HALIFAX, THURSDAY, MARCH 5, 2020
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, would you please call the Estimates for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Resolution E37 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $535,752,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: I invite the minister to make some opening remarks and also to introduce his staff.
The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
HON. LLOYD HINES: Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to talk about the great work that we do at Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on behalf of all Nova Scotians.
Today I have the pleasure of the company of Diane Saurette, our Executive Director of Finance and Strategic Capital Planning, and Deputy Minister Paul LaFleche, who needs no introduction.
Madam Chair, the mandate of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is to ensure that we deliver safe, quality roadway and building infrastructure to support the ability of Nova Scotians to live and work in their communities.
Last month, we announced the largest single-year capital funding in the province’s history, a total investment of more than $1 billion. That means families in communities across Nova Scotia will have improved access to health care, schools, highways, and public infrastructure.
Investments in capital across Nova Scotia will provide modernized facilities and infrastructure for today and for future generations. Through our focus and investments in health care, education, highways, and public infrastructure we will continue to strengthen our communities and generate economic activity.
We are continuing with an accelerated highway twinning and safety enhancement plan, as well as undertaking safety measures to improve the efficiency and safety of these roads. Nova Scotians expect us to provide a transportation network that is safe and allows for the efficient movement of people and goods.
We also have a mandate to focus on improving the delivery of health care across the province, most notably the QEII New Generation project and the Cape Breton Health Care Redevelopment project, two capital projects that we’re extremely proud of. We will work to ensure that these projects, and all the other infrastructure projects under our department, are delivered in a timely and fiscally responsible manner.
We continue to manage the greatest share of the government’s capital budget that helps to pay for substantial road and bridge networks relative to the size of our province. We manage and maintain 23,000 kilometres of roads that span four regional districts, from Yarmouth to Amherst to the northern shores of Cape Breton.
Our network also includes more than 4,200 bridges and nine subsidized provincial ferries. Like my fellow MLAs and my fellow Nova Scotians, I know many of these roads well, especially the road from Halifax to Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, Highway No. 7 and Route 316. I travel back and forth frequently, and I’ve had the opportunity to see the service provided by TIR’s employees. From plowing and salting in the Winter, to filling potholes in the Spring, I can see the results of their hard work.
TIR’s more than 2,000 employees are committed to the delivery of safe roads that help keep people connected and the economy moving. We do all of this with an overall operating budget of $535.8 million in 2021. The operating portion of our budget is used for the day-to-day operations of the department such as snow and ice control, highway and bridge maintenance, field operations, fleet amortization, ferry operations, vehicle compliance, engineering and construction services, administration, professional services, employee benefits, RIM work, and smaller highway and building projects.
In December, we released the province’s Five Year Plan for highway improvement for 2020-21. It is the 11th year that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has unveiled our Five Year Plan for building, repairing, and maintaining Nova Scotia’s 23,000 kilometres of roads and highways and our 4,200 bridges. That provides advance notice and a framework so that people can see what the plans are for the upcoming five-year period.
Sharing this plan with Nova Scotians lets them know about the improvements being made in their communities and when they can expect the work to be done. It also helps give Nova Scotia companies a better opportunity to prepare for the more than 150 highway improvement projects planned in the coming year.
You’ll be pleased to hear that 2020 will be another busy year for us. Almost $400 million will be invested in major construction, road improvements, and bridgework. This is the largest investment in the history of the province in roads. Our highway plan includes more than 150 major construction and improvement projects that will make roads, highways, and bridges safer for our citizens. It’s all part of our commitment to ensure safe and connected communities.
Our $400 million investment includes more than $210 million for major construction. This includes the new highways and bridges; $136 million for asphalt, resurfacing, and bridges; and $20 million for the gravel road program. I’m particularly proud of the gravel road program. I think this is an accumulation of $70 million in the gravel road program which is aimed at our rural communities since it was introduced, and it has been very successful. I think it is providing a great service for the residents of our communities, but also for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, too, to be fair, because having better roads means less maintenance for us.
There’s another $20 million for the Gravel Road Capital Program this year; $17.3 million for equipment, machinery, and ferries; and $7 million for land purchases. Major construction on new highways and bridges account for $100 million of the overall increase from last year with much of the additional funding focused on twinning portions of Highway Nos. 101, 103, 104, and 107 - the Sackville-Bedford-Burnside Connector.
Folks, roads are expensive. Each twin kilometre costs $3 million to $5 million, depending on the complexity of the road. An anticipated 550 kilometres of asphalt paving will be laid on roads and highways this year - 550 kilometres. I would like to highlight our $20 million annual gravel road program for the repair and reconstruction of gravel roads. Well maintained, good-quality roads are essential for rural communities. We have 8,700 kilometres of gravel roads in our province, and we need to have the ability to repair more of these roads than we have in the past. The program is a proactive approach that will build these roads to improve the structure and drainage. This will result in a longer-lasting driving surface and make regular road maintenance easier. We have 46 gravel road projects planned for this year.
We’re also very pleased to receive an additional $10 million towards J-Class roads. We will work closely with our municipal partners on rolling out this program for 2021, and 12 bridges are scheduled for replacement or rehabilitation.
I want to talk for a moment about the strategic partnership that we have with the Government of Canada, the significant expense of twinning and constructing new infrastructure points to the importance of working with our federal partners on the new Building Canada Fund, the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the National Disaster Mitigation Program, and the National Trade Corridors Fund. We are pleased with the investments made to date with our federal partners.
Our focus on road safety through our investment in highway twinning and other safety and major projects will cost over $1 billion over the next few years. We are very proud to say that with our federal partners we’ve been able to leverage almost $400 million for 13 projects to help offset the costs. Some examples include the Bridgewater Interchange on Highway No. 103, and the Highway No. 104 twinning project where we received a $90 million support under the Trade Corridors Fund.
The Highway No. 103 Bridgewater Interchange, the government is supporting economic growth and improved road safety with a $20.4 million investment in new highway infrastructure in Bridgewater. The total cost of the project is $48.8 million. Our federal partners are also contributing $20.4 million, and the Town of Bridgewater is contributing $8 million.
The project, which includes a new interchange between Exits 12 and 13, will have a positive impact on the growth of the Bridgewater Business Park and road safety in the community. It includes a new diamond interchange including ramps, roundabouts, bridges, and connector roads. The road through the business park will also be realigned, and there will be upgrades to five existing intersections. It’s a complex project.
Construction on the new interchange is expected in 2021, with the official opening planned for 2022. It will create 480 jobs, plus additional economic and employment benefits from the investment. It will create access to 125 acres of developable land north of Highway No. 103. The Bridgewater Business Park is home to 50 businesses. The new interchange will make our highway safer and provide a dedicated interchange for the Bridgewater Business Park, making this important business centre more accessible and attractive for investments and future growth.
The Highway No. 104 twinning project - the 100-series highways are the backbone of our transportation system, carrying people and goods from one end of the province to the other. The Highway No. 104 - Sutherlands River to Antigonish - twinning project was identified several years ago as among the highest priorities by Nova Scotians during our heavily attended public consultations. What we heard loud and clear was that Nova Scotians want better and safer 100-series highways. We also heard very clearly that they want these improvements without tolls.
Twinning Sutherlands River to Antigonish is a priority as it will improve safety and efficiency along this stretch of highway. Given the financial constraints to the province and the price tag of over $2 billion to complete all of the 100-series sections that were desired, we needed to look at ways to upgrade or twin 300 kilometres of highways quickly and affordably without the use of tolls. We considered various options and determined that to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain - that a P3 model for this project would deliver the best value for money, plus deliver it on time. The P3 approach will mean that we have a 38-kilometre twin portion of highway open earlier than through the traditional approach.
In January, we announced Dexter Nova Alliance as the preferred proponent for the Highway No. 104 twinning project. The twinning of Highway No. 104 is to be completed by the end of 2023. The successful proponent will be required to operate and maintain the highway for 20 years, following substantial completion of the project and to standards that Nova Scotians set.
We are also getting a substantial contribution from Ottawa, as I mentioned. The federal government is contributing $90 million to the project through the National Trade Corridors Fund.
I want to turn to our provincial ferries for just a moment. Our federal partners are also supporting us in that regard. The Little Narrows ferry in Cape Breton and the Country Harbour ferry in Guysborough County are both being replaced by a cable ferry that can carry 15 cars, increasing passenger capacity and improving overall operational efficiency - a testament to our commitment to maintaining our highway system in rural Nova Scotia.
The new ferries will make daily travel more reliable and comfortable for area residents and visitors, allowing them to travel to and from our region’s top destinations and attractions safely and efficiently.
The Country Harbour ferry and the Little Narrows ferry are $6 million each. Our federal partners are contributing 50 per cent toward these ferries to a total of $6 million. The Country Harbour ferry is expected to be completed in late Summer 2020. Construction for the Little Narrows ferry is anticipated to start in Spring 2020 with an estimated completion date of Spring 2021. The new ferries will have improved mechanical systems and engines, ensuring that ferry services remain in operation for many years to come.
From ferries to the Art Gallery - the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is moving to a new, modern space on the Halifax waterfront. This will enhance the province’s position as a leader in the visual arts, inviting the world to celebrate our culture. It will also better showcase Nova Scotia’s culture and excellence in visual arts nationally and internationally. The federal government is contributing up to $30 million for this project. The gallery will lead a capital campaign which is expected to raise $30 million. The province will contribute more than $70 million to this project, with the exact amount to be determined following the competitive processes.
Earlier this year, we launched an international design competition for the new gallery, which represents a big step towards a new gallery that will be part of a new arts district on the Halifax waterfront. The response to the competition was overwhelming. It will be narrowed to three design teams in the Summer of 2020 during the final stage of the competition before a qualified jury selects the winning team.
The conceptual designs of all finalists will be on public display for feedback, which will be provided to the winning design team. The successful design team will carry out an ongoing public engagement process. There’s no question that there’s a lot of global excitement for our new iconic art gallery.
Our government has committed to taking the tolls off the Cobequid Pass for Nova Scotian motorists once the bonds are paid off. At this time, no decision has been made on the removal of the tolls for truckers or non-Nova Scotian residents. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal officials are reviewing the Highway 104 Western Alignment Act, and the agreement with the bondholders, as well as maintenance and other costs for the Cobequid Pass, to provide government with the best option for moving forward.
I’ll give you an update on the TSA, the Traffic Safety Act. In addition to highways and public works, we are responsible for policy development related to road safety. In October 2018, we introduced and passed a new modern Traffic Safety Act that will help make the province’s roads and highways safer. It replaces the sorely outdated Motor Vehicle Act.
The Motor Vehicle Act had not been rewritten since the early 1920s. It had been amended numerous times, and as a result it was unclear, inconsistent, and not reflecting the modern conditions of our times. The new Traffic Safety Act will enable us to quickly address the more technical and day-to-day issues that arise in the administration of road safety. Staff continue to work on developing the regulations to support the Traffic Safety Act.
Similar to the new Act, the regulations will be easier to read and modernized to reflect the current and future motoring environment. The regulations will also contain a significant portion of technical detail which is in the current Motor Vehicle Act. It is expected that the content of the new regulations be shared with stakeholders and the public prior to consideration by government. It is planned to have the new regulations complete by the Fall of 2020.
