MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to bring the committee to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Resolution E32.
Resolution E32 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $233,469,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of Sydney Environmental Resources Limited to approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to be here today to address the Committee of the Whole House on Supply as it considers my estimates for 2001-02. I will introduce members of my staff who are up in the gallery as well as on either side of me. To my right is the Deputy Minister of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Howard Windsor; to my left is our Director of Finance, Greg Penny. In the gallery: Martin Delaney, Executive Director of Highway Operations; Al MacRae, Executive Director of Public Works; Brian Gallivan, Director of Policy and Planning; Don Sutherland, Director of Real Property Services; and Laura Lee Langley, Director of Public Affairs and Communications. With that host of introductions, you can see I will have lots of budget support if there are questions that come along that I don't understand, or don't know the answer.
Transportation and Public Works is an assembly of talented people who are committed to achieving vital and varied goals across the entire province. Our mission is to construct, maintain and manage provincial highways, buildings and related infrastructure, and to provide accommodation, property and procurement services in support of sustainable economic growth and social well-being. We do an outstanding job while fulfilling that mission of serving all Nova Scotians and all people within government. We are committed to delivering the highest level of service to Nova Scotians and to make sure taxpayers are getting the most value for their money.
Can we do our job better? We want to and we have to; the old rules of government no longer apply. This government, this department has to balance its books to trim whatever fat we can, and to do only the things that we can afford. We need to look for new ways to do things more efficiently and cost-effectively. The previous budget put us on the right path to do those things, and this budget stays that course. Our budget is set at just over $233 million in 2001-02; last year's operating budget was $243.5 million.
In 2001-02, the department transferred about $26 million to individual departments to allow them to pay for their individual accommodation leases. We received $16 million in funding as postal services, technology services, utilities and procurement were transferred to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. DPW's Highway Operations budgets, including maintenance, remain stable at $123.4 million. The 2001-02 infrastructure capital budget has increased to $81.4 million from $51.6 million in 2000-01, an increase of almost $30 million. Of that, $5 million is set aside in this fiscal year for the twinning of Highway No. 101, if federal cost-shared funds become available.
Another $5.3 million has been set aside for various construction projects, including the building of a secure treatment facility, justice buildings in Port Hawkesbury and Yarmouth, and a poultry building at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. This increased capital budget includes an additional $11.4 million in new capital funding for highways and bridges. This funding is part of a three year plan to fulfill government's commitment to increased funding for road construction by $31 million. This new capital road funding, combined with last year's money dedicated to highway projects, brings the total construction dollars being placed in roads and bridges this year to $76 million.
This sounds like a lot of money, and indeed it is, whether you are Bill Gates or a provincial government trying to get its finances in order. I would ask that you consider our mandate, our responsibilities, the services we provide, the infrastructure we build, and the infrastructure we maintain. Considering the enormity of our role, perhaps you will even think that we are a bargain. The department is in charge of maintaining more than 24,000 kilometres of road in Nova Scotia; the department builds and maintains more than 3,500 bridges; and from one end of the province to the other we employ more than 2,000 people. That makes us one of the largest employers in government.
This department is responsible for the 25 provincial buildings and courthouses across Nova Scotia, from Yarmouth to Sydney. We are responsible for warehouses, base areas, and maintenance sheds. In total, the department is responsible for about 2,200 buildings across the province. We handle utilities, such as those found at Cheticamp and Landrie Lake. The department also administers government procurement and supply processes, provides postal services for government, and administers industrial parks and malls. Some of these operations came to us recently as a result of reorganization of government services. To make government operations as cost-effective and as efficient as possible it was decided to centralize these services under one operation, and the Department of Transportation and Public Works is the umbrella for those groups.
This funding is a sign of the government's commitment to making our infrastructure strong. This funding is also a sign that government has made investment in highway infrastructure an ongoing priority, one that will lead to continued growth in Nova Scotia. It is not as many dollars as we would like; it is not as many dollars as we need. However, it is a sign that after years of reduced funding we are headed in the right direction. Capital funding for our roads and bridge infrastructure is going up and, Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that this is good news.
Our most difficult challenge is managing public expectations. An increase of capital funding will increase expectations of the public, but the amount of roadwork requiring investment exceeds funding; in fact my department estimates the province's road and bridge infrastructure deficit at $3.4 billion. This is a severe problem, but one that my department and this government will address. We understand the important and vital role that this infrastructure plays in the economic and social life of Nova Scotia. We understand the important bonds that roads create. A better highway system rewards all Nova Scotians in the long run. Better roads mean more economic prosperity. They mean trouble-free driving for commercial trucks for transporting goods to and from this province. They open more opportunities for commerce inside and outside the province.
Solid infrastructure may not be glamorous, but it pays dividends in the form of better-priced and more-varied goods for all of us. Well-designed, engineered and maintained roads and bridges can mean much more. They can help prevent accidents, save lives and, by doing so, friends and families are spared pain and anguish that cannot be quantified in terms of dollars and cents; at the same time, preventing accidents reduces the burden on our health care system. It is difficult to quantify precisely, but every accident avoided spares the cost of emergency treatment and care, hospital time, medicine, rehabilitation, lost time at work, and so on.
Better infrastructure also means safer, more enjoyable driving for commuters or for Nova Scotians exploring our province. It means a better visit for thousands of tourists who won't hesitate to sing the praises of the province to their friends, or come back themselves, and that means more tourism dollars to stimulate our economy. This department is well
aware, however, that not everyone is singing the praises of the road system these days, and nowhere is the chorus louder than in rural communities, and justifiably so. Some of our roads are in terrible shape, and I know that as Minister of Transportation and Public Works. It is a comment that perhaps is one that is adverse to the province; however it is a truism. That is why we have increased, this year, our funding to local rural roads to $10 million from $9 million last year.
This program, called the Rural Impact Mitigation fund, obviously will not allow us to patch and pave everything we would like, but it has been a good start, as we recognized our rural roads were ignored for far too long. Just as an aside, one of the things that I think was most noteworthy last year as a person travelled around the province was the impact of that rather small amount of money, that $9 million, in RIM last year. We got a lot of bang for our buck.
Unfortunately, rural roads are not the only ones in need of attention. Our 100-Series Highways, the arteries that handle the vast majority of traffic, have deficiencies that must be addressed. To help fulfill these needs, to make that happen, we have consistently spoken out about the need for a new cost-sharing agreement with the federal government. It is a message each and every provincial government in Canada has sent to Ottawa. It is a message that the Premier of the province, Dr. John Hamm, has sent to Ottawa with his Campaign for Fairness.
It also seems to be a message that Ottawa has finally heard. The federal government has promised to spend $485 million across Canada on highway infrastructure over five years. Nova Scotia expects to receive some of that money this year to begin an urgent twinning of Highway No. 101, and that is good news. The bad news is that the federal government's funding is a temporary patch on the road infrastructure problem across this country. Experts estimate that Canada needs about $17 billion to stabilize and repair this country's national highway system - we are only talking about the national highway system when we are talking about federal government funding.
When we compare the funding levels in Canada with the United States, the United States Government is spending $177 billion U.S. on road infrastructure over the next six years, about $0.25 trillion on highways. Let me say that again - the federal government in the United States is spending $177 billion U.S. on roads over the next six years. America is Canada's largest trading partner, one of our biggest markets and we need to keep pace.
That is why we have asked Ottawa to participate in a five year, $270 million agreement to be cost-shared on a 50/50 basis with this province. This proposal will allow for $180 million of repaving and $90 million of new construction on the national highway system in Nova Scotia. It is fair and appropriate that Ottawa contributes half the cost to any roadwork that takes place on parts of the national highway system. In this province that includes highways such as Highway Nos. 101, 102 and 104. This roadwork nets out to about 70 per cent of our 100-Series Highways.
In this province Nova Scotians pay about $137 million a year in federal motive fuel taxes; that kind of money would go a long way to helping our highway system. We think it is only fair that a reasonable share of that $137 million comes back to this province to go directly into roads. (Applause) To date the federal government has guaranteed Nova Scotia about $17 million over five years, out of its $485 million highway infrastructure fund. This is welcome news. Our pockets are not deep. On our own, we cannot afford the kind of highway projects we need, but cost-shared dollars help us push projects further, providing value for the province.
To help us fund our highway needs, this province is putting an additional $31 million in funding by the year 2003-04 for highway construction and maintenance. As you are probably aware, our top priority for highway work is the twinning of Highway No. 101. Traffic on this road has swelled over the past decade to the point where it must be trimmed. It makes sense in terms of economics and travel, but more than anything else it must happen so we can prevent accidents and save lives.
Last year, we began the first steps of preliminary construction on the twinning of Highway No. 101 with the upgrading of the interchange at Mount Uniacke; we have also cleared the right-of-way for the first 20 kilometres. To speed up the process, the government has set aside $5 million to begin twinning the highway; this money is contingent upon Ottawa helping with cost-shared funding this year. The province is doing our part, everything is in place and now we need Ottawa to step up to the plate.
The department is also committed to finding value for taxpayers' dollars. The department wants to find the most efficient, cost-effective ways to do work for Nova Scotians. In other words, every dollar we waste is less money being spent on pavement, and that is why new methods of doing business have and will continue to be examined. This includes projects such as the road weather information system. This is a system that places high-tech sensors, buried in the asphalt along our highways, to allow our departmental crews to know the temperature of the blacktop almost immediately, and crews can then put salt on the road before storms hit, thus reducing the amount of material needed to achieve our goals. This saves time, and hopefully this will reduce accidents and lead to better road surfaces in the wintertime.
We are also introducing better handling of salt storage at our bases across the province. We have built, or are in the process of building seven salt/sand storage handling sheds. This will allow for all salt and sand to be handled indoors, thus protecting our environment and decreasing the loss of valuable goods. We have to take stock of all things we do, and ask if we are indeed the ones who should be doing them; we have to ask if we are doing them in the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time.
This need for value extends to projects such as the Johnston Building, just across the way. My department has budgeted $8 million this year to renovate the Johnston Building, to return it to a vibrant and operational centre of activity. Overall, this project will cost about $12.6 million, however the value returned is many times greater than that. To replace this building, to build a similar structure from the foundation up, would cost a great deal more. The renovation will also make this building more energy efficient, saving taxpayers' money, however replacement costs alone do not tell the whole story. The Johnston Building is a landmark in Halifax and in this province, and our ability to renovate it, to protect a piece of history while being fiscally responsible is a real savings for the people.
Clearly, we are embracing innovation. Another sign is the ongoing development of our Web site, which gives the public instant access to an extraordinary amount of information. Our site not only outlines what we do, it provides simple, easy access to departmental reports, studies, and statistics. Anyone with access to the World Wide Web can see all the data with a few clicks of the mouse. Only a few years ago that sort of access would only have come about by making telephone calls, writing letters, or making trips to the Government Book Store.
We are continuing to build on the success of our Web site. It is a wonderful way to remove the barriers, to cut through red tape, and to ease the flow of information between government and the public. The Department of Transportation and Public Works is also setting new standards when it comes to the environment. In January of this year we introduced an environmental policy which demands that all employees act in an environmentally responsible way.
We want to be leaders in this field, and this policy is one way of allowing us to do that. We have also introduced an environmental management pilot project in our eastern district. Our aim is to look at the ways we do business with our resources and improve upon our conservation methods. For instance, we are aiming to reduce the energy usage at our bases, and we are aiming to reduce our stockpiles of products such as solvents, by using existing supplies before reordering. These are sometimes simple measures, but they lead to savings for the taxpayer and for the environment.
We have carried out Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments at 42 of our garage sites around this province. We have initiated cleanup at a number of these sites. We now have a three year plan in place for the remediation of these sites. As you know, these facilities are essentially like a gasoline station and, as such, over the years pollution has occurred in areas around those bases and, as I say, we have a three year plan for remediation of those sites.
We are also ready to commence with the identification and quantification of regulated materials at all our provincially-owned buildings, and this includes materials such as lead paints. This information will be entered into our regulated materials inventory computer
program; this is seen as a positive step in managing regulated materials in these buildings. Our goal is to promote a healthy community and a prosperous future. It is a goal shared by our staff in the communities we serve. We are focusing on the right solutions, solutions that are socially acceptable, environmentally sound and economically responsible.
The government owns furniture and equipment valued at $320 million. It is important that we manage this inventory properly, and we do. We monitor and verify the condition of these items; we reallocate this property, as needed, to the proper government departments, or dispose of it through public auction or tender. We do this as cost-effectively and efficiently as we possibly can. If there is a trend in our first two budgets, it is a move to find new ideas and solutions but, at the same time, get back to basics, to the core of what our department is designed to do.
Let me spell out what we see as our core duties, duties that are reflected in this budget. Transportation and Public Works constructs, maintains and manages provincial highways, buildings and related infrastructure. The department also provides accommodation, property, procurement and government services in support of all government departments. Transportation and Public Works also provides policy direction to ensure an effective air, rail, and marine transportation system in support of sustainable economic growth and social well-being.
The people of Nova Scotia have entrusted us with the responsibility of making choices, making changes, and rebuilding our finances. Every dollar must be accounted for; every dollar must be spent wisely. The old ways have to be questioned. Just because something has been done for years and years doesn't necessarily make it sound policy. If a program can be improved, there can be no argument against trying to do just that. We have to, as a department, deliver value for our taxpayers' dollars. That is why this government is committed to addressing the deficit and debt. As the province's fiscal situation improves, the government will be able to put additional funding into highway infrastructure, and this will allow continued investment in our rural roads, our highways, our communities and our people.
Mr. Chairman - last page - Transportation and Public Works is getting back to basics. We are getting back to roads and the basic services that Nova Scotians deserve. All of the trimming, the efficiencies, the extra funding is being done in the name of investing more money in our roads and the people who use them. Back to basics. Back to basics is the answer. I will be pleased now to entertain any questions on the budget of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, or any questions related to highways, buildings, or what have you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the Minister of Transportation and Public Works for his comments this morning.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for some of his introductory comments. I am appreciative of the fact that we have to distinguish between millions and billions. The number of zeros is important these days, particularly when it comes to using the limited resources that we have at hand. In particular, I want to also add my congratulations and thanks to the Department of Transportation and Public Works staff, not just the people who work downtown and in these offices here in Halifax, but the people who are out there, the people who are on the front lines, the ones who are accountable, the ones who are dealing with the issues that I think all of us, as MLAs, contact.
The Area Manager, Suburban, Paul O'Brien, for example. Mr. Minister, I want you know that he is extremely professional, competent, and very conscientious in his job, and please pass on to that particular member of your staff, the valuable contribution he has made over the years that I have been the MLA for Timberlea-Prospect. Of course there are other people in the Beechville shed that I could mention; those are the people on the ground that we have to recognize.
I am also very pleased - and I want to have this on the record for someone's attention - that the Five Island Lake remediation process is well underway, and the local community is very appreciative of the light at the end of the tunnel and the commitment that your department has taken up the challenge after the Environment Department identified this, and that it is going to be reaching a conclusion. Again, I thank your department and the budgetary decisions for fulfilling that commitment to the community of Five Island Lake. That is for the record, for every member in here who is interested.
AN HON. MEMBER: Particularly the member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Yes, well, one member in particular, just for the point of clarification.
There are a couple of things that tweak my interest, if I can say that, before I begin. There are a couple of comments that I want to make about various things that maybe just grab my attention as opposed to the principle of some of the concerns I have, which we will get into during the remainder of my time.
