HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2021
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Thank you, Madam Chair. We will continue the Estimates for the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Resolution E6.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank.
BRAD JOHNS: I hope you had a good weekend, minister. We’re going to carry on with some of the discussions we had the other day. I believe we were starting to discuss in regard to Nova Scotia Power and I’m curious to know: If Nova Scotia Power doesn’t have the necessary resources to remove coal from operations, what will the Department of Environment and Climate Change do to make sure that the emissions goals are met?
HON. KEITH IRVING: I hope you had a good weekend as well. Hopefully today goes smoothly and I look forward to our conversation.
I think, as we discussed on Friday, we are the regulators of Nova Scotia Power, so the decisions we make they need to execute and bring forward a plan on how they would get off coal. Our mission is to do that by 2030.
BRAD JOHNS: Madam Chair, I’d like to defer the remaining 24 minutes of this hour to the member for Pictou East, please.
THE CHAIR: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
TIM HOUSTON: I am just following up with the minister. Can the minister table for the House - or what information can the minister provide about the extent of the emissions reductions from the directive to Nova Scotia Power to get off coal by 2030? What is the impact on the emissions reductions? Can the minister table any chart that he may have?
KEITH IRVING: We publish the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions annually and Nova Scotia Power’s emissions are captured in that. We’ll have another annual report coming up and you’ll be able to see the progress made there.
TIM HOUSTON: The question is more - so, if this is a directive, it’s government policy, as the minister said, directing Nova Scotia Power to execute on their policy, what can the minister tell us today?
Presumably, this is an active file. In his mind it’s a pretty big - it seems like a marquee part of the government’s agenda. I’m sure the minister must have some understanding as to what is the difference in emissions if they execute on the agenda at 2030, versus if they don’t execute on the agenda at 2040? I would think that would be something the minister would just have right to hand. Maybe he can share that with the House.
KEITH IRVING: We are working with Nova Scotia Power and our partners at the Department of Energy and Mines to work through the pathway forward to get to that. Obviously, this new target was just set in the last couple of months, so we have a nine-year window to get us to that, being off coal by 2030.
Certainly, there are pieces of that that are getting some clarity, in terms of the drop in price with respect to wind. I believe the Premier has spoken about our hopes to get a significant tender out, to get significantly more wind into the system to get us to 80 per cent renewables in the coming years.
The other large piece to this puzzle is the discussion on the Atlantic Loop. Again, these are early days of conversations with the federal government. They have put it into their climate plan and their recent Speech from the Throne. That is a large, complex project such as all energy projects are when you’re talking about an electrical system for a province and beyond. That will involve conversations with the federal government, with New Brunswick, of course, where the transmission of the Atlantic Loop would likely flow, and then, as well, the Province of Quebec, which would be providing, hopefully, hydroelectricity, green energy, that would assist us in making that 2030 target.
TIM HOUSTON: I appreciate that the minister is not familiar with the file, and he probably had something pushed down on him. Actually, there’s clearly a lot of discussion and work to be had to figure out the how, and that’s what the minister was referring to. I actually had a very specific question: Can the minister tell us the reduction according to the minister’s analysis? What is the reasoning behind this government’s push? I’m hearing a little bit that it was a sound bite that they wanted to put out there.
I’m actually trying to get information to say if there is no change, and Nova Scotia Power’s plan runs out in, I think, 2040, with some decommissionings along the way, in the 2030 range, the government has now issued a directive to do it full stop in 2030. That’s an admirable goal. I’m just trying to ask the minister: Under the full stop, what are the greenhouse gas emissions that will be avoided by letting the plan play out to 2040? I don’t hear an answer from the minister. I assume the minister probably doesn’t know, which would be a shame. I would like to try to ask the question again: What is the impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the full stop at 2030 versus the methodical plan over time to 2040?
Clearly there are moving parts. Natural gas still has greenhouse gas emissions. I’m just trying to ask the minister: What are the greenhouse gas emissions that can be avoided by following on the 2030? That’s all. It’s a simple question. Hopefully, there’s a direct answer.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. Minister, if you are talking to us, we’re not hearing you.
KEITH IRVING: Thank you. All my words of wisdom have gone into the ether.
With respect to the details with Nova Scotia Power, I’ve got some rough numbers here. I think it would be best, probably, if the member is looking for accurate information and specific numbers, to deal with the Department of Energy and Mines. I’ll have my staff work to get some more specific numbers there for you. I think it’s important to recognize that we will have two options here. One is to get off coal by transitioning some of our power to be natural gas, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there’s also possibilities, again, with the Atlantic Loop, so that we can skip natural gas as a transition fuel. Those are the discussions that are under way.
I believe we have eight coal‑fired boilers. Some could go to natural gas, but we may, with the Atlantic Loop and talking with our partners, be able to skip that altogether. Again, these discussions are under way. The eventual path and solutions are not obviously firmed up to the point that I can be definitive with you.
TIM HOUSTON: In terms of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County, I’m wondering if the minister can provide some clarity: Should the owners submit a new application for a new treatment facility, how would such an application be assessed by the department?
KEITH IRVING: Right now, Northern Pulp has an application in front of us and the department has come back and requested a full report needing additional information. That is what is in the hands of the department right now, or what has been requested from the department. We are waiting for that. The deadline for that is April 28, 2022. If the company decides to go a different route, then they need to submit something and we will then assess what the regulatory process will be, depending on what they submit.
TIM HOUSTON: I guess that’s what I’m trying to ‑ that last comment is exactly what I am trying to understand. The minister said that the department will determine how to assess something, based on what it gets. It’s almost like somebody at home used the analogy that they are going to decide how to grade the homework, depending on the homework that comes in. Well, really, the grading key should be the grading key, no matter the homework ‑ the response to the question.
Maybe the minister can just explain to us why it is that the department would not be very definitive. This is a major application with potentially lots ‑ we’ve heard the concerns around the fishery. We’ve heard the concerns around the air. Why wouldn’t the department be so definitive as to say this is the standard we require, and make that at a level that people can be comfortable with.
So the department has some options. They could say Class 1, Class 2. They could say it’s going to be a federal thing. They could do whatever, but I don’t understand why the department would be saying, well, let’s wait and see what they submit and then we’ll go from there.
I would like to ask the minister: Can the minister not confirm that there are some criteria that would say this is an important project so we are going to have the highest standard and this is what we will do, no matter what is submitted? Maybe the minister can provide some clarity on why the department wouldn’t be very definitive on the standard that has to be met.
KEITH IRVING: Every project that comes before the department is assessed on what that project is. At this point, we have no information from the proponent on what that project is, how extensive it is, how much different it is from the project that we’ve asked for additional information on.
So, until we get something in writing, knowing what the ‑ a new project, if it is, in fact, a new project, it would be inappropriate for me to be saying how we would be dealing with that in a regulatory manner. Again, we need information from the proponent in which to take a look at what they are proposing and then make decisions based on that.
TIM HOUSTON: It’s interesting to me that the department wouldn’t be taking all the steps necessary to give Nova Scotians comfort and assurance that no matter what comes forward, it will be scrutinized to the very highest level. We’ve seen before - I was an early proponent of a Class 2 assessment years ago because it’s a higher level of standard and I felt more scrutiny could give more comfort to the community.
This government decided to go with a Class 1 that kind of moved and moved and moved and moved and moved when they had an opportunity to say it’s going to be a Class 2 right away. They also had another opportunity to say it could be a federal. And yet, here we are with all this, and the department still doesn’t seem to understand the importance of giving a strong message to Nova Scotians. The government will do its job - but we’ll park that, because I can see where that’s going.
I do have a couple of questions about the marquee environmental policy that this government came out with. I guess maybe it’s - I don’t know. It’s one or two. One was the biodiversity bill, and we all know - we don’t need to rehash what happened there - but the other one, the very, very first announcement that this government made - and I believe the minister was in attendance at the announcement - was the rebate for electric vehicles.
I’d like to ask the minister: How many different vehicle types does the rebate that’s been announced apply to, and how many of those vehicle types can you actually buy in Nova Scotia today? That might be the more specific question.
KEITH IRVING: First of all, just back to the closing comments before that question was put forward. I want all Nova Scotians to know that the Department of Environment and Climate Change does not change its standards. We will look at every project based on its merits and apply the best science and latest available knowledge to ensure that as we review this, any environmental concerns are known and we are assured that the proponent has a plan to mitigate those.
That is the high standard that this department holds itself to. I want Nova Scotians to be confident that that will take place with any and all projects that come into this department for review.
With respect to your question on the electric vehicles, I don’t have the specific number of vehicles, but they are all electric vehicles under $55,000, new or used, as well as plug-in hybrids. Of course, there’s the rebate for e-bikes as well.
TIM HOUSTON: Would the minister be surprised to learn that there are only a couple - literally a couple - of vehicles that would meet the criteria that you can actually purchase in Nova Scotia today? Did the minister do any type of research? I know he was present at the announcement, so what we’re trying to find out is if this policy will actually have an impact. It was the first policy announcement of the new Premier and the new government. I’m just trying to understand if there was actually any substance to the announcement.
I’ll just ask again. What options would I have today if I went to buy a vehicle, trying to take advantage of this rebate? Any sense? Is it under five vehicles, minister? Is it under 10 vehicles? Is it 100 vehicle types? Is there any sense from the minister as to what it would actually apply to?
KEITH IRVING: There are certainly more than five out there. I think what’s important to note is that this is the beginning of the transition through the whole auto industry. Over the coming months and years, many car manufacturers are moving more and more of their vehicles to electric and plug-in hybrids.
I know for a fact that the Kia Soul is out there. I actually test drove the Hyundai in New Minas. There’s the Chevy Volt. There’s the entry-level Tesla. Again, more and more vehicles are coming online. I’ve been watching Volkswagen as well, who have their ID.4, which is due out in the next year or two. It has been delayed a bit by COVID-19 and a factory that couldn’t open in the U.S., but they’re beginning to advertise those as well.
I think it’s really important to recognize the importance of this rebate. There are two provinces that are getting access to electric vehicles, and that’s B.C. and Quebec. The majority of that stock goes to those two provinces because there’s not only the federal rebate but a provincial rebate. In fact, in B.C. 10 per cent of cars being driven off the car lots now are electric vehicles.
If we are going to begin this transition, we don’t want to be the last province to have access for Nova Scotians to begin to electrify their transportation needs and decrease their greenhouse gases. Us getting to the table with this rebate will now bring more cars into Nova Scotia to those car lots so that Nova Scotians have access to them. This is important.
We now have some information. There are actually 10 models that are available in the province presently. I’ll leave it at that.
TIM HOUSTON: I’d ask the minister if he can table the list of the vehicles and the price range - obviously vehicle purchases are kind of negotiated, and there are different times, but just the price range. If the minister could table the list of vehicles that are available today and the price range of those vehicles or share that with the House today, that would be great.
Just for the last couple of minutes, I’m going to pass it back to my colleague.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank.
BRAD JOHNS: Madam Chair, through you to the minister, I note that even with rebates that are being proposed that have come forward and been announced, electric vehicles (EVs) are still relatively expensive. I’m curious to know what plan is in place that would make electric vehicles more affordable to lower household incomes, to middle-class families?
KEITH IRVING: You can find information on the vehicles that are eligible at EVAssist.ca, and as well keep your eyes open, because there are more models coming online each year.
To your question - and again, I pointed this out on Friday - one key element in the program that we announced is that there is $2,000 toward used vehicles. When we did the announcement at All EV in Dartmouth, which is a dealer specializing in used vehicles, I believe I saw sticker prices on the windshield for a two- or three-year-old car at $32,000.
I think as well it’s important in terms of thinking about the affordability of these cars. They may be more in terms of their capital cost, in terms of the price tag on the car, but I think every one of us, when we are evaluating what we can afford, it’s not only the capital. It’s the operational costs. If you’ve got car payments and gas payments for your traditional gas car, they add up to a number, particularly if you’re financing in a monthly way. Now think about if you’re going to pay a little bit more for the capital cost of the car, but the car is costing you significantly less on the operation. The Hyundai that I drove had a sticker on the side of the window that said this is equivalent to two litres per hundred kilometres. When I measure that against the 8.3 or 8.4 that I get in my current car, that’s decreasing my operational costs, my gas costs, by over 75 per cent. That is a significant savings over the life of a car. As well, electric cars have lower maintenance costs with respect to oil changes and those kinds of things that we find in the traditional combustion engine.
I think it’s worthwhile for all Nova Scotians to take a very serious look at electric cars. Even though their sticker price is more, look at the rebates and how that brings the cost down, and then look at what your monthly operating costs will be. Then you have the added benefit of being a citizen on this planet who is doing something for the environment and decreasing your greenhouse gas emissions from your transportation sector.
For me, this is the beginning of a very important transition away from the combustion engine, and the sooner we can do this, the better. For instance, the average car . . .
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The time allotted for the PC caucus has elapsed. We will now move to the NDP caucus for one hour.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
GARY BURRILL: Sorry, minister, for you to be interrupted mid-sentence.