Our department is about more than just roads. Our employees are also responsible for managing the delivery of provincial buildings such as schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, and to maintain public structures such as provincial museums and the Nova Scotia Legislature. We’re investing $154.4 million to support the QEII New Generation and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Health Care Redevelopment projects that will transform how we deliver health care services to Nova Scotians.
On the QEII New Generation project, government continues to work closely with the Nova Scotia Health Authority on the province’s largest health care project to date: the QEII New Generation project. The QEII New Generation project is a $2 billion investment - the largest health care investment project in Nova Scotia’s history. The heart of this project is the expansion of the Halifax Infirmary site. Almost 1.5 million square feet of new space will be constructed at the Halifax Infirmary site.
The HI expansion includes a new cancer care centre, which will be located on the former Queen Elizabeth High School site; a new in-patient centre, which includes hospital beds and operating rooms and will be a tower built where the existing parkade on Robie Street is located; a new outpatient centre that will be built on the former CBC building site; and a new research, innovation, and learning centre that will connect the new in-patient centre to the cancer centre. Every decision we make on this project is centred on patient needs.
More than 14,000 people come to the QEII Health Sciences Centre every day - 14,000 people every day. It serves patients and families from across Nova Scotia and, indeed, the Maritimes. A parking study conducted for the Province indicated the following: about 92 per cent of the visitors either drive or are driven and use on-site parking; and 40 per cent of the visits are from people and families travelling from outside HRM. About 2,700 parking spaces are needed at the HI site. We know that hospital parking is a challenge now, and this challenge will grow with the expansion of the HI site.
We don’t want to add to the anxiety of patients and families by not having suitable parking. Safe, convenient, on-site or close-by are the essential attributes. To meet future parking needs, our parking strategy includes underground parking at the new cancer centre, in-patient and outpatient buildings, and the use of existing lots on the Halifax Infirmary site. However, more parking is required to meet the future parking needs. We are working very closely with HRM staff to address these future parking needs and are looking at options. We’re pleased with the progress of our parking discussions with HRM, and we sincerely hope to have some parking solutions soon.
I would like to highlight some of our QEII project milestones in this fiscal year. At the HI site, the demolition of the CBC building will start soon. Removing the former CBC building is an important step to make way for an outpatient centre that will serve hundreds of thousands of Nova Scotians each year. We’ve approved almost $6 million to add six more dialysis chairs at the Halifax Infirmary. As a result, 24 more patients will be able to be treated at the Halifax Infirmary each week for dialysis. Work is progressing on the HI’s third and fifth floors that will result in Atlantic Canada’s first hybrid OR and two interventional suites where surgical procedures are performed with state-of-the-art equipment.
I want to turn to the Bayers Lake Community Outpatient Centre. As part of our commitment to provide care closer to home, the Bayer’s Lake Community Outpatient Centre will deliver a variety of services that don’t require a trip to the hospital and a more effective and convenient way for patients and their families. We anticipate construction of the Community Outpatient Centre in Bayers Lake this Summer, 2020.
The Dartmouth General Hospital expansion and renovation, an important component of the QEII New Generation project, celebrated a milestone. In December, we officially opened Dartmouth General’s new three-storey wing. The wing is named after a life-long resident of Dartmouth and community business leader, the late Neville J. Gilfoy. The Neville J. Gilfoy wing includes eight new operating rooms, doubling the number of operating rooms and increasing surgeries performed; new clinical space with more exam and procedures rooms; larger waiting and reception areas and office space; and a new space with state-of-the-art equipment for cleaning and sterilizing medical instruments.
Government also approved $7.46 million to add six more dialysis chairs at the Dartmouth General. As a result, 36 more patients will be treated in Dartmouth each week, bringing the total close to 100 patients. Construction there is expected to be completed this Summer.
We’ve also completed Dartmouth General’s parking lot that includes almost 300 new parking spaces. The expansion of the parking lot improves flow and meets the needs of our patients, visitors, staff, and community. We’re very pleased with the progress of the Dartmouth General Hospital’s expansion and renovation, which is anticipated to be completed in the Fall of 2021. I would also say that the Dartmouth General serves Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie and the Halifax portion of the riding, from Ecum Secum west, and the folks that I talked to in that section of my riding are over the top in improvements that have been made to the Dartmouth General.
Overall, we’re making good progress on the QEII New Generation project that will change the way we deliver health care for generations to come and one that we can be proud of.
We are also making great progress with the CBRM Health Care Redevelopment project that is transforming Cape Breton’s health system to better connect patients and their families to the care they need. This $500-plus million plan includes a new building at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital for a larger emergency department and a new critical care unit and cancer care centre. It will see an expanded emergency department at the Glace Bay hospital and new community health centres and long-term facilities to replace the aging Northside General and New Waterford hospitals, which will remain open until the new facilities are completed.
The project team, led by Cape Bretoners, I might mention, has met with hundreds of doctors and other health care professionals and dozens of community groups, from community health boards and service clubs to business leaders and advocacy groups.
The project is about replacing aging buildings with modern facilities that not only meet people’s health care needs but are places where doctors, specialists, nurses, and other health care professionals want to practise. This will make recruiting doctors and other professionals in the health care field more attractive. It’s a multi-year project that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Redesigning and rebuilding the health care system in the CBRM will be the single biggest health care investment in the Island’s history. It will also create thousands of jobs during the construction phase. I am proud of the progress so far, but we must keep moving so we can achieve a modern, high-quality health care system in the CBRM and rebuild the aging infrastructure.
Other health care investments, along with our investment in the new QEII New Generation and the CBRM Health Care Redevelopment projects, we are also investing $54.3 million for construction, repair, and renewals of other hospitals and other medical facilities. This investment includes additional dialysis units in Kentville, Digby, Glace Bay, Halifax, Dartmouth, and Middleton - a new, larger health care centre in Middleton - and a major expansion of the IWK Health Centre. These investments clearly demonstrate the government’s commitment to improving health care across the province.
With the Boat Harbour remediation project we are taking a positive approach towards addressing a decades-old problem. The project team at Nova Scotia Lands has worked closely over the past several years with Pictou Landing First Nation, scientists, researchers, multiple departments and agencies, and other community partners on a shared goal of returning Boat Harbour to a tidal estuary. Cleaning up Boat Harbour is a long-term project that will benefit the entire region. Last July the remediation team completed the pilot scale test that helped give valuable input on how to approach the full remediation process. The team is currently finalizing its environmental impact statement to submit to the federal regulators.
State-of-the-art research is being done, and the expertise that we have there is absolutely fabulous. Once the federal assessment process is complete, the team anticipates that cleanup could begin by late 2021. The full remediation is expected to take between four and seven years. Projects of this magnitude are certainly challenging and complex, but they are vitally important, and we are committed to it.
The project is a step towards writing an historic wrong. We cannot undo the harms of the past, but we can do our best to create a healthier environment for the future. We can do our best to ensure the community members will once again be able to enjoy the use of Boat Harbour and surrounding lands for generations to come.
The Nova Scotia-to-Maine ferry is a vital part of our transportation system, like the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s important to our tourism industry, particularly in southwestern Nova Scotia. We are disappointed we were unable to offer a service last year - that is probably an understatement. When trying to establish an international ferry service at a different location, it is complex. At the end of the day, we’ve secured a long-term solution that will bring economic benefits to all of Nova Scotia. The ferry is good for our rural economy and is good for Nova Scotia tourism. We are pleased that Bay Ferries is in a position where they have begun selling tickets for the 2020 season. We look forward to welcoming passengers from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia this year. That’s a traditional port that had operated for many years.
Businesses large and small benefit from the money spent by visitors who choose to come to our province via the ferry. We’re working closely with Bay Ferries, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other partners to ensure a successful season this year. Bar Harbor will provide long-term stability for the service. This means no blackout dates; a dedicated ferry space, which we didn’t have in Portland; a long-term lease; and a long-term charter. Those are the elements that will make it successful. All parties are working closely and collaboratively together to get this right and to get the service started for the upcoming tourism season. The Province did not have an option to remain in Portland, as the town’s long-term objective was focused on the cruise ship business well beyond the 2019 season.
Work on the ferry terminal includes a fixed span and pier, deck and pile repairs, as well as moving the transfer bridge from the Portland terminal and reassembling it in Bar Harbor. Work also includes the demolition of some outer buildings, construction of Customs plaza facilities, and reinstallation of the security equipment moved from Portland. Renovation to the existing terminal will provide retail space for Bay Ferries, public space for customers, and modernized security screening facilities for U.S. Customs officials. We are confident the move to Bar Harbor will provide greater long-term stability for the service and for a successful 2020 tourism season.
Madam Chair, with that, I’m ready to accept questions.
THE CHAIR: We will move on to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
TIM HOUSTON: Thank you to the minister and the team for all the preparation of the budget.
I want to start with the QEII redevelopment. I know that moving the cancer care program to the Infirmary site will cause the loss of a number of parking spots - I think somewhere in the range of 800 to 900 parking spots. That will be at a time when the consolidation of the cancer program will mean an increased demand on the unit and the corresponding parking spots, so you will have demand going up and supply going down. We know there are a bunch of issues with that; we’ve all been following along.
I would like to ask the minister: If we kept the cancer care program at its current location, would the need to establish additional parking at the Infirmary site by voiding and demolishing the existing Robie Street parkade be mitigated or removed?
LLOYD HINES: I think the question actually speaks to the complexity of the QEII New Generation project in its totality. As I mentioned, it is the largest project we have ever undertaken in the province. Really, the planning is more than four years old in terms of its genesis. Through that period of time, we have started where you want to start: with the clinicians, the users of the facility, and the health professionals who have given us excellent advice through that period of time. There are 43 committees set up that have been meeting with various aspects of the project in mind.
On the parking issue, I’ve mentioned in my remarks what the traffic numbers are at that facility and how important parking is to the patients. Just think for a moment: somebody from my riding, which could be as much as three or four hours away, who has never driven in Halifax before and received a referral to an oncologist who is at the Infirmary. In the process, they have to drive in Halifax. That in itself is a daunting undertaking for lots of folks. That, I think, underlines the importance of the parking process requirement in the total redevelopment.
With regard to the cancer centre and its location, in the world of appraisals and value, there’s a principle called the highest and best use for property. It’s quite obvious that the site where the cancer facility is going is the highest and best use for that, rather than a surface parking lot facility. We have followed the advice of the people who know this business, who understand the relationship between the cancer facility and the operating hospital, which is the current situation in the process, in that the existing Dickson Centre is close to the facilities that we will be moving out of. The new facility will be close to the OR, which will be much more convenient for the patients there.
Actually, when you think about it - it always occurred to me, anyway, driving down Robie Street - what you’re looking at is actually the rear of the facility when you’re on Robie Street. Summer Street is the front entrance to the facility. On that busy location and with the value of real estate there, to have a parking garage there - at the time, it obviously was a decision that was made and they had to probably struggle with parking at that time, the same as we are doing - it doesn’t seem to be the highest and best use.
The facility that has been designed by Kasian, which is one of the globe’s foremost hospital consultants and designers, has designated that section - that piece of property - to be the location of the new tower that’s part of the development. That striking piece of property on the corner, which is the former location of Queen Elizabeth High School, is at the advice of our advisers in the clinical community who said that’s the place for the new cancer centre. It will not require shuttling, which is going on at the Dickson Centre now. It also provides us with a clean slate at the current site of the Victoria and the Centennial Buildings for the great opportunities that will await Nova Scotians at those valuable sites.
