure programming, create community facilities in their local communities, recreational/cultural facilities in some instances. I believe it is a good partnership that we have with the federal government for some of these programs and it also enables municipalities to leverage smaller amounts of money in order to do larger projects.
BEN JESSOME: Thank you very much, deputy, that’s helpful. I want to go into some of the commentary directly from the AG’s Report and specifically with respect to these short-term borrowing applications that can potentially become longer term financing through the province. I’m just wondering if you can describe a little bit what types of projects these short-term borrowing initiatives would reference and what type of process takes place where they morph from a short-term borrowing situation to a long-term financing agreement.
KATHY COX-BROWN: Temporary borrowing resolutions are probably what you’re referring to. They have to be capital projects to be eligible for that. It could be anything from water and sewage to something to do with roads. It varies.
Part of the review the municipal advisers do look at when the application comes in is to ensure that it is a capital project, that it fits the criteria, and that the term of life of it matches the term of life of the assets. Temporary borrowing would begin upon completion of the project. Once the project or capital item has been built, it gets transferred then, again, to a debenture with the Municipal Finance Corporation.
BEN JESSOME: I think we have covered that there have been some improvements made around this, but I just want to clarify in particular with respect to these resolutions. It sounds like they were reviewed by the department and approved by the minister as required. I’m curious about some of the commentary and how the department has responded to it.
Can you just provide some comments on some of the following in the conclusion piece of the report, s’il vous plaît? With respect to the assessment of borrowing risk, that it didn’t include sufficient and consistent review of the financial indicators. Can you respond to that comment?
KATHY COX-BROWN: There is a standard format and a standard process that is in place. When we’re looking at the temporary borrowing resolutions, we do use the most current financial statements. If the most current financial statements are not available, we cannot approve them. When we say the non-compliance to municipalities, that is in their letter too. When we say we’re holding the grants, we also put a caution in it that it could cause a delay in us approving their temporary borrowing resolution.
One of the concerns is that we weren’t looking to make sure the term of the loan exceeded the life of the asset, so part of that is in the checklist. That is a requirement to go through to make sure. We use the useful life that is in the FRAM, which is the Financial Reporting and Accounting Manual, which all municipalities must follow. That is a part of the normal checklist.
What we have done to enhance the process a little bit above some of the recommendations is we have moved some of the financial analysis from the municipal advisers to my team, which would be professional accountants who would be on that side. We have looked at some information that we would obtain from the municipalities that is now coming in from our information returns we get from them. We agree to their audited financial statements and part of their now-analysis is, we are doing projections. We’re looking at not just the debt service ratio - we are looking at what the debt service ratio is over the term of the life of the loan and if there are going to be some issues.
Part of the new thing is also looking at the cash flow. Debt service ratio is really just a percentage of your revenue that is going to pay financing and interest charges. It may not say you have the cash to pay for it. What we’re doing now is projecting cash flow over the term not only to make sure that they don’t exceed their debt service ratio but also that they actually have the cash available. There’s a standard template that we have developed in Excel, and we can also run scenarios, which we do. Sometimes we do this with municipalities, seeing how much to take from reserve, how much they can borrow, and project that over.
Also with this new tool, we have actually used it for some of the requests for infrastructure as part of our evaluation and analysis on that. We also run the tool to see what the impact would be on their debt service and on their cash flow. Those are the things we have done. We have also made sure that we have a tracking mechanism in place that tracks when a temporary borrowing resolution comes up for renewal or does it have to go into a more debentured route. We have that tracked now. We track at least twice a year because that’s when it’s usually due.
BEN JESSOME: I’m going to hand off to Ms. Lohnes-Croft and if there’s any time remaining when we’re done, we’ll get back at her.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Lohnes-Croft.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Thank you very much. This would be for Ms. Cox-Brown. When you said that there were seven municipalities that had not completed or submitted their financial reports by September 30th, did you note whether there were parts that they were having more challenges in their report with? Was that the delay? What was the cause of the delay?
KATHY COX-BROWN: It was kind of unique for each one. For one of them, it was a delay in obtaining their financial statements, so they just did not have their financial statements from their auditor to give us. Another delay was when they were filling out their form, they had some concerns. Our team actually went down and helped them fill out the information return.
