HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2019
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, would you please call for the continuation of Estimates for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Inverness.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you minister and staff. We’ve just got about nine minutes here. I thought I’d get up and ask a couple of quick questions.
Last night in Margaree Harbour, Belle Côte, there was a meeting of fishermen. You may recall there was a road that was owned - a lot of these roads that go to wharves have been owned by the federal government. In this case, we became the proud new owner of this road and I say that because it wasn’t left to us in very good shape. I realize for the province, we had no choice in the matter. It had to be taken on. The federal government would not invest money in it.
I think maybe in fairness, at a meeting I was at a couple of years ago, DFO had indicated they would put a little money into patching it at that time. The road is not in great shape. There was some consideration last year that it would be paved based on maybe some extra money in the budget. It wasn’t paved and at the start of a new fishing season, it’s been two or three years now. Fishermen are wondering if it’s going to be paved. There’s a lot of fish product being unloaded there. It’s an important part of the economy.
I’d like to ask the minister if he can comment on that road and if there’s any hope he can give those that have been waiting to see that it gets improved.
HON. LLOYD HINES: Thank you very much and I thank the member for the question.
There is great awareness in my constituency about the importance of the fishery to our economy and knowing in that area - and I actually had an opportunity to be on that road, not for any other reason but just to take a drive in and see where it was. I was in there wandering around last Fall so I actually was on the road, and there is a tremendous amount of fishing activity in that area there; there’s no doubt about it. It’s one of the strengths of the island overall.
My staff tells me we are aware of it. We think the road is actually vested in DNR rather than us, but we would be delivering the improvements. What we we’ll do is take a special look at it to see if there is more intense maintenance we can do in the meantime and see if we can look at future plans for resurfacing the road.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, minister. I know that actually had been an issue of who owns the road. Of course, if it’s still at Natural Resources, it’s difficult for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to make improvements to the road, but I guess what I would say is, at the end of the day, they’d like to see the road repaved. If the details can be figured out on the inside of government, that’s fine as long as the result is there.
I just want to thank the minister for that and I wanted to highlight it as something that’s been sort of on-going that I would like to see get addressed at some point - the sooner the better.
Another question I have - I had somebody come to me this winter from the Cheticamp area, the Acadian region, and they talked about weather conditions there, particularly snow clearing. I know sometimes, if it is really windy or really cold, or if there is still actually snow coming down and it’s windy and they are spreading salt, it might just blow off the road with the winds and it doesn’t have a chance to take hold.
Essentially, the question she asked me is: Are we getting the service we should be getting? At the time, I put a question to you, minister, and you responded saying, and I guess what I had highlighted was: That’s a good question and maybe there should be a review. A place like the southern part of the province - say in the Digby area - probably doesn’t experience the same weather conditions you would in northern Inverness County.
The response came back, and I think what was explained in the response is that the service standard has to be met, for one - the equipment provided in an area would ensure that the service standard can be met. That would suggest that we probably do have more equipment in northern Inverness County than a place like Digby. If that’s the case, I think that would be important to confirm and, even beyond that is - well, I’ll let the minister comment.
Is that essentially what he was trying to communicate in that letter because people want to know we are not just getting the same budget in northern Inverness County and that there are extra resources to handle the extra snowfall and winter weather.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. There is absolutely no doubt we had quite a remarkable winter in the north. We all saw those incredible snowbanks that were there and excavators 10 to 15 feet up in the air travelling across the top of snowbanks like they were granite. It was quite a challenge up there.
We feel we are meeting our level of service there. We do have additional resources in the area, but at the same time we’re reviewing that at present time and reviewing the levels of service right across the province because they haven’t been reviewed thoroughly for some time.
The total budget for the region this year is up about a million dollars in the eastern part. Of course, some of that would be going into that area to address that particular situation. We will have more to report once we take a look at what the plan is there. We do have a partner in that area too for some of the roads, which is Highland Park, which is responsible for some of the pieces beyond Cheticamp itself. We have a close working relationship with them and go back and forth with those folks.
THE CHAIR: The time has expired for the PC caucus. We’ll turn it over to the NDP.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Hello minister and staff, thank you for being here. I would like to - wait for it, surprise, surprise - ask you some questions about the Lancaster intersection. If I’m looking above your head, it’s because I have new bifocal contacts in and I can’t really see anything, just so you know - including my notes.
We talked yesterday in Question Period about the Lancaster intersection where Highway No. 118 turns into Woodland Avenue. There are a couple of things I’m looking for. First, I would like to ask the minister if he would table the traffic rates for the intersection that the department measured last Fall, I believe.
LLOYD HINES: Yes, we would be able to provide those. We don’t have them here at this moment, but we will provide them in the course of Estimates.
SUSAN LEBLANC: My understanding after talking to Darcy MacBain in the department was that there was a study done this past winter from January to March on the intersection. I’m wondering if the minister can table that study, and also if there were any other studies of that intersection done before that - I’m going to arbitrarily say the last five years. So, the one that was just done in this last couple of months and then any other studies that have been done in the last five years.
LLOYD HINES: I would be happy to provide whatever information we have. In the archives, there is a fresh review, which we’re expecting to have between mid-May and the first of June. When we have that study, we will provide that also. We’re looking for a cooperative solution with HRM at that site. Our people are talking to the HRM people, and I think we’re able to make an arrangement there that will work for both parties on the longer term.
The change in jurisdiction there on that street is just over the hill coming in towards the bridge, coming down the hill there, not very far, so the intersection is just on the very perimeter of the property that we control there. It would make sense if we can transfer that, work with HRM to provide a better traffic solution there. We have the lights that are our expense to operate, and perhaps a solution might involve a roundabout, which would rid us of that cost associated with the traffic lights that are there.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I just want to clarify - my understanding was that there was a study done that was to be done by the end of March. The one that the minister is referring to will now be complete by mid-May or early June. I just want to clarify that that’s the same study. That’s kind of part one of the question.
Part two: Is that study the one that will determine what will happen to that intersection? Could that study say, yes, we’re going to give the land over to HRM, we’re going to give them $50 billion to turn it into a roundabout, sign on the dotted line, it’s all going to happen and HRM is now in charge?
I know that that might not be the result of the study, but is this study that we expect in mid-May or first of June the one that’s going to ultimately finally have movement on this intersection?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, for the honourable member, that is the same study that is being done by an outside consultant. It’s a traffic study that will provide options for us and for HRM around what the possible solutions might be. Is there a light change involved? Is a roundabout the most efficient arrangement there? I know the intersection quite well. It seems to be quite spacious, so it seems to be lots of room there, but it is also a very busy intersection.
It would identify the amounts of land that would be required to institute a roundabout, if that were to be the way to go. Also, I’m informed that there are actually 800 metres, which is eight-tenths of a kilometre, on Woodlawn before we hit the HRM jurisdiction. We’d be looking at creating an intersection here, and then TIR and HRM would want to try to come up with a solution that would see that 800 metres transferred also. All those things would be put into negotiation.
I thought I heard the member mention $50 million. (Interruption) The only thing I can assure you is that it won’t be $50 million.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for that answer. I was joking, for the record.
Same study - we still don’t know what the result of the study’s going to be, but something will happen at the end of that study. We’ve talked about this in the last two Estimates, so I know that the minister uses that intersection a lot, as I do.
I guess the minister would also know that the intersection and the exit where you come off Highway No. 118 onto Woodland Avenue is full of potholes. It’s bad. I ended up having to go around at different angles of that area today twice. You don’t need to know why, but anyway, it’s terrible.
I also know that I spoke to the minister and he was telling me that the hot patch would start boiling on April 3rd. It’s now April 11th, and I am just wondering if the minister can provide me a quick update of when all the terrible potholes in Dartmouth North on provincial roads might get filled.
LLOYD HINES: Yes, and being a frequent user of that particular section, I have remarked to staff about the prevalence of potholes. I would tell you that the section between Dartmouth Crossing and Akerley, going in both directions, is scheduled for a full paving this year.
The section up to the intersection of Lancaster is not, but now we do have the asphalt plants open and the hot patching program has resumed. That is high on our priority list. I can’t say when they will be there, but now we have availability for good patching material, and it will be added constantly from here on in.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’m going to move on to some questions about the QEII redevelopment. I’ve asked this before but I’d like to confirm. Can the minister go through the different aspects of the project: the community outpatient centre in Bayers Lake, the Dartmouth General Hospital, the Halifax Infirmary expansion, Hants Community Hospital, the QEII cancer centre, and the QEII outpatient centre?
I am wondering if he can go through those different aspects of the project and indicate which will be undertaken through a traditional public build and which will be undertaken through a P3 contract.
LLOYD HINES: I certainly welcome the question. That requires a whole lot of answer, so I will try and boil it down to get at the main issues that I think you were looking for.
On the design-build-finance-maintain portion, or what has been referred to as P3, the Bayers Lake community centre and the Halifax Infirmary new builds would be part of that particular style of contracting.
On the traditional side, we have the Halifax Infirmary renovations of the third and fifth floors, and there is a hybrid operating suite going in there as well. Dartmouth General has been a conventional build and is well along, as I’m sure the member is aware. We are very pleased with that particular renovation. I think we just led another contract to complete the parking area there in the area.
At the Dickson Building, we have also announced a chemo prep lab, which is an important piece of work that we are going ahead with as part of the overall picture, but it is needed now, so that is being done. That will be built in a traditional manner.
In Hants County, the work at Windsor is complete, and that was also a traditional build. This is a very massive undertaking, an upgrading of the infrastructure - the bricks and mortar - for our health system that has not been undertaken in the province’s history. We have a lot of folks who are dedicated to putting the program together.
I have Brian Ward here with me today, who is in charge of much of that, and Deputy Paul LaFleche. We had to shift gears a little bit when you shifted gears.
SUSAN LEBLANC: When the new QEII cancer centre is built, I am assuming that is going over to the HI site, into that expansion when the VG closes. Is that correct? Is that going to be traditional or P3?
LLOYD HINES: Yes. That is part of the new build at the HI site. It will be part of the P3 process.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you. For the different undertakings that will be P3 models - what you just outlined, the new builds at the Halifax Infirmary and the community outpatient centre - how long are those P3 contracts expected to last? Will they continue into the operational phase of the life of the hospital or are they just the build phase?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you for the question. It gives me an opportunity to offer that explanation.
There are some operational issues with the building, let’s say for instance maintenance. The physical plant and that sort of process would be by the P3 builder, but the rest of the operations of the medical-related facilities would all be by the NSHA.
SUSAN LEBLANC: What about things like food services and things like that - the Tim Hortons and the little gift shops and things. Is that all run by the P3 company or the hospital itself?
LLOYD HINES: It’s early days in the process in terms of the negotiation around the shape of how the delivery will work, so those decisions really have not been taken formally at this particular time. They are part of the discussions that are ongoing presently.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Has the department calculated the full lifetime costs of delivering the hospital redevelopment through a P3 compared to public alternatives delivering the same level of quality and service?
