HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2020
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will now come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, will you please call for the continuation of the Estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
LISA ROBERTS: Madam Chair, the NDP caucus is yielding our time for the next 15 minutes to the member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Thank you to my colleague from the NDP caucus and thank you, minister, for being here. I have an opportunity to ask a few questions; I only have 15 minutes of time here, so I am going to try and be as efficient as possible.
I just want to state on the record how tremendously proud I am to have such a great working relationship with all of the members of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, locally - at home - it’s extraordinary. We meet four times a year. I think they always feel that there is going to be a two-hour meeting and I keep them there for five; they are very gracious about it. Also, the relationship that I have built with certain members at a higher level within the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and, of course, with the minister.
I thank the minister very much as well for a lot of advocacy work that went into getting some major infrastructure repaired since I’ve been elected. One of them of course was the Lennox Passage bridge, I think it was about $5.6 million, at the end of the day. It’s a massive investment going on to Isle Madame and very much needed and appreciated. It is a lot of work by community, a lot of work by myself, a lot of work by the staff, and of course, at the end of the day the decision comes down from the department. So, thank you very much to everyone who was involved in doing that.
This year, moving forward, I’ve spoken again to the members locally; we’ve had a meeting just before coming in here. I know we have a pretty good-looking budget going into this year for my area in Cape Breton-Richmond. There’s obviously never enough money to get everything done. There’s a lot of repair work that is not done this year, obviously, and it’s going to have to be projected into the Capital Plan moving forward. It’s a pretty healthy budget this year so I thank the minister for that as well.
Now my question is, there’s kind of a few things that are lingering in my mind that I’m never really quite sure who to ask, and that’s really about coastal rehabilitation. One of the projects that I’ve had brought forward and am glad to see that it’s in the Capital Plan, was a rehabilitation for the slope erosion that was going on going on Janvrin Island. That’s just one example. It’s going to be a very costly project. It is only one example of some of the erosion problems that we’re seeing all across the province but especially in Cape Breton-Richmond because we’re surrounded by water. Our whole coastline is water.
Isle Madame in particular, obviously has certain challenges; that is an island, certainly surrounded. There are some places where there are roadways right on the coast. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to those in the next 10 or 20 years, there’s damage that occurs. When is the decision made not to repair a road any longer and try to bypass or reroute?
I would ask the minister, with all of the climate change and all of the erosion issues and the extreme weather patterns that we are having, what is the department doing to look at each of the different regions, mine in particular? What is the department doing to try and help putting a plan forward to mitigate coastal erosion in Nova Scotia?
HON. LLOYD HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question. I want to start by thanking her for her kind remarks around our staff and around the relationship that exists. I would compliment her on the wisdom of understanding that thoughtful communication is the key to getting things done. I can tell you that in my experience, both as minister and in other areas, people respond - especially in the department - when they are treated with professionalism and respect; you are more likely to get things accomplished.
The question essentially about climate change and coastal erosion is also a very good one and one that we are involved with in the department. We have been developing a strategy over the last number of years because this is an ongoing theme. As I mentioned yesterday in response to a question from the member for Dartmouth North, the issue of climate change and coastal erosion relates to the fact that many of our roads in Nova Scotia were built right along the coast, because years and years ago that was the area where you would get a level road; you didn’t have to deal with a lot of mountains and hills, for the most part. At that time, they didn’t have much equipment to be able to apprehend a place like Cape Smokey, as an example.
Now we find ourselves, in this era of climate change, with vulnerability on these roads that are close to the ocean and we’re seeing coastal erosion. I think the Janvrin Island one is a good example of one that we’re doing this year that has that restoration component associated with it.
So, there are two partnerships that we have with the federal government that we’re looking to rely on to help us with these processes. One is the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, which has been helpful to us in some applications, and the other one is the Climate Action Fund. So within the department we have asked all our bases to start accumulating data on coastal erosion and identify the vulnerable roads and road sections that they know about; the folks who are in those bases are the ones who know best, working with the community where those exist. We are then using that information to inform our strategy as to how we’re going to deal with the process.
In the meantime, we’re not waiting until we get that full study, report done, we’re moving ahead again with areas like Janvrin Island to effect those repairs and protect the integrity of the road system in these communities.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for your response. It’s good to know that there’s an inventory being done, obviously in the different regions across Nova Scotia. I can only imagine, I see obviously the challenges that are coming our way within just my constituency and when you expand that to include the entire province, it’s enormous. It is something that we need. In fact, I wish that we would have started much earlier, in trying to mitigate what literally is coming our way.
I’d like to ask the minister, as part of the coastal erosion strategy and inventory that staff are doing, there are many areas in my community that obviously have wharves - we have a lot of fishermen in Cape Breton-Richmond - I have a very active fishing industry. The wharves and the breakwaters, specifically, are a huge concern.
I know that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is not responsible, that it is the federal government that is responsible for breakwaters. I’ll give you an example. If you go down to Petit Anse, as we say on Isle Madame, Little Anse, there is a section of road right at the end that basically is at sea level. You have a wall that has been put in by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, as I understand, that is not in the greatest of shape. I know there has been money put towards it, but it needs some upgrades. Beyond that, where the mouth of the harbour basically is coming in, there is a breakwater that is, well the breakwater is breaking down is basically what is happening. What is occurring is that you are having a lot more extreme wave action coming in and causing problems on the roadways. Sometimes we see that roadway completely flooded, there’s all manner of seaweed and debris on the road.
There’s also another area, well many areas in the community like that. There’s another one in Petit de Grat where you have a breakwater that again is part of what would have been a wharf and that, too, is so difficult. The difficulty is that nobody seems to want to take responsibility for it. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal doesn’t want to take responsibility and put money towards it, the federal government has divested themselves of most of the wharves in these smaller communities. I foresee that it’s actually putting a lot of Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal infrastructure at risk - not only homes, not only private properties but a lot of our provincial infrastructure is at risk. You have roadways that are going to be washed out or extremely damaged one of these days, when there is an extreme storm, because you have nothing to basically cut down on the extreme wave action that is coming towards them.
Could the minister please advise me - and this is an important one because I have several of these issues in my community - could you please advise me if there’s any kind of a partnership program that is currently available or that will be made available in the future, especially after this inventory is completed - it would be great if it was available now - to look at a federal and provincial partnership in making certain that our coastal communities are completely protected and also that provincial infrastructure is properly protected due to the fact that these pieces of infrastructure that nobody wants to have anything to do with, they are falling apart.
LLOYD HINES: This is a bit of a knotty sort of thing because the various infrastructures you describe in various parts of the province are owned by different entities. In the instance of Little Anse the first thing to do would be to determine whether or not there is a Small Craft Harbours organization that exists there. If there is, the Small Craft Harbours do have funding to replace wharves and breakwaters.
I have to say that I have been very pleased in my own riding with the work that has been done around the Small Craft Harbours. There is a massive rebuild of a breakwater being done now in Half Island Cove, which is a Small Craft Harbours, totally federally funded program.
Directly our department generally does not have responsibility when it comes to breakwaters. However, if our infrastructure is threatened then obviously, we have to take a look at the situation. We’re always open to partnerships if the local community, if there’s a Small Craft Harbours group that has access to funding, we can assist because obviously that’s to our advantage.
In the instance of Little Anse, we will take a look at that particular situation and do an analysis to see what our responsibilities would be there. In the meantime, if the folks in that harbour happen to have, if it happens to be designated as a small craft harbour facility then there is definitely access, which they would have to apply for, and convince the federal government that they should spend there. But monies are available. They have, over the last three years, unleashed a significant rebuild of the small craft harbours around Nova Scotia.
In my particular riding, not unlike yours, there is a lot of coastline, a lot of dependency on the fishery and it just makes good sense for all the people concerned to have this infrastructure rebuilt.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister. I look forward to continuing the discussions around these issues.
I am now going to yield the rest of the time back to the NDP caucus and to the member for Dartmouth North.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, Madam Chair. I am going to sort of pick up from where I left off last night. The member for Cape Breton-Richmond also was asking some similar questions that I was going to ask so I apologize if they are kind of similar, but they will be a little bit different.
Before we get to that I wanted to talk about British Columbia. British Columbia recently adjusted its building code to allow 12-story wooden-frame buildings. It’s a move that will create more green jobs in B.C. through the forest industry while reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry; wood offers the benefit of being made of captured carbon and of reducing the need for concrete, which the International Energy Agency estimates is responsible for 7 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
I am wondering if the minister would consider such an amendment here in Nova Scotia to bolster our own forest industry and reduce our carbon footprint?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, we studied that when I was with the Department of Natural Resources, the issue of using wood as a framing material for multi-story buildings. You are correct, it emanated from B.C. because as you know, they’ve got a lot of big wood out there; it’s amazing if you have ever had a chance to look at it, to be in one of their mills. So that is part of their National Building Code and whatever applies in B.C. applies in Nova Scotia for the National Building Code. So theoretically we could build those same buildings here.
What we are doing, more specifically, is there has been a committee struck to look at the local economic benefits of having expanded ability to use wood in construction - also to push the other attributes, in terms of minority or under-represented groups in the local economies, such as women as an example, African Nova Scotians, Indigenous - that is currently in place and is working away. I think it will eventually lead to the builder, it is really up to them to reach the conclusion that they can use wood as a suitable building structure which would again be a great use for our timber.
We have lots of fabulous lumber in Nova Scotia and the obvious benefits of using locally sourced material to feed our own job creation is self-evident, really, in terms of what is happening.
In terms of the building code question, we are as able to apply those standards here in Nova Scotia now as they are anywhere else in the country, through the National Building Code.
SUSAN LEBLANC: In July 2019, an expert panel convened by the Council of Canadian Academies - this report, which I am about to table for you - released a report identifying the top impacts Canada can expect from the climate crisis. On the cover of the report is actually a picture of a flooded bridge.
The report charted the key areas that are vulnerable to the climate crisis. The two that are by far the most likely and had the most catastrophic impacts - and those are the words they used - will be on coastal communities, like most of Nova Scotia, and on physical infrastructure, including bridges.
We know that your department has estimated that it needs $2.1 billion over the next 10 years to get on top of bridge repairs but does that consider the additional impacts of climate change and the climate crisis?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. The answer is yes, in the number, whatever it may be. I think that was a universal number, the $2.1 billion that would contemplate replacing everything at one time, which is not the reality that will happen.
As an example, this year we have $118 million in the budget for bridge rehab; the plans and the design that we do for these bridges includes climate change proofing for these facilities that are being built. So, we’re contemplating the impact of climate change and the abutments on the design, the width, the span and all of those things that would affect that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for that answer, it’s good to hear. Do you have an estimate of the investments necessary to make all critical infrastructure your department is responsible for, ready for the increasing impacts of climate crisis?
Basically, I am expanding the question to include all critical infrastructure, not just bridges.
LLOYD HINES: We don’t have a number for the overall one-time fix, as it were, for the process. In all the work we do currently in our Capital Plan, in our maintenance budget too for erosion control, we have set aside for climate change, to address that particular situation in terms of any kind of strengthening that might be required; redoing culvert sizing to accommodate larger flows due to more rainfall from climate change. So, within the operating process that we employ in the department we have insinuated that cost into the overall picture. It’s not separated directly as a line item, though we are setting some funds aside in our maintenance budget for erosion control, but it exists within that financial plan that we have for those roads.