It could be different circumstances. One, they hadn’t got their internal control letter finalized, so they were waiting for that. In those circumstances, they gave us permission to talk to their auditor to explain to them the importance and how we needed that. There could be different circumstances, but we work with the seven and talk to them and whatever support we can provide, we will help them.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Do you find that there are certain municipalities that have this issue every year, or is it unique that different ones come with the problem in different years?
KATHY COX-BROWN: For some, they have had unique circumstances. They may have had some staff changes and that is why they would show up in the seven. There are a couple we know of that are consistently late, and we try to work with them earlier because we know that. A lot have had unique issues as well.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Are any of those ones that are looking to join other municipalities?
KATHY COX-BROWN: No.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: I also noted that you’ve addressed not completing projects that were funded and you’ve updated how you’re going address that issue. How did you update that?
KELLIANN DEAN: Sorry, I’m just wondering if you could just provide a little bit more.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Recommendation 5.8, “The Department of Municipal Affairs should follow program guidelines for the funding application and claims processes. The guidelines should be updated to address project funding for work not completed within the funding year.”
You’ve completed that, it says. What have you done to change that?
KELLIANN DEAN: That is with respect to the PCAP program so that was a specific program where I understand there were some challenges in the past. Those have been amended and the program guidelines have been tightened and clarified. They’re monitored closely in terms of the stage of the completion of all the projects.
There was also a concern around applying, so they have to apply through our Municipal Grants Management program, as well, online. Any of the deficiencies there have since been corrected, I understand.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Is there a penalty for not completing a project? Any consequences?
KELLIANN DEAN: I will doublecheck on that. My understanding, though, is if a project isn’t completed then the funding would be withheld and then they wouldn’t receive it. Whatever portion is complete, they would get a portion commensurate with the work that was done, but if something else was not done they wouldn’t receive further funding.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: I just would like to talk about policing because I know policing is a cost to municipalities. More and more municipalities are challenged with the cost of policing increasing every year. It’s really a Justice issue, too, but what are you doing to support municipalities in communicating and finding some solutions, rather than cutting back on their other programming?
KELLIANN DEAN: When municipalities are having issues with respect to any aspect of service delivery, we try to work with them and help them. In some instances it may be that there’s a shared service opportunity for them.
With respect to the cost of policing, I do acknowledge that that is under the purview of the Department of Justice, and municipalities have to look at their own circumstances with respect to service delivery around that. I do know that one program they rely on heavily is the Boots on the Street program. That was fully subscribed and will be fully implemented again this fiscal year, and that does provide support to municipalities around policing services.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Can you explain the Boots on the Street program?
KELLIANN DEAN: My understanding is that it provides funding for a certain number of officers within municipalities, which helps them defer the cost of policing. We can get you more detail on that.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Do you have available how many municipalities have their own police forces and how many are RCMP?
KELLIANN DEAN: I don’t have that with me, but I can get that for you, yes.
SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: I’d be interested to know which ones have their own and which use RCMP services. I have no further questions.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: I’ll jump back into a similar line of questioning around capital projects that are joint funded by the province. It sounds to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, - and I’m not trying to draw the line too closely between the two presentations today - that there are critical infrastructure projects that are funded through these types of programs. Can you confirm that, please?
KELLIANN DEAN: Absolutely. There are projects that could be considered pieces of critical infrastructure in municipalities that would be funded through the programs, in particular the federal National Disaster Mitigation Program would provide funding to significant projects as well, so there is some crossover.
BEN JESSOME: With respect to the application requirements and the subsequent approvals that are not with respect to critical infrastructure, is there any sort of difference in whether these projects would be approved or not? I’m just thinking we’re talking about a piece of critical infrastructure versus not - is there anything that would kind of help that money flow a little more promptly if we’re talking about a CI piece here?
KELLIANN DEAN: I think what we’re getting at really would be around the criteria for some of these programs and prioritizations. Certainly, when we look at our infrastructure program applications, we look at federal regulations, as an example - are the federal regulations for wastewater or for wastewater treatment being adhered to from an environmental perspective, and does the project get the municipality further along with respect to those regulations or requirements? That obviously would become a priority versus one that wouldn’t be necessary to meet a regulation, so we do look at that.
