Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Ms. Maureen MacDonald (Chair)
Mr. James DeWolfe (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Mark Parent
Mr. Gary Hines
Mr. Graham Steele
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid)
Mr. Keith Colwell
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay)
Mr. Michel Samson
[Mr. Leo Glavine replaced Mr. Michel Samson.]
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Roy Salmon
Mr. Alan Horgan
Assistant Auditor General
Resource Recovery Fund Board
Mr. William Ring
Interim Chief Executive Office
Mr. Rick Ramsay
Chief - Board of Directors
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2005
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Ms. Maureen MacDonald
Mr. James DeWolfe
MADAM CHAIR: Good morning, I will call the committee to order, please. Today we have the Resource Recovery Fund Board officials before us. Our practice, and I think you probably know this, you've been here before, but just to refresh everybody's memory, is to have introductions all the way around, because this also gives Hansard an opportunity to check the sound levels on the microphones. Then we will apportion the time to the various caucuses for questions. There is a short period at the outset for introductory remarks from our witnesses. We'll start with introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. WILLIAM RING: Bill Ring from the Resource Recovery Fund Board.
MR. RICK RAMSAY: Rick Ramsay, Chair of the Resource Recovery Fund Board.
MADAM CHAIR: We also have with us this morning the Auditor General and members of his staff. Perhaps they can introduce themselves, as well.
MR. ROY SALMON: Roy Salmon, Auditor General.
MR. ALAN HORGAN: Alan Horgan, Assistant Auditor General.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. We will start by a brief introduction from our guests and then we will have questions from the NDP caucus, the Liberal caucus, and the PC caucus.
MR. RING: Good morning, Madam Chair, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Bill Ring, I am the Interim Chief Operating Officer of the Resource Recovery Fund Board. I was hired about two months ago, near the end of September, to fill this position while the board completes its recruitment of a permanent chief executive officer. My assignment will conclude upon the appointment of this individual. In view of this, I've asked Rick Ramsay, our chairman, to be here today because he has been a director and chairman since June 2004, and will be better able to comment on the Auditor General's Report, as well as provide the committee with a brief review of our activities.
Madam Chair, Mr. Ramsay would now like to make an opening statement on our behalf, if it pleases the Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Absolutely. Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Public Accounts Committee for their interest in the Resource Recovery Fund Board. Ten years ago, in 1995, the Province of Nova Scotia released the Solid Waste Resource Management Strategy, and in February 1996, the strategy became part of the regulations and the Environment Act. In order to help implement the strategy the province established our board as the arm's-length administrator of the fund.
The fund was established for five reasons: to development and implement industry stewardship programs; to fund municipal or regional diversion programs; to develop and operate a deposit refund system for beverage containers; to develop education and awareness of source reduction, reuse, recycling; and to promote the development of value-added manufacturing in the province.
The strategy was designed to help Nova Scotians reduce waste and protect the environment. As time would tell, the innovative Made in Nova Scotia waste reduction strategy has become a model for many other jurisdictions around the globe. The strategy represented a bringing together of the provincial government, Nova Scotia's 55 municipalities, independent businesses, and the public, all with one common goal, to protect the environment while at the same time creating economic opportunities. These opportunities resulted from turning something that used to be waste into something of value, now considered a resource.
The board was established as a not-for-profit corporation, not a Crown Corporation, or a Crown agency, but a not-for-profit corporation chartered under the Companies Act of Nova Scotia. This entity is quite unique and there is no other like it, as far as we know, in the provincial system.
In the 10 years since the strategy was launched, Nova Scotians have been able to divert nearly half of their waste to either recycling or composting initiatives. Since 1996, in the beverage container deposit system, Nova Scotians have recycled over 1.7 billion beverage containers. Since the used tire management program came in in 1998, over 6.1 million tires have been recycled and approximately 605,000 litres of leftover paint since 2002. Through the strategy we have protected our environment and created economic opportunities in the process.
Our board is mandated under the Environment Act to return a minimum of 50 per cent of net revenue to Nova Scotia's municipalities through a variety of programs. Over the past nine years, Nova Scotia municipalities have received approximately $57 million in funding to assist in their waste diversion programs. This support includes municipal approved programs such as improved recycling and composting, education and awareness research, derelict vehicle removal, and household hazardous waste disposal.
RRFB funding helps municipalities in a variety of ways from helping fund recycling programs for senior citizens and Summer camps in the Pictou area, to funding recycling bins in parks and recreation areas all across the province, to clean up hundreds of illegal dump sites. We also invest in businesses and not-for-profit organizations that have come forward with innovative ways of developing products and services from something that otherwise would go to waste. Funding for new woodworking equipment at Touch on Wood, a sheltered workshop in Sydney, or funding for a composting study all play a part in fuelling the environmental economy.
Madam Chair, since you have asked us to appear before you today to discuss the 2004 Office of the Auditor General's audit, let me address some specific recommendations that appear in the audit report.
Overall, the Office of the Auditor General's audit of the board was very favourable and valuable to us. No major issues were raised and the audit report states that the board has adequate internal performance reporting, adequate internal controls, and reasonable policies and processes related to the provision of financial assistance. The Auditor General did raise some issues, pointing to the uniqueness of the structure of RRFB and whether or not the organization is a government entity or a not-for-profit corporation.
Regarding financial reporting, the audit suggested that RRFB should distinguish between the Resource Recovery Fund and the Resource Recovery Fund Board, and report on the fund separately. Our auditors had previously reported the annual financial statements
in accordance with reporting practices for not-for-profit organizations, which allowed for disbursements to various programs after net revenue is calculated.
To address the points raised by the Office of the Auditor General, our statements for 2005 presented a combined statement for the fund and the board, and the note specifically stated that the assets, liabilities and net revenues are held on behalf of the province.
As I mentioned earlier, RRFB is a not-for-profit corporation registered under the Companies Act and operates at arm's length from government, maintaining its own policies - I'm talking about procurement policies here.
Our organization has always had its own separate policies and guidelines that allow for fair and open competition among suppliers and contractors. Most of the suppliers and contractors that we do business with are already listed under the provincial government's Standing Offer Agreements.
The Auditor General's Report recommended that the RRFB adhere to the provincial procurement guidelines, we are now adhering to those guidelines, to the procurement policy, and source only from companies listed under the Standing Offer list of suppliers, or through public tender calls.
Regarding governance of the board. The Auditor General commented on the Resource Recovery Fund Board's governance structure and recommended that we update our articles of incorporation and prepare a set of corporate bylaws. Since we were established as a not-for-profit corporation under the Companies Act, we are guided by a comprehensive articles of association. RRFB has already begun a strategic planning process that will most likely entail updating our corporate bylaws.
Separated depots and regional processing centres was brought up in the report. We collect recyclable material from the province's 83 Enviro-Depots and transport that material to four regional processing centres located in Sydney, Colchester, Lunenburg, and HRM. The processing centres bale and ship the products to markets all over North America.
When the Auditor General's Report was completed in 2004, two of the four processing centres were located next to an Enviro-Depot. Since that time, however, new processing agreements have been awarded and none of these processing centres are located near any Enviro-Depots.
MADAM CHAIR: Excuse me. I hate to interrupt but can you bring it to a conclusion so we can have time for questions, please.
MR. RAMSAY: Sure, I apologize for that. Let me touch on a couple of others then. Talking finally about the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour 10 per cent. We have been required to provide the department with 10 per cent or roughly $1 million of the net revenue each year. The department plays an important role in working with the RRFB to reduce its waste and therefore the $1 million is paid back to the department to cover some of their costs.