I ask this - and it’s particularly poignant because I was in the Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday, and we were talking about P3s and the education system. The Auditor General did point out that he suggested - I’m sure I’m getting this right - that any time a government undertakes a P3 model or consideration at this point, there should be ample work done in investigating the success/failure/outcomes of P3s all across the country and a really good study on the different types of models and how they’ve worked and how they haven’t.
I wanted to make sure that the department has looked at that, and more specifically, calculated the full lifetime costs of the P3 model versus a traditional model.
LLOYD HINES: We’ve taken this responsibility very seriously in terms of doing a significant review of what the national experience has been. Across the country, our people have traveled extensively to various venues in the country where the P3 model has been used to construct these types of facilities. We have Deloitte on our evaluation team. The requests for quotes has closed and that’s currently in the process, to determine who we would go with through the next stage of development on.
Through this period, we have engaged the Auditor General closely. He is working with us and he’s agreed to have a perch on what we’re doing all the way through, so that we’re making sure that we have as close to his blessing as we can get as we move this project forward.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, that’s great to hear the Auditor General is involved. I’m wondering, therefore, has the department prepared a full value-for-money audit and business case analysis for the private-public partnership, compared to a detailed public sector comparator?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, we have done that. Working with Deloitte, we have prepared a business case particular to the project that we have on our hospital side, which would be a little bit different than our Highway No. 104 P3 arrangement. The business case has been prepared and is used as a guide as we enter further into the process.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Can the minister indicate the expected nominal annual cost of the work the province will contract out through a public-private partnership?
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the question. Of course, we would not want to necessarily reveal what we are speculating our costs might be, because we are in a competitive bidding process. We are actually canvassing the market to get that information back to us to see what the best value for money would be from the various bidders that have expressed interest in the proposal.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Understood. So, when the decision is made on which companies you’ll be going with, can you then detail and table that information? Also, sorry to backtrack for one second, I’m also wondering if the minister would table the audit and business-case analysis I spoke of in my previous question?
LLOYD HINES: The audit process would be performed by the Auditor General. In terms of the business case, once we have the project co-selected, that information would be available leading up to the point in time where we would be using the information in the business case to select the successful bidder, then that would be proprietary information on our part, which we would be reluctant to reveal as it might prejudice our prices that are coming in.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I just want to clarify a couple of the answers I have received so far. I’m not moving out of the range of questions, but I just want to make sure that I don’t forget them.
Earlier I asked you if the department had calculated the full lifetime costs of delivering the hospital redevelopment through a P3 compared to public alternatives. You did say that you were working with the Auditor General and taking it very seriously, but I just wanted to clarify whether you actually did those calculations to figure out what is the cost difference between the two options.
LLOYD HINES: As part of the process, we have done that review in comparison, but at this point in time, because of the fact we’re in the selection process at the present time, we’re not in a position to be able to reveal that currently.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I understand the government’s reluctance to reveal these kinds of numbers, but it is difficult for the public to accept we are going down the right road with such a huge expenditure when we can’t ever find out how much money is actually being talked about and how much we’re saving. When we can’t see those numbers, it’s really difficult to trust this is the best way of moving forward on these massive pieces of infrastructure, which we all agree are very important to our province.
I’m wondering if instead of offering numbers, if the minister could possibly talk in percentages for instance, so we aren’t revealing proprietary information. At least we can have some confidence the right decisions are being made about which way to go for these bills.
LLOYD HINES: Without getting into areas of our particular circumstance currently, suffice to say that the evidence that we have across the country about this method of construction shows the P3 method, for health facilities, is the preferred method almost unanimously in the larger facilities that have been built right across the country. That gives us some reason to investigate that to ensure that we are getting a good value-for-money return in using that same method in our construction here.
As I have mentioned to you, the entirety of the facilities is not going P3 in the overall rebuild of the QEII material. As I mentioned, Dartmouth General was traditional and Windsor was traditional. It doesn’t fit in all particular instances, but we are encouraged and confident that the method will return the best value for money for us as evidenced by the widespread use of this method across the country.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I have to say that that’s not a comforting answer. We could look at this in two ways. If we say that we should base all our decision on what’s going on all across the country, then I could say we should definitely have a child and youth advocate office in this province, and we should definitely have universal daycare, which is happening in Quebec and being looked at in other provinces. We might even have higher income assistance rates and maybe higher minimum wages if we want to talk about that. Sure if we’re going to talk in those terms, then we can talk about all the great things that are being done in Canada that aren’t being done here.
Conversely, I just feel like there’s nothing to back up that kind of measure. I’m going to contradict myself now, but I want to look at this from both angles. Just because something is being done in all kinds of places doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things.
I feel like the people of Nova Scotia will be shocked to know that there is no accountability that the minister can provide to make sure our money is being spent in the best way. All that the minister can say for sure is that this is the best way to spend our money, but we have nothing that we can look at to back that up. For me, that’s very concerning, and I think it will be concerning to the rest of the people in this province.
I’m going to keep moving on because we know that we are going down the road of P3 contracts with a couple of these projects. I’m wondering, when deciding whether to use a P3 contract or a public alternative, how important are the assumptions of risk transfer in the P3 protocol? I’m wondering if any promised risk transfer could instead be delivered through a public procurement process that involves a fixed price contract?
LLOYD HINES: I certainly appreciate the question, and I have witnessed the member’s passion in the House about things like the film tax credit, child poverty issues, and other very relevant positions that she and her Party take.
In our department, we are focused on what we are charged to do here, which is to bring these construction projects in on time and on budget. Risk transfer is probably the key motivating factor in terms of moving towards a P3 process because the exoneration of that risk is significant in the P3 arrangement. As an example, the new convention centre, which seems to be performing very well and which was instituted under the member’s own Party, is a stellar example of controlling that cost. The timing did get escalated a little bit on that, did stretch out a bit, but the cost was managed all the way through.
There were no huge overruns, unlike for instance, the last hospital build in the province. That was done prior to the NSHA and prior to government taking that back in Truro and suffered significant cost overruns at that particular time.
The other stellar example of a successful P3 arrangement is the Cobequid Pass process, which has produced a fine piece of highway - really the best piece of highway we have in the province. It is well-maintained, it is fully resourced. We’re in a position to retire the mortgage as it were, the bonds on that, a full six years early in the process. We are also looking at making some toll structure changes there, which I think Nova Scotians will be happy to see.
All of those things are considered as part of that P3 arrangement, but the risk transfer that you asked about is a key ingredient of what we’re seeking in the P3 arrangement.
SUSAN LEBLANC: My understanding is that because these projects are risky, the P3 company will absorb most of the risk. You talked about Truro, but there are lots of other P3 examples. Are you able to give a sense of what the actual risk of cost overruns would be on a project like this? For instance, were there cost overruns on the Cobequid Pass that were mitigated because it was a P3 model? What about all the schools that we build? I’m just curious to know what the risks are. I’ll ask that first.
LLOYD HINES: In answer to the member’s question, in the risk assessment, the cost control and the schedule control are the two main issues that are de-risked in the P3 process. Once the arrangement is in place, the contract is set, and the price is set. That’s undertaken by the contractor, so any changes unforeseen in that process in terms of cost are absorbed at that level. It’s a huge incentive for them to manage those very closely. The same goes for the schedule. Time is money, as we all know. The P3 process brings strong discipline to both those factors in the construction process.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Therefore, it is true that the province will not be responsible for guaranteeing the private sector’s revenues, or will we? Just to be clear, I’m sensing from your answer that it will be the companies, the private sector, that will liable for cost overruns and project deficiencies. Can you just confirm that? Is the province responsible for guaranteeing the private sector’s revenues? Who will be liable for cost overruns and project deficiencies?
LLOYD HINES: There will be a variety of responses to the question depending on what particular section we were looking at. In terms of penalties for time overruns, those are set out in such a way so that it is to the advantage of the project company to avoid those overruns.
With the volumes of money that we’re talking about here, I always try to make this point. We sit around the tables and we talk about $1 million this and $1 million that and $50 million this and $1 billion that, without really sitting back and contemplating and meditating on how much a billion is. The earth is 93 million miles away from the sun. In dollar terms, that’s fairly close. It’s not a billion miles away. It’s huge, huge amounts of money.
Therefore, the companies that undertake these things are global companies that are in this business globally. That’s their niche, the business that they’re in. They might be working on a margin that is way smaller than the margins a regular construction company in Nova Scotia, which is out doing $100-million worth of business with our department on paving, might work on. A half-a-percentage-point margin on $10 billion is significant amount of money.
I think it’s important to really pause and contemplate the magnitude of the dollar values that are involved. If you think about that, then you realize that there’s a small cadre of global companies that are capable of undertaking these kinds of builds where they’re able to wait the prescribed period - 30 years for instance - to receive their full payment and be able to carry that kind of risk for that period of time. It then behooves us to make sure that we’re dealing with companies that have that capability. They show up globally for these types of activities. That would be consistent with our recent RFQ for Highway No. 104, where we have two large global construction companies that are bidding on that.
The responsibility for cost overruns, except for things that would be lined up in the contract, which might be a provision, for instance, if the cost of fuel exploded in some way - it’s common practice in the airline industry and the construction industry to provide deltas for changes if there’s a spike in those costs. Other than provisions like that, then the cost overruns are the responsibility of the project company.
THE CHAIR: To the honourable member for Dartmouth North, I would like to remind you to address through the Chair, so maybe looking at me sometimes will help you to remember that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: It is precisely because I have contemplated the amount of money that we are spending on these hospital builds that I am asking these questions. Nova Scotians and I want to make sure that we are spending the money in the most responsible way.
There is plenty of data that suggests that P3 builds are not the way to go. I’ll go back to the point that I made earlier: If we can’t see these numbers and we can’t even see percentages or ratios, how are we to trust that this is the way to spend those millions of dollars?
I’m wondering, does the P3 contract allow the province the flexibility to make future changes in service delivery or other public policy decisions to end the contract in the procurement stage or to terminate the contract if it’s not meeting public interest?
LLOYD HINES: First of all, the health service delivery is not being provided through the P3 contract, so we could set that part aside. I think the member touches on a very relevant consideration, which is the extremely volatile technological world that we live in. It does not limit itself to our cell phones.
I tabled a petition today in the House for a rocket-launching facility in the Canso area, which would be the first one in the country. That’s a technological change that lots of people are skeptical about; a lot of eye-rolling going on. When you think about what’s happening with technology, it has become relevant. That’s the same thing that is happening in our medical community. Technologies are shrinking - the size of various pieces of equipment like CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, dialysis, lab testing, all of that.
In the structures we’re making, we are trying to anticipate the envelopes that will house these types of equipment and the types of activities that are occurring within to reflect that need to be flexible as we move forward. It’s no different in education where we have programs that are online for high school kids. In lots of rural areas - I don’t know how they do it - they do physics and calculus online and not with a live teacher. I think that’s kind of tough, but that is happening. Telehealth is the same way.