SUSAN LEBLANC: A recent federal report on climate change projected that as the coast continues to subside and oceans warm, Atlantic Canadian coasts will see or could see up to a metre of sea level rise over the next century.
What level of sea rise are you projecting and preparing for? Can you give examples of the types of coastal urban areas and infrastructure that could be flooded at that level of sea rise? For example, what could happen on the Halifax waterfront or in Truro or Sydney?
LLOYD HINES: We don’t have a direct involvement in that process per se, though we do participate and partner, as an example, with the Province of New Brunswick on the Chignecto Isthmus project, which . . .
THE CHAIR: Order, time has elapsed for the NDP caucus. We’ll move over to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
KEITH BAINS: The minister knows I could probably stand up here and ask questions for the whole two hours this afternoon but I’m not going to do that because there are a number of caucus members who have questions as well.
First of all, I want to echo the remarks of the member for Cape Breton-Richmond. I, too, have a great working relationship with the crews that serve my constituency, starting right at the top with Jamie Chisholm and the two area managers, Stephen MacDonald and Cody Roland. I guess the people I deal closest with are the OSs, like Sheldon Fiander, Joey Parker, Nelson Dixon and Mark Greene. They have been fantastic in doing their work.
I also want to recognize Mr. Hackett. Every year, in the Fall of the year we get together, and we discuss our priorities. Above that, if there is ever a question and a person wants to meet with him, Mr. Hackett is always available, and it is much appreciated.
Having said all that, I guess is we know that over the last few years, and it’s on the multi-year plan, the Seal Island Bridge has been inspected and tests have been done and some work has already taken place. So, I guess very briefly, I wonder if the minister could tell me what is taking place on the Seal Island Bridge for this year.
LLOYD HINES: I was just thinking here in response to your question that I am almost afraid to admit this, but I can remember when we used to take Ross ferry to get across there. That gives you an idea of how quickly the time passes and the Seal Island Bridge was always regarded as a new piece of infrastructure. But time marches on and it’s not new anymore.
The analysis of the condition of that particular structure has been under way for two years, conducted by Harbourside Engineering Consultants. Our staff is working with them now, in terms of moving the report forward from the pre-draft side to the draft status and then to the final report, which we are hoping to have later on in late Spring or early Summer.
We are expecting that the bridge review will inform us as to what we need to do there to try and increase the longevity of the bridge: it could be new bearings; it could be strengthening with new struts; it could be painting, as an example, at the final end; resurfacing, that sort of thing.
We’ve learned a lot with that bridge since it has been in there. I think actually one of the learnings was that there is more wind load there than was anticipated in the original design. At this point, short of a replacement which is an eventuality but is an expensive undertaking, we are looking at ways of trying to extend the life of the existing facility with safety as our biggest consideration.
We’ll know where we’re at with that, whether that’s a feasible possibility or how long we could get when we get the report from Harbourside Engineering.
KEITH BAINS: I thank the minister for that. Actually, Seal Island Bridge is 59 years old this year, it was opened in 1961. Over that time, I know there’s a long history to it. There was a local bridge crew that looked after the maintenance of the bridge and that crew was no longer responsible for Seal Island Bridge, but the rest of the bridges throughout the Cape Breton area and even along the mainland.
Also a few years ago, I know $14 million was spent on the bridge, I believe. One of the biggest questions that is always asked or the concerns that are out there, because of rumours that start within the community and the whole Cape Breton area, is the condition of the piers on which the bridge sits. I don’t know, I believe they might have been inspected during this whole process as well. I don’t know if any reports are available on that or not.
LLOYD HINES: Yes, the reason that the review by Harbourside Engineering Consultants has taken two years is that’s exactly where it started; it started with the abutments with the piers and worked its way through the entire system.
We’d be more than happy, once we get that formally received, to share that with the member so people can have confidence in what we have discovered and what our remediation plan is. There’s money in the budget going forward for the next several years for remediation and for repair on that facility. As soon as we get it, we’ll get it to you.
KEITH BAIN: Again, thank you to the minister for that. I’m going to move on and talk about the condition of some of the roads within my constituency and indeed, any constituency in the province, probably. We all continually get calls.
I guess my question is going to go on the RIM program. I get calls about the paved shoulders - or lack thereof on some of the roads - that it is just eaten away and even the gravel shoulders, guardrails and everything. One particular area is the Dingwall area. I think that is something that has been on a priority list to get resurfaced. There’re a lot of people who travel the road but there’re also a lot of people walking the road; even the walking has become dangerous for those people down there.
I guess my question would be: Has the RIM budget increased greatly for the two area managers who serve my area?
LLOYD HINES: The overall RIM program in the province is $17 million and the eastern region, in this current year, it has increased by approximately $140,000 to $150,000. I can’t see exactly how much of that would have gone into the member’s area, but we can undertake to dig that number out.
KEITH BAIN: I guess the reason I ask that is because, just for the Victoria County area alone and of course under Stephen MacDonald as area manager, Inverness North also comes into that equation as well, there are five OSs out there that are looking for some funding, doing roads in their specific area and it is becoming a real challenge for them. The disappointing part is that those are the people who are on the front line, who are receiving all the complaints; we do get them but the minute they make an appearance it is almost like they get the blame for things not being done. That is a challenge that I know they handle very well but shouldn’t have to, in a lot of cases.
My last question before I turn it over to my colleague from Cumberland North, this Winter and every Winter, I guess, but this Winter in particular, my office has received a lot of calls about the condition of the gravel roads, the plowing of the gravel roads in my constituency. The policy is that the one-operator plows do the pavement but don’t go onto the gravel portion of the roads.
One particular road, as an example, is Black Rock Road in my area that is half pavement and half gravel. So, the paved portion is done on a regular basis. Sometimes it could be up to 48 hours before the gravel portion is done, because there is one grader at the base in Boularderie that serves a lot of gravel roads and even down the Tarbot way and everywhere else. That is certainly a challenge when you have only one grader and depending on the list, I think that Black Rock Road is probably the last one being done. That might be just a scheduling program that the area manager could look at.
I guess my question is: I mentioned earlier about the policy of the one-operator plows not being allowed on gravel roads so, for clarification and for those who might be listening, can the minister explain why that policy is in place and why those plows cannot continue on their route, they can stop salting and just plow those roads as they continue?
LLOYD HINES: This is one of those issues that on the surface looks easily apprehended but when you start looking a little deeper it becomes a little bit more murky. The murkiness here, as I am sure this member would know, is that the minute you get salt on a gravel road, you are going to lose that road. You can’t put salt on it, it turns to mud and mush. So, though we could make every best effort to stop the salt process at the end of the pavement, there’s always the risk of getting salt in the gravel road.
The other factor is that because of the nature of gravel versus paved, they ice up differently. The plow is not as effective at getting through that ice as the grader unit is. Now, this year we have augmented our grader fleet across the province by five new units. I can’t say what the dispersal of them is. Of course, we’re continuing the gravel road program, which will provide improvement in these gravel roads, rebuilding them again to the tune of $20 million. I’d be more than happy to tell the member that we can take a specific look at the roads he is talking about and see if there’s a way of coming up with a local solution to help that situation out.
The message is that the nature of the beast is quite different between the gravel and the paved.
KEITH BAIN: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’ll turn the rest of my time over to the member for Cumberland North.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cumberland North.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you, Madam Chair. I am pleased to be here today to ask some questions to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on behalf of the residents of Cumberland North. Like my colleague, I will say I have excellent area managers with whom I am able to discuss the day-to-day operations and concerns of local citizens. They are very responsive, so questions that I’ll bring to the minister today are more higher-level topics that I know the area managers would probably appreciate my bringing to the floor of the Legislature.
The biggest issue, I would say, pressing the people of our area is the Chignecto Isthmus. I did have a good meeting last month with the project manager from New Brunswick who is leading the study. As you know, the Chignecto Isthmus has had dikes in place since 1671. In the area that we are studying, about 35 kilometres of dikes protect these areas and now contain critical transportation and utility infrastructure, including 20 kilometres of the Trans Canada Highway; 20 kilometres of CN railway mainline, also used by passenger trails operated by VIA Rail; approximately 35 kilometres of electrical transmission lines owned by both NB Power and Nova Scotia Power; and communication and other utilities that involve interprovincial trade.
The strategic importance of this infrastructure to all Atlantic Canada, and indeed to the nation as a whole, cannot be overstated. I will table this document because it does come from the request for proposals for the feasibility study.
First of all, in Nova Scotia. I know that this is a federal-New Brunswick-Nova Scotia partnership, this project, this study. Who is responsible for our province, through the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and is there any update to provide to the citizens?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. Yes, we’re pretty happy with the partnership that we’ve forged there, mainly because we got quite a chunk of money from the feds, which is good. New Brunswick is the lead of the two provinces on the project, as you probably know.
Internally, in the department, it’s our internal design group. It’s a lady named Bonnie Miles-Dunn, who is actually heading to Sackville next week to have another meeting. The anticipated time period for the receipt of the study is 18 months. We are about six months in now, so it is a little bit early days. We are keeping a close eye on it because we know that (a) this is of extreme importance to both provinces, and (b) it is going to be an expensive fix when it does get done, so we’re watching it very closely and assigning some of our best people to it.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Certainly, it is, as I mentioned, an important issue to take seriously and I appreciate all the work the department is doing. Anything that can be done to keep the area citizens updated with accurate information is always appreciated.
The second thing I’d like to bring to the floor, and this is a topic that the minister and I have discussed at length but in fairness to the people of Cumberland North, I want to bring it up at Estimates, as well, and that has to do with the Cobequid Pass.
We all know the financials - that’s a big shock. We all know the financials with the Western Alignment Corporation, so very clearly that there’s ample surplus funds there to pay off the debt, to have enough money to maintain that highway until the 30-year term is up, with still ample millions of dollars left over in surplus.
I know one of the reasons the minister has given for not removing the tolls is because he would like to build satellite maintenance areas.
I would like to know, what is the cost of those satellite maintenance areas? I also would like to know, is the minister planning on removing the tolls from the Cobequid Pass?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question, and I appreciate her continued interest in the Pass, particularly as it relates to her constituency.
I want to talk for a minute about the reserves and, in particular, the capital reserve, which is what we can use to retire the bond balance, which is only part of the cost associated with retiring the bonds. The other portion is what’s called a make-whole payment. It’s the same as you run into when you pre-pay your mortgage. If you win the lottery and you are paying off your mortgage, there is a premium to do that early, which is written into the original agreement. That exists in this process also. Then, of course, there would be the ongoing maintenance, so in the current reserves there is a maintenance reserve and the debt-service reserve is also there.
In terms of what we’re looking at doing there and the safety enhancement associated with the rest stops, which is a national trend that we’re seeing across the country to enhance the safety for long-haul truckers, we’re looking at $5 million to $6 million per unit and there would be two of them, so that has to be paid.
There are the technology enhancements that we’re looking at, which we haven’t actually priced out yet. They are not going to be cheap because our commitment was to remove the tolls for Nova Scotia drivers, but not everybody uses the Pass. As I say, we haven’t decided about the commercial trucks as of yet. So, if we maintain a form of tolling there, then it will require a technology upgrade to install readers that will pick up the licence plate information from the folks who use the Pass.
