MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to call the committee to order.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, yesterday I raised some questions with regard to the Meadowview Landfill in Kings County, and then moved on to some other issues and indicated that I would be coming back to this particular issue.
I would ask the honourable minister if he would - given the fact he indicated the reason the provincial government is becoming financially involved in a potential settlement for the adjoining landowners to this particular landfill site is the fact that this particular landfill pre-dated provincial legislation, thereby making it onerous on the province to become financially involved - give an undertaking to the committee that he will provide a list of the other existing municipal landfills that fall within that same category?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Chairman, we will check and determine whether there are any other landfills that fall under those circumstances, and we will provide them to the member, if we find any.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, would the minister please indicate what departmental budget will the revenues for this proposed settlement come from, notwithstanding the fact that he just indicated he is not disclosing the amount? Certainly, I have gone through, line by line, budget items within the Department of Environment and Labour, and I see nowhere within the minister's department any avenue for such a proposed settlement.
MR. MORSE: Any settlement for similar-type agreements - and I want to point out to the Chairman that this is not unique, this is something that does happen periodically with confidentiality agreements - would come out of the department's budget.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, would the minister please identify which division within his department those dollars would come from?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, we will be getting that information for the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I asked the question yesterday, with regard to the solicitor who was handling this particular file on behalf of the residents, if there was a political connection between this particular solicitor and the minister. The minister was very crafty in avoiding answering the question directly by making reference to the fact that there are a lot of Tories in Kings County. I appreciate that because that is one of the reasons he is here today. Specifically, what is the political connection between this particular solicitor, representing the residents, and the minister, in terms of holding executive office within Kings South, I believe?
MR. MORSE: I am going to give the honourable member a few bonus answers in this, if you would allow me. The first bonus is that the Meadowview Landfill is not within Kings South. The second one is that the gentleman that the honourable member is speaking of is not a resident of Kings South. The third one would be that, therefore, he is not a member of the Kings South PC Association. The fourth one is that the people who would benefit from this are those residents who, over the years, have protested against this landfill being imposed upon them. They have fought this for decades. I am sure that amongst the residents who would benefit from this there are surely Liberals and Progressive Conservatives and NDPs, and, probably because of their circumstances, some people who have given up on the political system.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, he gave the present status, he didn't seem to give the history of the relationship, which is really what I was looking for. I understand that a gentleman by the name of Mr. Bill Wilson, from the Department of Justice, is handling this particular file. I understand further that the province is considering upwards of a $2 million settlement for the landowners in concert with the Municipality of Kings. The Minister of Environment and Labour, last evening, indicated that this was a particular file, in essence a matter, which had been agreed to prior to his coming to office. So, I can only conclude that the agreement was the intent to settle, but not the specifics of the settlement itself, am I to understand that?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I believe the answer that the honourable member is looking for is that a settlement was recommended to me shortly after becoming the Minister of Environment and Labour. I had nothing to do with the proposal coming forward and, as
far as I understand, this has been done and it is now protected by the confidentiality agreement, that I understand accompanied the settlement.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I respect the confidentiality aspect of it, but that is not the issue. The issue is the minister led members of the committee, last evening, to believe that he had nothing to do with this particular agreement, that this is something that was put in place prior to his becoming minister. Now he is indicating to the committee that he is, in effect, the one who is putting his stamp of approval on this particular agreement, an agreement which, as we indicated last evening, is totally unprecedented.
My further understanding is that the residents had served notice for damages in upwards of the vicinity of $5 million. Perhaps this is the rationale for looking at a reduced settlement. The minister further indicated that he had no discussion with anybody within the Executive Council on this particular matter. Does he still stand by that particular comment that he made last evening?
MR. MORSE: For greater clarity, since becoming a member of the Executive Council, there have been no discussions with any of my Cabinet colleagues on this matter.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, have there been discussions with anybody from your department with anybody on staff either at the Premier's Office or at P & P?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, not to the best of my knowledge, since I have become minister.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, last evening the minister - and he can correct me if I am wrong in my memory here - indicated that it was the deputy minister who essentially carried the ball on this. The recommendation was put forth by the deputy minister, in concert with the representative from the Department of Justice. Who made the decision? Who, essentially, in government made the initial decision that the Province of Nova Scotia would compensate the residents affected by the Meadowview Landfill? Was it the deputy minister, or was it the solicitor over at the Department of Justice, or who?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, as was explained in some detail yesterday, this matter was referred to a litigator at the Department of Justice. Based on what I understand to be a fairly extensive review of the file, a recommendation came forth to the deputy. The deputy made the recommendation to me, that we should settle under these terms, with the inclusion of a confidentiality agreement. Therefore, to answer your question, I take responsibility, the recommendation came from the deputy.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the recommendation came from the Department of Justice. Obviously the Deputy Minister of Justice would have had some knowledge about this proposed agreement, is that not correct?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I am advised by the deputy that his discussions and correspondence were only with the litigator in the Department of Justice.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am somewhat perplexed. We have a proposed $2 million settlement, or thereabouts. The irony of this is that it is groundbreaking in more ways than one. The solicitor for the municipality, as I understand, is Mr. George Lohnes, who is also well connected in political circles with the present member for, I believe, Kings North or West, and it just seems highly irregular that the province would undertake to enter into this agreement when there is absolutely no legal grounds. In fact, the Department of Environment and Labour recommended against this particular proposed settlement or any provincial involvement at all, in September 1998.
Obviously the Department of Justice was involved for some time with this. What was it in this particular case that saw the Department of Environment and Labour, and the Department of Justice reverse its decision?
MR. MORSE: As I am advised, it was felt that with the progression of the case it was becoming quite apparent that we were soon going to end up in court, that prompted a thorough review of the file, which, as I understand it, was sent to the Department of Justice for the opinion of a litigator.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, obviously the minister knows when the recommendation was made. Will the minister give an indication as to when the recommendation came from the Department of Justice to settle? What was the date?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member asks a very specific question and I am sure he has a very specific reason. We can get him the exact date, but to give him some indication of the time frame, my understanding is that it was within the first week of January.
MR. MACKINNON: Is that January 2001?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that would have been just shortly before the member was appointed to the Executive Council.
I opened my mail yesterday and I received a letter from the deputy minister, March 26, 2001, essentially in response to my freedom of information request on this particular file. In this particular letter, the reason given for a required extension of an additional 30 days
was, "The reason for this extension is that more time is required to consult with another public body." Has that consultation been completed?
MR. MORSE: I am advised that it is with the freedom of information officer and it is following the appropriate process.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, this is highly irregular. We have a letter from the deputy minister giving the reason why there is a delay but yet we have the minister and the deputy minister here indicating that they are going to refer it back to the freedom of information officer. Obviously, they know what is going on but they are not saying why. To me, that seems to be the message I am getting. I would ask, does the minister or the deputy minister have any knowledge as to the reason for the delay for further consultation?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to advise the member opposite that there is a procedure, as it is explained to me, that you have to follow when you go through FOIPOP. He has initiated the process and we are happy, as a department, to comply with that process.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am fully prepared to dispense with formalities if the department is. I see no reason why the minister or the deputy minister couldn't provide that information to us now. I am well prepared to forgo any confidentiality from my perspective. The fact that I have raised it with the minister is clear evidence of that. I would ask if the minister is prepared to provide that information today.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think the member opposite would appreciate, in essence, since my department has to do with regulatory affairs, that it would be most appropriate that the department follow the regulations that would apply to this sort of process. In answer to his question, no, we will not be circumventing the process and providing that to him today. We will protect the rights of third parties involved with his application.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I have to laugh, because here we have a backroom deal worth upwards of several million dollars which doesn't appear to be budgeted anywhere within the Department of Environment and Labour. We are doing estimates, there is some kind of out-of-court settlement which nobody is allowed to know how much it cost the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia, nobody is allowed to know how much it is going to cost the taxpayers of the Municipality of Kings. Why in the name of heavens are we even bothering to debate the estimates if they won't even give us the basic information as to where the money is coming from, where it is going and how much money we are dealing with? The minister hides under some thin piece of red tape as an excuse. There is something very unsavoury about this whole process, that Kings County gets a special deal and the residents. I don't blame them. If I were a resident in that particular community in and around the Meadowview Landfill, I would perhaps lay claim as well.
Questions have to be raised as well. Why isn't the federal government involved? Why isn't the Town of Kentville involved? They were all stakeholders. They are all shareholders to this. Why is the province breaking new ground? Is it because of some certain political considerations? Has there been political pressure put by the solicitor representing these individuals to come to a settlement? Can the minister answer that question?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would say that I have gotten to know the deputy minister, and I think the honourable member would also know that the deputy minister does not take kindly to political pressure being applied to him. So the answer is no, he is not receptive to those types of advances. As a bonus answer, I believe that, in fact, the Town of Kentville was a participant in the municipal settlement, but I would advise that the member perhaps check with the Town of Kentville to get confirmation.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I wasn't talking about the deputy minister, I know he is of impeccable character and integrity. My question was about the political pressure on the minister, that was the question. Again, he avoids the question. Does the minister know of anyone within government, elected or at the staffing level, who has received considerable pressure from the solicitor representing these residents to come to a settlement, in other words, exerting political pressure so as to avoid bad public relations for the Government of Nova Scotia?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I can assure the honourable member that this has not occurred during my time as minister.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, does the minister have any knowledge that it occurred before he was appointed minister?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think that question would, perhaps, be best answered by those who served in this capacity before me.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, is the minister refusing to answer the question? My question is, does he have any knowledge of such pressure prior to being appointed to this position?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I can once again suggest to the member that perhaps it would be more appropriate for the people who fulfilled the responsibilities of minister prior to me, they would perhaps be better able to answer that question.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I think he has answered the question. The fact that on three separate occasions he has deliberately and methodically refused to answer. I know this minister, he likes to be direct. One only has to go back and check his record, when he was at the municipal level, to see how clear and concise he was on certain matters, particularly on taxing matters. We will leave that for a future day. For this minister to avoid
answering this question, to me, is an indication that he knows exactly that there is, in my view, political pressure that was exerted to bring closure to this particular matter.
I have some other issues I would like to address. Can the minister give some indication as to when he expects this agreement to be concluded?
MR. MORSE: I would like to advise the honourable member that the deal has been concluded and, as I understand it, paid out in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that is a surprise. I contacted the Municipality of the County of Kings this morning and they advised me that the agreement is not concluded. Would the minister please give an undertaking as to why the Municipality of the County of Kings has not been apprised of this settlement that had been concluded almost a week ago?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to advise the House that the Municipality of the County of Kings was not a party to the agreement and therefore, of course, would not be privy to the contents of the confidentiality agreement.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, again, that is a contradiction to what the minister said last evening. He indicated that the Municipality of the County of Kings was a party to the agreement, and because of certain insurance issues those matters had to be resolved. Now the minister is indicating that the province has accepted 100 per cent of the financial liability. Is that exactly what he is saying here today?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, it is very important that he gets some comfort level with this situation, a situation which is not unique to Meadowview in terms of entering agreements with confidentiality agreements. Referring back to the minutes from yesterday's estimates, I would like to point out to the member that the Municipality of the County of Kings and, I believe, with other municipalities that were making use of the Meadowview Landfill site, made their own arrangements with the Meadowview Property Owners Association.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, well, this is getting more irregular by the minute. Now he is saying there are two separate agreements for settlement with the landowners of the adjoining lands to the Meadowview Landfill. Am I to understand that clearly, that he is indicating that there are two separate agreements for a settlement?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to advise the member that we have concluded an agreement that involved a confidentiality agreement. I am only able to speak for the province, but I do know that the Municipality of the County of Kings and, I believe, with some of the adjoining municipalities that had the benefit of use of the Meadowview Landfill site made their own arrangements with the people of Meadowview.
MR. MACKINNON: When is this information going to be communicated to the Municipality of the County of Kings? Obviously, the minister is not well apprised of what is happening in his department. He is saying there is an agreement concluded, officials at the Municipality of the County of Kings are saying the agreement isn't concluded and that it is a joint agreement, and the minister is now saying it is two separate agreements. Why doesn't the minister come clean and put all the information on the table? If the minister and the government have walked the province into a quagmire, into a legal precedent that could cost tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to this province, to the provincial taxpayers, why doesn't he admit to it?
Please give an undertaking to the committee that at least we will get some clarity as to where this issue stands. Yesterday, he was saying both were parties to the agreement. Today he is saying it is two separate agreements. He is saying the province has concluded its agreement, and that is a different message coming in. Will the minister give an undertaking that he will table the appropriate information so all members of the committee, all members of the House and, indeed, the residents of Kings County, particularly those who are affected, and the taxpayers of Nova Scotia know how much he has put them on the hook for and what the legal precedent will be for years to come?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member again for his diligence in this matter. Once again, I would point out that if he were to check the minutes from yesterday evening he would find there are no inconsistencies. I do see that it does seem to be troubling him. When he first started citing numbers it was in the millions, then it was $1 million, then it was $2 million and now he is saying hundreds of millions. I would just encourage the member to go back and perhaps check my answers in the recorded record. Perhaps that would bring him some comfort.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am quite clear on what I have said. I am just reflecting exactly what the minister has said. One minute he is saying there is a couple of agreements, the next minute he is saying it is a joint agreement, he is all over the map on this. Why he is protecting certain interests, which appear to be more and more political by the minutes, is beyond my comprehension. That having been said, once this agreement is concluded and, well, I will have to assume that it is concluded because the minister has indicated it concluded March 31st, so the minister is indicating that the dollars will be coming out of last year's budget or this year's budget, which budget?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think that if one was to check the minutes from today, he would find that I have already advised the House that it was taken out of last year's budget, the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, since it came out of last year's budget, would he please identify what line item it came out of? He has indicated that once the information was made available in the proposed fiscal year, he would let us know. Now he is saying that
it came out of last year's budget, which means that it has to be in a line item somewhere in the Department of Environment.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, yet again I am going to refer back to an earlier answer that I gave this afternoon, which was an undertaking to get him that information. Again, I think if he checks the minutes at the end of the day, when they become available, he will see that I have already made that commitment, and it is certainly my intention to keep that commitment to the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Since the minister doesn't seem to want to let too much more out on this sweetheart deal that seems to have been cooked up for political purposes, that is the only thing that seems to be the indicator here, we will leave this for another day. We will be back to it, you can rest assured.
