HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, would you please continue with the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, more specifically Resolution Nos. 39, 49, 50, and 51.
MR. SPEAKER: I believe we're continuing with the honourable member for Kings North? No. Then we're moving over to the New Democratic Party for one hour.
The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: My time is only going to be short, and then I'll be turning it over to my PC colleague.
Mr. Chairman, through you to the Minister of TIR, my understanding is, and concerned residents of Queens-Shelburne have brought this to my attention, there is a regional allotment of TIR money to each particular region, that is my understanding. The scenario is that it was found that, for instance, $75,000 of the Shelburne TIR office could be returned to the provincial coffers, and the question is if this is our scenario that it has been proven that the manager of the area would get a bonus. This is the question; people have raised this with me and I had an opportunity to bring this forward and I ask for the minister to comment on if there was money that was not being utilized in a particular region would that money be returned to the provincial coffers and would that manager receive a bonus?
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to the member's question. That is certainly something that I have never heard of before; that is the first time I have ever heard that suggestion about bonuses for returning money. Obviously, with some of the conditions that we have with the roads, I do not know of any situations where money for particular line items for the maintenance work that we do would be returned to the coffers. In any event, obviously, we do not see many opportunities or situations where we would be underspent in the regional areas with the districts so we do not really see where money is returned that would be normally used for maintenance. But with respect to employees getting bonuses, I have certainly never heard or encountered or have ever come across that certainly in my tenure at Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; and I believe the answer is no.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and this will be my last question. I will ask the question in another way; was there money in a particular region, the Tri-County region, Queens-Shelburne, that was underspent last year?
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, the answer again is no. The only flexibility is if there is any underspending in particular items it would be the summer versus winter and, obviously, if that is the case then the remainder would go into the other season. So, again, from Bruce's recollection and anything I have come across with TIR, we spend all of our resources, all those line items. The regional allotments are completely spent and certainly put to good use. So, from our recollection, there is not anything that has been underspent and there is certainly no bonus structure for employees.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.
MR. JOACHIM STROINK: Thank you very much. I guess you know I am one of the very few MLAs that ever called the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal about roads, and I think he is quite grateful that I never call him.
You know, with the riding of Chebucto being in a municipality, you do not tend to call the department very often to discuss roads or bridges or anything like that; so it is a very unique opportunity and I think I would like to take this opportunity to commend all my colleagues that have to deal with roads on a continuous basis for their constituents and the hard work and dedication that they all work towards all their constituents for potholes and snow clearing and all that. So, as a member for Halifax, I say thank you to the rural MLAs who have to deal with this because it is not easy when you have a department so large as TIR and so many regions and everything like that and encouraging your community and your constituencies to reach out to talk to you about their conditions of roads; so, I am grateful that I do not have to go to the minister and talk to him about that.
The one thing I would be remiss if I did not talk about for my riding specifically, and we will start with active transportation. You know, active transportation in the City of Halifax is a big issue that does well under the department but also in Nova Scotia as a whole we have some great initiatives and one of those initiatives I would like the minister to expand on is the Blue Route. The Blue Route has become a big part of Nova Scotia, and it is a huge, successful project that we are expanding on and growing and this is a real big tourism initiative to allow for people to travel around Nova Scotia on the roads and trails and rails to trails to do that. So, I will ask the minister just to touch base on and talk about the Blue Route and how we are expanding or growing that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to my colleague behind me for that question. I know that while the member does not have any roads in particular that have provincial jurisdiction in his riding he takes every opportunity to be critical of me for certain things and looking for stuff so just because he does not have roads does not mean he is not on me I guess is the point of that. But the member that just asked that question is a great advocate not only for his community and the people he proudly represents here in metro but also for that very important initiative of active transportation, getting use of alternative methods of transportation that certainly feed into healthy lifestyles and active living so that is something of a hallmark for that member. He does very well and any time there is an initiative of that nature under the jurisdiction of government, particularly for TIR, he always offers insight and input and opinion and expertise that he certainly has. We do appreciate his feedback and I know that the question was not planned, it came from the heart and I know that the member supports the Blue Route.
With respect to that, as many would know, we launched the Blue Route actually from Pictou last year as part of the official launch. The idea is that we would promote active transportation and use that Blue Route trail as a grid and network for identifying areas in the province that can be earmarked for cycling and cycling transportation and any form of active transportation. So, what we essentially will do, in a nutshell, is that we will identify areas that exist now with the grid and that obviously tie into safe paths that are existing and look to designate those as part of that provincial Blue Route system. Then, of course, the bigger issue essentially and the goal over the next number of years is to really link as much of the province as we can by way of this particular route.
What we will do with transportation directly to our infrastructure investment is create the shoulder or trails where the opportunity presents itself, to designate those and make that physical investment in the infrastructure; so having a flat, straight pathway for cyclists, for walkers, joggers, all those who use different options for active transportation to really get out there and enjoy the province.
Obviously, it impacts on the community. There was a great turnout in Pictou. The member for Pictou West was there as well to cut that ribbon and participate in that particular ceremony. Really what we want to do is emulate that across the province so, when you look at the impact that that had on that particular community, that is really what the idea is. So, when you establish these Blue Routes in populated areas and link them by way of the Blue Route - so it could be on highway shoulders, secondary roads, and again other active transportation paths that are in existence. It certainly is a significant investment that we will make. The best part about it for us at this point is that it is part of that natural infrastructure build. So when we are looking at a corridor and area for repaving, restructuring the rebuilding of a roadway, we can incorporate the principles and therefore the physical space for the Blue Route.
So, it is a popular initiative so far but certainly, there is a lot of work to go. We have pieces of the grid build constructed now; we will continue to add to that over time but certainly, like many other trails, paths, and active transportation initiatives that exist in Nova Scotia and across the province, this certainly will never be done with government alone. There are investments that we will make and they will be significant from a financial perspective but at the end of the day we need organizations and groups that the member supports and is part of, Bicycle Nova Scotia and the work that they do. There is a number of different organizations in society that would utilize this and be helping not only with promoting it but with identifying the active transportation areas that we could support.
So, we have just gotten started; we are looking at about 30 kilometres of Blue Route extension for 2016-17 so, if we can continue on at 30 kilometres per year, or in that range, then certainly we will get to a longer distance over the next couple of years. Of course, when we take those paths that are already low-lying fruit so to speak, to be able to incorporate them as part of the broader Blue Route, that is going to be very significant and we can only do that with the help of non-profit organizations and many of the active transportation stakeholders that support the Blue Route, appreciate the intent of it, and continue to grow it.
So, that is an important thing that we are doing that sometimes slips under the radar; but, I think, as it grows over time and gains momentum, gains in popularity, we will see not only Nova Scotians use and enjoy all that the Blue Route has to offer but of course tourists who visit this great province will be able to really design their trips and design their active transportation initiatives when they are here around the Blue Route.
I do appreciate the question, and I know the member will be there in lockstep with us to offer suggestions and ideas on how we strengthen not only the Blue Route but all of our active transportation infrastructure in the province.
MR. STROINK: Thank you very much and I guess that is where I think government's role has a very fundamental importance of creating a foundation for active transportation and to change the dialogue of active transportation to a greater discussion piece. He knows that I have been harassing him quite regularly on active transportation especially when it comes to longboarding, but we won't go there today.
The whole discussion is more about opening up the conversation about active transportation as a sense of it is more than walking and cycling but it is walking, running, cycling, scootering, skateboarding, longboarding, or any other form of active transportation. Can you imagine, I know the minister would be greatly happy if people were more active on the roads, especially in rural areas because then the wearing of the roads would not happen as much and then the MLAs would not be calling him as much, so there is a great benefit to the active transportation side of things for his sanity and for the health of Nova Scotia and his health especially.
So, I guess with that, you know, I think we talked a bit about the ability to expand the active transportation and have a minister's panel on addressing those issues on a greater discussion. I think that is where I am kind of leading to now in this conversation, is the minister of the department that kind of deals with this and your plans to create the minister's panel on active transportation. We need to look at expanding that here in Nova Scotia and with your guidance I am sure we can go down that road and have a great, lengthy discussion about that. So, I kind of throw it over to you because I do believe that we need to have open and very transparent dialogue for the community as a whole.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just a reminder to honourable members not to direct questions directly to you.
The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and you can appreciate the difficulty knowing that we are literally like six inches away from each other. So, it is hard not to engage in that discussion-type format but we appreciate the rules, yes sir.
So, look, again, with respect to that idea around active transportation and where we go from here, I think there is the importance of gathering the stakeholders who fundamentally focus a lot of their efforts whether they be social or economic with shops and store owners who are participating in this type of industry in this sector with respect to active transportation. The member who asked the question posed that idea of an AT committee and I think that it was a great idea; it is something that we are going to embark on and I will certainly look to the member and other members of our caucus and elected officials to really add some of that leadership, add some of that experience.
You know the department, the officials we have that are focused on the Blue Route for example but the greater AT concept and the idea of getting people healthy and active. We are there and it is part of the network now but I think you need that fresh perspective externally and it certainly is not just TIR; you know, you see the tie-in with Education; you certainly see the tie-in with Health and Wellness and the Minister of Health and Wellness being a proponent of these types of activities too and how they really impact the overall health and vitality of Nova Scotians.
So, I think when we talk about things like pedestrian safety and that really was one of the issues that the member brought forward with respect to the AT committee and we spoke about one issue where we brought in legislation was on the use of Segways and some of the reaction, for the most part, you know people understood that Segway was a niche market, could be used for tourism and of course transportation around the city but some of the stakeholders in the AT community that the member deals with and talks to, communicates and has relationships with on a daily basis suggest that that is great and if that is where people want to go in terms of transportation that is fine but let us mesh in a little bit more of that AT concept particularly in metro but really across the province and make it more of a province-wide consultation with people who really have a vested interest and a real deep understanding of what this means and how it impacts our society.
So, I think that the compilation of that AT committee is important and we have made that commitment to the member that we would start looking at what would make up that committee, what the mandate would be, what kind of timelines we establish. Again, Mr. Chairman, I think that what is important is this is not always about budget. Of course, there are fiscal realities to these investments and again, when we look at our capital plan and how we integrate AT infrastructure into our larger projects, that helps, there is no question about that but I think what the member would tell you is that in many instances it is not about funding and financing necessarily; it is more about that policy and changing the mindset of all of us to really appreciate what it means for active living and how it impacts your health.
Of course, sharing the road and having it built into the mindset of drivers that pedestrians and active transportation users, cyclists, scooters, longboarders, are out there and that we have a shared responsibility. That is where a lot of our policy overlaps with respect to road safety and public safety in the work that is done by the Road Safety Advisory Committee - which is really the arm's-length body that dictates a lot of our policy with TIR - certainly provides opinions, feedback, and some advice on how we move forward. I think that what RSAC does with respect to road safety could be emulated almost with respect to the AT committee and how they would provide that same type of feedback and ideas on how we get to a better place with respect to our AT grid and our overall infrastructure in the province.
I look forward to the work of the committee; we are in the early stages of conceptualizing what exactly it would look like and establishing the formal process but we will get there. Again, I think that is something that requires a little out-of-the-box thinking and the member has brought that to our attention; that is certainly something we are going to pursue.
MR. STROINK: Thank you very much. You know, I think that is where a lot of Nova Scotians in my riding would greatly appreciate that kind of open conversation and dialogue. You know, a lot of the people that live in my riding also bike around in the riding of Atlantic around the Purcells Cove-Herring Cove loop. You know, those are opportunities there that we can create great opportunity for active living and active lifestyle.
I guess I kind of want to change direction a bit now to bring up a topical discussion that a lot of people talked about already in the House, and I kind of want to use this opportunity for yourself and for people that might be listening right now to understand how the ferry industry works as a whole; you know, it is a very broad discussion piece to kind of open this kind of a dialogue.
In Nova Scotia or in, as a whole, when the ferry was cut from Yarmouth to Portland, an unbelievable amount of businesses suffered, especially in southwest Nova Scotia. You know, there were businesses closing, they were losing 18 per cent to 20 per cent of sales. For a large demographic population of Nova Scotia, this was a very hard adjustment to redesign their businesses and try to recover from this and some people were not able to recover; some people had to close their businesses. When you are down there right now and you talk to the people who have a bed and breakfast and hotels and restaurants, they are so excited because finally their restaurants are full again, their hotels are full again, they are hiring people again and so the social economics behind that is huge. I think we have to acknowledge some of that and we have to have that in a very pragmatic format, that discussion that yes this is helping an unbelievable amount of Nova Scotians.
I guess where I want to start touching base - and you probably cannot answer this but maybe you can talk a little bit about it ?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please.
Please do the best you can not to use the word "you" and pose your questions through the Chair.
The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.
MR. STROINK: So, maybe then the minister can expand on this little conversation piece that I want to have here.
Let us start with Newfoundland and the ferry, and let us talk about the Digby ferry. Those are federal ferries and I guess, so that people can understand, there is a large amount of subsidies that go into those and maybe the minister can expand a little bit on that to explain to Nova Scotians how those ferries were coinciding with Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank the member for the question, certainly a topical one for budget estimates and for overall policy and decisions for our province at a very key time with respect to the Nova Scotia ferry that runs from Yarmouth to Portland.
Look, it is one of those issues for us, thinking back to 2010 when I was first elected, it really dominated discussion for a number of years. The member in particular, my good friend and my classmate, the MLA for Yarmouth, elected on the same day and when we came in, that was the issue not only for that member but certainly for the member for Argyle-Barrington as well, being two local MLAs with direct understanding of what the impact was but of course all members across the province, certainly in the southern region of Nova Scotia, of all stripes, but across the province it was a big issue. I was only elected a few months in 2010 when I participated in a tourism panel in Cape Breton, and the number one issue coming from the dozen or so operators in that meeting was the impact of the Yarmouth ferry being eliminated. So, it was certainly a large issue back then and to think where we are today with respect to the return of the service, where we are today with respect to the return of Mark MacDonald and Bay Ferries, a lot of things have happened over those six years and I think that we are in a better place.
I look at the Party support, and I think that the Official Opposition has a varying degree of opinion and perspective on what we should have done. I think that fundamentally I would have to believe that they do support the service; I have not heard to the contrary from anyone that they would eliminate it so I believe that that is where they are. With respect to the New Democratic Party, it was interesting - not to replay all of history for the member - but it was interesting to hear clearly that they were the Party that made that decision back in 2010 and clearly, that was a tough decision that really impacted a lot of people and I will get into that impact in a second.
For many of us - and this is not a political message, this is a point to get something on the record, I thought it was very admirable to hear the former Premier, Darrell Dexter, in an interview with Steve Murphy, talk about that decision in the larger context. I have said this many times on many issues; you make decisions based on what you are looking at on paper in terms of budgets and what you think is the best move from a dollars-and-cents perspective and sometimes, you can get inside that bubble and lose the bigger piece. I think that according to Premier Darrell Dexter, when he talked about that, it was that larger perspective. Some of the questioning was about the economic impact, the economic assessment and that is where I think the significance is of what the member is asking.
It was devastating. There was no question about it and, coming from a place where we were really supported for decades by steel-making and coal extraction and having government subsidies from both the federal government and the provincial government, you begin to, from my own perspective, really appreciate what the situation was down in Yarmouth County and all of southern Nova Scotia. It was business after business, tourism operator after tourism operator and it really expanded outside of tourism into the everyday businesses, entrepreneurs, really the private sector as a whole, really, really suffered from those decisions. Having to go into the Rodd Grand Yarmouth hotel, for example, with a subsidy to keep them afloat only a year or so after the service was cut, was very telling about really what the true impact was particularly for the Town of Yarmouth in that case but again spreading across the entire region and how much it damaged that area.
There is a lot to be said for that economic impact, and I think that we are getting to the better place. If you look at four years of dormancy and how that impacted hotels and restaurants and tourism service providers, craft stores, all kinds of retail outlets and to see really how that hit, and then we see the return - and the member had discussed the return of the Nova Star, the previous operator; and, even with all of the challenges that we have experienced, the significant investment that we made and the fact that we did have that service return and it did not bear the success that we hoped it would; obviously, at the end of the day, there still has been a positive impact.
While we recognize the fact that that was not the right fit for us with respect to the operator that was in place with Nova Star, we realize that, again, the importance of this service for the people of southern Nova Scotia and all the province, it truly is an economic lifeline. The history, the societal impact that it has, the fact that this is a transportation link to the most lucrative tourism and really private sector markets in the world, the northeastern United States; so when you are connected to the New England States, it is significant and I think that looking at that whole investment - we spent $220 million per year in capital for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to link us and to have these connections across the province. It has been said many times and I see the merit in this analogy, this really is the extension of a highway. So, we have got that link, albeit for the summer months, the tourism season but it is an important one and I think that when you look at the tourism opportunities, when you look at the overall connection to the State of Maine and that New England area, it is hard to understate the significance.