The last issue mentioned in the Auditor General's Report, was the Caribbean initiative. We believe that we have a part to play in maximizing the revenues that we receive at RRFB and therefore it provides more money in the end to municipalities. We believe that we have a role to play if we can get more of that money, in selling our programs and expertise, and we would like to continue to do that. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: We'll start with the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Thank you for appearing before us today. The questions I will be asking today, you touched a little bit on in your opening statement, and it revolves around the Auditor General's Report. This committee relies heavily on the Auditor General's Report to hopefully ensure that taxpayers' money is spent appropriately and that the organizations that are associated with government are transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of this province.
You mentioned that you are an arm's-length administration or department from government, but that still is one of the major concerns that we have when we deal with arm's-length departments, organizations, or companies dealing with taxpayers' money and that is ensuring that there's appropriate transparency when it comes to spending that money. You had mentioned the Caribbean trip and I know last year there was a lot of media attention around it, concerns around the cost involved, I think it was around $10,000 for four of the employees on the Resource Recovery Fund Board to go there and seek other, hopefully, potential, future contracts or investments.
I know at the time the board appeared before the Public Accounts Committee last year there were no contracts as a result of that trade mission at that time. Has there been any benefit from that trip over a year ago, to date? Have any new contracts or investments been awarded because of that trip?
MR. RAMSAY: We continued to go, in the last couple of years, because we have been invited and the number of contacts are growing, but we have not signed any agreements with any other organization or company. There is, however, a memorandum of understanding
with the Eastern Caribbean States that the provincial government signed, which encourages us to work with the Nova Scotia Environmental Industry Association which is a group of industries, and with the Eastern Caribbean States to continue to provide some sense of consulting. They have asked us, actually, to provide a proposal to provide some consulting services to assist them in their diversion system. We haven't done that as yet, this just came out of the recent visit in September, we haven't completed that yet because we want to make sure that we have the right resources and things in place at the RRFB before we actually prepare the proposal, we want to make sure it's salient.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): In the Auditor General's Report he had a few recommendations. One of them was, or I'll ask you, has the board implemented a business planning process, as the Auditor General reported, with concerns of the expenditure of such a trip down to the Caribbean?
MR. RAMSAY: In September 2004 the board began a strategic planning process. We stopped the process because we had to replace our CEO and we hope that the new CEO will help us coordinate and develop that final strategic plan. That issue will be one the board will have to deal with in the plan, whether or not we have the resources or can get the resources to do what we want there. All we have done since that time is gone down and made some presentations, met with key people down there, to keep the contact because we know at some point, hopefully that investment will pay off for us, but it will be in our strategic plan whether or not we are going to go ahead with that.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): You said there was a delay because you're seeking a new CEO. Can you tell us roughly a timeline of when that position will be filled, so that we can anticipate a business plan coming forward?
MR. RAMSAY: We believe the new person, hopefully, will be in place by February 2005, we're right in the middle of it now . . .
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): In 2006.
MR. RAMSAY: What did I say, 2005? February 2006, yes, at which time that is one of the key issues the board wants the new CEO to do, assist the board in developing its corporate plan.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): During that Auditor General's Report - and I believe it was the 2004 report - he questioned the Department of Environment and Labour's receipts of quite a substantial amount of money, up to about $0.5 million annually, spent from the board's revenue base. What was that expense for in his report that he was mentioning?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: The province has an agreement with the RRFB that we will reimburse them 10 per cent of net revenues each year, and that is to offset the costs that they incur on behalf of the Resource Recovery Fund Board.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So the trade mission to the Caribbean earlier this year, is that included in that nearly $0.5 million?
MR. RING: No, it's not.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): These trade missions, does the board pay for the full mission or does some of that money come from the government?
MR. RING: The board pays for the portion incurred by the board. The government pays for its own participation, the department.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So as you stated in your opening statement, there hasn't been any contracts signed because of these trade missions to the Caribbean. There was a recent one, I believe, in September, has anything come of that trade mission as of yet this year?
MR. RING: Yes, recommendations have been made by staff that we put together a proposal and as Mr. Ramsay has reported, the nature of that proposal depends on who is available to staff it, and it's all part of the process of engaging a permanent CEO. I believe at that time, the permanent CEO will be in a position to then have a look at the organization and decide what resources are available to staff such an assignment and make the appropriate proposal.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I might not have been that clear on my question. The trade mission that just happened in September, have there been any contracts, or any additional investments to the board, as a result of that trade mission?
MR. RING: As I was trying to explain - I guess, not very well - our person who was there has recommended as a result of the discussions, that we put together a proposal. The preparation of that proposal is on hold for the moment but will be addressed as soon as the new CEO is appointed.
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Wilson, also there were representatives from the provincial Department of Environment and Labour, and they're doing the same thing in trying to assist. Also, the Nova Scotia Environmental Industry Association had representatives there. I'm not sure whether they have contracts, because they're businesses. They may have signed
contracts since then but the RRFB hasn't signed any specific, it's just another step in the process.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So I think there's an underlying problem with some of the questions that I've been asking. Until a CEO is appointed or put in place, a permanent CEO, things are kind of on hold, from what I understand from what you're saying. Is there an active posting right now for the position of CEO with the board?
MR. RAMSAY: Yes, the board contracted Caldwell Partners and the advertising has taken place. We're probably within a couple of weeks' time of interviewing and hopefully, by January an offer, and by February the person will be there.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Does Cabinet have to approve the CEO of this board? Do they have final say to approve the successful applicant?
MR. RAMSAY: No, Cabinet doesn't approve the individual, but Cabinet had to approve the parameters of the position, the parameters of the remuneration, but the board has final decision on the person. We have received Cabinet approval to proceed under those parameters.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So there's not going to be any delay because of, as everyone is aware, the Premier stepping down? There's not going to be any delay with the process of their Party going through a leadership convention to see who the next Premier is going to be? So there's no delay there, it's in your hands now, once you finalize the candidates and have a successful candidate, then you can appoint them to the board?
MR. RAMSAY: That's correct, yes.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): One of the things we've heard a lot of over the last little while that I've dealt with this committee, is that about tendering processes for consultants, for contracts, and the untendering process. It's of grave concern for our committee to ensure departments follow the proper tendering process when asking a consultant firm to audit them, or to look for additional resources or positions.
One of the things we know is there was $38,000 paid toward a consultant who approached the board about their market expertise, and hopefully, to create future contracts for the board. The Auditor General pointed out that this wasn't the proper technique or proper tendering process or procedure. You had mentioned in your opening statement, so are you from now on going to concur with those tendering processes in the future?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: Yes, we're doing that now. I can't tell you exactly when that was implemented, it was before I joined two months ago. There is an internal policy now that tracks the provincial procurement policy.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): The Auditor General actually had mentioned this or brought to the attention of government, and I think back in 1997 was the first indication that public tendering procedures should be adhered to toward this board. Why has it taken so long for the board to implement what I feel is a very important procedure when it comes to tendering contracts for government and individual companies?
MR. RING: My understanding - and again, I'm not trying to beg off but I have only been there for a little over two months - is that there has always been an internal policy on procurement that was, perhaps, not quite as tight as the provincial procurement policy. In terms of how adequate or inadequate it was, I really can't comment, it was before my time.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: When I became chairman it became known to me that we normally did have tenders for our contracts. That one didn't happen. We had a number of contracts for processing centres, if we called for proposals or expressions of interest, our auditing was tendered out, all of those major contracts. We had a practice of doing that and somehow that one didn't get tendered properly.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I'm going to go for a few minutes on the Resource Recovery Fund Board funds, accounts, and performance targets. In the Auditor General's Report he called for visible performance targets and a separate account for the board's fund, which is not owned by the board. I know you had mentioned it quickly in your opening statement, but is this being done now to differentiate and be very clear on that fund?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: The financial statements for this year were recast from previous years. You'll note that balance sheet, for instance, refers to the combined statement of financial position, so it's a combination of the two. In order to clarify that somewhat, essentially, the Resource Recovery Fund Board Incorporated has no assets or liabilities, it administers the Resource Recovery Fund, which is owned by the province. So when we say combined, in essence, the numbers that you see are the numbers of the fund.