What we have relied on here, as we should, is the advice that we’ve gotten from the clinicians and the medical community as to what they see as the best design and the best use. They know best what they need to work with in providing that bricks-and-mortar arrangement so that they can do their best work and so that with new facilities Nova Scotia can continue to be a leader in the medical field in Atlantic Canada.
TIM HOUSTON: There’s no room for error on this situation. The minister referred to four years of study and 43 committees, I think he said, and yes, when the light went on just a little bit around this parking situation, it was a mad scramble. I think in the minister’s opening comments he referred to trying to find a solution, which obviously acknowledges a problem. That’s the very first little glimmer we’ve got of this project, and there’s a problem that has to be sorted out.
Certainly, oncologists are raising concerns about the move of the cancer centre and the wisdom of that move. It’s very concerning to Nova Scotians that this government will take on a debt to do this project.
There are no do-overs on this project. The history of managing good projects is not good under this government - the Bluenose II, the ferry; we can talk about all these things.
The current parking situation is well-suited for those who are in and out of the hospital, as opposed to individuals out there for a long time. It is very well-suited for those who are in and out: it’s near the registration area, it’s near several busy outpatient clinics, X-ray, lab services, as well as same-day patient surgeries. If parking were shifted to another location, there would be a shuttling service for the ambulatory patients, which is not uncommon.
I’m just questioning whether this move places patients first, as the minister has indicated that he believes it does.
We heard from the Minister of Health and Wellness in Estimates that he believes that building these new buildings would lead to more modern equipment and the most modern treatments. I’d like to ask the minister: Does he share that view that we can only have modern equipment and modern treatments if we have a brand-new building to house them in?
LLOYD HINES: I guess if I had a 1992 Honda, I might like to upgrade to something a little newer - the deputy says that’s what he has - and that’s part of the principle that’s here. For clarity, the cancer care centre is going on the old Queen Elizabeth High School site, which is where the community garden was.
The clinicians told us that we had to spend new money on either the Dickson Centre or a new alternative. Because we had committed to what we’re doing at the QEII New Generation project, we did an analysis, and it became apparent that having a new state-of- the-art facility would be the way to go.
The tower that will be going in where the existing parkade is has to be matched up to the operating rooms that are in the existing facility, so there has to be a seamless, flat floor between the areas so that you can access that completely.
With regard to a shuttle service, the information we have is that that’s not best practice, that it’s avoided where it can be avoided. I actually would invite all members of the House to go up and park at the rear entrance to the Halifax Infirmary - just for a few minutes, because it’s a no-parking zone, but you could probably get away with a few minutes - and see the folks who are going in there in the morning, through the day. They have walkers, they’re in wheelchairs, they’re in casts. They have a look of terror on their faces because they may be from some rural part of the province and just navigated the harrowing traffic coming in, and they’re freaking out. They’re going to see an oncologist for what could be a death sentence.
Those are the people we are trying to help. Those are the people that we want to provide new services for, with state-of-the-art equipment. It does cost money, there’s no doubt about it, and we are committed to doing it. We are doing that with our fifth balanced budget, increased our highways budget from three short years ago - $215 million in capital to over $400 million this year - all with delivering to Nova Scotians in the fifth year a balanced budget with a $55 million surplus forecast - so five, five, and five. That’s our commitment to Nova Scotians.
Is it expensive? It’s expensive. How much can we afford to spend? We’re at $4.8 billion now in our health care budget in the province. We are committed to upgrading these facilities that we know served us well. The Centennial Building was built in 1967 - it’s 50-some years old. It’s at the end of its best-before date. We know they have to be replaced, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.
TIM HOUSTON: We just want you to get it right. That’s all we want. This is a government that says Opposition is against kids, against Nova Scotians, against this, against that, against health care. No, we want you to get it right. That’s what we want. When you’re going to commit Nova Scotians to a 50-year project, $2 billion, get it right. We’re asking the questions because it’s not clear to health care professionals, let alone to us, that all the different concerns have been raised.
The redeveloped Halifax Infirmary site is projected to have 626 beds. That’s a very precise number. It’s an increase in the number of existing beds. This is a number that I can only assume would have been arrived at using projections about future patient needs. It would have been arrived at adjusting for demographics, consideration of rates of illness, by age and by sex, consideration of new technologies. It would have listed a number of assumptions. I wonder if the minister can share with the House the analysis that arrived at the number that 626 beds are what is necessary. Is that an analysis that you can share with the House?
LLOYD HINES: I think it’s a very good and relevant question, in terms of why it isn’t 630 or 620 but is 626. After there was a bit of a stutter in 2012 about going ahead with this particular project, and when it was relaunched in 2014, the approach that we took was to consult the people who know what the answer is to these questions. There was a master clinical plan conducted and feasibility studies assisted by our consultant, that accepted the input from the folks who were going to be working, sometimes 24 hours a day, in these facilities - the clinical people - and that’s how the process was arrived at.
You have to also take this in the context that the QEII new development plan is also affected by the Dartmouth General Hospital improvements. New beds in Dartmouth General, new services over there, new operating rooms over there, new operating rooms in Hants County at Windsor, the centre that we’re putting out in Bayers Lake Business Park, and even the work and improvements that are being made in Cape Breton will all change the intake and the landscape a little bit. The number is one that is the result of significant input from people who know what the requirements are and their input into what the facility should look like.
Different countries approach health care differently. For instance, in Germany, some of the hospitals are actually private. Clinical care is in one building and next door is an accommodation that is built for the patients, so they’ve kind of separated the rehab section from the clinical care process. That’s not our style here in Canada, where we continue the care significantly after the event. There are very different approaches as to how that should look.
One thing I do want to say, though, is that I want Nova Scotians to really think about the quality of health care that we have in this province in terms of comparisons to other regions, other countries, and think about, in a positive way, really how good we have it. We have Seniors’ Pharmacare, which is really a lifesaver for many of our seniors. We have availability - and, of course, there are glitches, there’s no doubt about that - to quality health care, particularly on an acute basis. It’s often a question of, if the glass is half full or half empty when it comes to this process. The other thing, too, is that we really don’t start paying attention until we need the service, or somebody close to us needs the service.
Our demographic is changing. The Minister of Seniors in his presentation in the Red Room indicated that by 2030, one in four Nova Scotians will be 65-plus. We all know that as we age the requirement for health services escalates. That’s what we’re headed for. That’s why we are putting such emphasis on immigration, about youth retention, about attempting to try to improve that ratio so that we can, obviously, improve our productivity, our economic status, which will give us more resources to be able to service the expanding number of seniors that we see in Nova Scotia, and that is projected to be the case over the next decade.
TIM HOUSTON: I didn’t hear about the analysis that came to the 626. Maybe that came from the Deloitte report, I’m not sure, but we’ll take that as asked and answered, I guess.
Has the Province considered, or is the Province reconsidering, retaining the Robie Street parkade and building a new parkade adjacent to the new ambulatory care centre on the former CBC site? Is that a consideration right now?
LLOYD HINES: As I indicated, the intricate planning process that has brought us to the decisions we have taken up to this point in time started a long time ago. The input from the medical community required that what we’re doing - because this is a renovation rather than a greenfield site. It’s like a giant Lego situation; we have to fit the various pieces in to accommodate the activities that are currently undertaken at the site. We’ve got all the various services that are offered there, and a major one is the access to the operating rooms in a convenient and sensible manner. That’s why the tower is going where the parkade is.
That parkade is actually a giant Lego operation and can be unbolted. There may be some residual value in that; that will be up to the successful bidder on the contract. We were limited by the physical requirements that were made apparent to us by the people who are the users of the facility. Every conceivable configuration was extensively reviewed through the process, and it became apparent to us that the acquisition of the CBC building would be a requirement. We were able to successfully acquire that particular piece of property, but it’s not conceivable that we can use that particular site for parking.
As the House would know, we are currently looking at alternatives to the proposal to build the parkade across Summer Street. We scoured the area for possible parking locations. I think we looked at eight different options. We are putting 1,000 underground sites there. I believe the cost comparison between surface and underground is $135,000 versus $35,000, so it’s definitely a fiscal consideration, but there are other issues at that site. There’s essentially a huge underground river close to the surface that if we went any deeper, we’d be intercepting in the process. It’s just not feasible for us to be able to do that.
Physical limitations exist, but more important, I think, are the design requirements and the design limitations dictated by the people who know this business and understand what it is that we are going to require to continue the great health care offering that we have. We also have a duty to our workers in that facility and our dedication to give them the best facility that we can, the best working environment that we can.
There’s a transition that’s going to be required. During the construction period, we actually looked at and worked with the city at the former St. Patrick’s High School site as a possible temporary site. The city has recently dispossessed themselves of that particular site and were unwilling - and I can understand why - to commit that site to a longer-term option. That in itself is really not that convenient because it involves one of the busiest intersections in the province that people would have to wrestle with. That option really is off the table at this time. We looked at what our options were and what the highest and best use was for the former CBC site, and it was concluded that that wasn’t one of them.
TIM HOUSTON: In terms of the Yarmouth ferry, if the ferry does not sail this year, what action will the Province take? If it doesn’t have a full, complete sailing season, what action are you prepared to take as minister to protect the taxpayers of this province?
LLOYD HINES: We’re very happy that the operator, Bay Ferries, is in the market currently, selling for the upcoming year, and that the new facility in Bar Harbor is nearing completion. We’re particularly delighted to see, I call it the “catching facility,” which is being constructed in Yarmouth as a new receiving centre. The reason I like that one in particular is because of the commitment that’s been shown by the municipal governments in that area, which is a testament to how valuable they see the ferry is, that they are putting municipal money into that new ferry terminal there - the three municipal units affected in the area. Of course, that’s a hypothetical question. We would deal with that should it evolve, but at this point in time, we don’t feel that that’s very likely.
TIM HOUSTON: If only we hadn’t heard that, those same statements quite a few times last year, about the likelihood of missing an entire season. I know at a committee across the street, the CEO of the operator was there, and I asked him that very question. He completely dismissed it as “impossible that the season would be missed.” Sadly, we know how that story ended. I’m not convinced that we won’t see a rewrite of that story, but I hope we don’t. Nova Scotians deserve a lot better.
With those few words, I will cede my time to the member for Pictou Centre.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: As my colleague mentioned at the beginning of his comments, I want to thank the staff for being here - also the staff upstairs - and for all the great work the staff does in your department and across the province. I’m going to throw the minister a lob ball in my first question. Of course, I’m going to be looking for short answers, also. That will give me the opportunity to ask a lot more questions.
I have some comments on the Lands division with regard to the Trenton railcar facility that’s disappearing as we speak, building by building by building, approximately 120 acres. We’ve talked about this here from time to time. I guess the former DSME facility - I like to call it the former Trenton Railcar-Greenbrier. Anyway, I have a couple things. Just an update on it, what’s happening right now, what are the plans for the future of that particular 120-acre site, and what are, perhaps, some of the possibilities with regard to that piece of land in the town of Trenton?