I understand that the department is contemplating a surcharge on the installation of septic systems, somewhere in the vicinity of $75 per septic system. Is that correct? It might not be that exact figure. Could the minister confirm what the figure is, and what the anticipated revenue stream would be?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member would know that presently there is an application fee for the installation of a septic system of $50. We are contemplating increasing that to $75.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, my understanding is one of the biggest problems with a lot of the septic systems, in seepage and so forth, is the fact that the large systems, because of the shift in the soils through the various environmental conditions, the frost coming in and out of the ground, so on, that causes a lot of the seepage. Has the department considered making provisions or, perhaps, leaning more towards smaller septic tanks, the 250 to 500, rather than the 500 or the 1,000?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, a very good question. Last year, provisions were made to enlist two types of professionals to assist in the installation of septic systems: the first one being an engineer for the larger and more sophisticated ones that go by the acronym QP1, qualified person one; and the second being technicians who have completed various courses and are judged to be able to make the necessary determinations, the QP2s. It is the QP1s and the QP2s who make those judgements and recommend the appropriate system under the appropriate circumstances.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, given the comments of the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank a little earlier and the fact that from personal experience I can attest to the fact that in my general area there have been a lot of problems with on-site sewage disposal systems in particular subdivisions of considerable size, would the minister be prepared to entertain or consider making it a requirement, before subdivisions are approved,
for a complete hydrogeological analysis for any subdivision over a particular size, whether that be 20 lots or 50 lots or what have you?
For example, in Floral Heights Subdivision, we have close to 500 homes, there is no central water and there is no central sewage. The minister may not be aware of it, but his predecessor certainly would be aware of the fact that we have had some problems there. Some central water systems had to be put in, I believe two or three central wells had to be put in to feed part of the subdivision.
It is quite concerning when this type of development continues on an ad hoc basis. If somehow the department were to employ or adopt a particular program that would clearly define the terms of reference for such a development, I think it would go a long way to resolving a lot of the environmental concerns that are now confronting not only myself as an MLA but certainly the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank and, I am sure, right across this province.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for his constructive suggestions. As the honourable member would be aware, it was last week that, in fact, I announced the discussion paper that went out to solicit just this kind of input to forming a provincial sewage management strategy. These are precisely the types of concerns that we feel Nova Scotians would want to share with us, and we certainly welcome that feedback. He made mention of the twin complication, when you have a malfunctioning septic system or, indeed, cluster septic systems, that there is the potential for contaminating the water supplies. As part of the water strategy, some of the resources that are being invested here are going to be to hire four hydrogeologists, one for each region, and in addition to contributing to the formation of the water strategy, they would also, of course, be made available to the various regional offices, to be of assistance, therefore, to the public.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, he didn't answer my question. Would he be prepared to adopt such a policy to ensure that a hydrogeological analysis - in other words, not only soil but water analysis be done - so that we have a comprehensive overview. I know it is not easy for laypersons, if you are not dealing with it all the time. I think it would go a long ways to resolving a lot of the problems. For example, in the Sydney water field, when the central wells were dug to replace the old Sydney water supply system, what it did, it provided lots of fresh, clear water for the residents of the former City of Sydney, but what it did in some areas of the Mira district and the Prime Brook and Dutch Brook areas, it essentially destroyed their water supply. The Department of Environment, to this very day, has been, in my view, rather tardy in accepting responsibility.
We had no problem jumping right in there with two feet to help the residents of Meadowview, but we have documented cases - and my colleague from Cape Breton The Lakes, who was a former deputy mayor and active municipal politician, can provide ample documented examples, which I know are within the Department of Environment - where people have lost their water. The water quality is so bad, the municipality, for quite some time, had to provide bottled water, and I believe they are still doing it in many cases.
I would ask if the minister would, perhaps, give an undertaking to at least provide a report back as to this consideration, that the department would seriously consider adopting such a policy with certain guidelines or terms of reference so that future developers and landowners would know exactly where they stood, and what their responsibilities and rights are, as well as making it a lot easier for the government to accept its responsibility?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I think all members of this House well know that the honourable member opposite for Cape Breton West is a well-polished public speaker. I think he just made a very eloquent speech confirming the direction that has been taken by this government, with their waste water and water management strategy. He has brought some excellent points to the fore. I believe, from his comments, that he would know many people in his community who feel they would have a contribution to the discussion process. I would certainly encourage him to make them aware of when our public sessions come to his area, so that they can share these concerns with the committee.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I will certainly give an undertaking to the minister to do that. It is probably one undertaking you are guaranteed on this side of the House. With regard to staffing levels within the department, obviously we have two divisions, Labour and Environment. I am not sure if we could compartmentalize a bit here, would the minister give some indication as to whether on the Department of Environment side, are staffing levels for the upcoming fiscal year going to be the same, higher or lower, and likewise for the Labour component?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in fact, as part of the new water strategy, we will be hiring new staff. As I indicated a few moments ago, just by way of example, the four hydro-geologists, one each for each of the regions. There will be more resources put into the Department of Environment.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, am I to understand from the minister that over last year's total complement within the Environment division of the Department of Labour and Environment, we are increasing our total complement by four?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the Committee of the Whole House on Supply's indulgence, we just wanted to make sure that we are all in agreement here. The member has been very ably moving from subject to subject, and I feel most fortunate today to have quite a contingent of capable staff, so as to be able to provide him with the best answers. My staff member, our policy director has just joined us, and I think the question was whether that would be the only addition to staff?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, in essence, I want to know whether the total personnel complement is going to be higher than the total number for last year or lower?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member is asking some very detailed questions. When you are talking about changes over time and you want to make comparisons, you have to give us specific dates, so as to make the appropriate comparisons. With regard to where we were on March 31, 2001, there will be more employees in this fiscal year.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I really didn't think it was complicated, asking how many people are employed in his department this year and how many were employed in his department last year. I really didn't think that was a complicated question. If the minister can't answer that, or somebody in the department can't tell me how many people are working in the department this year and how many were working in the department last year, well, then so be it. Is the minister able to answer at this point?
MR. MORSE: I think what I would like to advise the member is that of April 1st, there were 453.2 FTEs in the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: So that would represent last year's numbers, correct?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think the honourable member, as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, would be well familiar with the concept of a balance sheet. A balance sheet is a snapshot in time. With such a large department, that number changes all the time. What I have tried to provide the honourable member is the number as of April 1, 2001. Should he wish to have the answer for a different point in time, we can endeavour to go back and dig out that information. As of April 1, 2001, the answer is 453.2 FTEs.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that underlines quite clearly the concern that the member for Halifax Fairview had last evening. When the minister himself can't even do a comparative analysis within his own department, is it little wonder that the Opposition would be a little concerned. I am not interested in snapshots in time or 0.2 of a person or something like that. All I wanted to know is, how many people did you have employed last year? How many people will you have employed, or do you contemplate employing for the upcoming fiscal year? Sounds pretty simple to me. I am sure any member of the House who sat in
Executive Council would be able to answer that, but if the minister cannot answer that then we will move on to another issue.
My next question is with regard to the number of managers we have on staff per inspectors - our front-line workers within the Department of Environment. Can the minister indicate to the members of the committee as to what that ratio is?
MR. MORSE: The member opposite is indeed getting to the absolute nub of some of the positive changes that have come about in our department over the past year and indeed the focus has been on front-line service delivery. When he refers to managers - and he is talking about regional managers - I think the honourable member would be well aware that the regional managers are very active in the day-to-day operations of their branch and they are active participants in the field.
We have specifically 69 inspectors in the department, but perhaps just to give the essence of some of the difficult decisions that have been undertaken by my department prior to my becoming minister, I am very proud of the difficult decisions that had been made by the deputy and the staff, but the honourable member should know that there were 19 directors and as of today, there are 12.
Of course, there were two ministers previously and now there is one. In fact, one might suggest there were two and a-half ministers because there were parts of other departments that were brought in under the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: With the ability of this minister to provide detail in the department, I would suggest perhaps we should go back to two ministers quite frankly, because he cannot even tell me how many people were working last year and how many people will be working this year, so that would be my concern.
I understand that the Fire Marshal's Office and the Public Safety Division has been combined. Can the minister confirm that and what employment changes took place as a result of that?
MR. MORSE: I am going to give a bonus answer. The first answer to his question about the combining of the Fire Marshal's Office into Public Safety is yes. The bonus answer now, that he continues to speak of his concerns about wanting to know what is happening with FTEs in the department, but not being able to give me the dates for the comparison, I would advise as of April 1, 2000, the estimate was 485.6 FTEs and as of April 1, 2001, there were 453.2. I believe the honorable member will check his math and determine that the reduction was 32.4 and, if he would like a breakdown as to what made up that 32.4, I would be pleased to give it to him in whatever detail he pleases.
MR. MACKINNON: That is the heart of the issue, isn't it? The government has cut back on the staffing levels within the Department of Environment and Labour. They have cut back quite dramatically by the looks of things - 8 or 9 per cent - and yet this department, by the government's own admission, is a major component of the government's activities; certainly identified in the Speech from the Throne. All the environmental concerns, fire safety, of course they have postponed the implementation of new fire prevention Act despite the fact that it was two years of consultation and still no explanation from the minister as to what the political rationale was there.
How can the minister come to terms with the fact that he is cutting back his staff quite substantially when the need for this department has increased? I certainly recognize that there could be some inefficiencies and the fact that combining both departments into one would explain some of that rationalization, but that 32.4, did that take place at the senior management level or did it take place on the front-line level, so to speak.
MR. MORSE: I wish I were only half as good as the member opposite at promoting some of the positive changes that have come about in my department and as he points out, former minister. Indeed, he puts his finger on the critical issue and that is the number of front-line inspectors. Where are we out there in providing service to the public? There were no cuts in front-line inspectors over that period of time. If he would like to delve into the makeup of the 32.4 FTEs that were cut from the department, I would be pleased to give him a breakdown as to how it came from management, with one exception, and that is the 8.8 that were transferred with the utilities to the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. MACKINNON: Time is getting pretty short, Mr. Chairman, and I have two short snappers here if the minister would be kind enough to answer. Would he confirm as to whether the Department of Environment is setting a precedent by paying for this landfill settlement, the Meadowview land settlement
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired, according to my notes. Just referring to my notes here, left by the previous chairman, it started at 2:17 p.m.?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is when he indicated, but the staff weren't even in their chairs and it was a minute and a-half before the staff and the minister even took their seats and the chairman who was sitting in there at the time indicated that he would provide the additional two minutes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I was not here at the time with that agreement that was asked to provide a couple of extra minutes, but the Chair says yes, so how about another minute for the member for Cape Breton West?
MR. MACKINNON: If the NDP caucus is a little concerned, we can take two minutes off our time at the end.
The second question is, will your department start paying for other municipal landfills that would fit within this criteria as well?
MR. MORSE: Thank you to the honourable member for his question. As I understand it, it has always been the case in the department, as things come forward they are reviewed on their merits and a decision is, in this case has come forward on the recommendation of the litigation lawyer. Once again I would like to point out that even during my brief time as the minister, this settlement with a confidentiality agreement, although for different purposes, is not the only one.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired. Thank you. The member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to address some questions to the minister. My questions, by and large, are of a nature around concerns in my particular constituency, which I wanted to raise with the minister.
The first one has to do with Cranberry Lake. Cranberry Lake is located in my constituency and on previous occasions I have informed the Department of Environment and Labour and, in fact, asked questions in this House of previous Ministers of the Environment with respect to some of the difficulties that lake has experienced and the abutting property owners have experienced. They stem from - for background for the minister - the installation of a storm water system which increased the watershed area for Cranberry Lake by some 40 per cent.
The minister may recall this was in the news for some number of days because it raised the water level of the lake, it flooded the properties of adjoining property owners, and there was a considerable algae bloom in the lake to the extent that it became unusable by the abutting property owners. This was a lake that had been a lively place for recreation for a considerable period of time.
The Department of Environment sent out inspectors to test the water, to look at the storm water system that had been put in place, and there were changes made. There were changes made specifically at one end of Cranberry Lake, which increased the size of the outflow of the lake. Over the last year, lake levels have subsided. There was no algae bloom in that lake in the last summer period; however this is something that is not entirely resolved. Every time there is a major water-fall event that taxes that system, what the residents of Cranberry Lake find is a very large sedimentation plume in that lake. The reality is - and I believe this has been brought to the attention of the Department of Environment before - that the catch basin, which was meant to ameliorate that, simply doesn't work to the extent that it ought to.
My first question - if the minister knows this or if his staff knows this - is whether or not they are continuing to monitor this situation, whether they have made any kind of suggestions about how that could be modified, who is going to do it, where the money is going to come from to see to it that that particular lake is further protected? I will just start with that, see if you have an answer to that and then I will go on.