If you tally all those things up, we’re a little concerned about the money that we actually have in the reserve and its ability to retire all those obligations.
There’s nothing we can do about the balance of the bonds, obviously, and there’s nothing we can do about the make-whole payment by pre-paying. If we paid it this year, I think we’d be paying it six years early and that would cost us millions of dollars in the make-whole payment or the early payment premium that is there.
That’s kind of why we put the brakes on a little bit, to see if we can make those improvements so that when they’re done they don’t fall to the general revenues of the province, that we can use the reserves that we have and if there’s a residual toll revenue there, use that to support the considerable maintenance that is associated with that particular stretch of highway, which is 45 kilometres of by-pass that’s in place there.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’ve heard the minister say that part of the financial costs that they’re looking at is technology to install, to be able to detect Nova Scotia residents when they’re going through. I want to hear the minister say if I heard that right, so that would mean the plan is to keep the tolls on.
LLOYD HINES: For purposes of clarity, the intent of the government at this point is to remove the toll for Nova Scotia passenger vehicles. A decision has not been taken fully on non-Nova Scotia vehicles or commercial traffic.
To be clear, the technology we’re looking at would involve a sticker for the licence plate that would be available for Nova Scotia drivers that would exempt them from the toll as they went through the gates, as not identifying them for a toll. That is the technology that would be installed there.
One of the things we’re looking at is we do have a lot of toll highways in the province. We obviously have the two very busy bridges here in Halifax and we have nine local ferries across the province that charge tolls. We would be looking at similar technology and maybe a partnership with Halifax Harbour Bridges to operate the tolling system there and to get a little better, more efficient productivity and save some money on the technology that we would be using. It would identify Nova Scotia drivers and exempt them from tolling.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you for clarifying that. I’m glad to actually have an answer, to understand what direction the department is going.
I will say, on behalf of the residents of Cumberland North, they are not happy that they have to pay. I think to compare that 45-kilometre stretch of Highway No. 104 with bridges and ferries is not fair. For the tolls to be kept on to pay for satellite maintenance areas that the rest of the province are getting with their tax-paying dollars, while the residents of Cumberland North have to continue to pay both tolls and taxes, is unfair to the residents north of the Cobequid Pass. I’m just making sure that that has been stated.
Also, I was contacted just two nights ago by another trucker, a businessman who lives in my constituency. He is sending me his Visa statements of the thousands of dollars he has to spend in tolls every month that similar truckers in other parts of the province do not have to pay.
I certainly hear loud and clear and I hope the residents of Cumberland North and all those residents living north of the Pass have heard the minister today clearly state that he is planning on keeping the tolls on. I certainly hope the minister will consider the business men and women who are exporting goods from our area, who have to pay excess in tolls that other business people throughout the province do not have to pay, and consider the unfairness of that. I hope the minister will consider also removing the tolls for commercial trucks and traffic from Cumberland North and any businesses north of the Cobequid Pass.
I will table the financials from the Highway 104 Western Alignment Act, which governs the Cobequid Pass, that show there is an excess of $72 million in revenues sitting there, more than ample money to pay off the $28 million that is left out in the bonds. I will also say that the people who live in the Pugwash/Wallace/Malagash area have asked numerous times for the speed limit that was artificially reduced in the Wentworth Valley, they want that increased. That was artificially reduced to encourage people to use the Cobequid Pass and they’re tired of that, Madam Chair.
I am asking the minister today to look at that. I know that when we’ve asked that in the past, we’ve been told that that speed limit is not allowed to be put back to what the normal speed limit should be for that area until the tolls on the Cobequid Pass have been removed. Well, if he’s making that commitment today - that he’s keeping the tolls on - then at least listen to the people who live in the Wentworth/Wallace/Malagash area. Listen to those people who have been asking for the last 24 years for that artificially lowered speed limit to be put back up to the speed limit that it should be, based on that type of road. In other areas of the province that type of road would have a higher speed limit. Just making sure I get that all in so the minister knows.
There is one road, Trunk 6, known as the Sunrise Trail. I was told two years ago that work would be done on that road every year because it is a very important roadway. As we all know, if ongoing maintenance work is not kept up then - it’s cheaper to do the ongoing maintenance than to have to rebuild a road and to have to pave it after it has been rebuilt.
I noticed in the Five Year Highway Plan that there is no work scheduled on Trunk 6 and that road is getting quite broken down because it is used daily by trucks, the salt trucks coming from the salt mine in Pugwash, and many other trucks. I’m wondering if the minister could have somebody from the department reassess and consider getting Trunk 6 back on, to make sure there is maintenance being done so that road doesn’t get broken down and end up costing more in the long run.
LLOYD HINES: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thank the member for the question. I’d also like to thank her for availing herself of the opportunity to come in and meet with our people to talk about the roadwork in her area. I also observe that she has one of the longer lists of any of the MLAs who came to see us in the process. Trunk 6 is on that discussion that you had at that time.
What is actually in the plan currently is Trunk 6 but unfortunately not the sections that are in the particular section she’s talking about. It’s a long, linear piece, it runs through Pictou and Colchester Counties and there’s work being done in both Pictou and Colchester. I think, Pictou this year and I’m not sure about Colchester but it’s on the plan, so we’ll eventually get to the piece she’s talking about. We can go back and revisit that and see if there’s a way that we can re-evaluate what the need is and look at moving it forward in the program.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you for considering that. My concern is that if the work is not done before the road gets broken down too much that it’s going to actually end up costing the province even more money. Again, it is heavily travelled, that Trunk 6.
The last thing I will bring today is in the area of Conns Mills, Hartford and Pugwash Junction. I don’t know if the minister is aware of this but certainly I’ve had numerous meetings with my area manager. I know they’re frustrated, as well. There’s a road that got washed out with Hurricane Dorian on September 7th in the Conns Mills area. Unfortunately, it wasn’t repaired before October 1st. The area manager and I have been told that the work cannot be completed until after June 1st, due to regulations, through the Department of Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
I’ve asked the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to reconsider that. I’ve asked the Department of Environment to reconsider that because I know of other roads where culverts have been repaired and roads have been fixed between the October 1st to June 1st window. It may be a dirt road, it may be a gravel road, but it’s a road that’s an important road to the area residents. There are farmers in that area who have to feed their cattle, who have to take a long, four-kilometre diversion twice a day, every day, to feed the cattle. It just seems a shame when I know that other roads in other areas have been repaired.
I have been told that the culverts are there waiting to be put in, in one of the area garages. I just want to bring that to the floor today and see if there’s anything the minister can do to get this road repaired in the Conns Mills/Hartford area. It is discussed either weekly or bi-weekly in my office with area residents. They’re very frustrated because, again, it has been since September 7th.
The last thing in a similar area, just up the road, there is bridge on the Pugwash Junction road that was put in as sort of a temporary, single-lane bridge and the area residents were told around 15 years ago that it would be replaced quickly. The challenge is that a lot of them are fishermen, lobster fishermen, and they can’t get their boats through, so they have to take long areas. Again, it is just an inconvenience. I’m wondering if the minister might be able to look at it and see if that is in the projected plans to have that bridge repaired and, if so, is that something I’d be able to get information in the future to give to the area residents?
LLOYD HINES: We are very familiar with the issue and the frustration around the culvert replacement. Our staff share that frustration. We are clearly stymied by getting a permit from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Sometimes there is some leniency in these instances. In this particular situation they have stuck solid to the rules around October to June because of the fish presence in the particular stream that is involved there.
Barring them changing their mind about whether we can go in there and work - as you mentioned, the culverts are there and we’re ready to go - but we need that permit.
I know that the member and others in our department have been at them to try and get permission but have been unsuccessful so far. It’s cold comfort but it happens right across our network. We are subject to the rules of Fisheries and Oceans Canada when it comes to bridges and culverts and also our own Department of Environment, who treat us no differently than any particular applicant that’s there.
With regard to the bridge, what we would undertake to do is get a specific indication of what that bridge is, so we can identify it in our system because it may exist in our world as a different name than is in the community, but we would be willing to take a look at it.
The only thing I would say - and we have this all over the province - a bridge, and probably that would have been an old iron bridge that predated to the Bailey bridge, the single-lane Bailey that is there now. When those fail - some of them are 100 years old, and 100 years ago the bridges were of extreme importance because a detour of a couple of kilometres was massive if you were in a horse and buggy, less so today if you are in a XL150 four-wheel drive, supercharged, half-ton truck.
We have to make decisions about just what the inconvenience is that is being imposed on an area by making the detour permanent and not replacing the bridge. I’m pretty pleased - because many of these bridges are obviously in rural areas - that we’ve been able to come up with a solution because some of them are Bailey bridges that are designated as temporary. I’ve got one in my constituency, a temporary one that is 30 years old now. That is kind of the way they are going because they are much cheaper for us to install and it solves the problem in most instances.
I can appreciate the issue of the boats and the fishermen getting a wide-bodied boat through. That will cause them some inconvenience but it’s probably only twice a year that they would be hauling that boat to and from the launch. Depending on what the length of the detour is, it influences what would be happening.
We’ll take a look at it. If the member can identify it for our staff specifically, then we will take a look and see.
THE CHAIR: Before we go into questions, I’d like to make a quick introduction. In the West Gallery today we are joined by one of the good ones, HRM Councillor for Dartmouth Centre, Sam Austin. I ask everyone to give Sam a big round of applause and welcome. Apparently, Sam is a political junkie to be sitting through this. (Applause)
The honourable member for Cumberland North.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you to the minister for answering the questions that I brought today. My colleague from Pictou (Interruption) No, I was just going to say he just gave me some advice to let you know that I am going to hound the member until the tolls are removed. The member could consider using some of the toll money that has been collected over the last 24 years from the residents of Cumberland North to help cover some of the costs of the work that needs to be done. Thank you to the minister and those from the department.
I’ll pass it over to my colleague from Cumberland South.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cumberland South.
TORY RUSHTON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thank the minister and his staff for being here today. Just a couple of quick notes on some comments. A friendly suggestion - I don’t know the minister that well, I’ve been in the House for only two years - maybe the minister might speak louder to his MLA if he has a 34-year-old temporary bridge.
The Cobequid Pass, I’m not going to reiterate the issues in Cumberland County with the Cobequid Pass, my colleague just did it. A quick comment on the Conns Mills washout: for Cumberland South there are three family farms that are affected by that, so there are probably about eight jobs affected by that washout. I certainly hope that not everybody is driving around in a turbocharged truck. These are people driving around not in regular vehicles but tractors, that an eight-kilometre detour is really affecting their day-to-day commute, especially in the season of the births of calves and things.
I’ve been here since 2018, and I have a great relationship with the manager in the area. Almost everything that gets sent his way is taken care of in a speedy manner. It’s a great relationship, I think I’ve talked about that previously.
One of the issues that keeps presenting itself with regular phone calls, and has since the day after my election - and I’m not looking for a response, I’m just throwing this out there today - because letter after letter, and even talking with the area manager on this one, are the guard rails, in different areas of Cumberland South but specifically on Highway 142, the connector between Highway No. 104 and the Springhill limits. At some points in that area the guard rails are almost lying on their sides.