LLOYD HINES: One of the delightful things that this ministry has brought to me is a deep appreciation for the industrial history of Pictou County. I really didn’t understand or know before what a great history Pictou County had in steel manufacturing, and what a powerhouse it was back in the day, in the rail side, and even as recently as the 1990s when Greenbrier was in there, and how important it was, and remains, in the memories of folks in Pictou County.
Times change; we have to change with the times. Sometimes government is not able to bob and weave as flexibly as the private sector, but at the same time that’s probably a good thing because there’s a lot of consideration that goes into spending the public funds of the Nova Scotia taxpayers in a way that brings the public good and a good return. When I, with my able executives at Nova Scotia Lands, took over the responsibility for the facility at Trenton, for me it was looking at it with a new set of eyes. I understand how it tugs at the heartstrings of people - the glory days, the days when members of the House actually worked there, it was in their families - and a tremendous tradition that existed.
We have seen this evolution in Nova Scotia in many forms. You might say we’re almost going through it again now with Northern Pulp. We certainly had it with Sydney Steel and Sysco, the glory days of the coal mining industry in Nova Scotia, with St. Rose colliery in Inverness. Things change.
However, there is inherent significant value in the former TrentonWorks site. That inherent value consists of 120 acres of industrially zoned property, accessed by both water - it does have a limited water access - and current rail access. These are strategic qualities for global development. There are people searching the globe looking for these kinds of opportunities. There’s an inherent value in being right alongside a major generating station, so electrical availability is big.
In the existing site we had there when our department was asked to absorb it into Nova Scotia Lands, we did an analysis of the A, B, and C buildings, as they were referred to, I think. I remember the day I walked in and the ceiling was higher than this place in here because it was an industrial site. I think the building was 1,390 feet long, 60 feet wide and close to probably 70 feet to the ceiling. At the very top was a 1900-vintage roof - no insulation, made out of wood, and problematic in the long term. There were crumbling bricks on the sides that were over 100 years old, falling apart.
The folks who were building the towers in there were able to make that work. It was an elongated area, great for long matters that they wanted to build the towers with and suitable for putting in the heavy industrial equipment that they would require, the welding and the gantry cranes that were there, which all ended up being sold after the exit of the company.
Unfortunately, they failed to anticipate the fact that the wind turbine manufacturing business was changed, that the nacelles, the part that is the turbine on top, have to be matched and the companies like to build themselves, to their own plans, and ship them to the sites, break them up, reassemble them on the site, weld them together, put them up, and they maintain control. Off-the-shelf towers were really not the answer for that particular industry.
I think there was a misapprehension of the opportunity that was there in terms of what the sales opportunity, the volume opportunity, might have been at the time, which resulted in them exiting after the government of the day had put significant money into the operation, in probably a sincere effort to maintain that facility there.
I think our approach is a little bit different. To get to that inherent value that I mentioned to you, in terms of the 120 acres of industrial land with flat access, with a rail line, water access to the river, the existing structures that were there were liabilities. A potential purchaser would take a look at that and realize they would have to incur the costs of demolishing those buildings. There are two buildings there that we have deemed recoverable and could be used for alternative uses. They are more modern facilities, one of them is quite good, and they are large facilities. I’m sure the member is very familiar with what I’m talking about. Those have been maintained. The removal of the 100-plus-year- old facilities will enhance the saleability of that property for a prospective purchaser.
Let me turn to that for just a minute. We have had a lot of tire kickers in the analysis there. A lot of people right off the bat came in - probably incentivized by the deal that was given to the former operator, who walked away with $60 million of taxpayers’ money at the time. There are people out there who think that all governments are vulnerable, and that desperate people will make desperate decisions and accept any kind of proposal. That’s not the way we see it. We feel we have a valuable asset there. We are committed to unlocking the value in that site. The demolitions that have taken place are part of that process to unlock that value, and we are constantly dealing with people who have ideas about what they want to see there.
The idea is great, but you need to have the capital to implement the project, so we do a fairly deep dive with the folks who are talking to us about the wonderful projects that they have. Some of them are very exciting, but it’s like the movie Show Me the Money. We’re not going to go down the road that others have gone down in the past at that site and end up with something that the taxpayers of Nova Scotia will be left holding the bag.
One of the things that I want to explore at that site is, there is a federal endowment to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which has a Green Municipal Fund. It has a brownfield rehabilitation component to it, and I’m hoping that we’re going to work with the municipalities in the area to see if we can access some of the funds for that particular site. Redevelopment on these sites is happening all over Canada, all over the world, and what were previously contaminated and worthless properties, because of the nature of growth, have become very valuable. The Green Municipal Fund has a lot of money that it’s looking for projects for brownfield redevelopment. I think that’s an option, too, that might be able to help us in that particular situation.
I think I can understand on the outside how people who were used to that wonderful industrial history that Pictou County enjoyed, that made it a powerhouse during two wars, might feel about the changes that are coming, but we’re planning for the future. We want to put in place an opportunity that will regenerate that kind of opportunity and that situation. We think it’s a valuable property, and we’re working very hard to extract the value out of it as we go forward.
THE CHAIR: Was that the short answer you were looking for?
PAT DUNN: So much for lob balls. Actually, I could talk here for probably hours and days with regard to the history of that place. Time doesn’t permit, but I had relatives working there back in 1878, so we’ll leave it at that. I had the opportunity to work in there, also. The minister referred to the high ceilings and, of course, they had to be high because of the distance for the cranes that were working in the plant. I can agree with him; they were massive buildings, bigger than football fields.
I think we’ll move on with another question, and I think this particular question is the only one I have. I think it’s an important one, dealing with the ferry from Yarmouth to Maine. I’ll mention a few things that you’re very aware of prior to the question. I’ll see what the answer is in regard to the question.
The subsidy for the Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry is projected to be $16.3 million. We all know that some people across the province have criticized this service; others describe the service as great for tourism and the economy of rural Nova Scotia. We all know we need a link there, just like we need links to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The 2020 subsidy is approximately the same grant given to the company in 2019. On top of that, Nova Scotia taxpayers passed out $13.1 million in 2015 on retrofitting the boat and beginning the service; an additional $10.2 million was spent during the 2018-19 fiscal year for, I believe, the gearbox that was damaged; and, of course, $8.5 million to the Bar Harbor terminal. Including the projected $16.3 million grant for the 2020 season, Nova Scotia spent $95.5 million on the ferry service since 2015.
It won’t be possible to do this now because of circumstances last year, but maybe every year going afterwards, will the government conduct an economic impact assessment that would provide details on what effects, if any, the service has had in rural Nova Scotia? Are we getting a good return? Are we getting our bang for the buck, in other words?
LLOYD HINES: In response to the economic study, I would contend that we had that done last year. The numbers in that section of the province dropped by 29 per cent - the most precipitous drop ever experienced in a tourism region in Nova Scotia in one year. How did that happen? That happened because of the very unfortunate circumstance that we found ourselves in. Our sincere efforts to solidify that service - which we are going to do this year - failed, and we didn’t have a sailing season; 55,000 American visitors were unable to come across and spend time with us in Nova Scotia. We know, Tourism Nova Scotia tells us, that these are the highest spending folk that come to spend time with us in Nova Scotia.
I remember, clearly, growing up in Ingonish in Cape Breton, in great Victoria County with my former schoolmate over there, the member for Victoria-The Lakes. Knowing and seeing the number of Americans who came and spent time with us in Cape Breton, that has sort of changed. As I mentioned before in the TrentonWorks project, nothing remains the same.
The American visitation changed. The bus tours became less popular; we see fewer visitors via that particular avenue. However, during that period of time, from 1955 until 2009, the ferry ran consecutively between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth; we did have that support that was pouring money in.
It has changed completely. You won’t find those tourists now, in Baddeck and in Ingonish, in the numbers that we saw back in those days because of the changing travel market. We’re getting more people from Europe, people are coming by air. More importantly, you will find them in Halifax and in Sydney coming in by tour boat. That’s how people travel a lot these days.
The precipitous impact that the loss of the ferry traffic had on the Nova Scotia tourism numbers across the province, and particularly in southwest Nova Scotia, clearly illustrates the importance of this service to the people of Nova Scotia, and in particular the people of southwest Nova Scotia.
I want to put the $95 million - I think that’s what the member mentioned - over that period of time in some perspective. We spend $10 million a year in Nova Scotia on our interprovincial ferries times the same time period, that’s $60 million. We don’t question that, that’s our highway system. That’s our commitment to the public good. The Nova Scotia-to-Maine ferry is an extension of our highway system, and it brings lots of money to the province.
Let’s talk about Pictou for a second. Pictou County, a great county that I have talked to you about, is a wonderful county: $74 million dollars. That’s what the subsidy was to the Pictou ferry during that same period of time. That ferry is an interprovincial ferry, it doesn’t have to contend with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and there are none of the kinds of costs that are associated with that process. I’m just pointing that out because that ferry is essential to Nova Scotia and it’s essential to P.E.I. It’s a seasonal ferry, and it runs in a period of time: $74 million spent during that same period.
The Digby ferry is $60 million. Canada’s commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of the 1949 joining of that great province to our Confederation: $547 million in subsidies for that ferry.
Across the world, ferries are subsidized. They are subsidized everywhere they are found. They’re subsidized in B.C., they’re subsidized in Nova Scotia, and will probably continue to be so, the same way that our highway system de facto is subsidized. When we look at our nine modest ferry operations in Nova Scotia (Interruptions)
THE CHAIR: Order. The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has the floor.
LLOYD HINES: In terms of the money that has been spent during that period of time, I accept the member’s math, but I haven’t checked it. There would be caveats that would be in there. He mentioned a gear box; there was a credit received off the charter cost there, but I won’t get into that - we’ll accept that number. I want to put it in context for the amount of money that is being spent on ferries across the province.
PAT DUNN: I will ask the minister if he could table those figures that he was referring to. I would be delighted to see them, even with a name, if possible.
I have one more question, I guess. I was going to leave that topic, but my colleague, the member for Yarmouth wouldn’t be happy if I had just one question, so I’ll ask another one. Is there any indication from Bay Ferries how the ticket sales are going for this coming year? Are there any indications yet?
LLOYD HINES: We’ve only been in the market a very short time, and I haven’t asked that question. We need to get a little bit of time in the marketplace to be able to do that. We’re also very busy working with tourism in terms of the marketing package for this year, which is exciting. The company is working on how they’re going to pump up the volume on their marketing things too. That has not been discussed.
PAT DUNN: The minister knows I’m in a constituency of three towns, so I don’t have to worry about too many roads. Brenda Wilson, my constituency assistant, never thought she’d be handling road questions and transportation until I became the critic; we do get calls across the province, from one end to the other, on bridges and roads and so on.
I’m going to take the last few minutes and mention one road we have lots of constituents that call me about: the piece of road near North Nova Education Centre, which is in a little place called Walkerville, not all that far from the Aberdeen Hospital. There’s a stretch of road there, I’m going to say it’s no longer than half a kilometre, if it’s that long. It is in deplorable shape. In fact, I think it would be a great place for amateur golfers to practise their putting, there are just so many holes. You can’t drive on the road without hitting many of them.
It’s in that shape every year. It has been for a few years. I’ve inquired about it, and so on, but I guess my question with my time running out is: How can I push this little piece of road forward? Buses use it, students use it, bicycles use it; it’s a shortcut for avoiding going downtown, to get out to other places out on the highway. I understand they may even do something about it this year, but I want to verify that.
