HALIFAX, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2017
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Chuck Porter
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the Committee of the Whole on Supply to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Justice.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will resume the estimates for the Department of Justice. The NDP caucus has 36 minutes left in the first hour.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Minister of Justice and staff for returning to the Chamber to answer a few more questions. I have a few questions about remand and so we’re back to Justice on that. I guess I’ll start by reading Section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which I know you are familiar with, but for the benefit of the Chamber: “Any person charged with an offence has the right . . . (d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
Mr. Chairman, when the minister and I and our colleagues, the members for Dartmouth North and Pictou West visited the Central Nova Correctional Facility we were informed that as many as - well, in fact, the number we were given by staff there was that 77 per cent of the inmates at the facility were on remand and were yet to be found guilty of anything. I’m wondering, has the minister any concerns about that number, from a constitutional perspective?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the honourable Minister of Justice I want to remind folks here in the Chamber, as well as in the gallery, that all electronic devices please be turned off or to silent. As well, although it’s fairly quiet here right now, I’d just ask you to be mindful of the discussions ongoing in the Chamber as it does at times get very difficult to hear the questions and the answers being provided between the two.
The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MARK FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the opportunity again to engage in these productive discussions with my colleague. I think it’s important to first recognize that the high percentage of remands in our facilities is an outcome really of the first stage of the court process and not a direct responsibility or reflection of the Department of Justice.
Having said that, I mentioned yesterday in response to a series of questions, the unprecedented engagement of the judiciary in problem solving and looking and working towards solutions. I am co-chairman of the Access to Justice Committee with Chief Justice MacDonald and there’s a great opportunity there with a number of community leaders in the legal profession and other professions where we have an opportunity to bring these types of discussions forward.
There’s also the Criminal Justice Transformation Group that is comprised of cross-agency representation that includes the judiciary, the Public Prosecution Service, the Criminal Law Association and others, where we have an opportunity to have these discussions. Those discussions, from my first exposure, have been very productive. They are very engaging. Individuals are looking to find solutions. They are thinking outside the box on these types of challenges. So those are forums where we’re able to advance these types of topics. There are a number of factors that are driving that attention.
The high rate of remands in our facilities would be one; the Jordan decision out of the Supreme Court of Canada is another. They have been precipitators in these discussions evolving and for me a recognition that each and every representative within the environment of those committees is really a creative thinker and I’m encouraged by the types of discussion we’re having, the level of discussion we’re having, and the genuine desire to find solutions in these particular areas.
MS. CHENDER: I have no doubt that we have some bright, creative thinkers leading these conversations, but I’ll look forward to seeing that remand number go down.
One of the reasons that concerned us so much when we were there, both the member for Dartmouth South and myself, was, as my colleague noted when we left, in all of our conversations with Corrections staff, all of whom were very bright and co-operative and open, the language used to describe the inmates at that correctional facility - and I believe all of the others in our province - is that of “offender.” As soon as someone is behind bars - and I understand this is semantic but, in a way, it has deeper implications. As soon as that gate closes, the person who finds themselves behind it is immediately called an offender; there is nothing to distinguish them in that space from someone who is charged, who has been found guilty of a crime.
Again, there is just a fundamental concern about the right - innocent until proven guilty. Of course, we believe that prisoners should have basic human rights; they should be treated with dignity. I’m not suggesting there be differential treatment; I’m only pointing to the issue that when we have over three-quarters of an inmate population that has not been convicted of anything, it becomes a bit of a strange situation. I wonder if there is any specific work being done to create other options aside from remand - so bail with checking in, with monitoring. I know that in other jurisdictions there are other solutions that can be found and I’m wondering if you could speak to whether the province is currently pursuing those possibilities.
MR. FUREY: Just a couple of elements that I’ll touch on that are contributing factors to the high number of those on remand. Many of those are, in fact, breaches of conditions. This is acknowledged within the judicial system. I want to assure my colleague that the discussion continues with those involved in the discussions.
The recognition that when those conditions are set, that they’re realistic - and I think often of the conditions around domestic violence circumstances. Those often come back when maybe they could have been dealt with or addressed in the first instance specific to the no-contact clause, which we often see breached, and that’s consensual in many cases. There are opportunities here, with use of the GPS bracelet for another electronic form of monitoring as well as the voice recognition technology that the facilities are using for purposes of managing those numbers that remain in the public, in the community at large.
MS. CHENDER: Just a last question on that, is there money budgeted or conversations currently happening to expand the use of technologies like the bracelets and voice recognition so that we move away from imprisonment as being sort of at the top of the menu for what to do with breaches or for any other reason that someone might land in jail awaiting trial?
MR. FUREY: Coincidentally to the subject my colleague is advancing, there are conversations, meetings, next week that actually involve chiefs of police, the Public Prosecution Service, and the judiciary, around this very issue. So yes, the discussions are continuing. There’s a recognized need to address this. I have actually spoken with members of the judiciary on this very point - the high volume of remands and the fact that those numbers are driven by breaches of conditions. In a conscious effort, how do we address that? I think the reality of those conditions in the first instance is an important part of that discussion. Those discussions, coincidentally, are scheduled for next week.
I’ll go back, Mr. Chairman, to the budget for technology. There’s $313,000 identified in the budget for electronic supervision for 2017-18. I think last night if not with my colleague, one of my other colleagues in discussion spoke specifically about the use of electronic bracelets. There are 80 available, and 45 are presently in use, and the use of voice recognition technology is also captured in that $313,000.
MS. CHENDER: I’m really glad to hear that. I hope those 45 bracelets get used soon. I’m sure that there are folks for whom that would be preferable and appropriate to being in a correctional facility.
I want to move on - the minister mentioned the Jordan decision earlier which is of course wrapped up in this conversation. In the Jordan decision in 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the framework traditionally used to determine if an accused was tried in a reasonable time under Section 11(b) of the Charter and replaced with a presumptive ceiling of 18 months between the charges and trial in a provincial court without preliminary inquiry, or 30 months in other cases.
As I know that the minister knows, but just for the benefit of others who may not, I’m wondering, has the minister any data on how many cases here in Nova Scotia have not met that presumptive ceiling in the last few years since the decision?
MR. FUREY: The Jordan decision has driven a lot of attention, prioritized this very area for obvious reasons and we have seen some pretty serious matters stated in other provinces. But in the Province of Nova Scotia, to the best of our records as we speak, I believe the Jordan decision was July 2016 so we are just beyond a year, there were four cases stayed in the province as result of that decision. As I indicated earlier, the Criminal Justice Transformation Group, this is a topical discussion right across these judicial systems including our Supreme Court and Provincial Supreme Court judges.
One of the things we have done within the Department of Justice, there is a platform used in Justice referred to as JEIN and I knew what it stood for - it has slipped my mind at this time - Justice Enterprise Information Network. As a result of the Jordan decision and the work that has been done, we have actually placed an electronic ticker on that program.
As timelines progress, a file would literally get a red check mark to indicate that there is a risk associated to this file. And that is visible by all of those elements within the judicial system, including in the judiciary so we know that those files have to get priority attention.
It is only one step we have taken, but it speaks to the attention and the contribution of all stakeholders across the judicial system as to how important our actions are in response to the Jordan decision.
MS. CHENDER: The minister stated that four cases have been stayed in Nova Scotia because of the Jordan decision, but not all cases that have not met that presumptive ceiling would have been stayed is my understanding. I guess the question I’m asking is, how many files have a red dot on the ticker?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, as we speak and I’m not 100 per cent accurate on the numbers because it’s continuously changing, there would be between 200 and 300 informations, so those would be separate charges. I know my colleague would understand the term “informations” which would represent a much smaller number of individuals because a single individual would have multiple charges or multiple informations. What I would say given the efforts and the attention across the judicial system is we’re seeing about a 2 per cent decrease in those numbers each month since January.
It’s demonstrative of the focus and the attention and the work that is being done and we see that decline, and the way the system is set up, that red ticker does not necessarily mean it’s a danger zone. We’re not talking red, maybe a yellow-light synopsis, but those are files that would warrant attention to ensure that we don’t reach circumstances where any particular case would be stayed.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, I guess just to close out that piece, I’ll say that I’m happy to hear about the ongoing discussions with the judiciary and I hope that percentage ticks up and the red files tick down as quickly as possible.
I have a question about immigration detention and this comes out of a panel discussion I attended just last week, and it was about wrongful conviction. But the fellow who spoke discussed his experiences - and I’m not asking the minister of the department to comment on a specific case but just to take it as illustrative of what we are aware may happen, which is that this young man came into the country and claimed refugee status under false pretenses. He said that he was coming from one country when, in fact, he had come from another. At some point during his hearing, it became clear that that was the case and he came clean through the refugee clinic to the board, but at any rate, was detained, as may have been reasonably expected, by Canada Border Services Agency and put in immigration detention at Burnside.
This is where the story takes a turn because, well, number one, he was arrested by Canada Border Services Agency at 6:00 a.m. with a team of 15 people. This is a man who had been living here for four years, who voluntarily came clean. He wasn’t given time to put on his shoes. He was taken to Burnside with no shoes on and there he stayed for nine months - and he had a monthly detention hearing via video at each point of which he was determined a flight risk and left there.
Now, as he details his own experiences, he said that he was told by the guards when he arrived that because he was being put in protective custody but wasn’t charged of anything - he was in immigration detention - that they wanted to put him on a unit with a relatively low incidence of violence and that unit happened to be the unit where most of the sex offenders at Burnside were housed at that time. So, obviously, this is a specific story, it has all kinds of disturbing details. I just use it because Immigration and Canada Border Services is such a black box to many of us, I just want to kind of use it to ask about what the common practice is for immigration detention and why someone would be in Central Nova for such an extended period of time.
I guess it’s again back to that question of are there other ways that we could be ensuring - like to this day this fellow who is under a deportation order and waiting for his case to be resolved, he has to check in. I’m sure he’s using that voice recognition and he has all kinds of other conditions, all of which have worked perfectly well. I wonder how much we are attempting to take the most humane approach when we’re dealing with these kinds of cases in Immigration.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, an interesting question and I appreciate the circumstances that my colleague has shared. When we talk about immigration detention, obviously in these circumstances the Nova Scotia Corrections becomes a service provider to our federal colleagues and those individuals would be extended the same privileges and opportunities internally as others would, so programs and services.
I can’t speak to the physical placement in the facility but can understand if they themselves weren’t a risk of violence that they would want to place that individual in a similar environment where there’s little to no risk for violence. I think there may be an opportunity to have some discussion with Immigration because what concerns me about that scenario is you tell me that that individual was in custody for nine months but is now on some form of reporting - obviously living within our community with much less stringent imposition upon him, I assume.
I think there is a need for another discussion but I think in general terms, Nova Scotia Corrections become a service provider and as we’ve come to know, those individuals would receive similar privileges and rights and opportunities within the facility as any other resident.
MS. CHENDER: With that, I would ask that the minister pursue the conversation with his colleagues and as a service provider even, I would hope that Nova Scotia Corrections and the department as a whole could explore less invasive ways of detaining those folks who it is determined need some kind of supervision in the community.
My last question in the Corrections area is just about programming, which the minister just raised. I wonder if the minister could tell us what types of programs are offered to those serving time in correctional facilities, whether or not there are any trades or educational programming, of which there is a great deal in federal facilities, and whether he or his colleagues could point to the place in the budget where we see the money spent on that programming.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I’ll just speak to the budget piece first. There’s no specific line in the budget for continuing education or ongoing education or programming. It’s embedded into the larger general budget. Community Supervision and Programs is where it’s found. There are a number of programs that are offered. One that is in the process of expanding is called Limitless. It’s a partnership with Nova Scotia Community College, primarily focusing on African Nova Scotians under the age of 25, but available to any resident of our facilities. GED programs are offered, and there’s actually quite a celebration for the graduating class - staff, residents, and family members of residents.
There’s quite a substantive list of other programs available inside. I’ll just go through some of them, but we can make this list available to my colleague: substance abuse awareness, addictions education, intimate partner violence education focusing on respectful relationships, sexual offender, sexual offender treatment program, options to anger, and restorative justice processes now for adults. I mentioned some of the education support. The mental health element is so critical and important, and the presence of both our health authorities in the adult facilities and the IWK embedded in the Waterville facility, continuing to provide those types of services that we know are critically important to rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community.