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the honourable member for bringing that to my attention. I confess that I am not privy to some of his constituency concerns, or I should say all of his constituency concerns and this was one of them, however, I suspect before we are through with this session I may be more familiar with his concerns.
There is an element of municipal overlap here, and I am sure the member would know that, and it is certainly not entirely a municipal issue. As was announced in the House recently, or in answer to a question, we will have a storm water strategy in place by the end of this month. The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect had, in fact, also brought this concern to me, and I would say that there are other members who have expressed a need for this type of strategy. It is a good issue that you raise, and in terms of the specifics of it for your constituents, I would certainly invite you to meet with members from my staff, and we would look at the matter.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister's reply on this. Really, although the particular concern that I raise is with respect to Cranberry Lake, that particular lake has developed - I don't know if that is quite the way to put it - the residents surrounding that lake are very protective of it, as you can imagine, it impacts on their quality of life, and as such, there is the Friends of Cranberry Lake Society. They organize around making sure that it is cleaned up, to make sure that the problems it is experiencing are addressed, both by their member of the Legislature, by the Department of Environment and Labour, by the Dartmouth Lakes Advisory Group, and by the municipality. They undertake that work.
Although I would certainly recommend to the minister that he become familiar with this particular file, I would like to use it really as an entry point into a broader discussion because the City of Dartmouth, in fact, my riding and the riding of the members for Dartmouth South, Dartmouth North, Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage and Dartmouth East, all of us have, within our boundaries - the city is known as I am sure you are well aware as the City of Lakes - lakes in our districts. The increasing urbanization of Dartmouth, as there is continuing infill, as the spaces that are left continue to be used up for housing, for industrial use and for businesses, are having an effect on all of those lakes, and I believe there are 23 lakes in total.
The problem that Cranberry Lake experienced just represents what may happen to all of these lakes. There are considerable concerns around Russell Lake, around Bell Lake, and around Morris Lake. All of these are experiencing stress because of what happens when you are in an urban setting. Lawn pesticides and nutrients are going into those lakes, they are
atrophying, they are under a great deal of stress and I think it warrants some thought on behalf of the Department of Environment and Labour. How are we going to deal with what is obviously a growing problem for the City of Dartmouth now? But I will say, as we urbanize more and more out from the core of Halifax, as we move out to Enfield and Milford and other areas, that this is going to become an issue for them as well.
I heard the minister say that there is a storm water strategy. I guess what I am looking for from him, is there a wider strategy? Have you thought about this and if you haven't, will you be put on notice? This is something that I think is going to become of much greater concern in the years to come, certainly to people on my side of the harbour and I suspect further afield as time goes on.
MR. MORSE: First of all, I would like to commend the member opposite for the constructive manner he brings forward to estimates here today. I would also like to point out to the viewing audience that he speaks very well of the prosperity that is occurring in Dartmouth, but also of the complications that come from prosperity as increased pressure is put on the shrinking land mass. It is also very good to hear that the residents around Cranberry Lake are good stewards of the environment. That is certainly welcomed by all Nova Scotians, and maybe particularly so by the people in my department.
As he has been speaking most eloquently on the need for a storm water policy, I have asked while he was speaking that when the policy document is available at the end of this month, that a copy, in fact, be sent to him and to the member for Timberlea-Prospect and clearly, any members of the Legislative Assembly who would be interested in having one. You bring up a good point. We certainly appreciate the importance of this matter and we hope that you are well pleased with the policy documents.
Now, in addition to that, we do have to touch on the fact that there are some municipal planning issues here and clearly, it is important that the municipality, and in this case it happens that be HRM, also be cognizant of the ramifications of some of their decisions and their policies. Again, I appreciate the spirit with which the member approaches the estimates today.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I do understand that there is municipal overlap and I don't minimize it either. I think there is a very great responsibility placed on the municipality and certainly, when I served on city council I was always very cognizant of the effect the planning decisions had on other aspects of the environment. However, it is a question of the level of involvement that the Department of Environment is going to have with the municipalities on issues . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I know that I am interested in hearing what the member has to say and I am sure the minister is interested in hearing it. I would appreciate it if the rest of the members would take their private conversations outside of the Chamber, please.
MR. DEXTER: So that is what I was getting at, that this is going to become a broader issue and some of the effects on the environment may well not be foreseen in just the planning context. There are things that happen, even with the best of intentions. For example, the installation of the storm water system going into Cranberry Lake, I think that when they installed that they believed that what they had installed was sufficient to deal with the problem that existed. They were wrong, but I think they did it in good faith.
I just wanted to raise one more question and the minister will know that yesterday I delivered to him a case file with respect to Lawlors Point and the installation of a road on Lawlors Point. Now, I think, where that entrenches on the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Labour, and correct me if I am wrong, but at one point in time there was a watercourse which was affected as a result of a development and, in fact, the abutting neighbours now have water, their water source was well, it is now undrinkable. I know that the department appeared at the premises on at least one occasion to test the water, but they now have drinking water that is not potable, not consumable by them. I guess my question for the minister is, what responsibility does the Department of Environment and Labour have in these matters and how do we go about seeing to it that a situation like this is satisfactorily remedied? Mr. Chairman, that will be my last question and then, I believe, next, is my colleague from Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the member for being so conscientious as to document his concerns yesterday and indeed he did deliver a letter to me in the House. I read the letter and it has been passed on to my executive assistant but it has not been brought up with either the deputy or the appropriate director because of the time frame. There will be a response to this. We do feel that the Department of Environment and Labour has a role to play and once they have a chance to review your concerns and speak with the affected parties they should be able to provide more direction.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am going to talk about a few different topics in my brief time here in Supply debate of the Department of Environment and Labour. I want to start with something that is near and dear to a lot of people in my riding, which is illegal dumping. This is as much a comment as it is a question but I would hope the minister might be able to tell me what his departments agenda is with regard to this? Those of us who live on the outskirts of the urban area, whether it be the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank or Preston or Eastern Shore or myself or Timberlea-Prospect or Halifax Atlantic, I can probably tell you a lot of stories about those areas and sometimes they
are old logging roads or old military roads or even, in my case, I think of Bissett Road or Caldwell Road, areas along military bases and so on where people do a lot of dumping. This is something that was a problem in Nova Scotia, 20, 30, 40 years ago but seems to have gone away and yet, we have it coming back.
I will tell you, a lot of people will tell you there are two reasons for it, one is, in my area, because there is no transfer station in Dartmouth, therefore, if you have commercial waste or commercial products you want to dump you have to travel all the way over to Timberlea, beautiful Timberlea. In my part of the city that is quite a distance, so a lot of people, a lot of commercial organizations, fly-by-night, pickup-truck sort of companies, will turn around and just dump it in a back road somewhere and it causes a lot of problems.
This is something we didn't have, as I said, 10, 15, 20 years ago. Others say it is partly because of our waste management, which I applaud. I think Nova Scotia has done a wonderful job with regard to waste management. People even said years ago that when you move toward stricter waste management you are going to have, a sort of busting out of the sides of the seams of it, of that system, people who will be illegally dumping. I want to bring this concern to your attention, it is something I hope to bring up again through this session and continuing sessions because I continue to see the problem and, in fact, it is getting worse. I am probably not the only member of this House who might acknowledge that. My question to the minister is, is this something even on the radar screen of your department, are you aware of the problem and what are you doing to try and address it?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, once again, thank you to the honourable member opposite. I can see he is carrying on with the same tone as the former member from his Party in trying to bring some very constructive concerns to the estimates today. This is a serious matter and I recall asking that question as a municipal councillor some years ago about the effect of tipping fees. Indeed, what we are going through is an evolution of our whole culture and this is an area where Nova Scotia is a leader. Unfortunately, there are some who are a little slower to accept these changes to become good stewards of our environment, but I certainly appreciate the honourable member's endorsement of the direction that has been taken in the province. I think that with regard to that one, once again, we should acknowledge that in this we are partners with the municipalities. The municipalities are responsible for actually complying with the legislation and the regulations and it is a co-operative effort with them.
There are a number of fines depending on the circumstances. On these issues we work with our municipal colleagues and, as the honourable member would appreciate, I think that his background would serve him well in this regard, it is difficult to prosecute unless we have the name of the offender. The point he brings up so well, that when this is dumped at the end of a logging road in the middle of the night, often that information is not made available either to the municipality or the department.
With regard to what we are doing to try to address this, I think that it was recently in the news that in HRM, they were looking at trying to develop a construction and demolition by-law for the siting of these facilities and we will certainly provide whatever assistance we can to municipalities to advance these positive steps in the evolution of their policies, their land-use planning strategies.
MR. DEVEAUX: Just so I am clear, the minister's answer to my question of what is his department doing is, HRM is doing something and we will help them, if we can, in any way. But maybe I will just leave this to say and maybe I should remind the minister and the other members of the government that the Environmental Protection Act is his responsibility, not HRM's. There are, in many cases, situations in which, in fact, I have had to do it myself where I have had to call the environment inspectors and they have been very good when called to enforce the legislation. I would hope that that is something that shouldn't have to be a phone call from members in this House or anyone else, but there should be leadership from the top of the department and the top of government to recognize.
In many cases, these are roads that lead - I can think, again, of Bissett Road in my riding that leads to Rainbow Haven, which is the closest ocean beach to downtown Halifax. It is a well-used beach. Along that road, there is, not down, not hidden, but in the ditches and in the culverts on the side of the road, dumped garbage and waste. That is a problem. If we are trying to sell Nova Scotia to tourists, I don't think we are doing a very good job if we are not ensuring that we cannot prove that we are not actually illegally dumping on the sides of roads.
I want to go on to a couple of other topics in my short time. With regard to occupational health and safety, the deputy minister will know that I asked a question on this and he was good enough to send me a letter with regard to diving regulations. But I am hoping the minister can tell me a specific date, ballpark, when he expects to have the diving regulations for Nova Scotia approved?
MR. MORSE: Again, I want to thank the honourable member for his question. While the deputy minister responded to his inquiry, I am privy to the answer. Right now, we are waiting to hear back from the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee for their final comments and, upon receiving them, we look forward to moving ahead with the new set of regulations.
MR. DEVEAUX: So let me see if I can nail you down on this, Mr. Minister. Are you saying that you expect the diving regulations to be passed by, let's say, September 1st of this year?
MR. MORSE: Again, it is subject to hearing back from the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee, but to try and give the member some guidelines, we are comfortable to say within this calendar year. As the honourable member is well aware, this
is an area of considerable concern because although there are not a lot of deaths because of diving, if one is to consider the number of divers, it is a great concern. So it has not had a particularly wonderful track record in terms of occupational health and safety.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, to speed things up a little, I am not going to ask for it now, but ask if you are willing to undertake, with regard to occupational health and safety, to provide us with the number of prosecutions last year of both what are called, SOTs, summary offence tickets, and long-form information? I know my friend, the member for Halifax Fairview asked you about environmental prosecutions. I would ask if you could undertake to provide us with both SOTs and long-form information with regard to that? I would also like to have the number of stop work orders issued under the Occupational Health and Safety Act last year if you can undertake to provide us with that?
MR. MORSE: Absolutely. We would be pleased to provide the honourable member with that information.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, also, just on that issue, I know that yesterday, my friend, the member for Cape Breton Centre brought up the issue of Cherubini and the recent accident in Amherst, the man who, unfortunately, had his legs crushed. I wasn't clear if the minister has undertaken to provide that information and whether he could provide us with, at least, a rough date as to when he could provide us information around the members of the team who had gone in and done a series of inspections and issued orders prior to the accident and whether or not the health and safety inspector for the Amherst area was a part of that team, whether he has that information now or whether he can undertake to provide us with that by a given date?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in response to the honourable member's question, the officers involved in the Amherst Fabricators Limited joint evaluation were, Dave Walsh as the lead officer, Alan Ross, Ray O'Neil and Shelley Gray, the occupational hygenist.
MR. DEVEUAX: I am not clear. Is one of these individuals the inspector in the Amherst area?
MR. MORSE: Yes, Alan Ross.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, was Mr. Ross involved with the inspection process from the beginning to the end or was there any point in time in which he was not involved in the inspection process?
MR. MORSE: I am advised that he was involved in the whole process.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, a couple of other quick questions. The member for Cape Breton Centre had talked to you yesterday about collective agreements, particularly private sector versus public sector collective agreements coming up this year. He wasn't sure if he had got an undertaking from you to provide this specific information with regard to the numbers coming up this year, both private and public sector collective agreements. Can we get an undertaking with regard to that today?
MR. MORSE: I was under the impression that I had given that undertaking yesterday, but I will reaffirm that undertaking here today.
MR. DEVEAUX: Thank you, I appreciate that. The other question I have around collective bargaining that I just wanted to clarify is there have been some rumours amongst, particularly, the public sector unions that there might be a push towards essential service legislation, identifying specific numbers of Public Service workers that will be required if there is a breakdown in collective bargaining to have to stay at work instead of being able to either be locked out or go on strike. Can the minister tell me whether his department is intending to introduce any legislation with regard to essential services?
MR. MORSE: There are two questions there. Number one, yes, I can answer his question and, two, the answer is no.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer. My last part is with regard to workers' compensation. I guess there are two things. One, I have had a chance to look at the terms of reference for the new review committee. I have had a chance to look at some of the people who are on the committee, some of who are familiar to me from the old Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council. They are good people. I will commend the minister on that. I believe a Mr. Dorsey had done similar work in Saskatchewan, as well, and I understand they have been very happy with the work he did there. I am hoping that this committee will take the opportunity, in reviewing the Workers' Compensation Act - and I understand the terms of reference have 28 particular parts to its mandate - I hope that they look at that in a full and open process and I see some of them are very good issues. I want to talk about one, in particular.
