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January 8, 2002
Standing Committees
Economic Development
Meeting topics: 
Economic Development -- Tue., Jan. 8, 2002

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HALIFAX, TUESDAY, JANUARY 8, 2002

STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

9:00 A.M.

CHAIRMAN

Mr. Brooke Taylor

MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's bring the meeting to order. We have passed out a list of potential witnesses. The member for Yarmouth has added the Black Bull Resources, Yarmouth County, to the list. Do we have any further discussion?

MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: I second it.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I certainly am in agreement with having them here. Also, on the list submitted by the government, Titanium Incorporated, just give me some background.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I can speak to that a little bit, Frank, if I may. Titanium Incorporated is doing some work on the Shubenacadie River. Your colleague, John MacDonell, is probably more informed than I am but they have drilled a number of test holes and they are looking at developing that site to potentially reclaim some titanium from the sand. It has, like I say, quite a bit of potential. There are some job opportunities and economic benefits. They do plan on having an open house some time in February, probably in Halifax, to better disclose what their plans essentially are. That is basically it. They are out of Toronto but they are doing work here in the province.

MR. CORBETT: Thank you.

MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: I was down to the expo they had at the Westin and they had their booth set up there with their videos and everything. I was very impressed, the way they are doing the dredging and reclaiming. That is basically what they are doing, reclaiming from the riverbed. Unreal, and it is environmentally friendly.

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MR. CHAIRMAN: When was that, Richard?

MR. HURLBURT: That was when the House was sitting last fall.

MR. CHAIRMAN: According to them, the only working titanium mine in North America is in Florida and it is just running on fumes. It is nearly out of material. There are some other mines, I guess, in South Africa and Australia but the find in the Shubenacadie River, they allege, is world-class and has a lot of potential. There are a lot of hurdles to cross yet before it ever comes into development but everything is moving along pretty good. Of course, there is a strict regulatory process. If they come in, they might shed some light on the whole issue.

MR. HURLBURT: I think it would be beneficial to all members of the committee.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. It hasn't been kept secretive.

MR. CORBETT: I am just asking Mr. Hurlburt how long the video is. Do you know? Maybe if it is within the time frame they could show it here.

MR. HURLBURT: Well, when they were doing their presentation, I only got the tail end of it but I would say it is about a 10 minute presentation.

MR. CHAIRMAN: They have held meetings in Maitland, Hants County, and Beaverbrook which is across the Shubenacadie River in Colchester County and the president came in and took probably 15 to 20 minutes. He passed out brochures and things of that nature and then he fielded some questions. So you know they could certainly stay within the time.

MR. HURLBURT: I think it would be beneficial to all members to see that video.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Good.

MR. CORBETT: If I may make a suggestion, Mr. Chairman. I don't consider myself the senior member of our Economic Development Committee because I am not the critic, but one of the things I would like to see put forward is representatives of the Sydney Harbour Ports Board, because there are some interesting things going on but it depends, I guess, on your definition of interesting. Just recently the province has partnered with AMCI over the Sysco piers. Emera has just purchased the Devco piers and the CBRM, about a year or so ago, purchased the Government Wharf. There are some really large questions out there about how that either hinders or helps economic development around there. Maybe if we had those people in or the representatives of either Emera, the municipal government or - I forget what the partnership with the province and AMCI is called - I know AMCI has a subsidiary group called PEV, I think, that is partnering with the government. If we could put them on the list.

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MR. CHAIRMAN: That would be an NDP submission as far as that goes?

MR. CORBETT: Yes.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I have a note here indicating that Russell MacKinnon will be replacing both Don Downe and Brian Boudreau. I don't know if that means forever and a day, it just says he will be here in 10 or 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we may not be. They may have a list, I am not sure.

Our next meeting is for when, Darlene?

MRS. DARLENE HENRY (Legislative Committee Clerk): January 22nd.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Time?

MRS. HENRY: It is going to be 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

MR. CHAIRMAN: January 22nd, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and it is the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce.

MRS. HENRY: Yes.

MR. CHAIRMAN: That is the only meeting we have scheduled.

MRS. HENRY: That is the last of the presenters from the old list.

MR. HURLBURT: Mr. Corbett, Cape Breton Centre sparked an interest for me because Transport Canada has now, in my terminology, dumped onto the community of Yarmouth all the ports and harbours. Now the burden is on the property taxpayers in Yarmouth to maintain and look after that. I think that is going to have a spiral effect all across this province and everybody should have an interest in this because I will tell you, there is some real downloading from the federal government and it is going to cost this province and the property taxpayers a lot of money to maintain and operate these ports.

MR. CORBETT: You know in this ever-going idea of agreeing with my good friend from Yarmouth. (Interruption) Mr. Chairman, the fact of the matter is, you know, we went through last year and I don't think the whole thing has been uncovered, if that is the way to put it, about what went on with the Digby wharf. I know that is, again, a federal position but certainly I guess the theory is that the tax dollar all comes out of the same pocket. Maybe at some point we can pursue a more province-wide look at wharfages and see what we can do with them because obviously they are an integral part of our economic development, whether it is export other goods and services - I guess the short one we think of is the fishery but it is obviously much larger than the fishery.