There are a number of culturally appropriate sensitive programs specific to our minority communities, the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network for our Aboriginal community, and a number of other programs are available that I think go to the point of my colleague’s question. I’ve said before and I absolutely believe this, the institution has a responsibility to reintegrate, and if we’re genuine about that, these elements are critically important in our ability to do that.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, on the topic of reintegration, I actually have one more question about Corrections which is about phone calls. My understanding is that the province has an agreement with Synergy Inmate Phone Solutions to provide telephone services. What we’re told is that if callers call within a local area it’s a somewhat reasonable rate, but long distance is a $7 call, which is a lot of money to many, many people who find themselves in our facilities and they don’t get the . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the hour has expired. I will as a formality, there are no speakers as far as I know from the Progressive Conservative caucus, so we will carry on with hour number two, and I will continue to recognize the honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Our inmate population doesn’t always get to choose - in fact, very rarely gets to choose the facility at which they find themselves, and so for many, many people behind bars they are unable to communicate with their family, with their loved ones, with all sorts of people and, of course, this is exacerbated by the fact that at some of our facilities there are no contact visits. Reintegration is obviously a laudable theme but there are many things that seem to stand in the way of that. I’m wondering whether there’s any concern about the rates being charged to people who have to call their loved ones and, also, whether the minister could comment on whether the province, in fact, has any financial benefit from these rates.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I must say I’m a little confused by the impression that there is an exorbitant fee. I know there’s a cost to phone calls but my understanding is that each of the residents of the facility get two free five-minute calls per week, and for those who are financially challenged, free calls are provided, and I think the other point of my colleague’s question - there’s no financial gain to the province by this program.
All of those monies used are for offenders’ trusts, so that money would go back in to provide them supplies within their units, in the general living area. I know in one area we had visited there was a small kitchenette-type facility, those monies go back in to support that type of arrangement, but there’s no revenue for the province.
MS. CHENDER: That’s different than the information I have, but I will endeavour to find out some more information and I’ll forward it to your department, and we could discuss it at that time.
Just a couple more questions. One is shifting topics entirely - paralegals. Does the Department of Justice fund paralegals and, if not, how are lawyers in the department supported in their work?
MR. FUREY: As my colleague would know, Legal Services within the Department of Justice is basically the legal firm, the firm itself for government, and there is a proportionate representation use of paralegals in that environment. There are about 100 lawyers in the Legal Services Division. I don’t have the exact number - I’m sorry, technology, again - we have nine paralegals on staff in Legal Services, as we speak.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you for that answer. I’m struck that that seems like, compared to any other law firm, may be potentially a relatively low number of paralegals. I know I’ve heard some concerns about the contracting out of that service, bringing in folks from time to time, so I would just ask the minister to maybe look at that when he goes back to that department.
To finish up I wanted to ask a couple of questions around how this government in general, but since this is the Department of Justice, I’ll ask the Justice Minister - I asked it in Education and it was sort of put over to Justice - how the government accounts for pending litigation. At any point in time the government accounts for all contingent liabilities, so I’m wondering, how and where does that accounting happens for pending litigation against the province, particularly those that could result, as most of them could, with the province being on the hook financially?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, any of those possible settlements that government may experience are accrued in liability accounts in individual departments, not in the Department of Justice. There’s a process that I’m not totally familiar with, that’s the financial element of it but that’s not in the Department of Justice.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, I’ll have to look back at Hansard when it’s available. I believe when I asked the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development this question he told me it was not accounted for in his department but that it was part of the Department of Justice.
At some point, I would like some clarification on this. I think it’s really important. I think this government has made a lot of its ability to balance the budget and be financially sound, but we know that there are many, many outstanding pieces of litigation that could alter that financial reality and I think the people of Nova Scotia have a right to see those numbers.
In particular, we know that the government could find itself in court over Bill No. 148, so with that heating up, I’ll just ask again if you could point to a specific contingency fund for Bill No. 148 as Minister of Justice and Minister of Labour Relations. I don’t know where that would fall, but if that’s accounted for in this department, maybe the minister could speak to that more specifically.
MR. FUREY: Just a little confusion on my part on the specifics of the question. I’ll try to answer that, and if not, then we can continue with a more direct question, and I’ll attempt to provide a more direct response.
Relative to the outcomes of Bill No. 148 - I think that’s what my colleague is talking about - where there could be a cost to government, we wouldn’t normally set up a settlement as an expense to the department until the likelihood of a settlement would occur. There would be nothing budgeted in this fiscal year for any outcomes from Bill No. 148.
MS. CHENDER: That does answer my question. I wonder if the minister could speak to the process by which the department determines that a settlement might be needed and where it would show up at that time in the department’s budget.
MR. FUREY: This is the process as I understand it, and I’m not the accountant so bear with me. At year-end, Legal Services go through all of the accounts and determine the likelihood of payout in any matter that government would be involved in. Once that’s done, that goes to the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, which would have that overarching responsibility. They send it out to each of the departments, and the department itself is responsible to set it up. They expense it to the department and it’s held in account until payout, if payout is necessary.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you to the minister and the staff. Mr. Chairman, that concludes my questions. I will share a bit of the remaining time with my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Centre, but before I do, I just want to say that I appreciate the minister’s willingness to answer questions and find the answer. There are a number of things I will be following up on. This last will be one - I’d like to know the process by which that likelihood is determined, but we can follow up afterwards.
Thank you again for your time and I’ll share the time with my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MS. TAMMY MARTIN: I would just like some clarification - or we would like some clarification - from the minister as to his role in labour relations in the province now that the minister is responsible for labour relations and it’s no longer under the Department of Labour and Advanced Education - what is the minister’s role in labour relations within the province?
MR. FUREY: I’m more than willing to take questions from my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Centre, but I’m at a bit of a disadvantage in that the Budget Estimates are for the Department of Justice and I don’t have support staff from the Department of Labour Relations with me - because I don’t know to what extent the line of questioning will go. I just want my colleague to be aware of that.
Having said that, my role as Minister of Labour Relations is to engage our labour groups - the leadership of our labour groups - to try to facilitate dialogue that is cognizant of the positions of both government and labour, and to facilitate discussions that are progressive and, hopefully, lead to some positive outcomes in the dialogue between labour leaders and government.
MS. MARTIN: There are some cost questions here - would the minister prefer if we just sent them to the department? The minister has indicated that he doesn’t have support staff available. I’m curious, how would you like to proceed?
MR. FUREY: I’m more than prepared to take the questions that my colleague would have and we can have that open dialogue. If there are questions that I can’t answer then I would ask, with the support of my colleague, to be able to go back into the office and be able to gather and provide that information to my colleague.
MS. MARTIN: Thank you to the minister for that. I just didn’t want the department to be at a disadvantage without the information at your fingertips.
In your role as the Minister of Labour Relations, in picking up on what you said earlier with meeting with government and both sides, could you be a bit more descriptive on who those meetings would be with that would garner your attention or the minister’s attendance?
MR. FUREY: The meetings that I’ve had to date would include the president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union; the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union; the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union; the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, Mr. Cavanagh; and the collective health representatives, including some of those individuals, but others and I don’t recall all their names. I think at that particular meeting there were 12 individuals. That’s the level of discussion and dialogue that I’m having, and there are more meetings to schedule.
I would be remiss if I did not say, because it’s important that I understand both sides of the discussion, that I have a responsibility as well to meet with the employers so that I clearly understand the positions that both have taken.
MS. MARTIN: I’m wondering, could the minister talk about any staff that have been reallocated from the separation of this Labour file, that have gone to the Labour Relations part of the file and if that is indicated anywhere in the budget?
MR. FUREY: No, there has been no transfer of staff. I have assumed that responsibility and work closely with Mr. Rollie King and those individuals in his office to facilitate these discussions and the dialogue.
MS. MARTIN: How did the decision come to be that these would be separated between the Labour Relations Minister and the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education?
MR. FUREY: I can’t speak for what the reasons were behind the creation of the new role, other than to recognize the value of the new role in taking on a responsibility that is important to our government, that’s important to me in advancing constructive dialogue to the best of my ability. I value the support that has been extended to me and the learning that has been shared with me, not only by those within government who are most familiar with the circumstances of labour in the province, but also from those union leaders who have been very open in expressing their desires and their concerns.
MS. MARTIN: From that, is the minister aware of any cost implications that are a result of this decision?
MR. FUREY: No cost implications that I’m aware of.
MS. MARTIN: On the government’s website, Public Service Sustainability, it states that the government is “committed to meaningful collective bargaining” to achieve the outcome of sustainable public services for Nova Scotia. I would ask the minister then to explain how imposing Bill No. 148 demonstrates a meaningful commitment to free and fair collective bargaining.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I want to be very careful here in extending this opportunity for these discussions with my colleague, recognizing that there is a matter before the court that it would be inappropriate for me to speak to or comment on, but what I do want to address and speak to is government’s objective that we believe is the appropriate path forward for Nova Scotia.
Past governments of all political stripes have expended significant resources that have contributed to a significant debt, $15.5 billion, $900,000, a year. Actually, it’s more than that; I just don’t know the exact figure but a significant expense to managing the debt and we believe we cannot continue down that path. Our objective - my objective in my role as a Minister of the Crown, and particularly Minister of Labour Relations, is to engage those interested parties and speak to the value of each and every stakeholder contributing to the future growth of the province, and that would include our labour sector.
What we have advanced is what we believe, on one hand, is a fair compensation framework and our priorities, the priorities of this government, the fiscal lens that we’ve applied is giving us the opportunity to reinvest in other areas of government providing services that Nova Scotians are asking for and the Opposition appropriately expects of us in fulfilling their role on that side of the Legislature.
That’s the general position that our government is functioning under and, for me, delegated the responsibility in these circumstances of Minister of Labour Relations, to try to advance those discussions and facilitate discussions that recognize the challenges that we all face and, hopefully, through those efforts, find a collective solution that we’re all able to live with.
MS. MARTIN: Mr. Chairman, respectfully, we will agree to disagree because as I said earlier, I believe the opportunity to sit down and come to that agreement would have been much more respected than imposing an agreement or imposing a wage pattern. Having said that, because it surrounds Bill No. 148 primarily and its limitations to free and fair collective bargaining, I believe that will be the end of my comments and I appreciate the last-minute, let’s say, request for some questions about labour. Thank you so much.
MR. FUREY: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, I’ll just take a quick moment. Could somebody update me on the time - am I limited by time here?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, sir, you are not.
MR. FUREY: I will be brief; I assure you of that. I do want to first acknowledge my colleagues on the other side of the Legislature. These are the types of discussions we should be able to have; this is the dialogue that we should be able to have; this is the tone of discussion that I believe is constructive to this environment, but really sets an example for the high school students who were here earlier that this is a place that should generate interest, that the positions and views of each of us, respectful that we can always agree to disagree - I won’t say “always” agree to disagree, because there are many times that we do agree. I’ve seen that over the course of the last couple of weeks.
There will be times that we recognize we will disagree, but the ability to communicate effectively with a level of respect has been demonstrated through this dialogue. It’s an important element for me and my ability to fulfill my role. I simply want to acknowledge and recognize that it’s a great example for us to have this dialogue, and I want to extend my appreciation to each of my colleagues who I’ve had the privilege to work with and continue to work with over the next number of months and years.
I do also want to acknowledge and recognize the team in the Department of Justice who, since my arrival in mid-June, have extended their undivided support to me in this role. I tell people both in Halifax and in my constituency that if it weren’t for the people around me, I couldn’t do what I’m doing. I don’t think there’s a greater example of that, for me in the privileged role as a Minister of the Crown, to acknowledge the Public Service and the employees in the Department of Justice, and to extend my appreciation to them for their support.
I think it’s appropriate to recognize all members of the Legislature on both sides of the House who have reached out and engaged me on a number of issues that are relative to the Department of Justice and to their constituents and constituency, and how productive those discussions have been.
Mr. Chairman, although some are intimidated by this environment and some of us are intimidated by estimates, it’s not the shark tank that many think it is when these types of behaviours are mutually presented and set the example for Nova Scotians - and, I believe, encourage others to become involved and participate in the political process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E13 stand?
Resolution E13 stands.
Resolution E23 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,664,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Human Rights Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E27 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $350,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E32 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $683,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E34 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $23,780,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Public Prosecution Service, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolutions E23, E27, E32, and E34 carry?