That’s more of a comment, I’m not looking for a commitment or anything like that. I just wanted to utilize this opportunity to speak up about that.
In my presentation before us this afternoon I had ample opportunity to bring up different roads that are documented to the area manager, some concerns that way. I don’t want to take time from a lot of other people who may not share the same relationship with their area manager that I do.
One specific thing: in 2018, just shortly after my election, there was a sinkhole issue in Oxford. Following that sinkhole issue the then-MP, Bill Casey, and I were very active in trying to secure funding and testing and getting the answers out. MP Casey and I were both sitting in Oxford for the final report on what was done on that private property, which was known Lions Club property at the time. Both of us were very disheartened to find out that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal was not at that table during some of those briefings. Initially they were but during the testing they weren’t involved, when the Department of Energy and Mines was there, the Department of Lands and Forestry was there. There was a lot of other support.
Out of that report - I tabled it last year - the minister committed to doing testing at Exit 6 on Highway No. 104. We heard at different times that the report would be back at the end of December, then we heard the end of January. So, I guess I’m here - I understand from media that have called me as late as yesterday, they still have not had a response from the minister’s department. As the MLA, I’m looking to see where we’re at with that report. It was taxpayers’ money that did the report in recognizing the motorists’ safety. I’m curious as to what that report has to say, and will that be available anytime soon?
LLOYD HINES: I can understand the anxiety that would be around the reception of the report. First let me say that I feel very bad for the Lions Club there. We know the Lions do great work and it’s so unfortunate that that subsidence occurred on their property and really impaired their operation, in the process.
However, really, it’s not on TIR property, it’s not in our right-of-way and it’s not something we would be able to assist with, other than perhaps offering technical advice, which, of course, would be coming through the other two departments that you mentioned were present at the session.
With regard to the study, Harbourside Engineering Consultants undertook that work for us. I am informed that a draft was received recently in the department and some clarification was requested and the clarification was returned to them. A second draft was received just in the last couple of days from Harbourside. I haven’t seen that and I’m not sure that our senior management have either yet.
We will be reviewing that and then once everybody completely understands what is being said, the report would be accepted and released. That would probably be in by the late Spring, that we would have that available for you and for public viewing.
TORY RUSHTON: I thank the minister for that response. I look forward to that report. As you can well imagine, you did state the anxiety that people may have in the area. I am asked almost daily as to what is going on, so I look forward to that report.
Just recognizing the time that’s left for the PC caucus, I’d really like to take this opportunity - it was a very busy Fall and an early Winter in the area, with the cleanups of Hurricane Dorian and a quick snowfall that closed down the Cobequid Pass in the Fall. I just want to recognize the dedication of the staff of TIR and the good work and the services that we do receive, not just in my area. We hear from the MLAs here and, of course, you certainly bolster the team behind you. Hats off to you, your staff and all the ones who are out on those highways. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and we’ll turn the time back over to the NDP.
THE CHAIR: Time has expired for the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It’s lovely to be back. Apparently, one of my colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party talked about the Isthmus of Chignecto. I wanted to be able to say “Isthmus of Chignecto” a couple of times, so I’m going to ask you about the amounts budgeted for this year for that work.
Apparently, you’ve already been asked about the timelines, so I’m wondering about anything budgeted for the work at the Isthmus of Chignecto this year.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. To be clear, the stage we’re at now, with the repairs intended, the analysis stage that we have for the Isthmus involves the partnership with the Province of New Brunswick, ourselves and the federal government.
There isn’t anything budgeted for that work in the current budget that you have in front of you because the approximately $750,000 that is our contribution to the study process is in the current fiscal year and has been disbursed to the Province of New Brunswick because they’re the lead on it. We give it to them, with our guidance, they are spending the money and the federal money, too.
The study is under way and that will then determine the magnitude of the effort that is going to be required to provide protection for the Isthmus, armour stone, et cetera.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you very much for that. Does the department have a plan to transition its vehicle assets towards low- or zero-carbon emission vehicles?
LLOYD HINES: We’re part of a committee that’s associated with the Sustainable Development Goals Act and the climate change issue that would analyze what the applications might be in our department for getting to electrification, as an example, in our smaller vehicle fleet, for instance, our half-tons and vans and that sort of thing.
The network for charging stations is just building up across the province. I’m seeing it in different areas. I’ve got several in my own very rural riding. We’re part of that move, which is generally in government, from all the departments, to see what the application is for getting off diesel or gasoline.
Obviously for the big gear that we have, like a salt truck, I don’t know if there’s such a thing available, electric salt truck, I couldn’t say. Eventually we’ll get there.
One thing that is available and is used fairly extensively in the United States is liquified natural gas stations, which is sort of the next best thing to electrical, in terms of emission control. That liquified natural gas system is used in the transportation business with tractor-trailers, for the tractor-trailer application and it is used extensively for locomotives in railroads.
I can’t say that we’re looking at that in the department at Miller Lake yet, but we are part of the movement that is within government and within our department to look at ways to work on the climate change file. I will undertake on my own to see if we are analyzing to look at the liquified natural gas option because we’re hopeful that we’ll soon have liquified natural gas in Nova Scotia.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I understand the charging station system is kind of a big chunk of it, obviously, right now. When I was speaking with the Minister of Energy and Mines last night he mentioned that he had driven an electric car from here to Sydney on $16 or something but he also said he plugged the care in wrong one time so it took a lot longer to get there than it would have, I guess.
I think it would be great to see the government leading the way in these things. If we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, government is perfectly poised to be leaders in this. I’d go further and say it would be great if we looked at government buildings, as well, new buildings and existing buildings being part of the program, the name of which escapes me right now, but the one that we just passed the bill about last night. The federal government is making use of this newly available green energy. It would be great if Nova Scotia was doing the same thing.
You, as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, would be a great leader in that. Are there any plans in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to work towards electrified public transit? I know that often public transit is a municipal thing but I know the provincial government has a stake, so I’m curious to know if that is in the talks.
LLOYD HINES: Just to deal with the mention she made in her preamble about new buildings, I want to point out that we have made a decision to fire six major government facilities around the province with wood-fired boilers. Pellets, I think, or chips - I’m not sure if it’s chips or pellets. I would say that in the new school that I’m very proud of in Sheet Harbour - it’s a $31 million school and it is being fired by wood pellets in that particular instance. That one predates the decision that was taken recently to do some of the larger facilities around the province.
In terms of getting off oil, we are making a step in that direction and we have probably more of that in the pipeline.
Under ICIP with the federal government there is a tremendous commitment to zero-emission vehicles. I think in 2023, which is creeping up pretty quickly, they have expressed a desire that they want to purchase and assist with the purchase of 5,000 buses, both school and transit, starting right away. They have funded the urban transit process very significantly in their budget, particularly through the Green stream, as we call it.
From our perspective, if you look at the transit system that you mentioned here, there are really only three well-articulated transit systems in the province. They are municipally driven, so the municipalities that these systems exist in are the ones that make the decisions about how they see their evolution and access the Green stream funds to change from fossil fuels to electricity.
We encourage that but we don’t have the decision-making process there. For instance, in your situation it’s up to Halifax Transit to decide what it is they want to do. I think I recall that was a prominent municipal councillor just introduced in the gallery, so I’d suggest that maybe you have a conversation with him.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you very much for that answer. I want to turn our attention now to school capital for a few minutes. When the government eliminated democratically elected school boards, they also eliminated public input in the school site selection process. The siting of a school used to be governed by a board-level site selection committee that included SAC members, school board members, the African Nova Scotian representative, the Mi’kmaw representative, and members of the municipal council. The revised Education Act regulations that came into effect April 1, 2018, eliminated any requirement for community involvement in consultation. The site selection process is now entirely an internal government process.
In response to a freedom of information request, we have learned that as recently as last year the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal was using a manual for school site selection that was last updated in 1999. The correspondence in the FOI reveals a general state of confusion about how to proceed with new school builds.
I am wondering if the minister can explain if there is now an updated manual for school site selection to guide the work of the department. If there is, is it possible for it to be provided?
LLOYD HINES: Thank you, Madam Chair, and I thank the member for the question. I’m going to go down a bit of a narrow road here, because for the most part, your inquiry would be better directed at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Developmen. They control the site selection process.
The role that our department plays in the site selection process is that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is the client and we supply technical information to that client, such as geotechnical - what is under a proposed site, what the geology there is. We might drill and test and make sure there are no sinkholes under the school - especially in a place like Springhill, if we decide to go up there - and the issues around traffic studies, like is it a busy street and all that sort of stuff. We supply that information back to the department.
We don’t rely on or use a manual. I’m not sure what particular one you are talking about. We use engineering standards to make the decisions that we take. That is all information - technical information for the most part - that we would investigate and supply to the client, which is the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, that would then pull the trigger on A, B, or C sites. That sort of decision is essentially taken by them. In other words, we do the scan and we present the technical information and they make the decision.
SUSAN LEBLANC: It’s funny that the minister should say that, because we asked these questions in Estimates to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. The Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development told us to ask the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, so here we are. We can’t go back. (Interruption) Erroneous?
Here we go - he said, she said. I’m going to continue on.
The manual that I referred to - I don’t know what it’s called, but apparently there is a manual from 1999 that is used.
In any case, in the same FOI package that we submitted, there is an email about a meeting between a staff member from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - it’s great that you are both here, by the way - and someone from TIR with the member for Bedford about the siting of a P to 9 school. The email says that at the end of the conversation the agreement was that we would have two basic potential approaches. I can table that letter.
Is it part of the TIR school site selection process to meet with the MLA of the area to determine a list of possible sites for new school builds?
LLOYD HINES: On a practical basis, obviously that’s an MLA’s role in life: to be involved in the heartbeat of the community, which of course is what the schools represent. In my own instance, I can tell you that for several years I was in hot pursuit of anybody in government who would talk to me about the new school in Sheet Harbour, and conveying the wishes of the community - which I think is the role of the MLA - to the various pieces of government that decide this.
Now, at the time there were school boards, in the instance of the Sheet Harbour decision and build, which of course meant there was another party in there that had to be involved. It would be my experience that that would be a common practice across parties, where the MLA would be anxious and involved and doing their job, which is to convey the desires of the community to the powers that be that make these kinds of decisions.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I have to say to the minister that I absolutely agree with him - 100 per cent. It’s interesting, however, that I am the MLA for Dartmouth North and just several months ago, there was an announcement of the wonderful new purchase of Newbridge Academy for the CSAP. No one ever told me about it. No one told me there was a discussion to be had. No one told me there was a meeting to be had about it.
It is in my riding and I heard about it at the same time as all the other CSAP parents - of which I am one, by the way. Although I am terrifically excited that my children will get to go to a brand new school, I would have loved to have been consulted - and boy oh boy, I really would love to have an invitation to the opening of that new school. I’ll just say that right now.
I get the minister’s point. Sometimes, though, I think it’s possible that certain MLAs may get forgotten when there are meetings to be had and decisions to be made.