We need to step back a bit and look at what we think the building is going to be used for down the road. In the configuration, we need to be flexible in terms of what we will need. It seems to be going smaller because of the technology, rather than larger.
In terms of the overall design for anything that we go to do, including schools, etc. - and even roads, for that matter - we have to keep an eye on that technology. On the medical side, it is very significant in terms of the advancements that are happening there. What we need now may not be what we would need 10 years down the road.
My comments about the magnitude of millions and billions - I think here in the House, we are used to dealing with large budgets. The people who have a mild interest in what we do as politicians in the province, sometimes their comprehension of a billion is - they’re more used to looking at what the price of Nikes are for the kids than what a $1-billion dollar health facility would be.
SUSAN LEBLANC: It’s exactly because of what the minister has just been talking about, where we go into the future with all the technological changes that we’re already experiencing and for sure will be - it’s exactly because of that that I’m asking this question.
Will the contracts be flexible to allow the government of the day to shift a contract, if needed, or to terminate it? If we realize all of sudden that CAT scans cost $3 each and there’s a better way to spend the public’s money - I can’t really see that happening. To clarify the question, will there be flexibility in the contract?
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the clarification from the member. I actually scribbled that down, and I couldn’t make out what I put down.
Just to give you an example of the contract - it’s extremely complex. There are provisions for almost every possible contemplation of something that could happen, including termination. The terms around the termination - just to give you an idea - it will probably half a dozen banker boxes thick in the process. There would be swarms of lawyers and accountants who have put the contract together, so there would be no stone unturned in terms of . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP. We will move to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
PAT DUNN: The first two questions are going to deal with Nova Scotia lands.
A few months ago, at the Trenton car plant - Main Street, Trenton - it was noticed that there were four huge shunters out in the driveway of the plant site. Apparently, they were torn down into large pieces. These are 50- or 60-ton engines that were previously used inside and outside the plant to move cars in and out of the plant. In talking to some residents from the town, a lot of former employees, they were saddened to see that these shunters were torn down into pieces. They thought that somewhere, somehow, some people could possibly want them and probably would have paid some money for them. They had to be valuable to someone, perhaps.
The question is: Why was there a decision to destroy those shunters? Was there an effort to try to sell them prior to that, and maybe they couldn’t be sold?
LLOYD HINES: I know that the member and many other people in Pictou County, Colchester County, Guysborough County, and Antigonish County have had a long history with TrentonWorks. There was a time in the past when there were close to 4,000 people working in that steel operation. It had a glorious history during the Second World War, in particular. It served the country very well.
Like many things that we see in our society and in our communities, times change. Usefulness changes, and people feel a nostalgic perspective towards the facilities. I am very sensitive to that. I think I understand that. We all have that in our communities when it comes to how proud we are of the Perkins House, as an example, or the Old Court House Museum in Guysborough, which is from the turn of the century. There’s that feeling of pride that comes with that.
I also think that that applies to industries of historical significance. Certainly, Pictou County has a lot to be proud of in many areas. There have been some prolific business people who came out of there but also in terms of its contribution to the industrial development of the country, really.
However, we now find ourselves in a situation where the railcar function and construction has really moved to China. Nobody can compete with them for the most part, some in Mexico. The elderly facilities at TrentonWorks have been called into question.
A previous government made a valiant effort to latch on to the emerging renewable energy industry as it was coming into the country. There were some high expectations around a Korean company’s ability to manufacture - not the nacelles or the turbines - the posts, the towers, for the wind industry. I think there was a misapprehension. Those tend to be done as a piece all together. The larger companies manufacture their own towers. They control the process right from the start to finish. The idea of using those facilities to service the renewable wind energy industry fell by the wayside.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t some residual value left in the facilities of TrentonWorks. That residual value was in the equipment that was purchased there. We did have an auction that was quite successful and returned around $4 million back to the government of the monies that had been outstanding when the Korean company left. There are two newer buildings that are there, a large white one and a smaller white one - I’ll say they’re white because the rest of them are brown brick buildings that are there - that have some residual value.
When this property came to us at Nova Scotia Lands, we wanted to take a fresh look at it. Having brownfield facilities is a very common occurrence across the country, across the globe, actually. I know and visited a brownfield site actually in Amsterdam a few years ago, where this wonderful housing development and park system and commercial-building complex in the City of Amsterdam was built on a brownfield. It was built on an area that was a landfill at one particular time; Canary Wharf in London similarly, properties that were seen as valueless. We can look our own experience in the famous, infamous, tar ponds in Sydney and see how the conversion has been successful down there to reclaim those properties.
In terms of TrentonWorks, that’s kind of the view that we’re looking at to strip away some of the pieces of the facility that were costing a lot of money to maintain, which had no easily identifiable future use, and to re-establish that site. It’s an excellent site. There’s more than 100 acres of flat-level industrial land there, with rail available to it, and fairly good road access. We are, at the member’s request, looking at the Trenton Connector which will help that road system.
There is quite an asset there in terms of what we could do with that facility for another use. What we have decided to do is issue a contract - which is pretty well complete, actually - for the range of around $600,000 demolition, to take down some of the pieces of the facility that were not functioning and were costing money to maintain, to begin the process of re-evaluating the site and keeping those two newer buildings where we do have some interest in as a possible future use for other types of activities people might see, that could be serviced by a good road network and a good rail network right on site. The rail is right on site, a nice flat-level, industrially-zoned land.
In that process, we went to the market to seek bids for the demolition and in the process of the demolition, the bidders contemplated their recovery for those types of units you’re talking about. The recapture for us was in the amount of the bid we received for the demolitions that are there. In other words, they recovered some of their costs by using the materials they were able to strip out and re-sell. That’s the business that’s they’re in, these people in the demolition business.
Just let me say again, I understand completely how people would feel apprehensive in the area there. There were great hopes for TrentonWorks when Greenbrier was in there. They were a great employer in the area and the hopes for the renewable energy manufacturer did not materialize, unfortunately. We went through a period of time where there was a hiatus. The property came over to us and I know the Department of Business beat the bushes hard to try and find somebody who was interested in it.
We’re going to take it and clean it up. It is a true brownfield site and there are all kinds of techniques actually funding from national sources available for rehabilitation of brownfield sites to bring that facility back into the plan and make it productive for the residents of the surrounding towns and, indeed, the whole province.
PAT DUNN: It certainly has a lot of history. In fact, I have a great-grandfather who worked in that plant for 64 years and retired at the age of 83, so a lot of relatives who worked there; I worked there myself after Grade 12 on a big tank car order. (Interruption) The colleague to my right says, I was there but I didn’t work. (Laughter)
Just one last question. I hope the answer is a lot shorter. He did a lot of skating around that net and didn’t really answer the question I asked, but I got his point.
There is a really different footprint at the plant now. You drive through Trenton and you look at where all these buildings were and it’s certainly a very different footprint. We know there are a lot of buildings knocked down: the boiler room, administrative building, a couple of big shops and so on.
I remember talking to an older engineer a number of years ago, saying that the A, B, C, D shops were sort of intertwined. If you tear a couple down, the steel structures sort of attach and might jeopardize the other two as far as safety. Again, that was passed on to me; I’m not sure how accurate that is. Also, the boiler room used to heat some of the plant buildings.
I guess the last two questions would be: Are the remaining buildings going to be heated or they’re just going to be left as is, or do you have the capacity now with the boiler room gone to heat them? If you can leave the puck at centre ice for a few seconds, one last question is: Has there been any interest in the place as of late?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. I do appreciate the relationship that he and I have on this project. He has been very helpful to me in terms of communicating the community’s feelings and giving me some of the history of the project. Also, he has brought some people who have some interest in the redevelopment to the department, and we were only too happy to meet with those people.
In terms of the relationship between A, B, C and D, we have demolished C and D, which were designated as really not useful whatsoever. I should just back up a little bit and say that I have been informed that the two particular motor pieces that you referred to were gone before our department and Nova Scotia Lands became involved, so I can’t speak of what the disposition of those was.
We knew from various reviews that C and D were not usable but functional. We were spending a lot of money on utilities in those facilities. The first move we made was to cut the electricity bill by in excess of $20,000 per year. Remember that this is taxpayer’s money that’s going into maintaining these facilities, and it’s our objective to try and minimize the costs around those sorts of things.
I stood in A and B, I think in November, and they were magnificent structures. The building is 60 feet wide and 1,300 feet long, with a concrete floor and brick walls. If you look up, about 40 or 50 feet in the air is a wooden roof, a tongue in groove wooden roof, with skylights on the side and no insulation whatsoever.
I asked the gentleman who was looking after that for us, when was this building built? He said this particular one was built prior to 1912 - he didn’t know exactly when it was. Both those buildings are in excess of 100 years old. You can take a spoon or chisel and tap the bricks, and they’re getting pretty ripe. You have to think about what kind of use you could have for an uninsulated building that is 60 feet wide, built for purpose in the day for steel manufacturing when TrentonWorks was a going concern and had 2,000 or 3,000 people there. What could we use that for today?
In earlier discussion, we talked about hospital facilities and the built-for-purpose nature of those faculties. This particular facility is not a whole lot different. There are times when you can convert buildings for other use. I think particularly of the rural areas that have had school closures of buildings that were built in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The community has this attachment to them, and they don’t want to lose their school. Eventually the school closes because there are no kids to go to them, and they want the building converted. Some of them have been successful as community centres, but there’s always a catch, and that’s that they’re expensive to maintain, expensive to heat, and all that sort of thing.
In terms of the utility of a 107-year-old uninsulated brick building with a wooden roof, how convertible that is to another use is a question in my mind. A and B are still standing, and perhaps there might be a particular use that would come forward, and somebody could use a building like that.
In terms of your question about what our commitment is to maintain the other buildings that are there, there are two good newer structures that are there, that we intend to maintain. In the budget this year, we have $1.354 million to dedicate towards the maintenance of those facilities, including keeping those two in-plan buildings heated. That’s what our commitment is to upkeeping those buildings.
In terms of interest, yes, we have had interest in the buildings. We have had tire-kickers, which I think is a common process that happens. Businesspeople are always looking for a bargain, especially if it’s a fire sale, so we do have people who are looking.
There are a couple of active proposals that are currently before us. I am not in a position to reveal what those might be at the present time, but I think that speaks to what I said earlier. We think that repurposing that facility will provide a second life for that big industrial opportunity - service by rail, service by good road, with lots of good services around.
You have a network of 50,000 people in that municipality there who would provide services in support of that community. I think that once we are able to absorb the demolitions that will occur - and I wouldn’t say that they are completely finished as of yet - we will have a polished product that will be attractive to industry. I look forward to working with our colleagues in business who have the expertise about dealing with other companies to revitalize that site.
PAT DUNN: Madam Chair, the minister was talking about the buildings without insulation. I recall having a summer job and having to do a roof over one of those magnificent structures. Safety gear didn’t exist back then in the 1970s. You could look through the holes in the roof and see the people working way down there at their machinery.