The resolutions are carried.
We’ll take a short break, as we call them, to get ready.
[12:24 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We will now call the Committee of the Whole on Supply back to order and we will be considering the Budget Estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Resolution E39 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $465,774,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
HON. LLOYD HINES: Thank you, and good afternoon. Today I have with me Executive Director of Finance and Strategic Planning, Diane Saurette, and the department’s Chief Engineer, Peter Hackett.
Firstly, I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak about the work we do at Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on behalf of all Nova Scotians. Our mandate is to ensure we deliver quality roadway and building infrastructure to support all Nova Scotians and to help ensure a thriving province. Last year, we undertook a significant public consultation on the viability of the 100-Series Highways that provided a plan for accelerated highway twinning and safety. We will continue to work on twinning the identified highways as well as undertake safety measures to improve the efficiency and safety of these roads.
Our mandate is also to focus on the QEII redevelopment in order to provide Nova Scotians with access to the health care they need and deserve in the location they need it. We will work to ensure the QEII facility and all other infrastructure projects under our department are delivered in a timely and fiscally responsible manner.
Finally, our mandate is to ensure that we are leveraging all that we can for Nova Scotians to ensure we are fully maximizing Nova Scotia’s infrastructure potential as it relates to federal infrastructure.
At TIR, we want to deliver quality public infrastructure for Nova Scotians by providing a transportation network for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods and by continuing to serve the building needs of government departments and agencies. We manage the greatest share of the government’s capital budget that helps to pay for a substantial road and bridge network relative to the size of our province. We manage and maintain 23,000 kilometres of roads that span our four regional districts from Yarmouth to Amherst to the northern shores of Cape Breton. Our network also includes 4,300 bridges and nine provincial ferries.
I know many of these roads well, especially the route from Halifax to my home constituency of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie. I travel back and forth frequently and have had the opportunity to see the service provided by TIR’s employees. From plowing and salting in the winter to filling potholes in the Spring, and I see the results of their hard work during the summer and Fall construction season.
TIR’s more than 2,000 employees are committed to the delivery of safe roads that help keep people and the economy moving in Nova Scotia. Our department’s employees are also responsible to manage the delivery of provincial buildings such as schools and correctional facilities, and to maintain public structures such as provincial museums and this very building here, Mr. Chairman, the Nova Scotia Legislature. Our employees deliver major infrastructure projects such as the Halifax Convention Centre, which is nearing opening day, and the QEII redevelopment project, a really exciting project in the history of this province.
In addition to highways and public works, we are responsible for policy development related to road safety, one of the greatest and most important jobs that we have in this department. TIR is responsible for the Motor Vehicle Act and for the delivery of legislation and regulation that helps keep motorists safe on our roads.
We do all this with an overall budget this year of $706 million. We have approximately 150 capital projects in our five-year plan this year, including completion of Granite Drive interchange and the connector on Highway No. 101; the replacement of Highway Nos. 102/103 interchange; and commencement of work on the Paqtnkek interchange on Highway No. 104.
Of course, we also have a number of construction improvement roads to various trunk and route roads; asphalt repaving projects for various highways, routes, and trunks; and some bridge replacement and rehabilitation projects this fiscal year.
The operating portion of our budget is used for the day-to-day operations of the department such as snow and ice control, highway and bridge maintenance, field operations, fleet amortization, ferry operations, vehicle compliance, engineering and construction services, administration, professional services, employee benefits, RIM work, and smaller highway and building projects.
We’ve been able to mitigate costs and improve service using newer techniques to manage snow and ice such as pre-wetting pavement before a snow event. This technique is very effective to prevent slippery roads, and at the same time creates savings. This year we have nearly $60 million budgeted to handle our winter snow clearing.
I want to take this moment to express my confidence in our department’s overall budget and its ability to support major initiatives during the five-year highway improvement plan, ongoing road maintenance, and managing major infrastructure projects.
I want to take the opportunity to talk in a little more detail about some of our priorities in this fiscal year. I mentioned highway twinning, which is a really exciting prospect for the department and for all Nova Scotians where we have stepped forward and committed to twinning 80 kilometres of highway across the province in a seven-year period, which will enhance the safety of our highways and save lives on an ongoing basis in this province.
As I mentioned earlier, last year we embarked on a significant public consultation process on toll roads and highway twinning. After hearing from Nova Scotians, we announced an investment of an additional $390 million over seven years to twin our 100-Series Highways, bringing the total in seven years to over $815 million. The additional $390 million will allow the province to add three sections of twinned 100-Series Highways to the existing highways plan and to build the Burnside Connector.
It’s our intention - and we can say with confidence - that we intend to complete these jobs in seven years. The four projects are: Highway No. 101, Three Mile Plains to Falmouth, including the Windsor causeway - 9.5 kilometres of considerable bottleneck in a very important section of our province; Highway No. 103, Tantallon to Hubbards, 22 kilometres - that one has been announced; Highway No. 104, Sutherlands River to Antigonish, including Barney’s River for 38 kilometres; and the construction of the four-lane divided Burnside Connector, Highway No. 107 between Burnside and Bedford - 8.7 kilometres - another considerable bottleneck in our metropolitan area. Sections of the highways will be open as they are completed. We are proceeding with intention and intent to move this project entirely forward.
The funding also includes $30 million for safety improvements on untwinned sections of highways, because even though we understand that twinned highways save lives, we are digging down into our existing system and into the areas that we looked at that are not available and on our twinning list at this point in time to significantly improve the safety considerations on those routes. We have committed $30 million to do that.
The provincial contribution will be used to access federal cost-shared infrastructure programs. Nova Scotia has submitted business cases to the federal government for consideration. The province will continue to work with them to formalize agreements. Roads are expensive. Each twinned kilometre is running between $3 million and $5 million depending on the complexity of the road, particularly the number of structures that are involved.
The other areas that were really important to us for this is the partnership with the Government of Canada. The significant expense of twinning and constructing new infrastructures points to the importance of working with our federal partners on the new Building Canada Fund and the Investing in Canada infrastructure program. We are pleased with the investments made to date with our federal partners for the NBCF program funding which will be fully committed by March 2018.
We’re really proud of our Gravel Road Capital Program; $10 million in additional funding was announced last April for the repair and reconstruction of gravel roads. Well-maintained, good-quality roads are essential particularly for rural communities. We have 8,400 kilometres of gravel roads in our province and we need to have the ability to repair more of those roads than we have been able to reach in the past. The new program is a proactive approach that will rebuild roads to improve the structure and drainage. This will result in a longer-lasting driving surface and make regular road maintenance easier. It’s important to note here that this capital money is directed at subgrade, cross culvert, ditching, and eventually surfacing of these gravel roads. We want to build the integrity of our gravel roads and bring that up to a standard that will be able to have us look at other resurfacing options as we go down the road.
The new program is a proactive approach that will rebuild roads and improve the structure and drainage. It will result in a longer-lasting driving surface and make regular road maintenance easier. The funding, broken down on the number of kilometres of gravel roads in each district, is $2.9 million for the western district which is Kings, Annapolis, Digby, Shelburne, Queens, and Lunenburg Counties; $1 million for the central district which includes Halifax Regional Municipality and Hants County; $2.7 million for the northern district which is Cumberland, Colchester, and Pictou; and $3.4 million for the eastern district which includes Guysborough, Antigonish, Richmond, Inverness and Victoria Counties, and CBRM.
I want to speak for a minute about schools. An important part of TIR’s responsibility is new school construction. There is approximately $200 million budgeted over the next seven years. The budget announced funding for new schools in Spryfield, Tatamagouche, Bridgetown, Bible Hill, Sheet Harbour, Eastern Passage, Dartmouth, Halifax, and Yarmouth. Four of these schools - Bridgetown, Bible Hill, South Dartmouth, and Tatamagouche - are scheduled to open in the current school year.
The Eastern Passage high school will open in 2018 and the Yarmouth elementary school in 2019. The Spryfield high school, which is the replacement for J.L. Ilsley High School, is currently in the site-selection phase. Construction of the Halifax South Peninsula Elementary School in Halifax, which replaces LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary, has been paused as officials assess new student enrolment projections. There was quite a spike in the enrolment projections there which caused us to pause for another look at what we’re doing there.
On the QEII redevelopment, it is a milestone for Nova Scotians and I think something that we have an opportunity to be very proud of. It falls to us in our time with all members of this House to decide on the new shape of the infrastructure for health care delivery across Nova Scotia because, as we know, we’re talking about regional facilities here in metro. The province is working closely with the Nova Scotia Health Authority on plans to modernize provincial health services that will improve health outcomes and provide quality care.
The QEII redevelopment is one of our key departmental focuses. As you know, the QEII redevelopment includes projects at the Halifax Infirmary, the Dartmouth General Hospital, the Hants Community Hospital, and other sites that will support the eventual closure of the Centennial and Victoria Buildings in Halifax.
In April, the province purchased 15 acres in Bayers Lake for the new community outpatient centre. Bayers Lake was identified as the best site for the new centre whose primary users are intended to be those 40 per cent of people living outside of the downtown core.
Work was recently completed on the newly renovated fourth floor of the Dartmouth General Hospital, marking the completion of the first round of renovations at Dartmouth General Hospital. That is great news for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie because all of the western portion of my riding is in Halifax Regional Municipality. I know that the folks from Ecum Secum all the way through to Dartmouth are thrilled to see that hospital enhanced. It’s appropriate that that’s being redone.
The Cobequid Pass - as you know, Mr. Chairman, the province has indicated that we will be removing the tolls from the Cobequid Pass for Nova Scotia motorists once the bonds are paid off. That is expected to be in 2019. A decision on commercial trucks and non-Nova Scotian motorists will be made as we move closer to this date and have fully assessed the long-term maintenance and operating costs. We want to give Nova Scotia motorists a break. As we move closer to 2019, we will look at how we maintain this crucial piece of infrastructure going forward.
I want to talk for a moment about Boat Harbour. Our government remains committed to the timelines set out in the legislation to close the existing Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility and remediate Boat Harbour. We’re very proud of and pleased with that commitment.
We are well into the detail planning that will provide improved information about the extent of contamination, cost-effective cleanup options, design of the remediation, and the total cost, Mr. Chairman. To date, over $133 million has been set aside for the project. We are partnering and consulting with Pictou Landing First Nation, other levels of government regulators, and academic researchers to make sure human health and the environment will be protected in all stages of this project.
In addition, TIR is working with Northern Pulp Nova Scotia on the requirements and design of a replacement effluent treatment facility. The completion of this project will see great redress of the environmental encroachment that was existing in the province for the people of Pictou Landing First Nation, and we intend to clean that mess up.
The Cat ferry service, or the Nova Scotia ferry - I’m proud to say we have accomplished what we set out to do in establishing a long-term relationship with a seasoned and reliable operator of the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service. Bay Ferries, as we sit here today, has exceeded last year’s total passenger sales to the end of the season, which I think would be Monday, with a few more sailings left to go and despite some engine challenges over the summer.
Tourism is having one of the best years on record in southwest Nova Scotia tourism. Numbers are up. Room nights sold in southwest Nova Scotia are at a 10-year high. On a recent swing through that area, I was so impressed at the enthusiasm, the energy, and the activity that were evident in the centres that I was in throughout southwest Nova Scotia and the feeling of exuberance and hope that was existing there.
That’s not to say that the successful operation of the ferry was the sole contributor to that, but I think it’s an important part of it. Tourism statistics indicate that ferry passengers are high-value visitors who stay longer and spend more. Between 2014 and 2016, visitors to Nova Scotia via the Yarmouth ferry have contributed an average of $17.5 million each year in tourism spending in Nova Scotia.
Much has been said and written about our deal with the operator and about the investment for the Cat ferry. The investment for the 2017 season continues to be projected at $9.4 million but it will be several weeks after the conclusion of the sailing season before we know all the variables to go into the final determination of the costs for the annual investment as committed to by our government.
I think it’s important to remind honourable members that in point of fact, all ferries are invested in by governments in Nova Scotia, including our smaller provincial ferries, at a net cost of $8.4 million, as well as every other ferry that transports people to and from our province - for example, Sydney to Port aux Basques, P.E.I. to Pictou, Digby to Saint John, and of course the P.E.I. to New Brunswick bridge, too, which serves Nova Scotia.
