HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2014
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Margaret Miller
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Health and Wellness and the Department of Seniors.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
HON. DAVID WILSON: I want to thank the minister and his staff for being here once again. I do have just a few more questions. We'll see how that goes and, hopefully, we'll be able to release his staff.
One of the things that is always important and I know that is always something that departments are looking at is their department budgets. That, of course, includes the minister's and deputy minister's department budget. I'm wondering if the minister could advise us - I don't have my book in front of me - has there been an increase in the budget for the minister's and deputy minister's office this year?
HON. LEO GLAVINE: To the member opposite, we are taking an actual look at the numbers here, but I know that there are a couple of initiatives that do come under the deputy minister's department and that the deputy minister is responsible for. I know the ER standards are one of those areas to have that implemented across the province.
We're still looking through the big book, as we often say in the department. I just want to make sure that we do have the figures available. This is what estimates are truly all about. We do have, obviously, the wage increases and there was a co-op student program, so there is a small increase in that department. If the member opposite would like an itemized list of those increases, we can certainly provide it.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I thank the minister. You can probably provide that at a later date if you wish. I believe, going through the Budget Estimates and through the book, I noticed an increase in the FTEs in the department, which caught my eye. The current government has indicated for a number of years, and there has always been a goal - and there was a goal with the previous government - to reduce the number of civil servants in government. There has been a strong effort, I think, in all departments to try to make sure that the number of employees is the right number. We've seen a gradual decline in the number of full-time equivalent civil servants within many of the departments - I know in Health and Wellness, for example, for a number of years - so I'm wondering, why an increase this year in the department's FTE numbers?
MR. GLAVINE: As I look at the FTEs for the fiscal year 2013-14 and what is projected 2014-15, we are at 467. Currently there are a number of vacancies, which bring the current number to 426 as an estimate, but projected through the two budgetary years is funding for 467 people in the Department of Health and Wellness.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I know that often departments have those vacancies and I know there is a difference of 30 or 40 that might be vacant. Is it anticipated in the upcoming year that all those vacancies will be filled, or will the department and the minister's office look at the possibility of eliminating some of those positions?
MR. GLAVINE: When we take a look now at the number of initiatives that we have taking place in the department, it will be required to keep that complement of 467 employees. There is always movement in and out of the department, with retirements, with transfers to other departments, but when I look at how significant the Continuing Care Strategy is, we have to make sure that the $22 million put into home care in the last year of the previous government and the additional $18 million this year - there needs to be a lot of oversight on that particular budgetary area.
We have the dementia strategy that the department is now moving forward with, the recruitment and retention, so the needs in the department and the number of areas that we have commissioned them to be involved with. We know the DHA restructuring will require the work of the department in a pretty intensive manner over the next year. I'm sure that number will come very close to the projected 467 positions.
MR. DAVID WILSON: One last question on that. I know departments, throughout the year if any of those vacancies are left unfilled that there are savings. Will the minister commit to any savings that are brought on or calculated at the end of the year, because of vacancies, be returned to the treasury? What I'm getting at is that we don't see what we saw years ago around the end-of-the-year spending, "March madness" we called it - will the minister commit that any savings from those vacancies left vacant throughout the year will go back to Finance and Treasury Board?
MR. GLAVINE: That is a good question, because we all know that we are trying to work towards not just a balanced budget, but directing health care dollars to the front line as much as possible. There is a factor of $1.8 million built into the budget that can be saved just from the lapsed time of when somebody retires or moves out of the department, so there is that factor available to us.
One of the opportunities that will be available to us is to look at the department. There may be ways in which we can all work to have some savings. If there are savings, certainly keeping the Health and Wellness Department budget down and have those monies go back to the treasury is certainly a goal and, I think, a very worthy goal.
As minister, I will examine travel costs closely. There are wonderful professional opportunities that come along in Health and Wellness. There are also some requirements to be part of national initiatives. As the former minister, the member for Sackville-Cobequid, well knows, we are part of a number of national endeavours - whether it's CBS, Canadian Blood Services, the pan-Canadian drug alliance - and all of these do require people to sometimes go to conferences, but we're going to be very cognizant of that as a government. We are able to do a lot more communications electronically. If we can realize savings in the department by the way it operates or through those changes that come with staff and with the flux that is there through a given year, and if we can put some money back into the treasury, that certainly is one of our goals.
MR. DAVID WILSON: We all know - and I know the minister knows - he has been in this Chamber as long as I have, elected in 2003, ran through four elections. I don't know if the minster ran before that; I don't believe he did, so I think we're on the same number of elections. I think he believes, and I think all MLAs and any candidate that runs believes, that it's important when you bring initiatives forward with good ideas that you realize that they cost money. For the elections that I've run - and I think each Party brings forth platform initiatives, platform commitments, and many of those have a cost value to them.
When I looked at this budget, in the budget material that was provided, we had a Budget Bulletin and it was through the Health and Wellness Department. I think there were a number of them for different departments. When I looked through some of the focus that is going to be looked upon over the next couple of years, or at least in the upcoming year, we see a number of initiatives. Many of them I look forward to the government implementing.
Hopefully Nova Scotians will be well served by some of these programs. Programs like the development of a provincial dementia strategy; expanding the Boarding, Transportation and Ostomy program; the increase in the age of eligibility for the children's dental program to 14 - I really like that one, and I know the minister knows how important that is and how important our caucus felt that initiative was; the Chronic Disease Innovation Fund; continuing to support home care services - I know the minister mentioned that earlier; increased access to cancer drugs like Lucentis and Avastin; also work on national standards for hip and knee replacement; and continuing to support programs to train, recruit and hire physicians. That's eight programs out of 10 on the Budget Bulletin that all come with a dollar figure - $10.6 million, $4.2 million, $1.9 million, $32.6 million, $300,000, $525,000, $85,000, and $50,000.
The only one here, which was the staple of the Liberal Party's platform, was the fact that they're going to move for the restructuring of our district health authorities. I'm not here to debate with the minister the merits of that; we've done that over and over and I'll continue to bring up my concerns with that. But the only initiative on this Health and Wellness bulletin that doesn't have a dollar figure is the restructuring of the district health authorities.
We've had the Finance and Treasury Board Minister, the Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness, in Public Accounts, I believe we've had the minister and I might believe that even the Premier might have said this at one time - that there's going to be a one-time cost to the restructuring of the district health authorities.
I'm concerned there's no cost there. We heard a lot from the Liberal Party, before they were in government, on how much anticipated savings there was going to be - I believe, if I'm not wrong, about $12 million, $13 million, $14 million per year with the restructuring of the super board, having two district health authorities, the IWK and one for the rest of Nova Scotia.
I find it extremely hard to believe that you could come out with the cost of savings without calculating the cost of implementing that change. I tried to ask the deputy minister in Public Accounts a couple of weeks ago and I was very forward, saying, what is the cost? The deputy said she couldn't provide a cost.
In this forum, I have to ask the Minister of Health and Wellness, and I know his commitment to this, so if the minister wants to go on for 30 minutes - I hope he doesn't, but I hope the minister answers the question of what the cost is.
If there's a one-time cost, if the Finance Minister knows there's a one-time cost, then what is it? It doesn't have to be accurate; I'll give him 30 per cent each way. Give me a ballpark figure on how much it's going to cost to implement the restructuring of the district health authorities. We know that other jurisdictions have done it, and there are costs to that. They've provided their residents with the costs. I know they don't have all the details in place, but there has to be a ballpark figure on how much this is going to cost, the initial cost.
My question to the minister is: Can he provide a ballpark figure of the one-time cost of restructuring the district health authorities that we have into the one for the IWK and one for the rest of the province?
MR. GLAVINE: There is one central question there in a number of comments and questions.
I just want to first of all address the savings of $12 million to $13 million. This is why I think our estimate will be pretty accurate. We all know that the Progressive Conservative Party estimated savings of four times greater than that amount, and I'm not sure where they all would have been. The $12 million to $13 million will take some time to realize because we are taking a very slow, thoughtful approach to restructuring. For that reason, it's going to take several years before we'll be able to look back and see the cost of administering the system in that final year of 2013-14 or 2014-15, whichever year you want to take as your comparative figure. Down the road, in three, four years' time, we'll be able to look back and make that kind of comparison.
In terms of the cost, I think with the announcement that is coming out today in one of the press releases, where we will see Pat Lee who will head the transition team - he is the current CEO for the Pictou County Health Authority and, as a result, he really is continuing to get his current salary as a CEO and he will now work with the Department of Health and Wellness, the minister, the deputy minister in that whole transition period going to the one provincial board.
As that moves along, we know that we are going to have some CEOs who will retire, some vice-presidents who will retire, and we can start to see that the exit or the severance cost is actually going to be well mitigated and as the plan is unfolding in a slower timeline than perhaps what I thought was possible and reasonable to do before getting to the minister's office, but after consulting and going across the province, getting some great insights into how we can achieve this without interruption, without any kind of discontent within the system, I believe the challenge will be for our unions to work out the employer status. I did have assurance that they were all prepared to work to support the system. That's their call. I've given them the invite to be part of that process, so we'll see what they want to do in the final analysis.
I would be wrong in saying the cost is going to be $2 million, $3 million, because a lot of the work being done is within the department budget. It is assigning professionals in our department to give focus to the project. We will have a very low amount of severance at the end of the day. People will transition into doing more significant responsibilities. We can see, for example, the need now to combine perhaps the Valley and South Shore. We made the announcement yesterday that the new deputy minister is the current CEO for the South Shore, so perhaps Valley will now cover off and handle the South Shore responsibilities. There could be a VP who also could act as an interim. We are not adding costs to administration; we will be eliminating some administration.
One of the reasons about not being able to give a cost is because I have a great deal of respect and regard for Pat Lee in his current job. I know that he is a systems thinker and he will actually be working on the construct that will exist. We're not putting that template down in the western region or giving a template from the department or from the ministry to say this is what we want in all four of our regions. We are going to take a look at what the populations are, what the level of services in each one is. The four management zones will look a bit different in terms of their administrative leadership requirements. It is that area, moving from an administrative model to a leadership model, that we are putting a great emphasis on.
We were able to - you know, all of our observations as we went around the province, but more so based on their work history, their professional status in our communities as health leaders, we will pick those people to guide the management areas as well as make input into the provincial system over the next number of years. In fact, this is why we have now given Pat Lee that ability to actually probably give us a cost over the next number of months as to what it will actually be. We did not target an amount of money. We will be able to commission, if you wish, the people currently in the system to go through the transition and allow the department and government to get to the one-board status.