I’m just going to hand the microphone over to my colleague for Dartmouth South, for one minute, who wants to ask a question.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you, Madam Chair. In the case of Newbridge Academy, which my colleague was talking about - as she said, the idea that an MLA would actively advocate for a school in their constituency where one was required makes perfect sense, and similarly, that they would advocate for renovations. But if an MLA has no inkling that a brand new multi-million-dollar school is going to be purchased in their constituency, they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to reach out.
I think the point that the member for Dartmouth North is making is that it might have been nice for the department to reach out to members across the aisle in that kind of situation, not just on that side of the House.
I want to ask a couple of questions about Newbridge Academy, in particular the renovations. Our understanding was that the purchase of Newbridge included $10 million for DORA Construction.
I guess my question is: What was the process by which that was cleared through procurement? I have to confess that I’m not super-familiar with the procurement rules but it seems odd that a $10 million construction project on a school would not be tendered, but would go to a preferential proponent. Maybe the minister could comment on that.
LLOYD HINES: I thank both members for the question on Newbridge Academy. In knowing how sometimes government is a little bit clumsy, awkward, all those wonderful adjectives, but at the end of the day, for the most part, produces an accurate outcome. Unfortunately, there’s a time lag in many instances.
I have to tell you that I was so proud of our government, I was so proud of the CSAP when it came to Newbridge Academy because we were able to move in a nimble manner to capture a rare opportunity, which was to secure a built-for-purpose school, at a premium price, including the $10 million internal renovation, which was part of the end product. It was as if you were leasing a car and you put extra stuff on it, then that’s what you pay. We actually did run the process by procurement and they were happy with the outcome.
I think that facility will serve the CSAP long, for many generations. It’s in a fabulous location, it’s got great access and egress. It is located across the street from that fabulous sports facility - I’m not sure just what that’s called - and it even has a nice hotel next door to it now, where parents can come and watch their kids play sports or, if they need to go and talk to the teachers in the school, it’s a very convenient situation.
We acquired it at a premium price. Actually, in getting that, too, we also deferred a huge unknown cost that would have been associated with locating that facility on the peninsula, which was part of the process, part of the vision at the time.
The CSAP has said, and more recently statements have been made, that there will not be a school built on the peninsula. The CSAP is fine with that, so at the end of the day we came out with a facility that we feel will serve the needs of the people. The renovation is proceeding on schedule. It’s being done by the people who did the building, so they have an inside track on what is needed and we’re buying the finished product. The relevance of the $10 million is part of the purchase price of the process.
In addition to that, and I understand how you would feel if all of a sudden - boom, this thing dropped in the middle of your riding.
This was an agreement of purchase and sale. We had to move very quickly anyway. As you know, in real estate transactions for an attractive property like that there were several suitors, and it was subject to non-disclosure agreements with the vendor, in terms of being able to access the property, until the deal was finally inked. That decision would have been a Cabinet decision, to make that acquisition, and those Cabinet minutes would be available for public viewing.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I’m going to try this one more time and if it doesn’t work then I’m happy to yield the floor back to my colleague. I think we’ve resolved the issue of the school landing - boom - in the middle of Dartmouth North, and the expediency of a real estate transaction.
The question I asked the minister was about the procurement process or lack thereof. The minister mentioned there were several suitors, he had to act quickly, the $10 million was part of the purchase and sale. In fact, I think the government was accused of an unlevel playing field in the purchase of that building, as I recall, because of this $10 million sweetheart renovation deal that was offered as part of that purchase and sale.
That brings us back to my original question which is: I believe the minister said that Procurement was happy with the outcome but procurement, from my perspective, is as much about process as outcome. So, what was the process? How is it that a $10 million construction contract cannot seemingly have any process at all?
LLOYD HINES: Indeed, we did take the matter to Procurement and they felt that this was an agreement of purchase and sale, that we were buying an end product, we weren’t making a public tender on a process. That’s how we ended up there. Of course, at the same time we did do our own due diligence in the form of appraisals, in the form of estimates for the projected renovation.
I would agree with the member that this was a sweetheart deal, a sweetheart deal for the citizens of Nova Scotia.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The decision about where to build a school usually should include, or does include, community voices, consultation should be given. However, the Musquodoboit Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce has been trying to engage in this process for more than a year. In the case of the Eastern Shore District High School, a written report on the evaluation of the existing school site is expected this month. First of all, I’m wondering if you’re able to table that report.
LLOYD HINES: We haven’t received the report yet, Madam Chair. We don’t have that report to table.
SUSAN LEBLANC: A recent letter sent by the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to the president of the Musquodoboit Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce indicates that community engagement occurs only when there is a situation where there are two or more viable sites.
My first question about that is: How is that short list of sites determined? When the minister was talking about TIR being responsible for doing the geotechnical surveys and all those things, how is that short list decided upon? How is it decided upon which sites get the technical analyses to be put on a shorter list?
LLOYD HINES: In the engagement that we have with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - which, again, is the client and we are the service provider, as it were - the first thing we do, according to their policy, is analyze the existing site to see if it remains feasible.
Normally - and I go back to Sheet Harbour again, we went on the existing site. It was a challenge at first blush but that school, which is opening in September, is on the existing site and there are obvious reasons for that. First of all, the community often is used to that site. Certainly in rural areas that would tend to work better than maybe in the urban areas where population shifts would have occurred so that over time, over a period of 40 or 50 years, the populations would have shifted so that what was the appropriate location in the past may not be an appropriate location now, because of that very reason. We’ve got sections of the Halifax Regional Municipality that are on the rocket, as far as the increase in population goes.
What we do, and what our request is from the department, is supply analysis of the existing site. Then that study is made available to the various stakeholders, to the community, the MLA, any interested parties in the area, to see if there are any other sites that are worth investigating. I think that’s the process that we’re at here and we haven’t received that full report yet. Not for the existing site, but that’s number one that we would do.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I understand what the minister is saying. I’m trying to square the two things, though. The department comes in and first of all does an analysis of the existing site to see if that’s possible. If it’s not possible then other sites are looked at.
The thing I’m getting confused about is, without community consultation, how does the department get the input from the community about what sites might be good? The minister said various stakeholders, the MLA, the community. But if the community gets consulted only when there are two or more viable sites already selected, that doesn’t seem to square with me.
I’m just trying to figure out, I really am trying to figure out how it actually works. Is it that the department does a bunch of work to determine a couple of viable sites and then those are presented to the community? Or is there a community consultation that is supposed to happen so that the community can say “Look, we’ve got this piece of land,” or “Look, because of this thing that’s happening in our community it makes great sense to do it here.”
Which comes first? It feels like a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing, but I think it’s actually not that even. I’d love to just hear the exact process.
LLOYD HINES: Again, we take our lead from the client - in this instance, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. We rely heavily on the information they get from the Regional Education Centres.
If the net is going to be cast wider because the existing site does not have the criteria that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has - not our criteria, their criteria - then the net is cast wider and other sites would be identified and analyzed. Once they are qualified, then the community would be invited into the process. That’s if the sites were of equal merit.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Okay, great. Getting back to the CSAP for a second - and we may have touched on this, but I just want to confirm that that’s what I was hearing. A school that has been included in the government’s capital plan for a number of years is a CSAP high school for the Halifax Peninsula.
Once a school is included in the capital plan, can you explain the reasons why it would be removed? What factors would be considered? How is TIR involved in that decision process?
We know that the Halifax Peninsula one has been removed - or I don’t know if it has been removed, but it is just not being done right now. What are the reasons why it would be removed? What factors are considered? How is TIR involved in the process?
LLOYD HINES: For clarity, the acquisition of Newbridge has eliminated the need for the high school portion that was destined for the peninsula, but the P to 6 is still on. It appears in the budget in the current year.
The decisions around on or off are not decisions that we would take. Those are decisions by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
SUSAN LEBLANC: When new schools are built, what are the requirements for there to be a kitchen or other food preparation space and a cafeteria?
LLOYD HINES: We’re getting into the technical area now, which I can easily get lost in. There is a standard called a DC350, which is the standard that determines the footprint of the school that would be considered.
There’s a fairly detailed analysis there. We would be happy to get back to you with the details as to how that actually works out. My staff will undertake to get that information for you.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, minister, that would be great. The reason I’m asking is because there is so much emphasis these days - and I hope into the future - on community food programs and school food programs, but we know there are many schools that don’t have a kitchen, so there’s no way for kids to learn how to prepare food, how to share food, that kind of thing. We know that those programs are proven to be excellent for teaching kids all kinds of things.
At Harbour View Elementary in Dartmouth North, for instance, we now have a massive greenhouse growing food all through the winter. We have a beautiful garden behind the school. There is a small kitchen there, but it needs a bunch of things. So if thinking about building new schools, it would obviously be great if that was incorporated into the design.
Speaking of design, the concept of universal design is the design of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their size, age, ability, or disability. What are the requirements for new school builds to incorporate the principles of universal design?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question, which sort of takes us back to the earlier question of the DC350 standard, where many of these things reside. As an example, for the standards for accessibility is the gender neutrality of the washrooms. We also strive to get at least LEED Silver on the envelopes for the schools.
I think if we can get that information for you on the DC350 standard, that would also answer this particular question.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that. In looking at new school builds, are appropriate pre-Primary spaces part of the planning for those schools?
LLOYD HINES: Yes, they are.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, thanks for that answer. Does the department keep track of how many schools in the province are over capacity or over the number of students allowed, based on fire code? If so, how many schools are over capacity and if not, who does track that information?
LLOYD HINES: That would be a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development question. I am not able to answer that. They would track that information.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Okay, thank you very much. I’m going to move on and talk about accessibility for a moment. Nova Scotia has the highest rate of disability in Canada. How is the work of the Accessibility Directorate connected to the work of the department? How are you incorporating accessibility into infrastructure builds and maintenance? Of course, now I am moving on past schools, in terms of all new builds.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for a very relevant question. Yes, we have a close commitment to accessibility in all our public buildings. We’re working very closely with the committee that has been struck on accessibility that informs us what the best practices are for building the accessibility concept into everything we do when we get involved in either a new build or an extensive renovation.
We’re confident we can reach the 2030 goals with regard to accessibility in public buildings, provincial buildings in the province.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Okay, great. In the 2018-19 minister’s annual report on accessibility it indicates that TIR is completing a review of all existing facilities owned by the Government of Nova Scotia. I’m wondering if the minister can provide an update on that review and if he is able to table any of the results.
LLOYD HINES: We are working on the template, as it were, for the accessibility standards that we will eventually be fully adopting throughout the department, but we don’t have anything tangible that we could table at this time.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I heard the minister say that he has nothing to table at this time but is there any sense of a timeline on when that will be ready?
LLOYD HINES: We don’t really actually have a deadline, as it were. We’re sewing the accessibility culture into everything we do, from a building perspective, that we have responsibility for and, obviously, are working towards that 2030 goal.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Kings South on an introduction.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, I’d like to draw my colleagues’ attention to the East Gallery where we’re joined by a good friend of mine, Mr. David Daniels, from Wolfville. David is an avid watcher of politics, particularly at the municipal level. He also has done tremendous work with Nova Scotia Legal Aid. I was honoured to be in the presence of him when he became a new Canadian, about two or three years ago. Please welcome my friend David Daniels. (Applause)
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Moving on to the siting of public buildings - not schools but other public buildings - the Licensed Professional Planners Association of Nova Scotia - the LPPANS - has requested a meeting with the minister on three occasions, with no response. The dates that requests were made were, November 29, 2019; December 19, 2019; and January 10, 2020.