As I’ve said many times, we believe in this service. We support the residents of Yarmouth and southwest Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia hospitality industry as they capitalize on the opportunity that having a transportation link in place brings to the province. With that, Mr. Chairman, I am happy to take questions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness with one hour.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: I’d like to thank the minister for his opening comments and, Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, the question that I want to ask - and I actually raised it in Question Period earlier this sitting - is about the Canso Causeway. I know there’s a mixed bag there, in terms of people involved with the whole operation, but the province is responsible for the swing bridge. I know the swing bridge, there’s new technology, the person operating is no longer on the bridge, they’ve been moved off the bridge, and with new technology sometimes come bugs.
This summer the hot topic was the delays at the causeway. I started thinking that maybe this is an issue of boats. Maybe there’s a lot of people going through with recreational boats. I had a pretty good source of information that suggested that was part of the problem - it may be. I know that the Coast Guard maintains that there have actually been fewer crossings this year than last year, yet there have been more delays. That tells me that maybe the real problem is the actual bridge and its ability to open and close when it’s expected to.
I want to ask the minister, is there a plan or is there something in the works right now that is going to address this so that it does not continue to be an issue for the motorists who are trying to get through the causeway?
I do want to put something out to my constituents and I’d ask that if there’s something I can put out, I would appreciate that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question because, first of all, as a former Cape Bretoner and living in the Strait area and dealing with the causeway for many years, I’m very cognizant of what a critical piece of infrastructure that is. If you reflect on what that has meant to the area, it has had very significant impacts over the years, it absolutely relieved many problems. Some would say that those problems were - some of them were good problems to have if you lived in the Town of Mulgrave and you were the stopping point for the railway ferry that came out of Cape Breton through that period of time, that made Mulgrave actually at that point and also the car ferries came across before the causeway, prior to 1955, when coal was king in Cape Breton. That community was hit hard when the causeway went in.
Additionally, and this issue has come up in the last two years with the closure of the elementary school in the Town of Mulgrave, which sort of centres for its commerce around the Port Hawkesbury area for the most part - some in Antigonish but generally I think that end of the county sees Port Hawkesbury as their area. What that brings up, Mr. Chairman, is the reliance on emergency services in particular that comes out of the Port Hawkesbury area. The EHS dispatch is out of Port Hawkesbury, and the RCMP dispatch into that area, Aulds Cove and the Mulgrave area, is also out of Port Hawkesbury.
The apprehension that was in the community of Mulgrave - actually, the school closed in September - about sending their young kids on the causeway in the wintertime, Mr. Chairman, I’m sure the member opposite has heard the same kinds of complaints about the wicked winters that come and make the causeway a challenge at some point time - it actually gets closed occasionally - in terms of people who live close by on both sides and have to traverse it daily.
The recognition of that sort of benefit and the difficulties that came with constructing that major piece of infrastructure is a bit of a two-edged sword. Part of that development was the solution that was met in 1955 to keep that very important sea link available to Georges Bay and eventually to the St. Lawrence Seaway. In retrospect, that was very wise because the kinds of port development that are going on would be the south side of the causeway, rely on that link and the lock is big enough to get good-sized ships through - I’m thinking about container vessels in particular - that would service the St. Lawrence Seaway, so that’s an advantage to us in having the causeway there and being able to access to St. Lawrence Seaway from any proposed port activities that would carry on in there.
Of course, the other major advantage that came out of the causeway at that time was the creation of North America’s deepest ice-free harbour. The gorge that is the causeway that separates Cape Breton and the mainland of Nova Scotia is very deep, which makes it an excellent site for port activities. The key was that the northern ice coming from Georges Bay through the Strait of Canso is stopped, so the south side is ice-free.
For those two big benefits, we paid a price. The price is the kinds of issues that the member very rightfully brings forward, which is the continued smooth access and the importance of that link to us, which brings us forward to 2015 when the Government of Canada approached the province about taking over stewardship and responsibility for that facility, which on balance, the government agreed to do because we then had control in our own jurisdiction of an important link for us in that area and the province took that. At the time, there was an approximately $10 million capital transfer that came with it and the money was directed at improving the swing bridge there, among other improvements to the causeway itself.
That resulted in a detour that was put in for a period of time to facilitate the work on the swing bridge construction, and at that time, every effort was made to upgrade the bridge itself. It’s interesting that the member mentions the remote control of the bridge which is, of course, a reflection of the new technologies that would be available for the bridge. With all the wonderful things that come with new technology, what also comes with them is bugs. We had a few bugs, and subsequent to conversations that you and I have had, the department has assigned a special team in the last month and a half to focus on that issue and to make sure that we eradicate those bugs and re-establish the integrity of that particular vital, vital link in our province. I’m happy to report that, since the team has specifically taken on the responsibility of working on that, that the frequency of closure has reduced.
I would say that the member opposite has made some excellent suggestions in terms of the Cape Breton side, in particular, where Route 19 comes into the causeway area and people would be blocked from each area by traffic. But they may not be looking to use the causeway coming out of the Port Hastings area or coming out of the Creignish area, so if we can provide some way of establishing a bypass in the existing rights-of-way to enable those people to not be held up - and I’ve been there myself, not since this problem I have to say, but I’ve been there when there’s boats going through the canal and, of course, you have a very long wait and it is frustrating but, more importantly, we have had instances lately where the causeway was closed for an extensive period of time unrelated to that situation. I know there was a very unfortunate fatality there of a biker which backed traffic up and, in those instances, we see the kinds of cascading negative effects that can come out of that and it gives us a chance to try to understand those a little better.
With all that process there, I’d be more than happy to continue to work with the member to introduce him to the people that we have involved there, tell him what we’re doing, and continue to work to make that a smoother process. We’re certainly committed to it and we recognize the importance of it. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for the answer. I think that’s positive news and I will certainly take him up on the offer to meet with the group and advance some of those ideas to see if they might work. I know the rotary may never have been the ideal solution in some people’s minds, but it has worked reasonably well over the years. I know there have been some instances where it hasn’t but there was never a lot of outcry until this past summer that something has to be done with the lanes coming into it and it was because of the delays. They may still be a good idea, but I will definitely take the minister up on that offer and I thank him for his response.
In the interests of time, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague here but I might ask the minister one final question and that is just on the paint that goes on the roadways. I know the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, I believe it was, banned lead paint and I know that lead, as it disintegrates, can go into the air, we can breathe it in, and it’s very bad for the environment. However, the new paints don’t seem to last very well and I know by the time it comes around to painting them again - actually, long before - the lines in some cases are pretty well faded for the roadway, and when you’ve got twisty, turny roads in my constituency, when you’ve got people who are visiting, travelling at night, especially if it’s raining, I do hear complaints about it.
My final question, before I turn it over to the member for Queens-Shelburne, has the department looked at any way to improve that by way of introducing another line crew - I know the paint is expensive, too, and I know it chews up a lot of the local budgets, but I’ll ask the minister if he can comment on that. Is there any hope for improvement for maybe greater durability in the paint that’s being used?
MR. HINES: I would compliment the member opposite for bringing relevant questions to the discussion here today because this is very relevant. Fortunately, we have the chief engineer here to help me out with the responses. In reality, what the member is speaking of relates to road safety in the final analysis, and that’s extremely important to the department.
The issue of the ingredients of the paint and moving away from lead in the paint is a national issue. This is something that each department across the country is trying to cope with. I have found in my own instance, and I have gotten people bringing this matter forward to me as an MLA, that the department is quite responsive to coming into an area and providing an out-of-schedule application to get them up.
We’re here today talking about the budget. The budget has its limitations. Within the budget, the allocations are discretionary. We are finding that there are some solutions associated with the type and quality of paint that is available across North America that would be more enduring and would last longer, and of course, obviously come with a larger price tag. However, we’re investigating that, and having had that raised here today, I’ll undertake to have a look to see if there’s any other process that we can implement to compensate for the fact that - you’re right - the paint doesn’t last as long as it did.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
MS. KIM MASLAND: I have been told as a new member, although I would love to spend the entire day talking to you, minister, that I have to share my time. You’re a pretty popular minister.
Since becoming elected, I have received a multitude of concerns and complaints throughout my constituency of Queens-Shelburne, places too numerous to mention today, regarding issues of road conditions, overgrown vegetation - grass, bushes, brush. I was getting those daily.
I will say that the employees of the department that I had the opportunity to work with have been incredible, considering what they have to work with, which can be not having access to adequate equipment because we have to share it with Lunenburg County or Yarmouth or wherever it may be, and of course, the financial restraints that they have been placed under. They’ve got an extremely tough job out there.
I do want to bring up a couple of locations that I have received a lot of complaints about. One is called the Old Port Mouton Road extension. I’m sure you have heard that before because this has been going on for a long time, long before I came along. People are experiencing extreme damage to their vehicles. I’ve received pictures, I’ve travelled the road myself, it’s extremely dangerous, it’s in very poor shape. It does receive grading but the road needs to be rebuilt, the grading just doesn’t work. Many times, it’s down to a single lane, people are coming around turns, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
The other thing with this road is we have a business on this road that restores antique vehicles. These vehicles come from all over the world, really. People send them here for this gentleman to fix. The name of that company is Alan’s Upholstery & Auto Restoration. This business is growing more and more each day and it’s to the point now that people don’t even want to send their vehicles here for this gentleman to fix because they don’t even want to put it on a trailer to truck back over the road.
I’m wondering, could you give me some indication of where your department may be looking to invest into rebuilding this road?
MR. HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question. I’m very pleased that she has drawn a very important connection between our role and our responsibility in this department to provide roads with integrity and economic development. We believe that a good road network and good, solid infrastructure means a good, solid economy. We think they go hand in hand, and often that’s not necessarily - a lot of people don’t understand that because we sort of take the roads for granted, in many ways. But no matter what business you’re in or where you are, you need to have access and road access. You think about the forestry industry as an example, there’s networks of private roads put in by the forest companies all over the province, which provide access to their harvest, which drives the forest economy in Nova Scotia.
I think this government recognized the struggle we have. I mentioned it in my opening remarks that we have been for many decades simply resurfacing these gravel roads and not dealing with the root problem, which is the subgrade. This government in this current budget has committed $10 million towards improving the subgrades in these roads.
I have to tell you that I’m not individually familiar with this road but we will undertake to take a look at it and see whether it’s up for anything in the current gravel program. I would remind the House that in the upcoming budget a commitment was made to double the capital program for gravel roads from $10 million to $20 million. That gives us a little bit more leeway and it gives us an opportunity to address these roads which exist in rural Nova Scotia. The member’s riding, at 4,600 square kilometres, is slightly smaller than mine, at 5,300, but between the two of us we have the two largest ridings in the province and arguably would have the most rural roads in the province too.
I share your concern, I understand it quite well, and we will undertake to see where that road is at - if it’s not in the existing program, where it is in next year’s program.
MS. MASLAND: Thank you for that response, I appreciate the restraints we’re under here. I do have a couple of roads that I wanted to mention for the other end of my riding, Shelburne County, but they are gravel roads so I’m assuming your response will be the same. I will just mention those names. Upper Clyde River is a road that has been in our local newspaper a lot in Shelburne County; again, the grading is inadequate and sections become impassable in the Spring. I’m just wondering if you can give me some reassurance that something will be done so that we’re not faced with those same issues in the Spring - although I understand what happens in the Spring with a lot of gravel roads, but this is a huge issue for the residents that live in that area. It’s an issue of emergency vehicles getting there, and I would just like some reassurance for that.
MR. HINES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can assure the member that Clyde River has been brought forward in next year’s capital program. The district has identified that back through the system and will be on the capital program for next year.
MS. MASLAND: I’m just wondering if you could provide me with a list of any asphalt that may be coming to Queens-Shelburne next year, any specific locations.
MR. HINES: I would refer the member to the capital program which is the Five Year Highway Improvement Plan and the current version, which is available in hard copy and also on the website. But that does not include the updated plan which will be put together sometime between now and Christmas and posted. I would think that perhaps the department has reached out to you as a member to come and have a meeting and talk about what your aspirations might be in your riding. If that hasn’t happened, you’re probably on the list. I don’t know if you had that experience yet or not but that is part of the process and you have an opportunity to prioritize the areas that you see as the ones that you’d like to have improvements to.