Perhaps during the Fall sitting I'll be able to give a pretty accurate picture of what it actually costs to realize the transition to one board; hopefully we'll be able to signal some of those first savings in the budget of 2015-16. There'll be some initial ones, and then over the next two or three years after that, we'll see that we'll be able to consolidate positions while retaining a very strong movement towards a provincial system - patient-oriented, quality across the province, and a whole number of areas where provincial plans are getting ready to be implemented.
I didn't think it was right to be able to pick a structure and pick a cost associated with that right off. There are great lessons learned from Alberta, from New Brunswick, from Manitoba, all went through consolidation, and even a small province like Prince Edward Island shared some of what they were able to experience as they went through some change.
We've been able to factor all of that in. I think the level of response across the province to moving to this model is very strong. We will have actually a pretty low cost to implement that because of some really unexpected movements, if you wish, through the administrative structure that currently exists.
MR. DAVID WILSON: It's interesting. I didn't get my question answered, I don't think. I didn't get a ballpark figure. I guess I have to wait until the Fall. I'll stick around - I'll promise the minister that I'll be around in the Fall to make sure he is accountable and he brings forward those figures.
We all know, through any campaign, any election, the commitments we make, and Nova Scotians expect that Party to follow through on them. The minister stated just a minute ago that it would be three or four years before really any savings will be seen in the department - I would agree that it's going to be down the road sometime.
We look at jurisdictions like Alberta and New Brunswick who have gone through this process, and it's great that they're trying to seek information on the best practices, but in each of those jurisdictions, when they transformed their district health authorities like we're going to do here in Nova Scotia, there was a significant increase in costs.
You don't have to take my word for it, Madam Chairman. You can go to CIHI, which looks at compiling information from across Canada, and you can see on the chart of health administration the increases that these jurisdictions had after they restructured the way they have their health authorities. If you look at Nova Scotia, the one thing you will notice is that there has been a constant decrease in that health administration cost, and I've said this before. In 2008 and 2009, indicated on CIHI charts, health administration costs in Nova Scotia - and I may be off - I think it was about 6.8 per cent, or around there. We were the third highest in Canada - Nunavut and Yukon where the only two that had a larger percentage of their budget going towards health administration. Then you notice the trend that it dropped to the point where we're below, and at the national average, for a number of years. But notice in that chart that those jurisdictions that went through, as I said, the transformation - they had an increase.
The minister had indicated three or four years before the savings will be seen - or maybe even later - he has kind of left that open. But when you turn to the information provided to Nova Scotians by the minister's Party prior to the election, you see that the savings that they indicated, and they have $13 million here, and it's through the platform - and I'll table it after I finish my questioning today - it states here, reduce the number of DHAs from ten to two, savings $13 million and we'll see that in year two and year three.
Right off the bat, with the minister's comment of three and four, they're not going to achieve what they committed to Nova Scotians or what they said they would do if they were to form government. The savings we're potentially going to see - and I say "potentially," we don't know until it happens - it may well be after the next election.
The minister - I don't know what his intentions are - and myself, we may be running in the next election and we may still not have savings from the commitment that the Liberal Government had prior to them being elected. That should concern Nova Scotians, because we're all accountable. I guess at that time Nova Scotians will make the decision.
I hope that when the minister brings forward the information around the cost, which we know there will be a cost - the Finance and Treasury Board Minister has indicated it; the minister has indicated it; and the Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness has indicated that there is a cost - we know that, but we just don't know what the cost is, I guess is what the minister has been saying.
I want to make sure that Nova Scotians get a true picture of what the cost will be, if this is a commitment the government is going to follow through on, what the true cost is so that we can really see the savings. So if in the campaign literature they say a $13 million savings in year two or three, if it's year three or four, or four or five, now that might be great, but it might not be great if there is a $25 million one-time cost - that puts out any savings six, seven, eight years down the road.
What that leaves me with is was it worth doing that exercise - could we have achieved the same thing following the procedures and the policy that the former government took? We have the data. It's not government saying we saved money; it's an independent organization saying that Nova Scotia has reduced their health administration costs. So why would we go through this exercise if it pushes it out seven, eight years?
I guess time will tell. I don't think the minister can answer a question on that, but time will tell. I think the government could have achieved the $13 million, $14 million savings in year two or three if they continued on with the hard work. It wasn't just government, it wasn't each MLA in the NDP over the last four years, it wasn't me as a former minster, or the minister before me, who provided the savings. It was the people within the department, people within the district health authorities who knew that we had to tackle this issue.
We know we want more money going to front-line health care; we know we want less money going to administration. But there is a limit, and I think the first question that the new government should have asked was: What is that limit? What is the threshold that the Department of Health and Wellness, the district health authorities - what's the threshold, the amount of money that is allocated towards health administration should be to properly make sure that district health authorities, that hospitals, that long-term care, that continuing care, all the health care services that health care services provide, what is that percentage? What is the right percent - is it one per cent? I don't think so. Is it 2 or 3 per cent? I don't believe so. I don't think you could run a $4 billion department with 3 per cent going to the administration part of it.
We all know how important front-line health care workers are. I was a former front-line health care worker. That's where the emphasis should be, but there has to be people behind those front-line health care workers to do the day-to-day stuff, to make sure that the requirements of the department are there - the budgetary, the human resource, the policy, the research, those types of things - not really research, research can be both, done by front-line - but the work that shouldn't be done by front-line health care workers. There's a threshold there and I believe that Nova Scotia is pretty close to it now.
I know our commitment in the last election was to get health administration to 4 per cent. I think we're maybe at 4.65 per cent or somewhere around there, so we're not far off. I believe the $13 million more might get you to the 4 per cent, but my worry is that if you cut it too lean then front-line health care services suffer and that's the debate and that's the concern I have. I've said it before publicly, that initially, years ago, when I started my career as a MLA, I, too, thought when you hear the amount of district health authorities that we have, that it's too many. It's an easy thing to say, you think a million people, no, that's too many, we need less.
When you get into the role of seeing the work that is done behind the scenes, you realize pretty quickly the importance of having administrators who can assist the front-line health care workers in assuring that they have the tools, the energy, the resources, the material and the equipment to run health care the way that Nova Scotians expect the government to have it run.
I think we are close to that now - and that's the difference I think. Now, after seeing the work that is being done behind the scenes, I realize that it's not all just about being able to stand up and say well, look, under my watch we went from ten to two. That's really not a win; the win will be to say we have the right number of administrators in health care, we're supporting front-line health care, we're expanding services, we're really going after the most important issues people want, and that's access to health care, appropriate access to health care. I think that is the main thing and that should be the focus of the new minister, the new department, the new deputy minister - and I congratulate him for that appointment; I just heard that yesterday, I believe.
There is a lot of work in front of us and my fear is that a lot of time and energy is going to be taken away from other tasks to work on this restructuring. I know that the minister didn't bring a plan in to the Department of Health and Wellness and say, here, this is our plan to implement the restructuring of the district health authority. I asked the deputy minister that in Law Amendments Committee and she said no, there was no plan. I think the minister alluded to that, and that's why he's touring the province, to figure out really how to do this.
A lot of time and energy is going to be taken over the next year to get to the point where the minister can stand up and say, yes, we've done it; we've reduced the number of district health authorities. Well that's great, but does it better serve Nova Scotians? Time will tell, Madam Chairman, time will tell.
Did they achieve the goals they wanted to achieve that they put in their platform? Year two, year three, $13 million savings - I know I'll be up on my feet again, in year two and year three of their mandate, asking where is the $13 million savings, because I don't believe they're going to be there. Down the road, potentially, there might be, but there is a cost and that's my concern.
Really I think my final question to the minister may be - depending on how he answers this, and I hope he is true to his word, that he will be transparent and forthright with Nova Scotians, to tell them exactly how much this restructuring is going to cost, and when he mentioned the fact that they are going to try to pull people from different areas, that's fine, but you still need to account for their work. The minister indicated that there are, I believe, 426 full-time positions in the Department of Health and Wellness now. There are 467, potentially, some vacancies, so that is about 39 vacancies within the minister's office and in the department. Can the minister provide this committee a copy of the vacancies?
I believe they might be public, so I would like to know the vacancies and what positions they are, because next year I will be asking the minister, of those 39 positions, how many of those vacant positions currently have been filled to work on the restructuring - and that cost has to be involved in the final cost, so my question: Will he provide us with the vacancies and the positions that are currently in the department, and will he commit to making sure that Nova Scotians will know the true cost involved in the restructuring?
MR. GLAVINE: To the member for Sackville-Cobequid, I thank him for his comments and for putting that long-term view and vision in front of me as to what we have set out to achieve. The first thing in terms of the number of current members in the department and what is projected to be in the budget, the 426 versus 467, many of those, as the minister well knows, are ones that are in flux as somebody leaves and you're in the process of filling and that goes on throughout the year.
I'm certainly prepared to tell the member that if he wants to include my tour around the province as part of the cost of restructuring, I'm prepared to look at what even that did cost us. And no, that is important to let Nova Scotians know that it cost us to realize the district structural change. We know there will be some cost savings for sure and whether or not we'll get to the amount in year one or year two, that will remain to be seen because we embarked upon a process to change, whether the figure originally said we would get the cost savings by year two, well 2015-16 will be the first year of the new alignment. Those board members and so forth will get their certification to go forward on April 1, 2015. So it doesn't quite line up with the actual fiscal year but year one, year two, year three of this.
As I went around the province and, again, people coming into the department to speak about what we embarked upon, I would have to say - and not to deflect away from what we will save in administration in the long run - the last statistic showed we're a bit above the Canadian average and all provinces are working to get more to the front line, so we're not different in that regard. And not to deflect away from the saving figure we anticipate nor the cost of bringing a new structure in, each and every district that I went to and all of the information that has been coming into the department over the last weeks and months has really got me much more excited around what we can achieve from a provincial perspective - a one dynamic provincial system where people will move across the province to be able to get the service they require. We won't have to go through this credentialing process of whether a physician can now practise and fill in in another area; it's going to become a much more dynamic and flexible process.
I became excited around the facts of greater access, reducing our wait times, and putting quality standards across the province. As the former minister knows while he was there in the last months, one that I often refer to, is that even that whole area of reporting adverse medical mishaps and incidents was reported differently across the nine districts, and programs that were supposed to be of a provincial nature were rolled out differently in the different districts.