In the notes to the statement it is pointed out that all of the assets, liabilities, and results of operations are the assets, liabilities, and results of the fund, as opposed to the Resource Recovery Fund Board Incorporated.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Wilson, you have four minutes.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): That was another thing looking through some of the information that was provided, was that this was an area that the Auditor General reported on back in 1997, also. There were several recommendations going back nearly seven or eight years now where the Auditor General indicated that he has seen as a problem, to be very clear and transparent you need to change how they are shown to the taxpayers. Again, why was there such a long time before we could implement or change the policies like these ones that were indicated back in 1997, that needed some changes?
MR. RING: I'm afraid my answer is going to be the same as it was before, I really can't comment on that. I don't know why. I do know that Mr. Ramsay was there at the time the Auditor General did his audit and when he got that recommendation, he immediately implemented the changes to the 2005 financial statements.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Wilson, I'm not in as bad shape as he is - sorry - as far as experience, I've been there since June 2004. I don't know the answer to that question either. It appears there was a difference between our external auditors reporting and the Auditor General's Office. I recall there was a lot of discussion during the time the Auditor General's staff were in our office and in the end, we changed the statements. It was just a different interpretation, I guess, of our auditors and the Auditor General.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I think, as you said, you're a not-for-profit group and everything goes back into the board, which I can appreciate, but that doesn't take away from the importance of being very clear to the taxpayers of where the funds are being allocated and what they're for. My last question is, do the board financial managers get a bonus payment and if yes, is it performance based or can you elaborate on that?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: The short answer is no, at this point in any case, that position is not eligible for any bonus.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. The time for the NDP caucus has expired. We'll now turn to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Preston.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: How much time do we have?
MADAM CHAIR: You have until 9:53 a.m.
MR. COLWELL: Twenty minutes. I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Glavine.
I have a couple of questions along a different track here. What efforts have the Resource Recovery Fund Board done to work with the municipalities, to look after household waste, hazardous waste in particular? I can think of a few things like propane tanks that are pretty easy to deal with that could probably, with some training and some proper equipment, the Enviro-Depots could handle those and you wouldn't see them in the woods, strewn all over the place. It would give people the opportunity to get rid of these things.
The present household hazardous waste system that particularly HRM has in place really doesn't work well. They're open on a Saturday and if you're in the middle of a park in Halifax and you live in Ecum Secum, you're sure as heck not going to take your waste oil, or anything like that to the Enviro-Depot, unless you happen to be going in there that day which is very unlikely. That can be said for many places throughout the HRM, and I'll just talk about the HRM because I'm very familiar with that particular thing.
What efforts have you made to work more closely with the Enviro-Depots so they can take more items and ultimately become a little more profitable which is always good? I don't believe in people making all kinds of money but become profitable so they can operate properly and handle some of these things that are hazardous waste. With the proper training and the proper small inexpensive facilities, they could handle this stuff and save a tremendous amount of trouble for the general public and just make it easier to get rid of these things and improve the diversion rates.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: I'm going to turn to Mr. Ramsay in a moment to speak more about efforts over the past year or so. There are two observations I would make, propane tanks, a lot of them are going to the places you can buy propane and exchange the tank, you take in your empty tank and buy a full one. You can leave the propane tanks at most places where you ordinarily buy propane and they look after disposal. There are things happening there but perhaps there should be more done in the form of education, that people should be aware of how they can dispose of them.
In terms of other aspects of household hazardous waste, we are in the process of having discussions with the people who handle the paint program about possibly extending that to encompass some of the other items that you would consider to be household hazardous waste.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: We work quite closely with the Enviro-Depots, they're a very important part of our system. We want to make sure that when we allow them to collect something that they have the proper training, as you have said. We've had a number of discussions, they're interested in some areas to handle some more waste.
Annually we fund a household hazardous waste day in some municipalities, or some regions, where the region sets it up so the public can come in and bring their household hazardous waste in and it's packed away and shipped safely. But that's only done once a year, so we have to keep that in our homes until that day which is not the best idea.
I know the ERA, Eastern Recyclers Association, are interested in having further discussions, they represent the Enviro-Depots, in allowing their businesses to have access to that. We'll want to talk to them further about that, we just can't say holus-bolus.
MR. COLWELL: I think it's positive because if you move forward with the Enviro-Depots to do more things, it eliminates the garbage in the woods, it eliminates illegal dumping of oil and other items that could potentially be hazardous, or even dumping them down the sewers and all the other problems that are created. So if we make it easy for somebody, most people will move forward and do those things. I know in the HRM they had some of those days and it worked very well. Unfortunately, there are too few of them and they're not spread out enough. There really should be more than one a year, there should be several a year and they should be spread out over the whole area.
Have you ever looked at funding for an additional household hazardous waste depot, east of Halifax Harbour, that could take this stuff, like the one in Lakeside Park does?
MR. RAMSAY: I'm not sure, Mr. Colwell, whether we have looked at that. Really, it's the region that does it and we help fund it, all we do it provide some financial assistance to every region if they want to do it. So really, it's up to the HRM region to decide where it will be and how many there will be and then we provide some funding. Our budget, however, only includes approximately $70,000 per year to fund all of these across the province and it may be insufficient at this time. So far it hasn't all been used up, all of the areas of Nova Scotia don't have them, so we might be able to transfer some of the funds that haven't been used to other areas where they can have more.
MR. COLWELL: That would be a good idea, I think. I know one day in the HRM is $10,000, that's pretty expensive, it seems a little bit too expensive to me, but without knowing all the facts, all the numbers and where everything goes, and how they have to get rid of the stuff it may be a bargain, who knows. So that's an issue.
The other thing is, too, with the Enviro-Depots - because I think these things work well, they've taken on their own initiative, they collect paper and they do things on their own which has really been positive and it makes it easier for people to get rid of paper and
cardboard products, and they'll take batteries and other things, anything they can sort of make a dollar on, which is great. I know your organization supports them in that which is the way it should be.
What about the things like refrigerators? I know now refrigerators, washers, dryers and stoves aren't a problem because the price of steel went so high that if anyone dumps them in the woods, someone else comes and cleans it up and takes it to the junkyard, but that won't continue. It would be very easy for the Enviro-Depots to take those household appliances, even if the municipality comes along afterward and picks them up, they'd have one pick up point, rather than trying to struggle with a refrigerator on the back of a garbage truck. Also, when they take the refrigerant out of it, it gives the municipality or whoever is going to do it, the opportunity to go to one location and clean up a whole pile of refrigerators in a few hours, rather than travel all over the municipality trying to do these things. Has there been any consideration given to that to work with the municipalities to do that sort of thing?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: Again, these are municipal issues. In other words, we are certainly willing to listen to proposals from the municipalities as to programs that they want to implement, and consider financial aid for those programs, but it's up to the regions to initiate that.
MR. COLWELL: You briefly mentioned that the province now siphons off more than $1 million to the Department of Environment and Labour every year. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? I'm a little bit concerned about that because this money really should go into recycling programs.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: I believe it was approximately four years ago that the province indicated to the Resource Recovery Fund Board that 10 per cent of the net revenue should be given back to the Department of Environment and Labour. The reason was it was to partially cover a portion of their costs that they devote to recycling, diverting materials, and the solid waste issues. The $1 million would assist the government in covering some of those costs.