I should point out that I will be sharing my time, probably the last five minutes or five seconds - I haven't decided yet - with the member for Halifax Fairview, who has an important concern to bring to the minister's attention.
If I could, these are items which are of some interest to me. It must be my cobweb-like mind because these are the things that stick to me, and I would like to direct your attention, Mr. Minister, to the Supplement to the Public Accounts, Province of Nova Scotia,
Page 188. There is an absolutely interesting item there on Page 188, called Pothole Patchworks. Pothole Patchworks has, over the recent year, the opportunity - I suppose for various reasons - to receive $144,145.20. I have to ask this, just out of interest, what is Pothole Patchworks? In addition, how come we only spent that little amount of money?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, you must admit that Pothole Patchworks is a pretty appropriate title for a company that is involved in dealing with road repairs, and that is exactly what it is.
MR. ESTABROOKS: This is a private company hired to go in at the request of the department in certain areas to repair potholes?
MR. RUSSELL: This is the normal contracting put out by the department for repairs to highways. It could be a shoulder repair, it could be the patching of a pothole in the road, or it could be perhaps doing other work associated with the maintenance of a highway. It goes out to tender, and this is just simply a company that has that name. Dexter, which you would recognize, is a company that bids on the same kind of work; this is a much smaller company.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to move, if I could, and I would like to stay within the same context of these line items that are of some interest to me because of the interest it has caused. Sojourn Enterprises Ltd., on Page 190, is a company that I, through a service club, have dealt with in the past. I am aware of the fact, if you look at Page 190, $80,599, they make signs, or that is what they have done for the St. Margarets Bay Lions Club in the past.
Sojourn Enterprises, obviously, is in the business of providing, I would assume, signs for the Department of Transportation and Public Works. The Truro sign shop, from my understanding, is a thing of the past, or is soon to be a thing completely closed. Sojourn Enterprises Ltd. is obviously picking up contracts, through tender, for various sign work. I would like you to explain - Sojourn Enterprises Ltd. is doing the job that the Truro Sign Shop did for so many years - why has that decision been made?
MR. RUSSELL: That's a very good question. There was a rumour floating around about a year or so ago that we were going to close the Truro sign shop at the time we were doing a study of the various activities of the department to see if they were cost-effective and managing their responsibilities in an efficient manner. The Truro Sign Shop certainly was and is and will continue to be so. This company that the honourable member is referring to, Sojourn Enterprises Ltd., supply some of the materials needed for the sign shop in Truro to actually build signs.
I can assure the member opposite that our sign shop in Truro is a competitive division of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. They stand up insofar as the cost of producing signs very well, compared to private enterprise. At the present time, certainly, there is no intention to dismantle that very important division in Truro.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I am really reassured. I know the people who have so competently worked in the signage department of Transportation and Public Works will be reassured by that commitment.
I was under the impression we were getting out of the golf business for various reasons, and I realize that your department was responsible, of all things. I remember the first time in dealing with estimates and looking at myself as not a golfer of renown, and suddenly we are talking about Transportation and Public Works and we have golf money being spent in here.
Mr. Minister, there are some items, and I can bring them to your attention if you wish, Miller Golf Printing & Supply Ltd., Page 187; The Golf News, Page 190; Wilson Sports Equipment Canada Ltd., Page 192. Those are golfing items, from my understanding. Are we still in the golf business, or is that a thing of the past?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we are definitely out of the golf business; however, prior to the sale, there is a pro shop at the golf course up in Cumberland County and there was stock purchased to replenish supplies in that particular pro shop, and that kind of thing. That was all part of the normal operations of the golf course before we dispensed with the ownership of that particular course.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to continue, if I may, on a very interesting item that I am going to bring to the House's attention. In fact, a member of our staff, in the NDP caucus, has been trying to get some information from your staff on this item. That is on Page 200 of the same book, Supplement to the Public Accounts that I have been referring to. There is an item listed almost at the bottom of that page, R. Hurlburt Construction Ltd., for $270,204. Now, Mr. Minister, I have reviewed this situation and I would like to point out to you - your staff is probably aware of this because we have been in contact or a member of our caucus staff has been in contact with Transportation and Public Works staff - in 1997, R. Hurlburt Construction Ltd. received $8,846 worth of work; in 1998 there was no money according to the records, that I have been apprised of, assigned to R. Hurlburt Construction Ltd.; in 1999, the figure goes to $35,958; in the year 2000 we have a jump assigned to R. Hurlburt Construction Ltd. of over $270,000.
My question, Mr. Minister, and it is the question that a member of our NDP staff has been asking your staff, could you please explain or table at a future date what were the items covered under this $270,000 . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Was it tendered?
MR. ESTABROOKS: I am sure it was tendered, I assume that. I would like some details on the fact that this particular company, situated in Yarmouth, has done extremely well it seems, lately, moving from $8,000 in 1997, to $35,000 almost $36,000 in 1999, to the year 2000 of over $270,000. I would like some explanation, please, on what that work involved.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect was doing so well, and I thought we were going to have a very civilized conversation. I don't appreciate, really, drawing aspersions on a particular name. This is a company that tenders on highway work. The tenders, as I hope the honourable member is aware, is a public process. The tenders are open in public and the lowest tender is normally accepted. If the lowest tender is not accepted then, indeed, there is an explanation due. In this particular case, it was a tender on a contract for roadwork in Lunenburg, they submitted the lowest tender and they were awarded the job. I see no difficulty with that. I will find out why it was that you had such difficulty getting that information, because I don't think there is any reason why you shouldn't have had it available if you had requested it.
Mr. Chairman, with regard to the company itself, there are thousands of small contractors around this province who continuously chase the Department of Transportation and Public Works for business and they bid on contracts. These companies, when they start getting business, start to expand. If they start to expand then, obviously, they are going to get more business. If they are submitting their tenders and their tenders are accepted, good for them; they get bigger and bigger. This, I would suggest to you, is such a company in Nova Scotia. Rather than pummel that company for its success, I think we should be applauding it.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I was once in the business of pummelling things, and that was no pummel. I was the one who was asking a question because of a follow-up from staff, and the inability of the staff to be able to get the information. As I said earlier, it is an interesting topic. I guess the concern I would like to move to, and it is no reflection of pummelling of a particular company, but that name, let's face it, jumps out at me as I do my job. I requested a member of my caucus staff to request of your staff, could you tell us how or what this money was spent on. I thank you for the explanation, for the Lunenburg job, but I can tell you, Mr. Minister, that call was made a number of times and the answer was not forthcoming. That's why I brought it to your attention here.
I would like you to explain, and maybe someone in the department could explain that how come under Liberal Governments there seems to have been no work, or very little work assigned to this particular company. Is it a coincidence that this particular company that received little or no work in previous years has received this contract of $270,000 now that this government is in power? That is aspersions, not towards that particular company, but the
tendering process. Is it a coincidence that in previous years this particular company - and you have had lots of experience in this business, Mr. Minister, I am looking at the tendering process here because I am questioning whether it is a convenient coincidence that this is happening at this time that R. Hurlburt Construction Ltd. has received $270,000 because they are well connected with your government.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, as I say, if the honourable member would step up onto the sidewalk he would certainly get more information, perhaps. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The minister has the floor.
MR. RUSSELL: There is absolutely no way that I could tell the honourable member what went on when the other crowd was in government, I don't know. I can tell this honourable member that insofar as the present tendering process, and as far as I understand it, the tendering process in this province has always been that way, that the lowest tender has been accepted wherever possible. However, there have been some exceptions made along the way where perhaps a company has submitted outside of the parameters of the tendering document.
I don't know what else I can tell the member. He can come on over to our tender office any time. I welcome him over there to any tender opening we have, we have dozens of them every day. Come on over and see what the process is and you will find that it is fair and open. One of the reasons - and I bring this to his attention because perhaps he isn't aware - we are getting more and more tenders from small companies all across this province is because now we are on the Net and all our tenders are there for anybody who owns a computer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Before I recognize the member for Timberlea-Prospect, I would ask him if he would yield the floor to the member for Dartmouth North on an introduction.
The member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, member for Timberlea-Prospect. In the west gallery today, this morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Legislature, are students from the Shannon Park School. They are here with their teacher, Sean Aucoin, and members of the citizens' group: Wendy Bell, Heather McLeod, Marcus Murrin and Neil Tramble. They have been here touring the Legislature and watching what is going on in the Legislative Assembly. I have informed them that everyone may not be sitting in the Legislature today, all the members may not be here. The budget estimates are taking place and there are some budget estimates going on in the Red Room as well as in this Legislative Assembly. The students who are here today are sitting here taking in this, and I do want to acknowledge that within the student group, I believe, there is a nephew of the member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour,
as a matter of fact. They are here and I would hope the House will give them a very warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would also like to say that the House welcomes you.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I welcome the students here to see democracy in action in the people's House. Mr. Minister, you mentioned earlier during your opening comments, the rural roads mitigation fund, I believe is the title for it. It has gone from $9 million to $10 million and it is another $1 million, and I know that you, in your travels around the province, are aware that much more money is needed. When it comes to the fact that there is a fund of money - if I can say, a pot of money - that is available for a particular issue across the province, the question that inevitably comes up is, how is it going to be used?
I know I have heard many times that - and maybe your department would realize this - people are constantly told that this road or that road, or this project or that project, is on the mythical list. The list. I suppose, sarcasm aside, I should ask is there a list? A priority list? Is that priority list actually in existence and, if there is, for example, on this rural fund that includes $10 million, is it prioritized so that you could tell us, your members, this side of the House, what are the priority projects for that $10 million fund that is very much needed in rural roads? Is it a myth or do we have a priority list?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it is an unfortunate fact of life that, yes, there is a list. That list contains every rural road right across this province at the top of that list, if such a thing is possible. In other words, we have a transportation system in this province where you can go onto any road in any area of the province and you will find that money has to be spent, or should be spent on that particular road. That is the problem that we face. We do have to make decisions, we do have to make priorities perhaps that are just offhand in trying to get the money out there to patch roads just to keep them in place. Our problem today is that unless we get to those roads and do a little bit of work on them, in another year or two they are no longer going to be paved roads. We are going to have to tear them up and they are going to become gravel roads or, if we intend to asphalt them, we are going to have to rebuild the road completely from the base up.
It is policy of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, at the present time, that we are not paving gravel roads. In other words, we have said to people who live on gravel roads, look, we are sorry, we don't have the dollars available at the present time to pave your roads because we are taking that money and saving the pavement on the other roads around this province. When you say the list, the list today is meaningless, because of the fact that we don't have road A that has got to be fixed, but road B is in great shape. We just don't have that luxury.
Having said that, how are we going to divide up the RIM money? The RIM money is divided up among the regions in the province based on the number of kilometres of road that there are in that particular area. The OS for the area, I presume, comes up with the work that is to be tendered out using the RIM funds that are available. I believe that the OS's we have in place around this province are all very approachable and I think that no matter what the political stripe is of the member that approaches them, that they are going to talk to you, they are going to listen to what your priorities are, as well as the priorities of the department.
I would like to emphasize that because, as the honourable member knows, when he travels around his riding that you come across situations where you see things for yourself and you say, why the heck hasn't the Department of Transportation and Public Works seen that obvious deficiency and fixed it? It becomes a priority of yours to see that it is done and you bring that to the attention of the OS and, hopefully, he will do something about it. It helps you, it helps the department and that is the best we can do for the time being.
We have to have more money in the Department of Transportation and Public Works. We have to have a massive infusion of money in the Department of Transportation and Public Works. We need about $150 million to $160 million per year for capital construction to maintain - and remember that, to maintain - the present system that we have. At the present time we have something in the neighbourhood of $60 million. As you can see, there is one heck of a shortfall.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the minister for some clarity that perhaps - and I don't know if all members present heard that explanation, but I think it is of real consequence, if I understood this correctly, that on the RIM money fund in particular, you said based upon the percentage of highway that a particular OS is responsible for, that he or she would receive the money out of that fund based upon the total number of kilometres, based on the kilometres across the province. For example, if I may, the teacher in me is coming out and the students up here might have to do the math, but if you are saying that of the 120,000 kilometres - sorry for the figure, in particular - if 12,000 of those kilometres are in Timberlea-Prospect, 12,000 of 120,000 is 10 per cent. Right, students? Thank you. I got a nod from someone up there - 10 per cent. My math fails me, you are saying that 10 per cent of the RIM money would go to Timberlea-Prospect, is that correct?
MR. RUSSELL: I understand that the allocation of RIM money is based on the number of kilometres of paved roads within a constituency. For instance, in some areas there are a considerable number of what we call K-class roads, which are sort of logging roads, et cetera, those don't count in the overall numbers.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you for that point of clarification. I would like to turn to the Estimates, Supplementary Detail, please, on Page 24.5. This is really one of the crux issues with the future of the department and the direction that it might be going if my suspicions - and I am in the business of suspicions sometimes when it comes to dollars and
cents. I want to draw the minister's attention to Operational Support - Summer, and the money assigned. Then if we go down further under Operation Support - Winter, and that money that is assigned. Those are items, as you can see, that of course were not in previous estimates of 1999-2000, 2000-01. I would like for the minister to explain what Operational Support - Summer involves and then, secondly, what Operational Support - Winter involves.
MR. RUSSELL: The two headings that the honourable member is referring to, Operational Support - Summer, and Operational Support - Winter, apply to sums of money that were formerly included under the heading, Field Operations. Operational support in the summer includes the operation supervisors, it includes the operations of the sheds and other things that go into maintaining roads in the summer, and the same thing applies in the winter, except that it is winter maintenance.
MR. ESTABROOKS: So, to clarify the issue for myself, the first word that I think of when I see that sort of operational support in either season, that is within the men and women who work for us now, who work for your department and for us as Nova Scotians, that those people in no way will be threatened with any kind of privatization. That the privatization, as you once said, I believe, model which was quite coincidentally, if I understand correctly, the Beechville shed, the one that I work with, and the men and women who work in that particular operation, that the privatization model is no longer going to be part of the future of your department?
MR. RUSSELL: Before I field that question from the honourable member, I have just been advised that when I said that that contract that was awarded to Hurlburt's, it was in the Lunenburg area, that is incorrect. It was on Pleasant Street, was one particular contract for sidewalk repaving and the other one was in respect of Prospect Street in Yarmouth, and that was for installation of culverts and catch basins.
So, having corrected that information I gave him, getting back to the privatization model, the trip I did around the province last summer was very enlightening. I had the chance to visit, I believe every garage, I may have missed one or two along the way, but I think I got to all of them and I had the opportunity to meet in every instance with a number, not always all but a number of people involved at the front end of the department; the people who are out there in all weather, winter and summer, doing a job on the roads. The people at that time were disturbed because they knew that the government was looking at alternate service delivery. Alternate service delivery was simply placing in the hands of the private sector certain of the operations of the provincial Department of Transportation.
We did look at that as one of the options that were available to government, but in the end we decided not to go with that particular option. We did decide that there were some areas where perhaps the private sector should be involved to a greater extent. What I said to people involved with the operations, both summer and winter, in those meetings that I had with them was that their particular positions were not going to be affected by any changes
in the way we do our business. We may change the way we do business but, however, the people who are involved in certain operations of the government would continue to be involved with the Department of Transportation, and that is what I told them and that is what we have done.