This will be what the one provincial operational board and what the one governance board will be mandated with now - to make sure that the quality, right across the province, is of the highest standard and, when it isn't, there are those investigations, corrections and supports. Cancer Care Nova Scotia is a great model of making sure that the standard in Yarmouth is the same as the standard in Halifax, Sydney, Kentville, wherever we have chemotherapy or whatever cancer care procedures are administered right across the province. I think that provincial approach is now at the point where many people see enormous benefits in bringing this to fruition and allowing it to take place.
One of the areas as well that I believe - the larger management zones and when we look at the system provincially, to start to work towards multi-year funding of the health care system, I think that's where there is real excitement about the possible savings. When people can plan and look out two and three years, that's where some real achievements and cost savings will come into the system.
We are working towards a $13 million saving over time and we are working to minimize the cost of implementation. So, that, I can assure the honourable member, will be tracked and we will be able to put a figure to the cost. I think the vacancy positions are available to be seen.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate the minister making available the vacancy list for us. I want to be very clear to the minister, to Nova Scotians, throughout our mandate in the four years we had the honour to govern, I, for one, will stand up and at every moment defend the work and the changes that have occurred. I believe that the health care system that was left for the minister to take over after the last election is in a much better position than it was when we took it from the previous government in 2009. Throughout our mandate, one of the things we were working towards was to erase those lines that are between the district health authorities.
For example, patients for surgeries were starting to move around the province, just like the minister has stated; the number of VPs in the province was reducing, we had many of those in senior positions working in two districts; and we brought a program forward that helped physicians get their credentials in every district or other districts. This was a challenge for four years; we only had four years to try to make significant changes. I have to remind Nova Scotians that this was a system set up prior to us coming to government in 2009.
We had Liberal and Progressive Conservative Governments that produced the system that we currently have, that produced the ten health authorities that we currently have. What we did under our mandate was try to improve that, look for savings, reduce health and administration, and I'm very, very proud of our record when it comes to health care here in the Province of Nova Scotia - and that's why I'm so concerned about the future. I only want the best for the department; I only want the best for Nova Scotians; and I think we have opportunities to be leaders and we are leaders in many aspects of health care here in the Province of Nova Scotia. I have talked about them from time to time.
We are leaders. We are a small province, but there are many jurisdictions looking at Nova Scotia today and are looking at the practices that have been taken place over the last number of years with health administration, with research, with the services and the programs that we have introduced.
With that, Madam Chairman, I want to thank the minister for some of the answers. He is very good at not answering questions, I must give him that, but I can tell the minister I'm not going anywhere. I'm committed to making sure that the government does the right thing when it comes to health care, and I know I have nearly a million people behind me who support me in that. No matter if they are NDP, Liberal, or Tory, they want to make sure that the health care is in a better position in the years ahead. So that's the end of my questioning.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would like to give the minister the opportunity to make some final remarks in closing.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, and I'm pleased to get the last word, I guess. I do appreciate the comments of the member for Sackville-Cobequid as former minster and, his predecessor, the now Leader of the NDP.
We all know that in the Department of Health and Wellness and Seniors there is a lot of change that naturally goes on, but it truly is a building process. We build on the work of previous administrations, previous leaders in the Health and Wellness Department, and also those that have taken on the professional responsibility of jobs across the province in the health care system.
When we look at a system that has 32,000 employees - it is a big system and one thing that I agree completely with the previous minster is that it is the department that is top of mind for Nova Scotians. It is the most important department in terms of all that is done each and every day to recover from illness and injury, to treat those medical requirements, to also look at how we can improve the health of Nova Scotians and work to give them a high quality of life throughout their years. So that is what we are challenged with each and every day.
As I look down the road, I think the restructuring will have a very evolutionary and a much softer approach to it than what we saw perhaps in some of the other provinces, where on one day you had the old system and, literally, within weeks you had a new system and huge cost drivers around severance. That is not going to be what we will be encumbered with.
I believe over the next number of years some of the initiatives now in the department, as they come out and take their place in building a strong health care system, as the minister said, will continue to be looked at by other jurisdictions, by other parts of the country. I think we have been leading, for example, in dealing with the prescription drug issue and we will continue, I believe, to lead there - and we'll see another very significant announcement next week in that regard.
When I take a look at ways in which we will deal with the elderly population, again, with the most significant number of seniors in the province, and when we take a look at the continuing care, revitalizing that good strategy, also a dementia strategy, a palliative care initiative, these are ones which are right on the cusp now of being announced and implemented across Nova Scotia. We are going to have several different areas where we'll be able to demonstrate strong leadership.
One of the areas that I know as minister I will continue to talk about, to challenge Nova Scotians but to also support them through a program which the previous government brought in, which was Thrive! - but, again, there always needs to be refresh, expansion, and we do need a greater emphasis on that culture of wellness and of personal excellence in health that we all should work to try and achieve to the greatest extent.
Every time that somebody doesn't have to enter the health care system and also have to receive very costly interventions, whether it is surgery or some form of treatment, we know that is a saving to the system and a good day for Nova Scotians.
I have had some wonderful testimonies presented to me about people who are making those personal life changes. Yesterday when I was at an event with Dr. Michael Dunbar, who is an innovator and leader in the orthopaedic world in Nova Scotia, as he talked about his innovation he also said he had to treat too many patients who are not just overweight, they are part of an obese population in our province. He said he is called upon to provide very expensive surgery, very expensive implants, and he said he would like to see fewer Nova Scotians needing the kind of interventions that he has to do. While he is doing this great work, he is also calling upon Nova Scotians to make the kind of changes that we, as a population, do need to make.
Before I give the final resolution on estimates, yesterday we announced a new Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness - and I think Nova Scotians are going to be excited about what he will bring to the department and bring to Nova Scotians in terms of being able to see the kind of changes that we do need to make - who understands the health care system very well.
Over the past six months my job has been made easy by the Acting Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness, Frances Martin. She has been a tower of strength in terms of providing me with knowledge, the basis of good decision making, and a great asset not just to the Department of Health and Wellness but who works each and every day in the best interest for the health and wellness of our province - and I am pleased to say that she will be part of that leadership team in the Department of Health and Wellness.
To our Chief Financial Officer, Kevin Elliott, Kevin brings expertise, great professional stature in the department and he is going to help this minister hold the line on
health care spending for a couple of years by ways in which we can work towards some savings because, as we know, at 41 per cent we really can't move to one more per cent of the budget going for health care.
So I'm looking forward to the months and years ahead as the Minister of Health and Wellness with all of the outstanding people who make Nova Scotia health care the wonderful service, ultimately the most-needed service in our province, a better place each and every day.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E11 stand?
Resolution E11 stands.
Resolution E37 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,862,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Seniors, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E37 carry?
Resolution E37 is carried.
We will now take a short recess to allow for our departments to change for the next session.
[11:21 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:24 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Madam Chairman, could you please call the Estimates of Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
Resolution E4 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $141,607,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I will now invite the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism to make some opening remarks if he wishes and to introduce his staff to the House.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, merci beaucoup. It's an honour to be able to stand here and make some remarks before starting the review of the estimates of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. The last time I had the opportunity to do this was in 1999, which was under Premier Russell MacLellan, in which I had the honour of defending the estimates of the Department of Environment. Unfortunately at the time, the Opposition wasn't as impressed with our budget as we were and, as a result, there was an election on that budget and the election of Dr. John Hamm.
I think it's now four elections later, or five elections later I have the privilege to stand here as the minister and it's truly an honour to be able to do that. I do apologize to Nova Scotians for the 14-year interruption from the last time I had the opportunity to do this, but that is democracy and I would like to think a bit of persistence on my part that I have the opportunity to do this again.
Madam Chairman, thank you for this opportunity. I am pleased to be here today to speak about this year's budget for the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, which includes the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. I'm also responsible for other agencies with economic development as their core operational interest - those include Nova Scotia Business Inc., Innovacorp, Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, the Waterfront Development Corporation, and the Trade Centre Limited. Another entity that falls under my purview is the Utility and Review Board.
I can tell you that each of these organizations is staffed by dedicated and hard-working public servants. I can say that since my arrival at the department, I have been treated with a wonderful reception with a very competent, caring, dedicated staff which, I can tell you, 4:30 p.m. for many of them means absolutely nothing. In fact, I do believe one night I left my office at 11:00 and had a fright when I met one of the executive directors in the elevator, so we came up with a warning system that we would not scare each other at 11:00 at night while leaving the building. But clearly they are a very dedicated staff and have put in many long hours, not only late nights but early mornings, and have done so for many years and certainly have shown that to me during my time.
Before I answer questions about these estimates, I would like to underline some of the important work being undertaken and how this government is approaching the business of economic development differently, something Nova Scotians clearly said they wanted.
First, I'd like to introduce several people who are here with me today. To my left I am joined by Simon d'Entremont, who is the Deputy Minister, as well as Darlene O'Neill, on my right, who is our Finance Director. As well, joining us today we have Chris Daly, who is the Associate Deputy Minister; we also have Lilani Kumaranayake, who is our Executive Director, Policy and Planning; David Oxner, who is our Executive Director, Nova Scotia Gateway; Jeff Larsen, who is our Executive Director, Investment and Trade; Wayne Sumarah, who is our Executive Director, Productivity and Innovation; Keith Macdonald from Nova Scotia Business Inc.; Cindy Roberts from Nova Scotia Business Inc.; and Peter MacAskill from Nova Scotia Business Inc.
Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is a busy department with a large mandate. We lead the development and implementation of policies and strategies promoting economic growth in all communities across the province. Our focus is on using productivity, innovation, investment, trade, tourism, and our natural advantage as a gateway to North America as economic drivers.
It is difficult to find a sector of our economy where our staff is not actively engaged, and I would say it's probably impossible to point to a community that hasn't been touched by this department. We work with businesses of all sizes, with a particular emphasis on supporting Nova Scotia's small and medium-size businesses and entrepreneurs. That mandate comes to us directly from Nova Scotians; they told us they expect government to do things differently.
How we support business and how we report back to Nova Scotia is changing. Nova Scotians want greater transparency and greater accountability, and this government is doing just that. On April 1st, the Accountability in Economic Development Assistance Act came into effect. With it came a new website that provides Nova Scotians access to more information than ever before about the financial assistance government is providing to business. We are setting the bar higher for the rest of the country, and that's something Nova Scotians can be proud of.
We will continue to provide incentives and support to businesses that want to grow and sell their products around the world. Every province offers financial assistance to businesses, but let me be clear - we are not in the bailout business. We need to create the conditions for business to thrive.