MS. MASLAND: As you know, in Western Head, we have a huge wall that has been put up to protect against the surge that comes through from the ocean and that was washed out last year, I think it was. That wall has not been replaced yet, so I was just wondering what the status is on that.
I’ll take that a step further for that same area. I’ve had numerous calls about basically a pylon that has been set on the side of the road going out Western Head where the side of the road is actually falling into the ocean and there are pylons stuck there. I actually drove out there to check this site myself, because when you come around the turn, if you were forced to pull over to the side, your vehicle would actually go into the ocean. Those pylons have been there for quite some time. I’m looking for some input of where your department is going, replacing that large wall that is there in Western Head and fixing that side so that we can avoid accidents.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, the member opposite has remarked that she gets a lot of unsolicited advice over her highway system in her constituency office and I’d like to share with her that, as the MLA for my riding, it is actually the number two item that we get calls about in the office. The number one actually is housing, but roads is absolutely right behind that. The member also brings up another reality that we, in Nova Scotia and in the department, have to deal with and that is the issue of coastal erosion and the rising of the water and what that does to our highway system in the province.
You know, many people come - and I’m sure it’s in your riding too that some of the most scenic and valuable waterfronts, vistas, and property that we have in Nova Scotia are split off by a road that runs between that nice beach and the properties that are behind it. There’s a reason for that, Nova Scotia being the site of some of the earliest development in North America and roads having evolved over that period of time and, with the ability of people and equipment to build roads back in those days, they tried to get the level grade which was available for the most part along the water edge or close to sea level. We have this situation now where we have great views around the province, but we also have the problem of rising sea level, which is eroding these very highways, and the solutions of dealing with that are not always evident.
The issue of putting armour stone in initially solves the problem but it creates another problem sometimes. The Western Head issue is an example of that and we would tell you that we will take a look at that and see what exactly it is. The district would be aware. We’re not aware in central office here yet but that’s something that they would be dealing with on their own, so we’ll undertake to have that discussion with them about that particular circumstance. Thank you.
MS. MASLAND: Mr. Minister, I know you have a very busy schedule, but any time that you’d like to make a road trip, I’d love to take you through my constituency. I’ll share my time now with my colleague, the member for Kings North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: Mr. Chairman, it’s a pleasure to be here and ask a couple of questions of the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and my first question is about the Kentville bridge. I know the installation of the bridge has been announced. It’s been delayed. I know the minister would probably be aware of the delay causes so maybe if the minister could just update me on when that bridge will be, short of what the timeline is on it to be completed, and then sort of what’s happening with the Kentville bridge over the Cornwallis River.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for the relevant question. We know that expectations in the area would be that this would have been installed and done by this time. The contract was granted to one of the contracting companies. Again, similar to our discussion about the causeway, when it comes to bridges, they are very important routes. What happens is, and this is the instance in Kentville, a lot of additional utilities are included in the crossing - so we have water and sewer in that instance, and we’re also working with the Town of Kentville to try to accommodate their circumstances too.
On those utilities there’s both power and telephone. This is constant across the province when we go to build a bridge in particular, if there are power lines crossing that opening, then we have to work with the Power Corporation. They have easements and rights and costs associated with relocating their infrastructure. That has been the case there a little bit. I’m not pushing that out to Aliant or the Power Corporation, it’s a reality, they have to maintain the integrity of their system. Aliant is telling us that they’re going to need several months to relocate their lines and they need to install a conduit under Cornwallis Street to begin and are working with a contractor on pricing to do that.
The Town of Kentville needs to relocate a sewer infrastructure prior to the work beginning and we’re hoping they’re going to have that through their town council shortly, if not already done. Currently, Mr. Chairman, the projected time for completion out of the facility is next Fall to have that bridge completed.
MR. LOHR: I’d like to thank the minister for that answer, and some of that I was aware of too. I appreciate knowing that.
Another bridge that was on the capital plan at one time and then was not on the capital plan was the bridge on Route 358 over the Habitant River, quite close to Canning, sometimes referred to as the Canning bridge. Route 358 is a pretty major connector road for us and that bridge is a wooden bridge and in disrepair. I’m just wondering if you can tell me anything about what’s happening with the Canning bridge.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, if I could ask the member what the local name might be for the structure he is talking about.
MR. LOHR: Habitant River bridge.
MR. HINES: Thank you. One of the delightful characteristics of Nova Scotia is I think we have about 36 Salmon Rivers in the province so everybody who lives in the community knows exactly where Salmon River is but people from outside might be thinking that we’re talking about there, so a little bit of confusion over the name of the bridge. However, we’ve been able to locate it, it is on the capital program for 2021 for replacement of that facility.
MR. LOHR: I want to just make a comment. I know that our time with you is precious and my colleagues want a go, but I must say that I have a good working relationship with your staff in our county - mostly very pleased with the way they do their job.
I have a philosophical issue with how they go about one thing and that is pothole filling. What I would like to see happen is that in May, all the potholes from the winter get filled and then the staff go on to other things, but what does happen in reality is the staff that are there just go about doing the potholes and some of them get left until nearly the end of the summer. I could give you six or seven or eight or nine or 10 streets and pothole locations right now. So even now in October there are still some potholes from last Fall.
I understand exactly why the staff do that. If it was my own farm I might do it the same way too. Maybe I’ve got a staff of 10 people - I can keep them doing the same job every day all summer. There’s a lot of economy in that. The problem is that for the driving public there are potholes that get left until well late in the summer.
I think that the department needs to rethink its approach to doing that. I think it needs to be done more expeditiously, and then have that staff go on to other jobs.
I understand totally why it’s being done that way. I question the philosophy. I think that the driving public are - and even I think if you were to look at your overall costs on that where people had damage to their vehicles and then come after the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for whatever reason to get their costs covered. I don’t know how big a line item that is, but I’m just saying I think philosophically it would be - I would just like to hear your comments on that. Then afterwards I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, the member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
MR. HINES: I sincerely want to thank the member opposite for his kind comments to our department staff. The department staff are out there all over this province. They’re very easily identifiable because they’re all wearing vests and a lot of safety paraphernalia, invariably driving a yellow truck. Because we try to keep our fleet in good shape, those trucks are normally in good shape and relatively new, and they’re very visible to the folks that are out there.
We have over 2,000 people employed in the department - 1,150 of those people are proud CUPE members and 815 are proud NSGEU members. We’re very proud of all those people and the work that they do, so I do appreciate the comments that you prefaced in your remarks. (Applause)
At the same time, I think any organization should always be open to sincere criticism and observation, and that’s what we try to do. I think this might be the second pothole question that has come up. Certainly, again in my riding we get a lot of pothole questions.
Of course, after the winter comes, that’s when we get all the pothole issues. I think two, maybe three winters ago was one of the worst that we had and it really devastated our roads and we had a real challenge in getting that done.
In terms of what you’re suggesting, I know that we are having discussions about the deployment of the maintenance budget. We’re going to be doing that particularly in the next little while - it’s going to be very busy for the department - so we’ll take your observations into consideration and see if there is a better way for us to deploy our resources to deal with that.
I know that there is active research going on across the country to come up with a better pothole fix. Whoever comes to that conclusion first is going to be the next Bill Gates, I would say - at least in this province, because we have a lot of potholes, of course - so hopefully working together we’ll be able to come up with some better solutions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: I want to take this opportunity to thank the minister for the ability to have a chance to ask a few questions. I welcome his staff with him. I want to echo the words of those who have come before me when it comes to the staff of TIR, especially those who I had the privilege of working with. We have Gerard Jessome, who is our district director, and Roy MacDonald, who has been our maintenance supervisor, but he has moved on, and now we have Lloyd Hall. But then Paul Whelan, Danny Laffin, and Mike Boudreau are all OSes who work in our communities. I’ll tell you, they are a pleasure to work with.
The challenge, of course, is that the resources that everybody has are limited. Just for the record, we have potholes, too, and they are very plentiful. I think you’re right, Bill Gates or at least set for life would be where somebody would be when that comes.
I guess my first question to you, Mr. Minister, would be, can you give us an indication of how funding for the different maintenance areas across the province is allocated? Is there a formula for maintenance budgets? Do communities that are more highly populated get a bigger budget for maintenance than rural communities or that type of thing? When you sit down and talk and have people who are trying to do maintenance in areas that are more highly populated, it seems to be more and more of a challenge. I know in your last answer you mentioned you were looking at maintenance and how you were doing, but if you can give us an indication that would be very helpful.
MR. HINES: I guess to answer the question, there is no magic process or formula associated with how the maintenance budget is distributed across the province, Mr. Chairman.
The department is organized by district, and the districts are organized by areas. The areas look at the roads that they have by type and the kilometres by gravel, route, trunk - all that sort of thing. That is the matrix that determines how the budgets are distributed from the central treasury down to the districts and then out to the areas and then down to the roads.
On the maintenance side, what’s taken into consideration there is the type of road, the length of the road, the number of structures - the bridges - which are being constantly monitored for repair or replacement into the process. That money is also divided up on that basis. How many do you have? What is the nature of that bridge? Of course, there is a bridge issue in the member’s riding currently, and we’re actively looking at ways to repair that particular situation.
That’s how the money is divided on the maintenance side in terms of how it gets distributed. We look at the amount of demand driven by the number of roads that are in each particular area.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that answer. I guess the challenge, as I see it from over on this side, is that some areas, as you say, have more roads, more population, have more infrastructure, but again, the maintenance budget for each supervisor appears to be the same.
The other part of that is that it seems like it has shrunk considerably over the last number of years. It may not be so much that the dollars have shrunk but what you can do with a dollar that has shrunk, and the maintenance of vehicles and other things has created a challenge.
Again, when we go back and we talk about those places that have potholes and needs and demands, I’m just wondering, when you mentioned earlier that you’re looking at your maintenance and what you’re doing, is there an opportunity in that review to try to look at density of population, as well as other things, for how the money is being spent? Everybody deserves a fair shake and I know that’s what the department tries to do, I really, truly believe that. When you have an area that’s highly populated versus an area that’s not, I might need more grading over in this district but I need more potholes fixed in that district, I’m just wondering, when you’re doing your review, can you look into those types of situations? I don’t think your budget can be a cookie-cutter, I think it has to reflect the different types and styles of communities that you have to deal with.
MR. HINES: The question is quite timely because we are currently taking a look at the formulas we use internally for allocation of the maintenance budget, which is essentially a loaves-and-fishes kind of process. Obviously, there’s never enough money for roads in a province like Nova Scotia. As I mentioned to you, we’re one of the earliest developed provinces in the country - a lot of old routes. Take the Cabot Trail, for instance, which currently is getting quite an upgrade overall, both provincially and federally, but demands a lot of ongoing expenditure.
I would say, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, I’m very pleased that we have been able to find some capital money for the Gravel Road Program, which will be helpful to rural areas. When we talk about rural areas, it’s always an issue to find a definition. We don’t really have that many urban areas in this province. I think the federal definition is communities under 10,000 people, so that would pretty well eliminate - with the exception of Amherst, Glace Bay, Halifax, and Sydney, I don’t think there would be too many other communities in the province that would meet that criterion. I think it’s important to realize that we have recognized that and we have provided this additional capital into the renewal of gravel roads. At this point in time, we’re definitely planning on allocating an additional $10 million to that in the upcoming budget.
The other thing not to overlook is the importance of the RIM program which did get reduced a few years ago. I think in 2014 or 2015, we were able to increase that by $1 million and we’ve been hoping to continue to have that program back to the $20 million that it was originally. It was dropped to $15 million; it’s now at $16 million - it’s very important. However, the member brings up an important issue which is the other reality that we have in Nova Scotia which is our demographic, our changing population, the centralization of our population into more urban environments. Of course, we know - and we see it in this great city - the numbers of cranes that are in the air and the numbers of people that are migrating into Halifax Regional Municipality on an annual basis.
