HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2019
COMMITTEEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order, I call the Committee of the Whole on Supply to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, would you please call for the continuation of the Estimates for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Pictou West.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Madam Chair, I want to thank the minister and his colleagues for being here. I also want to take the opportunity to give a big shout-out to the men and women in Pictou West who work for TIR; they are fabulous. We have a great working relationship and I commend them, and that’s a reflection, obviously, on their supervisors and bosses there, as well as here in Halifax.
Moving forward, I’m not going to be long with preambles; I want to get right down to it. I’m going to talk about the Louisville Road that’s located in Pictou County, and it is named within the top 10 worst roads in Atlantic Canada. How are we not justifying that road after it not being paved since 1970-something?
LLOYD HINES: Madam Chair, I want to thank her for participating in the annual process that we go through where we invite the members to meet with our officials and put their perspectives forward in their constituencies. It helps us understand sometimes the gap that can exist between the technical piece that we do and the analysis for these works and how people who are plying those routes every day see things going. I think this one is an example of that.
The member brought up Louisville in her visit to the department last Fall. I am pleased to point out that Louisville Road from Trunk 6 to the Colchester County line - 5.6 kilometres - is in the local paving for this current paving year at an approximate cost of $1.7 million.
KARLA MACFARLANE: This is great news, and hopefully the other half will be paved the following year because there are seven businesses on there. I had UPS call me this year and they would not go up to deliver a package because it’s so bad. I have people call all the time saying they’ve blown a tire or whatever. I understand that as long as you have a sign that says “rough section ahead” when someone blows a tire they can’t claim for reimbursement to have a new tire put on. That’s good news; thank you so much for that.
I’m going to move to Tom Lee’s bridge in Pictou West. It’s on the Middle River Road, and you’re paving part of the Middle River Road this year, which is great; however, the bridge needs attention. This is a huge safety issue, and no disrespect to any engineers, but I’ll tell you, anyone would go to that bridge and say it is a safety hazard. The concrete base is cracked; the cribbing ties are damaged and are collapsing; it’s structurally not sound; the railings on the side are damaged; and the rocks are falling into the brook, the river below. I’m getting tons of complaints.
I just want to ask the minister: What will be done? I understand that any work that will be done on this bridge will be done when the road is being paved. Could he tell me what’s being done and what that cost would be?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for bringing this particular bridge forward. As we have heard in the House many times, we do have over 4,000 bridges in the province, and many of them are vintage in the sense that they were built quite a few years ago and they’re all sort of ripening at the same time. This particular bridge, we do understand, the inspections are done on the bridges annually, so the safety consideration is a foremost force on these bridges, and if they’re beyond a certain level, then they’re taken out of service or significantly weight-restricted.
In this particular instance the bridge was identified to be worked on in coordination with the paving. That work will be done by our own forces in the local area. I don’t have the cost of that because it’s not a tender, but I can get that for the member to figure out generally how much it would represent in terms of rehab.
KARLA MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for that. I will follow up with that, because the cost isn’t as great a concern to me as much as just ensuring that the bridge is going to be fixed, and the people in that community, and the loggers and the bus drivers all feel safe. That’s what’s important.
I’m going to move forward to Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp. We all know that it has been identified that there will be no pipe allowed to go across the Pictou Causeway on the shoulder of the road. I was not surprised at that, because our community over the years was fighting to get a natural gas pipe to come across and that was denied, so unfortunately, we can’t get natural gas in Pictou. I wasn’t surprised by that, but obviously conversations have begun since the announcement a few weeks ago.
What is the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal discussing now with what alternative route there could be?
LLOYD HINES: Obviously the barrier that the causeway represents in terms of getting utilities across there is a consideration. The department is meeting with Northern Pulp, who are working towards their focus report requirements in the recent decision from the Department of Environment.
The consensus that we have at the current time is that there doesn’t appear to be enough room in the roadbed, in the shoulder, to get through there. Beyond that I don’t know what the company might be recommending for an alternative pipeline across the area. It’s not uncommon for pipes to traverse waterways on the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes they’re buried; sometimes they’re not. That’s not our responsibility at this point to do that.
KARLA MACFARLANE: We know that the tar ponds were a huge, colossal expense for the province. I think at the end of the day it was close to a billion dollars by the time that was cleaned up - a well-done project led by Ken Swain, who is leading the Boat Harbour cleanup.
A quick question: What have we spent so far towards that project, and what do you anticipate the end cost being? Would that be close to $1 billion too? My understanding is that what is happening in Boat Harbour, there’s a much bigger cleanup there than there was at the tar ponds.
THE CHAIR: Order, time has elapsed for the PC caucus. I turn it over to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham for one hour.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m happy enough if the minister would like to respond to that question. Does that make sense? Please proceed if you’d like to respond to that question.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for giving me an opportunity to respond to that important question from the member for Pictou West.
First of all, let me say that the number we are working with, and it’s in the bag as it were, in the so-called tar ponds was $390 million, of which 70 per cent came from the federal government.
In terms of a comparison, I certainly wouldn’t be in any position to pass any comment on comparing those two particular situations, other than to say that they were both tragic events from a time gone by. Of course, the tar ponds go back to before the turn of the last century. The Northern Pulp Boat Harbour situation really started in 1959-60 when it went in there so it’s a little bit newer, but at the same time they are techniques that seemed to be acceptable at the time which now, in retrospect, we know are not acceptable, on both an environmental perspective and certainly from a just society perspective. Therefore, this government has made the commitment to rehabilitate the Boat Harbour facility and to clean it up.
The current commitment we have on the liability for Boat Harbour is approximately $217 million, which we have set aside. As of this date, March 31, 2019, we have drawn down $22 million of that, leaving a balance of $194 million.
There is a pilot process going on there - I don’t know if the member has had an opportunity to see it. I recommend that we give you a tour, which is kind of innovative technology to deal with the disposition of the sludge that is being dredged off the bottom. That is scheduled to restart - it was held up by the winter - in May. Those are the actual numbers that we do have that I’m happy to share, and I’d like to table this particular balance from the general ledger.
LISA ROBERTS: Thanks for this opportunity to ask some questions. One quick question that might pertain to some of the earlier things that you were talking about related to potholes, we have one pothole question and that is: Do repairs to potholes in school driveways come out of the same budget as general pothole repair, or would school driveway pothole repairs be considered school capital costs?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question, it’s a very relevant question. The answer is that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, like the Department of Health and Wellness, have a pothole budget from their own sources. I think in the instance of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development it’s around $6 million globally. That’s where the repairs would come from for potholes that occur on school properties.
LISA ROBERTS: I understand that question is in our package as a result of concerns around school driveways in Sackville, particularly at Millwood High and at Sackville High.
Also, somewhat related, going back to the mobile asphalt unit which was brought in by the NDP Government and then sold - has the government done any analysis of the cost of selling off the mobile paving plant? For example, how much have we been paying for rural paving contracts compared to what we paid when we did it ourselves?
LLOYD HINES: That disposition occurred, I guess, almost six years ago now, so I don’t have any comparative information as such to be able to comment on the question directly other than to say that when the plant was liquidated we were able to realize the book value on it, so we didn’t take a loss on the sale of the asset.
In that period of time, prices fluctuate. It seems that when you’re in government the prices do fluctuate, but they only seem to fluctuate one way, which is up. In the world of asphalt and with the magnitude of our capital plan, which has increased 40 per cent over that period of time, the cost of asphalt per se has steadily increased marginally through that period.
LISA ROBERTS: I also was not in government six years ago when that decision was made, but I understand that the plant had allowed the government to make earlier tender calls, which enabled better planning processes for paving projects. I wonder, is the department experiencing challenges, particularly early in the season when it comes to lining up contracts to do the work?
LLOYD HINES: Again, that was before my time here in the House, also, but I understand the functionality of that particular move at the time was to create a more competitive nature in areas of the province where contractors might have been somewhat ambivalent to jobs. The question was whether or not we were getting competitive prices in that circumstance.
I’m a very firm believer in getting our tender work out early because it works on all levels. It gives the contractors a better chance to plan their work. In other areas that I’m familiar with - and I’ll put the paving aside and I’ll tell you why in a minute - it does work. We tend to get more competitive bids when the work is coming out early because they feel that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and they like to plan their work out.
However, we’re in a bit of a seasonal box when it comes to paving, and that’s because of the nature of our weather. The asphalt plants shut down, nominally, the first of December each year - the places where you boil up tar and mix rock with it and do all those things to create the asphalt - and the reality is that once the winter starts to set in, then that ceases.
Currently in the province, right now, we only have one asphalt plant that is open in the entire province. The other plants will reactivate as the work is assigned and they respond to contracts. It’s expensive to operate them and they don’t want to be putting them up and incurring the expense prior to them having an opportunity to sell the product. That’s a bit of a challenge. Currently that asphalt plant is doing mostly pothole repair targets.
From the point of view of getting the work out early, there is a benefit to that. For the asphalt side of it, it’s a little bit less pronounced because we are at the behest of the weather and probably, I would say, the companies respond to the weather as we do.
I’ve just been told, so far in this year’s capital, we do have $126 million out that has been tendered.
LISA ROBERTS: Moving to the highway plan, can the minister give us an update starting with what percentage of the work is complete?
LLOYD HINES: Madam Chair, I wonder if I could ask the member to qualify the question in terms of whether we’re talking about the major capital, are we talking about the paving program for this year in the five-year plan, or are we talking about the twining process?
LISA ROBERTS: We’re talking about the major work, including the twinning process.
LLOYD HINES: In the seven-year highway capital plan, we approached it from that perspective to try to get an answer to the question. We are looking at approximately $1 billion to that period and we are in year three and approximately 25 per cent of that program. That would be as close to something relevant to what the member is asking as I can come. So, $1 billion - we’re at approximately 25 per cent of that out the door as we go.
To break it down a little bit more, in the 2019-20 budget for highways and bridges, I’d like to break that down a little bit on the major construction - these are all associated with the new Building Canada Fund. Highway No. 101, Digby to Marshalltown, $7.188 million; Highway No. 102-103 Interchange upgrade and structure replacement - which we’re seeing just outside metro - $18.147 million; Highway No. 101, Three Mile Plains to Falmouth twinning, $34.084 million; Highway No. 103, Upper Tantallon to Ingramport twinning, $16.9 million; Lantz Interchange and Connector - that’s a new one that’s coming in this year - $12.350 million; and the Aerotech Connector, which is a smaller piece of traffic improvement that we’re looking forward to getting done, is in at $800,000.
Trunk 30 to the Cabot Trail, there’s extensive work being done on our portion of the Cabot Trail - some of that Cabot Trail is the responsibility of Parks Canada and they have been spending to upgrade their responsibilities there - and we are at $14.8 million for that; the Ingramport to Hubbards twinning, finishing that is $1.790 million; Highway No. 101, Three Mile Plains to Falmouth aboiteaux are coming in at $1 million in the current year; and the Sutherlands River to Antigonish twinning in this current budget year, we’re looking at $9.864 million.