As the honourable member is aware, government has, over the past year, decreased the number of full-time equivalent employees in this province by 608 people, I think it was last year. This year we have 80-odd people being deleted from government employ. None of those people, under that deletion process, came from the Department of Transportation out in the field. In other words, the people who are working out in operations were not affected by those cuts.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Minister, I want to use this as an example. You well know that I can't go through estimates or probably a question in this House without asking about Porcupine Hill or the Long Bog or some of those notorious stretches. I want to use this as a scenario that is a concern to highway workers in my particular community. Is there a possibility within your department that snowplowing, as a responsibility, could change to the extent that the department could be responsible, for example, Route 333, which is the Prospect Road around Peggy's Cove, and that the subdivisions and the adjoining roads, whether it is the expanding subdivision of MacDonald Lake Road or Brookside or down over Porcupine Hill into Terence Bay, is it a possibility that your department will only maintain responsibility for the main road, as we call it, Route 333, and that the subdivisions and the adjoining roads could be handed over to private snowplow operators?
MR. RUSSELL: The honourable member raises a very good point. Sometimes it appears that the Department of Transportation and Public Works is inefficient in that it plows some roads and some roads it goes right by and doesn't plow. The HRM has been increasingly active in pursuing the Province of Nova Scotia to perhaps work out some kind of a process that will be more effective and more efficient for the Department of Transportation and Public Works, the Province of Nova Scotia, as well as for HRM. It is no secret that HRM and the Department of Transportation and Public Works have had considerable discussions but, to date, they have simply been that, and I assume those discussion are ongoing at the present time with HRM.
The primary thing we want to do is to provide a better service to the public wherever possible, we want to do it at the same cost or less, and we will all be very happy if that can be accomplished.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I just want to clarify this with the minister, it is of some importance to understand that the HRM and the amalgamation that was brought forth by this crowd here is not well-received, whether it is snowplowing, recreation or whatever else. I am not talking about the core areas, because we have that distinction you know. There is the core area in so many different ways receive a treatment - and I know I see
the chairman and perhaps I shouldn't tell this but he is nodding his head, and there are many MLAs present who are concerned about the fact that there seems to be, if we want to say it candidly with certain expectations, almost a two-tier approach when it comes to the maintenance of roads and, of course, snow removal. We are outside of the core area here, and these expanding subdivisions who pay these big taxes are well outside of the core area. That's the concern that is brought to my attention by these residents, and it is just a point of clarification.
On a beautiful day like today, let's talk about winter, as if we haven't had enough. On Page 24.5, if I understand this correctly - and I am talking about snowplowing, I am talking about salting, I am talking about sanding because, of course, there are certain roads, and I live on one of them, that have to be sanded as opposed to salted because of the dug wells in the community in which I live. If I look at those budget figures there, snowplowing - the budget has been decreased, especially after the winter we have just had - if I look at these numbers correctly, we are decreasing the budget for salting, we are decreasing the budget for sanding. Considering what we have just endured and the yeoman service that the men and women who work in your department have provided, I would like you to explain those decreases to me?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I can agree with the honourable member, I think we have had enough winter for this year, in fact, we have had enough winter for several years. The first thing I would like to point out to the member for Timberlea-Prospect is that the snow removal budget for this year was considerably exceeded by about $4 million or $5 million. That is very, very bad news because of the fact that the money spent on snow removal in any given year has to come from somewhere. It comes from the same budget that supplies money for other maintenance functions, such as pothole repairs, putting up guardrails and looking after culverts and shoulders, et cetera.
The numbers the members see there year after year, if you could keep going back into old books, you will find it has been somewhere around the order of $32 million every year is about the average amount of money that we spend on ice and snow control. This year we are very close to that number, I think we are actually at $34 million total, compared to about $31 million last year, but to that we have to add operational support. When you add all those things together you will find that actually our expenditure this year will be roughly the same as it has been year after year. There has been some change in the numbers shown for snowplowing, for salting and sanding, that appears that there is less money there than was in our estimate last year, not our forecast, in the estimate, but that is simply because of an accounting change where some of that money has gone into operational support, rather than going directly into the cost of plowing, salting and sanding.
MR. ESTABROOKS: The operational support money under winter includes some of that money, that was the explanation? (Interruptions) Okay, thank you.
The Auditor General feels that it is important for government departments to produce annual general reports. The Department of Transportation and Public Works last released an annual report, from the records that I have been informed of, in 1992-93. You or your staff can correct me if I am wrong on that. Mr. Minister, do you think it would be appropriate to follow the direction of the Auditor General and that each year your department should have the responsibility of producing an annual report?
MR. RUSSELL: There are two parts to this question, one is do I think it is a good idea to have an annual report? I am very much divided in my opinion and I will tell you why in a moment. Are we going to have annual reports? Yes we are because we are required to now by the Treasury and Policy Board directive, that federal departments will provide for the Legislature an annual report. However, getting back to annual reports, are they worth the money of producing them? I am not too sure, in fact, I think an annual report probably should just be five or six pages of foolscap, run off on the Xerox machine and distributed.
Annual reports cost a lot of money and they are very slim reports that don't really contain all that much in the way of information that isn't already available, it is just compiled in one place. Having said that, we are going to produce annual reports and we are going to have to pay for them. There also has been adverse comment from the Auditor General in years past about the cost of annual reports, so I think there are two sides of the story.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to share my time at this stage of my questions with the member for Halifax Fairview.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview. You have 18 minutes.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, as I am sure you are aware, my constituency is primarily an urban constituency. There are only small parts of provincial roads within my constituency, a portion of Northwest Arm Drive and also a portion of the Bicentennial Highway. That portion of the Bicentennial Highway has been an irritant of long-standing to the residents of School Avenue in my constituency. For people who aren't aware of School Avenue, I am sure they have seen it, as one goes down the hill connecting to Bayers Road, on the left-hand side and the north side of the Bicentennial Highway is a street of residents who are my constituents. Their concerns have been raised before and I would like to raise them again.
Mr. Minister, I took the unusual step, I think, of giving you advance notice of these questions in the hope it would give your staff time to look into the questions I wanted to raise. To a large extent, the problems of School Avenue relate to the fact that the municipality and the province are arguing over who is responsible. While the residents put up with concerns of noise, dirt and a whole variety of concerns that come with living right beside a major highway, the municipality says it is the province's responsibility and the
province says it is the municipality's responsibility and, meanwhile, over the course of more than several years, nothing has been done.
The first question I would like to pose to the minister is this. Does your department know or does it have a position on where exactly the dividing line is between municipal responsibility and provincial responsibility for that portion of the Bicentennial Highway?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the member for giving me advance notice, because obviously if we are talking about School Avenue, it might not mean very much to anybody, but having advance notice we know where it is. I also happen to know where School Avenue is because I, too, went knocking on doors up School Avenue, not with the honourable member opposite but with some other aspirant of a few years ago.
To answer that specific question, School Avenue does belong to the province. It does at the moment; it may not always, but at the present time it is our responsibility.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for the answer. I would ask the member for Halifax Fairview if he would yield the floor to the member for Dartmouth North for an introduction.
MR. STEELE: I certainly will.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the member for Halifax Fairview, as well as the minister, for the time. Once again there is another group of Grade 6 students here from Shannon Park School today. They are here with their leaders, Michele LeClaire, Suzanne Kennedy and Mary Edwards. They are here taking a tour of one of Canada's oldest Legislative Assemblies. They are here now watching the process in work. I want to advise them, although all members may not be present, that we are in budget estimates now, and that budget estimates take place in two areas, one, the Legislative Chamber and in another place, the Red Room. The Minister of Transportation and Public Works is now having questions put to him by members of the Opposition Parties.
Mr. Chairman, if we could give a great hand of welcome to those Shannon Park School Grade 6 students, again, I would greatly appreciate it. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would also like to welcome you here this morning.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Minister, I want to make sure that I am crystal clear about your answer. Is it the province's position that you own not only the Bicentennial Highway and not only the fence dividing the highway from School Avenue but also School Avenue itself. Is that your position?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, when the Department of Transportation and Public Works acquired the right of way for the Bicentennial Highway, they also acquired School Avenue. The property still belongs to the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and we own the fence. However, if he is referring to who looks after the street at the present time, that is the responsibility of the HRM.
MR. STEELE: Since it is the province's undisputed position that it owns the fence dividing the Bicentennial Highway and School Avenue - and just for those people who don't know, the only division at the moment is a chain-link fence that is in rather poor condition - will the department consider, as a capital project, some kind of landscaping or some kind of soundproof barrier or some kind of improvement to the wholly inadequate fence that currently divides the residents of School Avenue from a major provincial highway?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, there have been ongoing discussions about the fence for a long time. In fact, I was made aware of that problem, as I said, when I was on the street knocking on doors. It only came back to my mind that that was the street after I got the briefing note from staff in response to your particular memo. The issue of putting up some kind of a sound barrier has been investigated by the department. Unfortunately, the existing chain-link fence is going to remain there as long as we have the present budgetary restrictions that we have.
We have had ongoing talks with the HRM about a variety of subjects, as I was saying to the member for Timberlea-Prospect, with regard to certain responsibilities. This is one of the responsibilities that we are talking about with HRM. There may be a solution to this problem in the offing; however, at the present time, I can't suggest to the honourable member what it would be.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, to the minister again, it is apparent to me that not everyone on School Avenue would like, necessarily, a soundproof barrier; there is some consideration of the effect that it would have on the view and other considerations about how it would affect the street. One thing that I believe all the residents can agree on is that the fence as it currently exists is an eyesore and a garbage catcher. Will the department consider some kind of landscaping or other improvement to the fence that would cost far less than a proper soundproof barrier but would go a long way towards addressing the concerns of the residents?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, that is a very sensible suggestion. Certainly, it is one that can be considered. At the present time, as I said, we don't have the funding available to do anything. However, I don't want the member to assume that because we can't do it this year it is off the program for next year, not necessarily. We will try to do something with that, because we recognize there is a problem there. We hope we can do it in concert with
the funding from HRM, perhaps we can't, but we will try to do something in the foreseeable future.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Minister, I appreciate that very much, and I am sure the residents of School Avenue will as well. My last question on this subject, before I turn our time back to the member for Timberlea-Prospect is, what are the department's future plans for that portion of the Bicentennial Highway? By way of background, it has been suggested to me that because the department has a long-term plan to widen the Bicentennial Highway, which would involve expropriating some or all of School Avenue, that that is the reason why the province has had no particular interest over the years in actually spending money on improvements. My question to the minister is, what are the department's plans for the medium to long-term, and do they include the possibility of widening the Bicentennial Highway, that portion of it that passes School Avenue?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, no plans exist at the present time, and I don't believe there is any thought within the department for doing that. Quite frankly, we just don't have the money now and we will not have the money in the foreseeable future to do that particular project, if it was required.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, at this point, I would like to turn our time back to the member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, the department has the responsibility for, I assume, air quality in buildings, and as you mentioned before, the Johnston Building, and the excellent work that is being done there by, I want you to know, Mr. Minister, two graduates of Sir John A. Macdonald High School, both of whom I had the pleasure of teaching, the Morash - I want to call them boys, but they are men now. Coastal Restoration is involved in that project. Of course, most government buildings are old, or some are, and there are potential air quality problems. I would like to ask you what standards are being used to test the buildings for which your department is responsible?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the department, when requested, goes out and checks the air quality in the buildings, and we try to maintain a standard that is acceptable as the best practice for air quality.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, on this topic, of course, there are many government buildings that are accessible to disabled citizens of this province. I would like to ask what plans the department has to make more buildings that we are responsible for completely accessible. Do we have money in the budget to continue this process?
MR. RUSSELL: Just one moment, perhaps I better read the briefing note to make sure that I am giving the honourable member the correct information. The executive director of the Disabled Persons Commission approached Transportation and Public Works in 1997 to seek support for a program that would ensure barrier-free access. From that time forward to the present, persons with disabilities benefit equally from all services that are offered to the public. In other words, those services that require face-to-face presentation with the public, we are giving those particular facilities the number one priority. I think that the majority of that work has been done.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, if I read your lips correctly, I have four minutes left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, you read my lips correctly.
MR. ESTABROOKS: It is amazing. I have read your lips many times. It is the first time you have ever said four minutes to me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, and now you have approximately 3 minutes.
MR. ESTABROOKS: And you are cutting into my time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to talk for a moment on an issue of some concern, the close connection between tourism routes and the importance of the decisions which your department has to make with regard to the maintenance of roads. You have heard me, many times, Mr. Minister, speak about a recurring problem at a very prominent - it is sort of ghoulish to say it this way - tourist destination of the Swissair Memorial site. There, of course, are three of them. One at The Whalesback, one across the bay over on the Blandford side and, of course, the other one, which you have no responsibility for when it comes to roads because it is the third point in the triangle and it is actually out where Flight 111 went down.
Mr. Minister, could you tell me of any plans or confirm that your department has a solution for the parking problem that continues to grow as Nova Scotians and people from throughout the world stop at the Swissair Memorial at The Whalesback in Indian Harbour?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it is hard to say that this is a tourist attraction but, in point of fact, it is in some way an attraction along Highway No. 333 to this memorial to Flight 111. I don't think anybody truly believed that there would be traffic generated specifically to go out and view that particular memorial. As a result, our parking facilities out there are very limited and people have taken to parking on the highway and that has created problems. I know that we have had representations from the honourable member and we
have had representations from the RCMP. We have had representations from the Peggy's Cove Commission to do something.
I must confess that, for a time, we didn't think that we could do anything simply because of space and because of the fact that you had to get from the parking lot onto Route 333 and do it with a sufficient line of sight to do it safely. However, it was looked at by the department and a solution has been found. I believe we are increasing the parking lot from 6 to 20. The number is larger anyway. I think it is 20 spaces, however, I may be incorrect and it is hoped that that work will get underway very shortly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The NDP caucuses' time has expired and thank you for your contribution.
MR. ESTABROOKS: On a point of personal privilege, if that is appropriate, Mr. Minister, I would like to thank you for responding to that need and I would like to thank your department for making that a priority. It is much appreciated. Thank you for your time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just to clarify some unfortunate ambiguity that seems to exist regarding that particular contract, R. Hurlburt. That was a tendered contract, was it not?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, yes, it was.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, I ask that because anyone that has run a business will certainly appreciate the fact that, irrespective of who you are, if you tender and you win that tender, then I don't think you should be unfairly chastised. I think it is very unfortunate that a member of this House has been treated with that type of disregard. I wanted to go on the record for that. It would be a little different if he was a member of the Executive Council or has some type of an extended relationship in that regard. So I wanted to go on the record because that is certainly not indicative of any reasoned business person that would treat an individual or a company in such an unfair fashion.
Let's go on to some detail that I would like to secure from the minister and his department. Under the Aid to Towns heading for the upcoming budget, I notice that there are no figures in this. Has that been eliminated?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, there were two programs: the Aid to Towns program and Aid to Municipalities. The Aid to Towns program, we provided the Nova Scotia Union of Municipalities one year's notice and the program is no longer in existence as of April 1, 2001. The Aid to Municipalities is still in place, however, there is no money in that program either, simply because we have placed that program in abeyance for the time being.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister indicated the RIM program that he has budgeted for this year, has he allotted on a county-by-county basis how that particular money is going to be divvied up and, if so, would he provide the details of it?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, in response to the honourable member, the area managers and the OS's in the districts have been advised of the amount of money they have and now it is a matter of them formulating whatever their particular plans are for their particular districts.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, does the minister have the figures that are being provided to each of these divisions?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we don't have them here but I have no difficulty at all in providing them to the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, under capital construction, the primary focus for myself would be repaving because the minister has indicated no new paving and I would think that would be quite unfortunate for a lot of the stakeholders across rural Nova Scotia. Just because they live on a gravel road, they still pay taxes much the same as those that are on paved roads. I know there has been quite a philosophy within the bureaucracy of the Department of Transportation and Public Works that seems to reflect what the minister had stated earlier about not supporting any new pavement. I think that philosophy is misguided, to say the least. In some cases, I can certainly appreciate what the minister is saying and the fact that we have so many paved roads that are in a deteriorating state.