I will say, though, that we have been hearing back from some of the injured workers groups, particularly the Nova Scotia Provincial Injured Workers' Association and the Pictou group who have concerns with the lack of what they feel is injured workers' representatives. I understand Ms. Lewis is on the committee.
I guess I only encourage you to think about exactly whether or not that is truly representative of the injured workers. These are the people who are most directly affected by the Workers' Compensation Act, in fact they live with it every day. These are the people who have the bad backs, these are the people who have amputations, these are the people who
have environmental illness and have long-term chronic problems, no matter how minor or how serious, that are affecting their ability to work, whether on a full-time or part-time basis.
To have one person or to have a representative, in some respects, sort of diminishes their ability to be able to make representations to the committee. I understand that there are specific meetings where they are going to be able to meet directly with the board or with the committee. I would hope that the minister may have some answers for them, some of them may be watching here today, as to why Ms. Lewis was chosen or why in particular they felt that only one member would have been necessary to represent injured workers.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think that first of all I would like to thank the member opposite for responding to my request shortly after becoming minister in providing some input into this process. He wrote me a very thoughtful - and I would add - not a short letter, making various suggestions and we very much appreciated his contribution to the process. In fact, he points to what is actually a truism when it comes to the Workers' Compensation Board - the whole purpose of the board is for the service of injured workers.
Whether Ms. Barb Lewis, who is the President of the Cape Breton Injured Workers Association, is the only injured worker per se on the committee of eight, the whole committee convenes for the benefit of injured workers and she brings a very important presence to that committee and as the member opposite has pointed out, we certainly encourage injured workers and injured workers associations to come and partake in the public hearing process.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, the problem is - and I am not going to speak from this directly because I don't know Ms. Lewis and I don't know her background - but many people who are involved in injured workers associations will tell you that she represents injured workers but she herself is not an injured worker. I can't confirm that but I will put that out there as an issue that you may want to think about, as to whether or not - I don't know. I understand the minister, I am only telling you what I am hearing from others and I put it out there. I don't want to disparage someone who may be an injured worker and respect what they have. I understand she represents them but it may be an issue that particularly you may want to look into.
I want to go on to one last topic which is the issue of medical practitioners. There is a long history in this province of the caseworkers of the Workers' Compensation Board taking the word of, or overruling, general practitioners. They see them as what they call "advocates" on behalf of injured workers. They ignore the opinions of general practitioners, indeed they will quite often - it used to be an old story that the Workers' Advisers Program, you could have a stack this high of opinions of general practitioners and specialists who say that the worker has a clear injury related to the workplace. On the other side you have one doctor who most of the time does no other work except for the work of the Workers'
Compensation Board, either paid by salary by the board, a GP, or maybe a specialist who is brought in to basically write reports for the board and does very little other work.
You have one report or maybe two versus a stack this high of people in favour of the worker getting the compensation they deserve and the board will always, and the caseworker will always favour the reports that go against the worker. Sort of an institutional bias and many believe that there is clearly an institutional bias towards the medical opinions of a GP over a specialist or against a GP who writes in favour of a worker. That is a real problem. That is a problem that has never truly been addressed and one that I would think has caused great problems within the workers' compensation system. It has prevented workers from getting, in many cases, justice because we have a medical system and we have a board that is set up with doctors in their pay, whether on contract or on salary, that are then being used to basically counter opinions of people whose reputations are being disparaged.
That is a problem and I guess I ask the minister whether his department has considered this as something that they need to address, whether it be independent medical reports from third parties or whether it is some way of breaking down that institutional bias that is part of the Workers' Compensation Board and is preventing injured workers from getting a fair hearing and justice through the board?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the member opposite for the passion that he brings here to the Chamber today, passion and compassion. As the member would be aware, there is a question in the terms of reference for the Workers' Compensation Review Committee that will hopefully give some wisdom that we can consider in dealing with the problem that he has spoken of so eloquently.
If I might - just as a brief digression - I do appreciate the fact that quite a number of members throughout the estimates have brought up the subject of workers' compensation and that is one of reasons why I felt it was important to share that information yesterday at the conclusion of my opening remarks. I am glad that there is an interest and I welcome your questions.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I want to pass this over to the member for Halifax-Needham. I just want to say if you look at numbers 10 and 11 of the terms of reference for the Workers' Compensation Review Committee, there is no mention of the issue of potential institutional bias. It does talk about the method of generation of internal and external medical opinions, but doesn't talk about how that can or is being used by the caseworkers. That is a key issue. These doctors are probably writing legitimate opinions on their behalf, but the problem is that you have caseworkers, lay people, who are then making legal decisions and have a bias within the system. It may not necessarily be the generation of the opinions, although that could be a problem, it could also be a problem of how they are being interpreted and legal decisions are being made by caseworkers and the board based on opinions. I will leave it at that and pass it over to my friend from Halifax-Needham.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you want to table that? You are welcome to table it if you wish.
MR. DEVEAUX: No, that's fine. I'll table it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax-Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I really don't have a long or extensive list of issues to discuss but there are several things that have been of concern to me for some time, particularly since I have been elected.
The vast majority of workers in this province are not covered by collective agreement and the Labour Standards Code is there, but it also doesn't address the situation, I think, of a number of workers that we need to spend some time thinking about and paying attention to. I went into my constituency office last evening, minister, and I turned on my computer and I checked my e-mails. We all get junk mail - I am assuming we all get junk mail from time to time on e-mail - and I had this e-mail from, I am not really sure where, but it was a company that was looking for home workers. People to assemble, from their homes, jewellery.
I know that, certainly in my community in the North End of Halifax, inside that community, areas where there are very high levels of unemployment. There are quite a few single parent households, people who your colleague, the Minister of Community Services, has targeted for employment and employability. People in my constituency are certainly looking for opportunities to become involved in paid work and employment and they often see these small advertisements in classified sections of newspapers - and on-line if they have access - to these companies that are sort of virtual companies that are looking for people to do work out of their own homes.
Quite often, as I understand it, the set of arrangements that result, if they enter into employment with these companies, is essentially a type of piecework where they have delivered to them kits and it is their job then to assemble these kits. They get paid by the piece and, quite often, when you calculate the hours of work and the amount of work that goes into meeting the requirements, they end up earning much less than they would if minimum wage were applicable. They have, it would appear, no protections. I know of several situations where people, in fact, have not been paid, have not been able to get any kind of a response from these companies, and it seems that they fall completely outside of the existing framework of legislative protection.
So, first of all, I want to ask you if, in fact, this is true that they fall outside the legislative protections; secondly, if that is the case, why is that the case; thirdly, what your department would be prepared to do about this? The whole area of home work I think is certainly one that is a developing area of employment and certainly in some jurisdictions they have studied this extensively and they have put in place the very beginnings, I would not say anything too comprehensive, but some beginnings of a legislative framework to provide some protections for people who, in some situations, are actually very vulnerable to being exploited and severely exploited?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in some cases it may even be desperation to try to achieve meaningful employment and what you have described, honourable member, is that you have a lot of, shall we say, more than conscientious constituents who are trying to make it on their own and that is a concern I think shared by everybody in this Chamber and I would like to say all Nova Scotians. You have asked a very specific question and while you were asking it, the deputy was taking notes and we will endeavour to answer that question. I am not comfortable in expressing an opinion until we know it is absolutely so.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, certainly I would be happy to document and provide information as it becomes available to me with respect to some of these enterprises that do not appear to be local. They appear to be from outside of our jurisdiction and, in fact, may very well be from outside of the Canadian jurisdiction which makes it probably even more difficult in some respects to regulate and to deal with.
Another area of concern with respect to work and employment that I want to raise comes out of an experience I had last year when I was approached by three women who were employed on a temporary basis on term contracts by an employer. There are several features to the situation that was presented to me. First of all, one of the features was, in fact, that all three of these workers had an experience with a manager or a supervisor that was quite difficult. They raised the concerns they had with the nature of the supervision they were receiving with the employer and shortly after raising this question, their employment was terminated. They had very little protection in this situation. They had no protection in this situation. They went, in fact, to the Department of Labour to investigate whether or not they had any recourse under Labour Standards or any other form of employment law that would provide them with some protection and by virtue of the fact that they were contract employees on relatively short-term contracts - they had been in the organization for less than a year - they were told that basically there was no protection for them.
One of these women was a newcomer to Canada. She had an additional set of issues I think that caused me concern and that had some overlap in terms of what was going on in the organization. She experienced criticism of her accent. She experienced criticism of not her lack of knowledge of the English language but, you know, her execution, I guess you would say, of the English language. Her work, in fact, was not criticized, but the fact that she
had an accent was criticized and became a bit of a focal point for some of the issues that the employer had with her.
In addition to this, when these women were terminated, there was still a period of time remaining in their contract. They were not terminated at the end of the actual time frame of the contract. When they were terminated, there was outstanding monies owed to them, probably vacation pay I would think, and maybe some overtime as well. They were asked to sign a release form releasing the employer from any legal obligation to them and they were asked to sign this before they were given the vacation pay that was owed to them, any severance that was owed to them, their record of employment and the overtime that was paid to them. In fact, it was linked. The signing of this document was linked to the payment of these monies.
To the best of my knowledge, when they approached your department, they also raised this question of the linking of their termination, the monies that were owed to them with the termination, and having to sign this document. They were told that there essentially was nothing that could be done and that, you know, they had signed this document and that was sort of the end of the story. The woman who was the newcomer here was directed to the Human Rights Commission who directed her back to your department. So there are a number of issues here.
The other issue I guess I should say is that according to these workers and according to somebody else who was an employee in the same workplace, who was not let go, this particular employer in fact had a history of hiring people to do the same job over and over again but on a temporary contract. So every six months or every year there would be a whole new set of employees brought in to replace a set of employees who had been doing that work, the same work.
This, to me, seems to be unfair. There are many things about this situation that has bothered me since I met these workers. The fact that they were female, that one of them was a newcomer really working hard to establish an employment record here in Nova Scotia, really working hard to learn English, to use English, to develop networks, and I felt at the end of this situation that our labour legislation failed those three people, and I sort of feel that if it failed those three people, then it fails people who I don't see, because I certainly don't see everybody who has problems in the workplace.
I know from my own work prior to coming to this House that there has been a very big expansion, there has been a lot of growth in the area of non-standard employment and the use of contract employees in various workplaces, but it seems to me that there are situations where you would need contract employees to come in and to handle overload, work that is not able to be done in any other way, or a very specific and special project. There needs to be something to prohibit employers using contract employees to perform the core
functions of everyday work in their organization and in that process, just really exploiting people in many respects.
So I want to ask the minister about his department's and maybe his vision for addressing what is a very real problem for many people in this province and what I think is a growing area of employment and that is of the temporary, contract employee. Could you share with us any plans you might have to address situations like this and then, specifically, what are we going to do to protect newcomers when they go into workplaces and they have to deal with situations like the person I have told you about?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member. I guess I would, first of all, like to say with regard to the specifics of this case, I commend you for guiding them because as you were speaking to us I was conferring with the deputy and we were writing down the steps that should be taken, including the Human Rights Commission, and you are right, there is provision for a joint Labour-Human Rights investigation of these cases. While it would appear that whoever spoke to her from Human Rights - yes, it was her - as you identified them as three women - apparently was not finding that there was a violation. Would the honourable member perhaps, after estimates, share some of that information with the deputy and I would like to follow up on that specific case.
I think you are absolutely right, this would not be a unique occurrence. I think what I find particularly disturbing about this is that what we have here is somebody who has come to Canada, although that is not a qualification for this comment, it just happens to be the circumstances of one of these three women, and certain challenges to overcome to make a go in this new homeland and, indeed, let's not forget that it is very courageous to leave one's country of birth and move to a country like Canada with a different culture and, particularly, if English is not your first language or, indeed, maybe it is only becoming a poor second, and I never liked hearing the stories where somebody is criticized for trying to better their situation in life and I think that you have done a good job explaining some of the anguish that these three women and perhaps, particularly the one who is a new Canadian citizen, experienced during this.
I think, unfortunately, in this case there is more than one loser. The loser is not only the employees, but there is an employer out there who is allowing the abilities that his staff, be it they temporary and only kept for part of their term, are accumulating while they are on the job. I would hope that as the provincial economy seems to continue to strengthen, what I would call marginal employers would find it more difficult to compete for the services of conscientious employees who are trying to better their situation in life, but the reality of the situation while we are in this transition and we have certainly come a long way over the past few years, is that those employers do exist out there and I, personally, certainly do not condone treating employees or indeed, anybody in such a manner.
I would suggest that if a competitor were to enter into that same field and there was a limited market that the competitor would probably soon overtake that market share. An employer who treats his employees so poorly and is not appreciative of the efforts they are making to try to contribute to that business would not do well in a competitive market.
With regard to the specific concerns about this case, again, I certainly would appreciate it if the honourable member would share that information with the deputy to see if there are any stones that were not uncovered during the investigation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham, with one minute.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I think that is the point though, Mr. Minister, we often don't have a competitive market for labour and in the absence of a competitive market for labour, especially certain kinds of labour, what we need is a regulatory framework that will adequately deal with these situations. It is true, if you are a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, or something like that, there is probably a specific place for you to go where people will compete for those kinds of skills and qualifications not very many of us have, but if you are a person whose skill set is clerical, is financial in terms of maybe doing some basic accounting and those kinds of things . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would like to thank the New Democratic Party for their questions.