I just want to make the point that in some of these infrastructure programs we’ve given a definition of critical infrastructure that’s very high-level and very broad. I would say that there are projects that would be critical in communities with respect to wastewater or stormwater-managing issues. They may not necessarily be deemed critical infrastructure by the definition that we were talking about earlier but there are other federal programs, like the National Disaster Mitigation Program, that is specifically for critical infrastructure like dykes or like other causeways potentially, or other significant projects that are in the multimillion dollar category.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. That ends the time allotted for questioning. If you have any closing remarks, you can make them now please.
KELLIANN DEAN: Again, I would just like to thank the members for their questions and commit to providing follow-up answers to any of them and information that I may not have had on hand. I’d also like to thank my staff very much for being here and sharing their expertise with everybody here today. Thank you.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much. We do have some committee business to take care of and we’ll do that now, but you guys are welcome to sit and listen if you please or return to where you came from. Thank you, guys.
Under committee business, we have a bunch of correspondence that everybody has been provided with from the Department of Internal Services, Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Department of Health and Wellness, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, CSAP, the Department of Community Services, the Department of Lands and Forestry, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Are there any comments on that correspondence that came to each of us? Hearing none. We’ll move on.
At our last meeting, the Auditor General’s Report following up the 2015-16 recommendations were discussed. There was some interest from the committee in the Auditor General possibly doing follow-up more frequently. There would be an additional cost to do so and members were to discuss this with their caucuses and the matter was to be placed back on the agenda today, so we’re going to discuss that today.
Can I have some comments and input from each of the caucuses, please. Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: We would be in support of that.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Mr. Chair, if we decide to go down that route as a committee, I see an opportunity here. We’ve talked on this committee of our desire to collaborate, or at times to compromise. I see an opportunity here where if we do that, our caucus is of the opinion that we should expand the time in which Public Accounts meets.
If the Auditor General’s scope is expanded, then we should have more opportunities to meet and discuss that. In my mind, at a minimum, twice a month or maybe even three times a month. I was never in support of limiting this committee to once a month. It’s such an important committee to Nova Scotians.
If we go that route, I’d like to put it out there that we should increase, per month, the times in which this committee meets.
THE CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Halman. Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: Thank you. Just to clarify, I believe that over the course of the past several months, our caucus’ position has been made fairly clear.
I think today was a good example of the ability to be nimble with having a monthly meeting. We were able to extend our meeting today and have a substantial amount of questions answered with response to separate reports from the Auditor General.
I think that, at this point moving forward, we’re comfortable with remaining where we are as of today.
THE CHAIR: So am I hearing from the Liberal caucus that they’d be okay with having two meetings in one day. That’s what we did today, only we cut the meeting short. If that was the case, we could go back to having two-hour meetings twice in one day, so we continue the conversation that we had.
We cut off our second and our first conversations with these departments, so what I’m hearing is that the Liberal caucus will be okay with having a double meeting on a Wednesday so that you go from 9:00 o’clock to 12:00 or 1:00 o’clock. Is that what I’m hearing?
BEN JESSOME: I’m just wondering what the distinction is between having a three-hour meeting today - today we were able to facilitate two topics of discussion in a three-hour period and there was agreement with the committee to do so. We can be nimble enough, as demonstrated today, to include some of the additional subjects that the committee is looking to cover.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: What actually happened today was that we met with, effectively, the same department on two different follow-up audits, which are not full audits. These were not fresh audit reports which we were digesting for the first time. It was the two-year follow-up and in one of those reports, the recommendations had been 100 per cent completed, so we weren’t actually digging into the results of an audit or even incomplete recommendations.
What happened today was nimble and I think it was a good use of our time, but I don’t think it reflects what would be possible or in the best public interest in the case that we’re actually processing new audit reports, such as will come next week from the Auditor General where there are three topics and we don’t know what is in those.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: I think the fundamental distinction is that we accord more opportunities for us to investigate and question. I don’t see any harm in that. I see only progress with respect to that, so to me, that’s the fundamental distinction that if the scope of the AG’s investigative powers is expanded, then Public Accounts should have the opportunity to meet more to analyze and question the information that’s coming in. To me, that’s the distinction.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Leblanc.