As he said - and has now been said so many times across the province - it's now or never. The Ray Ivany report is sobering, but there is reason for optimism if we are prepared to act together. But first we must believe in the potential of Nova Scotia, in our people, in our communities and in our natural assets. Ray Ivany reminds us about the untapped potential in our foundational industries - agriculture, fishery, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. That means making more fish sticks from our fish, more furniture from our trees, more pies from our blueberries, and looking more broadly to sell them - every fish fillet that leaves our province unprocessed is an opportunity lost.
Government alone cannot turn opportunity into success stories. Government is not a bank. We can't take the lead on every project and we can't solve every problem. The private sector must lead the way on driving the economy forward, creating jobs, and keeping our young people here. What government can do is be an enthusiastic partner. We can help set the conditions for individuals and companies to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. That's where Dr. Tom Traves comes in.
In his report, Dr. Traves recommended more qualified, independent decision making in how we invest, based on clear criteria and economic development objectives. He supported government leveraging, private sector investment and equipment upgrades and other capital projects that lead to improved productivity and innovation, and that we agree with.
We will streamline programs; we will ensure businesses have access to capital; we will focus on sector development and encourage more of our businesses to become involved in trade; we will implement programming changes to support the ideas from Ray Ivany and Tom Traves; and we will start by introducing legislation that creates more arm's-length decision making with the Jobs Fund.
We also have a role to play in helping the rest of the world see Nova Scotia as a place to do business, to invest and to grow. Our government will be a champion for the kind of change that will ensure this province becomes one of the best places to live, to work, and to do business.
I'd like to move on to the budget at hand. The members will see that the 2014-15 budget estimate is $11.5 million higher than last year's estimate. There are three primary reasons for this: Number one, the Jobs Fund allocation is higher to reflect the significant commitments made by the former government, which will come due this year; Number two, grants to agencies are up, and in this case to the Waterfront Development Corporation for the Queen's Landing project; and Number three, there is some additional funding for tourism marketing at the Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre, as well as new and expanded employment programs. These programs provide direct and long-lasting benefits to our youth and communities, and I'll talk about these in a few minutes.
The Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism did achieve its 1 per cent reduction, Madam Chairman, primarily through vacancy savings, adjusting programming funding with historical utilization trends, which have traditionally been unused at the end of the year, and savings in professional services.
The department is forecasting to end the 2013-14 fiscal year over its budget estimate. This situation was first raised at the Finance Minister's December forecast update related to the Yarmouth ferry investment from the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund.
You will also notice some change within the department. Let me tell you, these changes have been made to better align services and have had limited impact on staff. Number one, the Procurement Services Division has moved to the new Internal Services Department. That division's budget and full-time equivalents moved wholly to the new department and we wish them well. They provide an exceptional service and value to taxpayers, connecting the government with quality suppliers, many of whom are Nova Scotia businesses.
Secondly, within the department there was a realignment of staff who provided licensing, quality assurance, research, and visitor services within the tourism sector. Since 2012, they have been reporting to the executive director of Regional Planning and Development, and these folks will now report to the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency - a better fit for sure.
Economic and Rural Development and Tourism administers several programs designed to assist employers in a variety of sectors by providing a wage rebate to encourage them to hire students. This year, we are expanding two programs and creating a new one. First, we're expanding the Student Career Skills Development Program by an additional $1 million. This will support another 250 not-for-profit summer jobs for a total of 750 jobs for post-secondary students looking for career-specific experience.
The second program we're enhancing is the Strategic Co-operative Education Incentive program. An additional $500,000 will help more businesses, not-for-profits and government-funded organizations recruit and provide meaningful work experience to university and community college students. This means 75 more spots, for a total of 425 funded positions. Government provides 50 per cent of the required minimum hourly wage of $15 per hour.
And, we are in the design phase of creating the new Graduate to Opportunities program. This program will help graduates start their careers here by helping to offset the costs employers incur in the first year of employment. Our investment in this program will be $1.6 million this year and we expect that to grow.
Our enhancements this year start with students and new graduates, but they certainly don't stop there. As everyone is no doubt aware, the ship has just come in. One of the biggest opportunities we have this year is the return of the Yarmouth ferry. Our government promised that we'd do all we could to get a ferry service back in Yarmouth, and we made that promise because we saw the impact the loss of the ferry had in 2009.
Just two days ago I watched the Nova Star sail into the harbour - what an incredible day for Yarmouth and for the Province of Nova Scotia. I heard the cheers and I saw the smiles of everyone who was there. This is what the people of southwestern Nova Scotia have been waiting for.
We know a ferry service will attract thousands of tourists and create the opportunity to re-energize the regional economy. With the ship in the water, we must make the most of the opportunity. The northeastern United States is homes to millions of people and we intend to bring many of them here. That's why this year we're investing $1.5 million to market Nova Scotia throughout the northeastern United States; we're also putting close to $500,000 into the Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre so we provide the best possible visitor experience, whether it's outdoor adventures, fantastic food and drink, great culture activities or down-home hospitality, tourism is something we do well here in Nova Scotia. As Ray Ivany reminds us, this is one of our foundational sectors that represent an opportunity for economic growth.
I could read you the descriptions of all of the programs of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, but instead I'd rather tell you about some of the businesses being helped by those programs. The Social Enterprise Fund helped the kids of Hope Blooms in the north end of Halifax. These are the young entrepreneurs who grow their own herbs and vegetables to make salad dressings - imagine what these kids will do next.
Much more often than not, our support for business is limited and strategic. It's what the company does with our support that is much more impressive. Take a small company called Cinema Control Labs. This Nova Scotia business is aiming to revolutionize the film industry with new technology that makes it easier to capture exceptional images. The company has developed the world's first fully-automated focus system for high-end cinema cameras. It was launched earlier this month at an industry trade show in Las Vegas, but the innovation was born right here in Nova Scotia. As government, we are only too happy to help the company turn its idea into reality through the Small Business Development Program. Today the company is fielding calls and booking orders for its product from around the globe.
The Community Regional Development Fund is helping our towns and villages expand existing businesses and attract new ones; Port Hood is one such example. Residents there are working on a design plan for a facade and streetscape program that will provide the area with a vision of development for the next 15 to 20 years. Port Hood's business community has shown a commitment to development and a willingness to work together on a plan of action. When government sees that kind of forward thinking and collaboration, we are ready to be a partner and contribute to the economic growth in rural communities.
Then there is the Nova Scotia business that is getting ready to grab a much bigger slice of the pie business, with a serving of support from the province - Apple Valley Foods identified an opportunity to grow and invested significantly to take its business to the next level. The government, through the Capital Investment Incentive, was able to leverage the $10 million modernization of the Kentville facility. Again, this speaks to the government's willingness to be a partner in line with the recommendations of Dr. Tom Traves. In this case, we also know this expansion will put Apple Valley Foods in a position to buy more apples and blueberries from local farmers in the Annapolis Valley.
We also used the Capital Investment Incentive to leverage a $4 million investment by Acadian Seaplants, one of the world's largest biotech companies. Our investment helped the company buy new equipment that will increase capacity, enhance product quality, and improve worker safety. Acadian Seaplants is seizing the opportunity to grow and increase trade, and the province is proud to partner in this ambitious adventure. This is a company that's doing business in more than 80 countries around the world, and the seaweed harvested and processed here is sent to foreign markets as specialty fertilizer, animal feed supplements, and ingredients for breweries and cosmetics. Very impressive, I would say.
Some of our programs help so many businesses that there simply isn't time here today to discuss them all. For example, 51 small and medium-size businesses from communities throughout Nova Scotia have benefited from the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program this past year. The program helps connect small businesses with experts to get to the next level in their growth by helping develop new innovative products and services, or getting a new product or service to the next stage, or even to market. We are lucky to have the broad depth of talent in our post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia.
Our Global Business Accelerator Program is a program designed to help Nova Scotia businesses take off in new markets around the world. Recently we announced modest support for 13 companies. They will hire experts in international business to move them forward. These are companies like Mindful Scientific, which delivers brain first aid and develops medical devices to keep our brains healthy, and 4Deep Inwater Imagining, which is developing really cool, holographic, underwater microscopes. The Global Business Accelerator Program is built on collaboration - Nova Scotians helping other Nova Scotians do better. Together I believe the potential and possibilities for success are endless.
Then there is the Credit Union Small Business Loan Guarantee Program. I'm particularly pleased to be able to say that on Monday we were able to increase the provincial portion of the loan guarantee program from $25 million to $50 million. This was announced by our Premier and is an initiative that he has taken a great interest in and showed tremendous leadership. We are also increasing the guarantee we provide on term loans from 75 per cent to 90 per cent, which was a campaign platform commitment.
Doubling the number of loans available will help Nova Scotia entrepreneurs expand, hire new workers, and reinvest in their communities. These benefits will be felt in every region of the province. After 10 years the program has invested $56 million in more than 1,200 Nova Scotia businesses and more than 95 per cent of those loans have been successfully repaid in full - a figure that all Nova Scotians can be proud of.
This is a program that doesn't need big bureaucracy. It doesn't give away tax dollars; loans are fully repayable with interest. It's a true partnership between government and our credit unions and provides an essential source of financing for small businesses in Nova Scotia.
I'd like to take a moment now to talk about the province's economic development agencies. Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia is responsible for guiding the growth of the creative sectors in Nova Scotia. The agency offers a variety of supports, including marketing Nova Scotia as a film location to foreign studios, broadcasters, and producers. The agency also provides initial production support to producers who are guests in the province. And the results of the productions made here act as unofficial ambassadors for the province around the world.
Nova Scotia's start-up business scene is incredibly vibrant. As the province's early stage venture capital organization, Innovacorp sees the momentum building every day. The young, knowledge-based companies Innovacorp invests in and assists are innovative and have the potential to be globally competitive and create high-value jobs. These start-ups are vital to growing our economy. Innovacorp's goal is to help emerging Nova Scotia knowledge-based companies commercialize their technologies and succeed in the global marketplace.
Nova Scotia Business Inc. may be our best known and perhaps most talked about agency. Its goal is to promote economic development in the province through business development, retention and expansion, the establishment of new business in the province, and trade, development and expansion. In many cases, when people or businesses come to Nova Scotia looking to do business, NSBI is their first point of contact.
The Trade Centre Limited creates economic and community benefits by bringing people together in Halifax and Nova Scotia. As we've already talked about, we do an excellent job of hosting, and the Trade Centre helps us showcase Nova Scotia's strengths and makes sure the rest of the world knows about our hospitality.