I would also like to suggest that all those that are living on gravel roads pay taxes too. Sometimes the movement of dollars around on these shared agreements between the federal government and the province aren't necessarily going in the right direction as per the intent, as best as I can determine, at times, not all the time but sometimes. That is, perhaps, because the province is trying to make do, at best, with limited dollars.
With regard to repaving, does the minister have a breakdown as to what repaving projects - I guess that would be capital - he has lined up for this fiscal year? If so, will he provide that detail for the committee?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would like to speak about, before I get down to the paving contracts, the business of paving of gravel roads and the condition of gravel roads. As the member rightly pointed out, everybody pays taxes if they live on a road, however, the taxes they pay are being paid to the municipal unit not to the provincial government. There is, if you like, a little bit of a twist there from the point of view that taxpayers pay taxes to the Department of Transportation and Public Works through licenses, registration and gasoline taxes. It is unfair. Life, I suppose, is just not fair.
People who live on subdivision roads that were put in place after 1996, now the subdivider is required to pave those roads, prior to that they were not. Prior to the present, the Department of Transportation and Public Works used to cost share with the municipal unit to pave those roads that were in existence before 1996, which are classified as subdivision roads. When we cut this program, this aid to municipalities and didn't fund it - and the same thing with towns - what we are doing to residents on those gravel roads within subdivisions is we are saying, look, we are not going to help you, at least not at the present moment.
That certainly doesn't seem to be fair. I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, we don't have the funding available to be fair to everybody. What we have to do is to pave the main arteries that are going to get people from A to B and onto the 100-Series Highways, if they have to use the 100-Series Highways. It is not fair, I admit, however, that is the way it is.
With regard to the last question, as to paving, the paving program for this year is going to be limited, the same as it was last year. I really can't say anything more than that. Some tenders have been put out, there are some tenders that have not yet come to the attention of the contractors because they haven't been decided on and advertised, and there will be some tenders that will have to be put off until the fall. It would be nice, as I said a long time ago when we started this discussion, to have enough money just to maintain the system, and to do that we need about two and a half times the amount of money that we presently have, and we just don't have it.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I want to comment on the minister's comment on my observation on the gravel roads, because a lot of these individuals pay fuel tax as well. They pay provincial tax, they pay federal tax, it is not just municipal property tax. I wanted to leave that with the minister, that we are not a little misguided here, and I think the minister knows that. Would the minister be able to indicate the total number of dollars he has committed, province-wide, for repaving this year?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the amount is approximately $57 million for repaving and bridges. Bridges fall into that category, too. We have 2,000-plus bridges, I believe? (Interruptions) We have 3,500 bridges in this province. Many of them - and when I say many I mean hundreds of those bridges - are 100 years old, so we do have to spend a considerable amount of money on repair, replacement and maintenance of those bridges, they take money out of paving.
MR. MACKINNON: What the minister has just said is thanks to the Government of George Murray we had all these good bridges built, that good Liberal Government back in 1901. It is good that the minister acknowledges that the Liberals built all these bridges that would last for so long. I would encourage the minister to take up the challenge there. That having been said, out of the $57 million, does the minister have any idea what percentage of dollars is going to go to bridges and what percentage is going to repaving?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, a couple of points. One, he was talking about gravel roads, and although we are not spending paving dollars on those roads, we are, of course, spending money on the upgrading and gravelling, et cetera. As a matter of fact, there was a question asked of me yesterday by you, Mr. Chairman, with regard to gravel roads and the application of chloride. As I am sure all rural members know, if you get the chloride on the road and then you go in and gravel the road or you grade the road extensively, then you lose the effect of the chloride treatment. The question was asked, whether or not chloride treatment is covered or could be included in the RIM Program, and yes, it can. When the road is gravelled, then a chloride treatment would be placed on the road, which helps stabilize the surface and, of course, contributes to keeping down the dust.
In relation to bridges and repaving, I said $57 million for capital, actually that is $57 million for repaving, and there is an additional $10 million for bridge projects. The honourable member and any member who has a pencil handy might be interested in this, which was just generated in the last couple of days. This is the funding distribution of RIM money: in the western district, $3.1 million; in the central district, $1.7 million; in the northern district, $2.4 million; and in the eastern district, $2.7 million, for a total of $10 million dollars.
MR. MACKINNON: That is $2.7 million in the eastern, that is on bridges, is that correct?
MR. RUSSELL: This is RIM money, those numbers that I gave for the districts.
MR. MACKINNON: Does the minister have a breakdown of the $57 million on a region-by-region basis?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, first of all, we have $57 million for repaving. Our number one priority in this province, and I know that living in a rural area that is some distance away - right now, I am living in downtown Windsor, I am close to Highway No. 101, but normally I live some distance from Highway No. 101, and I know that paving projects on the 100-Series Highways sometimes aren't the top priority for rural members. Unfortunately - I shouldn't say unfortunately, but we do as a requirement have to provide the funding to keep that 100-Series Highways system in good repair, because if the 100-Series Highways system ever gets down to a state where we have to rebuild, well, we will never catch up.
What we have to do, every year, is allocate sufficient money to maintain that system, at least to its present standard, not upgraded necessarily but just to keep it to its present standard. That costs us something in the order of about $20 million that comes out of our capital program. In other words, of the $57 million that we have, you automatically deduct something like $20 million or $22 million, which has to go on the 100-Series Highways. You are left with something in the order of about $35 million for the secondary roads.
That money is then broken up into the districts, according to the priorities within the districts, from the priorities that members have given to me as individual priorities. We try to endeavour to do our very best to meet as many of those demands as we possibly can. We can't meet them all in one year. There are some years where you are going to have a dearth of tenders, other years you are going to do rather well.
It is my hope - and I won't be around, I don't think, to see this - that we are eventually going to get to the stage where they got to in Saskatchewan this year. In the Province of Saskatchewan they had roads, and it is hard to believe but they were worse than the roads in Nova Scotia; they were in dreadful shape. In Saskatchewan they have turned the corner and they are now getting into budgetary surpluses, and they allocated additional funding to the Department of Transportation.
Mr. Chairman, they increased their capital budget for paving by $170 million this year, and they intend to do that for the next five years. They have the same problem we have, so we have to get to that stage too, and we will because we have to. We have to maintain the highway system because people drive cars, and when people drive cars they have to have highways, and they have to have highways that are reasonable to drive on. I am sure that you all, as members of this House, get letters and phone calls from people who say look, I was driving down such and such a road, I hit a pothole, lost a tire and bent my rim. I need an alignment, the bill is $300, and I would like to sue the Department of Transportation and Public Works to get that $300 back.
Unfortunately, if we had to fulfill every one of those claims against the Department of Transportation and Public Works, claims that are made, then we wouldn't have any money left to do anything else. All we can do at the present time is put up a sign that says there is a bump ahead and for people to drive cautiously. Now that we are into the spring, we can start on our annual pothole repair and upgrading to the extent that we can with the money that we have.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his rather lengthy dissertation, but he still didn't answer my question. My question was, does he have a breakdown on a region-by-region basis of - well, if you are dealing with the $35 million, do we know how much is going to each of the regions for this fiscal year?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I can't answer that question at the moment because, as I said, the money and the tenders are not all out. Some, as I say, are going to stretch into the fall. At the end of the year I can probably give you an indication of the amount of money that was spent in any riding across the province - well, I say any riding, yes, I guess I can, across the province - but I can't at the present moment.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister indicated that the district superintendents, or engineers I guess, from the various regions submitted their priority lists. Naturally, my focus would be on the eastern region. My understanding is that the number-one priority for the eastern region, in my community at least, was Highway No. 327, at least a portion of that for repaving. Are there any plans to fulfill any of that request? This particular highway - it is what they call the Marion Bridge Highway, between Sydney and Marion Bridge - I think it has been identified as the number-one priority in that entire region. Quite frankly, it is almost 30 years since any amount of substantive work has been done, and that was under different flags, for what it is worth.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, as a matter of fact, again it is a road that I am familiar with because I met with some people just two days ago, in the House, who just happened to have raised a petition relative to that particular road. The point that the honourable member made, that it is so many years since the road was paved, is interesting because you can go across this province and you can find some roads that were paved 35, 45, 50 years ago and they are still - I won't say as good as they were when they were paved, but they are still - good, usable roads without too many problems. You can go out to some other areas and you can find a road that was paved maybe only five years ago, and this spring that road is all broken up, potholes and what have you.
This is something that we, as a department, have to look at because, quite obviously, we should try to get at least 25 years out of a road. It is possible; it can be done. It may cost us a little more to get those kinds of roads, but in the long term it is going to pay off. There are new techniques, new types of asphalt, new types of paving products that are out today which we are looking at. In fact, the honourable member, if he is driving back to Cape Breton, as he is driving along Highway No. 102, he will notice that there are areas where they say a pilot project for paving or something of that nature, these are areas where we are conducting tests on different types of asphalt, different mixtures, different formulations to determine what kind of asphalt is best suited to that particular area, but it is only suitable for that particular area, and that is an important point.
We have to get a lot more knowledge about the substructure of the right-of-way in the future when we are going to be talking about building roads and repaving roads. In some areas of the province, for instance, we can do sandsealing, we can do chipsealing, and it works wonderfully; in other areas you do that same thing and it doesn't last any longer than a year. Mr. Chairman, I suppose what I am saying is the age of a road really isn't indicative of whether or not it should be paved. What is indicative of whether or not it should be repaved is whether or not the road is breaking up and in danger of complete collapse.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I believe the minister would readily agree - I concur with his observations - but it has been identified as a top priority. Short and to the point, will any of that highway be repaved this year? Part or all? Quite frankly, from the minister's comments, I would suspect not all, but there are some really terrible sections. It is 10 kilometres - the first kilometre coming from Marion Bridge back towards Sydney and a couple of kilometres coming out of Sydney towards Marion Bridge, they are the worst. It is so bad this year that people are actually losing their mufflers because of the depth of the frost bumps. They are dragging the undercarriage of their car.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I might as well give the honourable member the bad news first, I guess. It will not be paved this year, quite frankly. However, that doesn't mean that we don't accept it as being a priority. A priority in one district has to compete with priorities in other districts because we are trying to solve problems all across this province. I can really appreciate the feelings that people have, who are so upset if you like, with the current state of their roads that they would travel from Marion Bridge to the Legislature down here to get, I think I gave them 15 to 30 minutes of my time, and then travel back again. These people, they have a concern, and I recognize their concern. I wish I could solve their concerns, but at the present time, as I said, we just can't do that.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it is not good news, but at least the minister was honest enough to state it clearly, right up front. Out of the $35 million, how much will be spent in Cape Breton County this fiscal year? Surely to heavens, the minister must have some idea of what will be spent in Cape Breton County.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't have that number. However, what I will try to do is have the department generate a number that will approximate what we will spend there in this fiscal year; it will only be an approximation. I presume that we can do that, can we? We can do that.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, in the Tory blue book, the government promised that they would develop a 10 year plan for the completion of the 100-Series Highways. Has that plan been completed yet? If so, would the minister make it available?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, in response to the member's question. The plan is completed as such, there are a few little tiddly bits in front, a letter from myself, et cetera, those kinds of things to be added to it. I had hoped that it would actually be tabled in the House about a week ago, but it wasn't ready. I was just speaking to the deputy and it will be ready, I am told, very, very soon. If the honourable member knows the term "very, very soon" he knows how soon that is, so I will leave that with him.
MR. MACKINNON: There was a Premier in this province who used to say that every time he stood up, and I believe the honourable minister sat in his Cabinet; I guess it is rubbing off a bit. The government, also in this blue book, indicated that in the second year
of its mandate it would dedicate all the fuel tax towards highway improvement, capital construction, maintenance, bridges, what have you, and I notice that is not being done. Is there any particular reason?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we generate about $220 million from motive fuels, including registrations and licenses, et cetera. At the present time, we are slightly shy of that amount. Our target will be met, I can assure the honourable member; however meeting that target doesn't mean anything, to be quite honest, because it doesn't represent sufficient money to do the job that has to be done by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
We will get to that 100 per cent of the amount generated by motive fuel taxes and licenses and registrations, we will do that I would think by the end of next year. Okay, by the end of the term we will certainly be there. It would be my hope, to be quite honest, that we can get a lot more money than that in the forthcoming year, because we have to. It is just that we have to get the kind of injection of funds that for instance the Province of Saskatchewan got, what other provinces are ramping up to.
The target is a good one. It means something to people who say we buy fuel, we pay taxes, those taxes should go to maintaining the highway system, and I agree. It still isn't enough though, we need more on top of that.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, what the minister is saying is that the government will not meet its commitment of the Tory blue book to have 100 per cent of the fuel tax going toward roads this year, but it will at the end of its term. That could be a year, a year and a half, maybe a two year delay; we are off target there. Approximately how much is collected on this fuel tax, and what percentage goes into roads and what percentage goes into general revenues?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the amount generated in provincial fuel tax is $220 million. The feds also have a tax and it brings in $137 million, and those are year 2000-01 figures. Vehicle licensing and registration fees account for another $61.5 million, so the provincial government receives, if you will, in the combination of fuel taxes and registration and licensing, $281 million. TPW expenses are $242 million, almost $243 million, and from that we take away the amortization - in other words the amount of money that is spread over years for amortizing - of $43 million, and we add capital spending of $50.9 million, which gives us a TPW expenditure for this year of $250.1 million. The commitment that is required to reach the commitment made in the blue book is another $31.3 million. We are meeting $11 million of those this year.
MR. MACKINNON: The increase of gasoline and fuel, home heating fuel and so on, as of late, as we all know, has taken a bit of a jump. Has the government calculated the additional revenues that will be generated because of this unexpected increase?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that answer is probably better forthcoming from the Minister of Finance, however it is true that the province has picked up an additional amount from fuel taxes this year. I should also warn the member that what the Minister of Finance said is absolutely true, as the price of fuel goes up consumption goes down. It doesn't go down as much as the fuel price goes up, but nevertheless you do not capture, from the same number of litres, the additional profit.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, last September the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities held a meeting, and apparently there was a provincial draft report presented to the delegates which essentially stated the province wanted to download responsibility for 12,000 kilometres of road to the municipalities by the year 2005. Would the minister be kind enough to apprise members of the committee as to the status of that particular proposal that was presented to the UNSM?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I am delighted to answer that question because there is a lot of incorrect information circulating among the municipal units and other people with regard to what actually occurred. First of all, it was not - it was not, it was not, again - a provincial initiative, it is was not an initiative by the Department of Transportation and Public Works, by the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, or any other arm of government; that proposition came forward from a committee that was struck between the municipal units of the UNSM and provincial officials. They were looking at service exchange. I don't think I am going to have to go through chapter and verse of service exchange before this House, because I think everybody is aware of what that was about.
MR. JERRY PYE: I'm not . . .
MR. RUSSELL: You are not? I thought you invented it, honourable member for Dartmouth North.