SUSAN LEBLANC: In principle, I agree with my colleague from the PC caucus, but I think the first question at hand that we have to sort of look at is whether or not our caucuses support the Auditor General going to the government for more funding to do more follow-up reports. I think that is the fundamental question that we need to address in this discussion, and I would not like to see it get mixed up with the question of extra meetings because it is important that we address that first question first.
I will reiterate that I think the idea of extra meetings is obviously better for us, but I’m wondering if, respectfully, we could just decide or talk about that first question first. Thanks.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: To clarify, our position is that we’re not in favour of additional meetings but like today, we have the capacity to add a subject of discussion or a subject of the Auditor General’s reporting to our monthly meeting.
THE CHAIR: So the question is, are we in favour of adding more follow-up from the Auditor General amongst the caucuses. Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: Maybe it would be helpful if we formed it in the shape of a motion. I think the motion would be that we would support the Auditor General in seeking additional funding to enable the office to conduct one-year follow-up reports. Is that correct? I’m looking at the Auditor General.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Pickup.
MICHAEL PICKUP: Based on the discussion we had to pursue more follow-up work including the discussion we had at that time, and I went back through my notes, was a one-year follow-up and then perhaps looking, in certain situations, that we don’t drop them after two years. Currently we drop a recommendation, if it’s not complete, after two years. We do a follow-up for two years, and then we drop the ones that are not complete after the two years.
That would be the easier part of it, so I think the umbrella would be to pursue more follow-up work to meet your needs that kept coming out of the follow-up meetings that we had here at the Public Accounts Committee when a lot of the questions to me really related to doing more follow-up work. I think it would be following up sooner - the one year - and in some cases, following up beyond just the two-year period as well.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Maguire.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Mr. Chair, there’s a lot of back and forth here. Can we, for the purposes of the committee, clarify and polish up the motion so everybody’s very clear.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: I move that the committee support the Auditor General in seeking the necessary resources to enable the Auditor General’s Office to do additional follow-up as requested by the committee, including one-year follow-up and potentially a longer follow-up period on incomplete recommendations.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Maguire.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: I’d also like to request that the motion be given to the committee members in writing, please.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Just one final comment on that. If that motion goes forward, again I see this as an opportunity for us to meet more and discuss more. If the scope of the responsibility for the AG is being expanded, then it’s an opportunity for Public Accounts to meet more, to analyze and question public spending and public administration.
It’s a great opportunity, Mr. Chair, for us to work together and collaborate and compromise, which I know we all desire that spirit of compromise on this committee.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Maguire.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: So we’re confusing this here. There are two motions on the floor so . . .
THE CHAIR: No, there’s not two motions on the floor. There’s one motion on the floor.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Can I finish, please?
THE CHAIR: I’m just telling you there’s one motion on the floor.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Can we vote on the NDP motion? What Mr. Halman is putting forward, is that a stand-alone motion or is it just a discussion?
THE CHAIR: That was just discussion. It’s not a motion. There has been no motion put. We’ll deal with the motion from the NDP.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Okay.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m finished writing it.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: May we please recess for a little bit and if we need to go over, we can do that, too.
THE CHAIR: Yes, we may, we’re just going to have to extend the time that’s all, if that’s okay with everybody. If that’s okay with everybody to extend the time, we’ll extend the time and take a short recess while the motion is being written up.
[11:51 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:57 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. I call the committee back to order to deal with the motion on the floor. Has the Liberal caucus had enough time to read the motion that has been distributed? Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: I’m not clear on what “necessary resources” means. Let me be clear. We’re not talking about adding additional meetings on our end. We’re talking about additional resources - I’m unclear about what necessary resources are required to do . . .
THE CHAIR: At our last meeting, the committee determined that if the Auditor General was to do one-year follow-ups and follow-ups after the two years where stuff used to drop off, his department would need more resources to do the studies at one year and what might follow, additional resources.
That’s what the motion is determining - staffing money or money to do the extra work we’re asking him to do. It has nothing to do with any meetings as such. It’s for the Auditor General’s Office to do a one-year follow-up and maybe to follow up something that hasn’t been completed at the two-year mark that usually falls off and doesn’t get looked at ever again.