I’m happy to ask some questions this afternoon on behalf of the NDP caucus. I congratulate the minister on his appointment, and I recognize that Environment and Climate Change is a world of sincere commitment for him. Out of our shared commitment, I want to direct some questions first to the world of the Sustainable Development Goals Act.
The minister knows that in our Party, we have been for some time anxious to see this Act brought into force. We understand that a delay in completing its regulations was to be expected in some measure because of the pandemic, and yet the ongoing delay, the expanse of the delay, is a real concern.
I want to ask first: Knowing that that pandemic was going to make in-person consultations pretty problematic for some length of time, why did the department not ask Clean Foundation for a virtual public consultation framework or plan much sooner than they did?
KEITH IRVING: We’ve actually been working with Clean Nova Scotia over the past year and are very close now to getting our consultation out. I’m very excited about it - some of the ideas of having different ways for people to participate in the consultation. As the member has indicated, this is important work and these will be important goals for us to set as a province. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing from Nova Scotians. I know there are many Nova Scotians concerned and energized to get going on issues of climate change. People want action, and we are taking action, but it does make sense for us to get a plan in place.
The consultation will include, obviously, the Sustainable Development Goals Act, as you have asked about, but we are also bringing forward a climate change plan for clean growth that will be part of that consultation discussion. As I say, we have a lot of interest in Nova Scotia, and a lot of expertise that can add value to the discussion as we fine-tune our regulations and get our climate change plan in place.
I am really excited. You know, when you look at the federal climate change plan that was released in December, it sort of gives you some visibility on the opportunities that are here in terms of working closely with the federal government. That plan can really feed into ours so that we can nicely dovetail our goals, our policies, and our programs to align with the federal plan.
We need to all be working together - I guess what I’m saying here - both the citizens, in terms of how they change their lifestyles and move to electric cars, as we talked about earlier, and then how businesses and all levels of government work together to take a really concerted, focused effort. This decade, the decade of the 2020s, will be the decade of really meaningful change with respect to climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
GARY BURRILL: Well, I certainly understand about all of that, about the opportunities and the meaningfulness of it, but I am asking a much more specific question. Why did the department decide - what was the rationale for not having asked the Clean Foundation to bring forward a program, a plan, a framework for that public consultation much sooner than was done?
KEITH IRVING: Again, we have been in conversations with Clean, asking them for their ideas on bringing forward a process that we can use virtually with Nova Scotians. I do want to also inform the member that we have also been engaging in stakeholder discussions around this. The consultation will be very much focused on the public, but we will be continuing our conversations with stakeholders.
GARY BURRILL: Would it then be possible for the department, Minister, to provide a list of those who have been involved in the stakeholder consultations to this point? And about the plans, who is actually going to be involved in the plans for those stakeholder consultations going forward?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, we would be happy to share that with the honourable member. As we spoke about in front of the House, I did reach out to the member and to the critic from the PCs - I want to get your ideas as well as we put the finishing touches on this consultation plan.
Again, this is an important conversation with Nova Scotians, and I am really looking forward to it.
GARY BURRILL: Yes, we are looking forward to it, too. I just want to make sure that I’ve understood, though. The minister is committing to providing a list to our caucus of all the stakeholders who have been consulted to this point and of the projected stakeholder consultation plan going forward?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, I would be happy to share that with you.
GARY BURRILL: Thank you. That would be great.
The minister mentioned that in the Sustainable Development Goals Act, the whole consideration about the Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth and how that is a plan for achieving goals in the whole area of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Again, there’s a problem about the delay. The legislation calls for the implementation of the strategic plan by December 31st last year. Can the minister provide the explanation for why we’re held up on bringing forward the Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth?
KEITH IRVING: I think the response to this question is not going to be a surprise to the member or to any Nova Scotian. Obviously, the focus in this past year on COVID-19 has been dominant throughout all arms of government, so it’s obviously a significant part of us not being able to deliver on that December 31st deadline.
I’m pleased to be able to tell you here that things have moved into a higher gear in this last eight weeks as I’ve become minister, and I’m extremely excited that in the coming weeks we’ll be having those conversations with Nova Scotians.
GARY BURRILL: Thinking further about the Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth, amongst the things that the Act sets out that the plan needs to speak to is achieving the greenhouse gas emissions targets set out elsewhere in the Act. One of the things that is bringing the targets in the Act into question at the moment, of course, is the developing pending project around Pieridae Energy and Goldboro LNG.
I want to ask if the minister has been in any conversations with either Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) or Pieridae about emissions that would be associated with that project when it begins operations, relative to our developing the Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth and its necessity to keep those GHG emissions within the caps set out in the Act itself.
KEITH IRVING: I have not been in any discussions with NRCan or Pieridae on that project. I think it’s fair to say that we don’t know where that project is actually going to land. Obviously, the news that you have heard, that I have heard, is that they have stated at this point that it is not economically feasible and they’ll be making a decision by June. At that point, we can assess what we’re dealing with with respect to that project.
We’ve designed our cap-and-trade program. It is in place right now up until 2022. We’re presently looking at how that cap-and-trade program would work beyond 2022, and certainly, if there’s information that comes to us in June, we can take that into account as we modify, if necessary, our cap-and-trade program going forward.
GARY BURRILL: I’m interested in understanding the minister’s thinking about this. We know that the government has expressed itself enthusiastically, particularly the Premier, about the possibility of the development of the Pieridae project going forward. We also know that the project, as presently constituted, projects 3.7 megatonnes of GHG emitted on an annual basis. Our understanding is that unless there is something that Pieridae would be able to negotiate in terms of credits, that 3.7 megatonnes could not but take us beyond the limit of GHG emissions that is set forward in the Act itself.
I’m wondering what the minister’s thinking is about this subject and this developing contradiction.
KEITH IRVING: Again, as I said before, we don’t even have a project and we won’t know that until June, until we sort of see what we’ve got there and what their plans are, in terms of its output, its carbon capture, its participation in cap-and-trade, et cetera. It’s a bit premature for us to have a specific response to the question that you are looking for me to answer.
It is a project that has significant economic value, which the Premier has spoken to, that needs to be considered. If we do have a project come June, we will then assess how we will deal with the potential emissions from that project and work with our federal counterparts and our greenhouse gas targets to integrate it into a plan going forward beyond 2022.
GARY BURRILL: Well, I understand that - no application, no general orientation to an application - yet this is not really the approach that the Premier has taken in the course of this session. When the Premier has been asked about the general lay of his thinking on Pieridae Goldboro LNG, he has been very clear that he sees it as a project of enormous potential economic benefit. He has spoken about it on more than one occasion, in the House and with media, as a general framework of project development that he would embrace. There hasn’t been any shying back or vacillation at all or unclarity about that.
I think we know the answer to the question of the lay of the Premier’s thinking about Pieridae Goldboro at this point. We even know the answer to the question of the lay of the Premier’s thinking about Pieridae Goldboro relative to that 3.7 megatonnes. He has spoken to that.
So I don’t think it’s out of line for me to ask the minister again - understanding, of course, that the details of the matter require the application that the minister is speaking about, but in general, I’m asking: What is the contour of the minister’s thinking about this emerging at least potential contradiction that the one legislated target we’ve got in the Sustainable Development Goals Act is that GHG target, and this project, by 2026, stands poised to - at least on the face of it, as it has been presented to this point, from any angle - as one expert has said, blow that target out of the water?
I think it’s a fair question to ask the minister: What is the general sense of his thinking about this problem?
KEITH IRVING: I think I’ve given you as much as I can at this point in time. I’d ask you to recognize that I’m the regulator on this project. I think at this point all I can say to you with respect to this project is that when we actually have a project in in June, then we will be able to assess that against our greenhouse gas targets and come forward with a plan to deal with that.
GARY BURRILL: Thinking further in the SDGA, I wanted to ask the minister about the round table. We have recently had the rollout of 12 new appointments, and this brings the number at the moment to 15 people on the round table. Can the minister say how long it is that there were unfilled vacancies on that round table prior to those March appointments?
KEITH IRVING: My staff are trying to dig that information up for you. We do know that it varies. I can certainly tell you that we have 15 members who have been in place for two weeks. I’m looking forward to getting to work with them. We’ll try and get the answer for you.
GARY BURRILL: If that isn’t something that the staff would be able to generate today, if they’d be good enough to forward the answer to that to our NDP caucus office, that would be terrific.
Thinking more about the round table, I want to ask the minister a question or two around the controversial appointment of Jeff Bishop to the round table. The minister would know that our Party, through the member for Dartmouth South, in Standing Committee has raised some concerns about the appropriateness of this appointment.
I want to be as clear as I can about this. Raising these questions has nothing to do with the substantive question about what Mr. Bishop may or may not be able to bring to a consultation about the environment. That’s not what’s at issue. What’s at issue is the seminal role, the central role, of Mr. Bishop’s organization, Forest Nova Scotia, in the campaign to - I don’t think it’s unfair to say - belittle and attack the legislation that the government has brought forward on biodiversity.
In particular, it seems to me that the lobbying campaign out of this organization did not promote the kind of conversation that we need to be having on environmental issues in Nova Scotia. The notion, if I could quote that campaign, of Halifax activists, with a capital A, having some quite, as that campaign envisioned it, diabolical designs on the people of rural Nova Scotia - ads to this effect run in exceedingly high rotation in radio stations and so on through the province. I fail to see how the mission of the Department of Environment and Climate Change has been at all advanced by the way that the environmental conversation was impacted by that program organized and funded through Mr. Bishop’s organization.
I want to ask the minister if, in light of that campaign - which surely he will agree with me did not advance democratic discussion about the environment and biodiversity in Nova Scotia - has he had any second thoughts about whether or not that is a judicious or appropriate appointment?
KEITH IRVING: I’m very happy that you’ve asked this question, because it has been talked about in the House, and I think it gets at an extremely important element of the discussion that we need to have.
The round table is from a diversity of backgrounds. That’s what we need, what I as minister need, so we have reached out to industry, we have reached out to NGOs for representatives, and we have reached out to citizens. I don’t think it serves Nova Scotia well to have only like-minded people at the table. We need to have the various perspectives at the table to make good decisions. Mr. Bishop, representing one organization, is one of 15 people at the table.
It was actually during the debate on the Biodiversity Act that I became more convinced it was the right decision to have that representation at the table. The debate about biodiversity in the House was fulsome with fear and rhetoric and the politics of division. I think if we’re going to make headway on environmental issues, we need all perspectives at the table, whether we agree with them or not. It gives us an opportunity to inform each other of those various perspectives, and that’s the only way we’re going to - if we go into the climate challenge or ecological forestry at loggerheads all the time, separating people into two camps, then that discussion uses so much energy, having the two camps fight. Why not have them at the table to work together, to begin to have conversations and understandings about their perspectives?
I think it’s really important that we have everyone at the table, whether we agree with them or not. I know people who don’t agree with some of the views of other people at that table. I’m not going to remove them the table because some people don’t agree with them. For me, it’s extremely important for the round table to have these diverse perspectives and an opportunity to learn and listen as opposed to getting into the trenches in a war. To me, it’s really important.
GARY BURRILL: What the minister said here plainly makes sense, and certainly it is always a benefit to have diversity and a variety of perspectives. Yet I think that the work of a body as important as the round table also requires that its members share some core sense of respect for other viewpoints themselves, and also some minimal level of respect for accuracy of information. It seems to me that that was not evident in the Stop Bill 4 campaign, and it is for that reason, not because I’m against a diversity of voices, that in our Party we have questioned whether or not this was an appropriate appointment.
I would like to go to what is in many ways the most important part of the Sustainable Development Goals Act, and that is the greenhouse gas emissions reductions limits themselves. In the debate over the legislation, the core question was whether or not that 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 is in keeping with Nova Scotia’s proper share of meeting the Paris Accord agreements. The primary disagreement between the government and our Party at that time was, and it remains our view, that Nova Scotia’s share of the Paris Accord agreement requires a more aggressive target in the order of 58 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.
In the course of this debate about which was the proper number, Minister Wilson, the minister at that time, said several times: look, the target is going to remain as it is in the legislation, but people should be mindful that a review is going to be taken within five years. Now I am presuming that the minister was referring then to the round table’s public review of the Act that the Act calls for in Section 13, but there is a problem here that I would ask the minister to speak to.
The problem is that according to the Act, at least as it seems to me on a plain reading of it, that particular review does not have to happen until five years after the proclaimed Act is brought into force. We are at 2021 now, so the very earliest that that review could come legitimately, according to the Act on the table, would be 2026. I think the minister would agree with me that 2026 is too late for an effective review of the adequacy of the GHG emission targets in the legislation, and that, in fact, if in Nova Scotia it turns out that the position taken by the NDP was the correct one and a couple of years from now we see that we actually have got to get that target up to a 58 per cent of 2005 level by 2030, it is going to be very difficult to do that in the time that will be remaining between that five-year review and 2030. I’m very interested to hear the minister’s thinking about this problem.
When we’ve asked the Premier about this in the House, we asked him if he would see that the target was given an immediate review, so I’m interested in whether or not the Premier has asked the minister to look into this subject at all.
KEITH IRVING: I certainly understand where the honourable member is coming from. It is part of the discussion worldwide around climate change, and that is interim targets and how we are on the path to a net zero by 2050. I think it is fair to say that our 2030 target, and other jurisdictions that are putting in 2030 targets, you know, that’s the interim step to net zero at 2050.