For the last two or three years we have been getting a bill from the Department of Environment and Labour to support that, rather than just give them 10 per cent. In fact, the Auditor General's Office brought that up that they were very concerned that that was just an unsupported amount that we pay, so the Department of Environment and Labour is providing us an invoice now that says, here's where we incurred the costs - and generally it's over $1 million - and your share of this is going to be 10 per cent. If our net revenue is $9 million,
they get $900,000. They support it with an invoice, compared to previously they just said, 10 per cent of net revenues.
MR. COLWELL: Specifically, could you tell me what they're supposed to use this money for?
MR. RAMSAY: They use it to pay for some of the costs that they incur. They have a number of staff around the province and in their office that play a role in recycling, diversion, landfills, testing landfills and all of that. That is what they ask us to contribute some money to.
MR. COLWELL: Is this hindering - that roughly $1 million that is going each year - some more possibilities of diversion that you could put in place? I understand the diversion rates are dropping in the regional municipality and some other areas in the province are going lower instead of going higher?
MR. RAMSAY: Any more money would help us do more. In the end really, it comes off the municipalities, because before the municipalities get their money, that 10 per cent, whatever that figure is, comes off the top and goes to the province. So it would provide more money for municipalities. The municipalities are the doers of the strategy, they collect, they have the operating landfills, so the money would be given to the municipalities, rather than just sitting in our fund, so that would be the benefit.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Glavine wasn't here when we did introductions. Perhaps you could introduce yourself to our guests.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Leo Glavine, MLA for Kings West. Thank you, Mr. Ring and Mr. Ramsay for your presentation today. I know as a former educator, in particular a teacher of geography and environmental studies, when the RRFB came along, it was a most welcome day and a program that I've lauded along the way. It's nice to be able to wear a T-shirt made from pop bottles and such things that have grown out of this very valuable industry in our province.
However, I would like to hear you make a case that just after 10 years that RRFB has not plateaued. Just as my colleague talked about diversion going down, we don't have every single county that is composting, have we plateaued?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: I'll start and then I'll turn it over to Mr. Ramsay. I've only been involved with this for shortly over two months, as I've mentioned. A few things have struck me since I've been there, one is the absolute dedication of people involved in this field, not just the people of the RRFB, but the people at the Enviro-Depots, the people that you meet every day, the concerned citizens. The people who are interested are very interested and very impassioned about it and frankly, it's a little bit contagious.
In terms of a plateau, yes, I think we are seeing a bit of a plateau at the moment in some of the programs. In terms of the opportunities, there is construction and demolition waste, there are some huge opportunities there, for one thing, that is very bulky material and it takes up a lot of room. Electronics waste, we're very close to having an agreement on electronics, an e-waste stewardship program, which will have a very significant impact on landfills. There are a number of areas that we have to address more efficiently and more effectively. Things such as disposable diapers. Each newborn generates one ton of diapers, that's a lot of landfill, so is there a way that we can do that? There is a trial going on in Ontario right now in that field that we're watching closely. Will it come here in the future? I don't know, we'll have to see what comes from that.
The opportunities to increase diversion and the innovation that is coming to this field that has been brought to bear so far, there's a whole attitudinal shift, whereas, as Rick referred to in his earlier remarks, what used to be considered waste is now considered a resource. That is very definitely becoming the case, it's not as widespread as we'd all like to see, but it is very definitely becoming the case. How can we make a resource out of this waste? How can we make something valuable out of it and create jobs for the province, add value? So, yes, I don't think we're at a plateau, or not a very long one.
MR. GLAVINE: I thank you for that. I just wanted to hear that general scenario of where things are. However, that being said, there are several MLAs on that side of the House who attacked every initiative by the RRFB and the recycling movement early on. Certainly, 10 years ago when the formation was going on I still remember comments posted on my classroom wall from the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. However, let's forget about the past, is this government supportive of new initiatives by the RRFB?
MR. RING: Again, I speak from very limited experience there. Certainly, my impression is that we are being very well supported, but I'll refer that to Mr. Ramsay.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: I would say the RRFB has an excellent relationship with the Department of Environment and Labour, the minister very much supports the activities. We work very closely with the department staff in coming up with new initiatives, or addressing
other issues, and they look to us for funding, and we look to them for funding. From my relationship, it has been a very positive one.
MR. GLAVINE: Along the lines of the diversion to the composting sites, in the province it is my understanding that we have both private and municipal operations, is that correct?
MR. RING: I'm sorry, on the composting sites?
MR. GLAVINE: Yes.
MR. RING: Yes, I believe that's true.
MR. GLAVINE: I ask that question because I know one in Kings County, actually in my constituency, has to compete against municipal sites and, therefore, what they have to pay per ton versus the municipality, there's some dissonance there. I'm wondering if RRFB is working to have the best business plan on a provincial basis.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, it's really the role of the department to get involved in that issue. We fund, we provide money but we really aren't involved in the strategy part of dealing with that. We provide funds, in fact that one that you're mentioning in Kings, the RRFB provided some funding for that company, and we also provide funding to municipalities. So that's what we do. The business model, the business case, really, it's market driven. We don't get involved in that. The department sort of deals with that issue, if they want to deal with it.
MADAM CHAIR: A minute and a half, Mr. Glavine.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chair, one of the growing areas and an area that will be looked upon very closely is materials from rendering plants or from abattoirs that can go to a rendering plant but also could go to a composting site. Is there any policy formulated at the moment, or will be, in that particular area, Mr. Ramsay or Mr. Ring?
MR. RAMSAY: Again, Mr. Glavine, that's a departmental issue. RRFB doesn't deal with that, the province does. The Department of Environment and Labour would have to answer that question.
MR. GLAVINE: The other one would be along the line of do you have anything in terms of the electronic materials, the e-waste, up and running at this point in time, or are you still piloting that area?
MR. RAMSAY: RRFB is partnering with other provinces to prepare a study on electronic waste. What does electronic waste look like in the Atlantic Provinces? Should we have one collection site? Should we have one processing site? Does every province need a processing site? Does every province need a collection? The final report, I believe, has been received. I haven't seen it. That will provide some direction for all of us, the three provinces, including Nova Scotia, on how to best handle electronic waste. The regulations haven't come down yet.
RRFB has had meetings with two major suppliers, and they are interested in RRFB taking the lead in designing or implementing or helping the department and the companies look after waste with them, they want to be involved as well. Nothing has been finalized. We have now, however, received some options of how best to do it, and we'll be looking at that, hopefully along with the regulations.
MADAM CHAIR: The time has expired for the Liberal caucus. We will go now to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. MARK PARENT: Madam Chair, it's a privilege to be here, although in the interest of full disclosure I'll have to confess that I owe Mr. Ramsay a great favour since he was the one who hired me as a student minister at Kentville Baptist back in 1976. So my questions will not be very pointed. (Laughter) I've been bought off.
Actually my questions won't be pointed because I really think that the Resource Recovery Fund Board has done a wonderful job. Nova Scotians are leaders in waste reduction across Canada. We've had delegations from various states. We've had other countries come as well. I believe Ireland came. I was actually involved in a few meetings. Have there been other countries that have come to look at our model and to learn from it?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, a number have, actually. We receive visits. We have been to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and we have a memorandum of understanding to assist them. The Japanese delegation was here about two months ago, we've had people up from Barbados, St. Lucia, a lot of Caribbean countries, and some other European countries have been here. They continue to want to come here.
MR. PARENT: That's impressive, when you think of a small province of 950,000 people and the world beating a path to our door to learn from us in terms of waste recovery. What is it that they find most innovative about what we're doing?
MR. RAMSAY: I believe there are two things. One is the system under which we operate, the governance structure, the relationship that we have with local government, the relationship we have with the department, which is a strong partnership with three governments. They are also interested in our system of keeping track of goods and materials and the payment system. We have a very fine IT department that has developed a system called ROCAPS, and it is able to track products from the time they're at a processor through to the payment to the Enviro-Depots. So they're interested in our system and our intelligence.