LLOYD HINES: I think the first step would be doing exactly what the member is doing, which is servicing it here so our executives can be aware of it. We can certainly determine if there are any activities planned for this particular year. There are various options if it’s clearly in the provincial arena rather than municipal, then it’s our responsibility.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the P.C. caucus. You’ll have to hold your answer for the next round. We’ll now move on to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for your comments. I have to apologize in advance, I am up tonight in Energy and Mines and TIR at the same time. I think I have a full hour with you. I also wanted to thank the staff with you tonight and all the staff in the department who work so hard for Nova Scotians.
Moving right into it, on Page 22.2 under the Highway Programs, the line for Health and Safety Division is about $200 million less than the estimate from last year. Can you explain that difference?
Page 22.2, under the Highway Programs, the line for Health and Safety Division, it says $200,000 in my book, but I think it means $200 million less than the estimate from last year. Can you explain the difference?
LLOYD HINES: Could I ask for some clarification on precisely which particular line item on Page 22.2 we’re talking about?
SUSAN LEBLANC: I don’t have my budget document in front of me, so maybe we’ll pause that question, and I’ll come back to it in my next round. I’ll come back to it with more specifics.
On Page 22.12, there’s a significant increase in the estimate for Environmental Services and Environmental Remediation. Can the minister provide a breakdown of the specific costs and sites included in that estimate?
LLOYD HINES: It’s a very relevant question. We have decided this year to proceed with the demolition of the former Colchester Hospital, which is a dominant structure. It’s a hospital structure. It’s a very sophisticated structure with all of the goodies in it that tend to be in old buildings and in particular old medical facilities: lead, asbestos, and radiation associated with the X-rays. The remediation tends to get a little bit more expensive, and that’s what that is: $3 million followed by $5 million the following year.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’m going to ask some questions now about the QEII redevelopment and TIR’s involvement with that. My first question is: Where in the budget, what amounts and in which lines, could I find any costs associated with the QEII redevelopment?
LLOYD HINES: I can appreciate the challenges of interpreting the budget document, which I think weighs around 25 pounds for my department.
The QEII expenditures are actually in the capital portion of the budget, which resides with the Department of Health and Wellness in the capital side, so you would find it under the Department of Health and Wellness, under capital.
On the operational side - which is the resourcing, the staffing, and that sort of thing - that would be in the Nova Scotia Lands Incorporated section of our budget, which is where the operational costs associated with mobilizing the effort are housed.
We have capital budget, Health and Wellness for the capital associated with the project; operationally, it’s in the Nova Scotia Lands portion as it relates to our budget.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’m going to, in a second, look up some things to see if I can find what I’m looking for. How much has the government spent to date on architects for the redevelopment project?
LLOYD HINES: I’d like to introduce Mr. Brian Ward, who is our senior director with Nova Scotia Lands Health Infrastructure Division. That is the portion of the operating budget that I referred to earlier as Nova Scotia Lands handling the operational matters for the QEII redevelopment. He has been able to advise me that it would be in the range of less than $7 million in total for the design process associated with the project to date.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I looked up the Health and Wellness budget in our budget documents. I may be in the wrong place, but I have come to where it says Capital Grants and Healthcare Capital Amortization. It appears that there is actually a decrease in the budget from last year to this year, but we have a hospital that is being built.
Where in the budget - as you’ve just pointed to this line, I believe, in the budget - is the money that we’re spending on the hospital redevelopment?
LLOYD HINES: I would refer the member to the Capital Plan 2020-21 that has been released. There on Page 3 is the Capital Funding Summary and the second item in that summary is Buildings and Land for $446 million; the health portion is in that number and also in the Capital Grants section of that same summary for $131.5 million, for a total of approximately $577 million.
Of that portion, for hospitals across the width and breadth of the province, there is $219 million. Again, that appears in the Department of Health and Wellness budget, it’s capital money; it doesn’t appear in the TIR budget. The capital spending portion, which I think is the number you’re looking for, would be $219 million, that $577 million that is in the Capital Plan under the Capital Funding Summary, Page 3.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you. I’ve also looked up my first question, so I will refer you to the main budget document. As I said, Page 22.2, under the Highway Programs in the Health and Safety Division - that’s basically the second section and the second line - in 2019, there was a forecast of $622 million. In 2020, there’s an estimate of $601 million.
I’m wondering: What is the difference? Why is there less money being spent in the Health and Safety Division by a considerable amount?
LLOYD HINES: The $200,000 difference is a result of internal restructuring, moving staff around in the department so they’re in a different section, then that particular number dropped.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Now I’m going to move back to the hospital. In 2013, when the Liberal government was elected, there was already a plan developed by the NDP government to complete the hospital redevelopment in Halifax-Dartmouth by 2020.
I’m wondering if the minister can explain why, in 2020, we are still in the planning stage of the redevelopment?
LLOYD HINES: I guess if you look at the beginning, the genesis, which did start in 2012, at that time, I recall the total project capital cost was in the vicinity of $400 million. Time went on and the government changed in 2013, in October. The period in between was taken up by the beginning of the consultative period with the clinicians, which has resulted in the comprehensive design that we have now; a better understanding of what we really should do in the long-term. In that, this iteration and undertaking that we have locked into currently is much more comprehensive than what was originally anticipated.
Perhaps its like a renovation that you might do at your own house. You start off thinking that you’re going to replace some of the siding; you take some of the siding off and then the sills are bad, and then the roof - it sort of escalated to that point.
As a result of that, as a result of relying on the advice from the clinicians to make sure that we get this right, that’s why we are now where we are in this period of time. There has been a huge pile of planning that’s gone into this over the last four years in particular. We want to make sure that we get the project correct and that we understand the needs of the communities that we are looking to serve in the process.
I go back to look at how this has evolved. We have Windsor added into the mix; the Dartmouth General would have been a part of that also in terms of bringing that in, comprehensively, to the work that we have to do.
I guess from my own perspective, Madam Chair, it’s kind of the nature of government. We tend to be very premeditated in what we are doing. Quite frankly, when you look at the fact that we are spending the public purse, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thanks to the minister for that answer. I totally appreciate the analogy of home renovation. I get that. But I’m wondering, in the plan that originally the NDP had created - the plan was in place in 2013 - was to begin the work on the Dartmouth General and the HI sites in 2016. All construction and realignment of services would have been completed by 2020. We know that the Dartmouth General will essentially, I think, be done by 2021; that’s not too bad.
As I said, I buy the argument that once you start looking at things, you realize that other things need to be done. I’m wondering if the minister can table the analysis that explains why the government chose not to proceed with the original plan and why it has a new plan in place?
LLOYD HINES: I would ask the member to cast her mind back to 2013, in particular in October when this government was asked by the people of Nova Scotia, to represent them here in the Legislature. The first thing we discovered was the $700 million operating deficit in our operating account. I think that might have caused us a little pause to consider, not only the long-term plan for the QEII redevelopment, but many of the other situations that we faced as a government.
It did take us two years to reach balance in our economy, and as you know, it’s pretty hard have the kind of aspirations that we have in government which we are seeing realized, if your fiscal house isn’t in order. It wasn’t in order in 2013 when we were asked to manage the government of the Province of Nova Scotia.
The plan that was put forward at that time did not have the support of the physicians in the province. It was quite evident to us that, you know, that was an unacceptable circumstance and we needed to understand what they knew; they had the knowledge, they knew what they wanted. It also behooved us to consult with the medical community to determine the best route forward. All of those things take time.
In the meantime, the Dartmouth General, which is a major component of our process and which I’m so proud of, actually - the feeling that we get and the vibrancy that’s in that community, and the support that the community lends to that facility is really breathtaking; it’s wonderful, it’s what makes Nova Scotians Nova Scotians - it’s nearing completion. It’s just about done. That, we’re very proud of; that was a keystone part of the original plan that was put forward, and we’re moving, piece by piece, to implement the entire plan.
SUSAN LEBLANC: There are lots of reasons for the decisions governments make; absolutely, 100 per cent. What I’m asking for is to have those decisions and the analysis that went into those decisions tabled for our purposes. So, I would love to see the specific changes between the first plan and the second plan. What was the rationale for those? Surely there were minutes taken at meetings. Is there anything that can be tabled so that we understand what exactly the difference is between the two plans?
Also, I’m wondering if the minister can table any analysis to support the cost difference between the two plans? I’d love to see the cost difference tabled, the two different budgets, and then the analysis to support the cost difference. That’s all I want.
LLOYD HINES: It shouldn’t be any surprise to the House that we don’t have such a comprehensive review available to enter the record here this evening, but we would like to comment on some of the various factors associated with the change in scope, essentially, for the project.
During the extensive consultation that took place with the medical community - again to emphasize, the people who we rely on for advice in these matters - it took some time. It resulted in the realization that we have ancient infrastructure in the Centennial Building, with the operating rooms that have been challenged for some time for viability; and, that a new facility would bring together all these services under one specific campus that would better serve the needs of our Nova Scotians in the overall picture.
At the same time that I say that, much of the information that I believe the member is requesting actually resides in the Department of Health and Wellness, rather than in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Remember, our department is responsible for the engineering, the design and the construction, based on the advice that we receive from the professionals who are in the industry, both in the medical industry and in the Department of Health and Wellness.
We can perhaps think that this government’s creation of a special Health Committee at the Public Accounts would provide an opportunity for that particular request to be dealt with in a more comprehensive manner, because that committee is focused on the health matters. My best advice would be to maybe seek some of those answers at that venue. Thank you.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Madam Chair, we’re going to get into a little area of questioning that I know the minister expects from me but hates, no doubt. It is about P3s. I know we’re going to disagree on a lot of things, so moving beyond that already, we don’t need to talk about how amazing the Cobequid Pass is tonight. I beg you.
I’m wondering if the department has calculated the full lifetime costs of delivering the hospital redevelopment through a P3, compared to a public alternative delivering the same level and quality of service. I’m just wondering if you have calculated the full lifetime cost of the difference between the P3 and the traditional build.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the completely surprising question that she asked. I guess if you look at, to start with, in terms of the application of the engaging of the private sector in the construction of public facilities across the world, across Canada, it is an extremely common practice.
In the Province of Ontario, anything that’s over $50 million in capital costs is automatically a P3 facility. Anybody who is spending government money knows that it doesn’t take much to exceed a $50 million threshold.
This particular project involves - the period that we look at - the full construction costs plus the 30-year operating period. It’s delivered on time and on budget, which are two major considerations for us. Certainly, the on time issue is - as we know, time is money - though the saving there is related directly to the lesser period of time that you have to pay for the two facilities operating; and, the savings that you would have from the old facility, which would be less efficient than our new facility. There is significant value in that consideration.
Recently the Province elected to purchase significant P3 constructed schools from the operators of those schools. The reason that those were so attractive to us and the analysis said “buy” was because of the essentially pristine condition that those facilities were kept in by the operators of those properties during that 20- or 25-year period for the P3 schools.
In this instance, it is a 30-year amortization period, which will result in the upkeep at those facilities to be at a superior level, and the residual value that will exist in those facilities beyond the 30-year amortization period - which might take us to another 20 years out - is really where the extensive value is for the P3 process. The P3 brings us that value for money which is not the same value that we get in the conventional design-build operation.