I think it is important, the point that is raised by the member, that we keep a very, very close eye on progress on our greenhouse gas reductions and not try to do it all in 2029, as you have alluded to.
With respect to your comments on the five‑year review, the Act says, in actual fact, “(a) no later than five years after this Act comes into force; and (b) at any other time, as needed.” So that gives me as minister, along with the round table, an opportunity to examine the appropriate time. Obviously, the legislation is firm on five years, so that is the outside window, but it certainly does give us an opportunity, as we move through this process, to take a look at where we stand perhaps a year or two earlier than 2026 or maybe before. Let’s see how our climate change plan - and that plan may put some intermediate targets and a path that we need to follow to get to 2030 and then eventually to 2050.
There was something else in my head, but I have lost that. Maybe your next question will jog my memory.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We’re going to take our 15-minute break now.
Before we do, I will remind the gentle members to direct your questions through the Chair.
We will be back at 12:55 p.m.
[12:41 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:56 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
GARY BURRILL: First I’d better give the minister a chance to complete his thought that just got away from him there before we finished. Maybe in the process of doing that, the minister would speak further to the comments he just made about how the Act potentially provides for an acceleration of the five-year review. I’m thinking about how conscious everyone is, in all discussions about climate change, about the passage of time, so that when the IPCC’s report burst on the world in 2018 and the 1.5 degrees became a part of the conversation around the world, that conversation was a conversation about how we’ve only got 12 years. Today we’re in a world where we have nine years, so the passage of time is a very critical consideration from the point of view of the war to address climate change.
I want to ask the minister if in fact an accelerated review of the adequacy of the GHG target in the Sustainable Development Goals Act is something that he is willing to give an active and serious consideration to.
KEITH IRVING: Again, I appreciate this question. In Section 13, the Act allows the minister to request the round table no later than five years or at any other time as needed. I think before I make a commitment publicly on when that should be, we need to complete our work on the regulations on the Sustainable Development Goals Act and our climate change plan. That plan may have time frames in it - interim time frames. We don’t know that yet. I think that would be something that I or a minister in the future could evaluate - what is the appropriate time to make sure that we’re on track?
The other thing I just wanted to mention - I did see the bill that the honourable member put forward suggesting that we move to a target of 58 instead of 53. Perhaps Nova Scotians would like to understand where the number 53 came from. Many other jurisdictions are using numbers like 50.
Very simply, that was a calculation for us to meet the hold on temperature to 1.5 to 2 degrees, and what we as Nova Scotians needed to do, and 53 per cent was the math, plain and simple.
Can we do better than that? I hope we can. We have exceeded the 2030 national target of 10 per cent below 2005 levels. We’re at 17.2. That’s a pretty good track record for this province and something that we should celebrate, but we don’t stop there, obviously. We’ve set a new target of 53 per cent - sorry, that was 17.2 per cent from 1990 levels, and the target was 10 per cent. We have met - the 2030 national target of 30 per cent we have achieved already.
We are, in fact, in many cases, in many ways, as you look at these numbers, exceeding our targets, leading other provinces in greenhouse gas reductions, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t continue to have ambitions to continue that, to meet and exceed targets. We’ve set our target at 53 per cent, we’re putting forward our plans to do that, and we can modify that, or we can review that in five years or less. I think that will stand us in good stead as we as Nova Scotians seriously embrace this work and do our part for the planet.
GARY BURRILL: Well, it’s certainly not our purpose this afternoon to revisit the debate on the target in the Act, but at the same time, I don’t want to allow the minister’s contention to stand, that 53 per cent is simply where one gets by doing the math. I would say that this is, in fact, a minority opinion in the field, that the majority opinion looks to numbers much closer to 58 per cent. Regardless of that, there is a wide swath of opinion that does not share the minister’s view that 53 per cent is consistent with the goal of 1.5 degrees within nine years.
I want to conclude our exchange about the Sustainable Development Goals Act just with one question about the part of the Act concerning the Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund. I’m not aware that there have been competitions under this exact program name, but perhaps programs under this name have been proceeding in some other guise. Have there been any such competitions under the Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund, and relatedly, is there any money for the competitions envisioned in the Act in this present budget?
KEITH IRVING: Yes. To date, there’s not been a competition yet under the Challenge Fund, but this will be part of the conversation around the Climate Change Plan for Green Growth. Through that consultation, we can get some ideas and hopefully launch something following that work. That will be funded from the Green Fund and looking forward to getting that work underway.
GARY BURRILL: Am I understanding the minister right, then - thank you - that there is money allocated under the Green Fund at the moment for these challenges under the Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund?
KEITH IRVING: The Department of Energy and Mines is doing some work on this front, as well, in terms of some programs to work with communities, but our work on the Challenge Fund will be funded from the Green Fund, which will likely flow from our next auction in June - our cap-and-trade auction, which, as you are probably aware, raised about $28.7 million last year in our two auctions. I think one’s in June and one’s in December. In June, we will have some money to begin to put forward to that program, that fund, and other green initiatives that, obviously, will flow out of our climate change plan.
GARY BURRILL: I would like now to ask about the Coastal Protection Act. The minister was speaking about the Coastal Protection Act in his opening statement, and it’s encouraging to hear that regulations under the Act are coming, but it is a concern that the regulations are not in hand while we are moving into another construction season, particularly in the present context of the residential construction and real estate development boom that’s taking place across Nova Scotia.
We know that properties are being snapped up. We even hear of instances where people are moving quickly so they will be able to get something in place before the regulations are installed. I want to ask the minister about the Coastal Protection Act. What are the department and the minister doing to prevent, in this present context, when the regulations are not yet devised, a glut of really unwelcome development on our coastlines?
KEITH IRVING: This Coastal Protection Act is really the first of its kind in its undertaking. The details of it, the regulations, are complex and taking a significant amount of time, both to deal with 13,000 kilometres of coastline, with the various geography and geology. The regulations are meant not to be one size fits all. Certainly, if your coast property is a cliff of granite, what you need to do is going to be completely different if you’re a metre above sea level on a beach.
The staff at Environment and Climate Change have been working through those complexities to get this Act right. It’s an important act, and the conversation around that is important. I know CBC covered this discussion recently, raising the points that you’ve raised here today. I think in the interim period, in which we are putting these regulations in place, it’s important for people to have these conversations and to be raising these questions.
Municipalities are well aware of the Act. They have participated in the consultations. We will be doing more consultations with respect to the regulations. That will assist people to know more thoughtfully what the issues are with respect to them constructing near the coast. It shouldn’t prevent any diligent citizen from making decisions.
It’s important to understand that the insurance industry has seen water as the new fire. I think it’s fair to say that all Canadians understand climate change. It’s related to sea-level rise, and sea-level rise is happening. It is prudent for all landowners near the coast to give very, very serious consideration. I’m certain if they had any questions about this, they could contact the department to get some advice.
As well, municipalities, again, are well aware of the risks associated with building near the coast. It doesn’t preclude citizens from reaching out and getting information as we put the detailed regulations in place, but to hurry them out the door and not have accurate, good information, I don’t think would be serving the public well. We want to do this right and we want to get the best information to municipalities and to citizens.
There is one thing I might take from this conversation and this question that I could commit to: I will ensure that my staff reach out again to municipalities to ensure that they are at least having conversations with people who are looking at building near the coast. There may not be regulations in place that prevents this, but it should not preclude people from having that conversation because if you build there and you build in a risky area, you have a significant part of your net worth at risk. All builders should be looking at that very carefully, whether there are regulations there or not, and you should be having conversations with your insurers to ensure that you can get insurance if you build where you want to build.
The underlying premise here, or the underlying goal here, is to get some regulations that are accurate and helpful to municipalities in their land use planning for builders and owners who have property on the coast.
GARY BURRILL: Thank you. I would like to ask a couple of questions now in the area of land protection and biodiversity. The minister, in his opening remarks, spoke - and I think I’m remembering right - about the goal of 14 per cent. Of course, there are many people, our Parties included, who have real concerns about the level of ambition that 14 per cent reflects. At a time when our national goal is 30 per cent, 14 per cent certainly cannot be described as appropriately ambitious.
I want to ask particularly about where we are on land protection and biodiversity in protected areas. The minister mentioned that his department would be working on a framework to identify areas, particularly those that are identified by Mi’kmaq. I want to ask the minister: Could he clarify if he has been directed to work with the Department of Lands and Forestry on bringing about the legal designation of all the remaining areas that there are now in the 2013 Parks and Protected Areas plan?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, I have been in conversations with my colleague, the Minister of Lands and Forestry, with respect to the Parks and Protected Areas plan. We are hopeful to be bringing forward to Nova Scotians some new nature reserves, wilderness areas, and parks for designation - I’ll say soon - and making further progress.
I think, in terms of the history, I want to speak a little bit more about land protection. The member mentioned a national goal of 30 per cent. I believe the national goal is 25 per cent, and I think it’s important for us to put that in the context of our province and the percentage that we have of Crown land in which to reach out to ‑ I just got corrected here and it’s 25 per cent by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030, so I guess we were both right.
With respect to us being able to reach targets like that, one has to look at how much Crown land we have to be able to actually make those kinds of achievements. That national goal of 25 per cent and 30 per cent is based on a country in which 89 per cent of the land is Crown. There are provinces that are leading in terms of a percentage. I think B.C. is at 20 per cent or so of their land that has been designated, but 94 per cent of B.C. is Crown land. So, you can see that it’s a much easier conversation to have those goals of 25 per cent or 30 per cent when you have 94 per cent of your land as Crown.
In Nova Scotia, with us at 33 per cent, obviously - actually, I think the correct number is 32 per cent, if I remember. For us to designate 30 per cent, we would certainly need a huge amount of help from non-governmental organizations and private landowners that are willing to protect a land. With every 1 per cent of Nova Scotia is 55,000 hectares, so you can see the difference between our new target of 14 per cent in 2025 - that is a significant amount of land that the public would have to purchase or find partners to designate.
I’m not saying I’m committing not to do 25 per cent or 30 per cent, but I’m putting it in the context for Nova Scotians that it becomes a particular challenge. With only 32 per cent of Nova Scotia as Crown land, we have competing interests. We have Lahey wanting to use that land, and we have interests, obviously, in protection. The Department of Lands and Forestry and the Department of Environment and Climate Change are interested in doing that.
To extend that goal further, I think, is a much broader conversation than picking a number out of a hat - and I don’t mean to suggest that - but to say that the national target of 30 per cent is something that Nova Scotia can achieve, I think that’s going to need a lot more analysis and conversations with Nova Scotia on what is reasonable or what is achievable.
The other thing I want to point out in this conversation about the percentages is that I think it’s important to recognize that when the Parks and Protected Areas plan was issued, the goal was 12 per cent - and beyond, if possible. There were 400-and-some parcels of land, and many of them got designated and got us to the 12 per cent. Then a further goal was set in 2015 by this government to get to 13 per cent. As you know, we recently announced some properties to get us to 13.02 per cent. I think the 60-day consultation should be finished. There does remain work with respect to surveying and research on these various properties, but we’re going to meet that goal.
The next thing now on my plate as minister, as well as the Minister of Lands and Forestry, is the ambition of 14 per cent. There are properties in the Parks and Protected Areas plan that will help us get there, and there have also been properties that we have purchased since 2013 that can assist us to get to 14 per cent.
There’s one fact that I think is important for Nova Scotians to know. Not every piece of property in that Parks and Protected Areas plan can be protected with what we know right now. There are nine properties, I believe it is, in that plan that we don’t own. It’s very difficult for us to protect every piece of property in that plan.
There have been other changes along the way. That means that not every property will be protected, but there is a basket there that we can certainly take the high-priority properties, as well as some of the additional properties that we have purchased. I think we purchased nine additional properties this year. We continue, with the federal funds, with the Challenge Fund that they have put forward, to acquire more ecologically significant properties. We’ll continue to use those funds to add to the Crown land that we have and can potentially protect.
One of the things that I’m getting a little bit more aware of in this role, in this last eight weeks, is the importance of wildlife connection. I think we’ve got to be very strategic in our land acquisitions to see how we can better create those wildlife corridors. As you look at the map of our protected areas, it is very fragmented because we’re an older province that has been divvied up over 250 years. Our opportunities to buy large swaths of land are particularly challenging. We knew it needed to be strategic. I know one of the pieces of property I signed off on was specifically for creating a wildlife corridor across Highway No. 104.
There’s a lot of good work going on, and I’m looking forward to working over the coming months and years to reach the 14 per cent target.
GARY BURRILL: Would the minister please provide a list of those areas in the 2013 Parks and Protected Areas plan that, according to the logic he has just explained, are very, very difficult to provide protection to? I would include in that the nine areas he mentioned, which are not within the province’s ownership, and then he said there were a number of other exceptional circumstances.
Would the Department of Environment and Climate Change be able to provide a list of those areas to our caucus, please?
KEITH IRVING: In fact, if you look into the plan, the plan does identify those nine areas.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. Sorry to interrupt. The time allotted for the NDP caucus has elapsed.