When you look at the amount of feedback we have had in positive directions, there is no question that people have asked about the investment and the agreement and when is it going to stabilize and solidify which is certainly reasonable for people to ask. Many from that particular area of the province, Mr. Chairman, are overly supportive not only of protecting that service and ensuring that it is in place, they believe in Mark MacDonald and they believe in Bay Ferries and they believe that when Mark MacDonald came to the table to participate in this process to put together the business model that we are going to embark on in June of this year that he believes in it and he understands the challenges associated with this market and with this link. But it is real and it is in front of us and it is important to never give up on the southern region of Nova Scotia and what this means for those people. Mark understands that and he knows that. We are not giving up on that, and I truly believe, with the structure of the agreement, it is a 10-year agreement with Bay Ferries, but it is two years of financing. So, after that second year is over, everyone in this Chamber, every Nova Scotian will understand the performance, the success, any challenges that have existed, where the market is going, what the growth has looked like, all of those aspects.
So, we have started at a point of 60,000 passengers because that is essentially where we have been in the last two years, that is our baseline. So the costs and the revenues were structured around those particular numbers and now, we have put that agreement that we feel is the best agreement that we could have in place. Mark MacDonald was at the table because he is our partner. It is not that he saw an opportunity other than to help Nova Scotia help the province. That is a big part of who he is with Bay Ferries. I think that with the operator we have in place, with the agreement, with what the future looks like, we have put ourselves in a strong position and it is a challenging market at this point because of those four years of dormancy and there is a lot of work to do but we have got the right partner in place.
I have mentioned on a number of occasions that the previous deal that was struck with Mark MacDonald and Bay Ferries that was done by the Progressive Conservative Government of 2009 and the operational number, per year, was basically the same as what it is right now. Now, I do not say that for comparison. I do not want to compare seven years ago with what we are doing today; I stand behind our government and the decisions we have made but the reality is, the reason why I continue to mention that is because of this simple fact, Mark MacDonald is a credible business person who understands the importance of this service. He understood it in 2009; he understands it today. Much of the agreement, the funding relationship, the envelopes are very similar because he identified the cost structures, what would be required from an operational basis to run this service from Nova Scotia to Maine; that is what it was then, that is what it is now.
You know, it is a little tough; I have gotten to know Mark quite well in the last couple of months and I see what he is all about and I guess, that is an opportunity that not many others get to see. This is about this province, it is about this service, and, it is about what it means from an economic, a social, a historical basis so that is why he is in this game and I think that it is important to recognize that and, I truly believe and I will stand in my place and say this on the record and I will continue to say it, that we will get this service to the right place. I believe the market is there to sustain this service; I believe that the performance will speak for itself over the next couple of years but we have got a little bit of way to go to repair that market, get that marketing, reach that demographic that is going to not only take the ferry but come here for a number of days.
We need that disposable income from American travellers. That is what we need. We need them here in our province enjoying every bit from the northern shores of Cape Breton all the way to Yarmouth and all points in between. So, I think that is where we are going. I believe we have the best model we could have; we certainly have the right partner and we will get there.
With respect to the subsidies, you look at the importance of the large ferry services that we have. You have got Marine Atlantic in North Sydney; you have got Wood Islands in Pictou; you have got Digby-Saint John; and of course, we have Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to Maine. Every one of these services are heavily subsidized; every one of them have a niche market that they are looking to capture; every one of them play an incredibly vital economic role in the communities they serve. I talked to the member for Northside-Westmount about this at length in the last couple of weeks actually because of some of the questions we are having with the future of Marine Atlantic, about the operational side of it and we could not imagine, not only North Sydney but our entire industrial Cape Breton, what that service, Marine Atlantic, has meant to our area from the direct jobs at the terminal, to the stevedores, to the services that are relied on within North Sydney, the retail shops; and, it spreads out from North Sydney to Sydney Mines into downtown Sydney, all across the former mining communities; it really has a significant impact from direct employment to the indirect spinoff.
Pictou, the Wood Islands run to Prince Edward Island, same thing; it is the seasonal nature of course and it peaks in the tourism months but obviously that community would look drastically different without that service being there. Again, operated by a credible, distinguished, and experienced operator, Mark MacDonald, of Bay Ferries. So, if you look at the performance of that particular run to the member, that is done by the same person, the same operation that we have in place for the Nova Scotia ferry service to Maine.
That is not insignificant, Mr. Chairman. That means that he has run these models; he understands the Nova Scotia tourism component, the tourism concept and he is there with his other runs. Digby-Saint John, obviously, there is a significant impact on the trucking exports that are coming from southern Nova Scotia. Also, Bay Ferries, Mark MacDonald, incredibly well run. They just added the Fundy Rose, the new vessel, to their fleet which certainly will be there well into the future and the next number of years.
With respect to some of the things that happen on the commercial trucking side, if there is anything we can do to improve that service and help the local truckers, then, obviously, we are going to do that but it is important to remember that that is a credible service, it is run very well out of Digby, it impacts the community of Digby, certainly impacts Saint John, New Brunswick, on that side; and the experience is a good one.
Of course, now, we have the Nova Scotia ferry from Yarmouth to Portland, the same thing. Again, having the opportunity for myself to be inside this and watch Mark develop this model, what he has done on the terminal side with Yarmouth and with the community in southwest Nova Scotia, on the Portland side the amount of respect and trust and confidence they have that Mark and Bay Ferries will do a good job and meet the requirements that they have on the Portland side, it is significant.
The relationship and the ability for Mark MacDonald and Bay Ferries to acquire this particular vessel, the CAT, it was something that has never been done before, unprecedented. Now, is that something we are going to celebrate publicly and try to take some kind of credit for the work that Mark MacDonald does? We are not. No one would be overly concerned with the process for getting the vessel but reaching into the U.S. Navy, having those relationships on the cruise ferry side that Mark has had, the credibility to know that they would be talking to a fair and reasonable partner for how this agreement would work it was a good thing.
The fact that Mark got this done in the timeline that he did is a testament to his skill and abilities and his commitment in itself. Looking at the overall process of getting a U.S. Navy vessel as part of a lease agreement with a private sector Canadian operator, that is not something that would normally be done in the number of weeks that Mark had used to get the agreement in place. It would take months if not longer.
So, the fact that we were able to pull all this together through Bay Ferries and Mark MacDonald I think speaks volumes to what he is. I understand that there was feedback from the public across the province and I think now the proof will be in the pudding in terms of market performance. We have got to get to that demographic, that target market in the U.S., to make sure they're taking the ferry, and those numbers will be important. But at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do.
Back to the member's original question, ferries are subsidized, and we just have to make sure that we keep that open dialogue with Mark MacDonald, we keep that open relationship and that strong agreement with the State of Maine and the people of Portland, and we continue to support the southern Nova Scotia economy. In more heavily populated areas, there's a little bit of diversity with respect to the economics and what happens and some things are lost and some things are gained. When you take away a vital direct employer and indirect provider of that very important tourism income, the region certainly feels it. Southern Nova Scotia and the entire province felt that for four years. We were seeing that recovery even with the Nova Star in place, but I think that we're going to see even stronger results and better growth with Bay Ferries at the helm, and we're glad to be part of that relationship.
MR. STROINK: What I want to lead to now, still on the topic of ferries, we have these wonderful ferries that are coming into the province via different avenues. We also have the airport for example, which is also subsidized. There's an increasing number of people coming in and out of that area.
One thing that we haven't talked about is the amount of money that we spend on our little ferries in Nova Scotia. We're spending roughly $8.3 million; I think that's the total amount that we're spending on ferries. What I don't think Nova Scotians really realize about the importance of the Englishtown ferry or especially the Pictou Island ferry is that these ferries are crucial to people moving around the province. If we don't invest in those infrastructures - and we are investing a large sum of money, $8.3 million, in these rural communities to ensure that we're going to have people moving from place to place.
Let's take one ferry as an example: the Pictou Island ferry. What people might not realize is that ferry is 100 per cent subsidized - I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure it's 100 per cent subsidized. That's a large amount of money - no revenue coming in from that ferry. When people are critical about the Yarmouth ferry, they also have to look at their own ferries and how much they're being subsidized. Let's take the Englishtown ferry, which is not as largely subsidized, it's subsidized at roughly 43 per cent. What I'm trying to get at is we have a wide range from 43 per cent to 100 per cent of ferries being subsidized, in that dollar figure amount. The average for Nova Scotia ferries is about 83 per cent. So you can see that the ferry business as a whole is a subsidized industry.
Rural communities need to understand the importance of subsidizing ferries. We go back to the southwest part of Nova Scotia; they're going to benefit greatly from the Yarmouth ferry. The community of Pictou is going to succeed from the subsidies coming from the Pictou Island ferry, and also the P.E.I. to Pictou ferry is subsidized; both those ferries are subsidized. Englishtown ferry is subsidized. LaHave River ferry is subsidized. These are all key tourist aspects of transportation around Nova Scotia. I enjoy taking the LaHave River ferry; you end up right next to the LaHave bakery, and you can grab some great fresh bread there. Those are neat things that we don't realize we have in our communities.
I don't think a lot of Nova Scotians understand how much they are subsidized. I guess that's where I'm trying to go with this conversation piece with the minister here, just walking Nova Scotians through. All our areas of transportation are subsidized: the airport, the amount of people who fly into Halifax and disperse from there, subsidized; from there going on to our ferries, subsidized; our roads, getting from point A to point B, subsidized.
When you're starting to be critical about something, you have to be really - I'm a big believer of seek to understand. So why are we doing this? This is the way ferries are done. I guess that's where the minister has an opportunity to explain to Nova Scotians how our little cluster of eight ferries, I think it is, works within each area of Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLELLAN: Certainly there's a lot of value for the ferries that we operate, the seven in the fleet plus the Pictou ferry, which is privately operated, but which we do support financially. The reality is that this year end, we allocated $9.4 million for the seven runs that we have directly and collected about $1.4 million in revenue. So there is a significant shortfall there.
Everyone will remember when we increased the fees as part of last year's budget, the reaction wasn't a happy one, wasn't positive. But again, an effort to address that gap between what we spend on ferries and what we take in - that was part of that. Obviously, we held the line this year because of a lot of that feedback and the reaction from those particular communities.
One of the things we talked about in different parts of our estimates here, Mr. Chairman, was that things look a certain way on paper, but when you get into how it impacts communities and it impacts people, you see it through a different lens and understand the importance of maintaining and protecting and, where possible, enhancing services. I think what the member is talking about is very significant.
Every one of these ferries is a critical pillar to the communities they serve. I know the one I'm probably the most intimate with would be the Englishtown ferry - very, very challenging. First of all, it's our highest traffic, highest vehicle count, of the seven that we operate and the eight in total short-run ferries that we have in the province. There are very, very challenging weather conditions. It is a cable ferry, so it operates on a cable; there is no engine. So any time that cable's in jeopardy, whether it be ice flow, wind conditions, the ocean meeting the lake water - it can be tough, and people certainly get frustrated. The drive-around is a relatively long one, so there's lots of challenges when the Englishtown, the Torquil MacLean, ferry is down.
But overall, when you look at the fleet and look at what it means in every part of the province, it's significant. People don't want their ferries taken away. They don't want the service interrupted. They want those in place. That's why we're holding the line on those. When you look at not only the operational cost of $9.4 million versus $1.4 million in revenue, there's obviously a capital cost as well, not only in capital upgrades - repairing ferries can be very expensive, but it's not something that we would shy away from, again, because of that community and cultural importance and, of course, the transportation value as well. Getting across the waterways as opposed to driving around, where that's possible, is a key convenience that should be in place. Then obviously there are ferries where there is no drive-around, and they become vital lifelines to those respective communities.
Visiting the Tancook Islands last year was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me, to see how that ferry service impacted the culture and the way of life for the people of the Tancooks. It was a great experience. But when you look at the capital costs to keep those vessels in play and keep them running, there's a lot to put out there to ensure that they're safe and operating properly.
Then of course there's the capital costs. We're adding a new ferry to the Digby Island run, and that ferry will be in the range of about $8 million in total cost to build it - $8 million to $10 million, in that range. I haven't updated the final number. It will be a significant outlay of financial resources, but worth every penny for the people who rely on that service.
It's something that we do as part of our fleet with TIR. It really is from a societal aspect, from a transportation, from a safety, and from a tourism component - they're critical. What I think I've enjoyed the most about these conversations is when you get into the respective communities that have these ferry services in place, hearing the stories and the examples of how they impact the community and the importance of maintaining them. It's really touching, and you realize that sometimes when costs and revenues don't line up on a balance sheet, there are other things that matter. The impact on the community of these particular runs really does matter.
These are our small provincial ferries, Mr. Chairman, when you get into the Marine Atlantic, the Northumberland, the Digby-Saint John, and the Nova Scotia ferry to Maine, they really matter. That's why we take the chance that we do to make those investments to ensure that these ferries are in place. They're enjoyed not only by the communities that are impacted every day but also by the larger province and of course those who come to visit our great Province of Nova Scotia on an annual basis. It's a great investment, one that we're proud to make and that we'll continue to make moving forward.
MR. STROINK: I hope we as Nova Scotians get a better understanding of how ferries work. Before I got into government, I had no understanding that ferries were subsidized to the level that they were, and it was a big eye-opener for me. So when we've lost four years, it takes time - people don't realize - to rebuild a business. It takes time to invest in rebuilding your business. When you look at that on a numbers business front, all of these small businesses and local businesses down in the southwest area are going to have to reinvent their businesses now that there's a new business model. That's what entrepreneurs do. They're going to put more money back into their advertising to ensure that they can get the tourism. They're spending more money to help their community succeed. I guess that's what it takes sometimes. Right now, we need to spend a little bit more, and the return is going to be great.
I'm going to leave ferries for the moment now. I guess I would be very much remiss if I did not speak about the school in my riding LeMarchant-St. Thomas, or Halifax South Peninsula elementary I think is what it's called on the workbooks. It's a very exciting process for us because it's one of the only new schools at the elementary level that are being built in Nova Scotia and also on the peninsula of Halifax. The funny thing is, I went to LeMarchant, and St. Thomas is across the street. Then they amalgamated the two, and I ended up at LeMarchant-St. Thomas. The neat thing about this school is that it's over 100 years old. It has been a landmark in that community to really help the community revolve around that and grow around that and build up around that school. I think the community is even more excited about the fact that the school is actually going to go on the same footprint.
With that right now, if we could just get an update of where things sit with the school. There were some concerns about the gym. There was concern about space, where the kids were going. I guess this is a good opportunity to clear all that up and to talk about the future of that school and also where the kids are going to go. I'll give you a moment to collect your thoughts there, because it's a big loaded question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Please do not direct your comments directly to the minister.
MR. STROINK: I'll give the minister a moment to collect his thoughts and try to get some answers there. Thank you.
MR. MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question. It certainly has been one that has been focused for that member in particular, and of course the community he represents and many on the peninsula who understand the growing requirement for that new school. LeMarchant-St. Thomas is a key piece for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, to be in a new facility that meets the modern requirements for the delivery of present-day education. It's a great initiative. It's one that when the planning and the design work is all done, it's certainly a privilege to be a part of these things, and knowing that it's going to impact a generation of children and their families is great. It's important work that we do on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia.
As the member would know, we're doing renovations to the annex which has formerly been occupied by the Université Sainte-Anne; they had some programs taking place there in the annex. We are shortly putting out the RFP to do some work on the annex to have that ready for the children for September of this year so there isn't an issue with the transition from the former school into the annex.
Of course, the new school itself is ready to be opened by September 2018; that's the plan, so we'll have two full seasons of the annex being ready and able to receive the children who will be going there as of September of this year. Then of course the new school will be ready to roll by September 2018, so two years from when the annex opens this year. So there's lots of work to do, lots of preparation, but we'll be ready, and obviously, our officials are working hard with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to make sure that we get that correct.
The other component of that that's really important - one of the things that we've heard from the member, first and foremost, and it has also obviously come from the community - is the idea of an enhanced gym. Some of the requirements and the pressures that are taking place in that particular area do focus on the gym and what the gym will look like. Through a relationship, a partnership, with the HRM, we're able to put together an agreement that will look at an enhanced gym. That will be part of the plan for September 2018. I think many of the families and the children who will utilize the facility will be happy to see that. That's it. That's a great initiative that the member has been spearheading and it'll have a great impact on his community when we're ready to go in September 2018.
MR. STROINK: I'd like to turn it over to my colleague now. Thank you for the answers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Fairview-Clayton Park.
MS. PATRICIA ARAB: Mr. Chairman, I have just a few quick questions for the minister. I know that we don't have much time left for this hour. Even though I am a city member, I have two roads that are provincial roads in my constituency, one of which is quite complicated. It's School Avenue; half of it is provincially owned, and then the other side of it is municipally owned. It leads to some confusion about services and delivery.
One of the bigger issues is that the provincially-owned side runs along Highway No. 102, and there's a lot of talk with the constituents who live on that street about the potential of having some sort of sound barrier or something to that effect built or put up to deflect some of the noise that comes off of that loud exit and on-ramp and the traffic that goes back and forth. It's something that I've chatted with the minister about but wanted to give him the opportunity to speak directly to.