The analysis has been extensive. I can assure the House and the people of this province that we didn’t just pull this out of the sky; that we looked at what’s happening in such facilities across the way. The value of being able to deliver these services to our citizens years earlier than a conventional process would, is priceless.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Here’s the thing: the people of Nova Scotia might agree with the minister - it sounds like a compelling argument - however, we have never seen the value for money analysis. The minister assures us that the value for money analysis has been done, but when we ask to see it, we don’t get to see it.
When is the minister able to let the people of Nova Scotia see that analysis? I guess that’s my question.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question and the opportunity to explain to Nova Scotians what we’re up to. Let me just say that we do have examples of P3 in Nova Scotia with, as I mentioned, the school construction project which we ended up buying back those facilities from the operators at the time. We have the new Convention Centre which, from all reports, seems to be performing well, in terms of what it is; that was a P3 project which was a credit to the Party that she represents, as having put that one forward.
Of course then, the shining example, from my perspective of the P3 success, would be the Cobequid Pass, where we have accumulated a significant reserve account which we are looking at redeploying to improve the safety of that particular facility, and are in a position to look at removing tolls for Nova Scotia motorists as we proceed with that particular situation. The efficacy of the P3 process I don’t think needs to be defended here.
The reality is that there is a significant competitive market consideration with the P3 process which prohibits us from revealing the kind of information that the member is asking for, in advance of the financial close. Once the successful bidder has been selected, the fiscal rationale that is being sought here will be made available. That won’t be until after we have wrung every cent of value out of the marketplace that we can get, on behalf of Nova Scotia taxpayers. That is the reality.
We can’t give up or show our hand or our cards; it would not be a good business practice to do that. I can assure the member and all Nova Scotians that it will be revealed once we have reached a financial close with the successful bidder in this particular project.
THE CHAIR: I’d like to remind people in the Chamber to keep their conversations low. It’s very distracting and it’s hard to hear what is being said by the member of the Opposition and also by the minister. Please be respectful so that everyone can hear.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I am not going to belabour this point but as I said before, we definitely disagree on this subject. However, the minister has mentioned that the efficacy of P3s is undebatable in Nova Scotia and I would say that’s not true. I think it’s a very debatable point. I would say that more and more we are seeing reports from other jurisdictions: P3s are not being used as much as they were, for a variety of reasons. This is a $2 billion project. Nova Scotians want to make sure that it is being done right before the contracts are signed.
It is flabbergasting to me that the minister maintains that we cannot even see a value-for-money analysis which has no mention - it’s not an RFP - it’s only comparing P3 to traditional build; a value-for-money analysis, it doesn’t have to be specific to the RFP.
I am flabbergasted that the minister refuses to let Nova Scotians know how the department came to this decision before that contract is signed. Frankly, I think it is irresponsible. But that being said, I am not going to change his mind tonight, Madam Chair, so I am going to continue asking questions.
Can the minister explain if the province will be responsible for guaranteeing the private sector revenues? Who will be liable for cost overruns or project deficiencies?
LLOYD HINES: I spent some time in Toronto a couple of months ago at a conference around construction of public facilities across the globe, really. A very large gathering of people who were involved in various construction modes. It was shocking to me to hear that the Province of Ontario is entering into a $65 billion P3 public facility construction program. That was this year, that was in January, I think.
If the member has information around P3 failure - that there’s a trend away from P3 construction and public facilities - I would request that she table that for the edification of the House. That would be interesting to see and be informative for us. The way that the so-called P3 process works is essentially based on risk transfer in the method of constructing public infrastructure.
The two things that the member talked about, which were capital cost overruns and operating costs, are the very attributes of the P3 process that essentially eliminate that risk in the contract. The financial close and contract settles on what the cost is going to be and unless the owner requires that there be a change, if the plan is comprehensive and that’s what we’re going to do, then there can’t be any cost overruns.
In terms of the operating, this is really advantageous to the taxpayers. The cost of operating is performance based. Any kind of operating interruption that impedes the good operation of the facility, for instance, if an operating room went down because of some deficiency in the process of operating, then the P3 company is responsible for losing revenue - we don’t pay for that service for that period of time. So, the incentive is built in for them to be operating at 100 per cent. Of course, that’s what we get when we go to the P3 process.
The actual triggers for this involve - at substantial completion, when the project is finished - 50 per cent of the agreed upon value is advanced to the P3 operator at the end of substantial completion. Then the additional 50 per cent is amortized over the following 30 years; in the instance of this particular project, a 30-year amortization project.
As I mentioned before, the expected life expectancy or full cycle lifecycle costing tells us that we are good for 50 years. That ensuing 20-year period is real value for money and payback to the taxpayers.
I would contend that it would be foolhardy and would jeopardize the interests of Nova Scotians - who are depending on us to make the right decisions on their behalf - if we actually revealed the kind of information that is being requested of us tonight. That would indeed be jeopardizing the best interests of Nova Scotians in the overall picture.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Yes, I will get some of those documents. I don’t know if I can gather them all up, but for the next hour, I hope to have something to table for the minister. Will the P3 contract allow the province the flexibility to make future changes in service delivery or other public policy decisions? Will the contract allow the ability to end the contract in the procurement stage and to terminate the contract if it’s not meeting the public interest?
We’re talking about health care here. Lots of things can happen in 50 years in health care. The question is: Will it allow flexibility to make future changes in service delivery or public policy decisions to end the contract in the procurement stage and to terminate the contract if it’s not meeting the public interest?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question; it’s a good question. The short answer is yes. But I want to elaborate a little bit on that. There is flexibility in the arrangement but remember that it is a very complex and comprehensive contract, which sets out rights and obligations in the contract. There is a process, as I mentioned, for a variation. If there is a variation that we want in the process, then the contractor is obligated to take that into consideration. But the cost, if there are additional costs for that, would be on us as the owners of the contract, which is called a change order in regular tender language. In terms of termination, there is a significant section that would be dedicated to dispute resolution. Termination would be worthy of very, very serious consideration.
Therefore, the dispute resolution section - which usually exists in most contracts and there’s arbitration and all that sort of stuff. It’s not the same in this instance here but it’s quite articulate in terms of how disputes would be settled. But remember that, really, both sides, particularly the private sector partner is significantly incentivized for success here in these processes because these are widely observed and there are reputational implications associated for the companies that are involved. They don’t want to have failures or get into fights. The comprehensiveness, that relates back to the planning process, that is required to get us to that point, is intended, as much as we can, to identify the areas where things might go wrong - what we need, the design of that particular floor, can everybody put their hands up, everybody’s there, the medical people are there, the engineering people are there, boom, it’s there. That’s the recipe that we use to go forward. So, the overall answer to the member’s question is yes.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’ll ask my question in the time I have left and then we’ll probably have to come back to it. When we receive an estimate from a potential P3 proponent, are we given a line-by-line breakdown, and are they required to provide us with their anticipated rate of profit?
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP caucus. We will turn it over to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: I have so many questions I want to ask the minister, I might have to ask for the consent of the House to do this on Saturday also, if that’s possible. My first question to the minister is: a couple of weeks ago, I had approximately 10 independent truck drivers in my office, most of them from Pictou County, a couple from Antigonish. They were in to talk about the twinning of Highway No. 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish. Two questions they wanted an answer to were: As independent truckers, will they get a fair shake of the work; and will they get reasonable, fair pay for their work on Highway No. 104 when it starts, when they need the truck?
LLOYD HINES: The Truckers Association of Nova Scotia - TANS, as they are most widely known - are an important component to our construction season throughout the province and are relied upon by the contractors across the region. To their credit, they’re always interested in making sure they are part of the projects and that they are given consideration when it comes to the highway work.
As I mentioned earlier, we are embarking on the highest single-season spend that we have seen in the history of the province. I know that will certainly increase the demand for trucking throughout the province and certainly Highway No. 104 will create demand. The contractors involved at this point do not have a signed contract with us. We’re moving towards that process. We’ve got the preferred bidder. We are moving towards the final stage of negotiation but it’s unlikely that their needs will be identified until they are completely secure, and that contract is executed between the parties. At that point in time, with the volume of work that this project is going to generate and the overall commitment to the road budget in the province, I’m quite sure there will be lots of work for our good friends at TANS.
PAT DUNN: The department dedicated $265.5 million to build, renovate and purchase schools. Of this $265 million, how much will be spent on purchasing the 30 P3 schools?
LLOYD HINES: I do not have that information. I would redirect that to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. That portion of the expenditure that we would have some input into would be the new school construction built under the conventional system for the schools that are announced for the current fiscal year. I’m sorry I can’t answer that question.
PAT DUNN: The department has numerous vehicles on the road. On average, how old are the vehicles and equipment you’ll be replacing with the $13.8 million in new vehicles and equipment this fiscal year? Once again, you have a lot of vehicles on the road and you have $13.8 million set aside for new vehicles and equipment, so, on average, how old are the vehicles and equipment you’ll be replacing this fiscal year?
LLOYD HINES: The cost of operating our highway system in Nova Scotia is extensive. Much of the expenditure that the member surfaces there goes towards the replacement of so-called heavy equipment in our bases. As an example, I’m quite sure that this year we bought five new graders, which run in the $500,000 to $600,000 range. Snow plows, which are $500,000 apiece, excavators, rollers, loaders, trailers and tractors that we have in the department and then there is a smaller amount dedicated to our small fleet of vans and cars, but where we get our biggest bang for the buck is in the replacement of heavy equipment.
We have a great team of mechanics in our bases that do a tremendous job of keeping these pieces of equipment operating. They’re really to be commended for the work that they do to keep these projects going. On average, much of our fleet is 20 years old. We’ve got a lot of people who work very hard at keeping that equipment going. We are gradually inserting new gear, as funds will allow, into the process so we have a better chance to bring that average up to reduce the age of our equipment. That’s where that money would be spent.
PAT DUNN: After this particular question, I’m going to ask several questions dealing with some projects that the department is working on, like hospitals and community and so on.
This particular question here is: Can you explain what the $40 million in contingency funds are earmarked for? Is this for the projects that are going to be over budget?
LLOYD HINES: The $40 million that he refers to in the contingency section of the capital plan resides with the Department of Finance. I can’t answer to what the calculation is in the overall billion dollar capital plan as to how they arrived at that. The Department of Finance and Treasury Board would be better equipped to answer that question.
PAT DUNN: Just some information and updates on some major projects. The first one dealing with the Cape Breton Regional Hospital relocated parking. I think there was $1.7 million set aside to take care of that task.
My question with regard to the relocated parking part is: When do you think it’ll be completed? Is it holding up the next phase of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital project?
LLOYD HINES: If I could just speak for a moment about the regional facility, we’re way under way there. There are no delays associated with any of the activities in that location. We have a very comprehensive program planned and under way for Cape Breton, health care rehabilitation in particular. The opportunity arose at New Waterford Consolidated Hospital to truly develop the hub concept for community schools. In that particular instance, we are doing the collaborative health centre, the seniors’ beds, and the brand-new replacement for Breton Education Centre under the one fiscal location.
To integrate all those facilities into one, it’s the most bold expansion, I would say, of the hub concept that we would see in Nova Scotia, and one that we’re very excited about and the community is very excited about, to combine all of those essential services into one location. If you can think about it, we’ve got from the youth to the nursing home in terms of availability, and in that process we are rebuilding and relocating the sports fields associated with the school - Breton Education Centre - where we had great co-operation from CBRM in terms of acquiring some additional footprint that was seen to be essential for the expansion of the overall hub concept.