Will the minister agree to reach out to the LPPANS to schedule a meeting?
LLOYD HINES: That request, I don’t know if it has reached my desk - I don’t know why it wouldn’t have - but I will undertake to check and see where it’s at. My philosophy is an open-door philosophy. Though it might take a while to get a time, with the busy schedule, we meet with everybody we can who takes the time to come and meet with us, if what they want to talk about is something that we have involvement with and can help them with.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that. Is the best thing to do is for that organization to maybe contact the minister’s executive assistant and set up something that way?
Last Spring our caucus tabled a bill respecting the location of facilities and structures that provide government services to the public. The goal is to encourage government services to be in places that are accessible by active and public transportation and to promote the improvement of the social, economic, environmental and cultural connections of the communities in which the facilities and structures are located.
Can the minister provide an update on where the department is, in terms of considering establishing a policy on siting public buildings. It is Bill No. 115.
LLOYD HINES: For the member, we’re not prolific builders of buildings other than salt domes and plow sheds. Normally those are buildings that would go on existing strategically located bases and couldn’t actually be . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP. We’ll move over to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Inverness.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you minister and staff for the opportunity. The first question I have has to do with the roundabout proposed for Whycocomagh. Would you consider having a public meeting to go over the design with the community?
I know there has been some consultation. There is some feeling in the community - I think a lot of people are happy with the idea but there is some concern. Some truckers have contacted me and said they are concerned about the footprint and if it’s going to be big enough, if it’s going to allow trucks to pass through easily, concerns about Newfoundland ferry truck traffic, that sort of thing.
I don’t know, but unless you do construction at night, it’s difficult to avoid this, but I predict that this Summer, if it moves ahead - I know it’s planned to go ahead - that there could be some traffic issues during construction. With all of that, it might help if there’s a meeting with the community to address concerns and to maybe make things go more smoothly. Thank you.
LLOYD HINES: We’re quite excited about that roundabout that we’re putting in there. That’s a busy intersection. I think Vi’s sort of had to disappear to get it in place there but the word that I have is that we do have ample real estate there, quite a large section that will enable us to put an accommodating roundabout in there, which the design folks are saying will take whatever size truck comes at it, and large loads.
The community is perfectly justified in looking to be informed as to what’s going on. We’ll undertake to have our folks set up a session where the community could be invited in so that they can look at the plans and understand what it is that we are doing.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, minister. I’m excited about that project, as well. I can tell you now that if there is discussion in the room, I’ll do what I can to help to ensure that it proceeds in a way that is positive and whatnot.
The other one is the Port Hastings rotary. I know there are future plans for that. I know there has been nothing announced but the same thing there. It’s a major change. Would the department be willing to have a meeting with the community to show them the design, when the time comes, to work with the first responders, with people who own properties around the immediate area?
I know that municipal governments have been wanting to get involved, as well. I do, though, recognize that this is provincial jurisdiction - the province owns the land, they own the highways, this is really provincial business.
I think it’s also an opportunity to improve the look of the entrance onto the Island. Would the minister and the department consider, when the time comes, having a meeting with the public for the same purpose?
LLOYD HINES: There is movement on the proposed roundabout for there. The staff are in the field, picking up surveys, determining what the parameters are, to be able to inform the design. It’s not pegged yet in the plan, but it is caught in the process and is in for a future development.
I can assure the member that at the time - and we’ve heard from the mayor of Port Hawkesbury on the matter, too - that we will involve the community in the consultation once we have something tangible that we can show them. So, yes.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you for that, minister. I’m going to move to the next question, just a brief question: On the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, I notice there was $5 million for cargo terminal upgrades. That was in the budget update - well, it was actually in the Public Accounts, dated March 31st, which I think came out in August.
Beyond that, I guess - and this may be something that could be provided even at a later date - I’m curious to see how much capital investment was put into the Halifax airport over the last 20 years.
My purpose in asking the question is that there has been some discussion on airports in my area and I’m just curious to see what the province has been investing in the Halifax airport and also if there has been any investment in the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney airport. I expect it would all be probably public information anyway. I’m just wondering if that could be provided - over, say, the last 20 years.
LLOYD HINES: To deal with the second part first, we will undertake to try and go back 20 years and do our best to acquire that. It will take a while for us to get that.
My own personal observation in the last seven years is that the only money I know about is the $5 million that you mentioned. That was a contribution that was made for the new cargo handling facility, which is under construction there now. I think the capital cost was $37 million. We put in $5 million and that triggered an $18 million contribution from the federal government under the National Trade Corridors Fund, which is the same fund that gave us $90 million for the Highway No. 104 expansion. Then, of course, the airport put up the difference themselves and that particular project is well under way.
That airport has been critical, particularly to our fishery export opportunity in the province. The amount of lobster that’s flown out of there is quite amazing. I think that’s what this new facility is for, to stiffen that situation and improve the ability to handle that cargo there. It’s a very important part of our economic fabric in the province, as, really, all our airports are, including Sydney, the Port Hawkesbury airport and even the little Margaree grass strip that’s there. I don’t know if that’s even used any more - a little bit - it’s still there.
There’s an airport in Yarmouth, there’s an airport in Digby, in the Valley. There’s Debert, there’s a facility there.
The importance of air travel is not lost on the transportation network in the province, but we will undertake to find that back information for you. It might take a little while, but we’ll get it to you.
ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you for that, minister, I appreciate that. I have just one other question and there’s one item. I’m going to hand deliver it because I promised that I would do it. It’s a petition from some residents of Blackstone, near Mabou. It can’t be tabled in the House because of the way the statement is written. I told them I would hand deliver it, so I’ll do that.
My last question is on road maintenance. In the budget I think it’s up 50 per cent, at least that what I seem to infer from looking at the numbers. I’m just wondering what that would translate to, on average, for a county or a constituency or for an area, in terms of maybe X number of kilometres of gravel or maintenance paving or dollar amounts, in terms of overall maintenance work, which might be for ditching, gravelling, brush-cutting and so on. Thank you.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. Of course, the expenditures would be associated with the presence of the asset, of the road in the particular location. That’s what drives the requirement for maintenance, and also for capital expenditure. As an example, for the gravel road program - and you probably know better than I what roads might be due for this year - but we’re very happy with that program. We’ve done 442 kilometres so far under that program; we’ve got 152 kilometres scheduled for this season.
I have been just thrilled, as a rural MLA, like yourself, with the focus that has been brought to the gravel road. The citizens are pretty happy, too, in my experience, in my constituency, for the work that we’ve been able to get done. In that particular instance, obviously, that tends to be an expenditure in the more rural parts of the province, so that money would be going in that particular direction for that expenditure
It depends on the type of road - trunks or routes or gravel roads - that might exist in a particular county, as to what we could be expending. At a brief glance I am happy to report to you that we’re looking at spending almost $13 million this year in Inverness County.
ALLAN MACMASTER: I thank the minister and his staff. I’d like to now move to my colleague.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Kings North.
JOHN LOHR: It’s a pleasure to again question the minister and his staff on road priorities for Kings North, the Annapolis Valley. As the minister knows, we had two massive events in Kings County last Fall, hurricane Dorian and about 10 days before that a rainstorm, which almost really - and I have forgotten the name of it. It is named but it was a rainstorm of biblical proportions for us, where we had seven inches of rain in 24 hours in a small area of maybe 25 or 30 square miles, mostly.
I just want to start by saying I hope the minister knows, and I think I’ve said it before, that your staff and your crew went above and beyond in the aftermath of the rainstorm, which really was hardly recognized outside of our area. I think it washed out an enormous number of culverts on the mountain, up on Highway 358, and certain ones down in the Valley, and in the aftermath of Dorian, which had a lot of other effects, had a lot of people without power. Again, your staff was exceptional, so I do want to note that, that we do appreciate the TIR staff there. They are resourceful and get the job done. I just want to put that on the record before I start asking questions of your staff, Mr. Minister. Please let them know that I said that, when you have the opportunity. And they know that I say that.
One of the things that was exposed as a weakness out of those two rain events, Dorian and the rainstorm 10 days before, I would say there was an inadequacy in the culverts. Culverts don’t really call a lot of attention to themselves. They are very easy to forget about for a long time, except when suddenly they are overwhelmed and washed out.
We saw culverts that had not been overwhelmed by water in 50 years get backed up and overwhelmed, and not small ones, either. In places we saw double culverts, four feet around, get backed up on watersheds of maybe 100 acres, 200 acres. When you get seven inches of rain in a very short time, less than 24 hours, it’s just in the realm of unbelievable.
The truth is, I don’t really know if that’s a one-in-a-100-years event, maybe we’ll never see that again in our lifetime, I don’t really know that and I know the minister doesn’t either. But where we had two rainstorm events in about 10 days, everybody thought we need to get on that.
Now, will that ever happen again in our tenure here, in this Legislature? I have no idea. But it begs a plan on getting those culverts replaced and going about it. I just wonder if the minister could tell me how he sees that working. I realize there are issues with capital budget versus maintenance budget and I just wonder if the minister could take me through that.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. I really appreciate the words of compliment for the staff in your area generally and it’s very heartening to hear that here. Almost every member who has spoken has expressed that sentiment, that though nobody is perfect, the folks are out there are doing the best they can with what they have to meet the requirement. That has certainly been my experience over the years, in both municipal government and provincial government, in terms of dealing with the department.
I wanted to understand completely from Peter what our evolving strategy is when it comes to culverts. I have to admit that we really don’t know how many thousands of culverts we have in the province but we’re sure it is thousands.
In some instances - I know in my own riding that new culverts were being discovered when roads were being renovated, culverts that had plugged up over years and the openings weren’t even visible and nobody knew there was a culvert there.
Sometimes that’s a good thing because they were still in good shape and we could open them up and use them. Obviously, we all know that, particularly on gravel roads, the drainage is the key to keeping the road viable. You’ve got to get the water off it, you’ve got to have it crowned, you’ve got to have it ditched and you’ve got to have cross-culverts in place where they’re required, which is really the purpose of our gravel road program, which is to rebuild the road and make it a better quality road. It’s not just about throwing gravel on top of it, which most people think is how it works.
In the evolving circumstances we find ourselves in with regard to climate change, we do have an internal strategy when it comes to culverts. Wherever possible, the culvert is upsized to a bigger standard, in terms of its ability to handle - in many instances the old culverts were 1:25 - in other words, one event in 25 years - and we’re moving them, where we can, to 1:100 and even as much as 1:200 year events, to determine the sizing of the culvert.
That’s when they are deep, that’s viable. It gets a little bit more expensive to replace them when they’re deep but in the instance where the culvert is shallow it’s a little bit more difficult to upsize them because we’re decreasing the ride volume there and you can’t put the culvert where it will get beaten up and come up to the road surface.
We do have a directive inside the department which tells us to look at that very closely when we are either doing our gravel road program or replacing culverts to try to increase them to accommodate what we’re seeing around the province generally. It’s not limited just to your area of the province, though it’s an incredible amount of rain that you’re telling me you got - seven inches in 24 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that anywhere. That’s Amazonian rainfall.