I understand that the Department of TIR has a huge responsibility across the province, and this is just a very small portion of what their responsibilities are, but that being said, it is noisy - literally and figuratively. We'd like to hear his thoughts on the possibility of erecting a sound barrier or something to that effect for School Avenue.
MR. MACLELLAN: This highlights the point that if anyone out there thinks these things are rehearsed and I was ready for that question, this will prove otherwise. Thank you, honourable member, for that question out of nowhere.
In fairness, though, I can honestly say, I know for that member, that question comes from the heart. It's one that we've discussed many times. One of the challenges, and I think rightly so for the residents on that particular road, is that they were there before the highway was. The argument can be made that it was a much quieter street before the very busy highway came alongside them and ran parallel.
With respect to the challenge, it's one that we've been discussing, the member and I, and officials in my department who represent that area. That's their jurisdiction. Really, it's due to the Jake brakes coming down the hill. The large trucks are coming; it's clearly a high-speed area. When the trucks are air-braking, it creates a significant amount of noise, particularly at peak times in the day, and it certainly is a cause for concern. Because it is a shared road with the HRM, we could probably look at having a conversation about some kind of sound barriers, but we'd want a partner there. I'm not sure if that's something that the member has discussed or not with municipal colleagues. I'm sure she could probably have that conversation, Mr. Chairman, and then get back to us. I'll put the pressure on her to talk to the municipal officials.
In fairness, the member is right - with the vast expanse of kilometres and geography we cover at TIR, there are challenges. This seems like a minor one on the whole of our $500 million department, but when you look at how it impacts people's lives every day - it's a noise issue, and that's not a comfortable thing to deal with day in and day out, particularly in an area that was quiet prior to this highway being constructed. So it's something I'd be happy to work on with the member, and we can have our discussion with municipal colleagues to see if there's something we could do in terms of a cost share.
MS. ARAB: I'll accept that challenge to put some pressure on our municipal counterparts to see what we can get accomplished. Two really quick questions in the time that we have: just looking for updates on the Burnside connector and also on the St. Margaret's Bay interchange, if the minister can give us some updates on those two things, please.
MR. MACLELLAN: Two very critical infrastructure projects for our department. I'll go with the interchange first. That one is existing on our capital plan, and it's one that we are proceeding with; we're just looking for a cost-share arrangement with our federal partners vis-à-vis the new Building Canada Fund that's in place now. It looks like we should have some success there, based on the criteria, but it is one that's particularly listed specifically on our capital plan, so it's something that we will pursue, definitely a priority for us.
On the larger, highway 107, Burnside connector, I can say that from an overall capital perspective, this is probably our biggest priority because of the amount of volume, the impact on all of metro. Really when you look at the amount of pressure that that would relieve by way of the traffic all around the city, leading in from Magazine Hill, Bedford, and elsewhere, it's something that just has to be done. When you're looking at the overall cost, the capital cost for a project of that magnitude really is staggering, but it's just required, and it's really that simple. I think that that's something that's supported by all. We are moving forward on it. There's no question about that. It is included in our feasibility study, which we'll be releasing to the public next month, but in any event, it's on our priority list. There are key parts of our provincial grid that we have to address in the very near future and get started on, and without question the 107 Burnside connector is a huge part of that. We've got to see that happen. It's just a key piece for flow and mobility here in the city and of course paramount to safety.
We will address both of those projects; it's just a matter of aligning those funding partners and figuring out how we're going to pay for it, but they are priorities and we'll get there for sure.
MS. ARAB: Since we have a little bit of time left, there was one other update that I was looking for that I didn't get a chance to ask for, and that is a status update on the twinning of Highway No. 104 around Antigonish, east of town. If the minister could give us an update on that, that'd be great.
MR. MACLELLAN: Obviously this is a significant one for us and anyone who drives through that Highway No. 104 corridor has felt the impact. When we talk about the larger feasibility of our toll feasibility in the highway twinning that we want to get done, this is a great example. There's no doubt it will change the entire landscape of travel with safety and mobility through that corridor, but that project is 16 kilometres; it took 10 years and cost about $140 million. When you look at the magnitude of a project like that, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board can certainly attest to the safety impact and how it has really created positive flow and positive mobility for the people he represents and for all of us who travel that corridor weekly in both directions. It has made a huge difference, and it will be finished by the end of this calendar year. We'll look at doing the final paving, get that final lift on as we get later into the season.
I really appreciate the member for Fairview-Clayton Park; I know that's a very important project for her. No one has really asked her to ask that question on their behalf, I know that comes from the heart, so it's really nice to see sincere questions coming from that member. That is one that we will complete, and we certainly look forward to it being completed in this calendar year as we get into the end of the paving season. I hope the member for Fairview-Clayton Park will come down and maybe cut a ribbon or be part of the community celebration.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg.
MS. SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Now that I have the minister's attention, I'd like to ask a few questions about the Bluenose II. Being from Lunenburg, there is still lots of talk about the Bluenose II. Yes, we are excited about going forward in the new sailing season. The schedule is out, and people are pretty excited. The latest discussions are around the replacement of the steel rudder for a wooden rudder. Can the minister speak to why that decision has been made and when this is supposed to take place?
MR. MACLELLAN: I know I have a limited amount of time, so maybe we can pick it up at another point in estimates. At the end of the day, when you look back at this project which has been of critical importance to that member and many in her area, this has been one that really has been plagued by a number of issues.
I think that looking at the AG's Report on the Bluenose II to see where the management, where the preparation, where the decisions really failed is a deep one that goes back many, many years. With respect to the rudder, that was part of that legacy of bad decisions that really got us to this point. The LSA, the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, that built the vessel and did a tremendous job, were one of the advocates that said that the steel rudder wasn't a good idea, that really the government of the day should revisit that and look at making alterations to that. That's coming from the experts.
Clearly, that advice wasn't followed before our time, and when it got to a point of sailing season last year, we realized that there would be significant issues. The point of getting through last season was to look at how we would ensure that stability for the long term of the Bluenose II, and that's why the decision was made. There's lots of details left to determine, but we have to look at doing a better job of ensuring that we have the right rudder on that vessel for many years to come. It's an issue of stability, not of safety. We'll get through this season with the steel rudder, but we're doing what should have been done in the beginning, which is putting a rudder on that suits that particular vessel and ensuring that we have long-term stability in that vessel.
She's an important part of our historic reality here in Nova Scotia. She's on our dime; it's a key piece of tourism, key piece of community.
Really, I hope the management of that project from the beginning doesn't take away from our legacy. I know it won't because people are fundamentally proud of the Bluenose II. We've got a lot of work to do to restore confidence in how this project was handled. The start of that is to get the proper rudder on that will be in place for the long term. We've committed to doing that.
We'll have a great season here in 2016. We had 60,000 people on her last year, and we hope to eclipse that this year, obviously, when the season allows. We'll get a great season upcoming, and then after that, we'll look at what the new rudder will be and what the process will be for installing that and ensuring that once that's done, we have addressed that issue. We look forward to all the good things that the Bluenose II brings to that member's community and of course the province as a whole.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The one-hour time allotment for questions from the Liberal caucus has expired. We'll now move to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I know I want to pick back up with Z-class roads, where I left off yesterday, Mr. Minister, but it's tempting to comment on some of the questions from the Liberal caucus.
I guess the one thing that I would like to say is that we certainly want to recognize that the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, in our opinion, was sort of at the whim of the government of the day and certainly did good work. I know there are some people who feel that they were thrown under the bus so to speak on what happened, and it is certainly not my point of view as a member here, it's not my opinion that that was the case. So, it is unfortunate the way that worked out but we do recognize the high quality of work done in the Lunenburg Shipyard.
I do want to talk about Z-class roads. I was asking you yesterday, Mr. Minister, about an issue particular to the Valley, not only the Valley but mostly in the Valley, Kings North, Kings South, Kings West. You understand that these are roads that are travelled by the public; in some cases, they are heavily travelled - in one case, it is a shortcut to the hospital. They are not long roads but they have a long history of service by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, of road grading and snowplowing, and continue to be snowplowed in some cases. What I want to ask of you is not to tell me that, yes, you are going to solve my Z-class road . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please. Please refrain from using "you" and direct your questions through the Chair.
The member for Kings North.
MR. LOHR: My apologies, Mr. Chairman. The issue with the Z-class roads needs to find some resolution, and I know it will not easily be found, and there will need to be partners in it. What I would ask of the minister is could there be a plan made to figure out how we are going to address this where possibly there is a committee struck? I know when I was first elected I believed there was a Z-class road committee and myself and a municipal councillor involved were trying to find out how we could interact with that Z-class road committee. What I would like to see and I would like to ask the minister, can we see the striking of a committee to sort out not what individual roads will be solved but to sort out even what the process will be to determine how Z-class roads will be resolved?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the member opposite for the question. As we have discussed, he started it off on Friday and we got cut short of time and then we just had a conversation before coming in today. Z-class roads are basically privately-owned roads that through a historical arrangement have been serviced by the provincial Department of Transportation. So, essentially, the idea, way back in 1995, was that these roads would be absorbed into the municipal inventory list and obviously that is not the case and what we are seeing now is there is certainly a need for addressing these privately-owned roads.
I think that what the member has brought in, it's not the first time I have heard this. I know that it has been an issue for that member as yourself, Mr. Chairman, and other members of our caucus because as time goes on, with the deterioration of these roads, the infrastructure itself begins to be a significant challenge. It is not just enough to service them, and we have to look at how we make some of those investments on the whole whether it be in some type of arrangement.
I know the member for Halifax Atlantic has formed a committee to look at some of these things, and I think that that is a key thing as part of the conversation. I guess there would have to be some consultation and some discussion with UNSM to see exactly what their membership would be, but I think if that is something that is started maybe we can have a further conversation about that to the member for Kings North. I agree with you. I think it is high time . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Please do not direct your comments directly at the member.
The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am very new at this, I will catch on eventually.
To the member for Kings North, I think that I agree with him. I do not think this issue is going to solve itself and the problem is that as we get over time and years pass by with respect to the infrastructure, nothing is being addressed, it is just going to be an increasingly difficult problem to deal with. I think that we can certainly continue that conversation. I like the idea of what he is suggesting with respect to a committee, if it is a structure with the province and with UNSM to try to determine what exactly we do.
Obviously, if there was an ability to allocate more money, that would be the easiest decision and the easiest path but clearly, that is not the case. We find it difficult to manage the infrastructure we have now on top of the new capital requirements we have to continue to expand our local roads, our highway grid and certainly for the municipalities, it is a significant issue as well. So maybe if we could have a little bit of a collaboration with the member for Kings North with some of the work of the committee that has been started by the member for Halifax Atlantic, we could certainly look at that.
I would agree with the member that it's time to put some kind of plan in place to at least figure out what exactly it is because really at this point with respect to the Z-class roads it's really piecemeal and we sort of take it road by road. As the deterioration continues, that's going to be a problem that gets increasingly expensive, so we're willing to have a conversation and look at what options for consultation and a committee could be.
MR. LOHR: I know that several times in 2014 we attempted to interact with the committee that the member for Halifax Atlantic had but found that it really didn't respond. It seemed like it was just set up to deal with that one issue of the one road in that member's constituency. We have at least 10 or 12 roads in Kings North and I'm sure that Kings South and Kings West have an equal number of roads in this situation, roads that have serviced communities for many years and there's a very long history of service by the Department of TIR on those roads.
The issue is that there's a trend away from servicing those roads that has been communicated to us. So we feel the pressure to find a solution and even if we had a path forward, even if the solution wasn't easy, at least we would know how to solve it. So maybe that's all we're looking for, just sort of guidance. If a provincial committee could be struck, rather than a committee for one constituency, that would be much appreciated.
My second question which I would really want to get down into a couple of local road situations and I'm sure that your colleagues on your left and right can tell you a little bit about what's going on. One road I want to ask you about is called Owen Road, it's in North Kentville.
Owen Road is a road that does not have ditching on either side of it. It is a TIR road. The reason there's no ditching is there's a major drainage issue with Owen Road and the resolution of that drainage issue is not readily found, it sort of lays in the history of how construction happened in there, that as subdivisions were built upstream the demand for drainage on the road increased but there was never the opportunity, because of the lay of the land, to increase the drainage there.
I know the minister's colleagues on his left and his right are familiar with Owen Road. I'm wondering if you could update me on the status of the project of Owen Road, Mr. Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Once again a reminder to direct your questions to the Chair and not to "you". Luckily we have about seven more days to practise this.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member opposite, I'm certainly familiar with this particular road, Owen Road. I've had conversations with one of the homeowners who is on the plain. Essentially my understanding is that it is our road, no question, but some of the homes are located on the lowest point in the road and it's subject to extreme flooding.
I've had conversations with the warden - this is going back probably a year and a half now, at least. The challenge is that it is a significant upgrade to address that issue, because of the slope and the layout of the land there in particular. There has to be some municipal partnership because we're tying into their municipal system.
We've worked in good faith with the municipality and, in fairness, so have they, just to try to figure out what the best option is. I know I hadn't seen the house directly but I know there was some damage in the past and obviously when you get to the seasons of heavy precipitation in the Spring, the challenges are magnified.
We haven't found the final agreement yet, as the member would know, Mr. Chairman. Steve MacIsaac has been very much involved in this speaking to the municipal officials, talking to the elected people down there that are so concerned about this. It has been a very hot issue for the municipality and certainly impacts the everyday life of the residents who are impacted by this and affected there. So we have not found that final solution yet that we are looking for, some type of relationship and agreement with the municipality to address it. I certainly feel a lot of empathy for the homeowners in particular because that is something that is really impacting them and taking them over in a lot of ways; they are growing frustrated with the situation, no doubt about that. So it is our road but we do require some support based on the fact that it is a tie-in to the municipal sewer system.
MR. LOHR: I would like to thank the minister for that answer and, yes, I do recognize there are many dilemmas there, Mr. Chairman.
Another road I would like to ask the minister about is another area of North Kentville subject to flooding, Rosedale Avenue, Governor Court, Governor Court Crescent. These roads are at the low end of a sort of a swale and at the top end of the swale there has been ongoing development. Certainly nobody has done anything deliberately but because of the construction here, there has been increased demand on the volume of water flowing through the culverts and it has overwhelmed - particularly in one house on Rosedale Avenue - overwhelmed the house.
In speaking with the area manager, there was a study to be done last summer. I believe that study is done or nearly done now to find a solution to this. I am just wondering if - and I know the minister would understand what I am talking about when ongoing development upstream changes the volume of water flowing, in one case a parking lot, and the water comes off that very quickly. These sorts of dilemmas put homeowners at risk downstream. I am wondering if the minister can comment on Rosedale Avenue, Governor Court, and Governor Court Crescent for me.
MR. MACLELLAN: Unlike the Owen Road, I do not have any prior knowledge of these particular roads that the member has mentioned; so, if he wants to package some materials to get to us just with some of the specifics, obviously, we can speak to Steve MacIsaac and the local TIR folks on the ground to get some details but this is not one that I am aware of prior to this evening. We would be happy to take a look and do our best and see what our role is. Again, the member is absolutely right with respect to how developments up the properties and up the hill, so to speak, impact those at the lower edge and any time there are any changes in alterations in the landscape, then, clearly, it affects the water flow. So, we would be happy to take a look at that and see what details we can find out and then see what the role could be for TIR moving forward. Thanks.
MR. LOHR: I would like to thank the minister for that, and I certainly will do so. Another road issue we have in Kings North in two different areas, the same issue, is that with recent high tides we had there is actually tidewater, salt water, coming over part of the highway 221 going into Kingsport; and we have also had highway 359 going into Halls Harbour in the past - and it may have happened this last time but I was not aware of it - but the salt water actually coming right up onto the pavement.
I am just wondering through you, Mr. Chairman, what the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal's plans are with roads. I am sure likely Kings North is not the only area that experiences this; probably other areas in the Minas Basin at the high tides experience this but we have two roads that have. I am wondering if the minister can tell me what avenue of recourse we would take with these roads.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member opposite, as you could truly appreciate, as we all can, the impact that fundamentally climate change seems to be having on our way of life and our society certainly spills over into TIR infrastructure and for us we're seeing this phenomenon increasingly impact our roads.
The Leader of the Official Opposition, the member's colleague in the PC caucus, talked about some of the same issues and really I think it's two-fold. In the short term it becomes a case-by-case basis where we obviously look at things like armour stone and building up vegetation possibly or additional protections to protect the roadbed, which stems the erosion to a certain extent. Obviously once we get into the deterioration of the roadbed itself, and of course the paving, then we have new challenges of replacing that particular piece and still protecting the overall corridor that is being impacted by ocean waters.
The bigger issue what we're talking about, and I just had this quick chat with Bruce about it, over his 30 years here in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, he has seen an increase obviously and the negative effects of climate change and how the rising sea levels are impacting our grids on coastal areas, there's no question about that, I think we can all appreciate that that's taking place.