We’ll now move back to the PC caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
TIM HALMAN: Through Madam Chair, good afternoon, minister. Congratulations on your position of being minister of a very, very important portfolio - Environment and Climate Change. As a matter of fact, my kids asked me this morning what I would be doing at the House of Assembly. We talked about climate change, and they’re very pleased to hear that.
As a matter of fact, when I first got elected as an MLA, my oldest child told me, Dad, one day, tear down those smokestacks in Dartmouth. Climate change is the number one issue, especially for a lot of our young Nova Scotians. Minister, I really welcome you in that position. I know it’s such an important role.
I want to take a few moments and discuss a specific lake in east Dartmouth. My other colleagues from Dartmouth have indicated to you how important lakes are to the residents of the City of Lakes. Lake Charles is a very important headwater lake that feeds into the lake ecosystem of Lake Micmac and Lake Banook and Lake William. It is very, very critical to the health of the lake - Lake Charles - in terms of its positioning.
For many, many years we’ve seen discharge going into Lake Charles - sediment or siltation. There’s a quarry in our area and many of the residents feel that that quarry is allowing discharge to go into the lake. As I said, there have been a number of siltation events originating from that operation, or believed to be from that operation. According to the residents along the Waverley Road, it has increased dramatically in both severity and frequency over the last 10 years. Just the other day, after it rained here, I went to take a drive to that area and, yes, you can clearly see the sediment is building up in the lake.
There have been a number of stakeholder meetings over the years to discuss the issue. We have had our partners in the Halifax Regional Municipality, the HRM Department of Energy & Environment, and the Department of Environment and Climate Change. This minister is now the third minister I have raised the issue with. In all fairness, last year, we were going to have his predecessor visit East Dartmouth, but of course COVID‑19 occurred and all those plans just went out the window, so to speak.
The first key question is: As the regulator, can you clarify what are the regulations that the Department of Environment and Climate Change has with respect to the amount of sediment or siltation that’s permitted to go into our lakes in Nova Scotia? Maybe as a part two to that question: When was the last time those regulations were reviewed, the amount of sediment or siltation permitted to go into lakes?
KEITH IRVING: I was just speaking with our enforcement staff on this. My understanding is that the terms and conditions for that quarry ensure that they need to control any dust and siltation that might be admitted from that quarry. They have done a number of investigations there, as I understand it, and in some cases have worked with the owner to make some changes to their operations. Certainly, if there are ongoing concerns, the public should contact the department, so that we can investigate things then. I do know that there’s also other activity in the area and it’s perhaps somewhat difficult to determine the source of some of the complaints. I don’t know about the particular complaints and when they came in, but certainly reach out to the department and we can do another follow-up investigation.
TIM HALMAN: I appreciate the minister’s response. Just as you have described, Minister, that’s where we’ve landed. A lot of people do recognize that this may be multifactorial as to the causation of this. Many of the residents do recognize that. However, these events are still happening. It just happened the other day.
I would like to flag it with you, minister, and with senior staff of the department, that it’s still an ongoing issue, and certainly it’s a discussion I know the community wants to have. They want a solution to this, and rightly so. The health and vitality of our lakes is paramount to the residents of Dartmouth. One of my residents said, in this day and age, where our emphasis very much is looking at every issue through a climate lens, to have that event ‑ those sedimentation or siltation events ‑ happen every couple of days after a major rain event - it’s unacceptable to those residents. Certainly, I want to flag that. It’s an issue, and I think I’ll be reaching out to the department so we can engage in those conversations to work on a solution.
I would like to ask the minister: Would the minister be able to clarify, though, when was the last time the Department of Environment and Climate Change did a review of the amount of sediment or siltation that is permitted to go into our lakes? If you could clarify, maybe, what the regulation is and when was the last time a review took place.
KEITH IRVING: The regulations are that no sediment should be going into our lakes and rivers. That’s where the public should be contacting enforcement and we can take a look at the situation.
TIM HALMAN: I thank the minister for that response. Most certainly I will be encouraging the residents of that part of east Dartmouth to consistently contact the Department of Environment and Climate Change when those events happen.
Okay, just switching gears a little bit but still within the context of lakes. A couple of years ago on Lake Micmac, we had a houseboat just kind of turn up out of nowhere and, certainly, it upset a few residents. I’m sure senior staff may recall that story in the news a couple of years ago. That houseboat is still on Lake Micmac.
It was my understanding that there was going to be some development or updates of regulations for houseboats in our beautiful province. I would wondering if the minister could provide an update for us.
KEITH IRVING: Obviously, in terms of any developments on lakes, I believe that that would be a municipal issue, in terms of their permission for houseboats in HRM. My staff have informed me that one concern that they have been involved in discussing is on‑site disposal of sewage. That is clearly not permitted and certainly would be enforced if anybody had evidence that that was occurring. Again, contact the department if there are any concerns spotted with respect to that.
TIM HALMAN: Just for purposes of clarity, does the province of Nova Scotia have provincial regulations on houseboats, or is that, I guess, delegated to the municipalities?
KEITH IRVING: No, we do not have any specific regulations around houseboats. We do have regulations around sewage disposal, but any buildings on land or on the water would fall to the municipality to regulate. I believe Kings County actually had this issue crop up on Aylesford Lake, as well, and it became a discussion at the municipal level.
TIM HALMAN: Certainly, the issue of that houseboat, specifically on Lake Micmac exposed those gaps in understanding of who is responsible for what, and so forth. It’s actually quite alarming to a certain degree that the province doesn’t have any regulations as it pertains to houseboats, but I do appreciate the minister’s response in clarifying that.
One final question. I have a lot more questions, but I will be passing this off soon to my colleague. One final question has to do with the disposal of hazardous materials. I’ve been thinking a lot about that with respect to the QEII rebuild. As the VG is demolished, and so forth, I’ve often wondered what ‑ as the regulator, what happens with a lot of that material that will be disposed of, specifically things like mercury in the light bulbs. As a regulator, how will the minister be overseeing the disposal of hazardous materials, specifically in the QEII rebuild? Do we have regulations on how mercury needs to be disposed of in the province?
KEITH IRVING: With respect to hazardous materials, we certainly have regulations for most all of them. We do not have for mercury at this point in time, but any hazardous materials would go to approved waste facilities, C&D debris sites, or landfill facilities that have the ability to deal with hazardous waste.
There are certain ones that are permitted to accept asbestos, and I think anyone who has gone to a landfill site sees where you can drop off paints, et cetera. So, yes, that’s hazardous materials.
TIM HALMAN: Just one follow-up to that. Just given the amount of how much mercury can contaminate our fresh water, would it not be prudent for the province to develop regulations for the safe disposal of mercury, especially within the context, of course, of a major demolition of buildings that we are going to see here in the Halifax area? Is the Department of Environment and Climate Change working on developing regulations for the safe disposal of mercury?
KEITH IRVING: The mercury that would be going into any landfill ‑ all the landfills now that - I’ve forgotten the term. When I used to sit on Valley Waste, its Phase 3 or second-generation landfills all have liners in which to contain any waste. Of course, there’s collection of leachate, et cetera, to protect the environment. Those are all very strongly regulated and inspected.
As well, we are now transitioning away from mercury in lightbulbs. I do take your point - with a demolition. I will speak to staff, this being a government project, to see what can be done to ensure that we deal with any potential mercury on a project of that size. I think it’s a fair point that you make.
TIM HALMAN: Of course, respectfully, Minister, just flagging an issue that I’ve observed, and have had some conversations with some environmentalists regarding that. I just think it should be on the radar screen.
Before I pass this off to my colleague, I just want to give a shout-out to my constituency assistant, Brianna Faulkner, and my other constituency assistant, Claire Belliveau. I think every single one of us MLAs will acknowledge just how critical they are in the operations of our constituencies. A shout-out to them, and Madam Chair, through you, Minister, thank you for your time.
I pass this now to the member for Queens-Shelburne.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
KIM MASLAND: Good morning, minister. Congratulations on your appointment to cabinet. That must be extremely exciting for you. I know you’ve worked very hard.
Just one question today. I wrote to you in February and still haven’t received a response, but I know it’s been very busy for you in the first couple of months. My question is about Coffin Island in Queens County.
Minister, your government announced in February its intention to protect 20 new sites to achieve the goal of protecting 13 per cent of its land. Commendable, but Coffin Island has been on that list as a site to be designated as a nature reserve since 2013, and there’s been no movement by government.
Can you please advise, minister, the reasons why Coffin Island continues to sit on a list as pending approval, and when it will finally receive its designation?
KEITH IRVING: Coffin Island is in the plan, as you point out. It is still under consideration. It has some land title issues that have prevented it from coming to the top of the list at this point, but there’s still - to my knowledge - an intention that that will be protected.
KIM MASLAND: When you say land title issues, would those land title issues need to be cleared through the Department of Lands and Forestry?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, it would be Lands and Forestry. It needs to be done to get everything in place. All of these protected areas need up-to-date or current legal surveys. Land title issues dealt with would be probably the case with an island property, but maybe it is. Some of the properties that are in that Parks and Protected Areas land have camps that have arrangements or an ATV trail through to somebody’s private piece of land. That’s where these things get a little bit more complex in terms of designating them. We’re hard at work on that list, the Minister of Lands and Forestry and myself, and we’re looking forward to making an announcement on some additional properties soon.
KIM MASLAND: Just to follow up the response, Minister, I did ask the same question in Estimates to the Minister of Lands and Forestry because I was told that, basically, your department and the Department of Lands and Forestry work very closely and jointly together on moving ahead on these projects. When I asked the minister of Lands and Forestry, he didn’t really have anything to offer, that it had been brought forward to the department. In closing, this is very important to the people of Queens County, and I hope that you will be able to accelerate this and maybe bring up with the minister and his department that this can be done.
Saying that, I’ll now pass my time over to the member for Cumberland North.
THE CHAIR: The member for Cumberland North, with 10 minutes before the break.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I would like to ask the minister if his department is aware of the Chignecto Isthmus Climate Change Adaptation Comprehensive Engineering and Feasibility Study that is being completed in collaboration with the province of New Brunswick and the federal government, looking at the rebuilding of 35 kilometres of dykes along the Chignecto Isthmus. I’ve asked other departments, but I have not been able to find a department that has taken ownership of this study and the work that’s going to need to be done. I’m wondering if the minister can let me know if his department will be taking responsibility for this.
KEITH IRVING: Staff advise me that we are aware of it. It’s with the Department of Transportation and Active Transit.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: The minister is likely aware of the challenges that we’re currently faced with at the Nova Scotia border. I know his department is responsible for the staff at the Nova Scotia border.
I have sent a few emails. It’s been a problem for the last 13 months, but I get complaints daily since the change of staff that happened in January. There was a staffing change from professional conservation officers to lay people. My staff here at the office get complaints almost daily - definitely in the last week we have received several a day - including allegations of harassment and bullying. I have received phone calls from our surgeons, from our nurses, from our respiratory technicians. For some reason, our health care workers seem to be - either they’re being more targeted, being harassed and bullied at the Nova Scotia border when they come across or when they’re going home, or maybe those health care professionals just know that it’s not acceptable and they are maybe more confident in bringing the concerns forward. I have had complaints from parents whose students have been harassed and bullied at the border too, but those students are not comfortable coming forward and have just chosen not to even attend classes because they don’t want to be exposed to that.
I’m wondering if the minister could share with me what steps his department is taking to stop these problems that are currently happening at the border.
KEITH IRVING: I appreciate the member bringing forward the concerns of her constituents. I did see your recent email outlining, I think, about three cases, and those are concerning. I have had a conversation with my staff to look into it.
The border liaison officers have been an important part of protecting Nova Scotians. They have been trained, but, again, I can’t speak for the actions of every one of them at the border. I have asked that our staff follow up on those complaints.
Obviously, we are all tired. There is a certain amount of frustration and, I can imagine, a lack of patience at the border by citizens who are needing to cross there on a daily basis. I know we went through something this week in terms of changing the coloured chits that were needed to happen because of some changes to the public health order. My understanding is we kind of got through that little rough patch with respect to that, the delays that were caused - I think it was last Thursday.
To your point about feelings of harassment, I don’t think anyone in the public should be having those interactions and feeling that way. I’ve asked the staff to look into that and I am certain that you can raise that with local staff on the ground. I’ve talked to our director about following up on those complaints. If there are actions by border liaison officers that are deemed inappropriate, then we will deal with that.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I will say - I mentioned this in a previous speech - that when the conservation officers were the ones staffing the border, I had zero complaints. So, from March 23rd until January, I never received one complaint, but when the staffing changes occurred ‑ and I will say the manager responsible has been very professional and has handled each and every complaint that our office has shared with her, but unfortunately, we are still getting the complaints and, as I mentioned to the minister, they really escalated in the last few days.
I am just going to read this for an example: The border guards grilled me and gave me a paper to memorize the rules and report the rules back to them after a few
minutes. They also asked to see my driver’s licence and I showed them a business card. They continued to grill me. They asked to see my driver’s licence again and then I asked them if they were police officers, but they didn’t answer. I could not leave until they made me report back to them what the rules were. They told me the sticker was not current and gave me a new one. This is very intimidating and I would consider it harassment.