This committee, as I said, made up of municipal members from the UNSM and members of staff of various government departments were looking at things that could possibly be moved around and the responsibility perhaps picked up by either the province or the municipal unit. One of the many things that was on the table at that time was roads. They were discussing roads, but there was absolutely no intent to do anything; it was simply a proposition that they brought forward to the attention of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. That is the committee struck by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities that reported to the Union what they had found out about various things, various services that could be exchanged and, as I said, one of them was roads.
Somehow, when that report was released to the union, it was immediately circulated to all the mayors and wardens and councillors around the province and everybody jumped to the conclusion that the government was trying to download roads onto municipalities. It is completely, utterly untrue; that was not the intention and is not the intention at the present
time. If indeed the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities wants to come and discuss with us about taking over something from the government and, in return, the government take over some roads, we are willing to discuss those things, but at the present time it is just simply something that has been generated by a committee within the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. It is not being discussed, I don't believe, actively by the Department of Transportation and Public Works or by Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations or by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. Nothing is going to happen, at the moment anyway.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister is very clever, at the very end he says "at the moment." So really what he is trying to tell all members of the committee is to stay tuned, because there could be something in the near future. That is a relative term, but we will leave it at that, and move on to another topic because he seems to be getting a little exercised on this one. I was quite surprised how exercised he did become.
With regard to Highway No. 104, the Cobequid Pass agreement apparently is somewhat - I don't know all the particulars myself, but I understand that it is somewhat - of an omnibus agreement and there is a provision in that agreement that would make provision to forgo the 50 cent increase in the tolls which occurred last January. Given the fact that the traffic volume is such that they are well beyond the projections made when the highway was opened, would the minister be kind enough to explain why he did not exercise his option to forgo that 50 cent increase?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, going back to my previous answer, I said not at this time at the end because, obviously, sometime in the future, long after I am dead and buried, they may decide to do something, and I wouldn't like at that time to be accused of having misled the House. Within this term with this government anyway, let me say that it is not our intention to proceed with that.
Getting back to the Cobequid Pass, the honourable member said that it was an option that we had. It was not an option, it was in the agreement that the previous government - of which he was a member - signed and there was a requirement in that for periodic increases of tariff, as well as periodic increases because of cost-of-living increases in the province. So we had no option, except that the corporation could have gone to the individual bond holders and asked them to waive that particular fee increase, however we didn't have the option to say no, we are not going to pay it.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I guess we will have to agree to disagree because that is not my understanding.
Back in November 1998, the Minister of Economic Development, who is the member for Digby-Annapolis - I believe I have the right constituency - tabled a petition in this House calling for completion of Highway No. 101 from Digby to Weymouth by the year 2000. I believe the honourable minister endorsed that petition at that juncture. Would the minister
be kind enough to apprise the committee as to what progress has been made with regard to that resolution?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I thought we might have carried on with the Cobequid Pass for a moment or two because I really didn't (Interruption) Well, it was good for me. I didn't mean to really stop there because I think it is important to point out that whereas the road itself was amortized over, I believe it was a 30 year period with the original agreement, that amortization period now, because of that increase in payments, is down to something like 15 or 16 years. If things continue, that period will continue to decrease and, at that time, we can finally tear down the toll booths at the Cobequid Pass, and that would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Coming back to Highway No. 101 and the section that is between Digby and Weymouth. As the honourable knows, you come to a grinding halt just after the overpass into Digby because the road then just follows the coast down to Weymouth before you cut back to the new highway, Highway No. 101. That section in between, Mr. Chairman, is slated to be completed, I believe it is in our 10 year program. It is part of the national highway system, so it is eligible for federal government funding and, again, it is contingent upon receiving that funding from the federal government.
We have however, I believe, identified the route and we are in the process of acquiring some land down there along that route so we will be able to complete the highway when we want to. We are, at the moment, hiring a consultant to carry out an environmental impact assessment on the route and that process should be completed by the fall of 2002. One of the bugbears of the national highway system is the fact that you not only have to meet the provincial environmental standards, you also have to meet the federal environmental standards. If the two worked hand in hand, it would be fine and dandy, however the federal requirements are different. They are not necessarily more strict, but they are different to our requirements, and as a result of that, once we have completed our assessment, then we have to do another assessment to meet the federal standards.
So it is a long, involved process, I can tell you that personally. When I was getting re-elected in 1999, I know that I made several statements about Highway No. 101 and how we would be out there with the bulldozers the day after the election. As a matter of fact, regardless of whether we had the money or not, we couldn't do that because we still hadn't completed the federal environmental survey, which had changed between the original routing and survey back in 1993, I believe it was, and 1999 when we came back to government. So we have to start off back at square one and go through the environmental process.
That was in the fall of 1999. I can tell you today that there are still some areas on that route, I believe there are two short areas on that route that still have not received final environmental approval. We have had approval to move forward and do certain things admittedly, but however there are still two points that have got to be resolved. So it is a long,
involved process. So when we say that we are starting the process now, that doesn't mean that we can build that section of Highway No. 101 in the very near future, it is going to four or five years down the road.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just a little sidebar on that. I suspect the honourable minister, during the campaign, forgot to mention that little tidbit about the environmental requirements to his constituents. Well, in fairness, it wasn't the Opposition here that said he was going to be on the dozer the day after the election and building the road, it was another . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Tell him his apology is accepted.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, yes, his apology is accepted and I am sure the good people along Highway No. 101 acknowledge that.
How much time do I have, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member has until 12:10 p.m., or approximately 14 minutes.
MR. MACKINNON: With regard to Cumberland County, I understand back in January there was a request from the Cumberland County Municipal Council to clean up the sewage spilled in the Joggins area. To be honest, I don't know all the details of it, but I understand that request was made. Has the department taken any action on this particular issue, the request by Cumberland County Municipal Council? If so, what?
MR. RUSSELL: As the honourable member said, to be honest he didn't know about the concern, and to be honest I don't know either. If he could provide me with some details, I am sure I could probably get him an answer, although it may still be within the Department of Environment, not yet with the Department of Transportation.
MR. MACKINNON: Yesterday morning I had a rather interesting discussion with a constituent of mine who is a retired coal miner, he lives in the Mira district, he is from New Waterford originally, worked in No. 20 and No. 18, and No. 26 eventually. He indicated to me, with regard to the Sydney tar ponds, a rather interesting proposal. It may sound a little off the beaten track, but the more I think about it the more perhaps there is some substance to what the gentleman says, some merit. The fact that we have these abandoned coal mines in Cape Breton, anywhere from 700 to 800 feet beneath the ocean bed, has any consideration been given to the possibility of taking a lot of this toxic sludge and loading it on rail cars and taking it to these abandoned mine sites, or at least one of them anyway, and containing it within the utilized coal seams?
MR. RUSSELL: As the honourable member, being from the Sydney area, probably recognizes, the JAG went out for proposals about 10 months to a year ago and received a large number of proposals as to how to best clean up the tar ponds and the coke ovens site and what have you. They are down to 10 different methodologies that they have under consideration, and some of them are quite innovative and quite different to what we normally think of as being the normal way of dealing with an environmental problem such as that. I don't know if, among that group, there is one that says we should pump the contents of the tar ponds down into a mine; I don't know. Certainly, I think that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, they will decide on what process they are going to use and hopefully we will resolve this problem once and for all.
The most innovative suggestion that I have heard for cleaning up the problem is simply that - as I say, they had 26 organizations that came forward with a plan to cure the problem and they sent to 10 of those proponents a sample from the tar ponds to see whether or not their process would work. These samples were quite small and somebody came up with a suggestion that we should actually send about 20 tanker loads to each one of these proponents for testing and that way we would probably drain the tar ponds and we would have no problem. So, there are ways, I suppose, of tackling the problem that can be described as thinking outside the box, and putting the stuff down in coal mines I suppose is one of them.
MR. MACKINNON: I realize my time is getting a little short and I really haven't gotten into the Public Works side of the department. The minister indicated the extensive number of complaints that come in due to auto damage, whether it be broken rims or mufflers or windshields, or whatever. Would the minister be able to give us a number, a breakdown, on that particular information? I have a pretty good idea of the figure in terms of dollars that are paid out, but the total number of actual claims and the total number of claims that the department settles with?
MR. RUSSELL: We get approximately 1,000 claims a year against the department for damage to rims and wheels and tires and shocks and windshields and what have you. The numbers that are accepted as being the responsibility for the department is quite small. I can probably get you that number, I would think. Yes, we can get you that number of successful claims.
MR. MACKINNON: On a local issue. It is Highway No. 22, extending from Sydney to Louisbourg, and it is generally referred to as the parkway because of its distinction, leading to the Fortress of Louisbourg. Has there been any discussion between the province and the federal government in terms of repaving that or doing some upgrading? This year I think, checking with the local staff, you will find that it is probably the worst that it has ever, ever been. Even the snowplow operators are having such a hard time to plow it because it
was that rough. It is one, I understand, that would certainly require some federal involvement. Is there any discussion or anything in the works in the not too distant future in terms of trying to address the state of this highway?
MR. RUSSELL: The honourable member is speaking about Highway No. 22? I shouldn't be asking you the question but, when you say federal involvement, do you mean because of the fact of Fortress Louisbourg? There are no ongoing talks that I know of anyway. The roads to tourist attractions are of considerable interest to me; that, and roads to resources. I think that our tourism industry is of sufficient importance to us today that we can treat our road to a tourist attraction, such as Fortress Louisbourg, as being the same as a road to a mine or to a person who is bottling water or something of that nature.
I really believe that we have to do something and if we can get the federal government involved - where it is a federal attraction - then I think it would be great. To my knowledge, there are no ongoing conversations with regard to Route 22. However, I am sure the honourable member is aware that Route 4 is one that has been the subject of a lot of discussion of late and probably sometime in the future - and I am not saying when, but sometime in the future - we are going to have to take a look at the route between St. Peter's and Sydney.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on that note, I would like to acknowledge and thank the minister for following through with the commitment that had been made. When we were in power - I think we did six or seven kilometres through the Big Pond area and, of course, as the minister well knows, I mean, you put two tractor-trailers beside each other from west coast mirror to west coast mirror, that that is actually wider than the width of the asphalt. That is how deadly that highway can be in some places. The fact that the department is taking those rough turns out of there this year, from my perspective, I would say you are certainly saving lives or preventing some serious injury there. It is because of the increased traffic and it is just not stopping.
I would ask the minister if he would be kind enough to raise this issue of Route 22 with his federal counterpart at the next opportunity, or if he would be kind enough to at least send some correspondence. At least raise the flag, recognizing that there are a lot of other competing demands but the fact that this is about the single largest economic generator we have in that area, it is starting to show it is strained. Tourism numbers, I think, will start to suffer if we don't start taking some steps to do something. The ill-fated Fleur-de-lis Trail project seemed to have hit a brick wall, so that obviously shifts the focus back over on Route 22 and puts considerable pressure there to have something done. One of the two things has to be addressed, otherwise we are going to lose the economic benefits that would be realized otherwise.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works has a little over two minutes left in this session.
MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We were talking about whether or not there are ongoing discussions and I said no, there are not. This matter was raised, maybe somewhat obliquely, with Intergovernmental Affairs, who are conducting quite a bit of traffic between various ministries and the province at the present time. It is certainly one worth pursuing.
I was also talking about roads to resources and that kind of thing, and this is where there is a spillover between departments. For instance, my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, we have had a number of discussions, and at the deputy minister level there have been a number of discussions as to how we can encourage the Department of Economic Development and all their funding bodies outside of government to perhaps inject some money into the Department of Transportation and Public Works to do work that will accommodate the traffic needs of industrial development around the province. It's a very real need for industry that wants to develop a plant or mine or some other type of business that is going to generate a lot of truck traffic to have roads that are available year-round. At the present time, that isn't so.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West, you have 20 seconds.
MR. MACKINNON: I would like to thank the minister for providing the information he has provided. On the issue of Route 22, I raised this with the Minister of Economic Development during his estimates, and I had requested if he would write a letter to you flagging this as a concern and he refused to do so. So, maybe you could nudge him along, as well. On that note, I want to thank the minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, there are many things one could touch base with the minister on, but I won't go through all of those as others have, there are other issues I want to raise. I just want to touch first of all, if I can, on one particular issue, a local one. Mr. Chairman, I am having trouble and I wonder if the minister can help me locate something. Before now, I know there was a former government, Conservative Government, that had initially made the promise that the Sackville expressway was going to be built from Sackville to the Burnside Industrial Park. As hard as I keep looking, and I haven't gone to the Minister of Tourism's map because I know that it has been defective in the past, but I haven't been able to find the entrance to the Sackville expressway that would join Sackville over to the Burnside Industrial Park.
I am not sure, but I think the current Minister of Transportation might have been the minister of the day back in the late 1990's, and it was even in the 1980's that it had been promised as well. It might have actually been the minister who made the commitment at that time, he was certainly a member of the Executive Council. I am wondering if the minster could tell me, where is the entrance to the Sackville expressway located?
MR. RUSSELL: To answer your question, I don't know. However, I should advise the honourable member that that particular expressway is not on our priority list at the present time.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Chairman, I figured it wasn't on the government's priority list and I am not surprised he doesn't know where the entrance is because it's not there. It ain't been built. I wonder if the minister could tell us when it dropped off the government's priority list and could he give some indication as to when it may get back on it?
MR. RUSSELL: It fell off our priority list, if you will. It wasn't actually on a priority list, it was on a to-do list, like something you would have on the fridge door and it is no longer on the fridge door. It won't get back there again until such time as the finances of the province have improved to the extent that we can get around to doing things of a lesser priority. Quite frankly, that is not a priority item for the government at the present time.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Chairman, I wish that the government of the day had told the people of Sackville when they were out there doing their grandiose announcements that, really, they were just being put on the fridge door. The minster says that it never was a priority, it was just on the fridge door as part of a to-do list. Well, that to-do list had time frames, time frames when various sections of that road were to be built, when the design work was going to be done, the interchanges were going to be done, and people should be motoring along at the present time, according to the on-the-fridge - as the minister calls it - to-do list.
I am sure that his colleague, the member for Bedford-Fall River even would be interested in that, as would his colleague, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank. There is tremendous growth that is going on in those surrounding communities and the existing roadways are getting backed up and backed up tremendously. Magazine Hill has major problems, and if the minister is not aware, check with your department officials and find out how many accidents occur on the Magazine Hill. Many of them may not be reported because they are not major, serious accidents that require hospitalization or where people have been killed, but there are accidents along that road nonetheless. The traffic is often backed up well along the Bedford bypass.
As the growth continues in that area, those problems are getting even greater. The member for Sackville-Beaver Bank can tell you, as well or better than I can, about the amount of growth that is occurring in his constituency, up the Beaver Bank Road, for
example. The member for Bedford-Fall River can tell you about all the growth that is occurring in that area. All of that is putting more traffic.
So, I am wondering if the minister could tell us when that road was supposed to have been finished and when the minister - he was sort of vague in his comments, it will be back on the planning stages sometime when the province's finances permit. That is a catch-all phrase you can use to erase any commitment. I would like to know from the minister, more importantly, the residents who are there and the residents who are moving into these growing areas, approximately when, what stage are we at in the design work? Has the corridor finally been set? I know it had been originally, then there was some rejigging and discussion about changing the route that it was going to go, moving it further away from the quarry that was in the area, different things that would reduce the cost. I would like to have an update, and I think the residents who were promised this road well over 10 years ago have a right to know where that stands at the present time.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it's an excellent question. I have the pleasure of driving the Magazine Hill, normally, on a daily basis and I certainly know what the traffic is like over there. The honourable member is familiar with the envelopes, and I would like to go back to envelope number 1, and opening that up and blaming the previous government. However, that is not going to achieve anything significant. There were a number of projects that were on the front burner back in the early 1990's and this was one of them, along with Highway No. 101, if I may mention it. Those projects got moved further and further back on the burner and some of them have never been resuscitated, and one is the Sackville expressway.