What we're looking at now is being part of the national conversation about the studies that are taking place with erosion and with rising tides and how they are overall damaging the infrastructure that we have and really adopting standards. I think it's fair to say now that when we build anything new, any infrastructure that we're working on close to the coastline, that we really have to put an added effort in, which obviously leads to added financial pressures to put into those corridors, those roadbeds, to strengthen them for this very reason.
In the short term really we work at the district level and take it case by case so in the instances of his particular roads we would have to look at things like armour stone and building up that protection so that we decrease the impact of seasonal rising waters and the seasonal weather systems that impact the bed. The longer term is that we really have to readjust and beef up our standards so that we're protecting those roadways that are found in coastal areas.
MR. LOHR: I'm wondering about bridges and tides. The Gladys Porter Bridge on highway 358, which connects Greenwich to Port Williams, also recently has been where the tide has been extremely close to the bottom of the bridge - so not the top of the bridge but the bottom of the bridge, so the residents are fairly concerned about that. This is a pretty major piece of infrastructure, the Gladys Porter Bridge on highway 358, I wonder if the minister would comment on that in relation to the high tides.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, I think again it highlights the short term of what we can do specifically on this bridge and clearly in the long term of what the overall sea waters are having on our infrastructure. This certainly is a critical bridge to that community, to the region and I think we've got to do our best to protect it.
We don't have any specific information on the Gladys Porter Bridge in front of us but we'll have our bridge inspectors take a visit to that area and take a look at this specific piece of infrastructure to see what the current situation is, the safety and the strength of the bridge and take it from there. As always, with the 4,300 bridges that we have, anything that is required gets addressed immediately, to make sure we are keeping people safe. We'll have our officials who do that type of work and our experts in that area get out there and take a look.
MR. LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, to the minister for that answer. I want to switch to another bridge and this one is in the capital plan for this year. The Kentville bridge is one of the oldest steel bridges in, I think, the whole region, it may be the oldest steel bridge in the Maritimes and it is slated for replacement this year. I just wonder if the minister can update me on the progress of that project and when the residents of Kentville can expect to see construction start on the new bridge.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I believe the member is referring to the Cornwallis River bridge - yes, thank you. That project is slated to move ahead to the tender process. We are just working on some of the final negotiations with the town on what the partnership will look like, but from our understanding with the capital plan, things should go along as planned for this season.
MR. LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am not sure I heard the minister say yes it will actually start construction this year or not. Maybe the minister could clarify that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, that is the plan.
MR. LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Shifting gears, I believe this has been the subject of discussion in this House, the truck inspections where the 18-wheeler trucks will have to have the axels taken apart twice a year has been a concern of farmers in our area where some of these trucks really do not make a lot of kilometres in a year yet are necessary for the operation of the business and sometimes are driven almost internally on the farms or within making daily trips of two or three kilometres for the farm. I am just wondering if the minister can tell me what he knows - I know this is a national mandate - can he assure the farmers of Kings County or the province that there will be some sort of accommodation for very low kilometre yet very necessary usages of these trucks?
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, through you to the member, I am certainly aware of this issue, and I am concerned about it. We have endeavoured to go back to the department and determine what is happening at the national level. I have had a conversation with the member for Kings West, the Minister of Health and Wellness, about this very issue so I know it is something that is a concern to him. He has been talking to some local farmers about the impact particularly because of the low kilometres and the seasonal nature of what has to happen with these inspections and obviously, the added cost and the added time for the inspections.
So, where basically we are with this one, our understanding was that it would be a country-wide insertion of the added tire pulls into the inspection process, so that is our understanding; our motor vehicle officials came back from a series of conversations and meetings about this particular thing and it seemed to be this was going to be a national program, a national set of standards that we would be in lockstep for all provinces
Some of the concern for us is that it is being applied differently in different jurisdictions, particularly in New Brunswick. I know that the member, all members would agree with this and all members of industry quite frankly whether it be trucking, farming, or related sectors that rely on commercial vehicles that require inspection, safety is paramount, there is no question about that. So what we have to figure out is what level is being applied, you know, is this an adequate amount of inspection with the time that it requires but of course the added cost that it requires? Is this what is going to be necessary to ensure safety? We have got to determine some of those factors; and, of course, is this truly a national standard? Some in the trucking industry would suggest that it is not, so for us that becomes a challenge; we are really handcuffing our own drivers, our own truckers, our own fleet whether it be the farming sector or the long-haul sector, whatever the case may be.
We are still working through that. We have had some great community feedback from stakeholders who came as a group to tell us that this was a serious challenge. They also suggested that the standard was not being applied. Clearly from a safety perspective if this is going to be a national standard we would adhere to that but if that is not the case and it is not taking place in New Brunswick, as an example, where really there would be a competitive advantage of not being subject to the same standards. We've got to confirm that first. We are still doing that work. It's not something that we want to have on the backburner; it's something that we want to get an answer on for the various trucking associations, the farmers who are impacted, and the like.
Safety is number one, and if this isn't being applied, and it's seen largely as something that isn't fair, then clearly we're going to have to take a look. I've had wind of this particular issue, and we reached out to have some of the conversations with those from industry to find out what the impact from a cost perspective is, the impact from a time perspective, how is this being applied by our vehicle compliance, and how are these things being checked at the individual garages that are doing these inspections. There's a lot to it, we want to make sure that we get it right on the safety side, but at the same time, we don't want to handcuff our own private sector as they try to compete and look for much-needed income in relation to the goods and services flow that's taking place in other provinces.
MR. LOHR: I guess I would like to suggest to the minister, too, when looking at what's happening across the nation not to forget to look at Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where agriculture is very seasonal, and there are very large trucks used there. I find it hard to believe that if it is in the national program, likely in that area, there would be enormous pressure on the government not to adapt the standard, too. So I would suggest keeping an eye on more than just New Brunswick.
I guess I want to switch gears, Mr. Chairman, and ask about some building issues. I know that the provincial government recently purchased a municipal building in Kentville, and I just would like to ask if the minister would tell us what the cost of the building is and what is the expected cost of renovations?
MR. MACLELLAN: My apologies; it took a couple of seconds there. It's specific, so we had to go back through some of our notes. The purchase price that we have on our list here is $4.3 million. We don't have anything specific on renovations. I think the tenants that are there are using it for what's there now, which is the Department of Justice. We don't have anything listed for renovation. I'm not sure if the member has something specific about a renovation that we can delve into or not. But the purchase price was $4.3 million.
MR. LOHR: No, I'm asking a question I don't know the answer to. There's anticipation that there will be renovations, so if you don't have that number, I don't know it either. Just an anticipation.
There was also a library building there which I believe was in the way of the new bridge. I'm just wondering what the cost of the library building was. It's right next to the municipal building in Kentville.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and through you to the member, I do not have anything specific on the purchase of the library on that same precinct. I am not sure, obviously, there is a lot of transactions we do with these buildings but I do not recall the purchasing of this specific library that was close to that justice centre. We will probably have to dive in to that a little bit and see and if there is any other specific information the member would have on that particular purchase. I do not have anything and I do not recall us purchasing that library building, itself so I will have to get some information back from the department particularly those on the public works side to see if we can get some detail for the member.
MR. LOHR: That is fine, Mr. Chairman, if he gets back to you on that with what information he has.
Another building I would like to ask questions on, again this is going back to agriculture. There were some questions that during estimates with Agriculture. I asked the Minister of Agriculture about the capital cost of the Northumberland Building which is in Truro, and the minister was not able to tell me the capital cost of the renovations of that Northumberland Building but suggested it was $400,000. When we talked about it, I said I know what renovations cost in your home and it could not have been $400,000 because it is a fairly big building. I am just wondering if the minister can tell me what the capital cost was of the renovation of the Northumberland Building.
MR. MACLELLAN: For the Perennia Innovation Centre, the Northumberland Building renovation, in 2015-16 we have $2.8 million slated for this year, we have $250,000 for 2016-17 for that centre.
MR. LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that answer. I guess I would like to ask the minister if he has a number for the year before because the rumour was it was a $5 million renovation. I am just wondering if he has the number for the year back on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, we do not have the 2014-15 numbers in front of us. We just have the current year and then what was slated for 2016-17. We can endeavour to get that and get back to the member with that information.
MR. LOHR: Mr. Chairman, possibly the rumored figure is correct, I would assume. My question is how does that money get charged out? Does that get charged out to the Department of Agriculture once the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has its capital cost in place? Is the Department of Agriculture really paying for that? I know TIR is managing buildings in the province. I am just wondering how that is billed.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It actually is a dedicated building project so it is an appropriation that comes from the overall capital plan but it is under the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; so there is no listing that it is specific to the Department of Agriculture; it is part of our dedicated buildings envelope under our department.
MR. LOHR: So, the Department of Agriculture would pay rent to Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal?
MR. MACLELLAN: The only rents or operational funding we deal with with respect to buildings are those that are owned directly by TIR, so we wouldn't have any aspect of operational as part of that information. I'm assuming that that would have to come from Agriculture. For us, all we get with respect to the management of these projects is just on the capital side, so we get that building envelope, we do the capital work but we're not involved in any associated rent or any of those operational expenses, they would go to the particular department involved.
MR. LOHR: Another building construction I would like to just ask the minister about is the Bridgetown High School. I wonder if he could tell me what the cost of that build is.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, to the member, we don't have any of that specific information in front of us so where it's at in the process, we'd have to check on the forecasted amount. We can certainly do that but it's not something that we have as part of our information here this evening.
MR. LOHR: I guess my request would be that the minister does provide that information when he has it.
I would like to switch gears away from buildings. As the minister knows, I believe in the summer of 2014, we had post-tropical storm Arthur and quite a bit of power outage in Kings North and there was quite a bit of talk about the lack of tree trimming. I believe it was later that summer that we had spontaneous protests in Kings North on tree trimming from truckers who were upset with the damage that trees were doing to their trucks. In fact 18-wheeler owners would have said they were doing the tree trimming on the roads with their trucks beating back the trees and there was some evidence that that's in fact the case. When you looked at the trees hanging over the roads in particular in Annapolis Valley where there were very large trees and they would be sort of squared out where the 18-wheelers would be going through.
I'm just wondering if the minister can tell us what the brush and tree-trimming plan is for the province and what his department is doing to address this situation.
MR. MACLELLAN: To answer the member's question, first and foremost, it is one of those issues that can certainly become challenging at different regions of the province at different times over the season. It's something that we react to and respond to and manage from the district level. In total, with respect to funding itself, particularly dedicated to brush cutting and managing the trees and the branches and the issues that we have with respect to growth, there's $1 million allocated specifically inside the RIM budget, and an additional $430,000 that's done under that roadside maintenance line item as well, so under that envelope. In total, dedicated spending for brush cutting, we spend about $1.4 million as part of this budget. But the reality is again, and the overarching answer is that it's like a number of things in the department with respect to summer and winter maintenance, it is very much reactive.
Anything that's a hazard that we get called to at the local level, Mr. Chairman, we address immediately. Anything that is a safety risk, something that we have to address immediately, then clearly the allocated resources are put to that, and it's handled to the extent possible. Outside of that, things that are a growing concern, things that look to be getting worse as the season goes on and require some immediate attention, clearly that happens at the district level. Local TIR depots get these phone calls pretty regularly. When our crews are out there doing the great work they do in the summer, they'll hit those particular areas and address the needs that are in a particular spot that have been identified by stakeholders in the community, by other TIR employees, by operators, small businesses, and truckers. Really, there is a reactive measure to that, but in total, the dedicated funding for this year is about $1.4 million.
MR. LOHR: I guess my comment on that would be that I would agree that at a local level, the department is reactive in a pretty timely way to any emergencies. What we do see happening, and what we wonder about the whole situation is - and I'm sure the minister is familiar with allowable cut rates in forestry where in our province's natural resources or woodcutting plan, we would not want to exceed the regrowth level. I would question, and I wonder if the minister would comment on this: we're not meeting the regrowth level on the woods encroaching on our roads. In fact, we're losing ground slowly in keeping up with brush trimming with our highways throughout the province.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, I think it's fair to say it's a battle and in many ways and in many cases it feels like it's a losing battle. We talked about the former member from Digby - Junior Theriault - who would talk about the alders and the amount of growth that's happening even in the divided sections of our highways.
It really is an issue where we do what we can and react in the very best way possible to cover it off. Sometimes it's with dedicated focus on particular areas. Obviously when we get into that Spring season we deploy all of our equipment with the summer crew to get as much as they can done, again whether that be mowing and cutting and of course the shrubs and the growth that happens on the shoulders, in the right-of-way and of course inside the ditches.
I think I can fairly say that it is a losing battle some years and the environmental impact of spraying renders that a not attractive option for us so we really hold the line with respect to how we utilize chemicals and really focus on that cutting activity. It's tough, and not to repeat the same answers but really it becomes about reacting to particular complaints, particular concerns. Obviously the safety aspects are paramount but then after that it becomes about aesthetics when you're looking to draw tourism and make sure that's an important component of our economy, we've got to do our very best to keep things looking neat and tidy and that we're paying attention to the road grid, not just the surface and the maintenance of our highways but of course how they look and how the brush and the shrubs are being addressed and the grass-cutting of course.
It is something that we struggle with and again, despite the $1.5 million we'll spend, it will certainly be a challenge for this year, as it always is. We'll handle that with the local garages and make sure that when we get that feedback and get those complaints, certainly when they're of safety in nature then we react as soon as possible.
The member gave kudos to the local staff who do those things and I would certainly echo those remarks. These men and women do great work in the summer and they work really hard and they keep busy because they know the importance, from a safety and from an overall mobility flow for our corridor. So we'll keep working on it and put those limited resources to good use.
MR. LOHR: I know that another area of concern to my trucker friends and some of my friends in construction is the ditching on the roads. One of the effects of not keeping up with the ditching, the ditches slowly fill in and trees grow in the ditches, it compromises the surface of the road because a wet road will pothole much more quickly than a dry road, as the minister knows.
I'm just wondering about the plan on ditching, too. I believe that's mostly contracted out, if I'm correct. I just wonder, how much will be spent on ditching in the province this year?
MR. MACLELLAN: The overall impact to our budget, the overall allocation, is about $1.2 million under RIM. That would be ditching for both tender, which is about $1.18 million and the remaining would be the in-house ditching that we do. The larger number, which would be under our maintenance program, would be $4.6 million and that's under the drainage category. That would include the ditching that the member is referring to and also the culvert work we do as well, so it's just under $5 million for that collective effort to address any problems we have with our ditches in the provincial corridors.
MR. LOHR: My question is, are those numbers slowly increasing over time or decreasing, since 2013, in your mandate? Have those numbers been holding steady or going up or down, ditching and brush trimming?
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the member those numbers have been basically flat; they have been generally the same with both the RIM and the highways and bridges allocations; so what we are seeing for the ditching and the culvert work has been maintained over the last number of years.
MR. LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I know that both the minister and the department and I think even we members of the Opposition realize the economic constraints of the province but these types of issues I believe are slowly eroding into the quality of our roads and we pay the price for not doing the work in other ways I think and it is sort of a concern.
I would like to switch gears for a minute. I know this is something else that has been discussed in the Legislature in the past year at least once or twice, and that is winter tire usage in the winter and the impact that has on the accident rate. The question is, how many people are using winter tires in the winter, and what impact does that have on accidents in Nova Scotia? We know from data in Quebec that it has an impact, but the issue is we do not have the data in Nova Scotia, and I have asked the minister before if it would be possible to get this included in the motor vehicle accident reporting form.
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal supplies that form to our police forces and it is just a one-page form and it is packed full of little boxes to check. Surely there is room for three more boxes, tire type: winter, summer, all season, or unknown; that would be four little boxes so that we could begin to collect some data on the actual usage of winter tires and the impact that it has in the province on accidents so that we would know whether it was worthwhile to have mandatory winter tire usage. I am just wondering if the minister can let me know about if this motor vehicle accident form has been updated with these four little boxes or five little boxes, whatever it would take.
MR. MACLELLAN: Certainly, we have had that discussion before. I know personally, I think as a reflection of our government's thought on this policy, we would not mandate snow tires for Nova Scotians at this point and that is pretty obvious - not because they are not valuable; they certainly are. We encourage anyone who can have winter tires to obviously make that all-important investment in their vehicle in the complement of road safety and keeping themselves safe in the very tough conditions we have here in the province. But the reality is when you look at the different factors that impact on road-safety data, on collisions, on of course the very sad moments of fatality in instances where people are killed on the highways, there is always a number of factors and winter tires is one piece of road safety. Clearly, with speed and winter conditions, distracted driving, impairment, all those things play a role.
One of the challenges we have discussed at the department level, and the member has been steadfast in requesting that, and it is something that I will make the commitment that we will follow up not only with the Department of Justice on how we would do that from an enforcement perspective but also with our Road Safety Advisory Committee, that is basically an arm's-length body that includes TIR staff, stakeholders in the public at large that have a vested interest in road safety, police officers, and representatives of the policing services we have in the province that is really about how to manage that and how to do it properly.