I have other complaints where they were told that they weren’t given a pass until they memorized and recited the travel protocol. Keeping in mind, minister, that these are our health care professionals, correctional officers, teachers, people who have been crossing the border to go to work for 13 months now. Yes, everyone is tired, but people do not expect to be treated in a disrespectful and unprofessional manner as they are going either home from work or going to work.
I would like to see the minister take direct action, direct steps to stop this. My question for the minister is: What should I be telling people, other than sharing with the manager, what should I be directing to the residents who are issuing these complaints? Is there a place where they can make a formal complaint of harassment and bullying?
THE CHAIR: Before I recognize the honourable minister, I will just remind the member for Cumberland North to please table that email that she has read with the Clerk. There are two minutes remaining.
The honourable Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
KEITH IRVING: You’ve referenced the Environment official on the ground there who you’ve been working with. Please take all complaints to her. She will address them and follow up on them. I’ll ensure that the director of enforcement touches base with the area person on the ground to follow up and ensure that the complaints are followed up with, and see if there are any additional training or resources needed to correct any situations, following an investigation.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We will take our 15-minute COVID‑19 break. We will return at 2:10 p.m.
[1:55 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:11 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The honourable member for Cumberland North.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I would like to share my time now with my colleague from Sydney River‑Mira‑Louisbourg.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Sydney River‑Mira‑Louisbourg.
BRIAN COMER: Minister, my first question is just regarding noise pollution, specifically related to . . .
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We don’t see the member for Sydney River‑Mira ‑Louisbourg’s image. There we go. We could hear you but not see you.
BRIAN COMER: My first question to the minister is in regard to noise pollution at the Donkin Mine. Just to give the minister a little bit of history about the mine, it closed back in March of 2020 - kind of when COVID‑19 was sort of ramping up, I guess you would say, in Canada and across the world - due to some roof falls and some geological conditions and commodity prices and things of that nature. The noise pollution has been an issue for about 18 to 19 months, since I have been elected, anyway. It’s a significant issue impacting the residents in neighbouring communities. I know I have written to your predecessor. I have also written to the federal minister of this portfolio.
I guess we’re getting to the point now where the residents are really starting to feel some health impacts of the continuous noise, ranging from tinnitus to vertigo to stress, lack of sleep, and things of that nature. It’s a really significant issue. It has actually gotten to the point where there’s now a community group that has formed a coalition with a specific mandate, I guess you would say, to address the noise. I know members of this coalition are quite well-educated and well-versed in noise pollution. They even went as far as to offer potential solutions with a company in the United Kingdom that specializes in industrial noise and vibration management.
I know I have worked closely here with the office in Sydney with compliance. They’re doing the best that they can, and they have been great to work with, to be honest. We need some help, I guess you would say, basically.
I think my goal today is to try to get you to commit to meet with me, whether it’s virtually or what have you, in a timely fashion to maybe sit down to discuss this issue to a point where we can maybe resolve a solution. My first question would be: Would the minister be willing to do that? What are your thoughts on a potential third-party solution to this issue?
KEITH IRVING: I did see the honourable member’s email, which I think came in within the last couple of days. My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. If I had done that, you might not have had a question for me, so it gives us an opportunity to chat.
I’m very happy to sit down and look for options that might assist the situation or assist your constituents in finding some kind of resolution. Our staff, as I think you’re aware, has gone out to the location that is of concern. I don’t think it comes as any - I think it would surprise most people that we’re talking about an area that’s seven kilometres away from the mine. It does, obviously, indicate that at the mine source it must be fairly loud or the wind’s blowing fairly hard.
Our staff did investigate it and I think, as you’re aware, it met the terms and conditions of the permit granted, through the industrial approval granted to the mine. I don’t know where the solution may land on this, but I’m certainly happy to sit down with you and hear the ideas from your constituents. I know some containers were tried unsuccessfully, but maybe you’ve got some other ideas here that we could investigate and share with the Department of Energy and Mines as well - and the company - to see if we can come up with some mitigation. Again, happy to meet with you on it.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. Just a reminder to all members to refer your questions through the Chair.
The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
BRIAN COMER: I guess my question for the minister is, based on the sheer volume of - from a public health standpoint and from the community health standpoint of the residents - would this warrant a specific situation that would expedite the timelines of getting this situation resolved? This past weekend, I’ve had two more correspondences to my office from two new constituents, actually. It’s still clearly impacting residents - and different residents, which kind of concerns me - in different geographical areas in relation to the mine.
I don’t know - I just wonder - I just worry about the health implications and how up-to-date the noise pollution regulations are in our province, and what that research shows about the implications that long-term white noise can have on the health of a community population. I’m just curious to hear the minister’s thoughts on that, Madam Chair.
KEITH IRVING: I’m just having a brief discussion with my staff here. We’re just exploring whether some of the studies done on wind turbines might help us examine this issue more closely.
My understanding is that these fans need to run in terms of the safety of the mines. I think as long as that mine has an open shaft, that’s not a solution for us at the moment. It certainly does raise the question about whether our noise regulations in our terms and conditions are adequate, given what we’re learning from this. Obviously, this is a new situation that hasn’t occurred before. At the very least, we can be looking at this situation in terms of future mines and what is acceptable noise levels.
Let’s sit down and have a conversation. Bring forward the ideas from your constituents, and we’ll see if there’s anything that we might be able to do with the owners of the mine and with the Department of Energy and Mines to see if we can mitigate the situation.
BRIAN COMER: I’ll be definitely looking forward to a correspondence to set up the meeting. On that note, Madam Chair, I’m going to hand things over to my colleague, the MLA for Kings North.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Kings North.
JOHN LOHR: I appreciate the opportunity to ask the Minister of Environment and Climate Change a few questions and note that we were elected at the same time and he has waited very patiently for his role in Cabinet here, so my congratulations to him on this important role for our province.
I just want to ask a few questions specifically about the budget. I notice a $500,000 increase in the Western Region, in your programs and services, on Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement. I am just wondering if you can tell me what that budget increase is about and what is happening in the Western Region that it takes such a significant jump in funding, especially when some of the other regions are actually going down?
KEITH IRVING: I appreciate the comments of congratulations from my colleague from Kings North.
I’m just consulting here with staff. We are fairly certain that this is just a realignment of some staff out of the Central Zone into the Western Zone. That just moved money from one area ‑ staff and their associated budgeting - from one area to the other.
JOHN LOHR: I guess that is not particularly clear. I think when the public thinks of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Minister, they have a certain set of thoughts about that but, in fact, the level of activity and what the Department of Environment and Climate Change does is fairly broad.
I’m just wondering if you could take me through some of the different types of things the Department of Environment and Climate Change would be doing in Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement. What would be the major ‑ maybe from the major to the minor - I’m sure you know what is your number one area of compliance, inspection, and - down through your ‑ in terms of your internal budget, what occupies most of the work to some of the more minor parts of what are important parts of what you do?
KEITH IRVING: I am not embarrassed that I didn’t have the answer on the top of my tongue because it challenged my staff as well. I don’t have specific envelopes and the sizes of the envelopes with respect to the extent of inspection services that we provide. It does take up about 75 per cent of our work.
Public health officers, of course, are inspecting ‑ I think there is some large number, like 6,000 - restaurants across the province. Of course, they are active in abattoirs, with meat inspections. There are also, I believe, 15 ‑ remembering my briefing notes ‑ who deal with that work and farm animal protection. We obviously have conservation officers spread out across the province who do patrols and investigate issues with wildlife conservation officers spread out across the province who do patrols and investigate issues with wildlife, et cetera. Then we have a complete branch that deals with water and air quality issues and do inspections and follow-ups on complaints in that area as well.
I guess that’s a broad overview of the inspection services throughout the province.
JOHN LOHR: I guess my question to the minister would be: How many people do you have involved in inspection of those 6,000 restaurants. I would presume in the 6,000 restaurants you would also include kitchens, like community hall kitchens and institutional kitchens - would they be included in that? How many staff would you have involved in that activity?
KEITH IRVING: We think the number is around 26 public health officers who would conduct the inspections on the 6,500 food establishments.
JOHN LOHR: Madam Chair, just to continue that question, that includes other types of kitchens, too, not just restaurants - correct?
THE CHAIR: Minister, have you just responded? Did you go backwards on the mute button?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, I did, I went backwards on the mute button and I get a second try to answer this question. They deal not only with restaurants but with food trucks, farmers markets, special events, and any food processing companies that produce spices or whatever that are going out into the retail market. That’s the range. Basically, anything food, we’ve got those 26 people out there protecting the health and safety of Nova Scotians.
JOHN LOHR: Mr. Minister, I think you will recall this example from three or four years ago where - and I don’t really want to name the business, but a local constituent - a business in your constituency had a food trailer that had a municipal inspector saying - and I don’t remember who was on which side, but one inspector said it was mobile and one inspector said it was stationary. There was a municipal inspector and an inspector in your department - of course you weren’t minister then - who were at odds over the definition of this food trailer that was parked. It was of significant impact on the local business because they were forced to build a bricks-and-mortar toilet right next to the trailer to meet the requirements of one of those inspectors.
I know your government has tried to deal with overlapping regulations and red tape, but this was a really egregious example of red tape, in my opinion, where there were - I’m just wondering if maybe you could tell me what you’re doing about the fact that there are overlapping jurisdictions here between municipal and provincial food inspectors. And how is your department going to deal with it? Do you see it as a problem or is it something that the municipality should back out of? I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking: How is it going to be addressed? I’m quite sure you remember the incident.
KEITH IRVING: Unfortunately, I don’t remember that incident. It’s going back a few years now. I appreciate the issue that you’re raising. This multijurisdictional overlap is frustrating for business and our government has worked very hard to try to eliminate as many of those as we can. I don’t have any information here that we have been able to eliminate something that would have had a better result in the particular case that you’ve raised, particularly when we’re interacting with municipalities. There is another level of complexity there because each municipality has their own set of bylaws.
I think perhaps if you could put something in writing to me on that particular event and the confusion that happened between provincial and municipal, you could forward that to us and we could forward that on to Fred Crooks’s shop at Regulatory Affairs and see if that is a one-off issue or something broader that really needs a closer examination. We could certainly have a look at the issue.
JOHN LOHR: I don’t see the need to bring up the name of the business again, but I did ask about it in Question Period three or four years ago. The issue is real. Sometimes there are jurisdictional conflicts on opinions or definitions of things, like: Is this a mobile or a stationary unit? This was a trailer in a well-known local farm market.
I guess what I would say is that I’m just trying to get a grasp of the extent of the activity. Just to finish up on that topic, I think that it is something that needs to be cleaned up. There is no need - or there shouldn’t be a need - to have provincial and municipal inspectors overlapping in their activity. It should be a cost savings and it would certainly reduce the level of grief for businesses if that was not the case. I guess it’s a matter of just doing the work to clean up the definitions or just look at what - maybe that’s something the minister would be willing to take on.
I can certainly flesh out the details on what I’ve asked about in an email to you. I will do that, so that you know and can go back to the business and ask them, which I think would be worth doing.
I guess I’m just trying to get a scope of the regulatory Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement, which I think the general public doesn’t really understand. How much of the Department of Environment and Climate Change’s activity is related to food inspection? If I say food, I think of agricultural animals, abattoirs, restaurants - all the stuff that encompasses anything that we could be eating. I’m just wondering to what extent your department is on those subjects.
KEITH IRVING: Just trying to figure out the best way to respond to the question. Certainly, if you want to get a sense of how many inspections are going on with food establishments, those are posted online and you can see the level of activity there. Maybe the best way to answer your question with respect to how much of departmental resources go into food activities is to say that we have roughly 360 staff, and 26 of those are public health officers dedicated to food safety, and another 15 to deal with meat inspections and farm animal welfare. That gives you some sense of the amount of staff resources that go towards food safety.
JOHN LOHR: I do have more questions, but my colleague from Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage wants to get in. I don’t know if that is enough time for her, but I’ll turn it over to her right now.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
BARBARA ADAMS: My question is whether - we have an asphalt storage plant on South Woodside, and the community was given very little opportunity to provide input. I did go around to every home in the community and hand-delivered a notice. Forty-nine of the 50 people wrote in saying they did not want the asphalt storage plant in their community because they already had an oil refinery that had been smelling up the place for quite a long time.
Forty-nine out of 50 wrote in saying they did not want it, and as it stands now, there are complaints about the smell of the asphalt. My one question that I have time for is: What is the point of community consultation to ask people to write in what they think if 49 of the 50 who wrote in said, I don’t want this in my community, did not get listened to and the plant got approved anyway? In fact, it was being built for six months beforehand. What’s the point of the consultation if the feedback is not listened to?
KEITH IRVING: With respect to the ability for someone to put a plant or storage facility in a particular location in a municipality, it’s actually governed by municipalities through their land use by-laws. There’s a series of permitted uses that are determined through the municipal planning strategy and land use by-laws adopted by municipalities. I understand the conflict. I have one in my riding where there’s an asphalt plant that is nearby a residential area. Unfortunately, in the case of my area, the plant was put there before the subdivision was put there, and again, going back into the 1970s, when land use planning conflicts were perhaps not as fully understood.