MR. PARENT: What are some of the things that we might learn from other jurisdictions? Are there some things that we've picked up from other areas that you'd like to implement, if possible, given enough money, time, whatever?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: We are a member of an organization - I forget the exact name of it - and basically the agency is responsible for waste diversion across the country. We meet regularly with them and share how we are doing, how we're handling tires, how we're handling paint, how we're handling bottles or cans, beverage containers, what are the markets for the products, what are the latest happenings in methods of recycling. We learn a lot from these. It's a very open exchange. I've attended one, and I was really impressed with the way the provinces share their information with one another and really work very well together with the end users, the customers, who buy, for instance, the glass or the aluminum, the sorts of things that the provinces tend to work together in setting up arrangements with them. So we learn a lot from the other provinces, and they learn from us, I think.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, just a couple of examples. Europe is much more advanced than Nova Scotia in automobile recycling. We have a lot to learn from them. We have a lot to learn from the Japanese regarding electronic recycling. They've been recycling electronics, they're the masters of it, and we have a lot to learn from that country, as well. So there are parts of the world that are further ahead, believe it or not, than Nova Scotia in recycling. Those are just two examples of where we can learn.
MR. PARENT: You mentioned this organization that you belong to and the sharing of ideas. It twigged a question. Let me just give you the background and then the question. The Premier's Advisory Council on Innovation, headed up by Kelvin Ogilvie, put out a very interesting document in which they stated that one of the main goals of the province should be a sort of overarching vision, which I agree with wholeheartedly, to make Nova Scotia the most environmentally-friendly province in Canada by the year 2025. Coupled with that, they said that there should be an emphasis on attracting companies to Canada that specialize in creating products that will help improve the environment, and also R&D.
Is there any research and development done by the Resource Recovery Fund Board or is there any that you are aware of that is going on - I guess, most of our R&D is in universities - on issues of recycling, how to do it better, end products that might come out of recycling that could be used in a different manner?
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Parent, last year we funded approximately $100,000, given to companies for research. We will fund companies in Nova Scotia, we won't fund companies coming in from other parts of the world or Canada, but if there are companies in Nova Scotia that want to do research and development on a particular part of a diversion issue, they can come to us and we'll assist them. Last year, as I said, I think it was around $100,000 we paid.
In addition to that, some municipalities in Nova Scotia have come up with some great ideas of ways to better divert from landfills. We have a large fund, approximately $1 million, that we provide to municipalities on an annual basis for specific projects they want to do, as well as research. We've had a request from the Eco-Efficiency Centre in Nova Scotia to partner with that organization in providing research grants and money to universities because they are eligible to apply for funds from us as well to do research.
MR. PARENT: I've been at a few meetings with you, Mr. Ramsay, with the Enviro-Depots. At times they have been feeling that perhaps they didn't get as much return as the Province of Nova Scotia. Where does that situation stand now? Are things amicable with the Enviro-Depots, do they feel that the system is working well for them, as well?
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Parent, we want to work with the Enviro-Depots. The ERA, Eastern Recyclers Association, represents about 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the Enviro-Depots, so we work closely with that organization. It's not always positive, they have issues to bring to our table and we have issues to bring to their table. We continue to work at it; in fact, I meet quite regularly with the executive director of that organization to talk about the issues, they're not all resolved.
There was the Handling Fee Committee that reported last year, there were some issues and recommendations, and we're working down through those and trying to keep them advised on where those issues stand. They want a fund set up that they can go to to improve their depots; that's coming to the board actually next week, a recommendation dealing with that. They are still not happy with the process for the Handling Fee Committee that set the handling fee. They believe they're not getting as much co-operation from the Brewers Association because they pay, as well, a fee to the Enviro-Depots, they don't believe that they are treated well there. So it's an ongoing discussion.
We are very supportive of them, we're very appreciative because they are a very important partner to us in the whole system. But we keep talking, sometimes it's positive and sometimes there are some problems. Generally, I think we have a pretty good relationship.
MR. PARENT: Well, the relationship must be more positive because I remember the demonstration where we had the empty pop bottles in front of Province House some years ago and we haven't had that. Before I turn off to my colleagues, you mentioned electronics and Japan being the leader - and this is in the form of a question because along with us funding some R&Ds, along with running the Resource Recovery Board - I'm wondering if we do - maybe not so much us but in that larger organization mentioned - lobby work.
I came across an issue which really frustrated me and it's not an issue that's a problem with you but it's an issue with Hewlett Packard and I'm in conversations with them out in Calgary about it, and it really deals with inkjet printers, but the way these things are manufactured, if you want to be cost-effective they are promoting waste. Let me give you an example. I bought a colour laser printer. The printer cost me about $600, it came with the starter pack, the ink drum and the four inks. We're almost through that now and I went back to get refills. I could buy a new printer for $200 less than it would cost me to buy the cartridges for the colour laser.
I phoned Hewlett Packard and said, what's going on here, do you realize what you're doing? If I wanted to save the taxpayer of Nova Scotia money, it would be cheaper to junk this colour laser, which has been in operation for four months, and buy a new one that is faster and then throw this one in the garbage. I think there is a real problem that is maybe endemic to the electronics field with this.
I know people said to me before and I didn't really pay any attention until I came along and they said, we don't buy inkjet cartridges, we just buy a new printer because it comes with the inkjet cartridge in it and it's cheaper to buy the printer than the inkjet cartridges. So do we do any lobby work with that large organization, with organizations particularly in the computer field, because I think this is a growing area that has the potential to really dump a lot of garbage on the environment, and I give you this example and this is a true example. It's cheaper for me to throw out this printer after four months than it is to buy the new cartridges for the colour and I'm just appalled.
Hewlett Packard has no answer to me. I said, I don't know if it's a marketing scheme, does it cost them that much to make the new cartridges or are they just feeling that they really have the consumer? Really, it's a serious problem and these things are not biodegradable, that I'm aware of. Chops Viger has shown me some plastics, that you may have seen, made out of hemp that they could make computer products out of that would be biodegradable.
I really think that whole electronic industry, particular in computers and printers where new technology comes along so quickly, that they have to do something and they have to change somehow. Do we do any lobby work with organizations like that?
MR. RAMSAY: The term you're referring to is EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility. I know during discussions in dealing with the electronic waste program, they were at the table, the suppliers were represented by the electronics association, and it was discussed there about them having to get better control of the product when they're making it.
We have the same issue, regardless of whether it's a beverage deposit or a beverage container, we really have to watch the plastics in beverage containers now because there are other products in there. The producers of this, we continue to go out of the province, and the department continues to go back and tries to deal with those issues right from the producers' point of view, that you have to make it more recyclable, you can't continue to mix aluminum in plastic, or fibre in plastic because it doesn't recycle as easily. So we continue to lobby on those issues and I know the Department of Environment and Labour continues to lobby on those issues because they, in the end, are responsible for the landfills, and the municipalities as well
MR. PARENT: I'd like to turn it off to my colleague.
MADAM CHAIR: The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
MR. GARY HINES: I'm going to make a couple of comments starting out. I think you gentlemen should take pride in two measurables. One would be the Auditor General's Report gave you a rather kind and appreciative review and the other measurable, and certainly not as valuable a source of giving you credit, would be the fact that the Halifax Regional Municipality and the infamous Mayor Kelly - and in my time in council, and I think Mr. Colwell will attest to it too - one of the areas of provincial government that he hasn't been abusing and trashing on occasion would be your department. In fact, I've heard him sing your praises, so I guess that being said, you're doing your job somewhat right.
You have also been very humble this morning because there's one thing that you didn't mention, Nova Scotia has recycled its 1 billionth container since 1996, and I think that's a major accomplishment.