One of the questions that we have that we have talked about initially is that there has to be a degree of understanding of what the details are around the tires. I am not sure that they exist; maybe it does but it is not as simple as looking at a tire and seeing if it is a winter tire. Obviously, the conditions of that tire would impact the safety as well; so if they are a brand-new winter tire, it is a difference if they have been maybe used too long and they have passed their years of effectiveness. That's just one example of some of the finer details that we have to work out. Again, it would be about getting the clearance and the support from our partners in enforcement. For that we would go through the Department of Justice.
As I said to the member, he has brought this up on more than one occasion in private conversations we've had and of course brought it to the floor of the Legislature. I will follow up with that, I think that talking to Justice and RSAC first, to see what that looks like.
What the member is leading up to is to build that body of statistical evidence that would say one way or the other how many collisions involved winter tires. You would have to figure out again those variables on the condition of the tires themselves and some other factors that I'm sure I wouldn't be in full understanding of, not being in that particular job and responsibility.
There is a little bit of work to do, there's no question about that, but I think it's a reasonable thing to discuss and I can assure the member that I will follow up with colleagues at Justice, the minister and her staff, as well as with RSAC to see if they can even consider and have a conversation about what that may look like. If it's an added component of enforcement that doesn't cause any particular concern for the peace officers we have on our roadways, then obviously that's something we could look at doing.
MR. LOHR: I guess the issue for me is not about making the decision on tires one way or the other but a matter of data collection. When you think about this past winter, if you were collecting the data on tires and accidents this past winter you might think that maybe there was no problem, but if you think about the previous winter, you might have had a big problem.
There's a lot of variability in the winters and the way things happen on our roads, so it takes a number of years to develop sort of a body of evidence that is statistically relevant. The issue, I think, I would suggest, is one of data collection, not of making a decision. This will be a decision that I don't believe could be made on one year's data, I think it would need at least three or four years of data because of the variability of our winters.
However, it's quite clear that with the tires it's fundamentally a compounding issue, so if it's a winter tire, it's a winter tire and it benefits below 7 degrees Celsius, if it's an all-season, it's an all-season. Obviously there's variability in tread wear but even so, just simply collecting that data, which would not be that difficult to collect, I would suggest that our enforcement officials actually probably look at that when they investigate accident scenes now anyway. They are always looking, as well known, they would look at skid marks on a road, they're looking at the tires. I believe it's simply a matter of data collection and we should be collecting the data and it's a matter of putting the boxes on the form and over time that data will become better, just as it's collected over years.
I concede the minister's point that initially and in one year or even two, the data won't be highly significant but possibly over time we will know and obviously at some future date some researcher will have to make an effort to comb through that and mine that data, which won't be an easy job either. I believe that in order for us at some point in the future to make a reasonable decision about the impact that winter tires have in our province, we need the data and that data could be collected.
I realize I have only a few seconds left in this. I know there's a lot of things that I could ask about - dirt roads. I know that and I've heard the minister talk at length about that so maybe what I should do is I would say that we do have a number of dirt roads in Kings North and for whatever reason, it seems like this winter was very harsh on the dirt roads. I'm just wondering if the minister can tell me what his department is doing about the dirt road issue this year.
MR. MACLELLAN: I'd like to thank the member for the question. It is one that is very timely and something that really I would absolutely agree with the member for whatever reason. I'm sure there's a combination of factors and you could probably drill down and figure out what exactly it is that has been so impactful and difficult for gravel roads across the entire province but also in particular areas.
For us, again, I will repeat some of the same strategy for TIR. It really comes down to the reactive approach, and it happens at the district level, and we have the graders out now. Clearly, one of the additional challenges that creates a tough environment for us to react in is that there are weight restrictions so it is hard to get that heavy-duty gear, graders, and such out there and doing that grading work that really flattens off the surface and continues to make the road a little bit safer and enhance the road surface.
One of the things that we do as sort of a reactionary piece as well is get the gravel out and patch some of the heavier areas that require some gravel work. But truly, the discussion that has been taking place on all sides of the House from all members who are impacted by gravel is this whole nature of capitalizing the gravel roads program so that we have additional access to funds. Right now, using the operational allotments given out, per district, again, it is a tough battle and we do what we can to get gravel spread across the many thousand kilometres of gravel roads we have in the entire province.
So, we do a lot of work to ensure that we are keeping up on the maintenance to the best of our abilities with the gravel. It becomes about that grading first and then getting the gravel out there. So, that is certainly part of it and again, I think it is getting to a point now with respect to the thousands of kilometres that we have that we really look at how we are going to address them for the long term.
We were talking about statistics of gravel roads and how many thousand kilometres require a fresh application of gravel and we are in the several thousand, and we are in the $2.4 million give or take with gravel application. Really, when you take that portion of the RIM budget, look at the thousands and thousands of gravel road kilometres we have here in Nova Scotia, it is just enough to keep up and I am sure many would argue from all sides of the House and from many regions of the province that spending in total about $4 million, just under $4 million, in all totality on gravel really is not keeping up with what he have to do. So looking at that, that is going to be part of the discussion moving forward is how we access additional funds through our capital program to make some significant changes in how we apply gravel and what we do. So, that is the short answer for the member and I certainly appreciate his frustrations as they are coming from all regions of the province. Again, we do our best to get the equipment and the necessary gravel on the ground to at least make the roads passable.
As the season goes on and we get into summer and those roads strengthen, then, we get into the additional grading and of course the dust-control work that is equally as important. So, we are looking at ways to better apply and impact those gravel roads all across Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the one-hour allotment for the Progressive Conservative Party. Next up is the New Democratic Party. No? We move then to one hour with the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Lunenburg.
MS. SUZANNE LOHNES-CROFT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to continue on with the minister on speaking about Bluenose II and asking a few questions. The rebuild has been a somewhat painful process for many in my community, and the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance I feel has taken quite a bit of public comment that has not been favourable to them, and many people think that it has damaged the reputation of boat building in Lunenburg County. Boat building in Lunenburg County is something we take pride in; it is part of our heritage and I would like to hear what the minister has to say about the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance and how perhaps we need to reaffirm that they are great shipwrights and builders. I look forward to hearing some comments about that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I do truly appreciate the question from the member. I know that it has been something that has impacted her at the constituency level and over and above the constituency and the politics of it all as a proud resident of the area and having a full appreciation for the impact that the Bluenose II has had in her community, and in fact obviously, on all Nova Scotians, not only in that shipbuilding and shipping legacy and what the Bluenose II represents for the entire country. The trials and tribulations have been tough, and I really do believe, like in other files, in other challenges that we have as a province, we're getting to a better place, and I think that the season was an indication of that. In 2015, 60,000 passengers got away on the Bluenose II. That's 60,000 who stepped on board. Then you add in the additional amount of people who didn't necessarily get on the Bluenose II but saw her when she was tied up in respective ports across the province and ports elsewhere in Canada. I think it really is a significant venture.
Looking at the museum, the Lunenburg Historical Society in Lunenburg, that handles the operations of the Bluenose II and all those associated with the vessel, from Captain Watson all the way down, they are totally committed to making this work and separating the vessel and the history and the importance of the Bluenose II from the government management and how we got to this place with respect to the project itself and what had happened since it was decided that we would do a rebuild back in 2008.
The member wants to know about the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance. To me, and understanding what they've been through, what this process has been, and when you look at the association, the members that make up LSA, I would say this in no uncertain terms, Mr. Chairman, they're among the best boat builders in the world. I think it's part of that legacy. I've spoken to all of them about this project. The ironic part and the somewhat difficult part is that when they formed the alliance to make the effort to participate in the Bluenose II rebuild, they were so proud because they're from Lunenburg. Their heritage, what they are, and what they know is connected to boat building, the shipping industry. Being around wharves and being around ports is what all of the people associated with this particular rebuild are the best at. Again, I say the best in the world.
How things got off track and have been blatantly mismanaged for a number of years, the level of injection of financial resources to really not address the problems that were inherent in the original design, the original planning. Anyone who has been interested, I totally suggest and totally submit them to look at the AG's Report. When Michael Pickup reviewed the file under direction from our government to look at the history, really you go back to the foundation, the beginning of this project. There was federal funding on the table, and really the chase became about matching those funds, so getting the project up and running and out the door before the federal funds lapsed. That's really what started it, so from the beginning, the project management was off, the timelines were skewed.
It's fair to say that the project was certainly in the wrong department. The people who really had a full understanding of project management, oversight, construction, building, what goes in the timelines, the design planning, and the eventual completion of a project - that expertise really existed in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. That's not something that's new to our government, Mr. Chairman. It's certainly something that has been the reality since TIR became an established department. The people in public works, the architects, the engineers, the management team that put together tenders and bids and processes for this type of design work, this type of construction project, the experts are here at our department to oversee that type of operation. When you're looking at the sensitivity, the importance, and the legacy of the Bluenose II rebuild, the work had to be done properly, and it should have been done in a much different way with different timelines, different objectives, and different oversight.
All of that stuff wasn't done, and if you look at the amount of money that was spent just chasing goals to keep this under wraps and keep things quiet until the vessel was relaunched, it really is a travesty. I think that we owe it to Nova Scotians from a procedural perspective, from the process, to get these things right. I don't think this is something that lands - if you look at some of the comments and criticism, it certainly doesn't land on one particular Party here in the province. I think it becomes about how government is managing these things and that certainly eclipses one Party over the other.
Obviously if you look at the report there are specific timelines which would indicate what was done when and why it was done incorrectly. That's something that I think our job now, as a current government, and the member has been a champion for, is to get it to the point where we're celebrating all that is good with the Bluenose II.
The history is staggering, I can admit. What I remember from grade school is about the extent of my knowledge with the Bluenose II until I became so intimately involved in this project - seeing the rebuild completed, all that retrofit work being done and having her ultimately sail. I think that when you look at what it has meant for first, the local history, and then how shipbuilding and captains having crews on vessels across the world really that came from Lunenburg and the richness of the history and the expertise there. This is what it's all about and I said it in a previous answer, but to think that this vessel is part of our national currency on the dime, that alone signifies the importance of the Bluenose II. So lest anyone think that this project isn't important, it's one of the paramount projects that we've done in the last number of years with respect to government because it's our legacy, it's part of tourism, it's really part of that fabric of who we ultimately are.
I think that now becomes water under the bridge is what the AG had identified. Now it is in the proper department, it does have the proper oversights. The decisions that are going to be made will be ones that will have intense scrutiny from the department, from the experts and certainly with tremendous feedback and insight and input from LSA.
To answer the member's question, LSA are among the best in the world and I think that part of this process and part of the moving forward and getting to a positive place is really establishing the message that, from a project management piece, this is where things were wrong. It was not the shipbuilders, it wasn't those on the ground who had their hands on the vessel itself, it was a much larger issue.
I think back to the rudder, and Captain Lou Boudreau is one person who had provided input on the rudder but there were a number of people who are experts in the field and the first ones were LSA. If you look back at the documentation, again this isn't something that's being released by us, this is something that was part of the AG's very objective and arm's-length report. It was about the fact that the LSA were adamant that the steel rudder was not the best decision for this vessel at that time.
Decisions were made by the previous government to move on, keep the project going as is. There were agreements in place that stipulated that LSA couldn't make any of those things public - again, water under the bridge.
As an historical team of boat builders and an historical region of the province, that really is the best in the business at this type of endeavour and have the expertise to relaunch the Bluenose II ultimately, then you've got to go to those people and have confidence that they are correct. I think that was one of the biggest challenges overall and the biggest mistakes, quite frankly, this project stemming back to 2008 was that we didn't utilize LSA enough. I think that again, that's something that transcends Party realities and it's a function of how these decisions were made through governments.
We've got to get to a point where the LSA, I think they're feeling that there has been some vindication, I think by way of our reaction to this, all coming from the AG's Report and to where we have been in terms of decision making but just by way of communication.
The member has had very close ties with LSA, I have as well. Their word is their bond, they've been very up front and fair about all this process. When you spend your life in operations that are shipbuilders and you feel marred in a sense, not only from a project in general but the largest project that they would ever be part of, it's tough to swallow.
I think what we owe the LSA is certainly recognition that they were in this for all the right reasons from the beginning, that the mistakes made weren't theirs. There's a number of different aspects of how we ended up with the steel rudder in the first place and they were the first ones to respectfully tell me when the vessel was sailing that we would have significant challenges with the steel rudder.
We were the government that launched the review of the rudder when we identified that there were problems. Obviously there was a steering component put on to manage that steel rudder. But if we were going to be true to the idea and the notion that we would move forward, Mr. Chairman, and erase all of that negativity from the past and the project, itself, and focus on the vessel, we had to address the long-term issue of this rudder. At this point, after the 2015 season, because of some of the days we have lost with the vessel not being in service because of challenges with the rudder and some of the components related to that heavy steel rudder, we launched the review and the whole value of the point of the review was to identify once and for all if this steel rudder was going to be adequate, not only obviously from a safety and operational perspective, but one of the things that the LSA had told me repeatedly, told the member repeatedly was that this was as much about the overall stability of the vessel and when you have this heavy steel rudder on the back of the ship that it would eventually lead to additional hogging. So, there would be a negative impact. So, it was not about safety and about operational as much as it was about that long-term stability and viability of the vessel itself. So, that is really what led us into launching the review of the rudder.
As it turned out, many people who had industry experience, LSA of course, Captain Lou Boudreau, other people that are out there who have a vested interest and fundamentally care about the Bluenose II and the project and making sure she is tiptop for the near future and for the long term really were, I think, proven correct by the process. It was never about safety; there was no suggestion that the steel rudder would cause an immediate problem so we will have the steel rudder on for this season but for next year, moving forward, we will look at some of the options that the consultant brings forward which at this point have been identified to be a potential wooden rudder or a composite rudder. So, we will look at the breakdown; what the consultant had committed to was to give a breakdown of both options and then it will be for government, of course working with the member from that community, working with stakeholders, discussing this with LSA to see what truly is the best option moving forward in terms of choice and of course how that will be done.
You know, that will clearly be a procurement process with an RFP that will put it out there to those capable of putting that project forward. Obviously, we cannot select who we would like to see; but I know certainly that LSA, because of their concern, because of their commitment to the Bluenose II that they will happy participants in that process and they will want to see things get to the best possible place. Because they love Lunenburg, because they love the Bluenose II and they feel obviously a connection to this particular project, they are going to be there for the long term and they will help us in any way that they can.
From my own activity and participation in this conversation over the last year, plus, I can tell you that LSA have been honest and up front about what they see. They believe that when all this negativity is stripped away and over time people just focus on the Bluenose II, itself, when they see her, those perspectives will change and we will get to a positive place.
I know that the member who has done tremendous work on behalf of her community sees the same things, and we are just going to work one day at a time to really repair the damage that had been done on the project management side and focus on the majesty of the Bluenose II.
LSA are as good as it gets in the world with shipbuilding. They have done tremendous work here and they will continue to do tremendous work not only employing local Nova Scotians but they will continue to support the legacy of the Bluenose II and they will be there to answer the call if we need them to help move things along.
MS. LOHNES-CROFT: Well, I am glad to hear your confidence in the LSA because I think that it is very important, Mr. Chairman, that the people of Lunenburg have affirmation from the department that their work is solid and they are great boat builders and shipwrights. Getting that message out is vital; it is vital for our economy on the South Shore and boat building, as you probably have read, is revived again. It is building up and we really want to keep that part of our heritage.
I would like to ask the minister through you, Mr. Chairman, what are the considerations of what will be done with the steel rudder?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and again lest anyone think that these questions are scripted and prepared, because they certainly are not, I'm going to wing it here. Obviously, we have a commitment for this season. The steel rudder will remain on the Bluenose II with the hydraulic system. Other than a few clear challenges that we had last year with some of the components, we anticipate a safe, relatively smooth season. The steel rudder will be part of her for this 2016 year.
In preparation, the Lunenburg Historical Society, for the Bluenose II has done great work in the celebrations and the scheduling and all of those components of the business model for the Bluenose II. All of those are in place, and that obviously will require the steel rudder being on the vessel. After that, we haven't really determined what exactly we would do with that. I'm not sure if there are options being considered in the community. I know for us it's clearly the functional aspect of the Bluenose II for 2016, and then once we switch out to either wooden or composite, then obviously we'll have some decisions to make about what we do particularly with that component. We haven't made any final decisions yet. Our focus is on the functionality of the Bluenose II. That's paramount, and the details that come after that are certainly something that we'll address in due course. If there is something coming from the Historical Society then we would be pleased to hear their recommendations or if there are any other ideas from the community, then by all means, we're wide open on that.
MS. LOHNES-CROFT: That's good to hear from the minister. I was on the wharf two winters ago when tourists from Saskatchewan were asking to see the rudder. They came all the way from Saskatchewan to see this steel rudder that they heard about. So you never know; it could be along the waterfront somewhere as a monument to how not to build a ship.