The honourable member for Victoria.
MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, I want to ask the minister a few questions, I am sure they won't be as heavy as the last couple from members who were on the floor. There are a few questions relative to my riding, and I am sure the minister will handle them without any great difficulty. The minister is probably aware of the press reports to the paper and other media outlets, about the Ingonish area last fall and the test results that were taken at the time. There were, no doubt, conflicting reports, particularly in the paper, relative to levels of E. coli and coliforms. Can the minister tell us today, has there been a follow-up with regard to those five or six wells in the Ingonish area? Were these tests showing any great degree of E. coli or coliforms?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would say that all questions from all members are of equal importance because they are important to those members. I appreciate the member's question. In terms of the test results, the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines are a pass/fail. There is no tolerance for any bacteria in the water. If there is any trace of bacteria, it is a fail. In the case of Ingonish, which does have a problem because they have small lots and they are not sufficiently large for establishing proper septic systems, it does present a problem. Accordingly, as the member is aware, we have issued a boil water order.
MR. MACASKILL: Isn't there an allowable level of - we know on E. coli there is not - but there must be some level of coliform that is acceptable, or is there no tolerance? I am not quite clear what the minister has indicated.
MR. MORSE: I think that is something that Nova Scotians would also be interested in. The level of allowable total coliform is zero, and faecal is certainly zero. That is the allowable level, zero.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, there is some concern about the closing of the Environment office in Baddeck. What I am hearing on the street is the office didn't cost very much, probably only a telephone bill, it was in a government building. I am wondering, what was the purpose of closing that office, when it was already in a government-owned building I think there was only a telephone there and an answering machine where the inspector would accept calls? Some people feel it is going to be a deterrent or a delay in getting septic tank inspections or on-site sewage inspections done. Can the minister tell me why there was a need to close that office, since there was very little cost involved in maintaining it there?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, yes, the intention has been to close that office. One should bear in mind that with today's telecommunications and other methods of communicating and travelling over distances that this in no way takes that employee out of Victoria, which is the member's constituency. It is not anticipated that he would be making regular daily trips to Sydney and then coming back to provide those services to his area, it just means that he will be immersed in that culture. We feel that some contact with the regional office will be beneficial for him and will bear benefits to Victoria County as he gets to exchange information with his colleagues and also make some of the other specialists available in the Sydney regional office available to the good citizens of Victoria.
We do not see a change in his residence. It just means that occasionally he will be going to Sydney to share some of his experiences and be the recipient of other department members' experiences at the Sydney office. We feel that ultimately that will provide a better service to your constituents.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, do I understand that the inspector, he or she, will report out of Baddeck, or will they have to drive to an office or another station in the morning to begin their day's work? That is what I am not quite clear on.
MR. MORSE: The inspector's schedule is he would be spending three days a week in the Baddeck area and two days a week in the Sydney area.
MR. MACASKILL: I think I have it. The three days he is in Baddeck or in Victoria County, he starts his day out of Baddeck, he doesn't have to report to another depot. Is that what I understand?
MR. MORSE: Yes, that is correct.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, the minister, I am sure, is aware of the problems that we have had in the Dingwall area, relative to THM, trihalomethane, which I understand is caused when foliage meets with water treatment such as - the word escapes me, but I am sure the minister knows what I am talking about. Apparently that is a problem or something that is created when the foliage or the leaves fall off the trees and they mix with the chlorine in the water and causes bacteria.
Is the department involved in inspecting those surface water outlets - it may not be an ongoing problem, the municipalities are trained - are they going to follow through on that sort of water supply, so that this is not going to be an occurrence we are going to be faced with each fall?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable minister for bringing the concerns of his constituents of Dingwall to estimates here today. He speaks of trihalomethane, which is something that caused quite a concern when the department first started to release those statistics. I believe that at the time we first released them, there were 18 municipal water utilities that were above Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. The concern with excessive levels of THMs is that over a prolonged period of time, there is a slight increased incidence of bladder cancer.
As to the situation in Dingwall, we hope that Dingwall will follow the lead of other municipalities in addressing this problem. There is a study being undertaken to look at a proper water treatment plant and across the province we are now down to nine that are exceeding the Canadian drinking water standards levels. So by making people aware of this presence in their water supply, it has spurned them to take action and to protect the public. I hope that the people at Dingwall are able to work with the County of Victoria in getting it on their priority list for the Canada Nova Scotia Infrastructure Program.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, again to the minister. Is there a treatment process available to filter water that shows levels of THMs? Is that something the department may be working towards or is that just something that we cannot treat?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in response to the member's question, there are filters that are on the market that can effectively lower the levels of THMs in a water supply.
MR. MACASKILL: That is something that the homeowner can put on their system locally, is that what the minister is saying?
MR. MORSE: Yes, a homeowner would be able to get one for their own private well.
MR. MACASKILL: I want to turn to septic systems just for a moment. A couple of questions, if the minister will indulge.
A few years ago in the Grand Narrows area they put in a new septic system which I understand was a charcoal-filtering type of system. I think it went to the community of Grand Narrows or in that area, just across the Barra Strait. Can the minister tell us how effective and is that a good system and does it work well?
MR. MORSE: The member underestimates the detail of his questions. We would beg his indulgence to get back to him on that one.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister. I would be satisfied, certainly, with that because it is along the waterfront. It is my understanding that this was state of the art and I am curious to know if it has lived up to its expectations.
Of course I know the minister is working very hard with the Municipality of Victoria relative to further upgrading our treatment facility in the Baddeck area and I am wondering is that something that we could possibly see on the first series of infrastructure programs?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, while the decision is not that of the Department of Environment and Labour as to which ones receive provincial funding, that I believe is covered under the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations - I think the key point here is which one the municipality makes its priority and then of course the available funding as it applies to that area. I think the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations would better be able to explain the formula, but my understanding is that the formula has in fact been crafted so as to assist areas that might not on their own be quite so able to finance the necessary infrastructure needed to protect their water and sewer.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, I would ask the minister if he would turn to Page 63 in the Supplement to the Public Accounts and to - if we may give the minister a minute or two to find the page.
MR. CHAIRMAN: By all means.
MR. MACASKILL: Maybe you don't need the book. I will ask the question and then you'll see if you need the book, if that is suitable to the minister.
There is a Robert G. Anderson who has a travel of $17,322, which is more than the deputy minister. Can you tell me what Mr. Anderson does in your department?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would say that these documents are produced for just that type of scrutiny and it is very good that the member has gone through it and asks insightful questions.
He is a member of our Environmental Industry and Technologies Division and he travels the province reviewing specific projects and as such, it does take him out of the office on a regular basis.
MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister. Those are all the questions I have, so I would turn it over to one of my colleagues.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We would like to thank the member for Victoria for your questions.
The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: I just have a couple of short questions. Mr. Minister, the first item is, I want to be assured that your department is responsible for the management of groundwater in the Province of Nova Scotia, is that true?
MR. MORSE: Correct. The Department of Environment and Labour is responsible for enforcing the legislation and regulations as they pertain to groundwater.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, what responsibility does your department carry over after a municipal unit that obtains permission from your department to enter a groundwater source to acquire a source for a municipal line?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, once they are given approval to tap into that groundwater source there are terms and conditions they have to follow in the operation of the plant and there are quite a number of legislative and regulatory requirements that a municipality would have to meet to operate, in essence, a well or a utility.
MR. BOUDREAU: So is there a management plan in place? For instance, do inspectors drop by? Does the municipal unit require that reports be filed with your department? What is the process by which you maintain your management ability?
MR. MORSE: Depending on the size of the facility, there are requirements that they submit monthly reports, but I think that what the people of Nova Scotia perhaps want to hear is that there are also periodic audits of those facilities and again our concern is to protect the safety of Nova Scotians' drinking water.
MR. BOUDREAU: In direct contrast, I will point right toward the CBRM. The water supply - I am sure your department officials and other government officials are well aware of the system for the City of Sydney within the municipal unit - draws from groundwater and it supplies approximately 20,000 residents in that particular unit. Could you tell me what plan is in place for that particular supply for the protection from an environmental situation that could arise? For instance, this facility is adjacent, located very close to Route 125, which is
a main thoroughfare to the TransCanada Highway through that area. For instance, Pottles Lake - and I am sure some of your officials in your department are familiar with Pottles Lake - services the Northside area. However, the previous Liberal Government put a protection plan together and I am sure, Mr. Minister, I know you visited that area recently, you drove through there. It is state of the art. The local engineers of the Department of Transportation actually designed that system and developed it. So I am interested in hearing what protection plan is in place for these 20,000 residents in the City of Sydney?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the department uses a multi-barrier protection approach to securing groundwater supplies. At the outset, there are things like wellhead protection, as the member would know that in working with, in this case, CBRM, there are certain stipulations as to where they are able to drill a well, the certification of the well drillers, the materials used in the process. Moving on from there, at the second level, the operation of the facility, and then clearly there is monitoring and inspection of the ongoing performance of the utility and I think that it also bears special mention that there are provisions for watershed protection. We work with municipal units to assist them in providing the appropriate water strategies in terms of keeping potential contaminants away from the wellheads.
MR. BOUDREAU: So is the minister telling the committee that this plan is in place for that particular water supply?
MR. MORSE: While I have not had the pleasure of being in Sydney for a few weeks, to the best of my knowledge it is a potable water supply. If a test had come back to the contrary, it would have been brought to my attention.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, you are misunderstanding what I am saying. I am asking you a direct question. If an environmental mishap occurred, such as a transport truck loaded with furnace oil tipped over in the vicinity of that well field, what response could we expect from your department and the municipality? Is there a plan in place to protect that groundwater supply from any environmental damage that could occur immediately or as a result of an accident?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, yes, there is a contingency plan as part of the wellhead protection program. With regard to such a spill as, you know, the tipping of perhaps an oil truck, then again we get into the watershed protection area and that is in itself a safeguard against that eventuality.
MR. BOUDREAU: Could the minister please table that information in the House and who is responsible for the response, what fire departments are trained for this particular water supply, to respond to a particular call?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, we would be happy to table that on the condition that it be understood that it is not presently here with us today, but we will endeavour to bring that to the House and table those documents.
MR. BOUDREAU: That is fine, Mr. Minister. I did not expect you to bring it here today, but I want to be assured that those 20,000 residents who are buying water from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality down there are protected against any environmental danger that could come within their grasp within moments. At least local concerns down there are whether there is proper training in place in case that particular incident occurred. So I am very concerned about that given the numbers that obviously require this water supply.
I am also concerned about out in the rural areas. It appears that those wells were tapped for this particular water supply. I am not going to stand here and say that they affected entirely rural domestic wells, however I do believe, from other information that I have and some experience that I have in regard to groundwater that those particular wells affected domestic wells on the outskirts of Sydney and into the rural areas. What plan has your department put in place for the protection of these rural well owners?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, actually while the honourable member was mentioning about the 20,000 residents of CBRM who depend on the Sydney water supply - and that is reason to be concerned about the water supply - I was making note of the fact that if there is just one constituent, then that is reason to be concerned, but I think he must have been anticipating my response because he quickly switched to the individual wells. As the honourable member would be aware, we, in Nova Scotia, are proceeding with our waste water and water strategy this year to, in fact, try to further address the concerns that you were speaking of here with your last question.
For those constituents who perhaps have concerns or maybe they have some constructive suggestions to make in terms of the shaping of the final waste water and water strategies, we would certainly encourage them to come out and take part in the public meetings and we look forward to their participation.
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, there is no secret, Mr. Chairman, the residents in the rural area outside, there are single, domestic wells experiencing a lot of difficulty in that particular area, many people believe, and I will go on record as saying that those wells for the City of Sydney certainly are not causing all the trouble out there; however I firmly do believe from my knowledge of groundwater that they are contributing.
AN HON. MEMBER: Yes, they are.
MR. BOUDREAU: They are contributing to these difficulties that these single, domestic well owners are experiencing out in the rural areas and what I would like to know, Mr. Minister, what plan has your department put in place to address the concerns that these rural, single, domestic well owners, what plan has your department put in place to deal with those concerns?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I wonder if the honourable member would favour me with maybe a little bit more information about the specifics of the concern, like what is causing the problem?
MR. BOUDREAU: It is no secret that since, you know the Sydney well field is drawing large amounts of water, many of the single, domestic wells that are on that same well field are experiencing difficulties with their single home delivery or supply to their own single homes further out in the rural area that are not serviced by this supply. So the individual well owners out in the rural areas are being affected by the amount of water that is being pumped out of the Sydney well field and certainly, as I indicated before, I don't feel that these wells are causing all the problems out there, but I do feel and believe firmly that they are contributing to the difficulties that are being experienced in this rural area. What is your department going to do, Mr. Minister, to protect the interests of these rural landowners?
MR. MORSE: With that explanation, I now better understand what the member is asking of me.
There has been a contingency plan developed with input from the local residents, a committee to address these well problems and, in fact, it is part of a condition for approval. As the problems come up, they are addressed individually.
MR. BOUDREAU: It is no secret locally, the landowners in that particular area are very vocal in indicating very clearly that that committee and that process simply is not working. Now, my question to the minister is, would the minister agree to review this process in the hope of providing a better avenue to ensure that the residents' concerns are taken seriously? Perhaps even you, Mr. Minister, could go down there and meet with these residents to ensure that your department is doing everything that is possible to protect their water supply, which is groundwater and which you just indicated, was your responsibility.