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MR. CHAIRMAN: We have had federal representatives agree, voluntarily, to come in in the past, on a rare occasion. Richard, if you had the name of somebody appropriate, we could get Darlene to pursue that a little bit, where it is federal and it certainly has provincial connotations.

MR. HURLBURT: Well, Darlene, if you want to, you can call Dave Whiting in Yarmouth. He is now the . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Eastern Shore might be quite concerned about . . .

MR. HURLBURT: He is looking after the ports in Yarmouth and his phone number is 742-7585. Maybe he could give you more information of who to contact from the federal government. It is the same thing that happened with the airports, if you remember. I don't know what happened in Sydney but I will tell you what happened in Yarmouth. They came to in Yarmouth and they said, here, we are going to give you $1.8 million, like this big carrot,

but you have to maintain the airport for 10 years. They forgot to tell them that there was a deficit of $800,000-something per year to operate that airport. So, it has been operating five years privately, and now they are out of money and they are going back to the property taxpayer to say, we need you to ante up. It's the same thing that's going to happen here with the ports.

[9:15 a.m.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: You need Vince MacLean down there, maybe.

MR. CORBETT: We're well looked after.

MR. CHAIRMAN: There seem to be different programs for different parts of the province, certainly when it comes to the feds.

MR. CORBETT: Again, I find myself in agreement with the member for Yarmouth.

MR. HURLBURT: My God, two times now.

MR. CORBETT: I think we had both authorities in here one time on a hearing, and realized that the difference in the two airports, one was primarily passenger and the other was primarily freight. I believe Yarmouth was primarily freight.

MR. HURLBURT: Primarily nothing right now.

MR. CORBETT: Well, I am sure you can speak to that better than I could. Certainly there were things done at the Sydney Airport that if they hadn't been done it would find itself in as bad a position as Yarmouth. And now we are looking at one carrier, that really crippled

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revenues. I think Sydney Airport was stung, I may be wrong, with $300,000 from the collapse of, I forget which one of the carriers, whomever. That was what they got stung with. It's a large chunk of money in a small airport like that.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you guys getting any calls from constituents about Nova Scotia Power's decision to apply for a rate increase from the board? In my office we are getting a number of calls. I know there are hearings scheduled and so on, and I think different people and organizations can intervene. I don't know if bringing anybody in - it would probably be after the fact before they would ever agree to come in here. I will tell you it's a big concern for people all across the province, I am sure. I guess that's when most of the laundry will be aired, during the hearings.

MR. CORBETT: Is this the first time they've applied for a rate increase with two different levels, one for consumers and one for commercial?

MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't know, Frank. That's a good question. When are those hearings scheduled? (Interruptions)

MR. DOOKS: Mr. Chairman, you could certainly put them on the list and invite them here. They probably won't come when the hearings are going on.

MR. CORBETT: They're more than a power company, too.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Whoever they designate is appropriate should come in and explain to Nova Scotians what . . .

MR. CORBETT: I know Alan Sullivan does all their governmental work. As a matter of fact I think that's his title, government liaison or government affairs.

MR. CHAIRMAN: We can add them for consideration and discuss it a little bit. What about other areas? Everything is well and good in some of the other ridings, no complaints? Nothing that we can do here to help our constituents out through this committee, is there?

MR. HURLBURT: We should look in our crystal ball and see what the federal government is going to dump on the province and the property taxpayers this year, because every year there seems to be a new issue. I am very serious. It's costing big dollars, just for the airports alone and the ports. People don't realize yet what that's going to cost this province, the ports alone, because we are surrounded with ports.

MR. CORBETT: I don't know if I'm jumping, we are just kind of free-for-alling anyway - we always talk about, whether it's the government Party or Opposition Parties, getting our fair share of the fuel tax revenue for highway construction. Is there anybody federally that it would be worth our while to get in front of here? Brooke, you know that

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firsthand, it's a problem. Our highways are deplorable. It's easy for me to stand on the other side of the Island and dump on you guys for it - Bill, we talked about it walking across the street today - about the condition of highways. That may be something that we could look at, and try to bring some clarity to it. Are the feds hiding money that we should be getting? Conversely, are you guys spending money that should go on highways and is going somewhere else? I am being extremely honest here.

MR. DOOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would support that. I feel that the federal government is the government of all of Canada. I know clearly that some areas are being left out of the federal funds, and I speak of that often. Anybody we could invite here from the federal government, from the Department of Economic Development, on their development plan for different parts of rural Nova Scotia; why is it that we simply focus on the provincial government constantly? It seems like the provincial government is the only government in Canada or in this province that has any responsibility. That federal government very much has a responsibility to look after the people.

I would support someone from the Department of Transportation coming here to give me an understanding of why funding is not directed to more rural areas. I would support that. I would support Nova Scotia Power coming here. Do they not understand that a rate increase would deter business in the rural areas? There are very clearly two parts of Nova Scotia, the rural and urban areas. It's important to develop both parts.