Anyway, I thank the minister for that answer. I’m going to leave the Trenton plant and slide over to potholes again for a few seconds. I’ve been doing a fair bit of research as to what they do in other countries, what they do in the United States and so on regarding repairing potholes. There is a lot of new technology out now and available.
The infrared technology - I know a place in Manchester, New Hampshire: Kasi Infrared. They have a lot of different models out. You can have a truck that can repair 50 potholes in a day with a two-person operation that automatically detects street damage and comes along and repairs and so on. It’s apparently cheaper than the traditional method. It has the potential to save millions of dollars, and they state that the plugs can be placed in the road in most weather conditions.
I would like to ask the minister if the department has ever looked beyond the scope of normal practice to examine other possible ways or methods of repairing our roads in the Spring?
LLOYD HINES: Madam Chair, I’m glad to hear that the member was inspired by the conversation we had about new technologies and went out and sought out a lot of those things that we are actually exploring.
I mentioned in the House earlier that we have become somewhat complacent about the pothole situation, in that we are presented with this every year. You might say we have bigger fish to fry, particularly in this year’s record-setting capital budget that we are enjoying in the department. Sometimes the question of potholes - yeah, we get the complaints and we absorb them, and yada, yada, and away you go. I’ve asked the department to take a new look at the pothole question and exactly what the member is talking about. I would appreciate him sharing any of that particular research that he has.
We’ve been doing our own research. We have a relationship with Dalhousie, who are helping us look at different technologies. What I want to do is find out who the pacesetter for highway retrofit and repair in the world is. Lots of places have the same issues that we have. I checked to see that Belgrade is on the same latitude as Halifax in Nova Scotia, so one of the things we are looking at is, well, they have pavement, so what do they do?
Alaska is a little bit different. Instead of getting a freeze-thaw cycle, they get a freeze-freeze cycle. Part of the problem we have is the freeze-thaw, which we are into right now. You can see that we’ve had the snow just in the last few days, and it’s up and down all over the place.
Suffice to say that yes, we are looking. We think there are better ways of addressing this. We do have a fleet of portable hot-patch machines stationed across the province, and we are looking at augmenting those machines to better give us hot patch during the times that we said we don’t have hot patch as opposed to cold patch.
The cold patch, from what I can judge, is kind of a waste of money. We put it in, it lasts for a few days, and then it pops out and we’re back to the same situation, whereas hot patch tends to last a bit longer and we do have the capability to provide recycled material into these machines and actually do hot patching through the off season.
We are looking at our deployment of those particular machines. One of our options might be to augment those machines and station them at more locations throughout our districts to tackle the problem in a more holistic way.
I’d like to assure the member and the citizens that we are not going to pass this over and say, “Well, we get potholes every year. What can I say? Get used to it.” We are going to invest some time and money into seeing if there is a better solution to the pothole problem that we can bring home to the citizens of the province.
PAT DUNN: In the fairness of time, it was a pleasure working with you, and I’m going to pass things over to the member for Queens-Shelburne.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
KIM MASLAND: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the minister and staff for an opportunity to ask some questions this evening.
My first couple of questions are going to focus around Nova Scotia lands, and specifically Port Mersey, which is in my constituency. I’m wondering if the minister could tell me what the long-term plan is for Port Mersey.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. We have quite a bit of activity at that particular site. Actually, we’re finding some success in terms of repurposing that facility. We do have a bit of an expense there with the steam agreement, which is not turning out as was proposed several years ago when it was turned over to us. We’re caught into that until 2026. That’s just a contractual reality.
I think people are familiar with the success of the Aqualitas company, which is providing new employment for people in the area there. They have a very aggressive interest in expanding their facilities in the area. I think they’re a good catalyst for other types of development that are there. We have other businesses that are tenants in there. We have a constant flow of interest in the facility, particularly around the wharf area.
Essentially, the budget for this year is around $3 million to support that facility. Our objective would be to exit our responsibility there completely on the longer term and to switch ourselves out of that ownership position that we found ourselves in when the Bowater facility so unfortunately exited the area.
So it’s active for us - we’ve spent a lot of time with proposals for there, and we’re very committed to turning that into a good economic generator for the people of the area.
KIM MASLAND: I appreciate the minister’s response. The minister has talked about the government’s desire to exit that - what happened back when Resolute closed its doors.
I’ll take it a step further. I appreciate wanting to exit, but my understanding is that there may possibly be some contaminated areas on site. I’m wondering if the department has identified those areas, and what are the plans for remediation?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member very much for the question. When we’re looking at these former industrial sites, the question of contamination and remediation is always on our minds, because the standards of 50 years ago are not the standards of today. We see that time after time where we’re caught having to retrofit at very costly amounts of money. However, under the current usage for that facility, which is a commercial industrial use, there is no remediation that has been identified that is required.
If we went into a change of use and decided to take the wharf and put up a condominium and then build residential properties on it, then we would be into a situation where, in all likelihood, remediation would be required. But under its current process and our current vision for the property, which is to continue it as an industrial commercial site, the remediation issue is off the table.
KIM MASLAND: I could talk a lot longer on Port Mersey, because I have lots of questions, but respecting my time, I guess I’d better switch over to some local roads.
Highway No. 103 exits 17 and 17A are both in controlled-access portions of highway with 100-kilometre-per-hour speed limits. Neither have separate lanes for slowing down to exit the highway when turning right or for joining the highway.
Exit 17, East Port Medway/Charleston/Mill Village, is located on a large curve; and exit 17A, Port Medway/Mill Village, going east at the base, is a long, steep hill. Both make it extremely dangerous for vehicles slowing down and turning right.
Port Medway/Mill Village has had an increased amount of traffic now with the lovely little Port Grocer down at the end. There have been multiple accidents on both of these.
I would like to ask the minister what the department’s plan is to address these very dangerous exits.
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the member bringing that forward. In consultation with our senior people here, at our level, these locations have not been identified. Perhaps the member was working with Mr. Newell in the area there or some of the local people. But I appreciate you bringing it up, and we are absolutely delighted to entertain.
If you want to come to the department, we can pull those up on the big screen, take a look at them, and bring them forward. Now, it’s possible that locally there may be a plan or a reaction in place to deal with that, but it hasn’t bubbled up to the chief engineer level at this particular time.
This is your highway system, and I would encourage all the members sincerely to please approach me or any of our senior people. Come to the office, take a look, and put your matters forward.
We do that, and the member took advantage of that earlier to come in and talk about what the plan is for the upcoming year. We have 23,000 kilometres of roads and it is pretty impossible to keep an eye on every one of them, so we welcome your input. Certainly in this instance, we would be more than happy to look at what you are talking about there, and appreciate the fact that we probably have traffic counts and that type of information. I’d welcome that.
KIM MASLAND: I want to talk a little bit about gravel roads. I have many, and I think the road I get the most complaints about is Old Port Mouton Road. We’ve talked about this road in Estimates before, and I know I’ve talked to my local guys at the depot about this road continuously. My understanding is that the residents have started a petition just last week about this road. This is a dirt road where traffic has increased with the number of residents who are living there.
I would like to ask the minister what is the department’s long-term plan for this road? Basically, it needs to be rebuilt.
LLOYD HINES: I appreciate the inquiry from the member. We don’t seem to be able to locate that particular road on our plan, but again, I would undertake to make sure we take a look at that road.
I do want to talk for a minute about the gravel-road program. Again, this year in the budget, the $300 million capital budget that is the highest in eight years in the department and I am very, very proud of that. Three years ago, it was $215 million, and it is now $300 million. That’s the commitment of this government to our roads in the province. It’s a 40 per cent increase in capital. In that increase, this will represent $50 million going into our gravel-road program.
Of the 23,000 kilometres we have in the province, 8,500 of them, which is about 33 per cent or a little bit more - actually, it’s quite a bit more than that, like 40 per cent are gravel.
Having some capital money to do exactly what the member has talked about, to rebuild, is what this program - which is actually the gravel roads are 35 per cent of the roads that we have in the province - will do because the $20 million we committed this year, the $20 million last year, and the $10 million the year before that, is $50 million over that three-year period that is going into sub-grade developments.
These roads have evolved over a period of time and never really had any money spent on them because the area managers had to take that money out of their maintenance contracts.
We said, hold on, gravel roads are important to Nova Scotians and we’re going to give you some capital money to put new cross-culverts in to get the drainage. That’s the secret of roads, to get the water off them. Cross-culverts, good ditching, crowning the roads so the water goes off the sides, and the gravel really is the icing on the cake. It’s the last piece that comes. That’s the undertaking we have and, as I said, we are at $50 million.
In the Western region this year - of the $20 million in gravel-road allocation, $5.8 million of that is going to the Western region. That’s the second highest in the four allocations that we have, plus there is an additional $1.1 million in the rim budget for gravel in your region there. That’s a total of $6.9 million that is probably not all going to be spent in the member’s riding, but a good member - like I have observed she is - will get her share of it, I’m sure. In the meantime, we will undertake to see where this particular road you brought up is in the process and see if we can at least get it as a candidate for the gravel-road program.
What we have been doing, and you might want to think about this, is encouraging the local folks to work with the municipalities that are involved because the municipal folks get the complaints significantly about the gravel roads. In many of the municipalities across the province we have liaison committees set up where members of our departments come and meet on a quarterly basis with the municipalities and talk about the kinds of things that need to be talked about, which often get overlooked and don’t get done and it creates silos. We’re not talking to each other unless it’s through the media complaining that it doesn’t work. In instances where we have developed this relationship, we are getting pretty good effects.
I’ve asked the municipalities in the Eastern region and other regions to become involved in where they want to see the gravel-road money spent; to put their priorities forward. It’s the same as, for instance, in the Antigonish county portion of my riding, they put forward a priority list for road work and for paving. That would also be under the gravel-road program. I would encourage the member to consider that; to work with her municipal colleagues. In the meantime, we will undertake to see where that road is in the picture.
THE CHAIR: Just a reminder to address your talk through the Chair. There is a lot of usage of ‘you’ in your conversations.
LLOYD HINES: Okay.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
KIM MASLAND: Thank you, Madam Chair. Moving on to bridges, I’ve been receiving multiple complaints about the concern of the safety of the bridge located in Mill Village - it’s Medway River Bridge. School bus drivers, the fire department, and local residents are very, very concerned.
I actually travelled down to take a look at the bridge and the surface boards are really bad. I was also advised there was a weight restriction placed on that bridge a couple of years ago which, again, is causing concern to residents. They are fearful the weight restriction was put on and now we see this visible structure stuff happening on top of the bridge, so is it safe?
I would like to ask the minister, how often would a bridge inspector be checking that bridge specifically, now that that weight restriction has been put on that bridge?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question and for bringing up that particular bridge. The short answer to your question is that all bridges are inspected annually, so they receive one review by our inspection team, and depending on what the findings are, they could be classified as a level one, level two, or level three inspection. Level three would mean that there’s a severe weight restriction placed on it or it could be closed.