There’s some safety money of about a million dollars also in that budget which brings us to the $130 million major construction capital budget that we have in this year’s major construction. I’d like to table that.
LISA ROBERTS: Are we hearing back from communities about the twinning plan? Obviously, there was a consultation before the last election about twinning or not twinning, tolls or not tolls, but I’m wondering about what sort of consultation is being done now that the project is actually rolling out, and how many people have been involved.
LLOYD HINES: It would be a safe observation to say that there are fewer things that citizens are more interested in than roads and highways. Justifiably so, because they do create corridors in communities that are obviously reserved for the transportation industry in one form or another. It’s important that communities have an opportunity to participate in decisions around the infrastructure, particularly if it’s new infrastructure that is being contemplated which is in the instance of the highway twinning program.
Extensive consultation was conducted and we ended up with four locations that we zoomed in on, but I think at the beginning areas for consideration were eight or nine that were boiled down to the four twinning programs, which I’m very happy to say today are all in the beginning, or past the beginning, stages of development. Extensive work is also being done on Highway Nos. 101 and 103. Work is now being done on Highway No. 107, and Highway No. 104, which is probably the largest in terms of linear kilometres of the area, is also under way.
During that period of time, which I think was 2015-16, there was extensive consultation done around a twinning program, and one of the questions that was under consideration was the question of tolls. The people spoke loudly and said we really do want twinned highways because we recognize the safety consideration, but we really don’t want to pay tolls.
We went away and came back with the program we currently have where we are initiating around 80-some kilometres of twinned highway. We will have that finished by 2023, and there is no tolling associated with those constructions.
In the instance of the various projects taken on their own, Highway No. 101 has a community liaison committee which involves people from the community and various stakeholders who have a vested interest. It provides the platform for the broader community to become informed about what is going on with the process.
We found, in many of these major projects, that the liaison committee platform is a good vehicle because it involves people from the lay community, as it were, who are the best conduits back to their communities and have access to the technical expertise that the company and the engineers would be providing. They are right at the working face of the process.
In a twinning where we require an EA, a liaison committee is part of the process. We have liaison committees in place for Highway No. 104 - a liaison committee, in particular.
In terms of your question about providing feedback as we go forward, I would use the example of Highway No. 104 where recently a community group has stepped forward and requested an additional overpass that they see, from their perspective, as an improvement for their local community.
In many of these twinning processes there is a requirement for the acquisition of additional lands associated with the right-of-way, and this obviously stimulates the local landowners in the area. We have a team of people who are associated with working through the various acquisition processes in terms of the purchase of these lands that are required for a right-of-way.
We spend a lot of effort in making sure that those systems are working to the best of their ability in terms of our communication with the affected landowners and the continued operation of the liaison committees in those areas where an EA has been part of the process.
LISA ROBERTS: Obviously, the government is on record and you are on record as saying many times that safety is your number-one priority. I would like to ask the minister: What research is used to ensure that the infrastructure investments actually result in fewer collisions, injuries, and death?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for the very relevant question. We’re running in the vicinity of $5 million to $7 million per kilometre to twin those highways, from the public purse, so it’s important that we are assured we’re spending that money in the best interests of our citizens. Certainly, saving lives would have to be the primary objective that we would want to accomplish in that circumstance.
Generally speaking the literature across North America - I’m not so much familiar with Europe - reflects that once certain traffic volumes are attained beyond 10,000 vehicles a day, that in the absence of a twinned highway, fatalities do increase and collisions increase, and that reduces when the highways are twinned in both directions with a boulevard, or a separated barrier between the opposing traffic. Generally speaking, that’s the industry logic around that.
In Nova Scotia, we actually have what I call “a living laboratory,” which is the Cobequid Pass. We have the fatality statistics that existed through the Wentworth Valley, which for many years I travelled consistently, and it was a dangerous piece of road. The statistics that we’ve garnered over the past, coming up on 20 years that we have had the Cobequid Pass as an option in place, so during that period of time the statistics show us that the fatalities dropped from 3 to 0.9 in that period of time. That’s a very significant reduction in the fatalities, and also in collisions that occurred through that period of time.
That is very reassuring to us. We do have a specific safety section in our department whose job it is to look at the safety considerations and to track these statistics so that we have an idea of exactly what it is that we’re reaching for when we try to make these improvements. Even beyond the twinning, if we look at the grade separation at busy intersections, we know that putting an overpass in does help alleviate the collisions at intersections also, but in the instance of our twinning program, we feel pretty confident that we can be assured that we will be saving lives in Nova Scotia.
If you equate the number that I mentioned to you, and the reduction from three to less than one, it equates to around 45 people through that period of time who, hopefully, are safe with their families rather than being recorded as a fatality in that book.
LISA ROBERTS: At the same time, I’m aware that in 2018 highway deaths were actually at a five-year high in Nova Scotia, so I guess I’m wondering if the department has considered two things. One is whether we might be able to accomplish safety without spending $5 million to $7 million per kilometre by considering the use of high tension wire, as has been done on some highways in other jurisdictions, but also the impact of induced demand which is kind of widely accepted in planning and traffic safety circles, I think, which is basically where if you build more highways, more people will drive.
The situation through the Cobequid Pass is a bit unique because that’s the only way out of the province, so almost everybody drives that stretch of highway at some point in time. But when it comes to the arterial network extending from Halifax, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had the conversation with someone I know - where do you live? Windsor. Where do you live? Truro. Where to you live? Bridgewater. Everybody says they live an hour from Halifax. I’m an hour from downtown, but only if you drive at midnight.
I’ve certainly heard the argument made that Nova Scotia has really induced demand and put more people on highways, which is both problematic from a climate change perspective, it’s problematic from ongoing maintenance of those roads and annual maintenance cost perspective, but it’s also problematic from a safety perspective because you are certainly safer if you are not driving at 100 kilometres or 120 kilometres an hour every day for your regular commute. Really, the Province of Nova Scotia has facilitated that sort of pathway and that model of residential development and is continuing to do so with the Lantz Interchange.
Two questions: Have you considered high-tension wire, and how is the department being informed by the evidence around induced demand?
LLOYD HINES: Just briefly on the issue of increased fatalities statistics, that is something that we took note of in the department. We are doing an internal review of that. Initially we saw that generally across the country there was a rise in that circumstance. We’re not yet convinced of understanding why that would be. There could be various factors. It could even relate to a lower Canadian dollar, which tends to keep our people home in the travel season rather than being in the U.S.
One of the phenomena that we do know is the increased presence of motorcycles in the right-of-way and on the highways. Unfortunately, we did have a spike in motorcycle fatalities, which would be in that greater calculation there last year.
We as North Americans, which we are, in my lifetime you could say that we’ve had a love affair with the automobile, that after the Second World War, the U.S. went into the program to reconstruct their highway system which of course facilitated their large car manufacturers, also. They built some interstate highways that are major arteries in the U.S., most of which are twinned, and many of them are tolled too. I think reflecting that in Canada, similarly, we’ve been part of that same love affair.
In Nova Scotia, with the exception of the metro portion of HRM, there is no public transit, per se. When you’re living in Isaacs Harbour or Linwood or rural Hants County, rural Colchester County, and you’re away from services whether it’s groceries or medical attention, you do need a vehicle to get to where you’re going, just by that very nature of the fact.
There are strides being made to provide local transportation options. I’m very pleased to see that municipalities are stepping up, big time. That has been the case though with many of our rural areas, which of course puts pressure on the government and this department to provide good roads with no potholes, and also all the maintenance that goes along with that and inspires the citizens to have a big investment in a motor vehicle. Part of it is, I think, because of the structure that we have in the province and the nature of our population.
On the other hand, too, if you look at the commercial transportation network that we have, over the last say 40 or 50 years where we once had a fairly thriving rail system in the province for heavier goods and we had a significant industrial economy, that has now changed and the lion’s share of the commercial transportation has moved from rail to rubber-tired tractors. If you look at what we’re producing in the province, our basic industries, the great position that we have in Canada in regard to our fishery export and also our lumber and our wood exports, those are all produced in the rural areas of the province for the most part, and have to be transported over the transportation network to get to the market.
That’s part of the reason that we are where we are, and when we talk about investing in the twinning of those ones that you mentioned, Bridgewater, Truro, Windsor - those three in particular - and Highway No. 107 Bypass, those are investments that are not made in advance of the occurrence of the activity or the demand; they’re made as a response to demand because of the nature of the development in places like Bridgewater, Truro, and Windsor, too, have put a lot of traffic on those single- lane highways. What we are doing with the twinning process is retrofitting them to make them more efficient and, more specifically, safer for the motoring public.
I wouldn’t say that we are necessarily facilitating the spread of motor vehicles, but we are attempting to deal with the reality that we face, which is that those tracks do exist and that it is incumbent upon government to use its resources to particularly help make them, obviously, more efficient, but safer for our residents.
LISA ROBERTS: I do appreciate and acknowledge that history, and at the same time I think that the concept of induced demand has been shown to be real in numerous academic studies over the last 30, 40 years now, such that by adding to capacity on those highways, we ensure that there will be more traffic on those highways. People’s commute times briefly go down because it is more affordable to buy a home in Bridgewater than it is in Fairview or the north end of Halifax, I think - certainly, in the Hydrostone, yes, thanks to Airbnb, amongst other things. Really, it’s a short-term solution with a long-term cost, I guess, is the argument that I am hearing and that I am fairly convinced by.
Also, it becomes very difficult to meaningfully respond to that population pattern with public transit because public transit works well when you have many people travelling, and it’s very hard to provide public transit that goes from Bridgewater to Halifax or Truro to Halifax or Windsor to Halifax. You might need seven buses between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., but then you don’t need any buses at all from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and then you need seven back again. Then, all of a sudden, how do you staff that, how do you resource that?
Well, you can’t, so I would argue that the province is actually making it very difficult for municipalities but, also, in the long run I think it is about showing leadership.
I think we are also making it difficult for Nova Scotians because with the right infrastructure people might choose to live closer to where they can walk, closer to where they shop, and they might actually adopt more active lifestyles and have more casual social interactions in the course of the day because they are spending several hours fewer in their cars, and that might make them happier.
There is this great research done out of Vancouver, but until recently one of the main folks with Happy City was actually living here in Halifax. The research around the mental health impacts of precisely this sort of sprawling development that we are talking about is fairly convincing, that it’s not great on a number of fronts.
Just one thing you mentioned - you talked about 10,000 vehicles per day, and that’s the point at which it makes sense to twin? I’m curious what the volume of transportation is per day. I’m thinking particularly that I drove to Yarmouth recently and was on a twinned highway there, and I literally did not see another car for a good 100-kilometre stretch between Digby and Yarmouth, I guess.
I am wondering what our volume per vehicle per day is - volume per kilometre is a day there?