I would just like to ask you, and both can give your opinion, is this above average and are you satisfied with that number?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay and then Mr. Ring.
MR. RAMSAY: I would say RRFB is pretty pleased with the rate of return. The numbers are going up quite regularly. As a percentage it dropped last year, the whole diversion dropped last year, but as far as beverage containers, we're around 79 per cent to 80 per cent, approximately. That is excellent compared to other jurisdictions, across Canada at least, where they have the same system as we have.
As you increase the return from the 80 per cent, there is less money coming back to the municipalities, the more you recycle the less money there is for the municipality. The money that is really available now for the RRFB to use is the amount, we pay 10 cents every bottle and if only 80 per cent is coming back, then there's a nickel on everything that doesn't come back, and that's probably $6 million a year. The more people recycle bottles, that's going to take away from that. We're trying to get as much back as we can, we're trying to make the system easier. I think it's going to be stable around 79 per cent to 80 per cent in the future.
MR. RING: Were you speaking just of bottles or solid waste generally?
MR. HINES: I want to know if your expectations have been reached generally.
MR. RING: One of the things that I understand - and I must confess I have not researched this myself - is that Nova Scotia started off initially sending less to landfills than the average Canadian. So when we reduce by 50 per cent, we reduce at a far lower number than another province that reduces 50 per cent. I think to some extent what is happening is that the economy has improved and when people have more money they tend to spend more and it's often on things that perhaps aren't as easy to dispose of and take up more landfill space. What I'm trying to say is I believe that part of this diversion percentage that we're seeing not being achieved, is not so much that people are not recycling as much, but rather that we're buying more things that do tend to go to the landfill than we used to, and we have to deal with those. So it's things like the e-waste program that will help to reduce and get those numbers to a far higher level than we see today.
MR. HINES: Another question I have is, there was a survey out recently and the results were highlighted in the paper regarding the recycling efforts of fast food outlets, and with the exception of McDonald's they were failing miserably. What have you done to encourage these major corporations to provide the proper containers and encourage recycling?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: The RRFB provides approximately $800,000 to the regions for education and awareness programs. I've known of several cases where waste reduction coordinators - they're the staff in the regions across the province - have gone into a number of fast food businesses, attempting to work with them trying to set up physical locations - not
in behind the counter where people can't get at it, but out front - where people can recycle whatever they're eating and the containers can go in another. So we work in a roundabout way with them to educate them and try to promote it.
We haven't dealt directly with the Tim Hortons organization or the coffee cup organization, excuse me, anybody who has a coffee. But I know there are discussions going on between DEL, the Department of Environment and Labour, and those companies to try to deal with it. We provide the funding to the regions who try to go out and educate those local fast food places to allow the public good access to where they can get rid of or divert their waste.
MADAM CHAIR: The time has expired for the PC caucus. We'll return now for a round of 10, 11 minutes per caucus.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): The first comment I have to make is that I'm disgusted to hear that the Department of Environment and Labour charges the RRFB nearly $1 million a year, and then turns around and says they care about the environment. That just blows me away, to know that they do this and to know that this Progressive Conservative Government, time and time again, relies on the municipalities, for one, to do their job, but yet they take back from them. Do they adequately fund the municipalities in this province to do their work? We know that municipalities throughout the province take care of waste removal, compost, recycling, and I can just imagine what an additional $1 million could do for the municipalities around this province to increase the reduction of waste that goes to our landfills.
What would happen if we had $1 million going into maybe increasing the handling fees for entrepreneurs who deal with recycling? What would happen if we invested it in the value-added products, or maybe employment creation through waste management? I can just imagine what $1 million a year could do to hopefully promote us even better as a province when it comes to waste reduction and recycling.
Around the value-added products and job creation, I know the board indicates there are about 3,000 jobs in Nova Scotia that are created or linked to recycling, and that the board funds businesses that added value to recycled materials. Does the board actively seek out new business opportunities with co-operation from, say, Nova Scotia Business Inc. or the Office of Economic Development?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, yes, we have a staff person completely devoted to that issue, working with the Nova Scotia Environmental Industries Association. I know he has made presentations to different municipalities, he works closely with the Office of Economic Development when we get applications and becomes knowledgeable about a potential. We have a full-time staff person devoted to that.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): What, in your view, could you do if you had an additional close to $1 million - I know it's 10 per cent, but I'll use the figure around $1 million - that the Department of Environment and Labour charges you yearly? What initiatives could you undertake if you had an additional nearly $1 million in your department, in your fund?
MR. RAMSAY: As you can appreciate, Mr. Wilson, we're not here to debate the policies of government, whether that's right or not. That's not our role to play here. If you take a look at every line of our financial statements, where we spend money, RRFB would naturally have that much more money to spend, whether it's value added or municipalities or handling fees or better processing. My comment is strictly based on the dollar amount, not agreeing with or disputing the government policy.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I sympathize with your relationship, but I can definitely criticize what government policy is. I definitely have to state I criticize the fact that they take nearly $1 million out of your fund. I think that's wrong, for one. They should look at changing that policy. Hopefully we'll keep bringing that up and keep their feet to the fire to say, if we really want to show the rest of Canada, the rest of the world that we want to be leaders in waste management, then stop taking away from these funds and invest it into the Recovery Board. You've said it's a non-profit group, there are no shareholders here who are going to walk away with this $1 million.
In the board's report, it stated that negotiations with industry broke down in the area of stewardship over beverage cups, and that discarded coffee cups create a large percentage of waste and litter in Nova Scotia. I think a lot of people feel it's an important issue that we need to address. So can you tell us what caused that initial breakdown in negotiations, or are there negotiations ongoing right now to address the issue of coffee cups in Nova Scotia?
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Wilson, I'm not aware of that. Did it say that the negotiations are between RRFB or - I don't think we've had negotiations with the coffee cup industry. It must have been the government or whomever deals with that issue, because I know they are responsible for setting the stewardship issues. They can determine what type of product will be diverted. I'm not aware of that.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I appreciate that. That could have been the case, I've read through a lot of stuff here. You're saying that your board is not involved directly in any kind of negotiation to talk about the reduction of litter in the province. What
I will ask now in my remaining few minutes is about the composition of the board. I think at present there may be nine people on the board, but I believe it can go up to about 15 individuals. Going through the current members, it appears that most of them are departmental representation and people involved in the recycling business. Why are there no representatives of environmental, non-governmental organizations on the board?
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, as I understand it, when I came on-board, the intent was that the government can appoint three persons to the board, the minister appoints a chair and two others, normally one member from the Department of Environment and Labour, and that's all there is, one staff person from the government, and another person. That person has been, for quite a while, a citizen of Nova Scotia. It wasn't a tire person, it wasn't a beverage container person, so that sort of gave some citizen input. Then the board could appoint the rest.
The board's policy has been to try to get people who are interested in the environment and recycling. So they have people on there, we still have people on there, from the main players, the tire, grocery, beverage, newsprint, that sort of thing. Since there are two vacancies even in the last six months, their times were up, the board has a plan to meet to discuss that exact issue, where are we now going to get people? The electronics industry is coming on, and we've also talked about environmental agencies that are not specific product issues. So when we sit down and decide who we're going to nominate or go after this time for membership, we're going to take that into consideration.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Wilson, you have two minutes.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I think it's great to hear that you will seek, maybe, that recommendation. It's important that we recognize environmental groups and even, in my view, individuals associated with the school board and education, because that's an important role in trying to educate our youth on littering in the province.
My last question is around research undertaken by the board. I believe that there's a study on waste from pre-packaged foods going on. Can you enlighten us, is that true? I know it might not be your association or your board, but are you aware of a study on the pre-packaged foods and the waste that they create in our province?