We do have some across the province that have been closed. Normally these are old steel pony truss bridges that could be as much as 100 years old.
We have 4,100 bridges and structures in the province. Unfortunately for us, in the 1950s in particular, there was a huge bridge-building program in place, so they are all ripening at the same time and we’re left with a massive requirement for bridges.
This year in the budget we’ve got $12 million for operating budget for bridge rehab; there’s $30 million in what we call the envelope, which would be for the regular type of stuff that that particular bridge would fall into; and there’s another $55 million in the major bridge replacement, which would be related to the new structures on the 100-Series Highways that are being constructed or with the twinnings that are underway.
I’ve had this occasion to actually investigate these bridges myself, to pull the inspections and take a look at them and see when the dates were in the process. I’m assured that the inspections are occurring. But it’s very understandable in rural areas of the province, where we have school buses and oil trucks traversing these structures, that people become concerned.
The inspection talks about the bearing ability of the bridge. Sometimes the travel surface is pretty worn looking, but actually what we’re concerned about is the ability of the bridge to carry.
It could be that we don’t have any information on that particular bridge here. (Interruption) Well, there you go now. He did find it. What happens with our department is, you call it one thing, the people in the community do, but here we call it something else. So we found it, we tracked it down. It’s for replacement in 2022, according to the schedule, so we can take a look to see if that’s the appropriate time for that.
Again, I’d invite you to come and talk to our bridge people. I will tell you that from my perspective in the department, I honestly don’t think we’re doing enough for bridges. We’re going to be looking at trying to set aside specific additional capital money that will enable us to catch up on that huge demand that’s out there. It depends on how successful we are over the next year with Treasury Board for next year’s budget if we’re able to get a bigger set aside for our bridge issue.
KIM MASLAND: I thank the minister for a short answer. I have a question about Eastern Shore Road. This year, or this past Fall, we had 3.7 kilometres of 6.7 kilometres of Eastern Shore Road paved. It was very, very welcomed in the community, but the contractor that did the job was very late in the season doing it. It was snowing when they were putting down the asphalt, and the road hasn’t held up very well over the winter months. There are a lot of bumps. People tell me - and I’m not an engineer - that the culverts weren’t placed in properly.
My question to the minister: Is there some type of warranty - that’s probably not the right word, but to go back to the contractor to have them fix the road properly?
LLOYD HINES: The chief engineer tells me some good news for the member: there are another 5.9 kilometres of that road on for this year’s plan, if we are talking about the same road here. Sometimes the names get a little bit confused.
Yes, there is a warranty on the paving surface of roads. It is either one year or three years. If the paved surface fails, the contractor is obligated to return and repair that.
I will say that some of last year’s work, this is the third one I’ve heard about in exactly the same situation where work was done, and of course, in the Spring we get the freeze-thaw. It starts to get wavy, and now I hear that it’s settled out. Normally it takes a bit, so we hope that that section settles back down. But in the case that there is a poor job that was done, the contractor is on the hook for either one or three years - I’m not sure, in that instance, which one it is - to make good the repairs, if they are required.
KIM MASLAND: I want to thank the minister and his staff.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative Party. We will move over to the NDP for one hour.
The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you, Madam Chair. Good day, and how are you doing, minister? I’m not supposed to say “you,” but anyway, nice to see you.
I’d like to ask a few questions about my riding, one in particular being the old hospital on Willow Street. I know that there have been consultations and talk about demolishing that, and I’m just wondering if you can give me an update on that particular project at this point in time.
LLOYD HINES: To the member, yes, the old Truro hospital remains as a future expense for the province. In the current budget, we do not have any funds set aside to move it to demolition, which is several million dollars in estimated cost. In terms of hospitals, in that instance we have the presence of the X-ray and radioactive material that was there, so that makes a complication, and of course the asbestos and all those kinds of things.
I think, in view of the magnitude of the costs associated with the demolition, it was deferred to consideration for next year to do something with it.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you. Does the demolition include all the buildings on that property? I know there’s the great big one, but then there are a couple of other smaller ones as well, that were like a clinic and private doctors’ offices. Are they all coming down?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, the plan would be to demolish all the former structures that were there associated with the various degrees of liability that I mentioned to you.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you. The province owns the entire property. Has there been any interest? Has anybody expressed any interest in buying the property after it’s been demolished, or is the province interested in putting something up in its place? Have there been any recent discussions? I will drill into that in a little bit, but I am just wondering both of those things. Is anybody interested in buying it, or has the province been talking about replacing it with something?
LLOYD HINES: To the member, yes, prior to my coming into this ministry, there were some significant discussions with a potential redevelopment. I don’t know the exact details of that. It may have involved maintaining a portion of the structure, but there was no agreement reached at that particular time. I believe it may have fallen apart because of the issue of indemnity around the liability and the contaminated soils, etc., that would exist there, as I mentioned.
During the time I’ve been there it has been dormant. We haven’t had any particular interest that has reached my office, in any case.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you to the minister. I know it costs the province quite a bit simply to maintain that building every year. I’m just wondering, what is the actual price on that? How much is it costing the province just to keep it standing there?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. We don’t have that number in our budget. It’s a health facility, so that cost is absorbed in the Department of Health and Wellness budget, but I’m sure it could be made available to you.
LENORE ZANN: I know that before this government came into power in Fall 2013, there had been discussions in my government while we were in power about taking down the buildings on that site and then constructing a new justice centre that would incorporate the three courts that are currently in Truro. Those are in really terrible places that are really sub-standard and very unsafe to both the staff that work there and the lawyers who work in town, who are constantly having to squeeze by prisoners who they perhaps have just incarcerated and things like this.
I visited one recently that is in the old IGA building, which is an old grocery store building. The main judge there, Mr. Bégin - his office has a bullet hole in the window, right by his chair. The parking lot is right beside it. There have been a number of altercations in that parking lot - a lot of people upset about different things, families of people who are incarcerated, this kind of stuff.
Also, the wall right beside him is actually the wall to a holding cell for prisoners while they are there being seen, and he can hear everything that the prisoners are saying while they are in the holding cell. That is not exactly conducive for a judge, who is just about to go in and hear these people and what they’ve got to say and give them a fair trial, when he can every single word they are saying on the other side of the wall. He has been very vocal, as well as many others. There are many other lawyers and also a couple of other judges, who would really like to see these three courts - the Family Court, the Provincial Court, and also the Supreme Court - taken out of the buildings they are in now and placed in a nice, new facility.
While we were in government, that was really high up on our priority list to make that happen. One of the places we were looking at was, in fact, that hospital property. When you first come into Truro and you turn onto Willow Street from the highway, that would be one of the first things you would see, which would really set a nice - well, not welcome, but a nice feeling about law and order, justice, and Truro being the hub of the province. It makes sense that there would be a justice centre like that, that people can come to from right across the province, they can bring prisoners from other jails, bring them in, take them out, without too much fuss.
That said, I’m just wondering where it lies on the list of projects to do. I know it is still on the list, but I know that it also has been moved down the list. Can you tell me where it is now on the list? I know this has to do with the Justice Department as well, but it is something that TIR would be involved in.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. I must say I have had lots of experience with court facilities, having spent a lot of time in municipalities that hosted court facilities across the province. Those issues that you talk about are extremely relevant to the delivery of justice and also the security of the judiciary, in particular. It’s really awkward. I actually had the opportunity to be involved in extensive renovation of one to make the facility more of a courtroom and less of a municipal chamber. That turned out quite well and has lent itself to some other use recently, also for court processes.
I can’t comment on what the Justice Department might be planning, in terms of their future plans for Truro, but I’m sure that the issues that existed during your Party’s tenure have not changed in that area.
Back to the property that we have, what we have a responsibility for is really the demolition of that old structure that’s there. It’s not lost on me how attractive that site is, exactly what you’re talking about. It’s on a gentle slope on the side of the hill. We have a dozen different uses. Institutional use - if we did move the courts out there, it would be good for that. I’m sure developers would be after it for residential and commercial development also. There is a lot of value in the land, and that value is upset by the cost of the demolition that’s there.
I’ll be very honest with you. In the huge realm of topics that we have been heavily involved with in the department in terms of the hospital rebuilds and the highway twinning, perhaps this one got pushed aside a little bit. Out of sight, out of mind. It has been deferred again in the coming year.
I don’t think that diminishes the potential value that’s there. I would encourage you, if you want, to come over some time to the department. We’ll sit down and look at it and bring you up to date as to what the latest thinking would be maybe for next year. We have to make a decision on the structure that’s there, take the eraser and erase the site clean and then present it for the future opportunity that it does represent.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you for that offer. I would love to take you up on that.
The other thing I was thinking is that perhaps we could set up a meeting with the Justice Minister, his department, your department, and me to discuss this. I know that the lawyers and judges are really quite keen to get something done. If we could plan on something even down the road, that would be great. I certainly understand that there are other major pressing issues in the province, including jails. I know that they been having to deal with jails and safety there too. I do understand, but it would be great to get that project back on track. I think it would be a really good one for Truro and for the province.
The other thing I would like to ask you about while I have you is the Park Street Bridge in Truro. This has been an ongoing issue for years and years. Even while we were in government, it was an issue. It floods a few times a year, sometimes worse than others. Oftentimes it’s closed, and you can’t get across to Bible Hill other than a really long way around. People want to know, has there been any more discussions about what can be done about the Park Street Bridge flooding problem? Is there anything on the books at all for any year in the future as to how it can be solved?
LLOYD HINES: We do not have the Park Street Bridge on the 5-year plan, but I’m quite familiar with that section of highway there to Park Street. I know that it’s in the flood plain area there, and it’s prone to flooding. There was a review done several years ago about a comprehensive solution to the flooding, Peter tells me, which would be to raise the road. Then we would have to raise the bridge and put some dykes in to prevent the continued flooding there. I don’t know if that flooded this year, but I have been in there during times in the past when that whole area was shut off and flooded out.
We have no reason to think that there’s any problem with the bridge’s ability to bear loads, but we will take a look at the latest inspection for the bridge. It would have been inspected within the last year. We’ll see what that says about it. We’ll go back and see what was envisioned back when the flooding was in place. The flooding goes away, and then the problem goes away for two or three years, then it comes back again; it’s almost like potholes in a sense. I think we need some more comprehensive solutions to some of these problems.
In that area, the flooding is an issue. I didn’t hear this year that it was so far. Are we through the flooding season there? Not yet, so it’s yet to come. Well, let’s hope that we don’t have to close the Park Street Bridge this year.
LENORE ZANN: Actually it has been closed a number of times already this year, and it will continue to be. It actually happens several times a year. It’s not one of those once-a-year or every few years things. It closes several times a year in the winter when it unfreezes, as you said, with the thawing and the freezing and the thawing. We did have two huge floods. One in particular was back in 2010 when we were in government, which was when everything got flooded. We spent about $7 million trying to fix various different projects in that area. We dredged out the Salmon River there, and we had to get federal permission to do that. There were several different projects that were fantastic and really helped a lot, and the Department of TIR was wonderful.