We are full steam ahead. The RFP is on the street, as it were, in that situation. We’re not encountering any delays. We’re in the design stage, and everything is progressing along the timelines that we had in place for that.
PAT DUNN: My understanding is the RFC for clearing the Highway No. 104 between Sutherlands River and Antigonish, the twinning, is approximately $1.1 million. My understanding is that it’s not part of the P3, so I guess my question to the minister would be, when does the P3 part start?
LLOYD HINES: I must apologize. I wanted to introduce Gerard Jessome, who was assisting us in that first question. Gerard is the executive director for Building Project Services for the department and a former acquaintance and colleague of mine when he was in Sydney, working hard on the highway side of the business. Now he’s in Halifax building things for us. Thank you, Gerard, for that.
In terms of Highway No. 104 - yes, there were parts of the various contracts for the twinning, regardless of if they’re conventional or P3. Highway No. 104 is a P3 but Highway No. 107 isn’t. The clearing portion of these projects normally are referred to as early works and we get those done in advance of the project. Certainly, in the instance of Highway No. 104, that is a 35-kilometre corridor and really is the longest continuous section of twinning that we are undertaking in our four projects. It was imperative that we get the vegetation removed in the meantime. I think the member is right in terms of what the contract cost was. It was in excess of $1 million and anybody who drives that section of road will see that it is progressing quite rapidly. The cost of that work is outside of the P3 contract.
At the P3 contract, we have selected, as has been announced publicly, the preferred project partner that we have decided. The very intensive system that we set up to evaluate the three bidders that came forward indicated the successful bidder, Dexter Nova Alliance, had the best result for the project. We are continuing with them towards signing a contract, which will result in financial close.
As has been publicly said, I think we’re very hopeful that we will have that completed in the Spring - which is not too far away - and I think the April month was the time that we had figured it was going to be completely finalized. At that point in time, the project will be turned over to that builder. By that time, the clearing will have been completed or to the point where the contractor will be able to move in and start the work that they have indicated they will do in the contract.
PAT DUNN: It’s a major piece of work from Sutherlands River to push these roads. I guess we are just going to cut off there. My next question is: Is it realistic that they may be able to have this completed by 2023?
LLOYD HINES: This gives me an opportunity to illustrate what I was talking about in the previous discussion that we were having with the NDP member around predictability and one of the benefits of the P3 process, which is that de-risking and the predictability that comes with the P3.
The terms of the contract involve the delivery point specifically mentioned in the contract. The contract has undertaken, or will undertake, to honour that period that we want this piece of highway in service by. Again, this highlights a benefit of the P3 process in that it does guarantee predictability and the performance by the private partner.
I would draw the member’s attention to the example of the Cobequid Pass, which was actually 45 kilometres at that time. Interestingly enough, one of the partners in this particular bid is Nova Construction, which was the major player in the Cobequid Pass project. That 45 kilometres was built in 22 months. If we look at the end of 2023, we’re three and a half years here for this particular 35-kilometre stretch, 12 of which is greenfield.
I have to point out that that 12 kilometres is new, four-lane because we’re leaving the Marshy Hope section and coming over Weavers Mountain. The construction opportunity there is a little bit different; there’s no traffic on that, there’s no traffic control required; all those kinds of things that will exist on the other 24 kilometres, where most of the structures are located. I think there are 27 new structures envisaged with the construction of Highway No. 104.
We have a lot of confidence in the ability of the contractor to deliver in that period of time, but it’s on them. They signed a contract for delivery at that point in time; it’s up to them to deliver in that period of time.
PAT DUNN: Just one last question dealing with that section of twinning of Highway No. 104 there. I guess this could pertain to any large project. What happens if the project isn’t completed by the time that they agreed to, with regard to cost overruns? What happens when the project isn’t completed, that project or another large project similar to it? What transpires? What takes place?
LLOYD HINES: Like any contract, and perhaps more particularly with the P3, there are performance targets involved and there are significant penalties for the contractor to not be able to deliver as was agreed to. There are various stages of the financial censure that exist there.
Also, the thing that we have going for us with these companies is that they want to compete for future business and their reputation is important to them, so any kind of failure to deliver or a delay or dispute, they are not going to advance their companies’ interests.
There are a lot of controls in there. Some of them are sort of self-imposed by the contractors but at the end of the day, if they don’t deliver, they suffer severe financial penalties.
PAT DUNN: My next question is dealing with the Bridgetown Regional Community School outdoor sports hub, for which I believe $8 million was set aside. My question is concerning that. My understanding is that it is not completed, so that would be one. My second question: Is it true that it is over budget? I guess the third one would be: Is the government responsible for the over costs?
LLOYD HINES: The information I have is that the project is almost totally finished. The Winter closed in on us and stopped a residual amount from being done. The contract is within the tolerances that were laid out when the contract was anticipated and it is to be done in 2019-20 budget.
PAT DUNN: The next question is dealing with the Valley Regional Hospital, the dialysis unit addition. I believe there’s approximately $5.9 million set aside for that dialysis unit. I guess I’ve been hearing about it for four years now, so a couple of questions: When will it be completed? In your opinion, will it be on budget?
LLOYD HINES: June 2020 is the expected completion date and it is also within the budget parameters that were established for the project.
PAT DUNN: The next question is dealing with the Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital primary health care centre. I believe, again, $6.7 million is set aside there. My understanding is that it was under capacity before. I guess my question is, what capacity will be there afterwards when it’s completed, and I guess - I’m not sure if you can answer this - where are the doctors coming from, as far as the capacity of this facility?
LLOYD HINES: What’s being constructed - and it’s under construction currently - is a primary health centre. On the staffing question, I’m a little hesitant to veer into the Department of Health and Wellness’s area there, but what would be envisaged would be the local practitioners populating that service from their own resources in the area and using the primary health centre as sort of a hub for their activities.
PAT DUNN: Mr. Chair, I’m going to switch over to contingency plans with regard to bad weather, storms, and so on, talk about the Cobequid Pass or any major route that we have in our province. That will be the next few questions.
In this province, we have whiteouts and blizzards, and they’ll continue to shut down major transportation links in our province, in particular the Cobequid Pass. I guess my question’s going to be around, has the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal developed a contingency plan that provides clarity with regard to roles and responsibilities when the weather causes the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway?
LLOYD HINES: The Cobequid Pass is an essential element of our transportation network in the province. It’s certainly one we are very proud of and, essentially because of the P3 process, one that is in probably the best condition of any stretch of highway that we have in Nova Scotia. At the same time, even though we have not increased the toll rates since 1994, we’ve still been able to accumulate a good war chest, for when we feel it is in the best interest of the people of the province to retire the bonds and for us to make improvements in the facility itself.
Mr. Chair, I stand corrected. I said 1994, I meant 2004. 2004, that’s 16 years, and no increase in the tolls. However, it’s a constant state of learning that we are in here in this province. Really, because of the matters that the member himself articulated and knowing how much driving he undertakes also, it’s very important for us all in the province to be aware of the conditions in the Winter. They can get pretty nasty by times. That’s the nature of our life here in Nova Scotia, offset by the beautiful seasons that are coming up. Now we’ve got the Winter behind us and we’re hopeful for an actual fourth season this year, maybe we’ll get a Spring. As a result of the early snow that we had in November, we did a complete review of our processes around the pass and probably because we’re reaching the period of time where we’re going to relieve some of the tolling that’s there and accept that highway back into our network and into our own cost structure for the province.
Part of the problem is that we weren’t nimble enough at that site. The plows that we had - the big salt truck plows around there - were cumbersome in the slick conditions that made themselves apparent in November. Also, they were not able to get around the roadblocks that the jack-knifed tractor-trailers represented. We immediately acquired two half-ton plow vehicles that are deployed, that can navigate those particular conditions much better. That was an immediate response that we made.
Further recommendation from the senior staff was the introduction of something that we had been looking at for some time, which was a sort of “rest area,” it’s sort of halfway. That has articulated itself into an area where there will be limited service but will provide an opportunity for a pull-off for a rest, just to get out of the traffic flow, which could also be very handy in the event of a storm. In addition to that, there are plans at that juncture, and in conjunction with the pull-off, to establish a satellite service area there, a mini-base with the things that we need to have available to us in the event of a storm - salt, sand, and maybe a place for those two half-ton trucks that are there, too.
Our ability to surveil and respond with better quickness and nimbleness to those kinds of conditions, which in that particular area can come on pretty quick, will be significantly improved. Those plans are evolving. That is now causing us to take a look at the volume of funds that we have available to invest in that particular improvement before we comprehensively remove the tolling.
PAT DUNN: On November 1, 2019, winds were so strong in the Nova Scotia side of the marsh that a tractor-trailer was blown over. The accident caused the fuel tank to rupture, causing conditions to be more dangerous. Nova Scotia department closed the highway on their side, but New Brunswick didn’t.
A couple of questions I have with regard to that. Number one, is there a problem with the co-operation between the two provinces? Two, is it true that protocols in place are not being followed on both side of the provincial border?
LLOYD HINES: Certainly in my time as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, I have found that the working relationship that we have with the Province of New Brunswick is - like the P.E.I. relationship that we have where we’re joined by the transportation system - has been excellent. There’s been great co-operation. I’m not aware at the professional level that there’s any lack of communication, and I think there’s an honest effort to coordinate activities, generally, in the process.
However, there are inherent differences in the policies that would guide the decisions that the Department of Transportation in New Brunswick would make, and ours. Those protocols may not be the same and that could lead to different decisions being made. I think your point is well taken.
If you wanted to provide me on a sidebar some of the information on the incident you’re talking about, we’ll undertake to get that particular information for you. This is a very important question.
When we look at the border issue, which is what this is, we find that in almost everything that is being done in the border areas, it requires a different lens than what’s being done in the interior of either province. In New Brunswick, the gas prices might be different, the alcohol prices might be different, the tobacco prices might be different, and this causes different traffic circumstances in the communities that are border towns, like Sackville and Amherst, that are affected.
I understand what you’re saying. If you want to articulate that a little bit more, I’ll undertake to get you the more comprehensive reply.
PAT DUNN: I believe, if my memory is correct, I think it was a truck driver that mentioned that to me: that on November 1, 2019, the extremely strong winds, a transfer truck had blown over, and Nova Scotia shut down their side; New Brunswick didn’t. I can remember him saying that he was wondering if there are the protocols and the responsibilities, and why didn’t New Brunswick shut down their little section there, and so on. That’s kind of where I was coming from there.
We all realize that these circumstances are dangerous for all motorists when this type of weather pattern is happening. We have many motorists on the highway; we have TIR personnel trying to keep the roads open; we have first responders who have to arrive in these situations that are sometimes dangerous
I just want a clarification: Does the TIR in New Brunswick have jurisdiction over that entire area, even coming into Nova Scotia, around the marsh area? Do they have the jurisdiction over that area?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. The co-operation between the two departments in that area I would characterize as being seamless. We’ve got a great relationship with them; we work together as much as we can in the process. But the responsibility for the New Brunswick folk ends at the border and Nova Scotia takes over from there. We don’t encroach into their province and they don’t encroach into ours because they are two separate jurisdictions.