In other areas, including my own riding, there are washouts that hadn’t occurred for a long time. Our strategy is to focus on the culverts. We use not so much steel any more, either cement or plastic - steel on some of the gravel road replacements - so that when we do this maintenance - this comes out of the maintenance budget - we upgrade as best we can, to accommodate what is a new area that we seem to be moving into in regard to handling the drain from the watersheds.
JOHN LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I appreciate that answer. I guess what I would say in response to it is that where we saw - and I mean it was on Highway 358 going to Scots Bay, on the mountain, where we had the worst circumstances. Those were culverts that were just a year or two old, that had eroded and been redone to a really good standard just a couple of years before. Homeowners there who were like old salts had said they didn’t think the culvert was big enough to start with. They told the company, but they hadn’t told me, when it was being done.
I guess the thing that I would say is that I would hope you would look at your engineering specs because this is a lot less money ultimately just to have a big enough culvert in there. We need a 1:100 years or a 1:200 years where we can put them in because I recognize what you say about the depth of the ditch, too.
I think we need to be looking at over-sizing just because it saves us a lot of money in the long run and a bigger culvert is really not that much more expensive than a smaller culvert, on a multi-million dollar project.
I hope you will do that. I hope that I never have to mention it to you again and that we never see a rainfall like that again. But if we have one like that again this Summer, I’ll be banging on your door. I hope that doesn’t happen and it might not, we don’t really know.
I do want to mention the minister knows I had three dangerous intersections that I had been talking to your staff about. One of them was Route 221 in Middle Dyke and, in fact, there has been a flashing red light put there, which was what we wanted. We’d had a couple of T-bones and near-miss T-bones and a fuel truck that somehow the driver drove right through - he should have stopped - and caused quite a spectacular fire. There is a red light installed there and I’m very pleased with that. I just want to say thank you for that.
The other two dangerous intersections are maybe more problematic, but I just want to mention them to the minister again, here on the record. One would be Black Hole Road on Route 221. I don’t really know what to tell you to do there, either. I’m not saying that I know the solution, I’m just saying that somehow we need to slow people down or change that, or put a three-way stop there, maybe. That might solve it, a three-way stop. Nobody will be happy then.
The other intersection is in North Kentville, which is, literally, when you are driving up to it there’s an asterisk sign, if you know what I mean. It is three lines, so it is like a six-way intersection of Highway No. 341, Oakdene Avenue, Lanzy, Upper Church and Campbell - all those roads coming into one intersection. So, if you know what I mean, there’s not only that, the sign actually has an extra line there, it looks like an asterisk. I don’t even know if the public understands when they’re driving up to it that it’s an intersection sign.
That intersection has been the site of some significant accidents and a lot of near misses. I guess, Mr. Minister, I wanted to mention those and maybe you can make a comment. I think I already know the answer about your intersection repair program.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the advice on the intersections. I’m glad to hear that there was some action taken to install a flashing red, that really helps. All these items relate to safety.
I will ask the department to take a look at those two intersections and see if there are any further recommendations that they would have to make.
On the North Kentville one, my thought when you described it would be a roundabout as a possible solution there. I wouldn’t know if there’s enough room, if we would have to dislocate houses or anything to get it in there. In the long term, if you’ve got a busy intersection like that - that’s not in the Town of Kentville? No. Then a roundabout might be the long-term answer for a site like that.
They tend to be fairly expensive, a sophisticated one could be $5 million - $6 million, but they are a permanent, safe solution to what we’re doing, what we’re looking for, so that’s a possibility of something we could look at and see if we could work it into a capital plan down the road because that sounds like a pretty unusual circumstance, especially if you’ve got the asterisk sign. Who the heck would understand what that is supposed to represent? I haven’t seen one of those.
We’ll undertake to take a look at both those intersections and see if we can come up with a solution.
JOHN LOHR: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Anything that can be done there is appreciated.
I just want to mention, again, another thing to thank you for is the fact that we had two crews going last Summer doing potholes in Kings North and Kings South. I know the member for Kings South would agree, between Kings North and Kings South we share one garage and we need to get the potholes done before September-October. We need two crews going. There are just a lot of roads, a lot of potholes.
I know the minister and his staff know what the situation is on the Valley floor with roads that are on clay. I want to ask: Will there again be two crews repairing potholes in Kings North-Kings South this year?
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. I guess that upon reflection, the presence of the second crew is reflective of things working the way they’re supposed to work. That’s something that you brought to me and we were able to implement it. This evening I see no change in the plans and there will be two crews there again this year.
JOHN LOHR: I would like to take half the credit for that with the member for Kings South. I think he brought that to you, too. His constituents and my constituents, as I think I mentioned at the time, of all the things that TIR does, what really gets our constituents upset is when their vehicles get damaged by potholes. There can be a pothole there that they can avoid 100 times and the 101st time they hit it, right? It’s the reality of the roads in the Annapolis Valley. We have a lot of economic activity and a lot of trucks, a lot of heavy farm equipment and the roads are built on clay, on sand. Maybe there was not that much rock available when those roads were built back in the day, 100 years ago.
I guess I want to turn my attention to maybe a little more difficult topic for us, Mr. Minister - we’ve agreed on a lot of things so far - and that is the Hantsport aboiteau. I just want to ask what’s the life expectancy of the current aboiteau? What’s the hope there?
I know there is an extension needed on the aboiteau gates being in. Has the minister received the extension on that? Maybe he can update me on the repairs there.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. When I mentioned yesterday that I had a lot of experience with aboiteaux, this is one of the ones that has educated me in the whole concept of the aboiteau process there. I don’t mind saying that it has been a tough one to apprehend. When you’re taking on the Bay of Fundy it’s not an easy wrestling match, for sure.
We have actually found that the gates help our problem with erosion considerably, but the gates were granted to us as a temporary measure from DFO. We have actually asked for an extension on the gates, which is in their system and we haven’t received that decision or information back yet.
In the meantime, we are currently reinforcing the berm on the Bay of Fundy side - we already did the other side - which will deflect the pressure that was coming onto the actual culverts themselves. Hopefully that will stop the kind of erosion, that movement, that was in process.
The berms are stable, and we expect that the work will be completed by this Spring. The contractor is currently on-site, working, and we are hoping we will have a permanent solution there by Spring; once late Spring comes, we’ll get that done.
We have a lot of valuable public infrastructure upstream there. We have the bridge, we have I think it’s Highway 1 that runs through there - which is in danger from flooding, it is very low along there - then of course we have the actual overpass onto Highway No. 101, though the reports that we have and the inspections we’ve done there say that there’s no threat at that particular location. As you might note, Madam Chair, it is further up the wash there, from the first bridge, it is right down by the aboiteau itself.
That’s the latest we have on it and once we hear back from the DFO we’ll be informed as to what they see us doing with the gates that are there.
JOHN LOHR: I realize it has been extraordinarily difficult, it has been a difficult job, there’s no doubt about it.
I guess what I would like to ask the minister is: It’s known in the community that there was, and I believe the number is 25, tons of foam put into the interior of that aboiteau because there was a cavity inside of it that was discovered. I presume - I’m certain - that it wasn’t residential foam. I wonder if the minister could tell me the brand and the product number or whatever, what the foam was and tell me a little bit about that.
LLOYD HINES: I thank the member for the question. We don’t have that information at our fingertips, but we would undertake to supply that to the member, once we do identify it.
JOHN LOHR: I appreciate that, minister. I am interested in knowing the product identity there. I don’t know how widely known that all is but it’s rather astonishing that the ocean could cause a cavity that would require 25 tons of foam to fill, in a very short time.
I do want to talk about the Windsor Causeway. I know the tender is out on that. I want to ask about a fish passage on the new design. I know that the DFO has to sign off on fish passage on the new design; I know you’ve issued the tender on the new design. I’m just wondering, has the DFO signed off on fish passage on the design?
LLOYD HINES: This is the other aboiteau that has helped educate me in how water flows. Really at the end of the day an aboiteau is a backwater valve, I guess, in its simplest put and that I understand. It had a fancy name; I didn’t understand exactly what it was designed to do. It is brilliant engineering, very simple. We got it right some 100 years ago but we’re having our struggles at the Halfway River.
At Windsor we have a completely different sort of circumstance. One of our members of the House had a question last night about an aboiteau that was in a bridge at Parrsboro. That is the same situation that we had at Halfway River where we were having our challenges and was the case at Windsor aboiteau. The design that we’ve settled on, which will produce a very expensive piece of infrastructure, has been separated from the roadway itself. So, you have the road and you have a separate aboiteau which will act independently, which in the long haul I believe is a lot better for us.
There might be some expediency associated with putting these passageways in the road but eventually it is going to get to you in terms of what you have to do to replace them, either the road or the aboiteau itself.
In Windsor we haven’t actually tendered it, we’re thinking it is going to be a late year tender, but the design work is being done by CBCL and is nearing completion. Of course, the design will inform the tender that will be put together at that point in time. We’re expecting that that design work will be available in the summertime, it will be completed.
In the meantime, we’ve got a huge group of stakeholders involved from the Aboriginal community, the Department of Agriculture, our own people and Aboriginal Affairs, and people who are in the DFO who have an interest in the aboiteau.
The general objective is to permit fish passage in the aboiteau, so that’s kind of where that’s at. We received significant support from the federal government for the aboiteau and that is done. We know we are going to get that funding, which I think is $32 million, actually that we’ve received from the feds.
It is under way, it is going to be done, it is going to be a special design which will separate the roadway and the aboiteau. We’re hoping that will be an improvement over what we had before and it will permit the fish passage in the area, in the river.
JOHN LOHR: I just want to have one more question. I’d like to thank you for your answers. One last question and I am going to hand it over to my colleague from Northside-Westmount.
My last question is: Can the minister tell me the costs of the aboiteau in Hantsport to date with the original construction costs, plus the emergency repair costs - which I know are ongoing - an approximate number of the costs to date of that aboiteau and its repairs and its emergency repairs, and maybe what they are thinking it will cost?
LLOYD HINES: As I believe I’ve said publicly, recently we are at approximately $6.5 million in year-to-date for that one. There’s some additional work to be done - I can’t put a number on that for you at this time.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Northside-Westmount.
MURRAY RYAN: Thank you, Madam Chair. First of all, I want to thank the minister and his department for the wonderful job they are doing over what has been a very trying number of months and, in the case of Cape Breton, a very white winter. They’ve worked tireless, hard hours. It is almost impossible to keep everybody happy, but they are working to keep everyone safe. Soon they will be transitioning to fixing our pothole issues.
A couple of issues that I’d like to bring up. One is Highway No. 125 that connects from North Sydney through to Grand Lake Road on the east side of Sydney. Every year there is work being done on the highway but every year there are ruts developing, on and on. There is one particular area where there seems to be some work going on this year that is on either side of a particularly troubling stretch, between Exits 4 and 5; this is a stretch on Campbells Hill, before the Frenchvale exit, when you are travelling westbound towards the Northside.
The daughter of a constituent of mine was travelling on the road back in mid-December; it was raining, they got stuck in the ruts, they lost control of their car, went off the road, the car rolled a few times and it was written off. It is a very dangerous stretch of highway. Unfortunately, at some point in time there may be a more severe accident. We certainly hope not but it is entirely possible.