The thing is that, at the time, we discussed what could be done to that bridge to stop the problem. It was decided that yes, you could raise the road, you could raise the bridge, but you would also probably have to put in an aqueduct. Is Bruce Fitzner still there? (Interruption) No, he’s gone. Bruce had thought that in order to deal with the problems with that particular bridge, you would need to put an aqueduct in the bridge - which would be really expensive - to deal with all the great big huge ice flows that also come down that river. He said if you don’t, then they would come down and they would build up there and then it would build up and then it would overflow the river, even if you did raise it. Some of those ice floes over the years have been known to flood over the flood plain and go slicing into people’s houses and things like that. It caused a lot of damage - millions and millions of dollars worth of damage and, luckily, we were able to get the federal government to come in with us and be able to use that insurance to help pay for properties and businesses and all kinds of things.
With global warming and with what’s going on in the rising seas, I am very well aware that is a trouble spot we have to keep our eye on. I actually live on Park Street, too, not that that’s the reason why, but I get to see it. Every time the bridge is closed, I’m aware of it because it’s just down at the bottom of my street and I have to go down to the bottom of Park Street and then turn left onto Marshland Drive to get to the highway to come to Halifax to work.
Also, if you look at the map where Truro is located, and that particular spot right there - it’s almost like if there was going to be a hurricane, for instance, that came onto Nova Scotia there across the Bay of Fundy, the Bay of Fundy is open wide and it gets narrower and narrower and narrower until it comes into Truro and it comes right into that spot. I’m concerned that as the years go by, we could get a major storm that will do a lot of damage there, and it may not take very long with the way things are going.
I do ask that the department keeps an eye on it. Also, if there’s some more, maybe the engineers could talk about what could be done. We even talked about possibly moving the bridge from Park Street to adding another bridge that was closer to Salmon River where people could go across. It’s narrower there, less area to cover, where there would be a secondary way to get from Truro and Salmon River, that area, over to Bible Hill. That had been another thing we were looking at, but there’s not much more we can say about that at this point, but it is constantly a trouble spot and it’s not going to go away. In fact, it’ll probably get worse with climate change and the rising tides.
I have one other question I wanted to talk to you about before I pass my time on to somebody else. We had been talking about roundabouts and there was some talk about putting a roundabout in Truro. Willow Street, where the linking road joins the highway - you get on the highway to go to Halifax right across from the Irving Big Stop, you come down that road past the hospital on the right-hand side, the rec centre, and then you come into Truro. That spot where you have to turn right or left to go up to Millbrook or down to Truro is a logjam. There are so many huge trucks now that are coming down there and they’re really creating a gridlock, so traffic is backed up for hours, and days sometimes, there.
I was just wondering, at one point there was talk about putting in a roundabout somewhere in and about where the province would be actually on the hook for it. Has there been any more further talk about trying to do something about that gridlock and working with the municipality to try and help with that?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you very much to the member for the question. The clinical response is that it is a Town of Truro responsibility - it’s not a department responsibility.
We’ve had discussions with them some time ago, and we are certainly willing to have additional discussions. The advent of the new hospital and the Rath Centre that’s there and the commercial development on the other side of the road has certainly exacerbated the traffic that is coming into Willow Street there hugely.
Those planning decisions were, again, taken by the municipal units - the county and the town together. To mediate that a little bit, under the rural and northern section of the ICIP there is an avenue for municipalities to finance local roads and that might be an avenue where they could solicit through our Department of Municipal Affairs who would be the ones administering that particular part of the program.
Provincial participation, together with the feds, together with the town, and maybe Colchester, together could collectively come up with nominally $3 million, which is what we are tagging roundabouts at these days.
Not to destroy hope altogether from our perspective, but to say that there might be a solution, that initiative would have to come from the local town municipality that’s there.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you, and what does ICIP stand for?
LLOYD HINES: That’s the new name for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. It’s a great program.
LENORE ZANN: Right, so that’s the federal program. Right now, I believe, they are just looking at water sources or water waste management, or something like that, and that’s closed now.
Do we have any idea when they’ll be looking at other types of projects, and do we know if roads are going to be on that list?
LLOYD HINES: The federal portion of the program is $106 million - and you’re right, the initial call is for water and waste water. We don’t have a date for another call, but we are looking at the second call being on local roads. So eventually, when we get to that piece - and if it’s matching funds there’s another $100 million there, and then another $100 million from the municipality - that’s a fairly substantial chunk of capital over a period of time.
Some of it will be going to water and waste water, obviously, but we were quite excited to think that we could get some local road requirements in there also. It would certainly accommodate that particular situation where we understand it’s a big undertaking for the town, or even for the town and the County of Colchester to partner on a $3 million traffic improvement.
LENORE ZANN: Would that ICIP still be in place and available if the government changes, if the federal government changes? Is this a done deal no matter who is in charge? If the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau lost, for instance, would this still be on the books and available or is that something that could just go by the wayside?
LLOYD HINES: Well, if such a catastrophe were to occur, then the bilateral agreements do survive the political process at the federal and provincial levels.
LENORE ZANN: Let’s say, I’ll stay out of that one. I’ll just keep my powder dry a little longer.
My other question is about gravel pits, gravel quarries. I notice that a number of companies are asking to put gravel quarries near where roads are being constructed and I have a concern about the 3.99 hectare loophole. In order to request to put in a gravel quarry or gravel pit, many times these companies will ask for a 3.99 hectare one so that they don’t have to do an environmental assessment. That means that there is no baseline for the environment that is existing - creatures or species, possibly, that are in danger or at risk.
In a number of instances, once they get the 3.99 hectare, then they ask for a larger one and then they ask for another larger one, and so on. It’s basically what we would call “gravel creep.” Has there been any discussion about this at your department? I know this also has to do with the Department of Environment and others, but has there been any discussion in your department about what can be done about gravel creep and when companies can be held accountable to just use the gravel in an existing gravel quarry instead of having to keep digging new ones just to save themselves a few bucks?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. I think I could sort of categorize the relationship of what I see as the public with the quarries in the last while in the province - it’s sort of a love-hate relationship. You know, aggregate is one of the most widely used materials that we have in our society. If you look at the consumption levels, per capita, across North America, it’s stunning the amounts of aggregate that are used because obviously what we’re talking about in our department is building roads. That means asphalt, that means putting aggregate on shoulders to build up the shoulders and using concrete. Most houses today are built on concrete which of course has aggregate.
It’s ubiquitous in terms of its presence in our lives but then there are other whole issues which the member brings up, legitimate issues about encroachment on the other issues on the environment and all that sort of thing. I have to say that the issue that you bring about the 3.9 hectares is a real issue but that’s a regulatory process with the Department of Environment. Our department doesn’t have anything to do with that, but I don’t want to be disingenuous with you - gravel is heavy. We tender roads to look for the cheapest price. The people who go out looking for the gravel look for the shortest distance to the job site to get the best price to give us to do that particular job and, of course, we’re driven by the desire to get the best value for the taxpayers in the picture.
It’s a bit of a vicious circle and part of the reason that you see the presence of a lot of these smaller quarries that do require a permit at 3.9 hectares but do not require an EA is that the construction companies are constantly looking for good-quality aggregate in areas where they see road development occurring, so they can bid competitively on these projects. I believe the last time I looked, when I was helping out at Natural Resources, there were 2,900 pits and quarries in the province, ranging from the largest one in the province at Martin Marietta, at the Strait, Porcupine Mountain, to the ones that are 3.9 hectares in size throughout the province.
In terms of the permitting process we don’t have any comment on that, but indirectly the taxpayers are the beneficiaries of having a proliferation of these facilities. I agree with you 100 per cent, they have to be controlled. Maybe that whole process should be reviewed in terms of the sizing. If they are over 3.9 hectares they have to go through a full environmental assessment. A large one in my own riding near Sheet Harbour was recently rejected through the environmental process and a functional study was imposed on that particular development.
There’s quite an oversight in there, in terms of how they develop, but that piece that gets down to the 3.9 kilometres is sort of a notional amount that’s in there and we in our department don’t have anything to do with establishing those boundaries. I do want to say that the people who do the work for us want to have quarries close to the work site, so they can reduce their costs in terms of trucking the material there because the cost of aggregate is in the transportation.
LENORE ZANN; Yes, I recognize that that’s why they’re doing it, to save money. However, to what end when it comes to the health of our environment and living things, which was why people want to come here and live anyway and why we would need roads to go anywhere in Nova Scotia, because people want to live in the beautiful, great outdoors and have that nearby them. If we destroy it, then they might as well stay in Ontario.
How much of our provincial roads do we use aggregate that is derived from tires, from recycling the tires? The recycling tire factory here - I believe it is in Dartmouth, in HRM - they provide aggregate for roads and things like this. How much of our roads do we use that for?
LLOYD HINES: We really have not used the tire-derived aggregate very much in our workings. HRM used it at the Ragged Lake bus ramp. Recently we did do a pilot with it at the Kelly Lake scales that were replaced. It’s subject to the same transportation barrier that I mentioned to you - the need to be close to where it is going to be used because it costs money to transport it. So we don’t have a great deal of experience. Compared to the gross amount of aggregate that we would use in the province it probably wouldn’t even be measurable in the bigger picture, the amount of it that we would be able to use.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you. One other thing I wanted to bring up while I have some time here is salt on the roads. I know you are aware of this issue that we’ve been talking about quite a lot lately - well, I’ve been talking about if for six years now as an Opposition member - the Alton Gas Project. I’ve often said instead of dumping the salt into the river, why not take the salt out of the caverns, dry it, and then apply it to our roads; keep it for road application.
I notice that Ontario ran out of salt this year and were requesting salt from other places, and in the United States there are many places there where they are getting these snowstorms they are not used to, and they don’t have salt on hand. I have a feeling that there could be a lot of places where salt could be used if we could come to some kind of a deal with Alton Gas and arrange for somebody to dry it out and use it.
I would like to ask the minister: Is there any interest from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to look into something like that? Is this something that could, perhaps, be a solution?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you, member, for that question. The department hasn’t really investigated that particular option and I think that in a preliminary look it would probably have to do with the economics associated with the conversion of the brine back to a solid, and then the same transport issues again.
Of course, we have a very productive operating salt mine in Pugwash which does provide the salt for the province, so there is no indication that we have in our system that we’ve looked at a deep dive here. I don’t think it’s been investigated with any finality as to what we would want to do there.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you. I’d like to just make that suggestion because like Northern Pulp, there seems to be a point of no return for both sides of the equation and where they are saying no pipe, these folks are saying no salt in the river. I think it would behoove all of us to take a look at that and see if there is some way we could work out something with the company.