MR. CHAIRMAN: In 1996, I think it was, Mr. Martin, the federal Minister of Finance, put a 2-cent-per-litre surcharge on the price of fuel, whether it's gasoline or diesel, to help eliminate the federal deficit, not the debt because we will have the debt forever and a day, probably both provincially and federally. Well, the debt was eliminated but the 2 cents - I know the position of the government and whether I agree or not is immaterial, but I will tell you gasoline prices, I looked last night on the stock market reports, and the price per barrel is around $21.49, which is quite low compared to last winter. The price at the pumps at most of the stations that I stop by with my gas guzzler is around 64.9. Even 2 cents a litre, if the feds would be so inclined to live up to the pledge they made, that was one of the things that Mr. Martin - it might be easier and safer to have this discussion without Mr. MacKinnon here - the fact is that was a pledge they made, to put the 2 cents in to help eliminate the deficit.

Well, the deficit is gone; the 2 cents is still there. Maybe the same individual who might speak to fuel taxes, the $137 million that is siphoned off, could answer some questions before the committee, entertain questions about the feds' portion of the taxes that consumers are paying. That's right across Canada.

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MR. DOOKS: Mr. Chairman, I agree with that, but the federal government certainly has to start understanding that infrastructure is certainly the success of any economy anywhere. With the scenarios they throw at us or with the structure, yes, we'll give the province, if it's Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. or whatever, so many dollars, they clearly understand the position, financially, that the provinces are in, and quite often it's 50 cent dollars. This is all quite foolish.

What has to take place is the federal government has to take responsibility for the provinces and understand that infrastructure is important, and that there are people out there starving to death because they are unable to get employment because of poor infrastructure. Is that so difficult to understand? Why does it take a whole group of bureaucrats, politicians and all these things to struggle around that very simple issue? Highways, certainly, are the direction to success. I get quite upset when we talk about it and struggle. I will talk about the Eastern Shore, we do not have a proper highway system to promote economic growth. So then we have departments of economic growth struggling within their own right to try to create opportunities for Nova Scotians. This is clear, the more work, the more taxes and the better the federal government does. So it's clear.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I see we are now joined by our colleague, Mr. Russell MacKinnon. Just for your information, Russell, we've worked up a list just for consideration, with some input from our Opposition member. If you have any names or suggestions on behalf of the Liberal caucus, we would like to have them, because we've pretty well wrapped up.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: I do apologize for being a little bit late, partly because of the roads. I didn't get in until 2:00 o'clock this morning because of the roads.

MR. DOOKS: What do you think we're talking about?

MR. MACKINNON: Then I assumed it was going to be this afternoon, so I was a little misguided there, perhaps self-inflicted. Some of the suggestions we had were perhaps Enterprise Cape Breton would be a good agency to have in, to examine how things are going in Cape Breton in terms of economic development. That agency has been in there - what, Frank - for about 15 years or so. Just to see if there are some good news stories that are there, or possibly some thoughts that, perhaps, we might be able to explore to see if we can get better use of our tax dollars there.

I don't want to kind of get into Public Accounts because I know it is always one over the other but I think that would be a good agency. I am not so sure they would come because it is federal but it is a good thought.

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Also, we thought that, perhaps, it would be a good idea - because Nova Scotia has been changing quite dramatically, because of the tremendous amount of growth in metro - perhaps invite officials in from Burnside Industrial Park or Bayers Lake Industrial Park. Those areas are growing and maybe we could find out what their secrets are to success, and how the provincial government might be playing a better role, or extrapolate some of the good issues out of that and see if we can help other areas of the province.

Another one was, perhaps, the Strait Area Industrial Board of Trade. (Interruption) Is that in? Oh, are they? Okay. Perhaps Trenton Car Works, that is another major one, another spoke at a different area of the province.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.

MR. MACKINNON: That, essentially, was our list.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Darlene, maybe you can - as you normally do - work up a list. Maybe you can distinguish who suggested what and send it out to committee members, and we will share it with our caucuses. We have a meeting scheduled for January 22nd with the Strait Chamber of Commerce.

Unless there is anything further, yes, Frank.

MR. CORBETT: I forget what they are called now - RailTex?

MR. CHAIRMAN: The private rail company?

MR. CORBETT: Yes, from Truro to Cape Breton. Major impacts with that now, especially with the demise of Sysco, where they are going and the sale of Devco railway to Emera.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I was asked some time ago - and maybe we will just put it on for consideration - APTA, the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. Ralph Boyd - as you know, that is part of our mandate as a committee to entertain concerns and issues revolving around transportation, and we do that, of course - he had some concerns about harmonization between the provinces, things he wanted to bring forward. Now, that was some time ago but we could, maybe, put that on, Ralph Boyd is his name, out of Moncton. They have an office there, if they wanted to come in.

I just forget what the issue was at the time. Maybe it is resolved but there may be some area there we might find interesting. And, like I say, if something comes up that is timely - any caucus - I think we should be prepared to approach each other and we have, bring somebody in and if it is timely and appropriate, that at a minute's notice because Darlene can get us geared up quite quickly.

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Do we have a motion to adjourn?

MR. HURLBURT: Standing motion?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Standing motion, standing count. (Laughter)

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.

[The committee adjourned at 9:28 a.m.]