The Waterfront Development Corporation is a provincial Crown corporation developing the potential of waterfronts in Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax, and Lunenburg. It fosters the creation of waterfronts that drive economic opportunity, enhance tourism, provide experiences, and reflects and protects our marine heritage.
Finally, I'll say a few words about the Utility and Review Board. The Utility and Review Board continues to function as an independent regulatory and adjudicative board on a host of matters important to Nova Scotians. The board realized its 1 per cent budget reduction of $20,000 in administrative costs, as all government departments have.
In the seven months I've been in this role, I have come to learn there are hundreds of stories that could be told about the work of this department and our agencies, which they do every day. Under this government's watch, the department will continue to partner with the federal government, private sector, non-profits and others, to support passionate entrepreneurs with great ideas growing businesses that want to reach new markets and employers willing to hire fresh, new talent. These are the things we'll do to move our businesses and province forward.
Thank you, merci beaucoup, and I look forward to any questions that members of the Opposition might have.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: I'd like to thank the minister for making himself available today for our questions. I know the minister will relate to this - Port Hawkesbury Paper, a very important employer in both the minister's and my area. I know with the previous government, there was very little interest to look at the facts and figures around energy and emissions. I do know, as the minister will know, that energy is a significant cost for the paper mill and something that impacts its future in terms of its ability to stay competitive in the global environment.
I know I've met with them, and in the month of December their cost for energy was about $109 per megawatt hour, which is much higher than what their competitors would be paying in provinces like Ontario and Quebec. I do know that the paper mill is looking at diversifying. I think that's very important because we all know that the market for paper is likely in decline - it's at least not expected to grow. It's important that Nova Scotia companies that are interacting with the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism have a chance to bring these issues to the department.
I know the issue of power, while it's related to the Department of Energy, is connected in terms of the future of the economic development of the Strait area in that if energy is not more affordable in the future, activities that this mill is looking at now - which it is looking at producing non-food sugars from wood fibre and products that would be associated with that - could go to other jurisdictions.
I'd like the minister to comment on that; again, the previous government really didn't want to talk about it. They didn't want to get into the details. I remember I had the former Minister of Energy at estimates last Spring and went through everything from the cost per kilowatt hour or megawatt hour for power and the various inputs that go in to make up the blended rate that we and heavy industrial users like the paper mill pay for their power. The minister just really didn't want to get into the facts and figures because the case I was presenting was that because of the energy policy in the province, we're using more expensive inputs, which is raising the cost per unit, which is really the reason why our power rates have gone up.
Madam Chairman, if we look back to the power mix from 2006 - I know a power bill today which would be $3,000 if we were using the same energy mix that we were using in 2006, it would more likely be about $2,000 - and that is in today's dollars. I'd like to share that with the minister at some point. I won't share it with him today, but certainly there's a significant increase in the cost of power due to the changes in the policy instituted by the previous government.
That's having a real impact on our economy. I know the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that one of the top two concerns for their businesses that they represent around the province is the cost of power and how that affects their profit margins.
I want to give the minister a chance to respond. I guess my question to him would be: Is his department acknowledging that the increase in power rates in recent years, due to energy policy and the requirement to move drastically towards large amounts of expensive renewable energy, are having an impact on businesses like Port Hawkesbury Paper and that we need to look at that and look into the facts and figures of it to really see if there's something we can be doing, not just in terms of the cost of the power but also in the emissions, because emissions may not be decreasing as much as we think they are with these changes in energy policy? So Minister, I'll allow you to have a chance to respond. Thank you.
MR. SAMSON: I thank my colleague from Inverness. As he has acknowledged, Port Hawkesbury Paper obviously plays a very important role in the economy of the Strait area. While it is physically located in Richmond County, the impact that it has certainly extends to all in the Strait area, into Cape Breton and into eastern Nova Scotia, so it's one that I certainly am very familiar with.
I have met with the company as well and, rightfully so, they have expressed concerns over their energy costs. The company has been very clear, from the owner to the managers, to state that they were extremely impressed with the facility, with the workers and with the quality of the product that they are producing. All of those things are all positives; in fact, they were pleasantly surprised at how well the workforce was trained and was prepared to adapt. The workers themselves now are working directly with management and coming up with ideas of making a better product. What we're hearing from them is that that wasn't always welcome previously under different owners; there was a certain product to be made, and that was it.
To see the workers themselves coming forward and saying, well, how about if we try this? And we think we can get a better grade paper, we can get a better quality paper. I think it speaks volumes to the quality of the workers that we have. No surprise - that's the spirit of the people of Cape Breton, the spirit of the people of Nova Scotia. They don't just go to work; they are constantly trying to find ways to improve the work they are doing. I commend the company because a lot of the success in the product that it's getting now has come from the workers who had those ideas all along and are now being given an opportunity to carry them out.
I can share with the member that energy obviously is not something directly dealt with by our department. I know my colleague, the Minister of Energy, has met with the company on several occasions. But the member raises a good point - at some point, as a province and as elected members, we do have to have an adult discussion regarding the whole regulatory framework that was established here in this province in order to determine - is it best suiting the needs of Nova Scotians and is it making our province as competitive as can be? I think that's a discussion that needs to take place amongst all sides of this House, and I am sure the honourable member would agree with me that discussion would do best to take place sooner rather than later.
MR. MACMASTER: It's refreshing to hear those comments from the minister. I can tell you, minister, if you ever want to take a position on energy rates that's different from what we have now, that's more in line with what I was talking about, I'd be happy to cross the political divide on that one. I think that's a significant issue for the province, and I think we've gone down a path that's been very politically correct in the last number of years.
What I would say to people who maybe have more concern about the environment than the economy is we should also look to see if some of these changes are actually helping our environment. I know with windmills - and I do think we should be doing some work with windmills - I have some constituents who are involved in the development of windmill projects. But we know that with windmills, when they're not blowing, the coal plants have to ramp up capacity very quickly and there's an inefficient burn of coal, which leads to a higher intensity of emissions.
Those are real things that we should be looking at. To people who are more concerned about the environment than the economy, what I would say to them is that we should be measuring to see if we're making improvements. At the end of the day, we need to make sure that we keep people employed in the province, as well as saving our environment.
I want to move on from that, and I would like to ask the minister about the package that was provided to the Port Hawkesbury Paper Mill to revive it. I know it's certainly reassuring for me to see that the business is operating again. I can see, psychologically for the Strait area, what we went through when the mill was going to shut down and then when it was revived. I can tell you that the Strait area would be in a desperate situation now if that mill wasn't operating. I want to ask the minister, going forward, the package has been provided to them, and I want to ask the minister his thoughts on how the company is doing, on its likelihood of success over the next 10 years and how he sees the package they received helping them - and any other general comments he has on that.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, thank you to the member. I have met with the company and have talked to them. We were fortunate in the fact that they were producing supercalendered paper, which there is still a significant demand for, but obviously the company is aware of competition which is coming from South America, which is starting to produce more and more of - it's not as high-level a quality of product, but it is produced significantly cheaper, which is causing concern for the markets.
One of the things that I do want to highlight - I'm not sure if the member's aware, but our government, through the Minister of Natural Resources, when he wasn't busy with the ferry, also announced $1.5 million in innovation funding for our forestry industry to come up with new products, using our traditional forests.
As I'm sure the member is aware, Port Hawkesbury Paper is one of the recipients of that funding and is currently undertaking a pilot project, which I'm sure he has heard about as well from his constituents who work there. They are quite excited about the project and, to the company's credit, they have kept the workers informed of what the concept is and it is to produce a type of sugar from the trees themselves, and they believe that if enough product can be created there are some market opportunities there.
I commend the company that is already looking at the fact that there may have to be a transition at some point away from supercalendared paper, and the fact that they are already looking at other products they could possibly be doing at that facility, I think that shows the commitment of the company to our area, the fact that they wanted to succeed. And those are the types of investments which I think Nova Scotians can clearly support when we are giving money to try to assist in identifying new products, new innovation, and new ways of using our traditional forestry to keep it sustainable and also to derive economic benefits from it.
The path that the company is currently on is one that I certainly hope they will have much success with, and we will certainly continue to work closely with them at identifying opportunities for growth and opportunities for innovation and diversification as well.
MR. MACMASTER: I think that highlights the point, given the investment has been made in the company, that we do all we can in terms of - power rates being a big one, to ensure they have a chance to be successful, and so the taxpayers in the province get some return on their investment, that we at least break even on the investment made by the government. This mill, Madam Chairman, until that recent support package, I think has primarily paid its own way all the way through since the 1960s and it has delivered tremendous value to the province in terms of export dollars it has brought into our economy. To me, that is exactly what businesses in the rural parts of the province should be doing - they should be using natural resources and adding value to natural resources and generating tax revenues for the province. We often hear that rural parts of the province are a drain on the urban area of the province.
Madam Chairman, I think that paper mill has proven itself, at least up until recent times, to be a real net contributor to the province and I want to ensure that we do everything we can in this Legislature to make sure they have a chance to make at least a break-even on the investment that the government has recently made in their business.
With that, Madam Chairman, I do have some more questions and I'll move on to another topic. One of the items that I thought was positive in the budget was the increase in the summer student jobs. I just want to ask the minister what that might mean in terms of job numbers for, say, Inverness County this summer - I presume it's this summer that it will take effect.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, maybe the member for Inverness can tell us when he stands the next time, but I can tell you that I've worked on some of these summer employment programs while attending university back home. I believe my first year out of high school was a project through the Fédération Acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse, which is the Acadian Federation local office. We were organizing the annual Acadian Festival.
I've seen the benefits of this program and I have no doubt the member for Inverness, like so many members in this House would be aware of, not only does it provide tremendous employment opportunity for the students, it keeps them home; it gives them a bit of attachment to their community through the organization, and for the organizations in question, it is much-needed relief. Many of these organizations are volunteers; many of them work throughout the year and to have a little bit of help during the summer months means a lot to them.
During my time previously in government 14 years ago, I fought hard to ensure we had as many positions as possible, knowing the importance of this throughout Nova Scotia but certainly in many rural communities in assisting with festivals, with sporting events, with boys and girls events. There is a whole host of museums for example, a whole host of different groups that were being assisted and, unfortunately, over the years with budget pressures throughout government, this was one of those programs that kept seeing cuts bit by bit each year, and when I looked last year, when we left office in 1999, that summer Richmond County had 38 positions; last year we had seven.