I'd like to switch to my favourite topic: roads, roads, roads - other than the Bluenose II. I do have a question here. I get it a lot on plowing but this is from the member for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie in particular. He's questioning the efficiencies of the plowing program and why you have to move from - the travelling times for plows to get from one area to the other and bringing another plow out to cover another area. It doesn't make sense when you have people calling and saying, my road hasn't been plowed but they've seen the road beside them being plowed. The average person doesn't understand the classification of roads and how certain roads get preferential plowing. It's particularly difficult for the member for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie; some of his plows leave his constituency and go into HRM and have to go back. Is there a reason behind this or is there some way we can make things more efficient? I know I have areas where plows come from different areas. We've got private contractors working on some roads, and they get done later than other roads. If you have a business on a road, you want your road cleared fairly soon after the snow has stopped. I want to know if the minister can comment on more efficient practices for snow plowing, or if they have to remain the same, why do they have to remain the same?
MR. MACLELLAN: Obviously this is one that is a recurring question and can be a concern for people in a particular region. Sometimes because of the realities of the county line and particular coverage, there will be a discrepancy in the level of service just based on the timing when a plow passes through. Sometimes you'll be on a completely clear road, and you'll hit a snow-covered road just based on the conditions at that time of day. That seems to be an inefficiency or a lack of productivity, but with the number of plows that we have out there, and the 23,000 kilometres that we serve, Mr. Chairman, it's not always easy to keep that consistency given the weather patterns and the conditions we have in the province.
To the member's question directly, I would certainly agree that there can be issues where it looks like we could be more efficient. The good news is that we do react to those and, again, like many other things, it is reactive and it is case by case. We have worked with our partners at CUPE - under the collective agreement we can make certain alterations to accommodate these types of things. If there is any chance we can identify where we are losing time, we are spending additional fuel, or we are just not capitalizing on an opportunity to have a different relation in terms of two plows or a series of plows that are working in the same area with similar conditions, then, clearly, we would make those adjustments.
Any time we can do our job better, in simple language, we would certainly do that. I think that if the member has a specific area, specific occurrence where something is taking place that seems to be inefficient, then oftentimes we try to address that at the local level, the depot level but if that is not the case then we would be happy to take a specific look at what the grid is, what the timing is, and if we can make any changes that will increase our coverage and increase our ability to make the roads safer, then obviously we will do that for sure.
MS. LOHNES-CROFT: I have a question about bridges and the number of bridges we have and, you know, I have heard reports that some bridges are in disrepair or questionable. How often are our bridges checked - to give me confidence in that I can reassure constituents that the bridges locally are looked at each year by a qualified engineer and that bridges that need work are prioritized and the work gets done?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to the member for the question. Look, there is no question about it, we discuss bridges and the safety aspect of those. We are well over 4,000 in total bridges and structures that we operate and maintain in the province. There was a report that came out I think a couple of years ago that identified just under 10 per cent of those required immediate attention so obviously they would get that immediate attention if it is in the 400 range of bridges and structures that needed us to be on the ground immediately to take a look.
Even those messages and those communications are very delicate because we would never want to suggest that they are unsafe and for us safety is paramount and when you look at bridges, we have to ensure the integrity of a bridge no matter what. So, that is always part of our daily routine, those of our staff that are on the ground at TIR, the bridge engineers, the inspections that take place are diligent and they are consistent and they have to be, particularly on those that are identified as requiring consideration and addressing particular issues.
So, as a general rule, basically, every one of our bridges are given a walk-around inspection on an annual basis. Clearly, that happens over 4,000 times in the run of a year; so, that is just the general sort of application for bridge inspection. But then what we do on a more specific basis is look at the ones that have been either identified as having some challenges with them or on the larger scale ones that we have seen to have some level of marked deterioration from one period to another.
In the grand scheme, we look at bridges at least once a year but clearly, when there is any indication of changing conditions, when there is an indication from residents, people in the area, our own staff that they have noticed something happening with the concrete, something happening with the guardrails, the decking, then clearly that requires an immediate action. Anything that has been identified as not being perfectly sound, they would be subject to regular inspection. We would never, ever, jeopardize safety; we are north of $10 million per year that we spend just on bridge maintenance and protecting the bridges alone, but again, like everything else, we would never sacrifice any aspect of safety on the bridges for financial realities.
We do a tremendous amount of work to ensure those bridges are safe and we would always encourage any member of this House and people who have a concern about a bridge to reach out because for us it's providing that clarity, providing that security and providing the peace of mind that bridges are safe and passable for drivers and pedestrians and all those who utilize a bridge service.
Again, one of the other challenges that we have when a report comes out that suggests that bridges are requiring immediate attention, that would be a synonym for unsafe for some people and we sort of have to answer that and to comfort people that that's not the case and that they require attention in the next number of years or a defined period but they're not going to cave in by any stretch and that's an important thing to remember.
Also, aesthetics of a bridge always play a role. I know that I've used this example before but we have a train bridge and the member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg's riding that is north of, I'm going to say 80 years old and looks the part, but is as solid as can be because it was equipped and engineered for trains. So outside of changing some decking boards, that bridge is structurally sound for an unidentified period well into the future. Sometimes with the look of them it seems as though they are crumbling but that's not necessarily the case. Again, I let the engineers do their work and it becomes about that structural soundness and clearly we've got to know that bridges are strong and sturdy and can withstand the weights that travel over them on a daily basis to make sure that we don't have any accidents or major problems.
It is a big investment and a big outlay of capital for us and overall operations but we inspect those bridges regularly to make sure that people who are using them are safe and will get across and get home safely on a daily basis.
MS. LOHNES-CROFT: I'm finished my questioning. I'll turn it over to the Progressive Conservative Party. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll now proceed with one hour of questions for the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm just going to use a few moments and I will pass that on in a few moments to the member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg who does have his voice back so, as the Critic for Transportation, would like to get at the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal so we'll see how that goes.
My first question revolves around something that I'm just becoming aware of, it revolves around the new health clinic for Shelburne. The minister back in September-ish announced a new clinic investment to be built next to the hospital and TIR has apparently taken over the renovation or new construction that is going to be happening at the new Shelburne clinic, which is a partnership with the local municipal units, the Town of Shelburne, the Municipality and District of Shelburne.
Apparently what has happened is there was a report made back in January-February by the department that the building that they actually used, which is adjacent to the hospital, is not suitable for renovation. So the department is now recommending a new construction with that but because of that, of course, there's added cost to that - over $1 million - which will require Treasury Board to approve the further expenditure on that.
I'm just wondering if the minister knows of this project and whether or not or how long the Treasury Board requests will take on the Shelburne clinic space.
MR. MACLELLAN: I can confirm for the member that there was additional cost related to the structure. We are working through it now, so we're putting together some of the details on what the final cost will look like. It will be a joint submission in consultation with ourselves, the Department of Health and Wellness, and of course the Health Authority as well. We are working on those details, but the member is correct on the additional challenges that were identified and of course the additional funds that will be requested for the project.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: This is an important project for the area, an important project for Shelburne and the surrounding communities that use the emergency room because part of the problem we've had with the emergency room over the last number of years is availability of doctors. We're hoping that if a health clinic is built, it will bring in a few more doctors and therefore will help out with the problem in the emergency room. I know we hear from the member for Queens-Shelburne on many occasions talking about the closures there. This is sort of the remedy to that which was announced back in August. It was a $1.65 million project that was announced back then, but I think there are some further challenges to it right now. I hope you can help herald that along. I know it costs more money. I hate to be here asking for more money, but I guess that's what we ask the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for, to be aware of these important projects in our communities and their repercussions not only for the Town of Shelburne but for Shelburne County and even Yarmouth County, which do use that facility. I'll let you continue to muse on that one . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Please direct your comments through the Chair and refrain from using "you."
The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for reminding me. I'm glad you reminded me about that.
On to my next issue, which I've talked about on a bunch of occasions here in the House of Assembly, it does have to do with highway 3, especially through the community of Argyle, Lower Argyle, the actual Argyle of my community. Many times you talk about me as the member for Argyle-Barrington; well there is actually a community in my constituency called Argyle. They have a road which was a chip sealed one - and I know Mr. Fitzner has been there on a couple of occasions through it as well.
It did make the list I believe for 2019, which is still three years from now. The road didn't get any better over the last winter even though we had a relatively mild winter. I'm just wondering, how hard is it to start pulling some of these projects forward? Is there a possibility that highway 3 Argyle will maybe get looked at this summer or Fall? It really does need that access.
The water capability of that is amazing. If you ever really needed a well, that's exactly what you would use, you would use this road because it can hold so much water. It's actually very dangerous, hydroplaning and such. I've talked about it before to the minister. How hard is it to pull it forward a couple of years?
MR. MACLELLAN: The toughest part is getting on the list. I know that's a cold comfort now for the member. It has been there for a while and looking out a few years at that project. Look, as we said many times - the member has been consistent on what the priorities are for his particular region, and this certainly has been one of them. Seeing that it's on the list, obviously, the local mechanism of TIR and the science we put behind these decisions obviously agrees with him and the people he represents about this particular road.
There are two factors that would change the capital plan listings. One of them is the funding allotment. It depends on the year and depends on the type of season we have from a financial perspective. If tenders come in good and we have a good season with respect to some of the awards and what the total is for particular regions and across the board with capital, sometimes money can be freed up that way, and we can knock off other identified priorities on that capital plan. That's one way. Of course secondly, it's when the conditions deteriorate. That's the sad reality of being reactive with this department because of that infrastructure deficit. I'm getting the sense from the member that with a few years out, he certainly thinks that's likely to be the case. That is part of it, and I guess for that we can continue to monitor it.
As we do these things, Bruce and Steve MacIsaac - who the member has a good relationship with - review these lists annually. So if there is one of those two realities from a financial perspective or of course with deterioration and the priority list changing, then obviously those things can be accelerated, and the timeline can be improved for the member and for his road. Clearly, it can be tough to jump a few years ahead, but we've seen things be accelerated because of those factors, and we can certainly continue to keep in touch with our representatives in that area. I know the member will continue to advocate.
Clearly, like anything else, there's no politics to getting roads paved and fixed for the people of Nova Scotia. When the circumstances align for this road which is on the capital plan, then obviously we'll make a move as soon as we can.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I'm glad he mentioned Mr. MacIsaac. I did have the opportunity just a few weeks ago before the House started to have Mr. MacIsaac as well as Mr. Newell in my vehicle driving through some roads and talking about the priorities for reconstruction. I know they know the state of that road and the state of the other roads in my constituency. Let's hope that they can work together to try come up with a solution to get it up a little bit further. They have been waiting a long time. You always have these discussions, and I know the minister would have these in his constituency as well - maybe not his constituency but the neighbouring ones. It's just, "It was in 1972 that they were there paving the road." We hear the ages and the times and the old stories that go with it. But it has been a very long time for that road, and I do hope that between Greg and Steve they're able to figure it out, even though I hear Greg is moving off to another position in Windsor.
Of course, I wish my area engineer very well in his new endeavours and hope that the new position will be filled quickly as we try to find a new engineer for Yarmouth, Shelburne, and Digby Counties.
To move right along, because I know my time is coming short here, as we revolve into from highway 3 Argyle, as you're coming up Highway No. 103 - let's say you get off the ferry, and you drive up Highway No. 103, and you get to Exit 32, you come to probably one of the most dangerous intersections along there. I know I asked a question in Question Period just a few days ago about how that review is coming. You said there was some work still to be done in the safety reviews of the highways. I know that Exit 32 in Argyle Head, Glenwood, Nakile, is high on that list, but how do we actually get work done on that? What will be the next steps for the department?
MR. MACLELLAN: I talked about the member's priorities. This is certainly one that he takes every opportunity to mention both in private conversations and of course here on the record. This is one that matters and is seen as a priority and a concern for Steve MacIsaac, the district director. So again, as we speak, we'll look at Steve to get some of the information, he was looking at some of the programming and what we could do in terms of what we could cost up and put together for the short term and medium term.
As I mentioned to the member in my response to his query on this particular exit in QP, certainly in my own experience - I've been there a few times, and we've seen it sort of from different angles and taken the different roads to see how you react - obviously, the left turns are the toughest parts and the sightlines are something that's a concern for that long-term safety and ensuring that that corridor is as safe as possible for motorists.
There will be an impact indirectly on how we manage the notion of twinning Highway No. 103, so clearly when you have a large-scale project, depending on how far we go and when we do it down the entire Highway No. 103 corridor, there will be an impact. It will soothe traffic and impact traffic in a number of ways, so that's obviously the long term, and that will have a serious impact on every aspect of Highway No. 103. But with regard particularly to this intersection, we're going to go back to Steve, and we can provide the member with an update. Steve has been looking at specifics on what we do and it's all based on that Highway No. 103 study that we conducted last year, to build in, whether it be through the capital plan or through some of the operational funds, to get some of those short-term and medium-term measures in place so that we can enhance the safety component there at Exit 32.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I thank the minister for that, and I look forward to continuing discussions with Steve on this one. There's a lot to figure out on this one because of where the access to the long-term care facility is across from that.
I do invite the minister, the next time he does take a tour of the area, if he does head to the Yarmouth area, I would like to maybe have 10 minutes of his time so that we could actually go and look at that particular intersection, just to understand the scope of it. It's a disaster waiting to happen. There are a number of accidents that have already happened there, and we really want to stop the probability of one happening again.
RIM projects - just where is RIM these days? I know I probably missed that question a couple of times here already, but are we still funding it the same way we were or are we still sort of at the level where the previous government cut it down? I know the last government had sort of taken away from that budget. Where is this government in trying to maintain that RIM budget? We know the importance of those brush-cuttings, those little projects, those ditching projects, those culverts, what they really mean to our small communities. They are the majority of the work that ends up happening there, so where is the RIM budget these days?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thanks to the member for the question. It was one that was asked a few times by his colleague, so I'm going to table this document once I'm finished with it, the table breakdown. Essentially we added $1 million two years ago to the RIM budget. It was $15 million when we came into government, and it has now held the line at $16 million. So $6 million of that is pave and preservation, so obviously a capital allotment, and the remaining $10 million is what is allocated for RIM. This breaks down all components of the RIM - the patching, gravel, clearing, guardrails and other work. Just for the member's information I'll table that for his viewing.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: That does end my questioning for today but I always have to get those issues on the record because they are important to our area. Also for the minister to maybe pass on to his staff for their continued support for the area. I know they work very hard trying to manage something that's always very difficult whether it's trying to organize the grading - which has been really good up to now - there's always the challenge of people calling, why is my road not done first and all that stuff. But as a rule, they've done well because they've actually managed it from a larger area where the places where roads were probably still closed, they were able to take some of those graders and move them into our area and try to catch up on that. So pass my best wishes on to the department to keep up the good work. As far as we're concerned, we'll keep you to account to make sure that you're doing your best job as well. So, thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Again, a reminder of using the term "you" is unparliamentary.
The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. To the chagrin of the minister, the voice is back. I must say when you are talking about the word "you" to a former sheep farmer it is kind of hard to not use that word so, I will just remind you that sometimes the wool gets pulled over your eyes in this place and that is how it takes place.
First and foremost, I want to thank the minister and his staff for the opportunity to say a few words and ask and exchange some questions. I want to start off by saying that I am very fortunate, as other members have said, with the people that I have in the local area to work with. Gerard and Roy are top notch. We do not always get what we want but we always get a fair hearing and that is very important. The area supervisors, Danny, Mike, and Paul, again are there to try and do the best for the citizens of the Province of Nova Scotia with limited resources and that is part of what we are talking about today is the resources that are available to the government and to the minister's department.
There has been a lot of talk lately - and I am going to start off on a little lighter note - about the link between Louisbourg and Gabarus known as part of the Fleur-de-lis Trail. Many, many years ago, there was a program that was started actually by the government of Premier Savage and at that time they started rebuilding the road on the Fleur-de-lis Trail from St. Peter's to Gabarus and the final section has still not been completed. In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about what it would do as an economic driver for that side of the island, our side of the island and, of course, there is a major cost there.
In the past, the department has been willing to act as a general contractor and said if the road had gotten built through some kind of a program that indeed they would take over the maintenance and the plowing of it.
So, my question to the minister is, indeed have you had any opportunity to talk to the federal government regarding infrastructure dollars that might be available for a project of this magnitude? It would be an economic driver for that side of the island; it would be also important for the people of Louisbourg and the Fortress of Louisbourg. Instead of Louisbourg being a day trip from Sydney, it would actually be an opportunity for people to come, stay in Louisbourg and enjoy that beautiful, little scenic town and then move on along the coast up towards Grand River and Point Michaud and end up in St. Peter's and so on. So, I just wonder if you have had an opportunity at this point to talk to anybody on the federal level about that.
MR. MACLELLAN: I had a great discussion with a gentleman named Bill Fiander who has been one of the champions for this. I know the member has talked with him about this particular project a number of times. Quite frankly, I will repeat what I told Bill. It is not necessarily on our radar. Obviously, for us, you know, there are aspects of the Fleur-de-lis Trail and what it would mean for tourism and economic development and without question the impact on the beautiful community of Louisbourg and historic community of Louisbourg; but for us it really becomes about the data and the volume and the aspects of constructing new roadways, new highways that we really apply. So, in fairness, we do not have a whole lot of a tourism lens or an economic development lens at this point on this particular piece.