The Sackville expressway was never actually a name of a specific road - it is an extension of Highway No. 107 and it is going to go from Highway No. 102 through to Cobequid Road, as I understand it. We still intend to actually do that project, whether it will be the original route or not, I can't answer. We do have the original routing but, beyond that, we are not going to progress for some time until sufficient money becomes available.
It is a nice project, it is one that is necessary to move people and goods and services expeditiously, but as I said much earlier this day, our funding at the present time has to go to maintaining what we have rather than doing things that are nice and necessary. We are going to have to wait to do those things until the money becomes available. It will be done sometime in the future. I can't say that it is going to be within the next three or four years or something, but perhaps in the next five, six or seven years we could make a start on that project. It is also an expensive project, as the member is well aware.
MR. HOLM: No, I know it wasn't called the Sackville expressway by the department, that is what the people in Sackville referred to it as, of course, because it would be a quick road into the industrial park and, therefore, a much quicker route. I know and I appreciate that it is a Highway No. 107 extension.
If we are talking about orderly development, both for housing and also for industrial development, commercial development, that roadway would have connected the Sackville Industrial Park across to the Burnside Industrial Park, which would make the development in that park, again, that much more viable. It is in an ideal location for many businesses to locate if the proper transportation links are there. There is inconvenience, certainly, as the minister acknowledges he knows, the backups of traffic, because he drives it as well.
I am not saying for one minute that that road should take priority over Highway No. 101, where people are being killed, the top priority always has to be those most dangerous, treacherous sections of highway where people are losing their lives. Even though it is my riding, I am not saying that should be the top priority in the province. I am just trying to nail something down as to a projected time. People have been told on so many different occasions, different times and nothing has happened. I will leave it at that, the minister has really given me all the information he is going to on that.
There is one other thing I would like to touch on with the minister and, again, it is in transportation, but not directly your roads. We need to have a more efficient way to move the populous to the places of work in the downtown of Halifax. We can build highways forever, but there aren't places to put the cars anyway. The Mayor, Peter Kelly, has proposed rail transit, commuter rail, it is something that some of us have been talking about and have raised for a number of years.
I am wondering if the minister could update us on any discussions his department has had with CN, with the municipality, on securing the maintenance of the line that CN had wanted to take out, and what steps or what efforts are being made to secure parking areas where people could leave their vehicles and then commute by means of rail service to downtown Halifax; ideally, if a spur line could be run to Dartmouth as well. We get the vehicles off the road then the need to build new highways decreases and it is a lot safer, and, I would suggest, probably a lot better for the bottom line for the province as well.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to speak for one moment about the extension to Highway No. 107. I just received some additional information from the staff upstairs - that helps a lot to get the word from up there and you know you are in the right alignment. The alignment for the road is done, some property has been purchased, the environmental assessment is done - and this is a provincial environmental assessment - but the kicker is that the approximate cost for the road, plus the interchange, et cetera, is somewhere in the order of about $60 million to $70 million. (Interruption) Yes, and it will continue that way and that's the unfortunate part.
If we did it today, perhaps it would cost us $65 million; if we put it off for five years, it is going to escalate as the cost of living increases. So it's unlikely that we are going to proceed in the immediate future. However, we do have the essential first steps there and
when the money became available it wouldn't take too much to get it going so, as I said before, we can sometime in the next while, proceed.
Now, getting back to the member's comments about the opportunities to move people and get them off the highways. In the metropolitan area, that is a commendable way of assisting the Department of Transportation and Public Works, because the lesser number of cars on the highways, the less wear and tear on the highways, the less need for expansion of the highway system. We, myself included, and we, as the department have had meetings with Mayor Kelly and members of his staff with regard to the institution of a rail connect between the suburbs and downtown. There is a committee that has been formed. It is a joint management committee which is discussing all kinds of transportation. I presume that means ferry service, rail service, whatever else alternate services to provide connections with the downtown. That is ongoing and, to be quite frank, the talks have been very amicable and very productive to date.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, and that committee has been in place for many years, so I am familiar with that committee. What I really want to find out is, what progress is being made, if any? I don't know if the government has had any discussions with CN trying to maintain the existing line because CN, the minister will know, had originally wanted to tear up or planned to tear up one of those lines, and if you tear it up then it is a lot harder to put it back in. Also, if the province has made any commitments, I am not suggesting that money has been allocated in this year's budget, but has the province made any commitments to assist in developing such rail service? As the minister quite correctly said, it's going to save the province money.
The minister will also know that the rail service doesn't only have to be in HRM, there are a lot of people from your area who commute daily to downtown Halifax on Highway No. 101. There is a rail line that runs along there. It is quite conceivable that a commuter rail service could come from Windsor to Halifax, as well, getting people off Highway No. 101, a very inexpensive cost. It would be a lot safer for those people, as well. So I would like to know what specific commitments, if any, has the province made to assist in developing that?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, no firm commitments have been made either to the HRM or to any other organization. There are other associations that are interested; I know I have one out in my area. We - and when I say we, I mean the Department of Transportation and Public Works - have not approached CN. However, approaches have been made to CN by the city. The city has not asked for our intervention at the present time in those particular talks, we are to one side of them.
This is a long-range plan. It has to be reasonably viable. I don't say it has to make a profit or even has to break even, but it does have to have enough ridership to ensure that we are not taking on another venture that is going to be a sinkhole for funds for years to come.
That, unfortunately, is a problem that you can get in areas of relatively low - and when I say relatively low, I mean in relation to other rail systems across the country - population. A rail service from Windsor to Halifax would be fine if we had about five times the population we presently have. We don't have sufficient people to actually make a line from (Interruption) I know the lines are there, but what I mean is the equipment and to maintain and to provide a service to the city. A number of bus services have tried that in the past and it hasn't worked out. So we are down to van lines at the present and there are a lot of those on the road because they can leave at different times to match the requirements of the ridership.
I hope the honourable member doesn't think I am throwing cold water on a project that would see a local rail service. I think it's a good idea. But I think, first of all, it has to have some studies behind it that are going to ensure that it does have a certain revenue-producing capability.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, hopefully, just a few questions. Mr. Minister, I guess I am going to ask you one that is almost like a gimme, coming from me. The section of Lingan Road from the Devco railway tracks to the intersection of Highway No. 28, we have talked about it, I have written to you on a number of occasions about this piece of road. It is in awful shape. It is a major link between New Waterford and Sydney. The majority of that road, the Lingan Road, what is referred to as the lower section going towards the Whitney Pier area, was repaved approximately three years ago. I was told back in 1998 that as long as I was MLA that road would never be paved. It wasn't by your government.
So I want to ask the minister, in talking to your department in the local area, it has been on my priority list, is it on the government's priority list and can we expect any pavement on Lingan Road from the Devco railway to the intersection of Highway No. 28?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I am not exactly familiar with that road. (Interruptions) Maybe I am. I don't know the name of the road that I use on occasion. (Interruption) I wouldn't use it. Okay, well then I don't know it. I don't know the road because I haven't driven over it, however, I can assure the member the fact is that we have, unfortunately, too many roads in that same state of repair and we just do not have the funding to do them all.
What I said earlier in speaking to the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect is that we don't have a priority list anymore because every road is a priority, every road requires repair, every road is in a mess. Some got paved last year; those have been brought up to standards. Some roads will get paved this year, and they will be brought up to a suitable standard, but we can't do all the roads in the province that require repairs. I don't believe that road, because it doesn't ring any bells with me, is on this year's list for repair or repaving.
MR. CORBETT: I appreciate what you are saying, Mr. Minister, that it's impossible to lay asphalt everywhere in the province. This has been an ongoing discussion between myself and your department at various levels. I think any time I do talk to the officials who work out in the Sydney River area for your department, it's always the priority on my list and, certainly, between Ms. Baillie and Bruce Fitzner, they are quite aware of the area and we have discussed this at length with these two individuals. In support of those two individuals, Mr. Minister, I will say they have been extremely helpful in trying to find a solution. I know last year they did some upgrades to an s-turn there and they did some patching and really it is a road that, as I said, in the industrial Cape Breton area, is one that is travelled by quite a few. The distance you would need to reconstruct would be 4.1 kilometres. I measured it many times.
So I appreciate what you are saying, that there's no priority list, per se, that we are, hopefully, hitting rock bottom with the condition of the roads and, hopefully, we are moving upward. I guess I want to make sure that I am on the chart and that's fine, I will continue to bring it forward, not to be antagonistic but so you will remember we are there and the importance of that road. I guess each one of us, all 52 of us in this House, Mr. Minister, get complaints about roads in our area and we can always probably pinpoint one that gets more calls than others, and this is the one for me.
I want to make sure you know that. I want to make sure that I should probably put on the record for today some of the complaints I receive. Some of the residents complain, and I have made this known to local law enforcement officers that a lot of people use this road kind of late at night to sneak back from Sydney after they may have had one or two too many. These cars arrive on their lawns and they have taken these people out and some of these people have been charged, and that is the reality of it. So we have talked to law enforcement about that. Part of it is, for the mere fact, that people who get going on these roads, and they are so bad, try to dodge potholes and so on and they go into the ditch or they arrive on people's lawns. I am kind of smiling about it, Mr. Minister, but I am sure you know that it is a serious problem and I want to highlight that for you.
I will let that, about the roads, go and I want to just kind of just change it around a little bit, Mr. Minister. There has really been no discussion with you today about the JAG process and the process around cleaning up the contaminated sites in and around the coke ovens and the tar ponds. Just the other day, I asked a question in this House about one lady in particular, and I am not going to talk about her case right now in any depth, but I want to know, Mr. Minister, is your department satisfied now, where the JAG process is? Probably the B part of this question, I realized some time ago that they were talking about possible costs of the JAG process and the cleanup and you were somewhat concerned about that. Has your concern about those costs been alleviated? Can you give me your point of view of where the JAG process is now?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member for Cape Breton Centre is talking about JAG. I must confess that I wasn't even aware of what JAG was until I became Minister of the Environment. I was happy to find out that JAG belonged to the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and I was only responsible for monitoring the process. I thought that was great, because if there were any questions about the tar ponds or the coke ovens, I would just say, well, that's not my problem, it belongs to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. Lo and behold, I ended up in the Department of Transportation and Public Works and now the problem is partially mine. However, I still have JAG to fall back on and say, well, that is a JAG responsibility.
This is not a joke of a circle where everybody passes on the problems to the person next to them. The member for Cape Breton Centre, I am sure is better aware of JAG than I am. I know that it's an enormous number of people to have on a committee. There are 50-odd people on the committee. Anybody who has ever tried to do something with a committee of 50 knows that you are going to have a heck of a lot of problems, because it is very hard to get even a consensus among 50 people without even striving to get unanimous consent. In consequence, everything that JAG does, there are always some people who are members of JAG who don't like what JAG does. Conversely, if JAG doesn't do something, there are always people who are members of JAG who want JAG to do something.
JAG said originally that they wanted three years to look at the problem of the cleanup of the tar ponds. That three years, I believe, runs out in 2003 when the memorandum of understanding comes to an end, the MOU. By that time, it was intended that we would have in place a process for dealing with the problem. Whether the media believes it or the people of Sydney believe it or not, really is inconsequential because they are right on target, they are where they said they would be at the present time. At the present time, they are delineating the area that is contaminated around the coke ovens; they are at the present time investigating 10 processes which have come forward as being potential methodologies of dealing with the problem with the tar ponds. They are on target.
But, as I say, they are subject to a lot of criticism simply because of the fact that there are people who are within JAG who have their own opinions as to how JAG should be moving, and these people will go out and have a chat with the media. The other people in JAG will then go out and put their side forward, in reality, instead of dealing with the matter as a whole, around the round table and coming to a decision that everybody buys into, unfortunately, that is not the case. I think JAG is getting a bum steer, to be quite honest. I think they are really doing a good job and I think they are proceeding in the time lines they said they would accommodate their remediation in, and I think they will be successful.
MR. CORBETT: After this question, if you think of it, Mr. Minister, maybe you can answer the other part about the money, because I asked you about the price tag. I agree with you too, Mr. Minister, I think there are a lot of people who may disagree from time to time in what they do in the JAG process, I think they deserve the support of the elected officials.
They are volunteers and they are trying to do a job. Whether it's fair to disagree, I think some of the criticisms of some of these members is completely unwarranted because from time to time I think even the local municipal government has taken shots at these guys for taking too long with the process.
I live in that community, and I wish it was faster, but I also understand that there is a timeline. I can go back to the days of sitting in the old Holiday Inn and listening to a former minister in the Buchanan Government, Mr. Thornhill, telling us that the tar ponds were going to be cleaned up in two years. I say that by way of a joke - well, he did say it, but it wasn't his fault.
I asked you earlier, Mr. Minister, when they put a price tag on the cleanup, your reaction at that time was that you thought it was too high. I guess what I want to ask you to answer is, do you still believe it is too high, and what do you feel is an appropriate price tag?
MR. RUSSELL: I would hesitate to say that the price of cleaning up the tar ponds is too high. I think that it is essential that we deal with the problem as expeditiously as we possibly can, however, we not rush into solutions that are not within our budgets. As the deputy minister has just reminded me, we need to know what the technology is before we say how many dollars we have to spend. The thing is, the money will be available. It will be available from the federal government, it will be available from the provincial government, because I think everybody in their right mind understands that the problem does have to be resolved, and there is no two ways about it, it is a blight on the area. It's something that just has to be done.
The first time I saw the tar ponds I really couldn't believe that we had such a mess. I went down to look at the incinerator and looked at our investment there, I think it was something in the order of $160 million, and it is just standing there with bits and pieces flapping in the wind. You wonder, really, have we got this thing under control? This time, I think we are doing it the right way; last time, I think we tried to be too quick to jump to a quick solution and we were wrong.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, that concludes my questioning. I will hand over to my colleague, the member for Hants West (Interruptions) Hants East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I think my colleague was going to get the minister to ask and answer the questions, both. I will try to be relatively brief, Mr. Minister, only because I know that more of my colleagues have questions and I don't want to run the time out for them. A couple of points I do want to raise, and that is around pavement on rural roads. I won't go into the general philosophy of what should be done. I
think, from comments you have made in late debate and so on, you and I are on the same page, if not on the same side of the floor.
I am waiting to hear about your strategy around the 10 year plan. I am certainly hoping that we could get a look at that. To me, it would make some sense to have some long-range vision and put some dollars in place that would tend to bring the roads to some kind of respectable standard. I don't know if I thank you but I will thank you because you are the minister of the department, but certainly I think there was a tender of 8.8 kilometres of paving in Hants East. If you get another 40 or 50 kilometres you don't know what to do with, I would be glad to accommodate you with some space for that. (Interruptions) If you don't aim high, you don't hit high.
There are some roads, actually three others, I am going to mention to you - I have mentioned them to the area manager, Dave Hamilton - the East Uniacke Road; Highway No. 1, through Mount Uniacke, which you are probably familiar with; and what is referred to as the Kennetcook Woods, I think Route 354 would be the number, from East Gore to Kennetcook. Actually that was the one I was expecting that if any paving was going to be done it was going to be that, but I am certainly glad to hear that the Georgefield Road will be paved. That is not to say that I don't have others, but those are three other main ones that I want the department to be aware of.