That is a significant drop and what has happened - and I'm sure it is probably the same for the member in Inverness - is that university students aren't coming home. They are staying where they go to university because they are saying we can't find work for the summer when we go back home. This is one of those programs which kept them coming home, and as there have been cuts over the years due to budget pressures, unfortunately this is one of those programs that suffered. By investing an additional million dollars into this program, it has allowed us to create 250 additional positions.
What has happened is that the administration of this, the department - obviously the application deadline, I believe, was the end of January so the applications were already in, so what happened was the department proceeded as usual in assessing those applications and getting the list of who would be approved ready, based on last year's numbers. Those organizations that have been approved, based on last year's numbers, have started to be contacted. That information is going out to them; I believe they should have received letters by now.
In light of the fact that we put 250 additional positions in, my concern as minister was that many organizations over the years have stopped applying. Because of the cuts that have been made, they have just said I'm not going to bother applying anymore because we are just not going to get one; there are too few positions.
I'm pleased that my department has increased the time frame for submitting applications to April 25th, I believe if I'm not mistaken; in fact my understanding is there will be an announcement next week confirming that.
So what I would tell the member and what I would tell all members of this House is that if you have any local community group or organization which may have an interest in this and is thinking they missed the deadline, there is still time to apply and we encourage them to do so. The information is available on our website under the Student Career Skills Development Program. It's there, available, and the application is there. We would encourage them to submit applications, because with putting in an extra 250 positions we need the applications as well to match that. Right now I can tell you that just from the first round we had a lot of applications in; we have more applications than we have positions. At the same time I didn't think it would be fair to announce more positions with organizations that may have missed the deadline, thinking that there wasn't going to be more.
As far as how many there will be in Inverness, I will get that information to the member. If I'm not mistaken it is an increase as a result of the extra positions, but I can certainly get him that specific information. Again, if there are any organizations that have been - the other thing I should mention is that there is an appeal process, so if there are any organizations that have received notice saying that they weren't accepted, they can appeal that, and especially in light of the new positions that have been announced there may be an opportunity there to provide them with a student, even if they did not make the first round.
MR. MACMASTER: I believe it is money well spent. It is not a significant amount of money, but it makes a real difference and, as the minister said, certainly in rural areas it helps to bring students home for the summer, which is important. It's something that I actually wrote a letter to the previous government on, and they didn't do it, but you did, so thank you for that.
Following on that I know the program has historically not been opened to the private sector, and I want to know if the minister has any thoughts on that because we know the work experience students could get in the private sector is very valuable, and I want to know his thoughts on allowing small businesses in Nova Scotia to apply. I realize this year it is probably difficult to do that at this point, but maybe he could give us his thoughts on the potential for that happening in the future.
MR. SAMSON: What has happened over the last few years is that the province has stuck to the non-profit sector. The federal government, on the other hand, does provide funding for the private sector, for private business and private entities.
We have a good working relationship with the federal agency that administers this and in many ways they try to go through the list of who has applied for a provincial position, who has applied for a federal position. In many cases many organizations apply under both. They will apply federally and they will apply provincially in the hopes that they'll at least get one, and hopefully one from each. With this added funding, hopefully that will put those numbers up even more.
It seems to be working at this point. We are hoping that the federal government, which had cut back in some of its funding for this, will restore that funding - in this case, take our lead - and put some more money into it. If we can get the federal government putting more money in and matching our increase, that's more positions, more students, more people staying at home, more communities and more organizations that are benefiting from that.
On the private sector side, I should advise the member that the increase that we've put into the co-op program, that does apply to the private sector as well. It's both private, non-profit, and government departments as well. In that case it would be students who are well into their co-op programs.
The other one that would apply to the private sector as well would be the new Graduate to Opportunities program that we are developing right now, which would provide funding to private industry to hire new graduates who do not have experience but, in recognition of the challenges of having an employee who is not trained or experienced, this program will provide them with a financial incentive to do so. So while the student employment program does not apply to private sector, we have both the co-op program and Graduate to Opportunities program that will work with the private sector as well.
MR. MACMASTER: Madam Chairman, I'll move on to another topic, one that I think will be near and dear to the minister's heart as well because it's in our respective areas, that is the port at the Strait of Canso. I know there is some work afoot there to develop some type of a body that would manage the port. I know in the past I even put out a press release one time - it's one of the few press releases I regret my wording on because I mentioned the word "port authority." I think it's clear that the existing businesses in the port - they're using the port now - don't want a port authority, and I respect that.
I do believe there is a need, and I think they're supportive of this, too, of some kind of a body that would manage the port and would actively market the port - not that it should become some kind of bureaucratic exercise, Madam Chairman, and I mean that in terms of an organization that might be focused on things that might not necessarily be producing results in terms of jobs from the asset that is the port.
I want to ask the minister: Has he been working with groups locally and has he any thoughts on the vision that is taking shape and the role of his department in that vision?
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I thank my colleague for the question. Obviously the port is one that impacts the whole Strait area. You've got Richmond, Inverness, Guysborough, you could even argue Antigonish County and going up the Strait, all have an interest in what happens with the port and with the Strait of Canso.
What I can tell the honourable member is that there are discussions developing with the federal government regarding this very topic. They are still, I would say, a bit in the infancy stage, but they are discussions that are taking place not only regarding the Strait of Canso but also regarding Sydney Harbour.
I know that the mayor of CBRM has been involved with the discussions, as well as the municipal leaders in the Strait area, regarding possible solutions being developed in discussions with the federal government. I'm reluctant to give too many details now, due to the fact that the discussions are underway, but I believe there is an opportunity there to address the concerns that were raised with creating a port authority by some of the users there, and potential users, but there appears to be an opportunity as well for the Strait to have better control over the harbour, over the port, and right now I believe discussions are under way as to which entity would be best suited to be responsible for that. So those are discussions under way.
We have David Oxner who is responsible for the Gateway Secretariat in our department, who works very closely with all of the ports around the province. Certainly this is a file that we will be watching very closely and any assistance that we can provide, will be. We certainly want to make sure that our municipal partners and our organizations in the Strait area are all on board and working towards identifying what is the best way forward when it comes to the issue of the future of the port.
MR. MACMASTER: I'm glad to hear that from the minister. I know it's important not to inflate costs for the current users of the port, but I do believe there is a role for government to ensure that we are proactive and should one of the current users have to close operations and we lose jobs in the area - not that we would want that to happen or expect it to happen - but should that happen it would certainly be scrambling at that point to try to replace those jobs, so I think it's better for us to be proactive and create something now that can help diversify the activity at the port and grow the jobs that are there.
I just have one more question, Madam Chairman, and that was something the minister mentioned in his opening remarks about a project in Port Hood. I know his department is supporting them in their conceptual plan for that project. I think it is important; Port Hood is becoming more of tourism destination. We have even heard talks of paving the Colindale Road, which is a beautiful drive along the coast between Port Hood and Mabou. We know the RV park has been very successful in Port Hood, and certainly the beaches in Port Hood are as nice as any that you would find north of the Carolinas. The water is as warm as anywhere in the Carolinas - maybe not quite in the Carolinas, certainly not year-round, but the water is warm, much warmer than it is in other parts of the province.
Madam Chairman, I just wanted to ask the minister, given that Port Hood, I think, is positioned with some more development to become more of a tourism destination and this project is focused on improving the aesthetics of the community and helping to facilitate the exchange of business in the community, can the minster give us some comment on potential further support his department might be able to provide the people who are working on that project in Port Hood?
MR. SAMSON: I can say one thing, Madam Chairman, the waters of Port Hood may not be as warm as the Carolinas, but I can tell you they are a lot warmer than Arichat because even in the warmest of days on Isle Madame it still takes a brave soul to get into the waters of the Atlantic. Whatever helps make the waters of Port Hood as warm as they are, it certainly is an asset for that community. I know many of my constituents travel up there regularly to go and enjoy the beach and enjoy the community.
The Port Hood project with the facade and everything else they are doing is a perfect example of what we need to succeed as a province. We need communities themselves to come forward and to tell us as government, as their partner, what it is that they see as a benefit to their area. The days of communities waiting for someone in Halifax or in Ottawa or elsewhere to come in say, here I've got the solution for you - those days are gone. Port Hood is a prime example of where they sat down and said, okay, how is it - what is the best way here to achieve the goals we want to achieve and how can we use government funding to assist us in carrying that out?
Those are projects, regardless of which community they are in, we are proud as a department to be able to work with those communities. And I can't encourage communities and organizations enough to bring forward ideas that they have. There is nothing more frustrating, whether you are a minister or whether you are an elected official, when you hear people say we never get anything, and then you ask: Is there anything you asked for? And they have never asked.
No one in government is going to create projects. We need them to come forward, and Port Hood is a prime example. One of the others that I'm sure the member is well aware of - and I believe I heard him mention it here in the House - is the project that Jim Mustard is involved with in Inverness where that multi-use facility, I believe a bakery as well as as an opportunity for clients with challenges would all be housed in one. I've met with him on that. I believe we have provided some initial funding for the design phase of the project, but obviously it is one that we are looking forward to.
One of the challenges facing our department, which I believe we'll be bringing forward in the very near future for consideration of the House, is how best do we start doing sector development? When we talk about Port Hood, it clearly falls into developing our tourism market; it falls into developing economic development for the community and the question is: How can government play a role in making those investments?
In some cases they are small investments; those are easy. But communities will come forward with larger investments - and I give the prime example of Richmond County, which came forward with a $6 million tourism plan, in that Richmond is putting up over $2 million of their own money. So that is a significant request and I joined Minister Rob Moore on Monday for the announcement in St. Peter's, where the federal government has put their portion in, $2.2 million. That is a significant request and our province certainly wants to be a partner in that.
Those are some of the challenges we face and certainly hope, as we bring forward some of those solutions in the next number of days, I certainly look forward to hearing the comments from the member for Inverness and, hopefully, his support because we want to continue to work with Inverness.
We want to continue to work with companies around the province so that when communities come forward saying we want to better ourselves, we want to do improvements to our community, we want to grow our economy, we want to be at the table with them; more importantly, we want to be able to support them financially. To do that, we need to make sure we have the right tools and we have the right funding to continue to be a partner in that.
MR. MACMASTER: Madam Chairman, I'd like to extend the remainder of our time to my colleague for Pictou Centre.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I'm not sure how much time is left, but we'll continue questioning until . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Twenty-seven minutes.
MR. DUNN: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I want to offer my congratulations to the minister for taking on this role as Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and also the role of Government House Leader. I also want to welcome his staff here today.