LLOYD HINES: We have extensive statistics on car counts across the province and we don’t have it here - that thick - but we would undertake to get that information for the member, it’s no problem.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to move on to commuter rail. Actually, I’m aware that I have 10 minutes, so where am I going to go? Maybe I’ll go to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
What sort of challenges is the department considering anticipating in terms of flooding and more freeze/thawing, more hurricanes, in terms of the impact on our infrastructure?
LLOYD HINES: It’s a very relevant question because in our business in particular, this is infrastructure, and the preservation of infrastructure is a constant consideration for us.
You mentioned coastal erosion, and if you look at Nova Scotia - and I’ve said this before - much of our highway and roadway infrastructure exists on the coast from the early days. Nova Scotia is an old province and we didn’t have the equipment in those days to apprehend steep slopes and to break up rock the way we do now, so a lot of the roads were constructed low-lying along the sea level to try to keep the grades attainable and manageable for the technologies that existed 150 years ago.
Things are changing. It’s as simple as where we had a 12-inch pipe under a roadway that lasted for 20 years and handled the volume of water that was coming down, all of a sudden we’re getting the more intense storms and a 12-inch pipe doesn’t cut it anymore, so it’s overtaken by the volume and we get flooding in the area, and we need to replace that pipe. When we’re building bridges and cross culverts, our plan will be to supersize those to accept the expectation that we’re going to experience more intense weather activities as we go forward.
There has been a bit of talk in the last while about the Chignecto Isthmus as the important link that we have that would be threatened, our entire access as a province is through there. We are engaged in a fairly extensive review, which I think is in the vicinity of $750,000 co-sponsored by the Province of New Brunswick, the Province of Nova Scotia, and the federal government to start a serious review of what that means on the Chignecto Isthmus and what the mitigation methods might be in terms of preparing for not the 100-year storm, but maybe the 200-year storm, which is coming more frequently than that.
That one is perhaps the most salient example of the macro-view that we are taking about. We have, on a coastal situation, washouts in communities - I believe Lawrencetown got mentioned, and we have them in Truro in the Park Street area. We were talking about it yesterday, and those are predictable in the sense that we know they’ve reoccurred and what some of the reasons are, but we’re starting to see this phenomenon occur in areas where we didn’t expect it to be. We are developing internal responses to that.
We’re also very excited about the new Building Canada Fund because of the relationship that we have with the federal government and the provision of funds to help mitigate some of these instances. We’re exploring with the federal government ways that we can turn that fund into subsidy for what we’re doing. The ICIP is what we’re really looking at as a possible good application, working with our federal partners to be able to take some of that money and direct it into some of the solutions that we see emerging here.
Obviously, the department has a vested interest in that because it’s our budget that is affected, and if a significant road is washed out and there’s no other alternative, we have to fix it - there’s no equivocation about that, whether it’s in the budget or not. Anticipating those kinds of circumstances and preparing for them is obviously in our own best interests.
LISA ROBERTS: I have just 45 seconds left, so I’ll ask for a clarification.
That federal fund you referred to, the Invest in Canada Infrastructure Program, is that the same fund that was recently announced to be funding some more highway twinning projects, or is that a different fund?
LLOYD HINES: The highways are coming . . .
THE CHAIR: Order, the time has elapsed for the NDP caucus. We’ll turn it over to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I think for the next 10 minutes or so, I’ll try to ask some quick questions. We’re going to try to share the next hour or so amongst the other caucus members to make sure we get enough in before the end of today and the minister gets to say he put his hours in at Estimates.
My first question is going to follow up on my question during Question Period which revolves around the signage for Shag Harbour. Of course, we know Shag Harbour has an incident that it talks about quite often - 50 years ago a UFO crashed somewhere near there. They have a neat little story to tell and people driving off the Yarmouth ferry on Highway No. 103, hopefully they can slide in and go and experience the community of Shag Harbour. The sign for Shag Harbour - before I leave this place, I’d really like to get one committed to.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question. I am familiar with the great mystery of Shag Harbour and the firm belief that the aliens visited there.
I guess I’ll be very frank with the member - in most of these instances where there’s a particular community feature that is attractive that the local authority, normally in the form of the municipality, would step forward and work with the department to enable that particular signage to come forward. I can think of Berwick, the Apple Capital of Canada, it is one that is out there on Highway No. 101, and that would have been funded through the local municipality.
I know in the instance of my own municipality, which does not have an outlet on Highway No. 104 directly, it depends on that main artery for traffic. That municipality spent north of $70,000 on the standard big, expensive aluminum post signs that are very effective, but they had to foot that themselves.
From a departmental perspective, it’s very difficult for us to start delving into community signage because, obviously, we would have every community in the province that is proud of their particular history looking for subsidy. Our signage would be about the directional signage, safety signage, and those kinds of guideposts is what we are authorized to do.
Having said that, we would welcome the member to come and sit down at any time with our people. We look at where the intersections are that this would be needed. There might be some modification that we could introduce here and work on a co-operative basis to get that recognition out there to recognize that mysterious event that occurred there during that period.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you for that answer. Quite honestly, that’s exactly what we’re really asking for - just simply a name - the name of Shag Harbour to be on one of the green directional signs.
As you’re getting into Exit 31, there are supposed to be three names on each one of those signs, and by policy, there is supposed to be three on the signs that lead into Pubnico. There are actually only two; I think Upper and Lower Woods Harbour and East Pubnico is what shows on one of the signs. On the next sign down the road, it just says Lower and West Pubnico and Pubnico. I think that’s what it says on those two. There is actually room on both of those signs that you could maybe fit a third name, which should be Shag Harbour, so hopefully we can consider that.
I know there is a population issue within that policy as well, but I’m hoping the story of Shag Harbour might at least get Shag Harbour on there. We can talk about that later. Since my time is short, I’ll keep asking my other questions as we go along.
Exit 32, which is one that I’ve talked about a lot, which is the intersection of Argyle Head and Nakile, which really needs a re-do completely. It needs overpasses, acceleration and deceleration lanes for safety issues. I know there has been some work going on in the department; maybe it gives the opportunity for the minister to give me a quick update.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for persisting in bringing this particular intersection to the fore. We have actually been doing quite a bit of work internally on that particular intersection from a conceptual planning process with two or three options, and there is now emerging a preferred option for that site. I would again invite the member to come meet with the chief engineer, and we can look at what the plan is. Regardless of what his future job might be, I’m sure he’ll still be interested in the rectification of that.
At this point in time, we’re just starting. We now have our first section of major highway improvements - i.e., the twinning - fairly well-defined, and all of them are really now in the tendering process. We’re starting to reach up above the edge of the table a little bit and see what’s in the future, and that is one that would be in that period of time.
It’s slow in terms of how it processes, but we are working on it. We know that there’s an improvement there, we want to make that happen, too, and we’d more than happy to share that with the member.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I can say that should I be successful in doing what I want to do next, if the minister needs a little bit of help on the federal side, should I get there, I’m going to say it’s an if, it’s a might at this point, but that is an important issue for my area. There are infrastructure issues that require federal participation, and I’m sure that is one of them.
I’ll move on quickly to my two other quick items. One is the issue of graders. I have to say we have a wonderful staff in Yarmouth who are trying their best to make it but, holy smokes, let’s get a couple more graders in there. Even if we have to steal one from Antigonish for a little bit while that’s not ready, let’s get them down to Yarmouth, get their roads done, and they can work their way up the province as everything dries up. It is pretty much dry, and I know they can get at a lot of work right now. I’m hoping that there can be some added concentration, because we did not get a complete grade done in the Fall because of the rain. We’re actually two grade opportunities back at this point, and the roads are absolutely atrocious. Maybe just a quick answer, and then I’ll just finish off with one little statement.
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the member bringing this forward; he brought it up in Question Period. Having good, serviceable equipment that meets the demand is always a trick for us in the sense that our new equipment budget has some limitations. However, we’ll work with our local on-the-ground people, Mr. Newell, and see if there is a particular more intense process that we can institute there to catch up on some of that grading that you mentioned got missed, for sure. We will make every effort to investigate what you bring forward and see if we can get some more equipment in there to get the work done.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I’m sure I have lots of other transportation issues that can be dealt with - paving, and we can go on from there - but I know that you’re very reachable. I can talk to the minister when I need to, and the staff has always been very approachable as we try to deal with infrastructure issues across our constituencies.
The last comment I’ll make, and I’m making it because, what’s going to happen? I can’t get fired at this point. I just want to thank the minister and his department for their commitment to the Yarmouth ferry, and I hope that our communications can continue. I think communications and information available helps the issue out tremendously, to know what’s going on, so our communities know what to expect and when to expect them.
Again, on behalf of my residents, the residents of Argyle-Barrington, thank you for your commitment for the Yarmouth ferry. With that, thank you so much.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
TIM HALMAN: Good afternoon, minister. I’d like to thank you for the work you’re doing, and I’d like to thank staff for the work that they’re doing. It’s important work that you do on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia.
I have just a few local questions, Madam Chair, related to Dartmouth. I’ll try to keep it as focused to East Dartmouth as possible, but the nature of Dartmouth, whether it’s Highway Nos. 111 or 118, it’s all interconnected in many regards.
I think we’d all agree that noise pollution can have an impact on the quality of life you have within your dwelling. I know along the Waverley Road, close to Highway No. 111, a number of residents have expressed concerns to me about the noise coming off Highway No. 111. Certainly, I think with the growth in Dartmouth South with Baker Drive, the potential growth that is coming with the Port Wallace developments in Dartmouth East, I believe this is just going to be a growing concern for the residents of Dartmouth.
At the beginning of this session I tabled a petition from residents expressing their concerns that we’d like to try to get this noise issue dealt with, which is impacting the quality of life for the people in those homes.
I’m curious as to whether or not the province, the department, has plans to put up noise barriers. I’ve lived all over Canada. I know other cities I’ve been in that it is often a common infrastructure investment that you’ll see, especially along highways with sort of the suburbs, and certainly Dartmouth East is very suburban. I’m wondering if the minister could comment if there are plans to deal with noise pollution, especially in light of the capital investments we’re seeing in our highways. I think this could potentially be a growing problem within the province. I wonder: Could you comment on that?
LLOYD HINES: Madam Chair, I do want to acknowledge that the member has brought this up previously to me. Part of the process with the department is the relationship that exists with the local authorities: we have our infrastructure, and they have their jurisdiction. In the instance of Highway No. 111 in particular, obviously that street has been there for a long time. What has happened is as Dartmouth, which some people feel is on fire from a development point of view, there’s a lot of activity going on in Dartmouth. I personally feel that it’s great for the area but has to be controlled, because you’re getting a lot of infill in these high-traffic areas. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the more people you have there, the busier the road gets; therefore, it could be used all times of the day and night, and it creates the noise issue.