Before I sit down, I will table this letter that I sent to David Hamilton, with my wish list. Although he and I did get a chance to discuss some of this in his office in Windsor, I didn't really get a response. I know I cc'd you on it, and I will give another copy to you, just in the hopes that somebody will forward me a response on which of these items they foresee as possibilities.
The other thing I will send a copy of for you is this report from the South Maitland Historical Association about their Maitland Village Park proposal, which I discussed briefly with you and the Minister of Tourism and Culture, and the Minister of Economic Development. I am drafting a more formal letter to that, but I didn't have a copy of this to give you that day, and I will send that over as well.
You are probably thinking, is there a question here. I guess I am wondering, when it comes to these rural roads, I know that if a road needs to be paved and you can't pave it, then you are probably going to spend some money to fix it to make it at least passable until you can actually spend more money to do a much greater or long-term job. I am wondering if you have anything at your fingertips that could tell me if the department has a priority list by constituency of what needs to be done, and how is that filtered through to the department? I have always been curious about what that process is.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, in years gone by there was a process whereby we did a complete evaluation of a road, and we had a system in place to accord priorities according to traffic and the road surface itself and whether or not it was humping with the tracks and what have you. Unfortunately, as I mentioned when I was speaking to the member for Timberlea-Prospect, that has gone by the boards now. We just have so many roads that are in a state of disrepair that what we are doing, really, I suppose, is selecting our best guess as to where our money for the year should go to sustain the surface of some particular route or highway. Beyond that, I really can't answer your question any further. We listen to what the department says, we listen to what the members say, and based on that, we just more or less go on good judgement in trying to get some roads done in every area that we possibly can. It is like the boy at the dyke with his finger in the hole.
AN HON. MEMBER: Damned if you do.
MR. RUSSELL: Right. Damned if you don't. It is also stop-gap measures.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, well, I can understand your predicament. I was kind of hoping there was a little more of a process. Even the thought that tourist routes would be considered over other routes or whatever. I have Route 215 that actually goes through to your constituency, it is part of the Glooscap Trail, highest tides in the world, Burntcoat Head, Hants East, the Maitland heritage district, the Walton Lighthouse, a park there, Anthony Park. I know that people travelling through there, the four river-rafting businesses along that route, and certainly is one that we thought there definitely has to be a long-range plan.
I was encouraged when the engineers said, oh, we are going to do some paving on Route 215. I thought, great, I have been at this three years, and I am glad to know it, until they informed me that it was in your constituency where it was going to happen. As much as I certainly don't intend to try to take pavement from other areas where they need it, for sure, if you want to do some on your end, you are certainly welcome to come down to the Hants East side and do some there as well.
A couple of other things, I want to know where the department is going. I think compliance officers would come under your department, am I right with that? So, vehicle inspection isn't - okay, whose is it? (Interruption) Service Nova Scotia, okay. Another point, actually yesterday I realized that under your department you regulated the two railway lines in the province. I am curious as to whether the province has any jurisdiction or regulatory influence with regard to port authorities, the Halifax Airport Authority and the Halifax Port Authority here, as far as transportation with airlines or shipping?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, there are a large number of questions there to answer, so I will start at the end, I guess. The Halifax Airport Authority and the Halifax Port Authority, we do have representation on those boards. With regard to the short rail lines, at the present time we have a bill that is on the order paper, we will be talking about that in
another couple of weeks, and that one details the province assuming responsibility for certain activities with regard to trespassing, et cetera, on railroad lines and what have you. It applies to the short lines only within the province; for instance, the major CN Rail lines through the province do not come under our jurisdiction, they come under Transport Canada.
Going back to the first thing you said, though, it really perked my interest. You were talking about roads to tourist activities, et cetera, being given a certain amount of priority. That is, in fact, one of the things we are looking at right now, trying to get other departments to help, perhaps, with some of the roads that lead to tourist-type endeavours. We are looking at the amount of traffic generated by commercial activities on roads as another one of the things we have to consider when we are dishing out money for road repaving. It is difficult. You were talking about Route 215, and I know the Route 215 on your end and my end. My end, though, the paving was done there in 1956, that was when that road was paved. It was a good surface that was put down and it lasted until it finally got to the stage where we had a little bit of pavement, a little bit of gravel, a little bit of pavement, a little bit of gravel, so it was broken up completely.
That is the kind of road that was worth saving. There are a lot of them around the province that we have to give our priority to or else they are all going to be gravel. In fact, I have one road, the Walton Woods Road, which was a very good paved road, and now there is one short section of pavement, the rest is all gravel; it has reverted back to just a gravel road. It is a problem. It is a problem all over the province. Every member and every person that lives on a road thinks that they have the worst road right in front of their house and they probably do.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I will say that I was curious last summer driving in other constituencies, certainly Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and Bedford-Fall River, which are bordering on me. I noticed that they seemed to have lots of new pavement. So I wouldn't mind knowing around me how many kilometres, even in your own riding, they got. I try to avoid crass politics, to be honest, but what I do want to say is that I am probably the beneficiary of the former Liberal Government trying to maintain that seat for the Liberals in the amount of pavement that was spread in Hants East. I know, to that effect, there was very little put in some Tory constituencies.
So I have always been somewhat reluctant to jump on the Tory Government knowing that a couple of my neighbouring constituencies probably (Interruption) Yes, yours being one, probably need to kind of catch up, compared to what I had achieved - or actually, I didn't achieve it, but what somebody tried to do for their former MLA there. So I have always been a little reluctant to jump on you or this government when it comes to paving. But I do say we have been a couple of years into the mandate and I am expecting that some of the Tory ridings may be catching up and I certainly want to speak for my constituents so that we don't kind of get left behind through the process. I know that certainly this year, with
8.8 kilometres, I have heard some Tory MLAs say that I got more than they did and I will take that at face value.
I recognize the situation the government is in and if they can come up with some way to get a priority list, I know talking to the previous Liberal minister, he used to say that, as you tried to indicate, traffic volume, road condition and ride were the three criteria that were used. I used to question what the difference between road condition and ride was because I thought if the road condition was bad, the ride would be bad. I tried to make the case that the large roads that are carried on rural roads quite often by commercial traffic, log trucks, in particular, does damage roads significantly and the roads weren't built for the kind of vehicles that we have on them today. He indicated, at that time, that a tractor-trailer was the equivalent of 1,200 cars. So I would think that even on rural roads that don't have the volume in individual vehicles, they certainly get the weight punishment.
The only other couple of points that I want to raise is if the government does have a representative on those port authorities, I certainly hope that they will be active in trying to bring closure to things like this present strike and see that people are treated in a fair manner. The other point I want you to give some thought to is our conversation around Mr. Leon Thompson and the situation that he seems to find himself in. I probably will be directing a letter to you in that regard, as well. So with those points, if you want to have some comment, I would be glad to listen and I will hand off to my colleague, the member for Dartmouth North, at this point.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the member was speaking about the maintenance of roads in general. I think he was in the House a couple of weeks ago when I was saying that the roads are like anything else. They require ongoing maintenance and that maintenance should be ongoing. In other words, every year there should be something done to maintain the condition of the roads. It is like your house, if you lose a few shingles off the side of the house or off the roof of the house, you don't wait until they all fly off before you do a repair; you do it on a consistent basis and keep things in repair. The same thing applies, I guess, to automobiles. Occasionally you add some oil and you occasionally get a lube job and change the tires and what have you.
We in the Department of Transportation and Public Works have to do that. In doing that, we can at least maintain the infrastructure that we have. As the honourable member said - and it is a point that I hadn't made before but it is very true - truck traffic is dynamite on roads, particularly the roads that we have constructed over the last 30-odd years, were not constructed for the giant trucks that we have on the road today, carrying very heavy loads and multi-tired vehicles and multi-length vehicles and they do one horrendous job on the roads.
I just happen to know about one particular case, but it is common all across the province, of where they were hauling down to the Sackville landfill when they were closing it. They brought in overburdened . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just one minute, Mr. Minister. Perhaps the noise is a little too much to hear for the members that are participating in the debate, so I would appreciate it maybe, perhaps, the private conversations could be taken outside of the Chamber.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, as I was saying, we are bringing fill in to cap the Sackville landfill and we are getting that fill from up in my riding at a pit just off Route 14 going across to Chester. They were using B-trains for that and I am sure everybody knows what a B-train is. The B-trains, in just two weeks, completely wrecked a perfectly good road. Every time they went around a curve, the end part of the B-train went off the pavement onto the gravel and chewed up the edge of the pavement. Then the pavement started collapsing and it was just unbelievable.
Fortunately, they finally got the job completed, but they certainly wrecked a highway along the way. Now that highway, which was a very good highway, is a bit of a mess. So there is no doubt about it, trucks do indeed play an important part in our economy, but as far as the highways are concerned, they do a lot of damage. We are just going to have to build our highways stronger than we have in the past.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, my question will be to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. Mr. Minister, in November 1999, I received a letter from you listing the priorities that your department would like to consider were priorities of mine with respect to issues that fell under your jurisdiction for the upcoming year. Again, I received a letter from your department in December 2000, with respect to listing the priority items that I think got to be addressed in the upcoming year, that affected my constituency that was under your umbrella.
Mr. Minister, this is absolutely not a paving request. I am sure the minister knows what kind of a request this might be. As you know, the lights have been out on the Victoria Road interchange, both the access and the egress, for approximately two years. It is a very serious problem. I have received numerous phone calls in my constituency office. I know the Department of Transportation and Public Works has received numerous phone calls and I do know that the Halifax Regional Municipality has received numerous phone calls. You had indicated that it could not be on the priority list for 1999-2000. I am hoping to see it on a priority list for at least the 2001-02 fiscal year. If the minister can tell me where that is on the priority list, I would greatly appreciate it.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it is an interesting question because we do have money in the budget to take care of that lighting which, I agree with the member, sadly needs to be taken care of. The whole business of the approach to the bridge from the Dartmouth side is one that we have conversations underway at the present time to have the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission take over the approaches. I don't want to be crass and say that the Bridge Commission has more money than the province, however, they have a greater interest in the approach to the bridge than what the Department of Transportation has.
As you know, on the Halifax side there has been a considerable amount of beautification as you come off the bridge onto Barrington Street or going out to Robie Street, et cetera, it is quite attractive. The other end is, quite frankly, quite unattractive, so it has been the thrust of the department for the last little while to talk to the Bridge Commission and have them take over that approach area and do whatever is required to bring it up to a standard that is equivalent to the Halifax side. Those talks are ongoing and on the matter of the lighting upgrade, we know that has to be done and we do have money in the budget this year to do that.
MR. PYE: I want to thank the minister and I am very pleased to hear that he has lighting in for that because it has been an ongoing problem, not only with this existing government, but it actually was there as well when the previous government was in power to address it. It surprises me that you mentioned about a takeover of this part of the street network by the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission. One day I am hoping that the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission falls under the jurisdiction of the province. I was hoping that when you were standing up here not so long ago, Mr. Minister, speaking about in 25 years or 30 years and taking the tolls off the Cobequid Pass, that I might live to see the day when there would be no tolls on the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge and the A. Murray MacKay Bridge. Are you now telling me that I will never live to see the day that there will be no tolls on those bridges, by adding additional responsibility to the Bridge Commission to look after the street networks within a kilometre of the actual bridge itself?
That is one question and the other is - and I know we are coming down to the end, Mr. Minister - is with respect to Public Works and accessibility to publicly-owned buildings. How much money do you have in your budget to make publicly-owned buildings accessible this year? Is it a priority with your government to make all provincially-owned buildings, or all buildings that fall under your jurisdiction accessible to all Nova Scotians? That means the visually disabled as well as the physically disabled.
MR. RUSSELL: There is a whole bunch of stuff there, Mr. Chairman. Number one with regard to the Bridge Commission and taking the tolls off the bridges, the Bridge Commission doesn't incidentally come under my jurisdiction. It would be nice but I don't think it is going to happen in my lifetime, yours perhaps, but not mine.
The matter of accessibility to government buildings, as the honourable member is probably aware, being a member of this Legislature, we have started a process of improving access into this building from the parking lot behind me here. (Interruptions) No, we didn't start 10 years ago, we only started last fall and it is still not completed but we are getting there and it is a big improvement, I think, as far as we have gone, but there is still the matter of the entrance way into the foyer downstairs. We have finished now with the basement area, I believe, but that was coincidental with the entrance way coming into the foyer. In other words, there were two distinct projects, one was to fix up the basement area of this building and the other one was to make the entrance down there a little more attractive, coming into the back of the ground floor foyer.
How much money do we have . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for the NDP. We will now go to the Liberal Party.
The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. I have a couple of questions. The first issue I would like to bring to your attention is the snowstorm we received in Cape Breton. Now I am not blaming you for the snowstorm, Mr. Minister, that is for sure but for two or three days, as long as three days, I had streets in my constituency that were not plowed. In talking to local residents in the community, they feel that basically it was mismanaged, that normally the winter maintenance staff are laid off as of March 31st and there appears to have been some mix-up with the equipment pertaining to snow maintenance. In fact, one snowplow was sent out of the area down to Dingwall, approximately two weeks prior to this storm. My question is simple. Has the minister reviewed this situation and does he have a plan to deal with a major snowstorm anywhere in this province?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the occasion the member is bringing to my attention is one he has brought to my attention in the past over a short period of time. The snow situation this year has been abnormal, it was not the run-of-the-mill, and that is evidenced by the fact that we have expended a great many more dollars this year than we have in past years, to try to meet the demands, particularly in Cape Breton, for snow removal, ice control and also for flood control, because of the fact the additional snow has brought those kinds of problems along. My deputy has made a note here advising me it was an unusual winter. I knew that, Mr. Deputy.
Whether or not we can arrange for the distribution of equipment better, I can't answer that but it is something the department can look at and hopefully, it will not occur again. In fact, I hope we don't have another winter like this, it was the worst one I have seen in quite a few years so I don't think I will be around if it occurs with the same frequency in the future.
You were talking about methods of snow removal. I was reviewing the old Public Highways Act of this province and when I say the old Public Highways Act it is still in effect. They had a methodology back when this was in place and it is still contained in the Statutes of Nova Scotia and I will just read you a very short portion of it. It says "Duty of male to shovel snow on highway 34(1) All physically fit male persons between the ages of sixteen and sixty, residing within every such section or division, are required to work with their shovels on the highways during the winter whenever the highways become impassible from snow, but persons actually in regular attendance at any public school are not, during school hours, required to work under this Section." Then it goes on, "Order to attend to shovel (2) If a person does not attend for work in accordance with subsection (1), the overseer shall order him to attend for that work either forthwith or at any time or hour of the day that the overseer designates." That is still in the Statutes of the Province of Nova Scotia.
We have progressed a little since that Statute was published, I don't know why it is still in there but however, it is. We will try to do our best in future years to have the equipment available to take care of the problem. As I said, in a normal year I think we do a job in Cape Breton, as adequately as any that we do in any other part of the province.
MR. BOUDREAU: I certainly hope the minister is not referencing that we should be shovelling the highways in Cape Breton, that is kind of silly. I will ask the minister, since he read from that document, to table that document.
I would remind the minister that residents in Cape Breton, and certainly in Cape Breton The Lakes, drive cars and they pay taxes for road maintenance through gasoline sales. The minister has indicated in the past that money collected through the revenue of gasoline sales would be spent on our highways. He has made that very clear in the past, and that is not occurring, Mr. Minister. It is not occurring, and it is clear - although I agree that we had an abnormal winter - it is your responsibility, sir, not mine, not the residents' of Cape Breton The Lakes, it is your responsibility to ensure that there are proper resources put in place to deal with that type of situation.