So, would you take it upon yourself to meet with this group of residents to ensure that you have their views first-hand?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think perhaps given the concern that has been brought forward by the member, that a more expedient approach would be to have senior staff from Sydney meet with them. I am certainly not adverse to meeting with any Nova Scotians, but I think that based on the demands on my time here in Halifax, it might be more convenient for them where there are more of them and one of me, to meet with senior staff. If they are prepared to travel to Halifax, then I am more than happy to meet with them sooner. In terms
of going to Sydney to meet with them, that is problematic for me until I have absolved my responsibilities here to the House and the department.
That is a qualified yes, but I am encouraging them to make use of senior staff in the department and I would certainly make them available.
MR. BOUDREAU: I appreciate that response and I assume that you will direct your senior staff - and I do have confidence in the staff in the Sydney office - I want to understand that your undertaking is to direct that staff to meet with this group. If their concerns are not resolved at that stage, you are prepared later on this summer, to sit down and meet with this group. Is that correct, Mr. Minister?
MR. MORSE: You can consider the first part to be done. Failing a successful resolution of their concerns, I would look forward to enjoying some of the fine hospitality that has always been afforded me when I go back to my mother's homeland of Cape Breton.
MR. BOUDREAU: You are more than welcome at any time, I can assure you. We welcome tourists, make sure you bring your credit card. I am sure the economic impact will be felt right across the Island.
In any event, Mr. Chairman, I am going to move on now to an area over in my own constituency. It is an area that I am familiar with. It is in the Westmount area and it is a situation where there are eight residents that I represent. Last fall they experienced fecal coliform in their individual well waters. There was an investigation initiated by your department, when I checked in January, the last time that I checked with your staff in Sydney, they indicated to me they were not aware of where the source of contamination was coming from.
I know it has been a difficult winter down there with the storms and I am trying to have patience; however, I am concerned that it would take so long, that a source of contamination, given the makeup of the area, I would suggest, that perhaps the only place it is coming from is from one or two sources. My question is, why does it take your department so long to find the source of contamination that has been detected in an area?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the member opposite explained some of the challenges that the capable staff in the Department of Environment and Labour face. They try to address these very real concerns of individual homeowners. It is always a bit of a challenge every time you take on a new one just what is the source. The department does try to assist private well owners in identifying the source of contamination as it comes up. There are a number of avenues available, some of which are dye tests; well construction, to see that there are no cracks in the well head; surface water contamination - that somehow or other is getting in the well and causing the faecal coliform counts. Indeed, what about the functioning of their on-site septic systems, another possible source of contamination.
To answer the honourable member's question, we work with each one on an individual basis and we do so until ultimately we assist them in identifying the source.
MR. BOUDREAU: Does it usually take this long? This has been at least seven months in the making now and the residents are getting frustrated. The situation seems to be cleaned up somewhat, however, they are still a little paranoid that this will reoccur. We are looking towards your department - your department is the department that residents look toward for protection of their water supply.
What I want to know is what you will do to ensure the residents that I represent in the Westmount area that their water supply is going to receive the same type of protection against fecal or any other contamination? What protection is there that your department will provide to that area of my constituency?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the member for bringing up this question - a question that has been on the minds of Canadians for some time, but unfortunately because of the happenings in Ontario in Walkerton last year, perhaps even more so.
With these specific wells that are encountering some difficulties, there are seasonal variations. The winter makes things more difficult. There are a number of potential reasons that have thwarted staff in this case from identifying the source. I think that what the honourable member has just shared with the House is a very impassioned plea for proceeding on with our water strategies so that we can partner with Nova Scotians to help them address the security of their individual well water.
This is a partnership and the honourable member is quite right. The Department of Environment and Labour provides the technical expertise to help identify the source of the contamination. With, I understand, over 100,000 individuals wells in the province, as you can appreciate, at times problems are encountered by the owners. We encourage well owners to do a water quality test at least a couple of times a year. My understanding is that the fee, tax included, is about $13.80. I would suggest that that is an excellent price to pay for the assurance that brings to the family. I appreciate the interest on the part of all members opposite in proceeding with our waste water and water strategy discussion papers that are going to be carried out throughout this fiscal year.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, it may only be $13-odd to you, Mr. Minister, but to anyone on a fixed income, that tax is very unfair. You may call it a fee or whatever you want to call it, but what it actually is, in my opinion at least, is a tax. The people that I represent feel it is a tax and that is what is important to me.
There is one other area that I want to ask about, Mr. Minister, and that is in particular, on Keltic Drive I have approximately 40 homes and more than half of those homes are affected. Mr. Minister, and by letter - your local office has it - local well drillers will not drill a well. The solution is very simple, it is right there and for the lousy price of $600,000, the municipal water line could be provided to that area in my community.
Mr. Minister, what I want to ask you is, will you take it upon yourself to request a report from the Sydney office, from your senior advisors down there, to advise you on the investigation that they already provided, or obtained, through consultation and through tests in the community. After acquiring them I think you will come to the same conclusion as I have, that we need a solution in that area of my constituency.
When you get that report, could you please forward it to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, as we are both aware that particular department is responsible for any cost sharing and infrastructure programs. The understanding I have is that the municipality is in the process of sending an application forward and providing it to the Municipal Affairs Department. However, in all reality, your department being responsible for groundwater, I believe that at least some responsibility relies on the fact that your staff obtain the necessary information that is required through an investigation, which has already been concluded to my knowledge. It is also your responsibility to provide that information and ensure that Municipal Affairs has an accurate account of all the information gathered. Would you obtain that from your local staff in Sydney and provide it to Municipal Affairs officials so that they can make a reasonable decision when the application is forwarded by the CBRM?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you once again, honourable member, for bringing up the concerns of your constituents and representing them here in the House. The instructions have already been given to forward a copy of that report to me when it is ready and I would be happy to share it with the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. In addition to that, we want to make sure that CBRM has a copy because, as you will appreciate, they are the ones who have to divvy up the monies that are available to them and set their priorities. You have spoken passionately on behalf of your residents, that is a lot of homes and my hope would be that we will see it showing up on their priority list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, first of all, on Page 64 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts Committee, under the subtitle, Department of Justice, there is a fee of $161,713.19. Would the minister be kind enough to indicate what that represents?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I am advised that that is the fee for the departmental solicitors who provide services to the Department of Environment and Labour from the Department of Justice.
MR. MACKINNON: Would the minister be kind enough to give a breakdown as to what that represents?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the $116,000 represents the salaries for two lawyers who are provided to the Department of Environment and Labour from the Department of Justice and their accompanying support staff.
MR. MACKINNON: Are they the two solicitors who generally work within the Department of Environment and Labour, just as if they were staff? In other words, they are funded by another department but they work in the Department of Environment and Labour. That is essentially what I am understanding, is that correct? Just a nod of the head will be fine, thank you.
Now, over on Page 116, again Department of Justice, there is a figure of $222,746.13. Is that for essentially the same service? It is on the right hand column on Page 116 - $222,746.13 - as to what that represents?
MR. MORSE: The $116,000 was for services provided to Environment. It is $222,746.13, correct? Yes, it represents three lawyers, a paralegal and support staff that are supplied to the Department of Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: I fail to see anywhere in the Supplement to the Public Accounts Committee where the services from the Department of Justice for Mr. Wilson that worked on the Meadowview file is accounted for anywhere here. Given the fact that the minister has indicated that that project was completed March 31st, would the minister be kind enough to indicate where that is accounted for in the Supplement to the Public Accounts Committee.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to point out to the honourable member that the Supplement here pertains to the fiscal year, as I understand it, 1998-99, during the time that, I think, actually that the honourable member was Minister of Labour.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that being said, perhaps we will go right into the departmental estimates. I have gone through the departmental estimates and I cannot find anywhere where this Meadowview Landfill issue has been accounted for. Would the minister please apprise the committee as to where this money is accounted for, whether it be $1 million, $2 million, $5 million of whatever. Where is this in the estimates? The minister has indicated that the agreement was concluded on March 31st so it has to be accounted for somewhere.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, once again, I think that if we refer to the minutes from earlier today, I have undertaken to get the honourable member that information and I certainly intend to do so.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, this is what budget deliberations are for, the estimates, to show where the money is coming from and where it is going to and the minister does not know what is going on in his department. There is a problem here, either he is obstructing justice or he doesn't know what is going on in his department. He has already indicated before the committee, before the public of Nova Scotia, that this is a signed deal, March 31st, and he doesn't know where the money is. Where is the money for this agreement?
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I believe to suggest that an honourable member is guilty of obstruction of justice, which is a suggestion that a member has committed a criminal offence, is clearly an unparliamentary suggestion and I would ask the member to withdraw the comments. (Interruption) I would appreciate your ruling on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I am being advised that it is unparliamentary language and that you should be withdrawing that end clause, that phrase. The member for Cape Breton West is impugning another member's reputation.
MR. MACKINNON: First of all, Mr. Chairman, I didn't indicate directly that he was. I said either he is or he doesn't know what is going on in his department. It can only be one of two things.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Is the member for Cape Breton West going to withdraw the phrase?
MR. MACKINNON: I will withdraw the phrase, but the inference is still obvious in my mind, Mr. Chairman, as to what I believe is a coverup in that department, a coverup, a political scandal that they are sitting on and are too embarrassed to even acknowledge where the money is. These are the estimates and he doesn't know where the money is. He signed an agreement and he can't tell us in his own departmental estimates where the money is. Does anybody in that department, anybody, at any level, know where the money is for this agreement?
I ask the minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, where is the money? Where is the money for this agreement?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, order. The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour has the floor.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think the honourable member would agree that it is important to be consistent in our proceedings here, so I will consistently reassure him that we will get him that information, as I have done now several times before today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West has six and a half minutes left.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . endorsement. Mr. Chairman, if he says he can get it, why can't he look in his book that is right before him and tell us where it is at? That is what estimates are for but he has acknowledged that he does not know that. So, obviously, he does not know where the money is. That's what we can only conclude. He doesn't know. It hasn't been accounted for. That seems to be the situation.
Perhaps, since he doesn't know what is going on in that, and that is a major issue, what appears to be a multi-million dollars scandal in his department, for whatever reason, somebody is trying to save somebody's political bacon for some reason and nobody seems to want to be upfront about the detail, but we will deal with that on a future day and the people of Nova Scotia will certainly have more questions on it. Never mind Puff the Magic Dragon over in the corner, he travels by night. (Interruption)
The fact of the matter is, Mr. Chairman, what we also need to know from the honourable member is if he would be kind enough to give an undertaking to the committee that he will provide a list of all the new user fees his department is going to implement, as well as a list of the total number of user fees now in existence that will realize an increase. In other words, will result in these existing fees being increased as well. Would the minister give an undertaking to the committee, and I will certainly take it on notice, that he will provide a detailed report of that perhaps on a future day?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think, because of the honourable member's anxiety to get this information forthwith that, rather than tabling it, I will just take a little time and read some into the record, perhaps. He seems to have a concern over the amount of control that we have over the department, so perhaps this will reassure him. (Interruptions) We are going to start with the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority, film screening fees, $325,000; projection fees, $3,000.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. What I have clearly inferred is that if he would delineate as to what that increase is? Just giving the total figures, all I have to do is just look in the books myself, but if he would indicate, if it is an existing fee, what the increase is over last year and the number of new fees and what the amounts are?
MR. CHAIRMAN: More of a point of clarification, I guess, but I appreciate the intervention. For the record, there are two and a half minutes left in this session.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, what the honourable member wants is a breakdown of these rather copious briefing documents to determine each and every spot where there may be a change in the fee or, in some cases where we have dropped fees, both of which do occur in these documents. I would have been pleased to have shared that information in the totals here this afternoon but given that he is not interested in the totals this afternoon we will undertake to try to provide him with that information.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West has a minute and a half left.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps the minister, in my short period of time left, would give some indication as to the new revised procurement policy within his department and if it is being strictly adhered to?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in fact, I think the policy the member refers to is the provincial policy and we follow the provincial policy.
MR. MACKINNON: Is this the procurement policy that was identified January 26, 2001, is this the one he is referring to?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I wonder, if, under the circumstances where the member is referring to a specific document, whether it would perhaps be appropriate if he would share that document with us so we could give him an informed opinion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe that if the member quotes from a document he is to table it, but I don't believe he has to (Interruption) The member for Cape Breton West is willing to table the document. There are 15 seconds left.
MR. MACKINNON: It is absolutely shameful, really, when a minister doesn't even know his own procurement policy. There is no sense even proceeding at this point.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, there will be other members of the NDP caucus following with questions. I believe the time is going to be split - split the hour with the Liberal caucus.
I really only have one question for the minister and it revolves around an individual in my constituency. His name is Mr. Irving Matthews. The house in which he resides had formerly belonged to another member of his family. At that time they were forced to drill another well. (Interruptions) It is not the same situation we discussed previously. Anyway, he feels that from the testing he had done on the well, it was contaminated by a local farmer and neighbour. He has never been able to have the matter resolved.
My understanding is that he has brought it to the attention of the department and nothing was done. He feels, from the information he has regarding the testing of the water, that it was a combination of fecal coliform and herbicides. What I am asking is, if I were to bring information to the minister, could someone investigate this for him?