Obviously, if this was a use permitted by the municipality, then a business has the right to use that land with permitted uses.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The time allotted for the PC caucus has elapsed. We will now turn to the NDP caucus for one hour.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
GARY BURRILL: I’d like to return to the question of land protection, where we left off an hour ago, particularly the intersection of land protection, biodiversity, and clear-cutting. This has been very much a subject of focus of Nova Scotia in recent months.
It’s much of the focus of the call in our Party for a moratorium on clear-cutting until the key milestones of the Lahey review are brought into functioning. One of the main reasons for that is that we know that there are real biodiversity hot spots, so to say, that are very important from the point of view of species at risk, where if clear-cutting proceeds it is a great danger.
This is completely the issue in Digby County on the lands between the Barrio and the Tobeatic. I want to ask the minister, in particular, about a different area this afternoon, and that’s the Ingram River wilderness area. There’s a substantial amount of clear-cutting proposed for the Ingram River wilderness area. The area is, at the moment, undergoing a process to receive official designation. Just last week, six new parcels appeared on the Harvest Plans Map Viewer, bringing the total of land to be harvested in the Ingram River wilderness area to just over 510 hectares. Will the minister agree that intensive harvesting of this sort ought to be off the table for the Ingram River wilderness area, at least until the question of its official designation is completely investigated and then brought to a final decision?
KEITH IRVING: The Ingram River wilderness area, as you called it, is a proposed wilderness area. It was not in the 2013 Parks and Protected Areas plan, but it is under consideration, and consultations, I believe, are under way with respect to some of the recreational uses that exist in that particular area. I have been advised that there is no clear-cutting going on in the area that is under consideration at this time.
GARY BURRILL: Could I just revert to the question we were talking about when we left off? The minister had been speaking about how there are a number of areas from the 2013 plan that are not designatable - some, the minister said, because they’re in private hands. The minister mentioned a number of other such areas and then went on to say that the list of the nine private areas was publicly available.
Would the minister make available to our caucus a list of all those lands on the 2013 list which, in the minister’s opinion, are extraordinarily difficult from the point of view of the department and thereby have moved to the bottom of a long pile and are unlikely to receive designation?
KEITH IRVING: We can certainly provide a list of what’s outstanding and some of the constraints that are there, such as what is in the plan of us actually not physically owning the land. There are others that are encumbered by various uses. Some substantially overlap with developmental mineral explorations, others have now expired. There’s access campsite lease accommodations in a number of areas. Most of that information is found in the Parks and Protected Areas plan.
GARY BURRILL: I think it would be important if that list could be made available to our caucus. I just want to say about this that many people look to having an area on the 2013 list as a matter of excitement and hope and have watched as the years have gone by and had a perception that this really is not going to happen. They have seen the list receding away from the centre of the government’s view.
I think it’s fair that if, in fact, areas that have been put forward in the 2013 plan, if they are not going to be considered for designation, that the department ought to say so to those people. Doesn’t the minister think that’s fair too?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, and I think as I spoke of earlier, the list of the 400-and-some sites was a list of proposed areas under consideration to reach the 12 per cent, with some hope that it could go beyond that. We eventually did move the number to 13 per cent and now have moved it to 14 per cent.
I think we are looking at all the properties and as we accumulate some other properties that may have better environmental value, maybe some of those other properties drop off the list. At this point I’m not going to say that something is completely off the list. All I was doing when I raised the issue of ownership was to say that we didn’t own it and that becomes a significant hurdle.
It doesn’t mean that somebody may not offer it up for us to buy, but I just wanted to ensure that members of this House and the public understood that not every property on that list is a done deal, or has hurdles that we may not be able to get over.
At this point we feel we’ve got a good basket of properties to consider carefully, to measure up against each other. There are some 150 properties left on that list that are under review. We have also added more properties since 2013. We want to use our resources to designate and manage plans in the most effective way possible, seeking out the most ecologically important properties and we’ll do that in a prudent and careful manner.
GARY BURRILL: I would like to ask a few questions about Atlantic Gold. I have it in my mind - perhaps I’m remembering wrong - that the minister was online the other evening when I was asking some questions of the Minister of Energy and Mines about Atlantic Gold. At that time, the Minister of Energy and Mines suggested to me they were better questions for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
I want to direct these questions. Atlantic Gold, in 2008, as part of its environmental assessment in Moose River, was required to purchase land nearby for conservation. The requirement of the EA was that that should happen within four years.
It’s just very recently that a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change has said that there is now a draft agreement on the land in question - 256 hectares worth of land protection with high biodiversity value - and that an agreement is coming to fruition about this. This is now 12, 13 years later beyond a requirement of the EA that had said four years.
I would like to ask the minister: Has that land that was a requirement from the 2008 agreement been purchased? Is this the kind of land swap in general that the department has in mind as it looks to future longstanding issues of providing environmental approvals for projects, such as Atlantic Gold’s projects, where protected areas are in question?
KEITH IRVING: With respect to that agreement, it was actually one of the first inquiries from the media that came to my desk upon taking office and it sounds as though you’ve been talking with the same media person. We did want to give accurate and full information and when I found out that this agreement had not been signed, I made it a priority to get that done. It was done within a couple of weeks and we advised the member of the media that that was done.
To my knowledge, there is no land that has been purchased yet, but we do have the agreement in place for ‑ I think it was - 234 hectares that the company will be purchasing, of ecological value that we can add to our land base.
With respect to industrial activities that are taking place on land, we will be dealing with those on a case‑by‑case basis in terms of how those agreements’ terms and conditions will be struck with proponents on various projects.
GARY BURRILL: Some of the most significant decisions the department is going to be involved with in the upcoming period are going to be related to Atlantic Gold’s proposed project developments at Fifteen Mile Stream, Cochrane Hill, and Beaver Dam. We know that in the original 2008 environmental assessment, the company really failed to meet those requirements - that there was a four‑year requirement and it was not fulfilled until at least 11 years.
I would like to ask the minister: Does the failure to fulfill this kind of a requirement in a previous environmental assessment ‑ does this colour or shape or affect in any way the approach that the department will be taking to pending future applications that are to come on the three projects being developed by Atlantic Gold?
KEITH IRVING: I think I know where the member may be going with this. I know he is well aware of the 30‑some charges that have been laid, or breaches of the terms and conditions. With all those situations, of course, we have to wait until they are proven in court. Certainly on future projects, the previous violations of the terms and conditions can be taken into account, but those have to be significantly serious enough. We will see how the courts look [Inaudible] When it reaches a point that you have to throw the book at them, we will throw the book at them, but we need to ‑ if there is clear intent, then that becomes weightier as we evaluate future projects that might be proposed by any proponent.
GARY BURRILL: Yes, it’s certainly fair enough that the department ought not to act on the basis of charges but only on the basis of determinations and convictions. That makes every sense, but it is true that at the moment in Nova Scotia, we have projects being put forward - three very significant projects - which will be before the judgement of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, from a proponent which, at the moment, has 39 environmental charges against it.
I take the minister’s point, but I want to follow up and say that when the company has had its day in court, if out of 39 of those charges there is a significant number of charges that carry the day and there’s a significant number of convictions, can the minister reflect a little bit about how this shades or colours the way that he views potential applications that would come from that proponent?
KEITH IRVING: I think I have answered the member’s question as best as I can. I think the important message that I want to leave with the members in the House and with Nova Scotians is that on any large industrial project, I as a regulator, along with my staff, will evaluate those projects diligently and examine closely our regulations, and ensure that the proponent has identified any environmental risks with respect to health and safety or impacts on the environment. We will examine the science and the best information to ensure that the health and safety of Nova Scotians and the protection of our environment are evaluated in a rigorous way.
It’s only after I am assured that there are reasonable mitigations in place that any approvals will be granted. As I said before, if there are egregious actions by a proponent, that will have an impact on the conversation or the discussion of my decision. I don’t want to speculate in any way what might come out of the courts and the evidence that’s presented and the judgement by the court, to in any way prejudge the important work that I have as a regulator.
GARY BURRILL: I have a question or two in the area of the department’s intersection of responsibility with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture around open net pen fish farms. The minister’s department, along with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, has recently been in receipt of a demand letter from Ecojustice about those lease renewals of Kelly Cove Salmon.
Ecojustice is representing the concerns of a number of organizations: the Protect Liverpool Bay Association, St. Mary’s Bay Protectors, the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, as well as a couple of individuals. Their particular request is that the government enforce the aquaculture lease and licence regulations and require Kelly Cove Salmon to hold public information meetings before being able to apply for lease expansions.
The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, speaking in recent days in Estimates, replied to a colleague from my Party questioning about this that, in fact, the demand letter that had come forward to the two departments was full of inaccuracies, and one could not proceed on the basis of its analysis toward an ordered conclusion.
I want to know if the view of the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, that the demand letter from Ecojustice is just not a credible document, if that is a view that is shared by the other party to whom that letter was addressed, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
KEITH IRVING: Yes, we received a copy of that letter, but that is all part of the process under the purview of Fisheries and Oceans. I’m really not able to comment on that. Opinions or views on the contents of that letter are best spoken to and responded to by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
GARY BURRILL: Well, there really isn’t much more, if that’s the minister’s approach to that letter, that he and I can constructively exchange about that.
I want to ask, then, a question about the world of oil and gas in the department’s universe. I think there is some dissonance in how oil and gas is being viewed within the government at the moment. I, in that same Estimates meeting I was referring to a few moments ago, pointed out to the Minister of Energy and Mines that the words “oil and gas” did not appear in his mandate letter although significant millions of dollars did appear in the Estimates for his department. The minister took exception to any intimation that oil and gas were not a significant part of the work of his department and said that oil and gas were in fact - these are his words - a very important piece of what we’re doing.
So I think that underlines the sense that comes from the government that oil and gas are, in fact, a pretty big piece of what the government is doing, and the Energy and Mines Estimates bear that out.
I note that talking, speaking, to this committee, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change spoke the other day about how, as we think about the mix of energy that we’re going to need as we move to get off coal, that it was his hope, if I’m accurately reflecting what the minister said, that we’d be able to skip gas as an interim fuel and go straight to a mix of renewables and hydro.
To my mind, this is not speaking from the same song sheet, as the song sheet that would be putting millions of dollars into attracting, every year, exploration into the offshore, or the song sheet that would be paving the way for the largest-ever project in Nova Scotia: the Goldboro project around LNG.
So I want to ask the minister if he will share his thinking with us about this. If, in fact, he thinks my observation is fair or right that there is a dissonance and a disjuncture between the great respect and priority that is given to renewables and hydro in the analysis that he is providing, and the place of priority that’s being given to oil and gas within the program of the government as a whole.
KEITH IRVING: I think the honourable member has just cautioned me to put a personal hope on the table in an area that I have no responsibility for. I did preface my comment or followed up with my comment that I was no expert on oil and gas, but I was hopeful that we could be ambitious and find a way to get ourselves out of coal without the interim step. I don’t know if that is possible. This is not a position of the government - it was more an aspirational comment from a minister who is excited about us getting off coal and feel that is a worthwhile ambition.
So with respect to the government’s position on oil and gas on budgetary appropriations to work with that sector, you should be guided by the words of the Minister of Energy and Mines.
GARY BURRILL: Fair enough. Is there then, putting it as the minister puts it, is there a disconnect between his aspirations, as he fairly puts it, as the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and the emphasis, the priority, and the high-level spending on oil and gas research development in this budget as a whole?
KEITH IRVING: I don’t think there is a disconnect in any way. I’ve attempted to outline the ambitions of us to get off coal. There are various pathways that are yet to unfold to figure out how we are going to do that. We see a path to 80 per cent renewables using wind, because that has come down in cost, and then there are a number of other paths that have yet to be determined. That will be in consultation with other jurisdictions, including the federal government, with respect to the Atlantic Loop, which I mentioned is in the Speech from the Throne at the federal level.
Those conversations will help guide us on whether the ambitions of a Minister of Environment and Climate Change can align with the reality of the complex, interconnected electrical generation and transmission system that reaches far beyond my department and is much better understood by the Minister of Energy and Mines. We are involved in those discussions as partners in this path forward as we transition ourselves off coal, but again, I don’t see it as a disconnect to be a voice at the table with ambitions on doing everything we can to address the climate crisis. I will continue to voice those ambitions, but with the full knowledge that it is not as simple as one department being able to run the Department of Energy and Mines. That would be inappropriate for me to do. I think I’ve articulated my views to you in an honest and straightforward method, but I’m not prepared to say that it is a disconnect from Energy and Mines in any way, shape, or form.
GARY BURRILL: I’ve asked the minister to share his thinking and he has shared his thinking. That’s fair enough.
I’d like to ask a couple of questions related to the biomass regulations. Last May, the electricity regulations were changed in a way that allowed for burning more biomass in Brooklyn and Port Hawkesbury. We understand that this was, in part, to make up for a shortfall relative to Muskrat Falls, but also in significant part to find a by-product for residuals from mills in their changed situation as far as Northern Pulp is concerned. Can the minister give us any indication of how long this increased capacity in biomass electricity generation out of Brooklyn and Port Hawkesbury is planned to continue?