MR. RAMSAY: Now I'm going to show my inexperience, I don't know the answer to that question. I don't believe we are - do you know anything about that?
MR. RING: I'm not aware of anything on pre-packaged food.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): You have an annual report that you release every year and I believe it's in there, so I'll respect your answer that you don't know and I'll definitely keep on top of it. Hopefully, you can check into that for me and maybe get some information back to the committee.
MR. RING: I'll check and if there is such a study I'll report to you on it.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Ring. The time for the NDP caucus has expired. We will now turn to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Glace Bay.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Good morning, gentlemen. We don't have much time so let me get right to a few points that I would like to make. I have been sitting here listening to your comments and listening to the questions that have been asked. You have a situation where the Department of Environment and Labour is now siphoning off $1 million a year from you, you took a trip a couple of years ago that cost the taxpayers money and you haven't had a contract result from that trip, and I don't think your relationship with the Enviro-Depots is as rosy as you paint it. Yet you sit here and say it's a success.
I'm not asking the Tory caucus to answer this, I'm asking you, but they might want to give their answer anyway, and if they get their mics on they can have my time. But in the meantime, gentlemen - you've termed that this is a success, that everything is working. At the same time, if I walk down Barrington Street today or if I walk down Commercial Street in Glace Bay, I'd see some of the most identifiable sources of litter in this province, and you know what they are, Tim Hortons coffee cups, McDonald's garbage, whatever, the figures are there. Yet, the Resource Recovery Fund Board says, well, that's up to the Department of Environment and Labour. The Department of Environment and Labour has identified Tim Hortons and McDonald's as the top two sources of litter in Nova Scotia.
Your mandate specifically says that it's up to you to do something about that, so let me ask you a question, and it doesn't matter to me which one of you wants to answer this. Why hasn't the Resource Recovery Fund Board moved forward and at least suggested that there be a deposit on coffee cups, so that they're not littering the streets and everywhere else in Nova Scotia? I would suggest to you that you could walk in the deepest woods in Nova Scotia right now and along the way, you'd find a Tim Hortons cup. Why hasn't the Resource Recovery Fund Board done something about that?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Our mandate, Mr. Wilson, is to work with companies to develop stewardship programs once the Government of Nova Scotia decides that it will be banned from a landfill. If it was banned from a landfill then we would move in and talk to whomever
is causing the problem, whichever companies, and try to set up a plan to implement a stewardship program, whether that means a deposit, a different way of recycling, or whatever.
The RRFB isn't perfect, I agree, we haven't done everything perfectly, but until the Government of Nova Scotia decides that it's an issue that they have banned, that's when we move in. We can go in and train their employees, train the customers in how to deal with those things in a fast food outlet, but we haven't the authority to issue a fee on it, or whatever, until the Government of Nova Scotia decides that it is banned from the landfill. We don't disagree with you that it is a problem, it's a huge problem.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Have you at least talked with the Department of Environment and Labour about this? Have you suggested to the Department of Environment and Labour that they do something about this problem in this province?
MR. RAMSAY: Yes, we have.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): What has been their response?
MR. RAMSAY: They agree that it's a problem, but there's no policy that I have seen developed yet to deal with it.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Obviously, you agree it's a problem and the Department of Environment and Labour agrees it's a problem, which means probably the Minister of Environment and Labour agrees that it's a problem. What I'm sitting here saying is that on behalf of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, why can't you do something about it? Your mandate does say that you're to provide incentives to residents to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. You need more money, everyone always needs more money. There it is on the streets of Nova Scotia waiting to be picked up. I can understand what you're saying, sir, that this is not necessarily part of your job, but why hasn't there been some form of stronger message coming from our Resource Recovery Fund Board, because we look to you to be in charge of taking care of problems like this. Why hasn't there been a stronger message coming from you and your board to the Department of Environment and Labour?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: As Mr. Ramsay has said, our role is to respond to policy and the policy direction has not been set that these are going to be banned from the landfill, yet. Having said that, my understanding is that the department is working on this issue right now and we're all awaiting a conclusion to the issue.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Let me ask you directly, then, do you think this should be done? In your opinion, do you think that containers like that should be banned from our landfills, that there should be a deposit on these and would it not aid you in what you're doing? Do you think we should be going in that direction?
MR. RING: I think any policy that reduces pressures on the landfill situation is a good thing.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): You should be in politics, that's a great answer to a question. The fact of the matter is, if we don't develop and operate a deposit refund system, as we've done - and you have had tremendous success, I will give you that, with beverage containers, they are not littering this province anymore. That's why I'm saying, does it not make common sense - I know it does - to the Resource Recovery Fund Board that this be done? I still can't understand why your Enviro-Depots aren't now processing Tim Hortons coffee cups, whatever the case may be, because that is the number one identifiable source of litter in this province, and I would think that would be one of your main goals, to get rid of that litter, to recycle.
Again, let me ask you, do you plan - and you've mentioned that you have talked to the Department of Environment and Labour about it - in the immediate future to talk to the Department of Environment and Labour about it again, and will you make recommendations to the Department of Environment and Labour during those talks?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ramsay.
MR. RAMSAY: Mr. Wilson, yes, we will. We continue to have discussions about that specific topic with the department. It's simply up to government to make a policy, we'll help them to develop a policy. We're not sure yet whether they're recyclable, and if they're recyclable that will get it out, and how the process would work to keep it out of the landfills. There is expertise at the Department of Environment and Labour to determine the process and what we do is move in and implement it with them. We will have a strong input into the process and how we handle it, but the policy is for the Government of Nova Scotia to decide. We all agree that it's a problem.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Wilson, you have one minute.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Let me just close by saying that there are - I'm not picking on individual food chains here - food chains that have gone back to paper cups, and they are recyclable. In the past it's been used as an excuse, we can't recycle the cups because there's plastic in them. I don't think that's a legitimate excuse anymore. If indeed there was a deposit on them, there would be a way that would be found to make those products recyclable. That would be up to the manufacturers and the distributors and so on. I think we all realize that.
I think where we're lacking the will here is in this government to finally make a policy and pass it on to the Resource Recovery Fund Board to say we are now making these containers, putting a deposit on them and making sure that they are recycled. That would give us two opportunities: one, to get the litter off our streets; and two, to give you more money to do the job that you have to do. I'll close with that, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: The time has expired for the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Good morning, gentlemen. I know we had the Resource Recovery Fund - I've been around for a few years - back in 1998 and again in 2000 or 2001. We certainly welcome you back. It always seems to be my job to straighten out some of the information that comes out of this committee. I'll go back to a colleague from the NDP, Mr. Wilson's comment that we want to be leaders in recycling. I'm pretty proud of the fact that we are leaders in recycling. I have to admit I'm going back to the early years, I was Environment Critic following Mr. Taylor, back in the early years of the Resource Recovery Fund Board. I recall an announcement in 2000 by the government that we were leaders in all states and provinces in North America, having achieved a goal of 50 per cent. Is that correct?
MR. RAMSAY: That is correct.
MR. DEWOLFE: Clearly, we are leaders. I guess my question is, where are we today, sir, with regard to our diversion, five years later?
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, the province is diverting much more than it did in 2000, but on a percentage basis, because of the way it's calculated based on 1989 figures, the diversion rate is down from 50 per cent as of last year. It mainly happened last year because of the construction and demolition material. There just doesn't seem to be a place to divert it. Until it's used up in another product, it's not diverted. It's just sitting in a construction demolition site as diversion. We have calls out for proposals, or maybe even accepted now, for a study on construction demolition with the department to determine what the problem is with C&D, and to see if there's a better way that it can be handled, whether the private sector gets involved or whether municipalities get involved more, whatever. We hope that if that is improved, then the diversion rate will be back up to 50 per cent.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Ramsay, I recall back in those early days when I was Environment Critic, in fact the first time I was on my feet in this Chamber was to address the issue of tires in response to - I believe Don Downe was the minister responsible at that time. A nervous country boy from Pictou County got on his feet in this Legislature, and you always remember your first in a lot of things, and I remember that. I took quite an interest in it, and still do. I have to admit, provincially, I haven't taken as great an interest as I have at the local level with regard to what's going on in Pictou County.