Being a local MLA, along with the member, I see certainly the merit in Louisbourg and what it has as a package. There a number of initiatives that we could do to enhance tourism and really draw more people into that region of the island. It is really not on our radar screen at this point. I have not talked to anyone specifically about the Fleur-de-lis Trail and the expansion from a Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal perspective. I have not had any discussions about the Fleur-de-lis Trail with any federal counterparts. I did have an opportunity to share some of my comments to Bill with the Member of Parliament, Roger Cuzner, just about where Bill was and what he sees and, again, that would be something that if it came as an overarching project that was really being pushed then certainly we could look at what our role would be there. But quite frankly, it's not something that we're looking at pursuing at this point. Like always, just like I said to Bill, if there are continuing discussions then I'd be happy to provide any feedback and input we would have from the provincial TIR perspective.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank the minister for that answer. As a representative of an area with a lot of rural roads, the minister is well aware - and I want to take this opportunity actually to publicly thank him for coming on a couple of road tours with me as well as the chief engineer and the deputy minister. We've travelled the roads of Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg on several different occasions. There are some names of some of the roads there that are very familiar to the minister and the department and we'll probably hear a little bit about them as we move through this questioning tonight.
One of the roads that had been a long time in waiting to find out what was going to happen was the road through the village of Donkin. Last year, because of some indications of what was taking place, it finally came to pass and it was a commitment that had been made by the department and indeed, once the decision had been made on what was going to happen with the mine and the economic development of the mine there, that the road would be done. I'm just curious if the minister could tell me the plans to further continue on the proposed trucking route of the coal from the Donkin mine. Again, it's something that is very important to the economy and the economic driving of our area. So, if that's possible for the minister to respond to that, I would appreciate it.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I do thank the member for the opportunity to give some detail on that. There is some significant work being undertaken now predominantly by the officials at Donkin mine but obviously in close coordination with our department. So, just for the reference and the information of the House, we have the Donkin highway which leads out to No. 6 Mines Road which basically loops around, comes back to the 255 which is the Marconi Trail, and that leads to a corner called Dearn's Corner which basically completes the loop, then you're on the highway back into Glace Bay which is basically the area that the trucks would travel and all traffic would travel to get to the mines. So, we've done a significant amount of work on the Donkin highway portion to get to the mine. Our next task is managing some of the worst spots on the No. 6 Mines Road followed by work on the 255 to Dearn's Corner. So, that will definitely complete that loop in terms of exiting or entering to the Donkin site and that will handle that part of the travel. The key one that I think is fair to say the residents are worried about is what happens next.
So, when it gets to Tower Road, where Tower Road and Brookside Street in Glace Bay intersect, where do the vehicles go and what's the route to get out to the power plants for Nova Scotia Power and what's the route to get down to the waterfront to ship the product to external, international markets that will be waiting for it. We certainly hope and anticipate that's the case.
What we've come up with and I can honestly say the work of Kameron Collieries has been significant on this particular piece. We're looking at building a road corridor from where Tower Road and Brookside Street meet; so, we wouldn't be having these vehicles travel through any real residential areas. We're hoping that it will establish a corridor route, build up the roadbed which would actually fall on the railbed that's there now, so obviously, there would be some strength in that existing railbed. We have to build up the road, something for a roadbed, obviously widen and look at the shoulders and ditching and those type of things, and establish that corridor.
So, that is the plan; we're working on that now. Kameron Collieries has undertaken all of the aspects of that particular piece so,to get to Tower Road and then cut into the railbed will be certainly a significant project; but, it looks like it's something that is doable. They've put a number of different financial aspects and financial options on the table about how exactly we would do this. Obviously, they're looking to be a significant partner in that, appreciating and understanding the level of investment that we've made in the road, as I explained earlier. They're going to play a role in that. We're still waiting on final details. They've contracted a local consultant to put together some of the information on the specs, the roadbed, the number of kilometres, which I think is in the range of 8 to 10 possibly, it's in that range. Where it would exit for the member would be at the Old Airport Road. We will probably require a set of lights - there's still some details we have to figure out - coming on to the highway, leading into Sydney, into where they would be able to access the Nova Scotia Power plants as well as get to the downtown port so that they can move that coal externally.
Now it looks like a stand-alone road corridor. We're hoping that we'll have a full plan that's acceptable. It looks like a lot of the unsecured land that will be required for that corridor is owned by the federal government now, with a few private landowners in the mix. That will be something that we'll have to overcome and get final details on the land. Of course, any of the environmental impacts, which look to be pretty low at this point, we will have to get the confirmations on that as well. It's all systems go.
I've met with residents from Morien, as I'm sure the member has as well. All Birch Grove area has contacted me at different times. There's an established group in Glace Bay. Everyone supports the idea of moving significant amounts of coal. Everyone's on board with respect to the importance of the economic development and the economic impact on the people that we represent.
But of course, nobody wants coal trucks zooming by their home, a dozen per day or whatever the actual frequency would be, which is understandable because of the noise, because of the coal dust that could happen, and certainly because of the safety risk. Clearly operations like Kameron Collieries are experienced in this. Believe me, they want to avoid any contact with residences and with other motorists. They want to do this as safely as possible. They understand that it could negatively affect people, and they want to avoid that as much as they can. They've been a good partner in establishing this roadbed.
We're still working on those final details. In terms of timeline, we hope to have something in place in the next six weeks or so, maybe in the early summer, to identify exactly what we're going to do. Then it becomes about that partnership, how we're going to service it, how it's going to be maintained, what the aspects are for permitting and those types of things, and fundamentally when we can start constructing it. Kameron's on board. The department's been working closely - Bruce and Peter Hackett, an engineer who happens to be from Sydney who has a wealth of appreciation for what coal mining has meant for us and what it could mean in the present day.
We're moving ahead on those details. It looks pretty positive. Fingers are crossed. We hope to identify that corridor soon and then get working on the construction.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that answer. There's no question that he and I and the people of our communities are concerned about safety as a number one priority, and the ability to route the truck traffic out of the Town of Glace Bay and through the back part would be a significant and large safety move.
I wonder if, in the discussions with Kameron Collieries, there has been any discussion about sidewalks in the Village of Donkin. Again, safety being a priority, the work that has been done there is good work, but the roads themselves are narrow. I know that normally speaking sidewalks are a municipal issue, but in the past, governments here in the Province of Nova Scotia have said that they would look at sidewalks as part of the economic development package with the development of the mine. One of the prime concerns of many of the people of the Village of Donkin is the ability to walk on the sides of their road without having to worry about truck traffic and other types of traffic. I wonder if the minister has had any opportunity to have that discussion with Kameron Collieries or others or if it's even on the radar screen of the department. If it's not, hopefully we can get it put on the screen there.
MR. MACLELLAN: It absolutely has been part of the discussion. Along with the mayor and council and the CBRM staff, Wayne MacDonald and the engineering team, that is a concern for all of us. Without question, it's a risky precedent to suggest that the province would get into sidewalks so I can tell the member it won't be us directly. However, having said that, it is part of the discussion, so at the end of the day, there's going to be a significant capital outlay for Kameron; there's going to be some work that the CBRM public works are going to have to endeavour to complete.
At the end of the conversations, despite sort of what the reputation can be for large-scale companies in general but particularly for mining companies, again, Cline and his group and Kameron Collieries are worried about fundamentally the safety aspect of their operations. So, if there is a conversation about the financial package that they are going to support, all of the infrastructure upgrades, that will be part of the discussion.
We have done some work with the Donkin Highway piece. We have done some work to allow for some sidewalk insertions in parts of the Donkin Highway. But to answer the question, it is yes, there's no doubt about that but what we have to do is identify exactly what the route is going to be. I think originally it was fair to say that the expectation probably with government and with Kameron, themselves, is that we would go back and forth through the Village of Donkin. It looks as though the safe bet now would probably be come around the other way and hook a right in Morien and actually come down the 55 which would be much less intrusive on some of the congested areas of Donkin. But having said that, there will some more significant upgrades required on highway 255 which is also part of a financial investment that we'll make as the province.
When we finish some of the specs on the 255, when we look at what the overall route, the coal corridor, is going to cost, then I think we sit as a group, ourselves, CBRM, and Kameron to look at the entire financial package and then discuss who is going to do the work for the sidewalks, who is going to back the actual capital investment as well as some of the planning work which we can probably be a part of because of our role with highway 255 and with the Donkin Highway.
So, it's a discussion that's ongoing; it's on the radar screen for all partners in government and of course for Kameron and I know that the member hears a lot from his residents and even from my own coming into Brookside Street there's an aspect of safety there; it turns into a pretty high-speed highway, it goes from 50 to 70 in that region and there are developing properties out there. It's a beautiful part of our community and the view of the ocean is tremendous. So you will see increased development. I think it is that chicken and the egg where if you see things like sidewalks and additional community assets pop up then I think you will see increased development there.
There is a plan that over time some of the old heavy water plant be developed for residential sites and if that is the case then obviously you're going to have to support pedestrian traffic there by way of infrastructure, so lots of conversations. It's still ongoing between the levels of government and the private sector operator of that mine.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I thank again the minister for that answer. He is quite right about the safety being the biggest part of the information and the travel there. I would just suggest to him that even if the trucks are routed around highway 255 there will still be a lot of car traffic going back and forth to the mine and the odd delivery truck that doesn't realize where they're going and those types of things. So I would encourage the minister to indeed keep that on the radar screen and anything that I can do to help promote that, I would be more than happy to be part of that.
We're going to move on now to another area that doesn't have any big economic drivers in this community but it is an area that has been long-since established; it's along the Mira River, the community of Grand Mira South. There hasn't been any significant work done on that road for a number of years and, again, it is a road the minister and the chief engineer and others have had the opportunity to travel on with me as we were moving about and looking at different areas. I know that we've been working and trying to find a solution there. I do know there are criteria put forward but at some point the very fact that work hasn't been done in an area for a long time and it's a place where these people live, it's where they worship, it's where they socialize and they have been very patient but I'm hoping that we will be able to some kind of positive impact within the next couple or three years to allow that road to be upgraded to a standard that would make it easier for people to travel back and forth and not cause so much havoc and damage to their vehicles.
I do realize that there are a number of roads in the province, right across the province that need this kind of recognition but I will ask the minister to consider that. As well, we've had some discussions about having a meeting with some of the people in that area and I want to make it publicly known that the minister has said it's just a matter of getting our calendars to work more than anything else but I'd just like to ask for any input you can give me on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and certainly the member opposite mentioned Roy MacDonald. Really we've been in a number of discussions with Roy on this particular road and clearly, right now, a lot of the focus and the effort has been on Grand Mira North and we're getting along pretty good on that side; and we certainly haven't given up on Grand Mira South.
I guess there's an obvious distinction and the member would know this as well as anyone in terms of the volume and the traffic counts for north versus south so, we haven't done a whole lot on south to this point. Clearly, there's no question about it, having done that tour and been out there on my own personal time, you certainly can see that some work is warranted. I believe if I'm not mistaken there was a consideration from the department folks about chip seal, and I don't know if that was a desirable option at that point. The member can confirm that but I think that if we look at options like that there may be an opportunity to accelerate some of the timelines. But from our perspective, just talking to Bruce here and again in discussions with Gerard and Roy, as we get through some of those sections in north, I think we'll have to take a revisit at south to see what could possibly be done there. When the member gets back up I'm not sure if he could confirm that idea of chip seal, whether or not that is something that the residents on that side would be interested in or they want to stick to the plan to continue to push for paving and see what the result is in the next couple of capital plans.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and, yes, I will confirm that indeed the chip seal option had been offered to the community. I took three or four individuals to look at a piece of chip sealing that had been done on the Toronto Road on the north side. We went through that and then, we went back and met the department. At the time, there was some hesitation on whether or not that was the option that they wanted to move forward with but indeed, if it's an option that's on the table, we'll re-approach that when we meet with them and see how that works but, indeed, it was an offer that was put on the table. I'm glad to confirm that.
It just wouldn't be right if we had this discussion about transportation and we didn't talk about this specific road. I've had the opportunity to represent this area since a number of years and before that I knew the gentleman that was there and the one before him. The New Boston Road has been an issue of concern for people for a long time. As a matter of fact, the gentleman that was lucky enough to pick the winning ticket on Chase the Ace on Saturday is from the New Boston Road. I had considered approaching him to see if we can do a public/private partnership on getting the road repaved. But I'm not sure if he's really open to that idea.
Putting all fun aside, it is, again, a road that I know both of you are familiar with, Bruce from his time when he was the area manager down there and in his current role and you, Mr. Minister - and I know I'm not supposed to say you so I apologize, Mr. Chairman, before you chastise me on it again. We've travelled it, we know the issue, it is a u-shaped road that connects on the Louisbourg Highway and there are homes on either end and there's a section in the centre where there are no homes; so, it would be about two kilometres on one end and about two-and-a-half kilometres of work on the other. I truly believe, and I've said this before, that indeed if I had gotten even two inches of pavement for every time I asked the question we'd be finished paving it by now. So, with that, although I make a little fun, it is a very important issue to the people that live on that road and I would ask the minister if he has any suggestions, and maybe chip seal is one of them; I'm not sure.
MR. MACLELLAN: The winning ticket was drawn by Sheldon Boutilier. He is a New Boston Road native, but he's from Glace Bay. He's a die-hard Leafs fan. It you renamed it to Maple Leafs Road, he might do the cost share, member. I'm not sure.
Look, in all seriousness, I know that this is something that the member brings forward every year because he believes it's one that is a priority. Certainly, given our experience there, I do see that it is about the two entry points for the u-shaped road, and it's not the middle section so much. So maybe that is something we can consider with respect to chip seal.
When we do that tour, which usually lands in June for the member and myself to get out with our senior staff, maybe we'll do another revisit and see if chip seal is an option. Going off my recollection of the New Boston Road, I don't recall there were major roadbed challenges; I think it was just about the surface itself, so maybe there is an alternative we could do and get something started on it. I certainly want to have Roy there with us and maybe take another look.
Again, as we talked about, the financing and changing conditions of the road really have an impact overall on what happens year over year. I know this is one that the member wants to get done, so we'll do another drive-around and see what condition it's in this year and look at some of those alternatives. Maybe if chip seal is in the cards, then we can look at that down the road.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank again the minister for that answer. I really would like to point out that at the New Boston Road end that is closer to Albert Bridge, there's a significant hill there as you leave the Louisburg Highway. It is a safety concern, because there are school buses that travel it, and coming down that hill in the wintertime, there can be a lot of ice and slippery conditions. It's sort of like eating an elephant: it's one bite at a time. If we could get the hill done, that would be a step in the right direction. It's something that has certainly been on the radar screen of myself and others for quite some time.
Earlier, in questions by other members, there was some discussion about RIM work and the number of dollars that are available in RIM work, and the minister supplied some information on that. One of the things that we've been noticing and that has created a large concern for a lot of the areas in our constituency, and I'm sure in other constituencies around the province, is the amount of gravel that doesn't seem to be available.
Gravel to a dirt road is prime because after a while, once you get the potholes in the permanent base, it's just a matter of shifting around some stuff that's loose and that flies out at every opportunity. I know that the department has a policy when it comes to doing calcium sealing on roads, but I'm also aware that if you could put a new base of - well, asphalt would be the solution we would all like - a new base of gravel on the road and then maybe put some binding calcium chloride on it as soon as the grading was done so that it would bind together and create a much more solid surface for the travelling during the summer and cut down on the dust.
I heard the minister talk the other day about how they're looking at doing things a little different with capital projects and whatnot. I'm just wondering if there's any consideration being given to a major program for gravel roads in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLELLAN: That's something that we've been discussing over the last number of years, how we would address some of the pressing issues of gravel roads. I think all members of the House know - and this is a topic that has come up a number of times since I have been on my feet for estimates - that we've got to look at new ways to address the several thousand kilometres of gravel road that we have in the province that need a fresh layer of gravel. Again, that helps with the potholes; it helps with all the other issues that you have on these particular roads. I think that one of the options certainly is to have them as part of that capital plan. Again, it has really come to light here, over the discussions in the last number of weeks, and even for myself having been through a few seasons of the Spring thaw and the heavy Spring precipitation, that this is the worst it has been in a season that wasn't our worst winter of any of the ones I've experienced here on the government side. There are conversations about how we revisit the investments we have to make. Looking at the total of kilometres that we have, the total of kilometres that need a serious injection, it's just very tough to get at them with the limited operational funds that we have.
Clearly if they were added to the capital plan and the capital program, that would impact the overall budget, so you're going to set priorities like we do now. But I think that given the impact of gravel roads and some of the long-term deterioration that has taken place in specific regions of the province and I think across the board and on the whole, we're going to have to look at ways to do things differently.