The few questions I have, minister, didn't fall underneath your watch so I'm basically looking for some clarification, some information from you, if that is possible. The first one is dealing with something that, over the last few years talking to small business owners - and when I refer to small business owners I'm talking about businesses maybe with 30, 40, 50 or 60 people working in the companies - they would bring to my attention, at times, some difficulty in contracts, putting a tender out for a contract. What really perplexed me was the fact that they actually lost some contracts by less than $2, where the contract went to New Brunswick, went to the Province of Quebec - and I certainly have nothing against the Province of Quebec or New Brunswick, but I would love seeing those contracts staying back here in Nova Scotia.
Again, I'm not too sure where things went wrong with awarding these contracts, but if the information provided to me by the employer was correct, then we are talking pennies with regard to the difference between the two tenders.
I guess a couple of questions - One is, and I'm sure that you are probably aware of this, over the years - do we have any percentages, now or in the past, where if the tenders are out and different provinces are sending their tenders in, do we have window there of say 5 or 10 or 15 per cent, if all things are equal will the contract go to Nova Scotia, as opposed to going outside?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member for Pictou Centre, I appreciate the question. When I first became minister of this department, ironically I was responsible for procurement, but with the recent changes announced by the Premier, my good friend, the Minister of Public Service Commission and Internal Services, is now responsible for procurement. After Question Period the last few days, I have to say I am quite pleased with the Premier's confidence in putting him in charge of procurement.
All joking aside, I did enjoy working with procurement, Barry Boutilier, who is the executive director there, and his wonderful team and the job they do on behalf of Nova Scotians. Right now I'm told that approximately 75 per cent of all tenders issued by the Province of Nova Scotia are awarded to Nova Scotia companies. Under our trade rules we are limited in putting up restrictions that favour Nova Scotia companies. That is something I believe our province has been very respectful of, but what we are hearing is that we may be one of the few provinces that is respectful of that. That is going to be a bigger discussion because with the new CETA agreement, which is the European trade agreement, right now European companies will be able to trade and do business in Canada without any barriers.
Right now, within Canada, we still have our own internal barriers from one province to the next. That is something that needs to be addressed and, as the minister responsible for trade, we have been having discussions with our federal counterparts on that. There will be meetings of the provincial ministers coming up but we need to find a way to ensure not only - it is a double-edged sword because we want our Nova Scotia companies to be able to compete around the world and compete around Canada so we need to be careful that we are respecting that desire of having them to be able to compete freely in other provinces and not put up barriers that favour Nova Scotia companies. At the same time, other provinces have to stop their restrictive practices because you can't expect Nova Scotia to follow the rules if nobody else is following the rules.
We share in those frustrations, but as far as a company losing out by a couple of dollars that is the whole idea behind having an open tender process. We encourage Nova Scotia companies to submit the most competitive bids that they can. One of the things I can tell the member - I'm sure the minister now responsible for it could elaborate further - is that whenever someone is unsuccessful in a tender, the procurement division will work closely with them to identify what improvements they may have been able to make to their tender. They are very proactive in that regard, in wanting to work with Nova Scotia companies to help them ensure they have the best tender, the most competitive tender, and the next time a tender is issued they may be in a better position to do so.
We do our best. We would love to see many Nova Scotia companies able to win tenders in Nova Scotia. What the procurement division has been doing, as well as having these reverse trade shows which are meant to help Nova Scotia suppliers better learn how they can be submitting tenders for work in Nova Scotia and what is available, with new technology we have even taken to Twitter - to put out tenders over Twitter so that companies can be made aware of them. As well, there are tender notices which go out, I believe - once companies register with procurement they automatically receive tenders that are put out on the Internet.
A lot of work has been done, but I share in your concern and we are certainly hoping that, with the new European trade agreement, the trade barriers that exist within Canada will be lifted because Nova Scotia companies have an opportunity to compete and do business throughout Canada and they shouldn't be hampered because of trade barriers that are being implemented by other Canadian provinces.
MR. DUNN: Thank you, minister, for that answer. In my initial comments I neglected to mention the fact that the minister has certainly come full circle over the years, with regard to positions in the House here. I probably could throw one question out to him that he might not be able to answer - how many times has he come up the staircase here and in through the doors over the years? It would have been a quite a few.
I guess my next question would be dealing with DSME, the South Korean plant in Trenton, Mr. Chairman. It is around the accountability of dollars given by the government to DSME. Is there a rigid follow-up to that with regard to how those dollars are spent over the years?
If we go back to, I believe, May 2007, Greenbrier shut the plant down and left and then I believe - in fact the Minister of Internal Services did work in the Trenton plant for seven or eight months, actually, and I had the opportunity to work there when I was in Grade 12. At that particular time there were 2,300 employees in that plant. It was a big order and they needed a lot of employees, so it is probably why a few of us from the high school were able to slip down over the hill and work for a few months.
Again, I believe, if my memory is correct, probably back around 2010, Mr. Chairman, a great sum of money was passed on to this company - and I'm going to throw out figures - maybe $50 million by the previous government, maybe $10 million from the federal government. I wonder what type of process is followed after that because I'm under the understanding that money is gone, the money has been spent but their goals for the number of employees working in that plant certainly haven't been reached.
I can recall that in the initial stages they were looking at, perhaps starting off in that first year or two, 150 employees and when they wrapped it up they would be looking at somewhere in the area of maybe 500 employees. Again, we know that doesn't happen. There are very few people on the floor. There are probably more people working in the administration offices and so on than are on the floor; however, that money is gone.
My question to the minister is basically the process of accountability, and how rigid that is and so on.
MR. SAMSON: I thank my honourable colleague for the question. It's sobering when you hear that up to 2,300 people worked at that facility. It's amazing how much of an economic generator it was for that area and how time has changed.
What I can say is that he is correct; the investment made in DSME was made by the previous administration. It was an equity investment. What we do is we have two members on the board of DSME who are present at the meetings and we keep in regular contact with them as far as the finances are concerned. At the same time we work closely with them trying to identify new opportunities.
As the member is aware, the investment was made initially to allow the company to produce wind turbines and to be able to sell those throughout Canada. The two biggest markets that they were planning on servicing were Ontario and Quebec. After the investment was made and the company got started up, both the Province of Ontario and the Province of Quebec put up trade barriers indicating that any wind turbines for projects in those provinces had to be produced in Ontario.
That goes to my discussion earlier, to your previous question about how Nova Scotia has tried to respect these trade agreements and have fair trade and free trade, other provinces haven't done the same. That certainly was a detriment to that community because there were opportunities lost, not because of anything the company did, not because of anything the Province of Nova Scotia did, but because of restrictive covenants that were placed by both Ontario and Quebec.
We continue to work closely with the management at the facility. I think the member is aware that they do have a contract coming up for the construction of, I believe, over 30 wind turbines. As well, we continue to work with them regarding diversification and what other markets they may be able to enter into.
I can advise my colleague that I did meet with the general manager of the facility and some of the management there. I have committed to going down to the facility and certainly I would welcome my colleague to join me. I think I was challenged to walk the whole facility, which my understanding is it's a bit of a long one so I'll make sure to bring comfortable shoes, but I do look forward to getting down there, to seeing the operation in action as well, but we are working with them.
What we have made clear to the company, and the member will probably be aware, is that we don't want to see them diversifying by competing against other Nova Scotia businesses. We want to be able to work with them to identify opportunities where they could be producing a product and competing where Nova Scotia companies aren't currently doing so, but because of the significant investment in public funds in that company, I have already instructed them that they are not to be putting bids on work that can be readily done by Nova Scotia companies. I consider that to be completely unfair.
I know my predecessor in this department never understood that concept of how we could see it being unfair. I see it as unfair; I believe my colleague probably sees it as unfair as well. So, what other opportunities are there for this company that we can continue to work with them and try to identify, because at the end of the day this is a company that has tremendous economic capabilities back in Korea, and we want work closely with them at seeing what opportunities exist here - because if that company succeeds it means more jobs and it means more opportunities for our province.
MR. DUNN: Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for that answer. When he gets the opportunity to visit the plant he'll probably need his walking shoes because it's one massive plant. Just in one shop alone, it's pretty hard to see from one end to the other; it is a big place. I just can't remember the number of acres this place covers. I know, but it is just not at my fingertips today; it's incredible.
That leads up to my next question. Prior to the DSME setting up their equipment in the plant to build turbines, we had hundreds of thousands of dollars, up into the millions of dollars, of railcar equipment and that equipment is gone. If you walk into that facility now, you can walk into various shops - and the shops are humungous - and some of them are empty. There is nothing, they are just completely empty.
We all know that the railcar industry is one of those industries where it goes in cycles. Sometimes there is a great demand for cars and other times there is just nothing, it's flat. Since 2010 we have a cycle where, actually, there were great demands for new cars, companies in the U.S. looking for cars, but of course with the equipment gone from the plant, you were unable to slide from turbines over to build any railcars.
It is my opinion that I would have loved to have seen some of that railcar equipment, at least the critical stuff, left at the plant where, if the demand for turbines, windmills, was on the decline and the demand for railcars was great, we could swing over, diversify.
My question is: A lot of this equipment disappeared, left and so on, and it was worth a considerable amount of money, and I am wondering, was there money received for this equipment that was taken out of the plant and, if there was, where did it go, what was it used for?
MR. SAMSON: Obviously this was something that would have predated our administration, but I am advised that as part of the windup of the TrentonWorks facility, as part of the liquidation, there were some outstanding debts. That equipment would have been sold off by a liquidator and put against the debts owed by TrentonWorks.
MR. DUNN: My last question will be dealing with Maritime Steel. The minister and I have had discussions about Maritime Steel and the difficulties that they have been going through. They have been closed for a considerable amount of time now; however, occasionally new investors occur and just recently the owner, Abbas Jafarnia, talked to potential new investors. I am currently not sure where that is going or if it will go any further than the initial meetings.
I guess my question sort of could be for the Minister of Environment, but I know the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism works across many departments, so I'm sure he will be able to give some sort of an answer to this. If the investors go a step further to purchase this particular - or invest the money into opening up this place, this facility - and again, I'm not sure that's going to happen, but they are talking.
I think perhaps one of the last major steps is the environmental permit. My question to the minister: Would the government be able to assist Maritime Steel in the acquisition of that particular permit? Apparently they received a permit in 2011 and there are two different types of permits. They would have to have this permit and apparently part of one of the two permits is they would actually have to be up and running in order to complete the permit itself.
Again, my question to the minister: Would there be any help to have the owner get by that particular stage if the investors are there and ready to put the money in to open it up and get some people back to work?