To that end, I know the ruts are an issue across this province. Understandably, my particular area and the stretch that I am referring to is of particular interest to me. I am curious if the minister could provide some information related to what the department’s policy is related to addressing these ruts, when the decision is made to shave them and repave those sections. Usually it is not necessarily a long stretch of road, in some instances, just to deal with the worst of the worst areas.
LLOYD HINES: When it comes to safety, we don’t want to spare any horses around making sure that people who drive on our highways are safe.
In the overall picture we do have a scientific system. We have something called an ARAN vehicle that goes on all our 100-Series Highways; one of its functions, and the most important one, is to measure the depth of the rutting. There is a certain tolerance and once it gets beyond that tolerance, which shows up in the information that is produced by the technology, then we would go in - regardless of scheduling for work - and do a long stretch patch to capture the rutted area itself.
In your particular instance, for this year, 2020-21, on Highway No. 125, we’ve got the westbound lane, east of Frenchvale Road for six kilometres, that is under way. Is that what you were talking about?
MURRAY RYAN: It could be - I get the west and east mixed up - westbound lane that could be the stretch.
LLOYD HINES: We hope that it is. That’s 6 kilometres, then also on the eastbound lane from Highway No. 105 there are another 5.6 kilometres, which are in the system to be done, so that’s 11.6 kilometres on Highway No. 125 for this year. But if we don’t capture that section of rutted road that you are talking about, let me know and we’ll make sure that we get it patched in the meantime.
MURRAY RYAN: I thank the minister for that answer. Hopefully that is that stretch. I’ll certainly check and let you know if that isn’t the stretch, because I appreciate that those ruts are a very fluid situation and it’s a case-by-case basis as the need develops. Now that we’re getting into Spring it’s the sort of thing that can jump ahead leaps and bounds, compared to year over year, with the Winter and that.
Another area of concern relates to Highway No. 105. A constituent called me about this last week and I never really paid attention to what they told me. So, when I was coming to Halifax this week, I paid attention to that stretch from Port Hastings to North Sydney. I counted the number of intersections that have left-hand turns, like individual lanes for vehicles making left-hand turns. I counted 19 between where the Trans-Canada Highway begins at the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal and Port Hastings.
In that stretch when you leave North Sydney or you are just exiting the former town, there is an intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway, the Highway No. 105, and what is called Tobin Road. Tobin Road has become the major entry and exit point through what is called the Northside Business Park; the school buses going to the Memorial High School use that road; transfer trucks coming in to deliver goods and products to the various businesses in the industrial park go in that road. There have been numerous close calls and what have you.
Also, in the summertime, as you can appreciate with Marine Atlantic traffic, you’ll have long stretches of traffic that when they come off the boat, and when they are trying to get to the boat they are moving, too. That’s an area where that can create a bottleneck and the potential for some serious issues.
I was just wondering - I didn’t see it on the Five Year Plan - I don’t know if it’s something that has been brought to your department’s attention previously but it is definitely along that stretch, just in the last couple of seasons, the left-hand turn lanes were put in place in Baddeck to service the Tim Hortons and the Irving. This is right in the urban area and there is no left-hand turn put there and the traffic is comparable, if not equal, to the level of traffic that would be going through that stretch in Baddeck. It’s great that that was put there in Baddeck because I’ve seen some near misses along that stretch.
Once again, this is an area in North Sydney when you are first coming into town that I’d like to bring to the attention of the department and your engineers to consider.
THE CHAIR: Order please. Time has lapsed for the PC Party. We’ll move on to the NDP for the remaining time, 20 minutes.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I wanted to begin this last 20 minutes talking about potholes. I’m sure you’ve been doing a lot of that and it’s not something I often hear about; I hear about it a little bit, at a certain time of year in Dartmouth North, with the Circumferential Highway. You may know that the NDP did a FOIPOP into the Road Hazards Claims/Investigations program after a number of constituents came to us with complaints about that process. Their cars got damaged on potholes on 100-Series Highways, they put in a claim, they were denied; they did an appeal, they were denied - extreme frustration. The FOIPOP revealed that in the last, say, five years that the percentage of claims paid out and the number of claims paid out has steadily gone down.
We asked about this in Question Period the other day. The Premier said he would take a look at it. I’m wondering if the minister can commit to taking a look at this program and seeing if there is a way to make it more transparent so that it is clear to the public what the expectations are and what exactly the metrics are of when a pothole needs to be fixed - after it is reported - and all those different rules, if those can be clarified for the public in some way.
LLOYD HINES: Indeed, that did come up and we started the reaction since that period in Question Period. The actual program itself, and that would be the application from the affected party, doesn’t come to our department, it actually goes to the Internal Services Division. They are the ones that handle that particular program. However, I’m not trying to escape responsibility here. We are the ones who set the response times and do the repairs on the potholes that we know are a problem for people. With the cost of a vehicle, particularly in the rural areas where people rely on the vehicles, there’s no transit system, they take a lot of pride in their vehicles and it really is upsetting when they hit a pothole and have damage to the alignment or bumper damage or whatever. We understand that part of it.
What we are actually looking at doing, too, is a jurisdictional scan across the country to see what similar provinces are doing - particularly in the Atlantic region where we have a similar climate - how they handle their pothole damage arrangement. This will give us more information as to where we are in the picture, in terms of how our response lines up, how adequate it is and all that sort of thing.
I guess what I can tell you at this point in time is that we are reacting, that we’re working with ISD to start looking at the program and how it works. The jurisdictional scan will tell us, relative to the rest of the country, where we are.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that answer, and I am very heartened to hear that a review will be taking place. I look forward to the results of that, that’s great.
I wanted to ask a little bit about ride sharing. What is the licensing regime being considered for ride-hailing services in Nova Scotia?
LLOYD HINES: We are working on analyzing the regulations that we currently have in place. We have met with both the larger ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, and understand what their view of the world is; they tell us that the Nova Scotia market is a relatively small market for them but that they are interested in Nova Scotia, in particular because of the growth centre that is metro and the proliferation of universities here that have young people who are prone to the new technology.
Essentially the advent of Uber into the marketplace is not unlike the advent of the Airbnb system which has been around for quite a while now, and is extensively used in Nova Scotia, and prompted some legislation that was required to accommodate the house-sharing situation that Airbnb represents. Essentially what you have is a giant dispatch company, like taxi companies use dispatchers, they have somebody in a central office; fire departments use dispatchers, they collect a bunch of fire departments together and do dispatching. Here you have the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of individual drivers who have an asset, which is their vehicle, that they can use to generate a bit more income.
What I am saying is that this whole concept is here, it’s not going to go away and eventually we have to understand how it fits into our marketplace. We want to make sure that the presence of these ride-sharing companies in the province will not affect the safety of our motoring public and the folks who would be clients for Uber or Lyft or whatever ride-sharing company comes into play.
In the instance of P.E.I., I am told that the market is small over there and Uber and Lyft are not interested. So, there is a local, homegrown company that is avidly pursuing - and I think that P.E.I. has made an accommodation for them - to supply that service in Charlottetown. It won’t be called Uber or Lyft, it is a private, P.E.I. entrepreneurial group.
We’re looking at how we can accept this new process into our Nova Scotia motoring community but do it in a way that doesn’t compromise either passenger or driver safety in the process.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I guess that’s kind of what I am asking. I think you are probably right, these types of technologies are not going anywhere, and they do affect thousands of people.
I guess my question is: What role will the province play in making sure that the safety of passengers is ensured, the safety of the drivers is ensured? How will the presence of the companies affect the taxi industry? Will the taxi industry and the ride-sharing industry align, in terms of regulations?
The other very important part of it is, how can the province enable or ensure that labour issues like long hours, low pay, exploitive conditions, worker safety issues - don’t forget, if drivers are underpaid and overtired they are also not as safe - how is the province making sure it is all going to work okay for everybody?
LLOYD HINES: We in our department are concerned about the licensing process that would be involved in allowing the companies to come and operate here. We want to make sure, with regard to the taxi industry, that we have a level playing field, that there is no advantage sought or given in the process.
Beyond that, the taxi business is municipally driven. The municipalities are the ones that have the responsibility for licensing taxi cabs and would also have the responsibility for the conditions under which Uber would operate. That is the case across the province; I think 23 of the 49 municipalities currently have taxi bylaws as it were. The responsibility beyond any tweaking of the licensing process that the government might want to do, is the responsibility of the receiving municipality.
From my understanding of how the system works, and again going back to the Airbnb as an example, the Airbnb properties are rated with a star rating; there are comments there as to what people’s likes or dislikes were and it creates the star rating. Also, then the Airbnb operator is able to comment on the quality of the tenant that they had for a short time. So, there’s a bit of a self-policing process involved there.
In my conversations with Uber they actually employ the same system. They have a process that screens applicants, that requires the rating system to happen, so they know if there are red flags with a driver or with a passenger; they are able to capture that. That more sophisticated, built-in process is the hallmark of this technology, where it is internet based, and that currently doesn’t exist in the taxi industry per se. I am sure it won’t take long for them to adopt that.
The licensing process of setting the conditions rests with the municipal unit and the provincial responsibility is for the class of licence that the taxicab operator, ambulance driver, small bus driver or Uber driver should attain to be able to conduct that business in the province.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The other day I had the pleasure of having a meeting with some senior staff in the department, which I always appreciate. It’s nice to get a little update on what is going on in the department. One of the things we talked about was the Traffic Safety Act and the regulations, and what’s going on with all the regulations.
My understanding from that meeting was that regulations were taking a little longer than expected, but also that they really weren’t sure in what way they were going to sort of bring the regulations back to the community. One option was to get a whole section of regulations done and then bring them out and get people to give their opinions, then take another section of regulations and get people to give their opinions; or they could do all the regulations and then put it out there for feedback, before they get the bill proclaimed and tweak things.
I’m just wondering if there is any update on that and if the minister can provide a plan or what has gone into the planning for a consultation phase of those regulations when it’s time? And when will it be?
LLOYD HINES: I mentioned earlier that the TSA is transformative and comprehensive in attempting to capture all the stuff that has happened really for 100 years, because the old legislation dated back to 1921 so as a result, it’s a lot of work to try and incorporate all that information in the regulation.
We have a team working on that in particular and we expect they will be able to bring the regulations forward by the Fall of this year. As part of that, there has been ongoing consultation with stakeholders up to this process, so that’s going to be circling back to those stakeholders and having consultations again with those people on the regulations, before they are enacted.
SUSAN LEBLANC: So, is it fair to say that the public can expect a proclaimed Traffic Safety Act, with all its rights and privileges, by the Fall of 2020?
LLOYD HINES: That’s our intended target, yes.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, it hardly seems appropriate to start a whole other subject here. I guess I will slowly take the time I have left to thank the minister and your staff for your excellent answers. It’s always a pleasure to talk about Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and I do seriously appreciate the chance to talk with people like Royden Trainor, who I have talked to on a number of issues, constituency issues, and other staff people, Darcey MacBain in Dartmouth. They are all great, they all get back to me and I really appreciate it. So please pass that on to them and thank you so much.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time allotted for the consideration of Supply today has elapsed.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Mr. Chair, I move that the committee do now rise and report its progress to the House.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:07 p.m.]