KEITH IRVING: I appreciate the question but again, that would be best answered by the Minister of Energy and Mines.
THE CHAIR: Order. With only eight seconds remaining, we will call the 15-minute break. We will return at 3:26 p.m.
[3:11 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[3:28 p.m. The committee reconvened].
THE CHAIR: Order, please.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
BURRILL: I, of course, understand the minister’s point about a biomass that is
not the primary responsibility of his department but I think it’s also fair to
think that the Department of Environment and Climate Change would be concerned
about the climate change impacts of accelerated biomass burning for electricity
generation. I think it’s reasonable to expect that a minister responsible for
climate change would have opinions about this. I want to ask the minister what
his opinion is about how the accelerated burning of biomass for generation of
electricity is affecting GHG emissions in the province.
KEITH IRVING: I don’t have any particular data on emissions. That may be something that the Department of Energy and Mines has. Again, the biomass is a part of our electricity system and the level at which it’s running at. The questions would be best answered by the Department of Energy and Mines.
GARY BURRILL: I have a couple of questions about the Challenge Fund. My assumption is that the priority places funding is coming out of that line in the budget. Am I reading the budget right? Is that the case?
KEITH IRVING: I just needed a moment to get the overall gist of how the money is divvied up. The $14.35 million is over four years. Where you would see the money expended this year: $2.3 million is on our tangible capital assets, in other words our capital plan for buying land; there’s about $3 million that is going out to partners such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Nature Trust, Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, Eskasoni Fish & Wildlife Commission, Cumberland County, a few others, the Town of Amherst. So that’s where you can find those dollars.
GARY BURRILL: Some of the organizations that the minister has mentioned under the funding program - this is in fact what I was wanting to ask about. We have heard from organizations being funded through the program that there are some frustrations about the calendar, the schedule on which the disbursements are being made out of the program. It’s happening that annual project funds are being disbursed just really shortly before the end of the fiscal year, that the 2019-20 funds went out in February of that year, and in 2020-21, three projects received funding about halfway through the fiscal year.
I want to ask the minister: Is he aware of any groups in that category of groups he just listed that have found themselves compromised in their ability to do fieldwork because of delays in the receipt of the actual funding?
KEITH IRVING: First of all, none of my staff are aware of any concerns, and certainly if there are partners out there that do have concerns, please get in touch with the department. I’m sure we can try and work out any issues that they are having.
Part of the process, which may be providing a bit of a challenge there, is that each of these proponents has to bring forward proposals in which we then go to the federal government to receive the funds, and then obviously to forward them on. That is the process as dictated by the federal government with respect to the Challenge Fund.
GARY BURRILL: It sounds as though the most constructive thing for us to do is to bring those concerns about the time of the disbursement of those grants directly to the minister, which we’ll do by following up with a letter. Thank you for that answer.
I’m wondering also about the Challenge Fund. I’d like to ask the minister: Why did the department spend so much less on this line than was projected for 2020-21?
KEITH IRVING: In terms of 2020-21’s expenditure, the budget was $4.7 million and $4.7 million was expended.
GARY BURRILL: Thank you, and I may have misread the line. I will go back and try to re‑understand it on the basis of what the minister has said.
I would like, before ceding some of the time for our caucus to the member for Cape Breton-Richmond, to ask the minister a couple of questions related to the highway twinning and the aboiteau replacement on the Avon River and all the issues related to that. First, I would like to ask the minister: Is the minister confident that the consultation with Mi’kmaq on this project has met the adequate standard? I ask this particularly in light of the Court’s rejection of what the department had previously felt was a consultation meeting an adequate standard with Indigenous communities over Alton Gas. Is the minister confident that the standard has been met with the Avon River question in a way that if challenged will be acceptable to the Courts?
KEITH IRVING: On all projects we go through the necessary consultation and consult throughout the course of the project. So that project has been handled carefully like we do all projects.
GARY BURRILL: The environmental assessment for this project doesn’t speak about impacts on commercial fishers. We've heard from Minister Colwell that any impacts on the farming community as a result of the project are going to result in compensation. I would like to ask the minister: Is there a plan for compensation to commercial fishers, if they should be affected by the aboiteau design?
KEITH IRVING: I have consulted with my staff here. It is not normal in the terms and conditions for compensation to be part of an environmental assessment. That’s what we’ve got.
GARY BURRILL: That’s fine. I understood the minister’s answer to the question. Thinking about the environmental assessment process, I would like to ask the minister: Can the minister, perhaps with consultation with available staff there, provide some sense about the balance of the public submissions between those that prioritized restoring fish passage and those that prioritized maintaining the freshwater lake? Can the minister characterize for us what the volume of public expression was along this axis?
KEITH IRVING: We’d need to look back at the public comments received. The honourable member can certainly do that himself as all those comments can be found on the website. It’s the responsibility of the proponent to do the consultation and bring forward that information to the department as we go through the EA process.
GARY BURRILL: Is the minister confident, then, that the design that’s proposed for the aboiteau is going to allow for the fish passage, as is legislatively required?
KEITH IRVING: The staff has confirmed my impressions of where we stood with this, and I don’t think any final decisions have been made on the aboiteau and exactly the configuration of fish passage.
GARY BURRILL: Is the minister aware of any evidence that if more salt water enters the river, that there will be a negative effect on farms upstream, and what study is being done into this question? If, in fact, this is the case, what solutions are being put forward to mitigate the impacts?
KEITH IRVING: I think we’re going to have to get back to you, or perhaps Transportation and Active Transit, who are overseeing this project. The EA process is complete. In terms of any of that discussion that’s going on now, I’d turn you to Transportation and Active Transit.
GARY BURRILL: Thank you for those answers about the Avon River project. A couple of questions related to the Green Fund.
Would it be possible to have the department forward a list to our caucus of everything that has received funding under the Green Fund to this point?
KEITH IRVING: Yes, we’re happy to pass along that information. There will, of course, be an annual report that publishes that information. I’ve got a list of some of the items here as well, but maybe it’s just easier to forward that list along as you’ve requested.
GARY BURRILL: Yes, that would be grand if the minister would see that that was forwarded. I’m thinking about, with the recipients of this funding under the Green Fund - I’m wondering how the department is ensuring the equity of the distribution of these funds. That is: How is the department attending to making sure that there is representation of underrepresented groups and diverse groups amongst those who are receiving Green Fund funding?
KEITH IRVING: What I can share with you in terms of the work to date, in terms of the distribution of those funds, is that over half of the $25 million-plus that has been disbursed under the Green Fund has actually gone to low-income Nova Scotians in our energy efficiency programs. I think that speaks volumes to ensuring that those Green Funds are used to lower energy costs for low-income Nova Scotians. I think that has been very successful and has created many jobs with respect to energy retrofits throughout Nova Scotia.
With respect to the broader question of equity, that is a new line item in my mandate letter that I recently received. We will be looking at ways to ensure that I can fulfill that mandate letter as we work on future disbursements of the Green Fund.
GARY BURRILL: Thank you. I want to thank the minister for sharing this exchange this afternoon. I would like to invite the member for Cape Breton-Richmond to share the time of the NDP this afternoon.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: With only I think about five minutes left, I’m not sure . . .
THE CHAIR: Order, please. You have nine minutes.
ALANA PAON: Thank you. Super. I’m not sure if you’re seeing what I’m seeing on the screen, but I’m looking very red on this end. I’m not sure if it’s a technological glitch or what’s going on, so I apologize. The most important thing is that I’m able to ask these questions of the minister, and I appreciate being able to have this time. Thank you to the member for ceding some time to me.
I would start off by asking the minister - it’s frustrating to come into this position and realize how much of a silo effect actually exists within government. I’m going to give you an example of just trying to get the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Department of Lands and Forestry, and Department of Transportation and Active Transit to speak to one another with regard to, for example, taking care of an issue surrounding - these are very localized issues, which is what I’m going to be asking you - an issue surrounding a beaver colony that is literally putting people’s properties at risk in Lochside in Cape Breton-Richmond. No one seems to know who’s supposed to do what. The Department of Environment and Climate Change is supposed to take care of this. The Department of Transportation and Active Transit is supposed to take care of this. The Department of Lands and Forestry is taking care of this. Nothing ever gets done.
I guess I would like to ask the minister - not particularly obviously about this situation, I’m just using it as an example: How is the Department of Environment and Climate Change working with other departments to study and ensure that environmental concerns are taken into consideration and they don’t become environmental travesties?
KEITH IRVING: The department does work with many other departments across government. I think if you have been listening through the course of this discussion, the questions overlap in quite a number of ways.
A great example to show how we’re working with the other departments is the Coastal Protection Act, working with Department of Energy and Mines, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Department of Municipal Affairs, and Department of Lands and Forestry. Those have been integral in us bringing forward and working on the regulations.
I certainly understand from a local level the challenge. I think every MLA faces it at one point or another in trying to decipher the web of government. If I may share, I had a particular issue that was falling between a number of departments - a very complex issue that involved the Department of Community Services and the Department of Health and the RCMP. I took it upon myself as an MLA to bring everybody together into one meeting. I’ve had to do that a few times in particularly complex situations.
I just share that as something that might work for the honourable member. There’s nothing better than getting various departments into the room. It’s a lot easier now with the pandemic, really, in a Zoom room to at least flesh out and actually pin down. Sometimes the problem is you really haven’t identified the problem that everybody understands, so to sit in a Zoom room and get a complete understanding by all parties on how they view the problem - whether they all agree it’s a problem - and then come up with an action plan and divvy up the work as necessary.
Again, I just share that. You may have tried that. I don’t want to prejudge that, but it has been effective for me when dealing with local issues such as you’ve suggested.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, Mr. Free Words of Wisdom. Indeed, yes, facilitating meetings of this sort has filled my schedule regularly over the last four years. I’m in full agreement with utilizing this type of technology. It has made meeting, in fact, somewhat easier.
Really, though, it’s about departments taking responsibility. Everybody has a limited budget and it’s sort of like, well, if you can get that guy to do it, if you can get that department to do it, then that would be better. It’s just about basically coming down, getting everybody around the table, as you say, but it’s also about taking responsibility, about just getting the job done, at the end of the day.
I’ll give you another example, which is an environmental concern. I know, at the end of the day, that breakwaters are federal, but it’s a major issue in my constituency, a major issue all around Nova Scotia with coastal erosion issues, our increase, obviously, in inclement weather and more extreme weather conditions. With the federal government, I understand, with their responsibility towards breakwaters - I already know all that. It is an environmental concern when we start seeing massive amounts of wave action coming toward shorelines, endangering people’s properties. I know the minister was speaking about how close to the shoreline, with regard to regulations and those are not in effect as of yet.
I guess I’m asking the minister: Where does the Department of Environment and Climate Change’s responsibility lie when it comes to saying enough is enough? We need to get here to the table and realize that there are sewage systems that are at risk. If this piece of infrastructure is not upgraded and that it’s also an extreme concern for some roadways, such as in Petit-de-Grat. I know that there are roadways that have just been newly paved in the last four or five years, and the breakwaters are literally disintegrating, and so it’s putting transportation, infrastructure, as well as causing possible environmental concerns on people’s property with water intrusion and, again, septic systems being affected. Can the minister please explain to me how his department would see his responsibility in a project of that sort?
KEITH IRVING: I think the Coastal Protection Act can play a little bit of a part in the discussion on that issue, but I think in reality the breakwater is clearly - I don’t think there’s any debate, that would be a federal piece of infrastructure. That would need federal dollars and federal will to reinforce or repair, if it is in a bad way, as you suggest. If it is affecting roads, then clearly your one department at the province would be the Department of Transportation and Active Transit. But going back to the breakwater, it would be my suggestion that you find an advocate with your MP.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. The time for the NDP caucus and the Independent member has elapsed. We will now move on to the PC caucus, with 32 minutes on the clock.
The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
BARBARA ADAMS: I am going to reference and table these documents. The timing of the order I want to talk about is important because the same thing happened twice in my community, literally along the exact same road.
We all know the COVID-19 lockdown was around March 15th and things were being shut down. On May 1st there was a very small article placed in the Chronicle Herald saying that General Liquids Canada registered a liquid asphalt storage plant for environmental assessment in accordance with the Act. They were letting the community know that they could provide feedback if they wanted.
I found out about it because the one thing that this company did was send out two emails: one to one community group and one to another community group, the South Woodside Community Centre Group, of which I happen to be a member. That’s the only way I found out about it.
I wrote to the department and said, given that COVID-19 is preventing in-person community consultation - we weren’t into Zooming yet - I asked the company, as well as the minister’s office, if they would send out a letter just to all the people who were going to be directly impacted. This asphalt storage plant is directly across the street from people’s homes.
I got a letter back on May 15th saying, thanks for the letter, it’s up to the company to decide how they want to engage people. It said it historically has included a whole slew of things. It says that while public consultation prior to registration of the project is not a requirement under the regulations, the department is always encouraging people to do so, but they didn’t. So I asked the department if they would notify people and they chose not to as well.
Just for reference, this is the exact same time we were dealing with the Portapique massacre, as well as the helicopter crash that affected everyone in my community.