I think, Mr. Chairman, that we would see in smaller communities across Nova Scotia, communities that have a bank, a pharmacy, perhaps a hospital, that have some of those characteristics of urbanity - and they’re also able to provide services to our elder citizens - we are finding migration even at that level from outlying communities into these tiny centres. I think it’s incumbent upon us to look at the fact that that would create more pressure on the infrastructure in those areas and maybe we should take a look at the reallocation of some of those funds into these smaller communities that are starting to take on some of the characteristics of a more urban environment. Thank you.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for that answer. I guess one of the things that we know in Nova Scotia is that people take a great deal of pride in their homes. It’s usually the largest single investment that any of us make, so when I ask about the infrastructure surrounding - and people work very hard at keeping their homes as nice as they can with the resources that they have, so in return they would hope that the travelling roads they use would be kept in the same way. That’s why I brought that up.
The other issue that I have a fair bit of concern with and I get a number of phone calls on in our constituency is that of grading of roads. It appears these days that we have a Spring grading and a Fall grading, and calcium is something that most people don’t know how to spell let alone use. When you live on a rural road, one of the common complaints is that it’s rough, it’s dusty, and I pay big taxes. I’m just wondering, when you’re doing a review - and by the way, I am very appreciative of the $10 million fund for gravel roads. Gravelling makes the roads - if you grade it quick enough and then you put the calcium to it, it holds longer and it stays better, and I understand that. But I’m just wondering, is there a way that we can review the policy on grading of roads and the use of calcium? I know we have to be friendly to the environment but we also have to be friendly to the people who live on those gravel roads.
MR. HINES: Another great question. This relates to our efforts to help the gravel roads, which is where the graders are, by improving the subgrade, doing the ditching, doing the cross culverts, doing the crowning with the graders so that when we do get to the last phase, which is putting some gravel on . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for the PC caucus in this round is complete. We’ll now move to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, minister and your staff. I want to say thank you in general for all of your hard work. I think the other day in the House you mentioned that there were 2,000 hard-working staff members, so thank you to all of them.
I want to start our questions with some issues around cycling and safe and clean transportation for cyclists. The Halifax Cycling Coalition, the Ecology Action Centre, an organization called Walk 'n' Roll, and Bicycle Nova Scotia have jointly requested high priority changes to the Motor Vehicle Act. They did that in early 2016, around issues with dooring and right hooks and speed limit reductions.
First of all, I’m wondering where the department is in terms of implementing these changes to the Motor Vehicle Act.
MR. HINES: I really appreciate the question because this is a recognition of how things are changing in our society. I remember visiting Amsterdam probably about six or seven years ago and being downtown at the main nexus of the trains in that very busy city, and there was a place that had 40,000 bicycles in it. I was blown away. I didn’t realize how important that was to their transportation. I think they probably rely on it as much as any people in the world, the Dutch. Of course, their highway system, if you think about it, it’s really interesting because in the middle they have their streetcars and there’s almost like four highways going inside one right-of-way: on the outside is the pedestrians, next is the bicycles, then there’s the cars, and then there’s the streetcars - so it’s designed in that way.
The relevancy - and certainly in this province, I’m very pleased to see the bicycle as a means of transportation, driven of course by the need to be healthy and to exercise, but I also think efficiency and economy are making this an emerging transportation option which is very important to us and one which we are making some moves towards accommodation.
The organizations you mentioned - the Ecology Action Centre, et cetera - we work with those groups. The department provides some funding to them annually to help with their input. We also have the Share the Road/Blue Route program which accommodates bicycles, in particular, right across the province and to make that a source of available transportation.
I do know that in the instance of the Cabot Trail, which is a very popular biking area, we just did a section through one of the most beautiful parts of the province, Tarbot and Tarbotvale. There is a provision in there for an additional shoulder to enhance the biking opportunities around the Cabot Trail, which is one of the busiest biking areas in the province.
In our departmental way the government works, we are seeing that transportation option emerge, and we are taking that into consideration and trying to incorporate it into our planning. It’s very difficult for me not to be aware of it because every morning my deputy bikes into the office from the north end of Halifax. He is an avid biker and he always has the bike parked outside my office, so I see it all the time.
MS. LEBLANC: I should mention that almost in exactly the same place in Halifax, the first time I was in a bike accident was when I was right-hooked by a car and luckily all I came out with was a permanent dent in my left thigh, but it’s fine. Just recently, on my first day after I started using the bridge again to bike, as they had just opened the bike lanes, I was biking to the caucus office and hit quite a pothole. Ironically, I was changing lanes to go into the bike lane on Hollis Street and ended up with quite a terrible ankle sprain. I appreciate that you are conscious of the potential for biking infrastructure.
I also will draw your attention to - and maybe you could share this with your honourable colleague in the Department of Health and Wellness - a couple of months ago it hit the news that there was a really excellent report, a huge study done in England on the health benefits of cycling to work. It was noticeable because of the amount of people they studied. I forget exactly now but it was like 150,000 people or something - I can’t remember, it was huge. The report clearly said that those people who biked to work had a 50 per cent less chance of having heart disease and cancer. It didn’t say how far they biked to work but maybe it’s the whole package when you cycle.
That being said, in HRM in particular, people won’t do that because they are afraid. I have been in two accidents and I have been very lucky. There are many people who haven’t been so lucky, but many people who have had accidents.
I guess my comments are just to reiterate that the first request of the cycling coalitions and these groups is not for infrastructure - it’s simply for changes to the Motor Vehicle Act to penalize drivers for dooring, right hooking, and speed limit reductions.
In my view, those are simple changes and I would love to go back to those groups and say that the department is looking at them seriously and maybe even be able to give them a timeline.
MR. HINES: In terms of the request, I actually have a live request for a meeting, which we have agreed to with a gentleman from Bicycle Nova Scotia. It’s coming up after we finish this session. I’m interested in finding out about that because I know about the dooring. I see the bicycle folk every day all over the province, and there’s not much protection out there when you’re motoring along. A lot of people are doing that and I really appreciate and understand the health benefits of exercise like that.
I should mention that we do have the three-year active transportation project going in the Sambro area where we have completed the shoulder enhancements on Route 349, and now we’re moving to Route 306, which will provide some additional safety considerations out there for that particular area. I’m sure you can appreciate when we’re looking at asphalt and how precious a commodity it is across Nova Scotia that some people would see it as frivolous to some extent, but I can guarantee you that we don’t see it that way in the department. We’re focusing on safety - that’s our big consideration, and that includes the bicycle population of our province.
MS. LEBLANC: HRM asked the province over two years ago to update the Motor Vehicle Act to allow Transportation Association of Canada bike lane designs to be used in HRM, but they do need a rewriting of the Motor Vehicle Act for that as well. I was just curious to know where the department is on that issue.
MR. HINES: With regard to the specific request that was made by HRM, I do know that that is in the Registry of Motor Vehicles for review. I will undertake to find out where that review is in the process. I would like to say that we have a great relationship with HRM, but the pothole that you hit on Hollis Street is an HRM pothole. We have our share, too, of course.
In terms of the Motor Vehicle Act, which has not been written, I think, for 80-plus years since it has really been overhauled, this is always sort of out there as something that a government would undertake to do. But just when you think you’re making progress, along comes autonomous vehicles, along comes flying cars - that’s the latest thing that’s out there. It is a work in progress, but I think we have to do that. We have to bring current, modern legislation to the fore here. It is, of course, a moving target because of those issues, and certainly the autonomous vehicles - which are reality in parts of North America - will have to be reflected in legislation. The current legislation we have doesn’t contemplate those kinds of changes.
I don’t want to say that we have a plan in place to introduce legislation to redo the Motor Vehicle Act next year, but I think the department understands and is making it known to all departments of government that that is a hill we have to climb.
MS. LEBLANC: I have to say, I’m not looking forward to the day when we have a city full of autonomous vehicles.
I do also understand that the pothole I hit was an HRM problem. I guess I should call 311 about that one.
I also have to say that I really hope the department is not going to wait until we have autonomous vehicles in Nova Scotia to rewrite the Motor Vehicle Act, because cyclists can’t wait any longer, in terms of their safety.
Again, I’ll reiterate the requests around the legislation, around the safety issues that don’t involve any money except collecting fines from motorists and the Transportation Association bike lanes. It would be a fairly simple amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act.
Speaking of the Motor Vehicle Act, I’m going to ask you one more question about it. It’s my understanding that Halifax Transit wants permission to allow buses to turn left on a bus-only signal, which requires a legislative change. Also, HRM wants to use a bicycle-only signal for the Macdonald Bridge - I fully support that - which would also require a change to the MVA.
Are those changes being considered? Why not do them all at the same time and get them over with?
MR. HINES: We’re not aware of those particular happenings at this time, but I’ll undertake to dig it out and get back to you with that, if that would be okay.
MS. LEBLANC: That would be great. Thank you very much.
Moving on to our favourite subject from Question Period this morning: P3s. To start, now that we’re not in the pressure of Question Period, I’m just wondering if you would give us your take, as a relatively new minister of this department, on public-private partnerships in general.
MR. HINES: Having spent many years as an elected person in Nova Scotia, and given the privilege and the trust that come with that process - the recent provincial election was the 13th election that I have been involved with in my time as an elected person - my commitment has been to take that public trust, which is a privilege - it’s a privilege. I’m so grateful for being in front of you today as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for the Province of Nova Scotia and to be here talking to you about anything, really, but particularly things that are important to Nova Scotia. I’ve always accepted the responsibility of trying to do the best investment of the public’s money over that period of time, particularly when it comes to capital asset replacement or enhancement.
The P3 process, as it is called, is one of the tools in the toolbox of government to be able to execute its responsibility when it comes to issues that were involved with the province, which is: let’s zero in on the huge opportunity and responsibility that we have before us, both in the replacement of some of our major regional health facilities that have reached the end of the useful asset period, having progressed to that plane of time and places us at a situation where, along with that time progression, there have been changes in the types of needs and the location of those needs that we have. The approach to a P3 application - application of a P3 method when it would come to facility replacement versus a road replacement versus a school program, is not necessarily the same. It depends on the type of project, what the economics are, and how the process is set up.
In our current situation - and I do have to compliment your former government with the brave decision to go ahead with the $150 million/$160 million provincial commitment to the P3 facility which is the Nova Centre which, knock on wood, will be opening in December. I think that the wisdom of that decision is going to play out for a long, long time in the furtherment of the Province of Nova Scotia. It’s not a Halifax-centric decision. It’s for all Nova Scotians. It makes us stronger overall and that is the most recent example and I think the largest example of a P3 development that we see in the province.
The other one that we may have talked about in Question Period this morning is the Cobequid Pass process and, in the discussion, we talked about the toll income which is actually around $280 million, not $300 million as was suggested, but that money just didn’t go to financing. That money pays for maintenance, operating, repairs, replacement, and capital upgrade - all the things that go into the maintenance of any piece of infrastructure, including your house - you know, you’re stuck with it, you have to fix the roof and all those kinds of things. At the time that that was financed, it wasn’t the days of less than 2 per cent or 2 per cent or 2.5 per cent financing available to governments. The going rate at the time was between 8 per cent and 9 per cent, and that 30-year bond utility is at 10.25 per cent for 30 years, so when we talk about the cost of borrowing, it has to be in the context of what the rate was at that time, which was substantially more.
At the time, in that particular P3 instance, a decision was made to set up the highway portion as a Crown Corporation wholly owned by the province and the province decided to take the revenue risk at that time. No matter what the income was, we still had to pay the debt. The debt was fixed. The revenue came to the Province of Nova Scotia, another wise decision made at that time because the volumes have been more robust along that stretch of highway than had been anticipated, which puts us in the enviable position of being able to retire the bond costs early.
I’ve heard lots of arguments around rural Nova Scotia about the ferries that we have, and some of them we’re talking about bridges. Well you know the folks who live in Englishtown and in that area who work on those ferries, who intergenerationally worked for the province in those ferries, for them that’s job loss, right? We put a bridge in, no jobs for the ferries in these rural areas, and they’re very important jobs for people.
On the Cobequid Pass we created 45 jobs for the people of Cumberland-Colchester County. If we hadn’t gone P3 with that particular project, we would have kissed $27.5 million of federal dollars goodbye in that process. But the most compelling argument for that particular P3 was the improvement to the safety of the citizens.
In my own situation, I was living in New Brunswick around that time and, prior to that, commuting almost weekly into Nova Scotia along “Death Valley” as it was called - it was a very dangerous piece of road. The process was undertaken at that time to go to the P3 method. It was completed in 20 months, and it would have been eight or 10 years if we had done it in the conventional method and that would have meant that in the Folly Mountain area there would have been more fatalities and more Nova Scotians would have lost their lives. If you look at the safety contribution and the expediency which feeds into that, that makes it pretty attractive.