You mentioned Port Wallace. We have actually had some discussion around that development in terms of what impact that’s going to have on the Waverley Road and what sort of mitigation street development could be used to enable that development to go ahead. It’s a very ambitious development, and when you look at the location of it, it’s obviously a prime opportunity. I think there’s in the vicinity of 3,000 homes there, so you are also creating consequences. One of them is traffic.
The other fact is that Highway No. 111 is our busiest highway in the province. I’m not justifying the potholes because it’s so busy, but we are aware of those potholes; they are there. It is the busiest highway that we have, and you can see the development that has occurred there even in the last decade with Dartmouth Crossing and the huge success Burnside has become and now the infill in residential activity there too.
This is an ongoing issue. Part of it is making sure that the impacts of the residential/commercial development and the other types of infrastructure development, most particularly highways that will be required to accommodate that development, are well understood and analyzed in terms of what it means. In other words, in the design, is there the chance - and I think it can only happen at the point that the roads are being designed - that the sound barriers are also included?
In the overall picture of the province, we don’t have a lot of sound barriers that we have had a lot of experience with. A couple of places - I think there may be one in Bedford near Highway No. 102 that we had a look at, and we defer to the local authority. We are working with the HRM on the Port Wallace development, so I can say that we would encourage and continue to work with the HRM around those situations that would be new development.
It’s difficult for us to retrofit some of these situations because we were there first, essentially. The people who are residing in these areas and the local authority that is permitting the development to go ahead should be aware of what the implications are of having a busy highway close by.
TIM HALMAN: Certainly, minister, I appreciate your description of the situation. You didn’t describe it in silos. This is a situation that is very much interconnected, whether it is noise pollution coming off Highway No. 111 or over the next five years or so with the Port Wallace development, which is just behind where I live. There will be 3,000 new homes where my daughter goes to school, which is called École Bois-Joli, which means “happy woods.” The joke now, among the students, is that when that forest gets demolished it’s not going to be the happy woods anymore; it’s going to be total suburbia. This is certainly an issue at the forefront on the minds of the constituents that I have the privilege of representing.
It’s fascinating. I believe most people are not against development, quite frankly. I think a lot of people certainly see there’s a lot of potential there, a lot of potential for the development of Dartmouth. But I hear time and time again, let’s get the infrastructure correct whether it’s dealing with noise pollution, whether it’s dealing with the Waverley Road which at rush hour, as you know, is at capacity now.
My girlfriend’s brother just lives off the Waverley Road, and sometimes it will take him 15 to 20 minutes to get out of his own driveway. I see this problem growing by leaps and bounds if as a province we don’t have a proactive strategic plan to deal with whether it’s the noise pollution, which I think will only get worse with time, or whether it’s the capacity on the Waverley Road. We’re dealing with the concerns of the residents of Dartmouth East with respect to the Port Wallace development. What I’m hearing is, let’s get the infrastructure correct. If we get the infrastructure correct, people tend to be satisfied with new developments.
That being said, that sort of segues into my next question, to alleviate the traffic on the Waverley Road. Are there plans in development to connect Avenue du Portage just up Montebello, then once you get to Breeze Drive turns into Avenue du Portage, we have École du Carrefour and École Bois-Joli where it’s all forest, and then past the forest you have the Forest Hills Parkway. Are there plans to connect Avenue du Portage to the Forest Hills Parkway in relation to the Port Wallace development that could be going up in the next few years?
LLOYD HINES: I should clarify that parts of what the member is talking about is in the jurisdiction of the department and significant parts of it are, particularly the Waverley Road, in the jurisdiction of the Halifax Regional Municipality. They also have the responsibility for authorizing the development of the Port Wallace subdivision. We don’t have any say unless there might be something from an environmental perspective for that development to occur, but there’s nothing in our department.
At the same time, we are working very closely with HRM. Our senior people are meeting with their senior people. I think there’s a meeting coming up next week on that very issue in that area, and I’d be more than happy to share the results of that with the member. We could set up a meeting with our people, and you could meet them at the office to see exactly what the plan is so that you’re informed. It’s in everybody’s best interest to let the people in the area know and the developer’s interest and the city’s interest, and our interest, to keep people informed, at least informed about what’s going on - not to say that they’re necessarily going to agree, but at least they will be honoured by the opportunity to feel that they’re being consulted in the process.
I would give that invitation to the member; I would be more than happy to do that.
TIM HALMAN: Madam Chair, just one final comment before I pass it on to my colleague, the member for Pictou West.
Minister, I very much appreciate that. One thing I’ve learned in any leadership position that I’ve had the privilege of serving in is that communication is essential with the people that you have the honour of serving. I do appreciate having that meeting move forward, to have a discussion, a discussion on whether it’s noise pollution, the capacity of the Waverley Road, or of course the Port Wallace development. That being said, I’d like to thank the minister and his staff for their time, and I pass it on to my colleague, the member for Pictou West.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Pictou West.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Madam Chair, I’m going to follow up again with Boat Harbour, and my question is: I’m wondering, with the announcement of the federal environmental assessment, what kind of impact does that have on some of the decisions that have been made through your department? Is there anything that needs to be shared with regard to changes with what you had planned and projected for the project?
LLOYD HINES: There is no change in our plans associated with the remediation. I can’t speak for what federal EA might mean for the Department of Environment. I think they may be joining that effort rather than conducting one on their own, but I’m not sure about that. From our point of view, the point of view of Nova Scotia Lands, we now have a small section of the ponds isolated, and last Fall it had to shut down because of the frost - excavating the material out, analyzing that material, and we have a very sophisticated process in place to dewater that material and then analyze what we have. There’s a small pilot program.
I don’t know if the member has actually been down there and had a look. It looks like giant inner tubes that have this material in it. They’re piled on top of each other, and the pressure makes the water seep out. Eventually you end up with a compacted sludge material which will then be disposed of. The idea would be to do this on a small scale, which is the pilot, and then see what the application would be to attack the entire area.
That process will continue in parallel with the federal EA that has now been called for, and we don’t see them as being mutually exclusive at this point. As I mentioned before in my earlier statement, I think we have $217 million set aside. We spent $21 million, we’ve got $194 million left to help facilitate that project, and we hope with all our hearts that’s it’s not $1 billion.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Mr. Chair, I pretty much would put money on it today that, when this is over, we’re looking at a $700 million to $1 billion cleanup. In the future we can certainly find out who was closest to the number, but I hope for the sake of taxpayers that I’m not correct.
Staying on that, I see March 31st, so when I look at this balance sheet that was tabled a little earlier and I see a draw of $10 million, I’m just wondering: Where did that $10 million go; and perhaps elaborating on that, what are we projecting in job creation through your department, the number of jobs created for the cleanup?
Without wasting any time, quickly, I have just one road question while we’re waiting. Interestingly enough, as I said earlier, I’m quite pleased with the management of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal in Pictou West. I think we’ve been doing pretty well with our roads. There are a number that need to be paved, and one road in particular is the Loch Broom Loop. The Loch Broom Loop is over 12 kilometres, but there are churches and a ton of people who live on it. It hasn’t been paved since the 1960s or 1970s, and I used to think maybe it hasn’t been paved because the MLA for the area, Mr. Charlie Parker, lived on that road. I always said the last road I’ll ever pave will be my own, so everyone on my road will not like me because that will be the last road I pave.
With the 12 years that Mr. Parker was in the House, I always thought he’s just not paving this because he lives on it, and if he paves it, everyone is going to be like, oh, paving your own road. However, now that I have been here six years and I’ve been requesting that road to be paved, it still is being neglected, and it is horrific. Besides speaking earlier about the Louisville Road, which I’m happy to hear some work is being done, the next road that really needs to be done is the Loch Broom Loop. Where do we stand with that?
LLOYD HINES: Mr. Chair, I thank the member for the question. The member would not be able to see that particular road on our plan because it’s not part of the published list, but it is on for local road rehabilitation in 2021.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Mr. Chair, I’m assuming we’re still waiting - okay, great. That’s not soon enough, but I appreciate your honesty in letting us know. I can at least go back to my constituents and, hopefully, we’ll see that road paved in 2021.
I’ll now take my seat and wait for the minister to answer the last question I had asked.
LLOYD HINES: The $10 million expenditure would be a combination of the pilot work that has been completed and a lot of design consultation to get to this particular method of treatment for the sludge that is being dredged out of the facility. At this point, in terms of the number of jobs, we really don’t have a handle on that until we complete the pilot, other than to say that the First Nations are a large part of the plan, and they are engaged. When I was on the site, I met some of the First Nations people who are employed in the pilot project. Going forward in the long-term solution, we’re hoping that they will play a significant role in monitoring and maintaining the facility once the cleanup has been completed.
KARLA MACFARLANE: I won’t take up too much more time because a number of colleagues want to ask questions, but I do have one last question, and it is with regard to calcium chloride. I have a number of dirt roads in my constituency, and there’s definitely not enough calcium chloride to go around. It’s a hot commodity, obviously. I also understand that we purchase it from New Brunswick.
My question is: Why do we purchase it from New Brunswick? Is there anywhere in the province that we could be purchasing it from? What amount of budget has been set aside for Pictou West for this summer season? Has there been an increase? We definitely need it.
LLOYD HINES: Representing a rural riding, probably not dissimilar to the member’s Pictou West, there never is enough calcium to go around, that’s for sure.
The reason we would be purchasing it from New Brunswick would be one of two reasons. Either that’s where the best price comes in, because this is a competitive tendering process - that may be the case, and we can dig into that and find out - or we could be part of a joint purchasing process. We do have relationships with P.E.I. and New Brunswick over some materials. It could be that that’s one of them, and maybe that price we’re getting in that joint purchasing process might be afforded from the source in New Brunswick. It depends on where the best price is. That’s what we want to do.
The budget for Pictou West remains unchanged this year.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: It’s a pleasure to be back to ask the minister a question or two or seven.
The question I have is about the Caribou Marsh Road. It’s located off Highway No. 327, from Sydney River to Marion Bridge, and it connects on to Hillside Road. Just today, I got a petition in the constituency office from a number of residents, and over the course of the last three or four weeks we have been getting a lot of calls about this particular road. It is one of those roads that Mother Nature was not kind to. As bad shape as it was in, this winter seems to have really had a bad impact on it right from one end to the other. I did drive it just the other day.
I’m just wondering if the minister knows if it’s on a list and where it might be. Caribou Marsh Road is the name of it. Do you have a plan? If not, would you have your staff at least visit it and make an evaluation of where it may be put?
LLOYD HINES: We’re not able to locate that particular road. (Interruption) Therefore, if it’s not here, it doesn’t exist. (Laughter)
We’ll undertake to work with the member. The member was kind enough to come in and go through the list. I don’t think that one made the hit list at that time, but it is a local road, so we have the capacity to reach through our local folks down there and get an analysis done as to what the best treatment would be for it. We’ll certainly undertake to do that.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Good afternoon. I just want to say that I’m very pleased to have a bit of an opportunity to ask some questions with regard to transportation issues in my area. I want to bring to the minister’s attention that in the last year and a half that I have had my constituency office, we have been tracking what departments are receiving what calls, the call loads.