Mr. Chairman, the staff at the Sydney regional office did not have adequate equipment or manpower to deal with the storm situation earlier this month. My question, again, is, will this minister commit to this House that he will correct this situation?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the member is absolutely correct of course, we do have a layoff of seasonal persons that takes place at the end of March. From that point of view, I suppose you could say that we did not have the people on duty at that time. However, the situation was corrected and we did get the people back to work and the equipment that we had was utilized.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am not hearing what I want to hear from the minister, so I will go to another angle. Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, why was a snowplow diverted from the Sydney office down to Dingwall?
MR. RUSSELL: The only answer to that is that the snowplow was taken down to Dingwall to deal with the situation down there. We have had a very bad winter, and the winter conditions we had this year are not what we normally expect. We can only plan for what we would consider to be a normal winter operation. That is what we had in place, and unfortunately we got caught this year with a winter that cost us $5 million more for snow removal and ice control above and beyond a normal winter's operational costs.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister, there is a rumour in the community that there was a snowplow sent to Newfoundland, is it true?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I am told that we had a snow blower which was lent to Newfoundland to help with their problem earlier in the winter.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, it is quite obvious that the minister is playing with equipment in the Sydney office, in the Sydney region, in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality; you are playing with machinery in that particular area. How many snow blowers are there in Sydney?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't have that number with me, but I could certainly get it for the member.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest there is only one snow blower in Sydney and that this honourable minister approved the loaning of this piece of equipment to the Province of Newfoundland. He and his staff were very much aware that this equipment was not there when this storm took place. The storm was forecast over a couple of days; it wasn't something that just happened like that. There was an advance notice that this storm was coming toward Cape Breton, and in particular the CBRM, an industrial area. This minister took machinery and dispatched it to other areas within the province, and outside the province prior to this storm. My question is, why wasn't there adequate equipment in Sydney to combat the situation that the local staff had on that particular storm day?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would like to reiterate that there was adequate equipment in the Cape Breton area for the normal, run-of-the-mill type of winter which we did not have this year. We had a much heavier snowfall than normal, and most of it, unfortunately, accumulated in Cape Breton and . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: We get everything down there.
MR. RUSSELL: You get everything, yes. This is something you didn't want though. It was unfortunate, but that is the way weather is. You can't legislate the weather.
MR. BOUDREAU: Now, Mr. Minister, I agree with that comment. However, local staff - and I commend them for their efforts in Sydney, because they have a lot of kilometres of highway to take care and a lot of maintenance - must be provided the proper tools in order to provide that service to that particular community. They do not have the equipment, Mr. Minister. You admitted here in this House, just a moment ago, that you took a snow blower, the only snow blower in the Sydney regional office, within that territory, and you sent it to Newfoundland. I welcome an opportunity to help a neighbour, Mr. Minister. You indicated that you sent that down earlier in the winter, to Newfoundland. Why wasn't that equipment returned, or why wasn't there another piece of equipment provided to that area when your department was aware that that storm was being driven toward that community?
MR. RUSSELL: There are not written agreements, but there are agreements among the Atlantic Provinces to assist each other. I can remember many occasions when we have called in, from Newfoundland, air units to fight fires, for instance, in Cape Breton as well as in other parts of Nova Scotia. There is an interchange of equipment. The snow blower that went to Newfoundland was one that has not been used in the past six years. It was surplus to our needs; we didn't have a large loader to mount on it. There was adequate equipment in the province to deal with normal storm events. Mr. Chairman, in other words, the snow blower that was lent to the Province of Newfoundland had not been used in this province for six years.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I am grateful we didn't have to use it for six years, and I hope it is another six years before we have to use it again; however it is your responsibility, sir, to ensure that that community has ample equipment to deal with any type of situation which may arise. Since I asked you these questions, you admitted to me that you took a snowplow out of there and sent it to another area; you took a snow blower and sent it to another province; you didn't have a piece of equipment with a loader that was required for this snow blower to work; you have no equipment in that area, sir. You don't have the equipment, and your department had to transfer machinery, and I would suggest at a much higher cost, from New Glasgow and as far away as Truro to combat those conditions in Cape Breton, in regard to that snowstorm.
I would suggest, sir, that you are going to hear a lot more about that in the fall, particularly from this member. I expect my residents to receive the same type of service as any other area in this province. We don't expect any special attention, I am not suggesting that, but we demand the same. That will come from this member, in this House in the fall, to ensure that the staff in that Sydney office is provided the support that they deserve, because they earned that support, Mr. Minister. I will be looking toward you personally to provide that leadership that is necessary to that staff.
Mr. Chairman, after saying that, I am going to turn the remaining time, some of my time, over to my colleague, the honourable member for Richmond.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I feel I must take the honourable member to task, because he very conveniently forgets the fact that although we sent a snow blower to help our friends in Newfoundland in the face of a very disastrous winter as well, that other areas of Nova Scotia contributed equipment and personnel to his area. Equipment was brought in from Inverness, it was brought in from Antigonish. All our resources that we had within the region went to assist with the snow removal in that area.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, just a few quick questions, and the first is about Public Works. As you know, Mayor Billy Joe MacLean of Port Hawkesbury has announced a new Justice Centre on behalf of your government; about 10 times now on your behalf. I have received a number of phone calls from concerned residents throughout the Strait area. They are being told that the cost of this new Justice Centre could be in the range of $6 million to $8 million, which would build quite the Justice Centre, to say the least. Could the minister indicate if there is any intention for his department to proceed with the construction of a new Justice Centre this year, and is there any money in this year's budget to deal with that?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the need for a Justice Centre in the area has been one that has been before government for quite a number of years. The Mayor of Port Hawkesbury has been very forceful in bringing to our attention the fact that he not only wants a justice building, but he wants a multi-use building that has all the bells and whistles. However, we have rejected that proposal from the mayor and we are, however, going ahead with the construction of a new Justice Centre in Port Hawkesbury. We are in the planning stage, I believe, at the present moment and I believe that there is some funding, not a great deal, but there is some funding in this year's capital budget for the initial work for the construction of that court facility.
As the honourable member, being a member of the legal profession, knows, there is a committee of judges and judicial people who meet periodically to talk about court facilities, et cetera, and they are very much involved in the design and the eventual construction of that facility in Port Hawkesbury.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I take it it is safe to say that $6 million to $8 million is out, that your government has no intention of building a facility as elaborate as what the good Mayor of Port Hawkesbury would have this government build. You indicated that there is some funding for the planning stages and for the implementation, is it safe to say that there will be no construction of that new Justice Centre during this fiscal year?
MR. RUSSELL: There will be no holes dug in the ground this year. There is about $600,000 for the architectural studies, acquisition, I presume, of land and those types of things, but no hard money in there to actually start erecting a building. Probably next year there will be a start on that building.
MR. SAMSON: Or maybe even closer to an election might be the appropriate time, I guess, to have the good Mayor of Port Hawkesbury cut the ribbon and that would make about the 12th time he has announced this Justice Centre.
One of the concerns, Mr. Minister, the legitimate concerns is - as you are well aware as the minister, and as I am aware as a member of the legal community for that area - there were numerous deficiencies with using the Provincial Building in Port Hawkesbury as a Justice Centre. The fact that this delay is continuing, the people there are getting extremely concerned about the amount of money that is being pumped by your department into the Provincial Building knowing that there is a new building that is going to be constructed.
I guess, in a sense, a lot of people are saying why do you keep putting money into the old Provincial Building, and I am talking significant dollars and I am sure your staff can provide you with a more accurate figure, but I have been told it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been spent upgrading that building and those facilities. Therefore, I am wondering, I guess in fairness to the minister, could you indicate, because this delay has taken place, how much money has been spent on the Provincial Building by your department to address the situation with the courts in the last three years?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't have that number, but however I wouldn't want the members of your committee to get the impression that the present facilities that we are using for the court is just a courthouse. It is a Provincial Building that houses several functions of government within it. Some of the expenditures, if not all, I believe have been to maintain the building as an acceptable and continuing venue for the present government tenants that operate from those quarters. In other words - that was a very convoluted statement, so I will put it in better English, perhaps - there is a building there at the present time that serves the function of the court, but it also serves many other departments of government, and that is ongoing and will be ongoing in the future. What we are doing, essentially, is protecting the space for those departments that are in there.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, there is no issue about the improvements that have been made to the building overall. I guess the issue, Mr. Minister, is that a significant amount of money has been spent on the actual area of this building which houses the court. A significant amount of money has been spent there, and what we are saying is it is all right to keep the building in great condition and that, but you are spending money for a court when
a new Justice Centre is supposed to be built. I guess that is the issue there and the question is, once the court is no longer there, what offices will be put in there? We are not sure.
For clarification, I guess just for my own understanding, the new Justice Centre which you are proposing - and I am not going to ask you measurements or anything - is it intended to just be a Justice Centre or do you also intend to house provincial offices in that centre as well?
MR. RUSSELL: Honourable member for Richmond, at the moment there is no intention to house anything else in that building other than the requirements of the Department of Justice, and it will be a Justice Centre. The time frame for the completion of that building, I can't give you, but it isn't something that is going to stretch over many years. It is something that is imminent and we are starting the necessary groundwork now to get it underway, although we have not as yet selected the site for that building.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, there is lots of great land in Richmond County which would be great to put the new Justice Centre in there, considering the Strait area is a multi-purpose area and we share the same services. So if the good mayor can't find any land in Port Hawkesbury, by all means I would be happy to help your department find some land down in Richmond County.
Just a final question in the area of Transportation. Mr. Minister, you are well aware that I have made a number of representations to your department, as well as to your colleagues, the Minister of Tourism and Culture and the honourable member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury on behalf of the Transportation workers in the Port Hawkesbury highway garage. Could you just update this House - as you know, I have raised my concerns, the municipalities have raised their concerns, school boards, a number of organizations which were against your proposal to move the highway mechanical workers from the Port Hawkesbury branch to the Antigonish branch - could you just indicate today whether - and I believe April 1st was the day when that change was going to take place - your department put that on hold to give the workers a chance to better consult with your department, or has your department already gone ahead and made that change?
MR. RUSSELL: No, Mr. Chairman, we did not put the process on hold and the centre in Antigonish is now open.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I just have one question for the minister and it has to do with government offices in industrial Cape Breton. As the minister will know, recently, the government has moved from maintaining offices in publicly owned buildings to going to the public sector for space requirements, and throughout the province, but in this particular case, in industrial Cape Breton and, more particular, in the Sydney area.
I am not sure whether the minister would have this figure today. He may have it there or he may not, but I would like to know in the case of government renting space in the Sydney area, a company by the name of Pearl Realty and another company by the name of Martin Chernin Enterprises have a majority of the office space rented by the Government of Nova Scotia. In his buildings, and any other names that Mr. Chernin and his companies may go under, I would like to know, what is the total amount of rent and the amount of space being occupied by the government in industrial Cape Breton, by Mr. Martin Chernin and any companies that he is associated with? I would like to have the minister respond to that. We understand that the cost to the taxpayers is substantial. I would also like to know the average square foot rent that is being paid in his premises in the Sydney area.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, that is a reasonable request and one that we can certainly accommodate. We don't have the numbers here. In fact, I will get him the numbers for all our rental properties in the Cape Breton area.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria.
MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Chairman, I only have one question for the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. I want to remind him again of the Church Bridge in Middle River. Has there been any . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: The water is still flowing.
MR. MACASKILL: The water is still flowing, but maybe a slight bit less. I am wondering if the minister has changed his mind in any way relative to the replacement of that structure. I understand from a meeting that was held in Middle River last night, with 130 people there, according to the news reports. I don't think that me standing here today is going to be the last the minister will hear about the Church Bridge in Middle River, and I ask the minister today, has he changed his mind relative to the replacement of that structure, even over a two year term? Could he give us some indication as to what may be happening there?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the matter of that bridge, of course, has come up in the Legislature a couple of times at least, over the last couple of days. The answer is essentially the same, although I think perhaps the honourable member for Victoria has perhaps put a different interpretation on what I said as to what I meant. By that I mean when I said to the honourable member that we don't have the money, I meant that we don't have the money this year and we may not have the money next year; however, long term, when funding becomes available, we will replace that bridge. However, at the present time I am sure the honourable member would agree that that money would be better oriented towards the public need of spending money in his constituency on pavement rather than on repairing that bridge. So it is a matter of choices and we have to make those choices and that is the choice that we have.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, I know that the minister is here with his very competent, capable staff, and the minister has always been a minister of fairness in whatever portfolio he has had in the past. My question to the minister is, realizing that roads are dealt with on the basis of true need in their situation, I petitioned the minister this year in this House with two petitions on roads and we have put in some of our priority lists. My question to the minister is, realizing those priorities and realizing the deplorable state of some of those roads, would the minister inform me as to whether any money for repaving in Lunenburg West will be coming this year?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, there are no tenders out, or probably no tenders imminent for the honourable member's constituency. What I have been telling members that have had no paving in their constituencies this year is that we are going to try to find some opportunities, perhaps to put out some tenders in the fall. But I would encourage the honourable member, because I know he has a good rapport with the department in his area, that he speak to his OS down there. I am sure that some of the RIM funding can accommodate some of his immediate problems. I received a list from the honourable member, I believe, and I think it was this year that I looked at a request list from the member for this year, and there were a number of those projects that could be accommodated under the RIM program. I would encourage all members, if they have jobs that are relatively minor, they utilize the RIM program. They don't have to wait until they get a large capital infusion to pave 10 or 12 kilometres, they can take care of some of the problems in short order utilizing those funds.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, to the minister. I was just reading through Hansard as my colleagues were asking questions. It has rather insightful information with regard to the minister when he was sitting on this side of the House, with regard to the HST. On November 25th, 1997, the Minister of Transportation, when he was in Opposition, asked the Premier, "Would the minister assure the people of Nova Scotia that regardless of whether or not he has a federal agreement, that the provincial tax portion of the HST will be removed from all heating fuels?" There are a number of resolutions and so on. Obviously, it is a tax matter. It is over in the Department of Finance, but the fuel tax which the minister indicated was going to go 100 per cent towards the roads, now he has backtracked on that quite considerably. They are not going to live up to the promise in the blue book. Is there any consideration by his department, if not directly, intervening with the Minister of Finance, some action that his department could take to eliminate this double-dipping by the provincial government?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I do not aspire to become the Minister of Finance, so therefore I would be reluctant to answer that question on behalf of the Minister of Finance. I would advise the honourable member for Cape Breton West to speak to the Minister of Finance when he returns to the House, to put that question to him.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I can see why he wouldn't be Minister of Finance, after sitting 17 years in the Buchanan Government, they didn't balance too many budgets there. Anyway, on behalf of our caucus, I would like to thank the minister for answering the questions that were put to him today. They were very short and concise and not a lot of asphalt fell on this side of the Chairman, but I recall one well-known Tory - I have about 30 seconds - in our constituency who said it is not a question of if or when, it is just a question of how thick do you want it. So I would leave that with the minister when he comes to the constituency.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for debate has expired.
The honourable member for Preston.
MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply, I report that the Subcommittee on Supply has concluded its consideration of the estimates referred to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The report is tabled.
Shall the remaining resolutions carry? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report the estimates.
[The committee rose at 1:47 p.m.]