What have we got left here after 2019 when we’re in a position to retire the mortgage as it were? Well we have, by national standards, one of the best pieces of highway - the best in Nova Scotia. It’s the highest-rated highway that we have, and that’s because the standard of maintenance there has been maintained by the bondholders and through the tolling process over that period of time.
One could argue that in that instance the P3 may not have been an ideal way of proceeding because some people feel they were marginalized by having to pay the toll in the area - although there is an opportunity for discounts for Nova Scotians in the current method - but in the overall picture we have a very significant, enduring piece of safe infrastructure that has sent a lot of people home safely over that period of time.
The issue from that is of course I’m sure we’ll be talking about it today, which will be: what do we do for an encore in the process there?
I’m not married to a P3 solution to every problem that’s out there but I think we owe it to our citizens, to that public good, to the public trust, to take a clinical look at it and see if there’s value for money in that P3 process. As I said, I don’t think it’s going to be a fit for all projects. There’s tremendous evidence across Canada, particularly when it comes to medical facilities, that that P3 process works very well in Ontario and Quebec in particular, so when we do a jurisdictional scan, we have to look at those kinds of things.
We’re talking about the monumental signposts that we’re at, both in this government’s commitment to build an additional 80 kilometres of twinned highway in this province in seven years - $810 million, currently estimated to be $810 million - and the replacement of these major medical facilities which have served us so well. If you look at the VG Hospital, generations of people have come through that process as an example.
That was the place you had to go to in Nova Scotia if you wanted somebody to save your life; that’s essentially the situation. But the whole medical process has changed in terms of how it works. Of course, what has happened in the province is a change in the population distribution also. That’s one of the issues that we’re hoping to address, that we’re looking at in terms of this as an opportunity that presents itself today in our current circumstance. It’s a huge responsibility for government, and in pursuing that we are obligated to do due diligence on whatever method we think at the end of the day will return the best value for the limited funds that we have as Nova Scotians to dedicate to these facilities.
MS. LEBLANC: I have a lot of questions on P3s, but maybe I’ll just ask a couple of short snappers. I totally appreciate your wanting to do due diligence and make sure that residents of Nova Scotia are getting, for lack of a better expression, “the best bang for the buck right now.” Given that, I’m wondering if you have looked at preparing a report that considers the P3 option relative to a strictly public option for the QEII redevelopment. If we’re going to look at P3s, we need to look at the other options as well. I’m wondering if that report has been completed, and if not, where it might be in its process.
MR. HINES: I really appreciate the question. Obviously, if my answer to you had been it’s P3 or nothing, then you would want to know why. Of course, we would be looking at the P3 option as a menu of options that we would have in the process. I would suggest, again, it is not always the option that would be workable.
We’re spending $145 million on the Dartmouth General, which I mentioned earlier I’m very excited about because it affects my riding in particular and all the folks along the Eastern Shore who rely on that great facility - as a matter of fact, my doctor is there - for their medical needs. Also, the Hants facility is being redone and not P3, so the P3 option is not always the go-to solution.
The reality is that we have Deloitte hired to look at the business case and do a market sounding to see if there is interest and capacity in the marketplace to do this kind of activity. They are our adviser, to make sure that we explore all funding options, including non-P3 and conventional options when it relates to the extreme sophistication of building medical facilities and hospitals. They’re thought out to the very end - the nth degree. They have a unique infrastructure - electrical, piping, health, material, and surface requirements - that are unlike anything else, for instance, compared to schools which would be a specialty also, but I think you’re at the top of the game when you’re trying to build hospitals. In that regard, we have Deloitte on staff as somebody to advise us along that route and we are looking actively at non-P3 options.
MS. LEBLANC: I just want to clarify that Deloitte has been hired to do a study of all options, so when can we expect to hear its report?
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I really don’t have an end date for their investigations at this point, but we would take a look at that and see what the projection is for it. As you can imagine, it’s a complex process that involves an international scan in terms of the appropriateness of the P3 tool as it relates to our needs here in Nova Scotia. I’ll find out when we would expect to have at least an interim report and we’ll get back to you with that.
MS. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to say that in a couple of seconds I’m going to hand the microphone over to the honourable member for Halifax Chebucto to ask a couple of questions that Mr. LaFleche is expecting. I just want to give you a heads-up that will be happening after my next question and, if he wants to make his way down, that would be great.
Last question on P3s, the deadline for submissions - sorry, that’s not the question I want to ask. I wanted to ask, is the department looking for P3 services solely for the construction phase of the hospital/hospitals or are you considering a P3 approaching for operation and maintenance as well?
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, it’s a very good question. Internally, we don’t talk about P3. We talk about design, build, finance, and operate. The design and build are two parts of the P3 matrix; finance is another part that is evident on the Cobequid Pass; and operate is the final extension of the P3 application, which I think is what the member is asking about. That is part of the analysis that Deloitte will deliver to the government once the process is done. They’re taking the entire overall look at it and, at this point, there’s no decision made on that. We will take their findings and decide what is the best way to go there.
In other jurisdictions that I’m aware of, the design/build function when it comes to hospitals has different applications. In some instances, in some countries of the world, the accommodation piece associated with the hospital, in other words, rehab or the patient rooms, is completely autonomous to the hospital operation - so if you have your surgery and you go across the hall, you’re in somebody else’s building - you have a new financial relationship to them and the government doesn’t have any investment in the accommodation piece of the hospital portion.
There are all kind of models out there in terms of how that might work and we are expecting that Deloitte will bring us to one that is more suitable for our particular needs here in Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. GARY BURRILL: I just want to ask a couple of questions, as we are coming to an end of our time, about the situation with LeMarchant-St. Thomas School in Chebucto.
I understand yesterday the department informed a lot of members of the school committee about where the department has come in their decision, that with the changed enrolment numbers that the school is no longer going to be on the previous date, but that now we are looking at September 2019 for a completion date. And opening that school, I want to express my appreciation to the deputy minister for the thorough explanation about all of that received last evening, and for how considerate he has been in keeping me informed, since I came to represent Halifax Chebucto, about this big issue in the community.
I am sure that the government can understand how this word has come to the community as a disappointment, that the kids of LeMarchant St. Thomas had been moved across the street to a facility that was lesser. The quid pro quo was a new school would be opening, it would happen in September 2018, and to find out now that is September 2019 is a major disappointment.
So, about that, I have a couple of questions. I just want to ask plainly, why is it that the department can’t build and open that school by January 2019?
MR. HINES: I appreciate the question. Let me tell you, my first experience with elected office was as a school board member. In that period of time, in rural Nova Scotia we were not concerned with opening new facilities - in my three years on that board we actually closed nine rural schools.
I have a keen appreciation for the interest that parents take in the education of their children. I am grateful for it because they work diligently, and certainly as a parent myself I know that there is nothing more important than the education of these children going forward.
Our current process in Nova Scotia is to work, as a government, closely with the school boards to determine what their needs are. Throughout Nova Scotia, with the exception of HRM probably - and I think this would apply to CBRM - we are suffering extreme population decline in terms of the school system, which is putting tremendous pressure on the ability to deliver the services.
That is not the case here in the capital city. In the capital city, as one could expect, there’s a vibrant economy and there is a growing school population. The attractiveness of these facilities and the ability, within some confines, to select where your children might go to school sort of complicates the process a little bit also. We note that LeMarchant is a very attractive proposition for parents.
I feel really bad, I must say, Mr. Chairman, and I watched that situation evolve over the last six or seven months. Sincerely, I feel really bad that we weren’t able to deliver that school as per the original plan; however, the change in the numbers, an additional 90 students, gave us cause for concern.
The location of that facility in terms of the footprint has some limitations. The original design didn’t accommodate the addition of those 90 students. Having to look at the longer term - we pushed it back essentially a year in the process - was measured against our sincere effort to deliver the best infrastructure for that area, so the decision was taken to push it out because we had to accommodate this new influx of students which, of course, taken on its own is a good problem to have rather than the problems that many rural areas of Nova Scotia have, which is losing their school facilities, and we all know the philosophy and culture and theory around those situations.
Again I look at the students and in terms of compressing the opening date, now that we know we’ve got to change the design back by nine months, puts us in a situation where if we were able to stretch and do January 2019, or even May 2019, I mean you have to dislocate those students, you have to relocate them in transit and that causes some difficulties and trauma for them, versus the possibility - I mean I don’t think it makes any sense to do it in May or September, we’re looking at summer. But if you look at the seasonality of our construction that we have here in Nova Scotia, that’s been kind of put as the target date for delivery of the facility.
At the same time, I would tell you that I’ll go back and talk to our people and see if there’s any possible way we can advance that to some degree. As soon as we have that information, we’ll make that available to the member.
MR. BURRILL: I want to thank the minister very much for that answer. I think that in the community if September 2019 must be the date, it would mean a great deal for people to know that every stone that could have been unturned to make January 2019 possible had, in fact, been investigated.
I want to think a little bit further just along this same line and ask - that’s 15 months from now, and I think the people do understand all the delay reasons about enrolment and so on that you’ve explained. I think people have no trouble to follow that, but there is a question - January, well we had September 2018, so we have to do some more design, we’ve had to stop and do some enrolment rethinking, but why do we have to take a whole 12 months on that account?
I want to ask, if the government were to say that those people have been left and delayed so long that we can’t have it delayed any longer, TIR, you must get those kids in that new school by January 2019, would your department be able to do that?
MR. HINES: I’m sure the member opposite might appreciate my hesitation in offering guarantees in this precarious job that we all share in this House. One of the things associated with that, as I mentioned, is the seasonality. Even though there is a 12-month delay, there’s the seasonality associated with construction, which of course is the winter - and construction can be done in the winter, but we know that it increases the cost significantly through that period of time.
We also have to work with our partner, the school board, who we have a very complete and close relationship with, but they have imperatives that they must also agree to in that process.
We can tell you that, yes, we will take a look and see if January 2019 is at all possible, in a sincere manner, and see if we can do it. But I have to say that I don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of the build; I don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of the budget; and I don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of our ability to deliver that education product to those kids for the sake of three or four months of school - because we’re talking from January to June really, as far as the occupation of the facility is concerned. So, no guarantees, but we’ll undertake to do everything that we can.
MR. BURRILL: I appreciate that commitment to investigate the possibility of a January 2019 opening with every capacity that’s at the department’s grasp - because in addition to the integrities that the minister has spoken about with the budget and the educational program and so on, I think it’s also true that there is the question of the integrity of the government’s relationship with that school community, which by these delays has been harmed. I think there is a strong and reasonable case for acknowledging the exceptionality of the circumstance and responding to it.
I’m glad to hear that every possible consideration of a January 2019 opening will be given. So, I appreciate having been able to speak about this with the minister and I’d like to turn the rest of our exchange back to the member for Dartmouth North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: With the remaining time we have left, I’d like to talk a little bit about federal infrastructure money.
As you know, the federal government is planning to spend $33 billion over the next 11 years on infrastructure projects in the country. It seems to be signalling that priority will be given to projects that help meet its long-term economic and environmental objectives.
I’m wondering how this is impacting - how you’re prioritizing projects that fit in with that money, or that you will be seeking funding for. I’m also wondering - given that municipalities and Indigenous bands also can access the federal money - if you see any value in coordinating your efforts with the different levels of government so that Nova Scotia gets the most bang for its federal infrastructure buck. I’m wondering if we’ll be able to see a coordinated plan with other levels of government. That’s a big question, but I don’t have much time.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I’m very pleased to have that question that will take us into this important area. You know, what pops into mind is the saying that no man is an island and it’s no fairer true - or no woman is an island - than in the government, and in Nova Scotia we actually have four levels of government. Obviously, we have the municipal level, we have the provincial level, we have the federal level but, also, an option overlooked is the importance of the Indigenous level of government, who are a burgeoning resource, I think, in Nova Scotia and a great partner for provincial and federal governments.
Look at Paq’tnkek, the new interchange that’s going in between Antigonish and Port Hawkesbury on Highway No. 104; Ben Jackson Road was another Indigenous partnership; and probably the jewel in the crown was Membertou which is a fabulous facility for sure and, of course, led by Terry Paul who is a legend in terms of being a great Mi’kmaq leader in Nova Scotia.