If there was a way to divert the salt from the river, I think there would be a lot less pushback about what’s going on there. As I said, other regions are looking for salt, including Ontario, and possibly in the United States. It’s just something that’s a natural resource. We have it, it’s there. If they want to dig it out of the ground, they need to do something with it.
As I’ve said many times in this House, in these kinds of projects, they’ve never put salt in the river before - in a river anywhere in the world. I’ve looked into it. This would be the first of its kind where they do that, and I believe in a precautionary principle where you need to think what might happen and really be cautious and choose something that’s not going to damage the environment for generations to come.
To me, it’s just a no-brainer. If there’s salt, they want to take the salt out. Do something with the salt. Don’t just waste it. Don’t just dump it in a river, especially a river that is as important as the Shubenacadie River and has so much attention and it’s only growing. It’s not going to go away and dissipate. With that, I’ll just leave that with you, to ask if you could look into it.
I will pass my time over onto my colleague.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
TAMMY MARTIN: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just have a few quick questions for the minister, one of which is about the repaving and widening of Highway No. 28, South Bar Highway if that will be done, when it will be done. As well, I understand there is a house on Highway No. 28 that is too close to the road. What will happen in that instance?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you for the question. On Trunk No. 28, I’m showing 250 metres north of River Ryan bridge to Emerald Street, 2.8 kilometres. On Trunk No. 28, 150 metres south of Egan Avenue easterly to Kilkenny Lake Road, 6.3 kilometres there. That’s what I’m showing in this current upcoming year for Trunk No. 28.
Regarding your question about the house, I wouldn’t be able to comment on that. Normally when we’re repaving, there is not enough disturbance to justify a movement, but that would be subject to the review that would occur on the ground. If we required to widen right away, we might engage with the homeowner about acquiring the property but that’s not a given. We’d have to look at the individual circumstances to see how that would work.
TAMMY MARTIN: Thank you. Would that include widening of that stretch of highway from Egan to Kilkenny Lake and when is the expected start date?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, there is a provision in that section for widening. In terms of the tendering date, the estimate has been done. The ad is in. I haven’t signed it yet. It may be in the pending file and it will be done sometime during this season. I’ll make an effort, if the ad is in, to get it out the door so we can get it underway. It’s to our advantage to get these contracts out early so we’re not paving in the snow.
TAMMY MARTIN: I appreciate that answer, as will my constituents. One other question is Lingan Road. I’ve talked to the department a few times about cars going to the shop because Lingan Road is so bad. Will that be repaved and, if so, when?
LLOYD HINES: We’ve tracked it down here from Sydney Line to Devco Railway and there’s an estimated cost in there of $1.3 million, but it is not on the current program. It’s a local road and they’re not assigned a completion date unless they’re in the current year’s program. That one isn’t, but it will be considered in the Fall for the following year.
THE CHAIR: Order, time has lapsed for the NDP. We’ll turn it over to the PC caucus for 49 minutes.
The honourable member from Victoria-The Lakes.
KEITH BAIN: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and thank you to the minister and his staff for being here this afternoon and yesterday and well into tomorrow, too. Might as well get rested up tonight.
I want to pick up where the member from Pictou Centre started last evening. That was concerning the railroad that goes through from Truro to Cape Breton. The minister mentioned that Genesee & Wyoming Inc. can be paid up to $60,000 a month, $720,000 a year. I wonder if he could tell me how much was paid to Genesee & Wyoming Inc. in the past year?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. Indeed, yes, that’s accurate - up to $60,000 per month, or $720,000 per year.
We do not have the disbursement amounts in our budget because it comes through the Department of Business, but we will undertake to get that information from the department and give it to the member.
KEITH BAIN: I think one of the requirements for Genesee & Wyoming Inc. to get any of that money is invoices have to be included or records kept. Would that be public knowledge as well, as to what they are? One of the concerns might be that Genesee & Wyoming Inc. might be using some of that money to maintain the railroad from Port Hawkesbury to Truro. I think it would be good if that was checked into and if the invoices could be public as well.
LLOYD HINES: Again, we do not process those invoices so we wouldn’t have access to them, but we will make an inquiry when we look at the amounts with the Department of Business to see what the agreement is with Genesee & Wyoming Inc. as to what the disclosure parameters are on that, but your request to that department.
KEITH BAIN: Just one other very important item concerning the railroad and that’s the lands around either side of the railroad and the leases that exist, the railway crossings that have to be paid and everything.
I think it’s important to understand there’s a group in Cape Breton called the Cape Breton Railway Victims Association. They are not against the railroad per se because of the possibility of future development. They are being hindered because of the fact if they have land on both sides of the tracks, can I say, it’s almost impossible for them to develop the land on the other side, because of the exorbitant rates to get power above ground. Genesee & Wyoming Inc. charges a rate for that and it’s very expensive to get Nova Scotia Power in to do it. The same would be true of water lines, where there is a municipal water supply.
I’d like to get the minister’s opinion or ask him: What is your department going to do to make it so those people can develop that land? It is also a revenue-generator for both the Municipality of Victoria, if land is developed, and also the CBRM.
LLOYD HINES: Yes, I am quite aware of the railway victims’ group and how they feel about the crossings and the charges and the difficulties for them to develop property.
Our responsibility is as the regulator in the four Genesee & Wyoming and I should preface my remarks by saying that, indeed, in my own riding, through Havre Boucher and Linwood, the Mulgrave area, I have those crossings in place. Most recently a gentleman was cut off from his blueberry land he had been tending for many years by crossing the railway, which he didn’t have a crossing permit for, and they prohibited that from happening. I know the issues.
From the departmental point of view, we are not empowered under the regulations to make any decisions about the rights of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., which are given to them through the Railway Act, to make any changes in the process.
We are sympathetic to the development aspirations of the people in the area and understand how that affects them but it’s not within our purview to be able to change those regulations and laws. The Railway Act is a federal statute.
KEITH BAIN: I guess one of the problems that presents itself is that representatives of the group, a few years ago, met with the Premier - I believe the minister of the day and the Premier’s Chief of Staff - and they left with the impression that the situation was going to be looked into and try to be resolved. Genesee & Wyoming Inc. is stopping development from happening in the area, so they’re not very good corporate citizens as you can appreciate.
Then when you look at the condition of the tracks that are there that they’re supposed to be maintaining - yes, they will come and replace a few crossings that most times are so rotten by the time they get there, they have to be replaced anyway. But another concern is the railroad bridge that goes from Iona to Grand Narrows and the condition of that.
As you know, the Iona/central Cape Breton area is strong in tourism. I don’t know about the safety of the bridge and if it’s Genesee & Wyoming Inc. and the federal government’s responsibility to check that bridge, to paint it, and maintain it, but I’ve seen pictures that don’t look very nice. I just wondered if you could comment on that.
LLOYD HINES: I unfortunately can’t comment on whatever impression people may have had at previous meetings. I have never attended a meeting around this particular matter, though I did have some correspondence with the group early on in my mandate in this department.
There is, of course, another significant group in Cape Breton that wants to preserve the right of way, which is legitimate because rail has been the life breath of Cape Breton in its past. When coal was king, that’s how the coal was transported out. There’s lots of traffic to TrentonWorks at the time and a very important link and there’s a lot of people who want to maintain that link.
The particular rail bridge that the member refers to is a fairly massive structure. I’ve seen estimates to replace that in the $110 million range, which, where there is no traffic on it now; it’s abandoned, essentially. It’s not abandoned in the sense that the company has given up ownership and walked away from it, but it’s abandoned in the sense there’s no traffic on it. There’s nobody going to spend that kind of money on that bridge.
In the meantime, the responsibility for the upkeep remains with the company and since it is not in use, they’re not really interested in maintaining it. I have to tell you, I haven’t seen it lately, I saw it a couple of years ago and it was in pretty desperate condition at that point, so I’m sure it’s probably just deteriorated more. Since the bridge is not in use, we have no position on the aesthetics of the bridge.
KEITH BAIN: I’ll just close out that discussion, and I’ll talk about the bridge for a second, but although it’s not classified as being abandoned, when you look at the condition of some of the areas where the tracks are, you could almost say it was abandoned. I know the railroad bridge that’s in Iona is open all the time to allow the boat traffic to go through. If it ever came to a chance that it might have to be closed, they could probably never close it anymore either.
I want to move on. Before I get onto roads, I want to ask about the Englishtown ferry. This time last year when we were here - first of all, I want to thank the department for providing the citizens free passage as was requested and I know it’s still going. I believe it’s still going on for a while longer or it might have just stopped a short while ago. There still are some problems with the ramps, I believe, whether it’s on the ferry itself or on the approach. Are there any plans to do further work on the Englishtown ferry this summer and, if so, when?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for his kind comments in regard to the genuine effort that has gone into replacing that very important link there for us. Unfortunately, we were left with the situation where there is a design problem there, which we think we have pretty well taken care of. There’s a possibility we will monitoring that long-wheel-base motor homes in particular might have some difficulty. We have an engineering solution involving the change in the angle of the ramp. It won’t be a repair to the cement ramp. It will be a repair to the gate that comes down from the board that we’re hoping to watch, analyze, and put that repair in place if indeed that is required.
KEITH BAIN: I thank the minister for that. I’ll just switch quickly to the Little Narrows ferry and this has nothing to do with the ferry itself at all because the Little Narrows ferry is very seldom out of service, but there are occasions with mechanical breakdowns. There was one just the past week where the cable broke and had to be replaced on the ferry.
Maybe it might be worthwhile if there, since we have two cable ferries in the area, that the department shouldn’t have to come up to build our link to the cables. I don’t know if there’s a place to store them or not, but I’m thinking of the flashing lights. Englishtown has the flashing lights when the ferry is out of service. Is there a possibility there could be flashing lights put at the Orangedale turnoff to warn people if the ferry is closed? That way, they could go through Orangedale and across Estmere that way. If not, they have to drive to the ferry to find out it’s closed and then have to go back. I just wonder if that could be looked into?
I can spend probably the next week and a half talking about roads and still not cover then all. But first of all, I’ve got to thank you for the gravel road in New Campbellton that was done. I know that the Kempt Head Road is going to be done this year. One of the problems that exist in New Campbellton is that the road has never had the opportunity to dry out and it has been just like a sheet of ice whenever the road gets damp.
The biggest problem that exists is along the shoreline a lot of the work that was done has been washed away already because it is right against the water and it is going to require armour stone. I would like to ask the minister if something like that could be looked into - placing armour stone along there? Kempt Head Road is quite a large road and it covers both sides of Boularderie Island. There was a section done on the first part of Kempt Head Road a few years ago, but nothing has been done since.
I look forward to having old Route No. 5 being done this year, but there are a couple of small roads just off of old Route No. 5. Black Rock Road especially is in terrible, terrible shape. Maple Hill Drive would just need a lift of asphalt put on it.
One of the fears that presents itself is that when a road gets done, like old Route No. 5, the other roads will be forgotten. I don’t know if it’s possible to get that looked into and possibly, while the contractors are there, to have that done, too.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for that litany of roads he’d like to see done there. On a positive note, we are paving the Portage Road this year. That’s 5.9 kilometers and the estimated budget on that is $1.7 million.