I am absolutely taken aback by the pie chart that is coming from the caseloads that we had opened in my constituency office in the last year and a half: 45.8 per cent of the calls into my office come from people who have concerns about the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. That’s a lot. That’s almost half the amount of calls coming into my office with regard to our roads and bridges. Maybe the minister might want to look at helping me to hire another half-time person for my office who could just take care of those phone calls. I just wanted to make that point to you.
I want to start off by talking about the Loch Lomond Road. We have a problem out there. We have a problem every single time we have any kind of significant amount of rainfall, which is happening more and more these days. There is, as I’m sure you know by now, an issue with the drainage on the adjacent old mine site, the Kaiser mine site. We have some culverts that are deteriorating, that are blocked, so they are not doing the job that they are supposed to be doing anymore. From what I understand from the engineers who I have spoken to, it would take a drainage detour around those culverts, a drainage ditch basically, going around that area and being able to drain into the lake, where the water would eventually run off if the drainage pipes were working properly.
What is in the works for this fiscal year? I know we spent a couple of thousand bucks down there trying to dig out the end of the line - that’s the way that I’ll put it. It didn’t work. They were pretty sure it wasn’t going to work. What’s in the works for this year so that people who are travelling on the Loch Lomond Road can pass through there without putting their lives at risk from drowning?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the questions and the observation about the volume of inquiries coming through her office. I would share with her that, in my riding, call volume has dropped very significantly because we are now directing people, via our Facebook social media, to the call centre, which is really the effective way to get TIR service. We’re very pleased with the way that is set up. There is an internal tracking system set up for that. When a call goes into the call centre, the information is taken, it’s assigned a number, the caller is given that number, and then we can track that right back to when it’s reacted to. It has turned out to be quite an effective way of providing some discipline into the process.
In my instance, we were scaling around 35 per cent of our calls being transportation related, but we have seen that drop off considerably since we have been promoting the call centre. People are going there.
Recently a customer made a call on a Tuesday, and the problem was fixed on the Friday. They didn’t seem to think that that was quick enough and thought that the problem was because they weren’t talking to the local people anymore, that they were talking to the call centre. I actually got the department to trace that for me and found out that everything was working as it should. The Wednesday following - the call came late in the day - it was reported in the local shed, and arrangements were made. It was a repair for a washout. The arrangements were made, and the repair was fixed on Thursday.
It seems to be working very well. I understand how that would clog up the system in your constituency office, so I would suggest that you publish that option for them to go to the 1-800 number. That might alleviate some of that traffic, which it did in my instance.
In terms of Loch Lomond Road, our people have been on the ground studying that. We have come up with a design solution, and that work is scheduled to be implemented in this upcoming summer. Hopefully, the engineering solution to the persistent flooding problem there will be taken care of. We are committed to getting that done this particular construction season.
ALANA PAON: I want to ask the minister: What are the plans, if any, moving forward at the rotary which is the gateway to Cape Breton Island, coming across the causeway? I made mention earlier in this session of the atrocious condition that that whole section of our highway is in. It is the first thing that you see coming across, as a tourist especially, into Cape Breton Island. It is the first thing, obviously, that we Cape Bretoners see when we come home after a long stay here in the Legislature. You can go around that rotary and almost take the undercarriage of your car off if you’re not paying close attention.
It’s not just that; it’s also road signage. There’s road signage coming across the causeway which will direct you to go up to Highway No. 19, Highway No. 105, or take the ferry to Newfoundland. There’s some really nice signage there for the County of Inverness. We just fixed Highway No. 4 going through St. Peter’s on to Sydney. There’s very little signage or wayfinding to encourage people to take Highway No. 104 through Port Hawkesbury and then continue on Highway No. 4.
What is the plan to rectify that problem? Right now, there’s a disparity. There are three different beautiful routes that you can take, and all routes will take you to Sydney, but there’s a disparity right now with regard to enticing tourists, in particular, to go through on Highway No. 104 and continue on Highway No 4. Obviously, that affects people coming through my constituency and beyond.
It’s the actual physical state of the rotary as well, being the first thing that you see, the gateway into Cape Breton Island. That is in atrocious condition. What are the plans moving forward for those things?
LLOYD HINES: We know that we have a very unique situation with the causeway and the rotary. It’s currently the single access point to Cape Breton Island. I think the volume is 600,000 a day. It’s one of our busiest sections, and it is of vital importance to us from a transportation, economic, and commercial perspective.
Essentially, for the most part - and we ran into this when we accepted the swing bridge from the federal jurisdiction two or three years ago - we’re dealing with 1950s technology on that stretch of road. In the longer term, we know that there is a need for improved traffic solutions for that area. We’re just beginning to focus in on what those solutions might look like. If we continue our twinning program across the province, then obviously the section from Antigonish to the causeway will be in the mix at some point in time. When we get there, what do we do for an encore? What do we do for getting across that causeway? Do we expand the causeway?
THE CHAIR: Order. Time allotted for the PC caucus has expired for this hour. We will now move on to the next hour for the NDP.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
LISA ROBERTS: We had just begun talking about climate change and the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. I’m going to resume questions along that line.
What kind of financial support are we providing to support mitigation efforts? Can the minister provide us a breakdown of money in this budget that will go towards climate change mitigation and adaptation?
LLOYD HINES: Without being able to put a hard number on it, all our new work that is being undertaken - paving, road height, culvert construction, and bridge construction and replacement - is now filtered through the lens of climate change. This is engaged in the design process. Of course, the design reflects itself in the cost of the construction. That’s where the recognition of the impact of climate change on our infrastructure is taken into consideration. As we move forward with all our new programming and the twinning structures that are being constructed and the expenditure of our bridge budget, it is a major consideration. It’s taken into account in the design stage to accommodate the possible climate change impacts that we know are there.
LISA ROBERTS: As the minister may be aware, Canada’s National Building Code is currently undergoing a major rewrite, in a bid to avoid $300 billion in climate-change- driven infrastructure failures over the next decade. Those changes cover everything from how concrete is mixed for road construction to roofing standards to enable buildings to withstand stronger winds. Can the minister share with us any specifics about how the department is changing the way it is tendering, for example, new builds to ensure that all of our public infrastructure in Nova Scotia is built compliant with these new standards?
LLOYD HINES: We’re aware that there is a revision coming to the National Building Code of Canada. Of course, that is the guide that we use for all our activities. The code is being updated, particularly to accommodate climate change impacts. It’s incumbent on us to incorporate those changes into our operations also.
When it comes to our building envelopes, we are committed to the LEED Silver standard, which is a good goal. We’re not at the platinum level, but we do acknowledge that in the process and make sure that our construction reaches that particular target.
Accordingly, if there are changes in the code, then we will have to take those into consideration. If changes are directed to or based on climate change impacts, then we have to absorb those into our plans, too, regardless of what the costs are.
LISA ROBERTS: The B.C. provincial government recently adjusted their building code to allow up to 12-storey wooden-frame buildings. There has been some real interest here in Nova Scotia around wood construction. This is a move that will create more jobs in B.C. through the forestry industry while reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry because wood is made of captured carbon, essentially, whereas concrete is responsible for 7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Would the minister consider such an amendment here in Nova Scotia or otherwise adjust procurement practices from the provincial government to encourage construction with wood in larger buildings?
LLOYD HINES: Having previously served as Minister of Natural Resources a few years ago, I had a great excitement to see the recognition of the ability of wood to be used in taller structures across the province and across the country. Just in this department, of the 4,100 bridges and structures that we have in the province, over 2,100 of them are wood. We are using wood construction for bridges as an active and very viable part of our construction matrix, in that we are satisfied that we can get 75 to 100 years out of a wooden structure. We use quite a bit of wood on that side of our operation.
A lot of the buildings that we would have within our department, such as plow sheds, et cetera, are wood-framed buildings. They’re not metal-framed buildings. When you get into buildings like schools and hospitals, obviously the design criteria is more sophisticated and would include some wood, but mostly not wood, because of what the code requirements would be for construction of that nature.
In the overall picture, and coming from a riding that has a lot of wood produced in it, it’s exciting to see that the true value of wood as a construction material continues to be recognized. We in our department use it extensively and look at that lens for the use according to what we’re talking about. If you look at a major span of a bridge, it might be more likely to be a concrete and steel structure, but for small spans in rural parts of the province, wood is definitely a strong candidate. We have 2,100 of them across the province currently.
LISA ROBERTS: I have another question related to the actual spending on climate-change mitigation in this budget: Can you detail how much work is going to be done on increasing the height of dikes around the province? Could you give me a sense of what percentage of the work that is required is actually being done in this budget year?
LLOYD HINES: To the member, that is a question that really doesn’t lie with our department. The dikes are the Department of Agriculture, so I’d suggest that you take that up with that department.
LISA ROBERTS: My mistake. Moving on to commuter rail: Is your department doing any research on what would need to happen from the province’s perspective to create an efficient and viable commuter rail line into Halifax?
LLOYD HINES: The clinical answer to what you’re saying is that the commuter rail would be a local transportation authority responsibility, i.e. HRM. However, to say that we would not have a significant interest in any such development would not be entirely accurate either, because the commuter rail possibility means the alleviation of a lot of traffic on our provincial roads as it relates to the feed into metro.
We have been engaged with HRM on a peripheral basis, reviewing what the options would be and seeing if there are ways where we would be able to help with the aspirations they might have in that direction. Of course, part of that would be the ICIP program, which does have a significant attribution to transit. It would be up to the local authority to trigger the direction of that funding towards the commuter rail issue.
We would be an interested party, but we wouldn’t be the trigger for that to happen in that particular instance. We would be very interested in seeing a better traffic solution emerge that, certainly on the outside, commuter rail looks like it might offer.
LISA ROBERTS: If I could just confirm, it sounds like any action on that file would be led by federal funding that is tied to being spent on transit.
LLOYD HINES: Yes, the initiative would originate with the local authority, in this instance HRM. Based on the provincial priorities, the province and the federal government would join in the effort financially to meet the objectives that would be set by the municipality. Under the current process, the majority of the transit funds available over the 10-year period accrue to HRM.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to ask a fairly specific question - almost local to my constituency, but not quite - about where the 100-Series Highway enters Halifax. That is at Bayers Road by the exit of Highway No. 102, down the hill from the Halifax Shopping Centre.
I understand that there’s a green space that has been identified now for possible relocation, or maybe agreed to relocation, of the Common Roots Urban Farm that was on the site of the QEII hospital. I have many constituents who have been invested in helping to build that garden.
I have passed that green space many times. I’ve never noticed it before, because one literally only passes it in a car, often looking left and right and trying to figure out if you’re all right getting onto the highway.