MR. MORSE: In response to the honourable member's concern for his constituent and indeed for all honourable members, you can always consider that we welcome any of these concerns from any member and indeed from any Nova Scotians. Yes, we absolutely would encourage you to bring that information to us.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I will proceed to get that information for you. I will thank the minister now. I will hand over to one of my caucus colleagues.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank my Leader in the House, the member for Hants East. I want to go back to some questions I was asking the minister last night around Cherubini industries in Amherst. I believe in an earlier answer today, he had mentioned that the team who was involved in investigating that workplace was led by David Walsh. Is that correct, Mr. Minister?
MR. MORSE: I understand that to be the case and, in fact, earlier today I believe that the whole investigating team was put on the official record, including the leader.
MR. CORBETT: Well, then, the local inspector, Mr. Ross, was he ever head of that inspection team? Was he ever the lead investigator?
MR. MORSE: The answer is yes.
MR. CORBETT: The question then is, why was Mr. Ross removed as the lead investigator?
MR. MORSE: In response to the honourable member's question, that was at the request of the deputy, he asked his director to assign a different person to the case. As the member would probably be aware, there is somewhat of a history with this employer. It was felt that it would, perhaps, be appropriate to assign a new lead investigator under these circumstances.
MR. CORBETT: That leads to the next obvious question. Why did the deputy make that decision and, were there any conversations between your office and the employees or persons representing Cherubini industries to cause the deputy to make that request?
MR. MORSE: In fact, I am advised that there was representation both from the union and the employer, and in the interests of wanting to make sure that there would be buy-in from both parties, the deputy instructed his director to please make a change.
MR. CORBETT: Let me get this right. There was contact from the union representing the employees and the employer. Were both groups asking to have Mr. Ross removed, or was it just one group?
MR. MORSE: In answer to your question, there was just one group who was asking to have a change in the lead investigator. In anticipation of, perhaps, your next question, that was the employer.
MR. CORBETT: Let's see the scenario now. I don't like an investigator coming into my workplace that I owned, so I contact your office and I get that investigator taken off the case. This can't be the same province that had Westray, because that doesn't go on in this province.
Mr. Minister, you have an obligation to the workers of this province and one of those obligations is to make sure they can go and work in an environment that is safe and that they will not be injured. This is your responsibility, Mr. Minister. You have shirked that responsibility, you have caved into an employer. You would be the same group over there who would be ringing the bells from heaven on high if the union tried to do that, yet, you capitulated and gave in while you are doing those investigations. Now, we have another accident there.
Can you tell me how this system is fair? We talked about how the system in this province is weighted for employers, this is a prime example. Tell me how this is fair, you meddling in a workplace accident?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in response to the honourable member's question, in actual fact it was not in response to the accident, it was in response to concerns at the workplace. Instead of just sending in one, all we did was we augmented the team and we put a new lead investigator on. Instead of there being one, there was five. The Amherst inspector was part of the team, so that gentleman had his chance to make his full contribution. The lead inspector is a very-well respected person in this field and we felt that it was important to bring all the appropriate expertise to the scene so that we do all we can to ensure the occupational health and safety of the employees of Amherst Fabricators.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Minister, you are leaving out a huge, gaping hole here. It is one of ministerial responsibility and it is one of IR. The message you are sending out to employers in this province today is, if you are having a problem with an inspector we can fix
it for you. That is the message. It is very plain. You can paint the picture of whatever you do, how you set up the team, but I am sure, in Mr. Ross' eyes that he could certainly see this as a demotion. As someone who is leading the investigation, who, obviously, had the confidence of the workers because the union didn't complain about him. Maybe he was too close to finding out what was really going on in that plant, he didn't have the confidence of the employer.
It is your responsibility, Mr. Minister. What you have done is you have undermined the whole process. You have sent out a message across this province, and I have stated this before, call me, I will fix it for you, we are on the side of the employer. This is just a tremendous mess.
We sat here last night and debated these estimates with you, Mr. Minister, and you told me that you were happy with the Trade Union Act in this province; it is a great Act, it works for both groups, it is no problem at all. I don't know why, when we talked about automatic search, no, that was no good. When we talked about first-contract legislation, that is really no good.
Where I am coming from, in talking to you in this last short while, Mr. Minister, is you, as head of that department, are saying, I have no time for unions. If an employer calls me I will rig it for him. That is what you are saying, that unions do not have the ability to represent workers in the workforce, what you are saying is that you can't give them an automatic search, you can't give them first contract, all these things are no, but when the employer makes one call - in all provinces and by all governments, the Tory Government what they had done in this province as it relates to workplace safety - and you do that.
Mr. Minister, what was guiding you in this decision? Couldn't you be a bit retrospective and say, look, this province has to be extremely fair because of these problems that were visited on us because of bad legislation before? Why didn't you stay away from it and let Mr. Ross do his job?
MR. MORSE: We felt that because of circumstances at that employer, that it would be better to send in a swat team of five very capable inspectors instead of just the one. They did do a thorough investigation, there were a number of orders that came out of that. I believe it was 16. By so doing, we also wanted to make sure that we ensured the credibility of the outcome. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour has the floor.
MR. MORSE: One should note that the local Amherst inspector was very much a part of this team, and I have total confidence in the work of my officers.
MR. CORBETT: It is not the matter of having confidence in your employees, Mr. Minister, what you are missing is you have interfered. What I want to ask you then is, who from Amherst industries called you or the deputy minister? Which person made that call?
MR. MORSE: The call was directed to the deputy and it was made by their solicitor.
MR. CORBETT: We have someone who is representing the company, not even the company owners, a solicitor, who now can help direct OH&S policy in this province, is what I am saying. He can come in and call you and you are going to go. Mr. Minister, before you get up to answer this, I want to understand this, it is one of ministerial interference, it is not about the capability of your staff. The only person who is undermined or talked about undermining the capability of staff is you, by getting involved and removing a member.
I want you to answer this for me. Do you believe that you harmed the OH&S process by getting directly involved in removing Mr. Ross as the lead investigator?
MR. MORSE: First of all, I would like to point out that there was a minor contradiction in the member's statement. First of all, he said I removed the local officer from the investigation and then he said that he just became a member of what was, in fact, a team.
I think it is important that we understand, when we are dealing with occupational health and safety concerns, that we have the confidence of both the employees and the employer. There has to be a buy-in. The regulations are clear; our job is to enforce them. We want to enforce them in a way that we have the confidence of the union and the members of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee, who were full participants in this investigation.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, we are not choosing sides for a sandlot baseball team here. We are not looking for buy-in. Buy-in is not what we are talking about here. How dare you stand in this House today and say buy-in? This is an atrocious fault of yours, coming in - we are talking about a piece of legislation that came out of probably one of the worst industrial accidents in this province, yet, you sit there and smugly say, buy-in. Well, it isn't buy-in. Do police have to buy-in to what the burglars do? Is that what we are talking about as buying-in.
Mr. Chairman, this is truly the worst form of ministerial interference. He is trying to tell us today that the local health and safety guys bought into this. Did the union complain? No. One party in a two-party process complained so you decided to go change (Interruption) There is the member for Dartmouth South, he doesn't care about worker safety, he doesn't care about nurses, he doesn't care about public employees, so he is up here. He probably doesn't care about Westray. He is over there saying, next question. Maybe I should stay up here and talk a bit more about worker safety because it is something that matters to me. The backbenchers over there may not worry too much about it but I have too many friends and
loved ones who died in mining accidents and workplace accidents. For you to sit there smugly and say to me, next question. You gutless . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. I appreciate the passion of the member for Cape Breton Centre but I would ask him to keep his references to the Chair, and that the term, gutless, is unparliamentary. I would ask that he withdraw that term.
MR. CORBETT: I withdraw that remark and I apologize. As you said, I am very passionate about this. For the minister, it has just brought me over the top for him to say it had to be buy-in. Why don't you stand up, Mr. Minister, when you have the floor and realize and acknowledge you made a mistake and tell us it is going to be rectified and it won't happen again?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the honourable member for sharing some of his passion here with the committee today. However, I am somewhat concerned that in his speech he made a reference that I think could be taken as insinuating somehow that employers are somehow or other automatically assumed to be criminals, with your reference to burglars. I would have to say that I respectfully disagree.
In any kind of workplace situation you have an employer and employees and they are mutually dependent, hopefully, for their collective benefit. We would hope that the employees have a chance to obtain a good living and satisfaction from the job and, hopefully, carried out in a safe environment. With the assistance of occupational health and safety regulations and, indeed, where necessary, the appropriate officers will be called upon to see that we enforce them.
From the point of view of the employer one would hope that the employer provides good employment and, as such, is able to make a fair profit. It is a marriage, in a sense, between employers and employees and we have to be sensitive of that, but not to compromise the regulations of occupational health and safety.
I would have to respectfully disagree with the honourable member to suggest that in any way, by going from one officer to five, that it shows any lack of resolve on the part of the department in enforcing those regulations.
MR. CORBETT: Let's take the minister back. First of all, we have never ever said there was a problem with putting extra inspectors in there, let's get that straight. It has always been, why did you change the lead investigator? You told me the reason you changed it was because you got a call from the employer, you didn't get a call from the union, you didn't get a call from somebody down the street, you got a call from the employer. You make this statement about workplaces being a marriage, talk about strange analogies. You go there, you do your work, you get paid and certain expectations are assumed to be met. One of them is that you work in a safe environment, it is as simple as that; there is no magic here.
There has to be a responsibility all around. You used that ludicrous term before, buy-in. If, indeed, there was such a thing as buy-in, if I was an employee there, I would be really skeptical about buy-in if I know that my own occupational health and safety group on the shop floor has to be looking over their shoulders, because some high-priced lawyer paid by the company can call the minister and get the conditions changed about an investigation, get somebody who - maybe I was working with Mr. Ross, respected him, knew him and he knew the operation, yet, you didn't deem that a good idea, didn't want to use his experience as lead investigator.
You decided after a call and that is the important thing here, is that this was not a matter of the department saying there has been an inordinate amount of accidents at that workplace, we should go and get directly involved, bring in a bigger team and let's really comb and find out what that problem is in the work site. That is not what we are talking about here, we are not talking about you being proactive that way, Mr. Minister.
The only thing you reacted to was a call from the employer. So don't try to paint this picture as one of, we are in there, we are sending the best possible team in. Until there was interference by the employer you were willing to stay on the sidelines and allow your team on the sidelines, but now that you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, you are saying, oh, we wanted to send the best possible team, what could be wrong, why would anybody be against sending the best possible team. The problem is, this was all precipitated by, I would say, one group who had a vested interest. Then when you got this call, did you go and contact the union and say, the lawyer for the firm wants the inspectors changed, what do you think of it? Was that passed on to the union and what was their advice, if it was?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would note that once again the honourable member has used the term, changing the inspector. In fact, I would remind the honourable member that we did not change the inspector, the change in the lead inspector of the new team of five was prompted by an inordinate number of complaints that came in about this particular facility; those complaints came from the union.
Given that there did not seem to be a sense of contentment between labour or management that this condition clearly required attention and in view of the fact that subsequent to this, as I think you mentioned earlier, there was an unfortunate accident, I think it shows the department acted prudently in sending in the five. Regrettably, the accident still took place. In terms of our confidence in Mr. Ross, who is the officer located in our Amherst branch, the honourable member would be pleased to know that he is the one doing the investigation of the accident.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, by the way, I have repeatedly said lead investigator. That was an interesting statement just made by the minister, there were numerous complaints by the union, no reaction but one complaint by the employer, reaction. That is exactly where I am going. Can you tell me why you reacted when the lawyer for the employer had made a complaint, but yet would not react, as you said, to numerous complaints from the union?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the honourable member for giving me the opportunity to point out to all Nova Scotians, particularly Nova Scotian employees, that whenever the union makes a complaint we do send in an investigator, and this was the case with Amherst Fabricators.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre, you have just under four minutes left in your half-hour.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I am getting conflicting signals from the minister here. He said he got complaints from the union and didn't send in his swat team but when he got a complaint from the employer, he certainly did. If we are talking about sending out signals here, that is the prime example; he reacted. We would laud the department for sending in a team when it warrants it, and that is certainly not our position. But when you replace somebody as the lead investigator and when you react primarily because you got a complaint from the employer, you have to be worried about that, Mr. Minister. That is what baffles me, this whole idea of not seeing that as a problem, that you don't see your interfering here as a problem. For you to say that this recent accident that Mr. Ross is now back as the lead investigator, one could easily say that he has gone back there with a rap and that he knows that if push comes to shove, he can be replaced as lead investigator because you have exercised your authority when the employer jerks the chain. Putting him back there, all you may do is reassign someone who has been punished.
Mr. Minister, you obviously feel that your interference in this workplace is not wrong; what you did was right. You did this on the behest of one party, not both parties. You did not even sit down with the other affected party and say, look, here is what we are contemplating doing, do you think this is appropriate. That is what OH&S is supposed to be about. It is not about buy-in but enforcement. Yet, you clearly refused to do that. You decided very early on to take one side of the story and run with it, and these workers had no rights when they were calling but a lawyer for the employer does.
I will give you one last time to answer the question. Do you feel that you, as minister, interfered in the investigation at that worksite and how do you see that by reacting to the employer's side only that that was in a fair and honest way?
MR. MORSE: Thank you to the honourable member, to once again answer his question. I would say that we certainly did take a proactive role in the department. Once again, because of quite some number of complaints that were coming forward from the
union, of course, each time there was a complaint an officer would be sent in to investigate the complaint and it was getting to the point where we felt that it really required some further action. We were pleased to send in a whole team to conduct an investigation. We regret the fact that even though we sent in a team there still was an accident after the fact and maybe that is just a vindication of the decision to send in more officers. So I want to thank the honourable member for giving me the chance to point that out.