We would undertake to look at installing a light system on that road when that work is being done as part of that contract to get to what seems only like a reasonable request in terms of putting a warning sign for the ferry. We will also take a look at Black Rock Road to see if there is something we can affect there in this season.
KEITH BAIN: I know Route No. 223 through the Boisdale-Beaver Cove area is in the five-year plan, I believe, for future work, but dealing with that particular area, there is also the Frenchvale Road and the Long Island Road.
With the Long Island Road, there was one section done under rim work at one time, but nothing done since then. It seems like there is so little asphalt left on the road now, that patching doesn’t stay in any longer either. I would like to ask the minister if those could be looked at
Last year, a short distance was looked at for Dingwall Road. I believe all the measurements were taken, traffic count was done, and again, I think the construction company that will be in Ingonish this year, might provide a good opportunity to get that small piece of road done.
I’m trying to get everything in here at once, Mr. Minister, because I have to share my time with everybody else. In closing my section here at this point, and I’m sure I will write you lots of letters concerning everything else, I want to commend the terrific people you have working for you. In my constituency there are two area managers and five OSs, and I have to say that they are very obliging. They can’t do everything for you all the time, but if they can see their way clear to do it, they’re going to do it to the best of their ability.
One of their problems is their maintenance budgets. In a lot of cases, the budgets that they get are spent long before the season is over. Can we anticipate any raises in that maintenance budget throughout the province, but especially in Baddeck and Sydney River?
LLOYD HINES: Madam Chair, I thank the member for his kind words about the staff. I’ll certainly pass that along.
I do believe that we have over 2,000 dedicated people out there working in whatever the season is, especially in the wintertime when they’re out there in those giant machines plowing the roads, trying to keep them clear for people, they’re making a solid and best effort to do their best. Our challenge is to try and give them the tools to be able to execute those responsibilities that we give them in terms of equipment and the various other things that an employer has to do, so thank you for that.
In last year’s budget - for the first time in eight years, I’m going to say - we did get an increase in our maintenance budget. The budget was increased in the overall global picture for RIM, brush cutting, and maintenance by $5 million dollars. In the eastern region this year, the budget has increased by $1 million in this particular year. I wish there was more, but that’s what we have to spend. I’ve mentioned before, it’s sort of like a loaves and fishes challenge for us to spread the maintenance money across the many, many requirements that we have.
We did lift the gravel portion out of that and I think that is working. Piece by piece, we’re getting good successes with the gravel road program. That’s taken pressure off the maintenance budget because that’s coming out of capital amount that has been set aside this year for $20 million, but other than that I can’t say much more except that we’re working constantly to keep the importance of highways front and centre in front of our government.
KEITH BAIN: I thank the minister for that. I bring up the maintenance budget as it would just make good common sense if roads could be maintained, it might lower that exorbitant cost further down the road. I think one of the major concerns everywhere you look now is the shoulders of the road and the drop between the pavement and shoulders and that’s throughout the province.
Having said all that, Madam Chair, I’d like to turn it over to my colleague from Kings North.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Kings North.
JOHN LOHR: Madam Chair, I’m pleased to ask a few questions to the minister. I do want to begin by saying that for us - and I’ve asked the minister this in the Legislature already - for us in Kings North a major, major issue is potholes. I wonder sometimes why.
I have my own theories on why we have such a problem. There is a lot of economic activity; there are a lot of 18-wheelers on the roads all times of the day and night, and a lot of farm equipment. Couple that with the fact that some of those roads are built on clay and sand, they all are virtually in Kings North in the beginning, and we have a huge problem. In the last couple of years, there has been a major outcry of, let’s get the potholes fixed.
We have issues with brush, ditching, and shoulders of the road, but really my constituents want the potholes fixed. I’ve asked that there be two crews available and that this get done. Ideally, we would like to have it done by Canada Day, that most of the potholes are done.
I would like to ask the minister to comment on the pothole plan for Kings County. I’d really appreciate that.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question and for continuing to bring this up. Again, with the member from Kings South, I think you guys are pretty well together on this, that what we are going to do is establish two crews there for this upcoming season to see if we can do a better, more efficient job of the pothole repair.
I think your observations about traffic are probably very accurate. You didn’t mention the tourist traffic, although that would also be a component of that because that’s a beautiful part of the province for visitors, and as glad as we are to have them, they do provide wear and tear.
The only thing I’ll mention, beyond that we are going to split the two crews up there and provide two crews - the member for Pictou Centre talked about some research that he had undertaken to look at innovative technologies around potholes. We are actually pursuing that and it may involve some additional capital investment on our part to bring our approach to pothole repair up to snuff because I honestly do think that we can do a better job. We need to take a look at how we are dealing with potholes.
I think there’s the issue about, of course, all the things that we have to do. Potholes are a famous occurrence in Nova Scotia, they always have been, and they are not going to go away. The CAA does their whole thing with the Worst Roads list and that’s become a popular contest. Instead of talking about the problem, we want to do something constructive about it.
We are going to invest some time and money into seeing what the best techniques are around for doing this because really what we are doing now is not solving the problem. When it comes to cold patching to address a serious problem that pops up, it is really a waste of good money in any other sense. It’s necessary because it happens when we don’t have hot patch around, but there are some ways of getting around that, too, with portable hot patch machines that we are also investigating and expanding our network of those in Kings County.
JOHN LOHR: I thank the minister for that. Another issue that I have brought up in the past is that there’s a belief that the quality of the asphalt has deteriorated and that is due to a contaminant called recycled engine oil bottoms. When engine oil is recycled - up in Montreal, or in Quebec, apparently the sludge at the very bottom of that engine oil recycling which does have detergents in it, is a contaminant in asphalt.
There’s a belief that the asphalt isn’t always of the good quality and that the only way to know this is to test it as it’s being put down - that that’s the reason why asphalt doesn’t stand up as well as it used to. Anyway, I just want to know if you have thoughts of investigating that.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question and the observations. In Nova Scotia, our spec does not allow recycled engine oil in our mix, bar none. Other jurisdictions do. The member’s observation that this has occurred, has been noted in other jurisdictions, it’s probably accurate because the use of that product did occur, but they’re finding out now that it has produced an inferior asphalt mix.
The other interesting thing that is also occurring - and I have to tell you I have the same observation about the good old days when asphalt seemed to be asphalt and it would last. I’m told that the refined process at the refineries is driving deeper into the barrel. The residual that’s left that had been converted to asphalt before is shrinking and it’s not the same composition that it might have been 25 or 30 years ago because the refiners have perfected the techniques of taking the various tanes out of the barrel and the quality of the material that is left to produce the asphalt doesn’t contain the same components that were there quite a while ago.
That’s a universal problem and to the industry per se, but it’s less of a problem than the presence of recycled engine oil is in the mix. Our specification says no recycled engine oil in our mix.
JOHN LOHR: I thank the minister for that answer and anything he can do to look into that, I would appreciate it.
DTIR obviously has a vast array of responsibilities and one of those is infrastructure. We have three pieces of infrastructure in Kings North that I would like to know the estimated date of completion, if that’s possible - one would be the Kentville bridge; the second would be the dialysis unit, where we’ve seen the sod-turning; and the third would be the hospice.
If the minister can give me an approximate, even within like a quarter or whatever, or when they think - I know that you never really know but approximately, we’d appreciate that.
LLOYD HINES: We’re bringing in our hospital team for the last part of your question.
On the bridge, there’s a degree of frustration in my office around the completion of that project. We have said this week that that bridge is going to be constructed this year. The frustration is around - the problem is the relationship we have with the Power Corporation. In many instances and certainly in the instance of Kentville, which is a fairly urban environment where that bridge exists, there are all kinds of umbilical telephone and electrical connections that are strapped to the bridge and that require costs to be moved.
I can tell you that across the province, and I have a bridge in my own riding also that has been delayed now five years, where the issue is the hydro-electric wires. That one is a little bit more complicated because there’s a local utility which is changing hands so there’s no real entity that is taking responsibility for owning the utility, whether it’s the former town, now the local municipality, or the Power Corporation. I think we’ve got that settled but it has been frustrating. It’s just not high on their priority list.
We’ve arranged for some discussions between the senior people at the NSP and myself with the genuine sense - we’re not assigning blame. We’re looking at trying to find mutually effective ways of doing things a little bit better, so that’s under way. The bridge you bring up is under way for this particular year.
The dialysis is in this year’s budget; I have Brian Ward here with me. The question, Brian, was where we are with the dialysis at Kentville Hospital.
On the issue of the dialysis, there’s $2.6 million appearing in this year’s budget, which will complete that project in the 2019-2020 budget year. So nominally, sometime in the first quarter of 2020 that will be completed. That’s what’s left to be spent there.
The hospice - we don’t have that information, but we will undertake to get that from the Department of Health and Wellness, who control that schedule. We don’t seem to have it in our spreadsheet here in terms of where they are.
JOHN LOHR: As a frequent user of the bridge, I can tell you that there has been steady, or slowly they’re making progress on dealing with all the utilities and Internet connections. So, it continues to be worked on, anyway. I hope it will get done.
There are a number of roads and intersections that I’ve had your staff in on. I know that in the province we face many fiscal dilemmas and you can see that I do appreciate your staff. They are all super to work with and I have a high opinion of what they’re trying to achieve, even if I don’t always agree on the priorities sometimes. Mostly we agree.
I know that many of my farmers in Kings North would want me to ask about and just flag to your attention again the issue of farm tractors hooking up with more than one piece of equipment behind the tractor. It’s a routine hookup in North America. Many pieces of equipment are built to have two, sometimes three pieces of equipment behind a tractor. The tractors have become very large and labour is usually an issue. You might say, well, just get two tractors, but then you have to have two experienced operators. It’s not so easy.
I’m just wondering where we are on that issue of following most, if not all, of the other jurisdictions in North America - to allow more than one piece of machinery to be hooked up behind a tractor?
LLOYD HINES: I do apologize to the member for not coming back with a stronger definition, which is a very practical matter for our farmers. Sometimes we see ourselves as being quite unique in Nova Scotia and things are happening around us that we’re not able to apprehend
I remember at the time getting an indication that there were technical reasons in our traffic arrangements that said no to that, based on safety. But what I will do is undertake to review that and I’ll invite you to come. I’ll set up a meting with our traffic people and you can come in and articulate exactly what it is that you see from the farmer’s perspective - that you can carry much better than I can - and we’ll see if we can’t find a way to work around this that will maintain the safety and speak to the efficiencies that the farmers would be frustrated about because other people are using them and they’re not able to.
JOHN LOHR: I will do that, Mr. Minister, and I thank you. The industry is concerned about this and baffled, too, that they’re facing this issue. It would be really great, and I thank you for the time.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time allotted for consideration of Supply has elapsed.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:27 p.m.]