I think it’s really exciting and positive that there has been a space identified that is substantial in size, where we could see a good part of the garden relocate, but it is so pedestrian unfriendly. I’m wondering how the department will facilitate making changes to that point of connection between a 100-Series Highway and a neighbourhood. I think it could be of great benefit to those constituents who live nearby, as well, who have been putting up with a very pedestrian-unfriendly space next door to their homes.
LLOYD HINES: We’re aware of the relocation of the Common Roots facility, and we felt a little bit bad about having to relocate them because that’s where we’re going to put the cancer centre. We were able to co-operate with them and give them lots of time. I really salute the work that they’re doing there.
Many great cities - not too long ago I was in urban Hamburg, and they have an incredible common roots garden which has grown over a long time. That city’s got two million people, and that’s right in the urban core. I think that there is a good spot for that type of activity, and it underlines what we’re talking about in terms of food security and all of the attendant issues associated with that.
In the instance of the new site, that is strictly an HRM-controlled facility. We wouldn’t have consulted with them around a selection or what their plans would be for the attendant pedestrian traffic that would emerge by locating that there. They have a very well-articulated traffic department at HRM, and I’m sure they have contemplated.
Obviously, if you’re going to have a new garden there, you’re going to have to have a way to get to it. I’m quite sure they would have taken that into consideration when they looked at improving that location. I think there were several locations looked at, but we didn’t have any participation in that. From our department’s perspective, we don’t envisage any participation managing that situation down the road.
LISA ROBERTS: It’s sort of an ambiguous spot when you’re encountering it, because you are literally on Halifax streets and then you’re on a ramp to Highway No. 102. I’m actually not clear where the boundaries lie, but I know that the site is literally between an on-ramp and an off-ramp. I’ve driven those ramps and I’ve never noticed that there’s a beautiful green space right there.
Talking a little bit about municipal roads, we know that many communities in Nova Scotia would like to be able to set their own lower speed limits, especially in areas used by out-of-town drivers who are not as familiar with local hazards.
Last year when the department introduced the new Traffic Safety Act, we were disappointed that provisions allowing the municipalities to have this power were not included. Can the minister tell us if there have been any developments in terms of opening up to that conversation of allowing municipalities to lower speed limits in their own communities?
LLOYD HINES: One thing that the Traffic Safety Act enables us to do is deal with questions like this in a much less cumbersome way than the old Motor Vehicle Act. It required a significant amendment, which meant into the House to make even the slightest change. The flexibility that we have now with the Traffic Safety Act, where the regulations are currently being developed, will give us a better ability to deal with the entirety of the province.
This matter has come in from our urban communities more so than our rural ones. The urban communities have an actual, more sophisticated approach to traffic management. HRM has its own traffic authority, and it’s very capable of managing the responsibilities that they have in that regard. Other municipalities across the province don’t have that ability, and they don’t see it as so much of a necessity. That’s not to say that other municipal units would not want to have the autonomy to make changes in their speed limits.
The reality is the posted speed limit is just that: it’s a guideline for people to use as they drive through the streets. The below 50 in the urban areas is what some people are looking for, but getting to below 50, to say 40, we can make that change or permit that change to be made, but that doesn’t mean that the behavior is going to change. People tend to drive at a speed that they’re comfortable driving at and what they’re used to.
Whether it’s posted at 40 or posted at 50, it creates an opportunity for the police to enforce that limit, but it doesn’t necessarily change the behavior pattern. What does is the introduction of traffic-calming measures on the street; for instance, speed bumps, or chicanes - you’ll see them here and there - where you have to zigzag through the street. Those are traffic-calming measures, and they do have an effect on getting the speed limit down.
We’re working with HRM on this, and we do have a request for speed limit reductions on quite an extensive list of streets; that is ongoing. To understand, the commitment to dropping the speed limit would be more than just posting a sign. It would also be looking at technical measures that would be appropriate to actually create that reduction in speed through those traffic-calming methods that I mentioned - whether that be amber lights, chicanes, or speed bumps - in neighborhoods. It’s really a problem and a question that we don’t see going away in the long haul.
Maybe not in your riding so much, but with the closure of the Quinpool Road bridge, I think it’s going to redirect a lot of traffic through neighborhoods in the city that probably haven’t seen that traffic before, so that will exacerbate that whole question about speed limits. I’m crystal balling here, but I think that could be an effect.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that a posted speed limit is only one factor of several that have the potential to bring down speed limits. I think citizens are certainly asking for this, and I think actually our own social and community norms can be powerful incentives to change behavior. I think particularly of the posted speed limits of 30 kilometres per hour around school zones.
At peak times, sometimes the greatest amount of traffic around school zones is actually parents dropping off their kids. I think parents have the potential and do sometimes have a word with somebody who is not driving at an appropriate speed limit.
Unfortunately, right now those signs are posted for the barest block around a school, as if children appear like genies within a block of the school. Ideally, we actually want to create communities where they could walk what involves maybe a pedestrian commute of eight or 10 blocks and then arrive at a school.
I remember covering the news when those 30-kilometre-per-hour zones around schools were posted. It was such an underwhelming development, frankly, because the zone around the school was defined in such a geographically restrained area.
We’ve spoken about cars and trains. I want to quickly ask about the airport. What support has TIR provided for the airport in terms of increased cargo capacity or maybe other projects?
LLOYD HINES: I can tell you that as a government we’re very proud of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. We are realizing a lot of economic potential in the province through its growth and effectiveness. It’s showing an increase in its passenger volumes every year. It is a major export source for our wonderful Nova Scotia lobster into Europe and Asia. The Premier has done a tremendous job of working with China, in particular, and Asia. He is very determined to create a direct flight from China to Halifax. We think that would be a wonderful accomplishment for all of Nova Scotia.
In terms of the breakdown for the cargo expansion that you talked about, I believe it’s approximately a $37 million facility which is aimed at export capability for food. The federal government put $18 million into that, and in last year’s budget, we were happy to contribute $5 million toward that. The residual amount, up to $37 million, is supplied by the airport itself. I think they are moving forward with that with some determination, and we look forward to seeing that executed because we really believe that airport represents a tremendous opportunity for us going forward for our international tourism and export trade.
LISA ROBERTS: Just to clarify, is there any further grant directly to the airport in terms of infrastructure in this year’s budget?
LLOYD HINES: To confirm, there is no additional capital commitment in the existing budget, and we haven’t received any requests for that. I think they are intent on getting this piece of infrastructure completed.
On the other hand, we are working with the municipality about access and egress to the airport. We did some work on the overpass there lately - this would be in our regular course of events - but we also have been working with them to alter the access into the airport. That work continues to occur, but that’s not directed particularly at any expansion within the airport. It’s associated with getting the traffic into the airport.
LISA ROBERTS: I want to ask a couple of questions about schools and school capital construction. When local, democratically elected school boards were eliminated, citizens also lost the channel that they were used to in terms of providing public input into school site selection. It used to be guided by a board level committee that included SAC members, school board members, the African Nova Scotian representative, potentially the Mi’kmaw representative, and members of municipal council.
With the revised Education Act regulations, the requirement for community involvement and consultation was eliminated. Given that the site selection process is now an internal government process, I would like to ask the minister: Can he tell me what remains in terms of public accountability and transparency in decision making around school site selection?
LLOYD HINES: The department’s role in the delivery of the facilities is at the behest of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. I believe there is something called a School Advisory Council that exists that provides some liaison between the various interest groups, stakeholders as it were. From our perspective, we simply provide the engineering advice around the feasibility of the construction; the quantum around space that’s required in terms of if you have 500 students, you need this, and if you have 1,000, you need that; and what the standards are.
The actual policy decisions that you’re reaching for are really still housed in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, so we wouldn’t be able to comment on that. However, I would say, having a new school being constructed at Sheet Harbour in my riding - which I’m very happy for - the previous site selection process was, if I were kind, I would describe it as a nightmare.
I can’t see where any other process could be worse, let me tell you. Hopefully, everybody would be reaching for something better. That previous cumbersome site selection process meant delays and in the world of economy, and time is money. Often projects ended up costing more because they were delayed by that cumbersome process. I’m not in the position to comment on what that process has been substituted with, but it can’t be any worse.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate your frankness. Actually, I think that consultation done well can be reasonably time effective and also very effective, so I think that might be more of an indictment of the facilitation of that process.
I think that some areas of government have really gotten good at doing consultation. I have relatively limited experience because there hasn’t been a new school built in my constituency, but I did attend a meeting related to the LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary school. I was struck by the lack of facilitation; deputy ministers at the front of the room is not the same thing as facilitative consultation.
Sort of related to that, recognizing that I may at some point have, I hope, a school built or certainly a major renovation in my constituency, I wonder what you can say about the department’s capacity to actually build schools in denser urban districts. I heard a lot of frustration at the community level at what appeared to be a dismissal by the department of the Bloomfield site as a potential school site, saying that it’s too small.
Of course, there are certain design criteria that the department has established, but those have often been established for schools that are off of a highway where everybody’s coming in by bus in a rural context. That’s not what we want on the peninsula. It’s also not what is potential; simply, the land does not exist for that. We also want kids to be able to walk to school.
I know that St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary has been approved; it’s on the five-year capital plan for a major renovation. That is currently a very old school with lots of buildings immediately around it, but it’s not a large site. People are very committed to doing a renovation on that site, recognizing that the neighbourhood fabric and context around the school is really part of what makes that a great school community.
How is the department embracing the constraints and also the possibilities of urban school construction or renovation and really building that skill set to work with what we’ve got and also what we want?
LLOYD HINES: The member brings up a very nuanced kind of challenge that is associated with school construction/replacement in the built urban environment.
When you’re in the country - and it’s not in my riding, but it’s just outside my riding - there’s a place called Oyster Pond and a beautiful new school built there. You’re driving along through wilderness, and all of a sudden, this brand-new school pops up, Oyster Pond Academy, and then another 100 metres you’re back into wilderness - no trouble finding a spot to put it. It wouldn’t have made much difference if it was a kilometre or two or five, one way or the other, because most of the kids who go there are on a bus. That kind of decision-making process is completely different than the ones that would be in your riding, and LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary, as an example, brings up different challenges.
I know the member agrees with this as we had a chat about it earlier. In order to do this, it challenges our ability to communicate. We have to make sure that we have the proper liaison with stakeholders - the parents - and that they feel part of the communication all the way through here, and that they understand fully what the implications are. The one that pops into mind that we’ve just issued the RFP for, I think, is J.L. Ilsley High School in the Spryfield area, which I think has around 1,000 kids. That’s going on the same site.
What’s happening is, there is the central part of that gymnasium section, which is seen as desirable to maintain and keep, and then there are two wings. In that instance, we’re going in and moving the kids compact into the one wing. Then we’re going to back up a little bit, build that new section - rip it down, build it - and move them back. We’ll keep the centre piece, build a second section, and after a period of time, we’ll have a new facility. That is a real challenge for the urban areas.