I'm wondering, just a follow-up to this construction material situation, as you know, January 1st we'll be shipping our waste to Guysborough County, will we still have a construction waste site in Pictou County for that waste, or will that also go to Guysborough?
MR. RAMSAY: That's not an issue with RRFB. The department gets involved in where those will be, with the municipalities. RRFB simply doesn't get involved.
MR. DEWOLFE: I appreciate that. As I said the tires were the big issue. I'm just going to bounce ahead a little bit. My colleague, Mr. Wilson from the Liberal Party, had indicated, talking in regard to the problem with Tim Hortons cups in particular, and it was sort of always my understanding and belief that the NDP as a Party were the ones who believed in higher taxes and digging deeper into the pockets of Nova Scotians, and now I hear the Liberals saying that they want to increase taxes on coffee cups, 5 cents or 10 cents a cup.
My question is, if we could find a market for them it would be great, but you can't process something if you don't have a market. It really doesn't make sense to me for Nova Scotians to have to pay more for a cup of coffee that they have grown to love and deserve, not just in Pictou County but indeed across Nova Scotia. They would have to pay more for a cup of coffee, and I think that's unfair to Nova Scotians. Is there indeed a market for waste cups? What could you do with them?
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Ring.
MR. RING: My understanding at the moment is that there is no market for them, that they cannot be recycled, as least not easily. There's research underway, and I believe there is a pilot study being carried out by one purveyor of coffee, to try out some cups that would be compostable. What the results of that have been or will be, I don't know at this point.
MR. DEWOLFE: Interesting. My colleague was mentioning Mr. Taylor took a great interest in tires, as I recall, when he was Environment Critic and being a former trucker and so on. I think we've done a great job with regard to tires in this province, and I think you'll agree with that. Of course my colleague from down the Valley had mentioned Mr. Taylor in particular and some of the comments he made during the early years of the board's existence. Of course, indeed, he would have taken quite an interest in remarks by Mr. Taylor at that time, because he was on the PC executive of George Moody in those days. That would have been quite interesting for him.
Having said that, we have a small company called Skid's Mats in Pictou County. I was wondering, are they still able to secure tires, the treads and so on, for their products? There was some concern brought forward by the owners of that company to my office.
MR. RING: I believe there are a few organizations in the province that are still able to obtain tires. The arrangement that we have is we have no ownership in the tires, we only have one recycling agreement for tires going for the use of crumb. We have agreed under that that we will not enter into other arrangements dealing with tires going into crumb. The end result of that is that virtually anyone who wants to go through the expense of picking up the tires from a tire retailer, I'm sure that the tire retailer doesn't care who gets them, just as long as they are off of his property.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe, you have one minute.
MR. DEWOLFE: You mentioned the crumb, and I remember attending, as Environment Critic, back a number of years ago, at the World Trade Centre, there was a crumb seminar on the use of waste tires. One of the things that I was taken with was the use of chunks of rubber for drainage. They are using that in some of the states in the United States, for roadwork. It is actually better drainage than gravel, there is not an environmental issue involved. I was wondering why we don't go to that. Have you looked into that possibility of working with - is there approval, first of all, in this province for using it?
MR. RING: That is a question I don't know the answer to. The company, Atlantic Recycled Rubber, I know is constantly looking for new markets for their tire crumb and they have considered such things as rubberized asphalt, as an example.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you very much, Mr. Ring and Mr. Ramsay. I realize my time has expired. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. The time has expired now. It's our practice to offer a bit of time for some concluding statements from our guests. I'd advise the members that this morning when we arrived the clerk told me of one small issue that has arisen that we need to briefly discuss with respect to our witnesses next week. So we'll have the concluding remarks from our witnesses and then we'll deal with this one small item. Thank you.
MR. RAMSAY: Madam Chair, first of all I want to thank you, as chair, and members of the committee for inviting us here today. We learned a lot more and I hope you folks have learned something about us, that was the main thing. I also want to tell you that sometimes when you get audited, you get the fear in you, but I can tell you, we have benefited from the audit report. Even though it was fairly positive, there were some issues in it that we had to deal with and we're dealing with them. We always value an external
company or the Auditor General coming in to carry out an audit because we do learn from that.
The other thing I want to tell you is, we not only play a role in the environmental economy, but we play a big role in educating our youth. If you want to get excited about recycling and just general things about recycling and diversion, presently thousands of students across the province are participating in the Nova Scotia Recycles school contest. There are a number of contests at each level of the schools in preparing videos, or colouring contests, and at the end of that there is always a presentation of awards. I have attended many at different schools around the province over the past year, and these kids rock, they have such a great interest in this. So if you want to attend some of those I offer you the opportunity to keep your ear open for when those awards are going to be held and go see what these children are doing in the schools; it's just wonderful.
The last thing I will say is that we have brought with us a package, information about RRFB, some of our policies, some of our programs, our literature and so on that will be available for you if you want to pick one up after. Hopefully, that will help you to continue to learn about our organization. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much for being here.
The other item of business is with respect to Nova Scotia Business Inc. coming next week. We're doing a session with them which is in camera, it's a follow-up session where they will be providing information that was requested by members of the committee at a previous appearance here.
They have contacted the clerk with a request that the various staff from the respective caucuses not be in attendance at this meeting. I want to say that my initial response to this request is to deny this request, and my reasoning for this would be that the committee, I think, has been quite flexible in its request to have an in camera meeting in the first place, which is generally not the practice but the subcommittee of this committee had met and weighed the various viewpoints on doing this, and made the decision to go in camera.
My view is that our staff are bound by the same agreements that are made by the members of the committee, but I would like to hear from the members of this committee with respect to that request.
MR. PARENT: Did they indicate any reason why?
MADAM CHAIR: No, not that I'm aware of, but maybe Mora could speak to that.
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Clerk): When I initially contacted NSBI it was to just inform them that, of course, the meeting had been approved, a non-recorded, in camera meeting, and let them know what usually happens, who would be in attendance, such as the caucus researchers, which is the staff from the caucuses, myself, the AG and then the committee members. When they came back to me on this they just said, since it was a non-traditional meeting, NSBI would prefer the caucus researchers not be in attendance.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I have to say in the past, if we're having an in camera session, it was my understanding that we didn't have staff in there. It's very sensitive material that we're dealing with. I think most of us have been sworn to secrecy and I believe it's hard enough sometimes to keep a lid on sensitive material, sensitive information. I believe it's important that we meet as members only.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid).
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Madam Chair, I will agree with your recommendation that our staff is bound by the same policies and regulations that members have and, as in the past with the Auditor General's meetings in camera, our staff are there to witness - and not participate - but to support us. I would recommend that we allow our staff to be there and they'll uphold the policies, as much as members would, around the sensitive information that may be provided at that meeting.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Wilson (Glace Bay).
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Madam Chair, my initial reaction is to tell Nova Scotia Business Inc. to show up and be quiet, but that wouldn't be good because we want them to come and make comments. I see no problem with having staff there, that's my initial reaction, but I think maybe we'll defer to the Chair. I think, perhaps that should be your decision and we'll abide by whatever decision you make.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I'll take all of your comments into consideration and we'll communicate with Nova Scotia Business Inc. through the clerk on how we will proceed next week. Thank you. Is there a motion to adjourn?
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): So moved.
MADAM CHAIR: The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:53 a.m.]