MR. CORBETT: Much has been said this afternoon about the employer and its solicitor. Can the minister tell me who that solicitor is?
MR. MORSE: I am advised that the solicitor's name is Douglas Tupper. I am not sure of the firm with which he is with but I understand that to be the solicitor's name.
MR. CORBETT: Do you know Mr. Tupper and can you classify him as a friend of yours?
MR. MORSE: I find that an interesting question and the answer would be that to the best of my knowledge I have never met Mr. Tupper, although, I would confess that, as the honourable member I am sure would also concur, in this time in our lives when we are members of this cherished Chamber, I meet many people. Unlike one of my predecessors, one Harry Howe, I am not able to remember every face and name, so if I had met him, I have no recollection of having met him.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond, who has a little less than six minutes before the break.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, it doesn't leave me too much time to start, but I am sure we will have the opportunity after the period of interruption.
First I want to take this opportunity, having had the honour serving as the Minister of Environment under the Russell MacLellan Government, to congratulate the new minister on his appointment. Not only him, but I am sure his family and his children will be extremely proud. I certainly know it was a great honour when I was asked to serve in the Cabinet of the province. I know the minister has not had too much time to settle in to the department but I certainly hope he will get a foothold soon and that he will make sure that the environmental issues facing this province are put at the forefront by this government because, unfortunately, this being the third budgetary process we have gone through since this government was elected, unfortunately, the Department of the Environment and Labour, as the minister would know, is one of the departments that has taken the biggest hit as a result of the cutbacks by the Hamm Government. It is certainly my hope that trend will change.
See if I can get a few quick questions in, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, you will recall that last year your department made the decision to eliminate funding to the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps program. That basically left both the Department of Economic Development and Human Resources Development Canada to provide funding to that program. The effect of that was, the year we left office we had 167 students working on Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps grants throughout this province. We had 40 projects that were approved. As a result of your cuts last year, there were a mere 60 students working, 107 less than the year previous and there were only 20 projects that were approved. I am wondering if the minister could indicate to me what the status of that program is this year and whether this minister, as one of these first initiatives in the department, will restore the full funding by the Department of Environment and Labour to the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps program for this fiscal year?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the Minister of Environment and Labour with three minutes before the moment of interruption.
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the honourable member for Richmond for his kind comments and best wishes. The honourable member might be interested to know that I do pay attention to his concerns. In fact, I would like to point out that he is very consistent on the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps because he spoke passionately about this at some length in last year's estimates.
To answer his question, it will be proceeding with the same commitment as was made last year which is $75,000 provided by the Department of Economic Development and $75,000 which is contributed by Human Resources Development Canada.
We still have a couple of staff assigned to this within the department which would clearly be part of our contribution, and we look forward to another successful session. Unfortunately, as the member opposite would know well and I know would appreciate, the financial circumstances of the province has forced us to make some difficult decisions. I am very pleased that that program remains in place, but at a more modest and we feel therefore, sustainable level.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Richmond has about one and one-half minutes before recess.
MR. SAMSON: I thank the minister for his response but to say that the cuts were made for sustainability of the program I think borders on the ridiculous. Cuts being made is all about priorities. This government had to determine what its priorities were. This minister had to determine what his priorities were. This program is an essential program to the youth of this province to establish an awareness and allow them to have a direct impact on environmental and remediation and protection in this province. Yet, the minister is prepared
to sit there and say, look, it was cut by my predecessor, I support that cut and I am not prepared to fight to try to get that funding back.
It is almost questionable why this program remains with the Department of Environment and Labour. It is quite odd to see a department operate a program for which it provides absolutely zero funding and yet relies on HRDC and the Department of Economic Development. I am pleased to see that the number, the funding has remained the same but once again, because of the increase in minimum wage, again, I would anticipate that there will be less positions available this year. So if there were 60 positions last year, I would assume that there is going to be less this year because of the fact the funding has not increased to reflect minimum wage. We will certainly discuss this and more things after the moment of interruption.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. As it is 6:00 p.m. and it is time for late debate, we will recess until 6:30 p.m. The committee is adjourned.
[6:00 p.m. The committee adjourned.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to call the Committee to order. The honourable member for Richmond has the floor.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, when we left off we were speaking on the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps and your government's decision, once again, not to provide any funding to this program through the Department of the Environment and Labour. I am curious, you already mentioned that the economic development money was the same, HRDC money was the same but, as I pointed out, the minimum wage has gone up. It has had an impact on the Department of Economic Development through its provincial employment program.
My question to you now is, how many projects do you anticipate approving under this and how many students will be employed under this program?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Chairman, again, somebody who does not forget what is important to him over time, I think that says something about his level of caring and I want to commend the member for being consistent. To answer two of the concerns he brought up prior to the break and his question he articulated again here just now in terms of the numbers, there are 65 students and 25 projects. As to his point about defending the funding, yes, indeed, I bear some of the responsibility for the funding, or if you wish to put it, the lack of funding. I felt that Nova Scotians were looking for the funding to be put in the water strategy
and the sewage strategy. So, yes, in the department, we have made choices and our choices went with water and sewage.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I find it amusing for the minister to sound so holy as he says they have made their priorities to be in the water and sewage management. As the minister knows, I certainly hope he doesn't think those are the only two priorities his department should have or that he should have. Those are major concerns but there is a lot more to the Department of the Environment and Labour than water, waste management, sewer management study.
Will the minister commit today to lobbying the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economic Development and the Premier's Office so that the Department of Environment and Labour can restore that funding to the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps program and to get those employment numbers back up there. In the end, Mr. Chairman, as you well know, many of these projects went to community groups throughout this province who have been working hard to restore our rivers, to restore our waterways and who do a tremendous amount of work with very limited funds, mostly on a volunteer basis. This was a means of not only assisting those organizations, it was also a means of putting our young people to work, teaching them to be stewards of our environment for the rest of their lives and for them to share with their friends and for them to share with their children after that.
So will the minister commit to this House today to lobbying his colleagues so the department can reinstate that funding which should never have been taken out of the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps program?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, again, I want to thank the honourable member for bringing his concerns forward. In terms of lobbying my colleagues, the honourable member would perhaps be interested to know that the original budget target in October 2000 was some $23,971,000 and as a result of concerns brought forward from my department we were able to acquire another $3,173,300. The focus on that, of course, has been the presence of front-line service and indeed, resources to put into the sewer strategy and the water strategy. Yes, more money did come into the department but it has not been allocated to that specific area.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, again, as I said, it is all about priorities. The Minister of Finance had a choice to restore funding to this program, he made the decision not to do so. I can't fault him for decisions made by his government prior to his accepting that post, but he had an option here and he personally chose not to invest in that. I think that is a very unfortunate thing.
It is bad enough if we are looking at more cuts in this department, financially, but for the minister to stand here and say he had an additional $3.5 million to invest and $75,000 could not be found for the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps program, unfortunately,
Mr. Minister, is a very sad statement. Really, when one thinks your government and your Minister of Finance continue to say they are investing in children and they are investing in youth, you have an awfully funny way of showing it and until you decide to show leadership on this yourself, no one else is going to come and do it for you. It is a decision you are going to have to decide whether you believe in this program or you do not believe in this program.
Mr. Chairman, one of the other important programs out there was the water-fee credit program. That program was one in which heavy industrial users of water in this province were charged a licensing fee for using that water. The government had put in a program in which certain of these large users, a portion of what was supposed to be paid directly to the province as a fee, they were permitted to donate this to organizations in their areas and throughout this province for matters relating to water enhancement, river enhancement, stream enhancement, those types of things. Before last year and before the Tories took office, this program allowed $475,000 to be reinvested in community organizations throughout this province.
Let me say it again, $475,000; a very significant number. Having Stora Forest Industries in my own riding, I can tell you of the many community organizations which benefited from this program and benefited from Stora being able to give money to them for their projects. Nova Scotia Power was another integral player in this. Last year the then Minister of the Environment brought in a budget in which the Department of the Environment chose to keep within its coffers $200,000 of the $475,000 that was previously allocated to these community organizations through the industrial users. My question to the minister is, what is the status today of the water-fee credit program in this province? Have you made any further changes to that program other than what I have just described to you?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member from bringing attention to this program. Yes, indeed, there was a time two years ago when 50 per cent of those water fees that were collected from industrial users - and there were five of them that used more than 23,000 litres per day - allowed them to have 50 per cent of that money back to contribute to the community for projects that met the criteria that were laid out in conjunction with the department. Last year we chose to reduce that to 25 per cent and the member is quite right, we now keep all those revenues in the department and we make the decisions as to how we feel those monies could best be invested back into protecting the environment in the province.
While I appreciate the fact that the member is perhaps supportive of allowing industry to make some of those decisions, we have taken it upon ourselves to determine that the public wants the Department of Environment and Labour to make those decisions.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, once again it is up to the Opposition to get this government to come clean with what it is doing to these programs which affect Nova Scotians so much. Last year they left $275,000 to be reinvested in communities, that was
enough of a kick; this year they finished the kick, no more money through the water-fee credit program.
Mr. Minister, I have to tell you, as I said before, I cannot fault you for decisions that were made prior to you entering this department. Eliminating this program is a disgrace, nothing short of a disgrace. Community organizations throughout this province will suffer now because your government, the same government that eliminated the stream bank enhancement program, which benefitted the area of the Minister of Health to a great degree, you eliminated that. Last year you cut $200,000 from the water-fee credit program and now you have completely withdrawn that.
Mr. Minister, I have to take exception to your comment that your department did not have input to where this money went, that is not accurate. The Department of Environment and Labour worked directly with these five industrial users in assessing who should be able to access this money and to make sure it was appropriately spent. So for the minister to say today this was taken away from those five industrial users because the Department of Environment and Labour felt they were in a better position to determine who that should go to, is not an accurate statement. I would say it is an insult to those five industrial users who are very responsible citizens in this province and investing that money to the appropriate groups in a fair and equitable manner.
My question is, if you have now taken all of that money, will the minister now tell us how much money is going to be given to these organizations based on what he said, the Department of Environment and Labour is in a better position to determine who should get this money. How much of that $475,000 that your government has clawed back from Nova Scotians are you prepared to give back to them?
MR. MORSE: The department - and I certainly do take responsibility for this as the minister - has determined that it is more important to direct those resources into providing our core services and accordingly, we have made that determination.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I asked the minister to make it clear. You had $475,000, last year you took $200,000 of that and you kept it. This year you are taking the remaining $275,000 and you stood in this House and said the department is in a better position to determine who should get these funds. On further questioning, you have now admitted your government will not reinvest one cent of this directly into these community organizations through the form of grants. Is that your statement today? That your department, the Department of Environment and Labour, under the water-fee credit program or any other program does not have any funds available for grants to these organizations to assist them in their endeavours, is that correct?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I know that the honourable member is a man of detail and he would want to know that the amount that is being dropped is actually $200,000 this year, not the number you just shared with the House.
Of course, there are many ways one can support the community and by providing the resources and the programs to help protect their environment, we feel, is the appropriate role of the Department of Environment and Labour. So, in answer to the question, we will not be providing grants to communities for those purposes in this fiscal year.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I know that when the minister made that correction, it was not $275,000, it was $200,000. I saw the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley clap, I saw the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury clap. I hope they will go back to their ridings because I know those two ridings had associations in there that benefited the most from these programs and I hope they will go back to their salmon associations, to their different stream associations.
I remember the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, I spoke at a meeting out there and I remember one of the programs they had was to put in fish ladders in different streams to allow for the running of salmon and for the continued growth of that. That is now gone under this government and these guys clap. That is a lot to be proud of and I encourage you to go back and say, list of accomplishments in Halifax, well, managed to cut any sort of funding which you used to receive, that is now gone. Here is my list of accomplishments. I just can't believe it.
Will the minister tell us today, as an open and accountable government, when you stood in your place to speak in your opening comments which I am told took over at least one hour, or very close to one hour, why did you not tell, openly and honestly to those organizations throughout this province who are sitting down thinking they were going to get this money, trying to do some planning in the spring to hire students and to have that funding, why did you, sir, not tell those organizations the truth, that you had eliminated the funding to them and had no intentions of providing them with any sort of funding for the hard work they do? Why did you not tell us that up front? It took my questioning to ferret this out; why did you not say it right off the bat?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Minister of Environment and Labour has two minutes.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think there is no question that the public today has a great concern over the environment. The tragic events of Walkerton last year highlighted the need for enhanced water protection strategies, intertwined with that, of course, is the sewage strategy. I think that if Nova Scotians were asked whether they would like to take our scarce resources and apply it to giving out grants to worthy community organizations who have done good work or to make the appropriate enhancements to our water strategy, to our sewer strategy, I would be very surprised - perhaps with the exception of the honourable
member, although he might want to comment on that - that anyone would want to take anything away from developing a safe and secure water supply, not only today for Nova Scotians, but for the future, for our children and our grandchildren.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, this government has been sitting on that water strategy since it was first elected. That water strategy was ready to roll out when they were elected. I can't blame the minister for that because he just got in that department, but they made a decision not to roll that out when it could have.
To now say that all of that money has gone into this is a farce. I have to say, unless I see something different from the minister I am left to conclude that he is misleading this House by telling Nova Scotians that that information . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please. Today's time for consideration of the estimates has expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee do now rise, report considerable progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
[MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.]
[6:48 p.m. The committee rose.]