Large expanses of undeveloped land really don’t exist on the peninsula, so your choices are limited. If they did exist, I don’t think that neighbourhoods would tolerate moving a school a mile away when that’s where they live, and that’s where they have always lived. I think they have a right to expect something as important as education within the accessible realm of their own neighbourhoods.
In terms of that special challenge that exists in the urban areas for school construction, that does represent a challenge, but we’ve seen some innovative solutions. In LeMarchant, they’re moved out until the new place is built and it’s back right where it was in the same neighbourhood. Except for the disruption of a two-year construction period, it would be reconstituted in its previous form.
Sometimes, we’re not totally able to do that, but the desire would be to find a way to accommodate the existing footprint and keep the school in the neighbourhood that it was designed to service in the first place. Accentuating right from the get-go, whatever process is set up, it is embracing all the stakeholders, particularly the parents who trust their children to the system, that their observations and wishes are fully understood and given an opportunity to be heard.
LISA ROBERTS: I’ll go back to one of the parts of the preamble of my question, which is that I hope the department invests in the skill sets that are required for building in an urban context. I think there are probably sheaves of plans for buildings that meet all the design specs for that undeveloped land where we are basically going to be pulling up on a school bus. There’s a different set of skill sets, including architecture and urban planning when it comes to actually building infrastructure in an urban built environment.
Related to that, in my constituency there was an announcement last year. As I mentioned, St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary will get investment as part of the five-year rolling capital plan. There hasn’t been any news since. What are the expectations people should have when a project is announced as part of a rolling five-year capital plan? When does something start to happen? When does it roll over to be their turn to have something?
LLOYD HINES: On the issue of expertise in the department, I want to say that we have a very well-developed Public Works section with professional staff - designers, engineers - who are dedicated to that process. As an example, as a government, we have some very attractive properties in the city that are constantly being approached for development by the private sector and also by the Halifax Regional Municipality. We sometimes make arrangements with the municipality for mutually effective trades and that sort of thing.
I think the closest example of the type of expertise that we have in the department around not just schools - of course, we’re now embarking on the largest capital program for hospital reconstruction in the province’s history - is right outside our back door: the Dennis Building. I’ve been very pleased to be involved with it for the last couple of years. I’ve watched the evolution of that process.
In that one we’re being very premeditated in what we do because we know the decisions that are made there, and the precincts of the fabulous structure that we have here, will affect this for 100-plus years. On the other side of the street is the Grand Parade and City Hall, and here we have Province House, so that’s quite a link between those two facilities. We have people who are working on that, and they are contemplating designs.
We have quite a considerable expertise in the department to design and make those kinds of decisions, and we work with the HRM, of course. They control the zoning and the building permit issuance in the process. I think we’re very well equipped to undertake these kinds of developments.
The other part of her question was: Where is my school? We were pleased to see the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development embark this year . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP. We’ll move on to the PC caucus for the remaining time today.
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: It’s a pleasure to be up on my feet again for a few more moments before one of my other colleagues stands up.
I wanted to ask the minister about tenders. We had three projects last year in Cape Breton-Richmond that had gone out to tender; they went out late. Traditionally that seems to be the rollout here in the last few years, that tenders get out late. I believe that there were some issues with low numbers in the procurement office. I’m not sure if there were any other issues in the procurement office, but we have issues that tenders are going out so late that they’re being awarded late and then the work gets done late.
We have three roads: Lakeshore Drive, the Chapel Cove Road in L’Ardoise, and also one of the roads in River Bourgeois. Huge sections of road were torn up, the culverts were replaced, and driveways were rebuilt, but the road remained basically unfinished for the entire course of two seasons: Winter and Spring. When you’re exposing the roadbed like that with a big chunk of pavement taken off from the top, you’re basically exposing the roadway to further damage.
Can the minister please explain to me why these tenders go out so late? We’re trying to build roads when the snow is flying, and the salt is supposed to be put down on the roads. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why are we sending these tenders out so late? Is that going to be the case moving forward into the future? If that’s the case, then we’re going to continue to have roads that are remaining unbuilt for the season, which is really unfortunate.
LLOYD HINES: Let me tell you, that is a constant topic in our internal discussions. It’s one thing for us in our department to convince government to keep giving us more capital money to execute the road building program, which is great because we can’t do it unless we have the dough, but it’s a challenge sometimes to deploy that capital into the market that we have.
There were essentially two factors that resulted in some carry-over from last year, probably in the range of 7 per cent, which is higher than what we would want to see, but it does occur. First of all, we increased the budget from $225 million to $285 million, so that was a significant increase in the volume of work that was being put into the marketplace. We work constantly with the road building industry in terms of their ability to execute our program, and this year we’re at $300 million.
The other factor that played havoc with us was a very wet Fall last October and November. That hurt us in terms of the road builders’ ability to deploy their workforce and pushed it out further. In the instance of my own riding, I had pavement going on, on December 15th, in a snowstorm. The residents were not very happy about that either.
We have taken steps this year to impress upon all our people to get involved. We have an involvement with procurement, too, but really, we drive the bus there, to get the volume of business out. At the present time we have about $126 million on the street of this year’s program. It’s a little bit further ahead than we were last year, but it’s those three considerations: the capacity; the capacity is stimulated by the volume, and we have increased the volume of money that’s being deployed into the system; and then, of course, the weather, which sometimes doesn’t co-operate just the way we’d like to see it.
ALANA PAON: I can understand that weather is obviously a factor in many of these projects, but the fact still remains that these tenders are going out too late. If there’s a problem in deploying the money with regard to the budget - obviously we are in the middle of a budget right now. We’ll know what the numbers will be as soon as the budget - I am going to make an assumption that it’s going to be passed today simply because there is a majority on your side. It will be passed no matter what.
As far as carry-over, I just don’t want people in my constituency to get confused into thinking that some of that money is in the budget this year for roadwork, which they will physically see being completed this fiscal year. That money was deployed - and I’ll use your own wording - last fiscal year. This carry-over, if we want to call it that, is simply because the work just wasn’t done. It just wasn’t completed last year by those people who actually had the contracts to do so, and that is a major problem.
In fact, I’ve never seen anything like that in Cape Breton-Richmond in all my years, that we have tenders going out so late and that the roads are actually not being completed on time. Hopefully, there is a solution for that moving forward.
I noticed that in the capital plan for this year it is pretty slim pickings for Cape Breton-Richmond. We do have, obviously, the second half of the Lennox Passage Bridge project that’s going to be funded in this fiscal year, and we are very appreciative that that work is finally being done after having issues there for over a decade. I am noticing Highway No. 104, as well, the Exit 44 Lower River Inhabitants access improvements, which is the turning lane and about one kilometre of new pavement. I wish that would have been at least two kilometres of new pavement. I think a lot of the guys on the ground at home would have wished that was the case as well.
We’ve got major ruts in that section of roadway. It’s very disconcerting to me when I consider myself a fairly able-bodied individual and I’m having a hard time keeping my own vehicle on the road going through that section of highway. I know that is the case in some other areas, obviously on Highway No. 104 when we’re driving on the Trans-Canada Highway, but that section in particular, we need at least another kilometre paved in the same way that the project for this year going forward is going to be looked at.
It’s unfortunate that that extra kilometre is not in the budget for this year. When you go into new pavement like that and then all of a sudden you hit the old stuff, sometimes you’re not prepared basically to go from a really great surface to a rutted surface again. It’s not potholes I’m talking about. I’m saying that the road is literally like a washboard. Everyone knows that I have quite a few seniors in my communities. I’ve had elderly people call me and tell me that the steering wheel has literally almost been completely ripped out of their hands riding over that section of road.
Can the minister please tell me when we’ll be able to see that section of roadway come up in the capital plan, because I don’t see it here?
There’s that, and because I only have a bit of time left, I also want some commentaries on why sections of road that are so important for our tourism every year, such as the road going from St. Peter’s to Dundee, is never looked at. It hasn’t been on the capital plan. The Black River Road is a very well-travelled road. These roads are not on the capital plan at all. It really impedes people from coming into St. Peter’s to do the most basic of shopping, but it also impedes tourists from getting to the Bras d’Or Lake area and the Dundee tourism extension that we have in the St. Peter’s area. It’s really bad.
I would encourage the minister, if he hasn’t spoken to his staff, to talk to his staff about the atrocious conditions of the highway that goes from St. Peter’s to Dundee and beyond Black River Road to see where, if at all, we can manoeuvre this into the capital plan moving forward.
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate where the member is coming from on how there really is never enough money to get to all the needs, and the needs are significant for sure. I would encourage the member to avail herself of the opportunity to come into the department annually, as we do in the Fall - I think we missed you this year - and talk about what you see as your priorities, at least to get them on the record. Then, we know that it’s in the system because some of these roads you mentioned are not registering on the process here, and by coming and talking with us, that would be a start in the right direction.
We do our best to allocate our expenditures according to the needs that are in the area. We are pretty pleased that we’re spending $1 million on Reeves Street in your riding this year which will, together with the town and the federal government, represent quite a sweeping change in the nature of the presentation in that area. Of course, Lennox Passage Bridge is going to be completed.
On the particular request you had about the one kilometre stretch, what I would ask you to do is to identify that a little bit more clearly for our people here. We’ll gladly take a look at seeing if there’s a way to stretch that out if we have a contractor in there that is mobilized. No promises, but it’s something that we would be willing to take a look at.
ALANA PAON: This will be my last question. I will pass it along to my colleague after I’m done.
I will say that I speak to your staff on the ground all the time. I have fostered a very good relationship with them locally and regionally; I trust their input. I trust what they bring forward to you, and I respect their input in the process of helping me make decisions as to what roads need to be prioritized. I know the staff meet with you on a regular basis, because we have constant communication back and forth.
As I mentioned early on, I get a large volume of calls in my office, 45.8 per cent. I know the minister made mention that perhaps I should increase, on my own Facebook page, publicizing the 1-800 number in order for people to get hold of the department. I can assure you that my office staff and my constituency assistant, in fact, have given out that information to everyone who calls. They call us back with the ticket number so that we can track that information and give it to your staff directly.
The volume of calls has not fallen even though we’ve given them that information. The information is on my Facebook site. But I would encourage the minister, if he could instruct his department, and perhaps on his own Facebook page or on the department website, that he should be doing more of a campaign in encouraging the province as a whole to get in touch with you through that 1-800 number. I don’t think it’s really the job of the individual constituency assistants and constituency offices to be doing that job for the minister and the minister’s staff.
I would say this: I thank the minister very much for answering and responding to my questions. I will now give my colleague an opportunity.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cumberland North.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: It’s a pleasure to have an opportunity to ask the minister a couple of questions, and thank you for your endurance through this process.