So, in my experience, and it will continue with this particular project, this particular round of funding is that these are collaborative, these are collaborative projects. In the instance of municipalities, which I have a little background in, municipalities get all the exciting projects in our lives. They get to look after sewers; they get to look after garbage; they get to look after water utilities. And as mundane and unattractive as that is, it is very, very important to all our communities and our societies and that’s where this infrastructure money is directed, and it has been for some time, and I think it will be accelerated in the existing project. In Phase 1, we had $232 million, the majority of which went into municipal projects across the province, including those Indigenous ones that I talked about, and in the 2018-19 budget, which will start the first of April 2018, there’s $828 million federal funds available in that circumstance.
The challenge always has been in these programs for the partners to have the capacity to participate in the federal largess. They’ve got the money; they put it out there. Certainly municipalities have always sought ways to reduce their participation, which has normally been in the one-third level because many municipalities across the country - and this is not a Nova Scotia phenomenon, this is across the country - are not flush with cash and it’s a stretch for them to get their 33 per cent, or if they don’t have it to go out and borrow within the confines of their financial statements. That’s always an issue, and they’re always wanting the level dropped somewhat for municipal participation.
In the last round, for instance, transportation was an area where there was no provincial participation required. I believe HRM was able to enhance their transportation system quite nicely and improve their asset base with that particular project. In the overall picture, I hear your message. In answer to your question, we cannot do this unless we collaborate. We actually have four partners that we can work with, i.e., the feds, the municipalities, and the Indigenous community in Nova Scotia.
So, yes, message received. I think we’re in pretty good shape, and we want to work with these communities to tell us where they need those dollars dispensed.
MS. LEBLANC: I’m going to run out of time, and I want to ask you - I have a very important infrastructure question for my riding around the Lancaster intersection - will you agree to meet with me to talk about that at a later date?
MR. HINES: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the NDP caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond, from the PC caucus, with 23 minutes left on the clock.
MS. ALANA PAON: I want to first thank the minister for the numerous chats that we have had over lunch and in the hallways over the last week. I am finding out, in the couple of weeks that I have been here, that a lot of business gets done not quite so much in QP but perhaps outside in the hallways. I appreciate the conversations that we have had regarding roads and bridges and so on and so forth.
I do want to bring up, and I know that we have discussed this off the record, but it would be helpful for the constituents in Cape Breton-Richmond to understand. We have been blessed with some really good roadwork that has been done in Cape Breton-Richmond this year. I have met with the local regional supervisors and the operational supervisors early on in the process and have really appreciated the guidance that they have provided me as well - a wonderful group of people to be working with so far.
I did some tours of the local roads and saw the conditions in that area. Had I known, and I think probably the gentleman who was with me had known, I probably would have taken my Jeep Sahara as opposed to the low-profile car that we had because we ended up doing a little bit of off-roading on some roads. Some of the conditions are pretty bad in our rural communities, and being in a sister constituency to my own, the minister will understand some of the challenges in rural Nova Scotia.
I do have a question specifically about some roadwork which is currently being done in the Sampsonville Road area. It’s the West Bay Road Trunk 4 to Cedar Drive. It’s an eight-kilometre stretch of a repaving project that extends to Pepperell Street. There was supposed to be six side road lanes that were supposed to be paved in that tender that went out, and only four of the six lanes are going to be done this year.
A couple of things - one, I would like to know why only four as opposed to six are being done, and the second part of my question is, if they’re not done this year, is there an assurance that I can push them to next year’s budget and be a priority for next year? It would make sense to me that they would be.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, you probably noticed that we just changed the bench over here. I wasn’t in charge of that trade or it might not have worked out that way.
The pieces in question were really not in the capital budget per se for this year. If the budget had allowed it to be done, but we will certainly add them if that’s your request. I don’t know if the member has had a meeting with the department yet to talk about the next year’s program, but I would encourage you, if you didn’t do that when you had it, then to do it - and there will be a meeting coming up - and stick those requests on there. But as I figured, I just got it confirmed that it was budgetary in the process.
MS. PAON: Mr. Chairman, I’d really like to understand the method in which projects are deemed as priorities within the capital plan. Maybe I don’t have this quite straight yet, but there’s the capital plan and then there are bridges that are a separate line item and then you have RIM - and I’m still figuring out where everything sort of lands.
I’d really like to understand who makes the choices at the end of the day of what projects are prioritized from one year to the next. As I was going through my constituency I was noting that there were some sections of road, and these are main roads, one section I’m thinking of specifically in the Dundee area, that’s a tourism area, and we have a tourism destination point and people are not able to travel that road safely. I literally had to take the opposite side of the road in order to be able to feel safe in passing in some areas - and it’s not on the capital plan at all for the next five years.
I would like to know who prioritizes what projects get done from year to year - what is that prioritization process?
MR. HINES: I thank the member for the inquiry. Let me tell you, I think you are moving quickly on trying to understand the myriad of processes that are involved with every department, particularly ours - and I’m the minister and I’m learning daily. We essentially can give you the pecking order. And I have one piece of important information for you - it’s the 100-Series Highways first. So, in your instance, that would be Highway No. 104, right? Then trunks and routes, and the roads you’re talking about are local roads.
Local roads are not in the five-year plan as a consideration. They’re done annually. That goes back to my suggestion to you to raise Cain with the folks you’ll be talking to in the department when you get there. If you haven’t been yet, I invite you to come.
Gravel roads are next, and then bridges. Bridges are inspected and upgraded annually, as are the 100-Series Highways that are inspected annually to see what kind of requirement is there. We do have test equipment that we use to test all the roads, and we could arrange for you to come have a look at that and understand how that works. I know that folks out there have difficulty understanding how this happens.
One of the things I see all the time - just recently, on the so-called Antigonish Bypass, we were in there and did micro sealing, which is a process that’s done within a decade to preserve the surface. It extends the life. But to people who don’t understand that it’s micro sealing, they look at it as blacktop and new lines and, why are you paving that again when the roads in Dundee are falling apart? It’s complex. There’s a reason for that, and it confuses people constantly.
I hear what you’re saying, and those local roads - an opportunity to look at those roads as part of your package when you come in, and we’d be more than happy to tour you through the test vehicle process too.
MS. PAON: Thank you very much for the invitation to come in and speak with your office. I’ve also received local invitations - I’m not sure if I’m speaking out of turn here, but maybe going along for a ride with the plows in the wintertime to understand what plow drivers go through when we have to do snow removal and so forth in the winter months on some of those back roads. I’m game for that.
The other thing I wanted to ask was about your maintenance budget. As I understand, maintenance budgets are standardized across the different regions, so the South Shore wouldn’t receive any more than, say, the northern Cape Breton area. However, I think any one of us would agree that snow removal, for example, in northern Nova Scotia would be a higher-ticket item than it would be on the South Shore, which would leave a lot less money for maintenance in the summer months.
I’m curious to know - there’s a bit of a discrepancy there. If you’re utilizing a larger part or percentage of your budget to remove snow in the winter, it gives you less money to do road maintenance in the summer months from one area to the next. Is there any allowance in there where the minister could see changes made so that it would be a little bit more - well, so you could equal it out? We get less road maintenance done, perhaps, in Cape Breton-Richmond and in Cape Breton than in the southern regions of Nova Scotia, based on how I understand that that works, a basic understanding. Could you comment on that for me?
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the observation from the member. In the overall picture, we have a fairly good ability to predict what we’re going to be expending in the summertime. But when it comes to the winter, obviously it’s more of a gamble and that affects all the governments across the Atlantic region, probably across the country. But, certainly, it has an effect on us here in Nova Scotia and I reference the two winters ago when we had a really, really challenging winter and that consumed a lot more of our winter budget.
We have a winter budget and a summer budget. They’re equal within the overall envelope of the summer and winter budget, but within that process is the variability of the requirement to provide the standard level of service that we steward to in the wintertime, and so with more snow, nasty weather, more costs, that gets skewed sometimes and the overall picture is such that when we set the budget that’s really what we have to work for.
In terms of that, in the distribution, it’s the same as I’ve mentioned before. You’ve got 100-Series and then you have the trunks and routes, then local roads, gravel, and bridges and that’s the same way that the distribution exists for those two pockets of money also, and you know, that’s the only way that we can figure out to do it. We know it’s not ideal. I wish we had enough money to be able to do whatever the situation called for, but if we spend $80 million on winter, then that cuts into our summer budget and our ability to do some of the things that various members have brought up here with us today. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, leaving, I guess, maybe some of the best questions for last maybe. I wish. You know, it’s sort of like the old joke goes where a bunch of old guys have been telling the same jokes to each other for so long that, really, all they had was jokes by number and they would sort of like number one, number two. So, in this case, I’ve asked this question so many times, so many times I’m just going to say “32, Exit 32”- what’s the plan?
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, at the risk of being characterized as one of those old guys that the member is talking about, I’ll attempt to answer the question. We have a commitment this year to spend $30 million on safety enhancements, and Exit 32 has been brought to my attention and it is in the mix for that. Again, I’m not sure if the member has had an opportunity to meet with our people, but let’s reinforce that, and as I mentioned to the member for Halifax Chebucto, there are no guarantees but be assured that your repetitive applications are being taken into note.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: That’s great. It’s the closest to a “yes” I’ve ever gotten after asking for this.
Well, Mr. Chairman, and then for the record, I mean, the issue boils in and around the fact that that intersection was identified, I think, in the top three most dangerous intersections in Nova Scotia because of the sightlines, because of offshoot roads, because of a whole bunch of things. It’s a flat intersection in my constituency and, moving from Exit 32, which I think is more dangerous, there’s also a challenge at Exit 31, which is the Pubnico intersection - just from the volume of cars and trucks that go in and out of it and the fog that does permeate through there quite often, so it does make vision, the sightlines, very difficult in foggy weather.
I thank the minister for that. It’s good to know that it’s within that $30 million package. I think the deputy is coming down for a visit, so hopefully that one will be discussed during that time as well.
There are a number of different roads - I could talk all day on roads in Argyle-Barrington but I’m not going to because I do meet with staff, I do take those opportunities. I have a good relationship with the engineers. I think we’ve always gotten our relative fair share. I think we could always get more kilometres of roads, but in the whole scheme of things I think we’ve always done pretty well.
The last question I have for you is simply in and around the budget for mowing and brush cutting. It seems that Yarmouth County seems to be a little on the lax side. I’m just wondering, is there going to be a different way of vegetation management coming forward? The plan that we have for vegetation management, in Yarmouth County anyway, seems to be very lax - and I thank the minister for that answer.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member. This is a persistent issue across Nova Scotia, and of course it’s not just exclusive to Yarmouth County, I hear a lot of it across the province. Let me tell you that we have a plan and that plan will be revealing itself in an upcoming budget that we’re talking about. I think it’s a plan that will take this bull by the horns and do something about this particular issue.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: I know we’re getting close to the time, but I want to thank the minister for his forthrightness, for answering our questions as we go along, and to thank his departmental staff for being easy to access and giving us reasonable answers to questions when we have them.
How long do I need to give the minister to close, I’m just wondering - a couple of minutes?
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity. I look forward to the finishing comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, and I’ll now recognize the honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to offer some closing comments.
MR. HINES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank all the members opposite for the opportunity to speak with them today. I really wish that it was 16 hours. It has only been three and a half, so maybe next time we’ll get to spend more time together.
I really appreciate the comments from everybody about the department and I can’t say enough about how hard our people work, from the top of the ladder, those people I have here with me today, right down to the folks in our bases across the province. They often don’t get recognized for that, but we’ve got a great team. We’re working hard on behalf of Nova Scotians. We’re always looking for efficient ways to increase our budget, and we appreciate the support from all the members of the House as we tackle these problems together. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E39 stand?
Resolution E39 stands.
Resolution E49 - Resolved, that the business plan of the Sydney Steel Corporation be approved.
Resolution E50 - Resolved, that the business plan of Nova Scotia Lands Inc. be approved.
Resolution E51 - Resolved, that the business plan of Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolutions E49, E50, and E51 carry?
The resolutions are carried.
That concludes our 40 hours of estimates.
The honourable Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply.
MR. KEITH IRVING: Mr. Chairman, 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.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall all the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply do rise and that you report these estimates to the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report these estimates to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 3:15 p.m.]