I think the number was approximately $70,000, but that would be determined by the Auditor General’s Office, to be approved by the government and by the committee to send it forward. That’s at a later date. The motion today is just for us to recommend that we look for more funding for the Auditor General to complete the information that we’re asking him to complete. That’s all.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for the clarity, Mr. Chair.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Maguire.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: I just need another moment, please.
THE CHAIR: Do you want me to read it to you?
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: I don’t need sarcasm.
THE CHAIR: I’m just asking because you have had the motion. You wanted it in writing. Everybody else has read the motion. Do you need to discuss it more? We can recess further if you need to discuss it more.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: We do, yes.
THE CHAIR: Okay, we’ll recess for five minutes.
[11:59 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:02 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We’ll call the committee back to order to deal with the motion on the floor. Mr. Jessome.
BEN JESSOME: I’d just thank the committee through you, Mr. Chair, for its indulgence. We’ll be supporting this motion.
THE CHAIR: The motion on the floor is that the Public Accounts Committee support the Auditor General in seeking necessary resources to enable the AG’s Office to - including one-year follow-up and potentially longer follow-up, on incomplete recommendations.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The next order of business - Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Before we get to the next order of business, since we’re on the topic of motions, I would like to put forward a motion, with your indulgence.
It was reported by CBC Nova Scotia this morning that there are more than 2,500 privacy breaches at the Nova Scotia Health Authority. I move that we call in the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Privacy Commissioner at our scheduled June meeting, in order to investigate those breaches of the privacy of Nova Scotians.
THE CHAIR: The motion is heard. Is there any question on the motion? Discussion?
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. (Interruptions)
A recess for discussion on the motion - do we need it written out again?
We’ll take a recess.
[12:04 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:11 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We’ll call the meeting back to order. The motion on the floor is that we call in the CEO of the NSHA and the Privacy Commissioner at our scheduled June meeting to investigate and question the breaches of privacy in the NSHA.
Just one clarity, Mr. Halman, please.
TIM HALMAN: Mr. Chair, the nature of these breaches I think would warrant us having the Privacy Commissioner and the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority in at that scheduled meeting. However, as I indicated at the beginning of this, certainly I think we are always looking for that spirit of compromise. I think if we can, as we did today, I’d be open to that. However, I would have preference that we devote the whole Public Accounts meeting to the June meeting.
Again, in the spirit of compromise, I think because it’s such a very urgent matter, privacy breaches have been an ongoing issue here in Nova Scotia. I think again - and I’ve been consistent, Mr. Chair - that from time to time we need to have the flexibility to call witnesses that are in the public’s interest. Certainly a breach of this magnitude I think warrants that.
I think maybe we could have a discussion and perhaps a compromise or, if people are in favour of the motion to have the Privacy Commissioner and the CEO in of the Nova Scotia Health Authority at the next June meeting, even better.
THE CHAIR: No further discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is defeated.
The next order of business is just an information item. The annual CCPAC Conference is taking place in Ontario from August 18th to 21st this year. The Chair, the Vice-Chair, a committee member from the Third Party and the legislative committee clerk typically attend and approval has been received. Other members of the committee may attend at their own cost.
Is there any further business to come before the meeting today? Ms. Roberts.
LISA ROBERTS: Just a question maybe for the clerk, I’m not sure. Just informally it appears that there won’t be anybody attending from the Vice-Chair’s Party - oh, I’m sorry, that’s the Vice-Chair - the Chair’s Party. It’s just not clear if the Chair or someone from the Chair’s Party will be attending. If there is no one attending from a Party, I would be interested in attending but I’m supportive of my colleague going from the Third Party.
If there were an option to fund two of us, in the absence of somebody attending from one of the other Parties, maybe the Chair could let me know.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Langille.
KIM LANGILLE (Legislative Committee Clerk): I was going to say that I think that’s maybe something the Speaker would have to approve. I can certainly investigate that for you and find out.
THE CHAIR: Thank you. So committee business is done. The next meeting is June 12th here in the Chamber, 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. is an in camera briefing with the Auditor General and from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. is the Office of the Auditor General’s Spring 2019 Report. That report will be tabled next week and we’ll wait to hear what the report says.
Thank you, the meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 12:15 p.m.]