I would like to make sure I have a chance to ask a question about the Rainbow Bridge; I know that your staff have been working diligently on that. My colleague, the member for Cumberland South had asked during Question Period this session for an update, and he was provided with the information that the tender closed March 13th and stated that the tender would be awarded at the end of March. We’re just wondering: Has that been awarded?
On the same topic, he mentions that there was a penalty in the tender that the job must be completed by October 31, 2019, or there would be a daily penalty. Is this daily penalty still applicable?
LLOYD HINES: We’re very close to awarding the tender for the Nappan Marsh Bridge, otherwise known as the Rainbow Bridge. We are involved with permit transfer around some of the environmental work that came. We actually did part of the work last year on the removal and the abutments needed to get those permits changed over.
I would say, I’m pretty safe in saying that within the next seven to ten days that tender will actually be awarded, and the work will be under way.
October 31st is a firm date, unless there is something that the owner - which is us - has imposed on the contract, that it was outside the contract. The contractor will be expected to perform to that date, and if not, then penalties will be executed.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: We certainly appreciate it in our area. It’s a very important connector between Amherst and Springhill. It’s amazing the amount of traffic that goes back and forth there every day, so thank you for that commitment.
I’m not going to ask about specific roads because I know I have a great working relationship with your area managers and regional manager, and we talk weekly about different roads that come up. I would like to ask a general area question. The entrance to Nova Scotia, the Laplanche Street entrance, over the years has gotten fairly rundown in many ways, including the road size. Cumberland County has put together a working committee with the Town of Amherst to look at ways of improving the aesthetics of that entrance to our province - not on the Trans-Canada Highway but if you were to come off the Trans-Canada, go into the visitor information centre, a lot of people are then coming into town on that Laplanche Street entrance, the old highway.
This working committee has done a lot of great work so far, so hats off to the county and town. There have been some discussions with the local Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to see if there’s any way they might be able to add a little bit of additional resources to help with this real effort; it’s for the betterment of not just our area but the whole province.
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions. Would you be able to support that idea of a little extra effort on that street?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you for that heads-up. We’re absolutely thrilled to work with the local authorities for the overall betterment. If we’re talking about sign renewal, that’s something we do on a regular basis anyway, so it wouldn’t necessarily be seen as any incremental or outside-the-box type of spending. What we will do is reach out through this committee you are talking about. I’ll have our local people do that and see how we can participate and what the recommendations would be coming back. I think this is the kind of stuff that we generally feel is important for our communities.
Signage, an ongoing, often overlooked piece of our business, is extremely important to communities and also to the travelling public. I know exactly where you are talking about. That is probably an access point that’s quite well used, so we wouldn’t want it to be shabby. Let’s see if we can clean it up.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Joe van Vulpen is the county councillor who heads up that committee, and Sheila Christie, Deputy Mayor of the Town of Amherst, would be the head. Those are the two contacts that I would provide.
One of the areas on that stretch - it’s the roadsides and the ditches. My last question to you today is more of a macro, bigger look at our roads, the roadside ditches throughout the entire province, specifically in Cumberland North and along the North Shore, the Sunrise Trail. I was told that one of the reasons for the growth is because we no longer spray, and that used to help with keeping some of the foliage down in the Summer. When I have spoken to our area managers, one of their concerns was their lack of capital, their lack of equipment.
I know the last two Summers they only had one bush cutter for the whole county, and about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the time it was broken down. I’m just wondering: Are there any solutions being worked on in the department that would help to be able to provide more roadside aesthetic work?
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the universal question that we have right across the province when it comes to vegetation and management along our roads. What we did last year - and we didn’t get it fully implemented in that year because we were a little bit late getting the approvals for the program - was to put $2 million new money into a brush- cutting program targeted at our 100-Series Highways and our twinned highways, which you probably noticed was deployed along the major arteries.
The intent there was that that would relieve the areas from having to do the 100-Series Highways, so they could redeploy those resources into the local areas. We didn’t quite see that result because it was the first year for the program. We had to purchase a lot of new equipment for the 100-Series Highways. We’re very hopeful this year that we will see a better response out in the periphery areas, due to the fact that the areas won’t be responsible for those 100-Series Highways. That’s what we did this for.
I’ll investigate your questions about the high downtime for equipment because that’s not acceptable. We would expect that they would rent equipment if they needed to get the job done, if the money is in the budget.
We are hearing the calls from across the province around the brush-cutting vegetation management - not only from an aesthetic perspective, but also from a safety perspective when it comes to sharp curves in areas. We sure are good at growing alders in this province. We’ve taken a proactive approach by throwing $2 million at the problem which we’re hoping will push its way out into the smaller roads and provide more time for that. This year - and the staff know this - we’re expecting to see that result in our secondary road system.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I fibbed. I’m going to ask one more small question and it is very specific. Just today I was contacted by some local constituents. There was, unfortunately, a bad accident on the Green Road in Cumberland County, and they have asked if I would be willing to request a study. They’re asking for a guardrail to be put where this car went off at the end of the road and into water. Fortunately, in this accident, the car landed on its wheels and the driver was safe, but if the driver had been knocked unconscious and the car had landed on its roof, it wouldn’t have ended so well.
I’m just requesting on behalf of my constituents, if that could be assessed for a guardrail at the end of the Green Road.
LLOYD HINES: I think part of the value of this type of circumstance is that we get a chance to drill down to this level of detail. You wouldn’t normally have a chance to tell me about that. I can tell you that we will definitely inspect that and evaluate that section of the Green Road. The area manager will probably know what we’re talking about and evaluate it immediately, to see if we can put a guardrail in there.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: With the last few minutes remaining, I want to start off by saying I didn’t get an invite yet - I may not be available - but it’s nice of the minister to take out his immediate staff and the staff up in the East Gallery to the steak house tonight. At least that’s my understanding.
Anyway, I have a quick question. I have a letter here that was sent to your office in February about the Riverport & District Fire Department. It’s referring to the deplorable state of Highway No. 332, from Riverport to Kraut Point. The big concern there is with emergency vehicles responding to critical incidents.
I guess my question would be: Does the minister consider the safety of emergency responders when you’re planning projects for this particular current fiscal year and the years going forward?
LLOYD HINES: We’re quite aware of that particular section. It’s on the plan for the Summer of 2020. However, we are looking at an increased maintenance view on that once we get our patching crews up.
Our real intent is to see how we make out this Fall and pull that ahead to maybe get the tender out in late Summer, early Fall. We probably won’t get a lot of the work done, but we’ll be in a position to hit it immediately in the Spring of 2020.
PAT DUNN: I have just one last question dealing with that same route, Highway No. 332. I believe approximately half of that route is going to be taken care of in 2020. Apparently, over the past year, the fire department had $17,000 in expenses to repair some of their equipment because of the nature of the road.
Most fire departments don’t have that sort of monetary background to continue to repair their vehicles. I guess my question would be: If the work isn’t completed, will the department provide the funds to these emergency responders to repair their vehicles for damages that occurred because of the highway’s disrepair?
LLOYD HINES: I guess we would say that our responsibility is to try to maintain the road to the best of our ability. It is in the plan to be resurfaced. With regard to any particular damage claims, the fire department is entitled to make that claim through ISP for any damages that they might feel entitled to. I would certainly encourage them and welcome them to do that.
PAT DUNN: The next question is dealing with licences for small utility trailers. I often run into residents in my community who are usually complaining about having to - I believe what they’re saying is they purchased their licence, could be any time throughout the year, but it’s only good for the remainder of that current year. If they got their licence in June, then they expire in December.
Of course, they’re saying that their utility trailer is probably used maybe, at the very most, five months out of the year. The question is: Why do they have to pay for 12 months when they think it should be maybe six months?
LLOYD HINES: I have to say that we’re not aware of that particular complaint bubbling up to our department. It would be very cumbersome for us to start breaking down the period of rental to provide any kind of flexibility. We’ll settle on the calendar year as the licensing period. If anybody would like to see that changed, we’d entertain any input that might be available, but we certainly have no plans to accommodate that at the present time.
PAT DUNN: My question is: Is there a lack of drivers within the TIR ranks? Where I’m coming from is, I often hear out in the street, in the communities, where municipalities sometimes pay their drivers $4 to $5 more than a TIR driver would receive. The question is: As a result of that, does TIR lose drivers to the municipality because of the higher wages within the communities and towns? Is that a minor problem or a big problem?
LLOYD HINES: In the overall picture, that is not seen as a factor for us in filling our ranks. It comes and it goes. In more urban settings where there is a multitude of opportunities, the labour market is a little bit more competitive but generally speaking, across the province, we don’t see that as a phenomenon for our drivers. It could be in a circumstance where maybe in a particular municipality their drivers might be unionized, where ours would not necessarily be unionized or might be a different union.
We haven’t detected that as a threat to our ability to staff our equipment during the guarantee period.
PAT DUNN: The next question is dealing with Highway No. 101 near Windsor. I received a couple of phone calls, I guess probably three emails, about the condition of the road on Highway No. 101 near Windsor, very close to where the exits are.
I am wondering if any work has been done recently or will be in the very near future. The emails and calls are saying the roads are in pretty bad shape in that area around the exits of Highway No. 101 near Windsor.
LLOYD HINES: The condition there has been recognized. There is a plan in place to go in and plane it this season and then micro fill it in anticipation of a more robust repair once the twinning in that area is completed. In the meantime, we’re going to improve the driving surface there to bring it back up to an acceptable standard, which will see us through until we get that twinning project completed.
PAT DUNN: This is my last question so I can give you enough time to wrap things up, unless you want to stick around a little longer. Is it true that TIR is taking more control of more buildings in the province? If that’s the case, would that mean less money for paving, for patching, and for cutting brush?
THE CHAIR: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal briefly for a reply, and then please go into your closing remarks for the remaining time.
LLOYD HINES: In answer to the question, there’s no expansion of the department’s responsibility in regard to buildings that we’re aware of. We have a large portfolio that we are responsible for currently, which we’re not planning on expanding. If we did it would not affect our highways budget.
I want to tell the members opposite how much I really appreciate the session that we just went through. It gives us an opportunity to communicate on a level that we don’t often get. I want to thank you all very much. Our door is always open, so come see us. We’re all in this together, and we want to have the best roads that any province in Canada has.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E39 stand?
Resolution E39 stands.
Resolution E46 - Resolved, that the business plan of the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission be approved.
Resolution E49 - Resolved, that the business plan of Nova Scotia Lands Inc. and Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. be approved.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolutions E46 and E49 carry?
The resolutions are carried.
That concludes our 40 hours of Estimates. We will now take a short recess to await the arrival of the Chair of the Subcommittee on Supply.
[3:04 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[3:10 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The Chair of the Subcommittee on Supply.
BRENDAN MAGUIRE: I am pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met for the time allotted to it and considered the various Estimates assigned to it.
THE CHAIR: Shall the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply do rise and report these Estimates.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report the Estimates to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 3:11 p.m.]