I’m just wondering because on June 22nd there was a minister’s decision saying that the asphalt storage plant had been approved. This is a provincial government decision. It wasn’t a municipal government decision. The reason I’m taking so long on this one is because I have another situation just down the street.
I guess when I was re-looking at all the things that people wrote in about, every single person who wrote in, except for one that I could find, were all against the asphalt storage plant. I’m wondering what the department takes into account when they look at the feedback from the whole community that said we don’t want it here. What weight is that given to the minister’s department?
KEITH IRVING: With respect to any kind of extension of the public consultation period, the regulations unfortunately don’t allow us to make any kind of extension. The process that is undergone in an environmental assessment has been used over and over. It’s consistent and it’s applied across projects throughout the province, and that is to ask the proponent to do the public consultation.
The outcome of public consultation is one factor in a decision, and any environmental considerations raised by the public are examined to see whether there is something that one has missed in terms of any environmental risks to public health or to the environment, and whether the proponent has identified those risks and provided a plan to mitigate those risks. Those public comments are taken into account, but again, the decision is based on science and the best information.
If people don’t like something going into their neighbourhood, there’s not a lot of science behind that statement. If they don’t like it because of some evidence that they can present in terms of environmental dangers or dangers to public health, that would be very helpful for us to ensure that they are examined before any kind of approval is given.
That is how the process works. We take the public’s comments seriously. We look for any information that could shed light on any environmental or health risks and examine those carefully, and then the decision is based on science and the best available information.
BARBARA ADAMS: I thank the minister for that answer. I worked at the Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre for many, many years, so I understand the importance of science.
I have a very short question. In the letter to me from your department - and I realize you weren’t the one who wrote it - it says: in the case of this project, it is my understanding that the proponent had engaged two local community groups, the Pleasant Woodside Neighbourhood Association and the South Woodside Community Association, of their proposed project. Can you tell me if you received anything back from those two community groups in terms of feedback?
KEITH IRVING: We can certainly check to see if we received any correspondence from those two organizations. Again, all comments that we receive through an environmental process are posted online, and you can certainly check that, but we’re happy to do that as well.
BARBARA ADAMS: I appreciate that. I’m on one of those committees, and I remember getting the email, and they’re like, why on earth would we be getting this kind of an email? It is not the mandate of the South Woodside Community Centre group to do that kind of public engagement. They don’t consider that their responsibility. I’m not sure if the Pleasant Woodside Neighbourhood Association did, but since nobody was meeting, it upsets me a little that your department said “it is my understanding that the proponent had engaged” without noting whether they bothered to respond.
I guess the question is: What do I tell my constituents on the doorstep very soon? There is a smell coming from the asphalt storage plant. We already have another one down the road. We also have a sewage treatment plant. This is a community that had those oil refineries burning bright for decades, who were so happy not to have that kind of a smell there, and now it’s back right across the street.
Can I ask the minister what his department might be able to do in terms of meeting with that company to address the fact that it is still creating an odour in the community, which, without evidence, they are all concerned is affecting their health?
KEITH IRVING: Again, with all projects, they need to operate under terms and conditions that are issued under the environmental assessment. Any community member can advise the department and make complaints. Those will be thoroughly investigated and any corrective measures - if they are violating the terms and conditions, we will then be able to seek remedy from the proponent.
BARBARA ADAMS: I will say that 100 per cent of the people I talk to have no confidence that if they reach out, anything will, in fact, happen, because they already wrote in saying their concerns and they didn’t feel like they were listened to or respected because there was no back-and-forth feedback.
I’m wondering if the minister is willing to meet with me and my constituents, or at least, if I write to him, can that trigger some kind of investigation and communication with the company to address the issue that I have had brought to me by my constituents?
KEITH IRVING: I was just confirming that a letter from an MLA on behalf of constituents can be followed up in the same way as directly from constituents. They have confirmed. Please forward your concerns in writing to the department, and they will follow up and investigate whether terms and conditions of the agreement with the proponent have been breached.
BARBARA ADAMS: I think I’ve sent two letters already, but I will definitely send a third requesting that.
I just want to move on to the Valero oil refinery further down, right in Eastern Passage. I’m wondering if the minister can tell me if your department has been working with that company.
THE CHAIR: I’ll just remind members to address their questions through the Chair.
The honourable Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
KEITH IRVING: My staff are just confirming exactly where that project is. They are undertaking an assessment and cleanup of the former refinery site in Eastern Passage. As part of that process, they will be doing a public consultation. We don’t believe that has taken place as yet, but again, we’re just confirming exactly where that stands. Certainly, if we don’t have enough time to explore that here today, please reach out to the department. I’m sure they’d be happy to give you a calendar of events of where things stand at the moment.
BARBARA ADAMS: Just for the minister’s information, I have the article up there that I and a few others were quoted in. It says, “A notice from the company said it began accepting comments from the public as of Dec. 1 ‘regarding any potential for impacts that may extend beyond property during the activities.’ The feedback period ends Jan. 15, 2021.”
I haven’t heard from them as to what feedback they did receive from the community, but the concern I have is that they also put a very small notice in the Chronicle Herald which, unless you read the paper, you don’t even see if you read the online version. The community was very confused because they didn’t even know exactly what kind of consultation they were being asked to give. Some people immediately jumped on-board and said, oh, this is what we’d like here if the Valero refinery is sold, because it’s a good 180 acres.
I wrote to the department about this as well, and I asked for copies of any environmental assessments that may have been done on the property in the last five years or so. I don’t have a copy of it right here, but my recollection is that the response from the minister’s department was you can FOIPOP it. I’m just wondering if the minister’s office does, in fact, have any environmental assessments from that site. If you do, would it not be easier to just give them to me than to force me to FOIPOP them, which costs both time and money?
KEITH IRVING: With respect to previous EAs, all that information can be found online. If you go through the FOIPOP process, then of course it needs to be reviewed with respect to protection of privacy, et cetera. Your most efficient way for you and for government is to go and access that information online.
BARBARA ADAMS: Of course, we also reached out to the company to ask them as well, because what they had intended by that notice was to say: We’re doing evaluation of what’s in the ground and we’re starting to do cleanup. If you are concerned that it’s going to impact you, you should let us know.
Of course, my property actually backs onto the Valero property, as does that of quite a number of people. I’m just wondering how the owners of the property or your department thought that the public would have enough information to know what they should be worried about if an environmental report isn’t made public.
I worked at the Environmental Health Centre for 10 years. I treated thousands of people who were poisoned by their environment. I’ve got a really good idea of what happens if you were digging up contaminants in a way that isn’t done so that it protects your health.
I’m just wondering what your government department’s responsibility is to make sure that the public is informed when these public notices are going out from various companies. What is your government’s responsibility in terms of educating constituents?
KEITH IRVING: Consultation is obviously the responsibility of the proponent, as I have stated beforehand. They submit that as part of the process, and if we feel that that consultation has not been sufficient, we can and will ask proponents to go back out. I’m not sure if that was considered in this case or not.
With respect to that project, which is a cleanup, as I understand it, we did get just an update here that all the information has been received and is presently under review.
BARBARA ADAMS: I just have one more question before I pass it on. I just heard that you review what public consultation was done, and I’m just wondering if it’s your opinion that sufficient public consultation was done.
KEITH IRVING: That’s an impossible question to answer. I don’t have that information in front of me. I’m not going to give you an opinion. I can’t give you an opinion on that.
BARBARA ADAMS: Well, I guess I’ll rephrase it, then. The consultation was done. I’m assuming the minister’s office has some decisions to make. Can the minister tell me what those decisions remaining to be made constitute, and if so, when might those decisions be made?
KEITH IRVING: The information is under review, and I’ve been informed that the decision on the proponent’s project is actually not a ministerial decision. It will be made by the regional office.
BARBARA ADAMS: Can the minister be more specific as to which regional office is going to make that decision?
KEITH IRVING: The Bedford regional office.
BARBARA ADAMS: I appreciate that. I’ll be sharing that with my constituents. I’d like to turn the remaining time over to my colleague from Kings North.
JOHN LOHR: Minister, it’s a pleasure to have an opportunity to ask a few more questions. One of the concerns I have is climate change mitigation, and I’m wondering what role you can tell me your department would have in mitigation of the effects of climate change?
KEITH IRVING: The question is quite broad. Clearly, the department will be setting out policy on our path to reducing greenhouse gases. The department is also playing a leadership role in work taking place through all of government on how government can assess its climate change mitigation work within government. We are also - and I believe I mentioned this in my opening speech - doing a risk assessment for the province, which was highlighted by the Auditor General, and work is under way on that.
Another piece of work that I highlighted in the speech is our Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, a data hub that we are working on funding with other provinces to continue the work in getting good data for all of us to be basing our policy decisions on.
JOHN LOHR: It was a very broad question. I guess I wasn’t thinking of how broad it was, but I had a specific thought in mind that’s a great concern of mine and I’m sure of yours too, and that is the rising of the oceans. As we see ocean levels rise, we know they have risen - the dike system which protects parts of my constituency and I think even larger parts of Kings South, actually, is of great concern.
I’m just wondering what role your department would have in determining the adequacy of those dikes. I know the maintenance of them is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture. I know there is a program in place to address some of that - it’s a debate whether it’s adequate or not - but I’m just wondering, what role does your department have in assessing this and saying this is adequate? Are the infrastructure and land and everything adequately protected behind these dikes?
KEITH IRVING: Both the honourable member and myself obviously watch those tides each day, along with our constituents, as they get near the top of the dikes. As you’ve indicated, the Department of Agriculture is really responsible for assessing those dikes and using the programming dollars that are available to raise and reinforce the dikes as needed. We don’t have the expertise in Environment and Climate Change with respect to the structural integrity or those kinds of elements.
What does fall into the work of Environment and Climate Change is the data and to be measuring and monitoring the latest science with respect to sea level rise - again, the expertise that we have now in the department with our Coastal Protection Act and the work going into the regulations there. So there’s certainly a significant amount of expertise here that I think is valuable in the discussion with the Department of Agriculture as they implement the funding programs to reinforce and raise the dikes.
JOHN LOHR: I’ve been through this with the Minister of Agriculture several times, this topic, and the Minister of Agriculture would say, correctly I think, that the Act that he follows only requires the Department of Agriculture to protect agricultural land. As the Minister of Environment and Climate Change would know, there are significant assets beyond agricultural land being protected by the dikes. For a variety of reasons, its encroachment into dike land by homes and businesses in Kings South and Kings North, and also the fact that the ocean levels have risen, means that some of the things that were built are now in the potential flood plain.
I’m just wondering if the Minister of Environment and Climate Change can tell me: Would his department take a role in establishing what would be a safe level for the dikes? If there was a storm surge, what would be adequate for the dike structure we have?
KEITH IRVING: Again, the department works closely with the Department of Agriculture in establishing where the risks lie with respect to sea level rise, and the Departments of Transportation and Active Transit and Agriculture are obviously involved in the projects to raise the level of the dikes.
I understand where the honourable member was going with respect to other infrastructure, and that’s where we are working with the Coastal Protection Act, and the data that we’re collecting and maintaining around flood plains, et cetera, which we are sharing with our municipal partners as they have some responsibility in some areas with respect to dikes protecting municipal or more general land beyond agriculture.
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We have about three minutes and 40 seconds left. I would like to invite the minister to make some closing comments and prepare to read the resolution.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, first of all I want to thank my colleagues in the Legislature for all their questions. These are important questions and important issues for the province, the country, and the planet. I want to again thank all of my staff who are here, who work so hard to prepare briefing books for me to study and give me advice throughout the five hours that we’ve had to talk.
If I have a couple extra minutes, I will make some wrap-up comments. Really, climate change is the challenge of our time. Nova Scotia has done well with its work to date. We have met our targets. We’re not done. This is a climate crisis and Nova Scotians and this government want us to do more. So, we accept ambitious new targets and will be working with the Sustainable Development Goals Act and its regulations.
The focus around climate change is really an important element of our new Premier’s vision of where this government and where this province needs to go. It’s important to recognize - and we don’t talk about it enough - there is a tremendous economic opportunity. If you saw the news today, CarbonCure just received a $7.5 million prize for their innovation around their carbon capture technologies.
One final thought. I know we’ve talked in the House about climate change and people get somewhat emotional about it. There is a lot of anxiety around climate change with the youth in this province. I think it’s incumbent on us as leaders to try to not candy-coat anything, by any means. I think that young Nova Scotians know that Nova Scotia is working on this stuff. We’ve met our 2020 target. We’ve exceeded the 2030 national target on climate change, and we’ve set new, ambitious targets of 53 per cent below 2005 levels.
I think that’s an important message to send to young people - that we’re not sitting idly by - we’re working hard on this and we’re looking forward to meeting those ambitious targets.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E6 stand?
Resolution E6 stands.
That concludes our 40 hours of Estimates.
The honourable Chair of the Subcommittee on Supply.
KEITH BAIN: Madam Chair, I’m pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met by the time allotted to it and considered the various Estimates assigned to it.
THE CHAIR: Shall all remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply do now rise and report these Estimates.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report these Estimates to the House, following a 15-minute break.
[The committee adjourned at 4:30 p.m.]