Again, I think this season, what we've gone through the last month with residents and Nova Scotians from all sides of the House, from all regions of the province, we've got to really put our thinking caps on here and figure out what we can do a little bit differently to find some new ways to address these issues because they're not getting better. If we continue to have these problems, the worst-case scenario - we keep using the word - and no one has a monopoly on caring about safety; we all care about safety. When you're looking at roads that we have to work really hard to keep them passable, that's a looming issue for sure. When you're talking about Spring weight restrictions on these roads that are increasingly softening and you look at the weight restrictions for emergency vehicles and the issues of getting access to rural and remote places in the province, we really have to look at how we're managing that.
It is an issue that has come to light over the last couple of years without question, but specifically this year. We're really going to put our minds to it at TIR to figure out what plan we can make moving forward to address some of the urgent needs on Nova Scotia's gravel roads.
MR. MACLEOD: That answer is a step in the right direction. I know that the department is working on it. I wonder, just how do we get it into the capital plan? Is it a department decision? Is it a Cabinet decision? Have you thought anything about maybe doing a pilot project? I would certainly like to offer Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg as an area where you could do a pilot project on re-gravelling roads and measure how they stand up after they've been re-gravelled and re-calciumed for a period of time. Who makes the decision to move it from where it is today into capital, and is there anything that we can do to help make that happen?
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, there is a technical, I guess, administrative component of reclassifying the asset. It's a function of the Department of Finance and Treasury Board first and foremost, and then it's related to our auditors. So really what we have to do is adjust the thresholds for capital that are currently in place and as well establish some different rules and treatment of our asset classes and how we would categorize the asset and the operational expenses. When you're putting in the full-scale capital work even for a gravel road, it becomes about the structure of the roadbed itself and what kind of investments you have to make to add to the lifespan, life cycle, of a gravel road in particular. There are some technical details that we have to figure out first.
In fairness, that's probably the easy part. Then once you get it into a capital class, it becomes about allocating the budget. Obviously, the first parts are important, and we have to work through the Department of Finance and Treasury Board and our own external auditors to figure out those things and how they would be classified, how they would be depreciated, those types of issues with respect to capital assignment of funds.
Of course, the next part is building it into our five-year capital plan and the local roads plan so that we have the budget to cover those gravel roads and those gravel projects as well as the ongoing major projects and maintenance in paving and the preservation work that we do now.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank the minister for that answer because I think it's important that the department under his leadership is trying to tackle this issue because in rural Nova Scotia it is a huge issue. To his own words, it is a safety issue as well that I know he is very aware of because he mentions many times about worrying about the condition of the roads and the safety that needs to be created.
There are different programs that the department uses to do different types of roads and road strengthening is one of the things that I know there's a program for. One of the roads in our community that has a lot of heavy truck traffic and a lot of travel is a road called the Meadows Road which is located out in Sydney Forks. Out on that road is where their asphalt plants are and crushing plants and gravel and screening plants. What I hear from the residents who live on that road is: we get all this traffic and yet our road still needs work and we don't get it done but we're fixing everybody's roads because they're taking all the asphalt from there and they're taking all the gravel from there. Again, I know that it's something that the department is aware of but I'm just wondering if there's any way we can share some information with the people on that road when they can expect to have some strengthening done on that particular piece of highway.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, this is one that was included in our previous road tour. I've been part of this one with the member and with Gerard Jessome, district director, who was part of that. There is an inclusion of the Meadows Road in the strengthening program but obviously, that's a $2 to $3 million allotment for the entire province that goes in a hurry. There's nothing scheduled at this point. Obviously, there's the usual maintenance that will take place on the Meadows Road but certainly, that's one that I can talk to Gerard about to see what the plan is for some of that improvement work.
There's no question about it, when we were there, there was, I wouldn't say a lot of residential traffic but certainly some commercial traffic that was moving through there; it's a busy industrial area with the activities that the member had identified. So it is a concern for sure. That's one of those roads in the member's riding that I hear from residents quite regularly on, and it is that irony that they're providing all this aggregate and these materials for other roads and they can't get their own strengthened. So it is one that's identified as a priority with respect to the strengthening component of our program but it's of little comfort to folks who are waiting for it and it's not identified as being done immediately. Maybe, we can reach back into the local depot with Gerard to see if there's anything significant happening for that repair work for this year.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There are a number of other roads that the minister is familiar with because we have had an opportunity to drive on them but there would be roads like the Birch Grove Road, the Morrison Road, the Little Lorraine Road, and the Main-a-Dieu Road all of these roads are roads that had been paved a number of years ago and haven't seen any work done on them in a while and if the minister could look at them.
I'd like to just change gears a little bit, and it is another safety issue. One of the biggest complaints that we get in our office and I think the minister gets it and probably all the other members get them as well is how come the paint doesn't last long enough on the yellow lines? Is there anything we can do to get a better paint or better project or something to keep the lines on the highways brighter and more vivid for nighttime driving because in the winter, when you get dark, dark nights, a lot of the older drivers complain on a regular basis about the fact that they can't see the lines on the road, and they're very nervous. I know that the paints were changed a number of years ago because of environmental concerns, but in other jurisdictions, they use other types of materials to create lineage on the highway, which I believe is a major safety issue, and it's something that needs to be looked at. I'm just wondering if the department has been looking at anything in that aspect.
MR. MACLELLAN: That has certainly been a challenge for us as obviously seen by the additional work we have to do with painting and repainting. The member hit it absolutely right, it's the outlawing of lead has really changed the game in terms of reflective paint and paint on the highway. What we do now is obviously water-based, and it literally has glass beads in it for reflection from headlights. I know that there are certain sections of the provincial grid that are subject to the most amount of concern and complaints. One of them is actually part of our new section on Highway No. 125, particularly in the construction season. It's the part that runs through the member's riding.
Even now, because of the wide expanse of the corridor coming out of Sydney River, the lights light up the areas and the right-of-way, but in terms of that middle section where the Jersey barriers are, it's not as easy. Not only is the paint not as easy to see as it used to be, but obviously, there's a requirement for continuous repainting. It certainly is a challenge. The safety group that we have within the department is always looking at innovative ways. Provinces do things differently, and they use different types of reflecting materials and different things to enhance that vision. But because of weather, because of the impact of precipitation on our paint, we just have to try to keep up as best we can. Even the frequency with which our roads are plowed impacts on that water-based paint, and you just didn't have that problem with the lead. Clearly, the environment is a priority, so we've got to follow those rules of not using lead paint, but at the end of the day, we try to be as innovative as we can and learn from other jurisdictions what they do to increase that safety.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the one-hour allotment for the Progressive Conservative caucus. I understand the NDP caucus has no further questions.
We will now move to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. IAIN RANKIN: I won't take too long. I know that there's still some time left, but I want to pass it back to the other caucus. I did want to take the opportunity to ask some questions of the minister through the chairman.
Timberlea-Prospect, obviously, half of it is provincial, and the other half is HRM. Geographically, though, I would say it's closer to 90 per cent provincial roads. The main one that I've focused on so far would be highway 333, the Prospect Road, which I've driven with the minister before and driven numerous times with some of the senior management, who I do want to recognize as doing a great job. They're always willing to sit and meet on all the various issues we have with highway 333. Safety is really the main priority; it is for all of us.
I'm happy to see in the five-year plan, finally, a component there to address some of the unsafe intersections. It's very vague in the five-year plan; it's a multi-year project, it says. I'm just wondering if we can flesh that out at all for the people who live along there and commute there every day. How many years do you see this project taking place? I understand there's a tender going out in June with the project to start in July. I understand there's going to be about three intersections addressed, which is great, long overdue. Just so I can get this all in one question, are we able to say if we can do the Terence Bay Road intersection? That's one where I know we had challenges as there's property around Terence Bay Road that we needed to figure out. I'm just hoping that we might be able to get that in next year. I know it's not going to happen this year, but that is a priority because there's congestion along that area.
I did want to thank the department also for signing off on the bylaw for the signage, which I think is a great thing. We worked together with Councillor Adams and Councillor Whitman, and I do appreciate that because that's more than a decade in the making. Councillors in the past wanted to do it, and it wasn't able to be done, so I appreciate that.
MR. MACLELLAN: I'll go to the member's last comment first. The signage policy and how we treat signs across the province is something that has been very piecemeal over the last number of years, really. I think that from an aesthetics perspective, coming into the metro core is a big one for that particular corridor. I do remember the before viewing that we had with the member versus how it is after. It's a significant difference, and I think what the member envisioned would be sort of a pilot or an indication of what could happen if we made those decisions and cleaned up some of that signage and culled some of the old ones that are dated that are associated with businesses that no longer exist or old banged-up signs. They leave a terrible image for anyone travelling through that area but obviously for tourists in particular.
It's something that we're looking to emulate and do on a larger scale across the province, first with the 100-Series Highway, and then we'll get into the secondary roads. That requires a lot of work, but you have to start somewhere, and I think that the member bringing forward his community to take that on and do it as an example was a good thing.
With respect to the intersections, our recollection is that there's three or four key ones. There's the Brookside, the one at the Irving garage, and then it was the Prospect Road. As far as the capital plan is concerned, we're going to look to address the three or four that we had as the trouble areas over two years, so between this capital plan and next year. That is the ultimate goal for addressing those particular areas. Obviously, the member has a close working relationship with the TIR officials there, and working in consultation with the HRM representatives and his local counterparts to identify some of those trouble areas. Again, there's extremely high volumes coming in and out, certainly at drive times, but at all times of the day, in that member's riding. It's good to get a start on these things. There's lots of work to do in his area as well, but identifying those priorities is the key ingredient, and I appreciate the member's work on that.
MR. RANKIN: Thank you for that update, I appreciate it. Another question through the Chair to the minister: I understand there was a study completed looking at speed limits within subdivisions. This question emanates from that. I think all MLAs get some questions about speeding within subdivisions, in particular in HRM. I'm just wondering if that study has been completed. What did we learn from that study? Is there anything that we can do to provide enabling legislation for HRM to look at a possible reduction from the 50 kilometres per hour in subdivisions to say 40 kilometres per hour, for example?
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, the study resulted in a recommendation that we do a pilot project in a number of areas across the province. We've identified 10 sites, the key speed limit would be 40 kilometres per hour. We've said that we would do that over a number of months and have the final results give us an idea of what the pilot level of 40 kilometres an hour meant for safety, mobility, and all those facets of travel in those 10 areas. I think those results will be ready a year from now, give or take. Obviously, that will be much of the directive for what we would do vis-à-vis legislation and how we would work with our municipal partners to look at addressing speed issues in neighbourhoods across the province.
MR. RANKIN: I just wanted to ask one more question on snow removal. Being in the rural areas of HRM, we have a bit of a difference in the standards that HRM has; they're not completely congruent with the standards at the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal use, and they have different equipment, too. Over time, the shared services agreements permitted it to be looked at and has in the past. I'm just wondering if the minister knows what year that comes up on, if there's opportunity to look at transferring more roads from the provincial side to HRM. This is something I've brought up to the minister in the past. There are communities like say, Hammonds Plains, that used to be part of the province that were shifted over to HRM. I think more and more as we go forward, people within HRM are going to expect the same level of services for snow removal. Obviously I'm speaking for Prospect, but there are some other areas that could use a more congruent system, and I'm just wondering if there are opportunities to look at the HRM shared service agreement and evolve that from there.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member's question, the agreement was essentially based on the density. There was residential activity and residential growth in particular areas. It obviously started in a very small concentrated area, and as density grew, the service agreement changed to include some of those roads. As the population expanded outward, the agreement stipulated that the municipality would take on more roads and continue to add to that list. That's part of the agreement; it's basically an ongoing relationship with Halifax and ourselves. Clearly, as the member had brought forward to our attention many times as well, working with his municipal counterparts, we will go back and revisit those. There's always room to look at the service exchange.
Again, as the density and the population shift, then clearly there's a requirement, and it just makes sense that HRM would include more and then we would take over some of those longer runs that are more in touch with what we do from a provincial highway and corridor perspective. That's certainly ongoing; there's always room to make those adjustments in the relationship, and we'll continue to do that as time goes on and continue to look at how that relationship and the service agreement alter over time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe that concludes questions from the Liberal caucus. We'll now move back to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: Thank you to the minister, I did receive the tabled document. Just back to the gravel roads - the threshold for capitalizing a project, is it $500,000? Under the way that the rules are written now, if a gravel road was redone for a certain number of kilometres and it came to over $500,000, would that make it a capital project?
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, that's correct.
MR. HOUSTON: I had a bit of trouble reading my notes when I got home on the weekend. The cost to gravel a kilometre of gravel road. Was it $80,000, would that be to redo the whole bed? How many inches of gravel would that be?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. No, it wouldn't be the bed; it would just be about four or five inches of gravel not touching the roadbed at all.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to the minister. That concludes our questions unless he wants a few more. Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I now recognize the honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for about six minutes of final comments.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to, on behalf of the department, thank all colleagues on all sides of the House for their questions, for their interest in our department and what we do. It's certainly a significant endeavour. The amount of work that is put into this is a great body with respect to not only the capital plan and the overall budget for Transportation from the capital side and the operational side; we certainly do a tremendous amount of work and it really is a function of the senior staff that we have here and Bruce and Diane who have been with me for the three days of estimates now. It has been an incredibly important exercise for us to get together and talk about some of these issues and get into the functionality of the department.
You know, it's a lot of work, what we have to put in each and every year to keep Nova Scotians safe and fundamentally, we get into a lot of other issues and a lot of other topics of conversation but at the end of the day it is about that road safety.
Some of the big things that we'll embark on, everything we do from an operational perspective is important and it matters but some of those large-scale projects that will take place over the next couple of years are certainly significant for our province from a safety perspective and just from an overall infrastructure perspective.
One of the looming things that I encourage and hope that all members of the Legislature will participate in, and not only themselves but bring in the people that they are connected to and family, friends, community stakeholders, and that is with respect to the twinning feasibility. It's one that I've been proud to talk about because of the magnitude of the projects themselves and just the fact on what it means in the direction of the province moving forward. It's a $1 million feasibility study which in itself signifies and represents a very large decision that we have to make. What we're looking at is obviously for eight corridors across the entire province, it would impact everybody here in this room. It would impact all of our constituencies and the people that we represent, and it's a big thing. For us, I can say this and I've said it a number of times during questioning in estimates, this becomes about answering a question once and for all.
As a government, we don't have a vested interest either way. If the answer is no and we embark on this sharing of information with Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the next, we really get into what people think. We encourage those who support the idea of looking at 300 kilometres of twinning and therefore using the financial option of tolling to get there. I encourage all of those in the Legislature who are connected to people in their ridings and their communities to get out and support that and if that's not the case, I'm sure there'll be the alternative and there'll be people who are fundamentally against it because of what user fees and tolling represents and the P3 model represents but that's okay too.
We're here to listen to Nova Scotians; it isn't to impose decisions and make people accept what we decide in downtown Halifax and have to live with it. It's a question that will really impact our society for many years to come not only from a safety perspective, which is the reason for this, but also from growth and development. If the answer is yes, we proceed.
I think it's key that we have every Nova Scotian who has any kind of concern, any kind of opinion, to get out there and share it because fundamentally that is what we'll use to drive this decision and know where we're going in the future.
I always add to this that if it is something that we don't want to pursue and Nova Scotians don't like the idea and they're okay with the status quo, it's a pretty remarkable status quo. A department of $460 million in total, $220 million of that being in capital, we do a great job with our roadways. Again we said the numbers many times, 23,000 kilometres of highway, local roads, gravel roads, it's significant. When you look at a province and a tax base, quite frankly, of under one million people, you look at $460 million spent on transportation, you always hear about the gas tax and the user fees, well that's all spent on roads and then some. So it's not as if we've got money spent somewhere else that should be going to roads and highways, we're spending it and we'll continue to do so.
If people want us to continue on that particular path, then we're happy to do that and we're proud of the work that we've done. That's a significant conversation for people. We will embark on that in the next couple of months once we get all the information finalized, there's the engineering piece of that, of course, and then there's the financial model as well which really for people it can be fundamentally for or against the idea of tolling to pay for twinning projects. At the end of the day we have to figure out how much it's going to cost each Nova Scotian as we use it. We'll all use it here in this room so it's an important question. Safety is what we're about and the toughest part of any job, the toughest part of our role here at TIR is the fact that sometimes there are lives lost on the highway and it's a very sad thing.
I think back to two particular people who have really pushed this; Bruce Hetherington who lost his son on Highway No. 103 and Joe MacDonald who has been a champion for this. So it's an important discussion and I want to close with that. I encourage all members of the House and all Nova Scotians to share your opinion regardless of what that is.
The importance of these particular resolutions, Mr. Chairman, is that we ensure that all those funds which are very significant - $460 million-plus, is critical to the Province of Nova Scotia as it relates to highway safety. Again, when you look at how this money is spent over capital, which of course is significant, then you would obviously see that this important to support.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E39 stand?
Resolution E39 stands.
Resolution E49 - Resolved that the business plan of the Sydney Steel Corporation be approved.
Resolution E50 - Resolved that the business plan of Nova Scotia Lands Inc. be approved.
Resolution E51 - Resolved that the business plan of Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress to the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 9:24 p.m.]