PAT DUNN: Minister, do we have enough plows in the fleet to clear and salt our roads during inclement weather? I am talking about the entire province. Do we have enough plows in the fleet to do an adequate job?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question, it is a very relevant question. Just to give the member and the House some idea, we currently have 96 graders in the province, 35 plows, 23 excavators and 248 trailers. The overall picture is that we are very well resourced. We do have enough equipment now to meet our needs in the province but there are peaks and valleys, so we plan for a steady state.
When we get the once-in-a-20-year storm, or whatever, particularly in the Winter, then we have lots of resources out there that we can reach out to on a temporary basis. So we can get - again back to New Brunswick - if you have ever travelled in northern New Brunswick and Campbellton and Dalhousie in the Winter as I have, you will find snowbanks that are high as these rails that we have here, and they are just straight walls. They consistently get a tremendous pile of snow there and they employ some huge blowers.
There have been occasions when we have had to call on them to get those blowers into Nova Scotia, where we rent them from them, pay them for it, to get the one-time or one-event use out of them. Then it becomes an operating expense, as opposed to a capital cost of having to invest in that kind of equipment ourselves for perhaps a single use every few years.
In the overall picture, we pay a lot of attention to our heavy equipment and we try to give our folks, who are out there facing the perils of Winter and Summer highway activity in this province, the best equipment we can afford to give them. So, we are not frugal about supplying equipment in place, but we are frugal about tying up capital dollars in equipment that would only be a single-use piece of gear.
PAT DUNN: Minister, you answered my next question, so I’ll move on. With the limited amount of time and several colleagues wanting to ask some local questions tomorrow, I’m going to jump to something else.
My next question is: What is the department doing to expand the number of green jobs in Nova Scotia? Are there any particular types of green jobs that the department will be targeting in the future?
LLOYD HINES: In our department we are constantly dealing with matters of the environment so I’m going to talk about how green we are in that regard.
We have a lot of people who are involved in making sure that we are compliant with the various requirements of our road construction. We liaise with the Department of Environment, in particular, and the Department of Energy and Mines around the whole issue of the environment. We have people who work directly at environmental assessment in our department; we are also trying to expand some of that into the Cape Breton area to provide some additional entry level positions for the green side.
Perhaps most importantly, our department administers the federal green initiative which provides the disbursement of the funds associated with green initiatives for the entire province. Our appreciation, understanding, and involvement in that side of the ledger is perhaps surprising to people: we have a lot of engineers; we go out and build things; we spread a lot of asphalt; we have a lot of heavy equipment; but we also have a strong commitment to the environment. We work very closely with the department when it comes to permitting the construction of any of these projects.
They do tend to be highly visible projects around a highway. I’m thinking of the Highway No. 102 Interchange out there that just got completed - on time and on budget and was an excellent project, it went very smoothly - behind the scenes there was a lot of work done on slate removal that exists in the Halifax region, that has to be reconciled. We had people whose sole authority and responsibility there was to do that kind of inspection.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the PC caucus. We’ll move over to the NDP caucus for 24 minutes.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The first thing I want to do is table a number of articles and documents, which I referred to last hour. At the end of my time last hour, my question that the minister did not have a chance to answer - and I’m sure he’s very upset that he wasn’t able to, but now he has another opportunity - when we receive an estimate from a potential P3 proponent, are we given a line by line breakdown? Are they required to provide us with anticipated rate of profit?
LLOYD HINES: I missed the second part of the question, I’m sorry.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The second part is: Is the P3 proponent required to provide us with their anticipated rate of profit?
LLOYD HINES: I’m more than delighted to answer her questions.
In terms of the line by line financial situation, there’s a very comprehensive articulation of the financial arrangement that is inherent in the contract, which is proprietary information and will remain so. As far as the profit goes, we’re not privy to what those levels might be in the P3 world, nor are we in the regular tendering world for the $300-odd million that we put out for regular tenders across Nova Scotia.
We have, essentially, professional people in the field who estimate what the unit costs are for particular services put together, a ghost bid so we know what to expect; that’s taken to the market sometimes. This is where the importance of the competitive market situation becomes very relevant. Depending on the nature of the contractor, the time of year, the amount of work they have, their ability, the size of the job, we get an estimate - a tender - a locked-in price for what it is that they want to charge for the project. That’s the conventional system that we have, and in that system where we spend approximately $300 million, this current year, there is no line that says, profit, in the process there at all.
I think that’s not dissimilar to most retail kinds of operations that are out there. The information around profitability or margin, as it’s called, or net back, is normally proprietary.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that answer. I’m going to move on a little bit. Last December the Halifax Chamber of Commerce wrote to the minister - and I can table a copy of the letter - to express concern about the governance of the QEII redevelopment.
My first question is: Has the minister replied to this letter? If so, can his response be tabled?
THE CHAIR: Would the minister like a copy of that?
LLOYD HINES: I am very familiar with the correspondence. I know that a draft has been prepared and circulated for response, but I can’t say with certainty whether or not that has actually been finalized. I would undertake to see where it is at and provide it to the member if, indeed, it either has been sent or is pending to be sent.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I appreciate that, thank you very much. I’m going to move on to ask a couple of questions about P3 highways. So, the decision to finance the Cobequid Pass through a P3 contract cost the province $100 million more than it would have to finance it through a government bond issue, which carried a total investment cost of $38.5 million.
We paid an 81 per cent premium on the financing of that highway twinning and maintenance and that’s to say nothing of the millions that Nova Scotians have paid in tolls since then. Can the minister explain why, based on this experience, the department continues to pursue the P3 model?
LLOYD HINES: First of all, I appreciate the question from the member. I’d ask her to cast herself back 24 years - when I’m sure she didn’t ever think she would be sitting in this august House - when the bond rate, at the time, that the province could apprehend was in the vicinity of 9 per cent. Today, as you know, the bond rate is considerably lower and the Bank of Canada dropped their rate, in anticipation of the coronavirus, yesterday. Low interest rates have been the hallmark for the last decade in the country and they tend to change.
First of all, in terms of the information that the member is quoting from, I would ask her if she wouldn’t mind tabling that so we have a reference point in the discussion, because the numbers that we have on the process are considerably different. Those numbers are different because we are tolling that particular section of highway and the toll covers off everything in the process; it covers the bond financing, the construction, the operating, the maintenance and the capital replacement. That is a bit unique in that situation because we have the toll revenue available to us, as opposed to Highway No. 104 where we don’t. It would be edifying for us to understand where the member gets the numbers that she is talking about there.
It’s a different time now, in terms of financing, the costs are considerably different in the bond market, which would be an improvement over the cost situation. It’s all relative to the fact that we’re tolling there anyway and, as I mentioned, we haven’t increased the tolls since 2004. We have a healthy surplus that will enable us to do the kinds of renovations and improvements to that facility and, hopefully, still have a substantial amount of money to put towards the bond retirement early.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I am sure the minister will understand that I have a hard time casting my mind back 24 years, when I am but 25 years old. So, I can’t really remember back then.
I will also say to the minister that in fact, one of the things I just tabled was that very document you are asking for, as is the document that I am about to talk about. A recent report from the CCPA estimated that extra financing and construction costs together would add nearly $120 million to the price tag for the Sutherlands River to Antigonish expansion. Given that cost difference, I am wondering how the department can justify the enormous additional cost to build the highway in that way.
LLOYD HINES: On that particular report, we would agree to disagree. We don’t accept those premises or the validity of the argument that exists in that particular document.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Okay, well that is duly noted, thank you.
I am going to change my attack, I’m going to talk about climate change. As the minister may be aware, the National Building Code of Canada is undergoing a major rewrite to avoid $300 billion in climate change-driven infrastructure failures over the next decade. The changes will cover everything from how concrete is mixed for road construction to roofing standards, enabling buildings to withstand stronger storms and plans to manage increased flooding.
Can the minister tell us what the department is doing locally in Nova Scotia to prepare for these major changes?
LLOYD HINES: A department with as many working parts as ours certainly has a very significant awareness of the impacts of climate change across our network, in our building section, in our highway section, in all the things that we undertake. On the building section, as an example, we are acutely aware of the National Building Code and the changes that emanate from that, the issues that are surfacing as a result of adaptation that needs to be done in view of how the climate is changing. As an example, I can think of two - several, many - but I think of two in particular in this area. One is Lawrencetown Beach and another one is Queensland.
In Nova Scotia, many of our roads are built at sea level because back in the day when roads were evolving and before the invention of the steam shovel, things were done by hand - when you couldn’t climb mountains and cut rock and all that sort of stuff. A lot of our roads are vulnerable to climate change and to sea level rise, and we’re seeing that as we move through the process here. Number one, we have a significant awareness of that in both our departments.
On the other hand, you know, if we look at the isthmus, the Chignecto Isthmus, we have a real interesting partnership with the Province of New Brunswick there, where we have - and together with the federal government - are involved in a comprehensive review of what it’s going to take to armour that vital transportation link, for both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, against the relentless rise of the Bay of Fundy in that particular area. We’re out there with our partners trying to understand how that works.
On very significant other levels, we have something from the federal government called the National Disaster Mitigation Program. In Nova Scotia, we have a lot of aboiteaux. In the last few years, I have come to be very fluent in the aboiteau language in Nova Scotia. (Laughter) But I’ll tell you, it’s very effective, what was done with the engineering feats that were done 100 years ago across the province. We’re very fortunate in that we were able to leverage $25 million from the disaster mitigation fund to match up with our $25 million to go at a comprehensive program to renew the aboiteaux in the province that are essential to our farming business.
One in particular that we’re very pleased we are able to do something about is the Highway No. 101 twinning that we are doing through Falmouth to Windsor. There’s a very significant aboiteau in there. We have been able to leverage $32 million from the National Disaster Mitigation Program to match with $32 million that we’re putting up, to completely comprehensively redo that aboiteau and to restore the natural migration of the fish in that area, which has been impeded by the aboiteau that was put in there whenever that section of highway was built. As we progress through our process here, there are many, many touch points that we have with the green environment. As I mentioned earlier to our colleague from Pictou Centre, there is a very comprehensive section in the department that is aimed at working with the Department of Environment and meeting our green targets in that regard. Those are some examples of what we’re looking at doing.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, thank you to the minister for that answer. Good to know that the department’s thinking about these things. I just wanted to re-focus the question, which is about the changes in the National Building Code. Nova Scotia will have to comply with those, obviously, so I’m wondering, kind of as a B part, how will the department ensure that all of our public infrastructure in Nova Scotia will be compliant with the new standards? I don’t know when they come into effect. In the next year probably?
LLOYD HINES: Certainly, as a responsible government we are striving to comply with all the regulations that are associated with our activities that we undertake. We’re also guided by a program I’m sure the member is familiar with called the LEED program, which has various levels of certification.
We employ that LEED certification in the projects that we undertake throughout the province. As I mentioned, it is vitally important to us. That’s this gentlemen’s responsibility here, to make sure that we are constantly in compliance with the requirements under the National Building Code. Whatever we undertake needs to have that certification. As the changes associated with climate change find their way into that aspect of our lives, which is everywhere, of course, then we will adapt our practices to meet those requirements.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for consideration of Supply for today.
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 10:39 p.m.]