MR. SAMSON: To my colleague, obviously those are questions best put to the Minister of Environment. Clearly we'd be happy - I've spoken to Mr. Jafarnia on several occasions now and have laid out the requirements that we would need as a department before we would be in any position to work with the company.
Clearly, the election on October 8th was an indication that Nova Scotians expected us to do business differently. Simply handing over money and making investments of large sums is something Nova Scotians basically said they wanted stopped, so we have indicated clearly to Mr. Jafarnia - and I have communicated that to him - what the conditions would have to be and the requirements before we would be in a position to talk about any potential assistance that the province could provide. We're still open to those discussions, but we've made it clear what the requirements would be.
As far as the environmental permit, obviously that is something we would be working with my colleague, the Minister of Environment, on. We'd be happy to work closely with him, should there be a business plan that comes forward, to make that into an operating and viable facility.
MR. DUNN: I want to thank the minister for the answers to the questions that I had. I'd like to pass the floor over to my colleague from Pictou East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East. You have five minutes remaining in this round of questions.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I like to keep my talking to a minimum, so five minutes will be plenty for me. I'm sure the minister will be getting his fill of Pictou County representatives before these couple of days are over.
I do have just kind of a quick question for the minister to start things off. Obviously we had the news of the Michelin plant downsizing over the next couple of years and the impact of that on Pictou County and surrounding counties - it's quite a cause of concern for a lot of people who live in northern Nova Scotia.
I know at the time the minister - a number of ministers, I think - and government representatives came up to Pictou County, which was certainly appreciated by the people of the area and by myself as well, but at the time a committee was struck to try and consider ways that maybe we can bring some economic development to the Pictou County area. This was a committee that was going to be chaired, I guess, by Mr. Sean Murray from Advocate Printing. I just had a question for the minister of whether he's had a chance - whether he knows that committee may have met, is the committee filled out yet with the appropriate number of members, and whether he's had a chance to maybe regroup with Mr. Murray on their initial thoughts?
MR. SAMSON: To my colleague - you are correct. Once we received the news of the decision by Michelin to reduce its workforce, I was pleased to attend the meeting in Pictou County at the Museum of Industry. Myself, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, the Minister of Environment, as well as our caucus chairman - the member for Guysborough-Eastern Shore, who was there with us as well - along with some of my colleagues, and I think the member for Pictou West was joining us, and representatives for the other members, as well as someone - there was a representative from Minister MacKay's office as well who, unfortunately, could not attend, and many municipal leaders.
At the time I made the decision in talking with the Premier and my colleagues that rather than us pick a committee from Halifax and decide who should be on the committee, I instead reached out to Sean Murray of Advocate Printing, who also sits on the Nova Scotia Business Inc. board - a well-respected businessman. I asked Sean to reach out to various individuals and various organizations and, through that process, start identifying who would be key people to put on a team to be able to address some of the economic concerns affecting all of Pictou County - not just the situation at Michelin, but overall look at some of the challenges that are faced by that county.
Sean continues to meet with many individuals, talk to many organizations. I do believe out of this situation, which in many ways was a crisis for Pictou County, what we heard at that meeting from many of the municipal officials especially was that they saw this as a wake-up call; they saw this as an opportunity to make significant changes in the way business is done in Pictou County, with the goal of creating long-term sustainable jobs for the future of that county. Their message was clear: Michelin was a wake-up call, but we need to look at the bigger picture of all the other industries that exist there, all the other opportunities that are there, and make sure that it becomes a bigger examination.
Sean continues to do that work. I was very pleased when he accepted the challenge on short notice, but we're looking forward to the team that will be put together and any resources that we can assist with from the province, because at the end of the day, again, as I mentioned to your colleague from Inverness, having communities come forward and telling us where they see opportunity and where they see ideas of what they think will work is so much better than waiting for either Halifax, or Ottawa, or anyone else, to figure it out. The people of Pictou County know what Pictou County needs, and they know what will help change the future of Pictou County. We want to hear from them and, more importantly, we want to work with them to make that happen.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for this round of questioning has expired.
The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Right now, Nova Scotia is on the verge of some of the most significant economic opportunities in the province's history, game-changing opportunities that have the potential to transform the economic landscape here and across the region. We know this takes time and over the last
four and a half, five years, a lot of work with the department staff and support has been done to transform Nova Scotia and bring these opportunities to our province.
Nova Scotia is partnering with Newfoundland and Labrador to develop the hydroelectricity out of Muskrat Falls. This project promises 35 years of clean energy at stable rates and it will open up regional power opportunities, create thousands of jobs, and generate billions of dollars for local businesses and labour. I'm proud to be a member of the Party that worked very hard and fought very hard to move forward on Muskrat Falls and to be visionary and been able to see that we had to be futuristic and we required to start changing the attitude of Nova Scotians, such as Mr. Ivany has indicated in his report.
We are also beginning to see the fruits of the shipbuilders' big win. The $25-billion federal shipbuilding contracts will provide work for the next 30 years - that equates to about 11,000 jobs. The project is already starting to move forward and we're very pleased to see that. It's an unmatched opportunity for Nova Scotia to foster even the more world-class industries, to develop more leading-edge products, and to increase productivity. It is another project that certainly the NDP supported and worked very hard and knew that the way that the contract was set up that it was very important that the contract included support from the province.
We know that our competitor at that time, which was British Columbia, did not have the same level of support from the province and that it was a scoring system. I think it's difficult to argue that the support of this province, which was not equal to the support B.C. was getting for their contract - certainly you can assume that made a big difference in the fact that we received that contract. I know that when the contract was announced that Mr. Irving himself said that they felt that it did make a difference.
The other important factor that I think that Nova Scotians need to know is that the typical understanding of how the investment was made was as if a big cheque was written and just given the day that the contract was announced. That's not the fact. I know that the minister will know that, now being a part of the department, the contracts that we pursued for the larger companies were different than what was done in the past by setting them up on job targets.
Therefore I think that that was an appropriate change in the terms that when you're using public tax dollars, one of the key elements of that is that we wanted to be able to create an environment that supported employment. That's something that when we talk about economic development we hear over and over again, that when those investments are made, it's vitally important that part of the outcomes are creation of jobs. When you do the math and you look at what the investment is and the number of jobs that will be created by that investment and the domino effect back to the economy of Nova Scotia, you can do actual mathematical figures that shows the investment for $1 may mean coming back to the economy tenfold. That's an important piece of information that sometimes is not recognized when those types of decisions are being made through Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
In particular, with the support of the shipbuilding contract, we know that not all the money has been distributed under that contract. I think that's something else that individuals often do not realize because they were used to a system that cheques would be just sort of passed along when the decision was made. It is, like I said, based on the jobs that are being created. And there's a lot of work right now that the Irving company and the employees need to prepare for in order to provide the infrastructure that is required for such a major endeavour in our province.
These types of projects take time; they take a lot of leadership in terms of knowing that sometimes the response immediately back from the public may be negative because of not understanding all those details. I appreciate that the minister, who has experience from previous years of being in government in a ministerial setting, in a position, knows that. He knows that these things do not just happen overnight and that there has to be that long-term vision. Then you set a strong foundation and when you are doing your investments you always calculate what the risks are and what will be a return to the province, and you try to decrease the risk as much as you can. That's one of the things that we did when we were looking at investing in companies in the province - to make sure that was tied into these job creations.
We know that Nova Scotians want good, high-paying, long-term jobs and they want a growing economy so they can stay here. We hear that over and over again. We have to look at all of Nova Scotia, including our rural areas, and what kind of strategy can work in rural Nova Scotia versus urban Nova Scotia. We've seen over the years, of four and a half years of the NDP that there are many cranes in Halifax, there's a lot of work that's going on. I'm pleased that the new government will be following in the same tracks in terms of supporting the ships contract - although they weren't so supportive in the Opposition. But they had a job to do, and I know that they know now, in government, that that is a wonderful opportunity and will certainly make a difference in our province as the shipbuilding goes forward.
As we know, the contract equals $25 billion to build the combat vessels. At its peak, the estimate is about 11,500 jobs in Nova Scotia, which is absolutely incredible. So it shows that it was a good decision to support the shipbuilding contract; it did make a difference, we believe. I mean, people can argue that, but we believe that - nobody knows the 100 per cent answer, but we believe that as a government, putting forward your support of something of that nature certainly made a difference.
We will see from that contract an increase of GDP by $900 million. Once again, that is just an amazing figure. I think that is a legacy that we can certainly be proud of. I encourage the new government - and I think they will - to continue in that relationship and rebuild any relationship with the Irvings and the employees of the shipyard.
Also, in the Fall of 2012, we had another significant moment for Nova Scotia job creation. At that time, nearly 1,000 high-paying and long-term jobs were announced, in particular IBM Canada. I think that Nova Scotians saw at that time that it's fabulous, that it puts us on the international and the world map to have a company like IBM be part of our economy and was looking at creating 500 jobs. So I'm sure that our new government will support them as they come into our province and continue their plans to be part of the Nova Scotia economy and create those types of high-tech jobs. That's the way of the future and we know that, so to have that type of employment here - and I know, too, that it is quite amazing, in a short period of time, we are also seeing many companies that are doing really well in the video game and the computer game making. It is growing each and every year.
That just didn't happen because it happened; government plays a very important role in encouraging and negotiating with those businesses and companies to pick our province. There is a great deal of competition in our world for good businesses and corporations to set up because we know that makes quite a difference in terms of - even if they are focused in an urban area like the City of Halifax, there is a domino effect throughout the province. Certainly that domino effect - we're not a large province, we really are a small province, so what happens in Halifax as economic stimulus certainly flows through to our rural areas and the service providers that are required to support a new business here in Halifax.
But we also cannot forget the rural areas. We have some major companies in our rural communities in Nova Scotia. My husband works at Louisiana-Pacific, which is a hardboard plant. It has quite a history. It was the plant that was called the Anil plant back in the 60s. It's the plant that many people know as the plant that, at one time, was owned by an Indian company and actually had an elephant on-site doing the work. I know my colleague from Lunenburg remembers that - we're both from the same area - and it was just amazing, I don't know how they ever thought it was going to survive our winters and, unfortunately, it didn't. There is a long history of Louisiana-Pacific. Now it's owned by a company that is based in Tennessee and employs many people in the local economy.
We also have, as we've spoken before about Michelin in Nova Scotia, we have LED Roadway Lighting, we have many innovative companies and I am very glad to hear that government is focusing on innovation. I think that we need to do that. I think that innovation through ocean technology is another big area that certainly needs to be explored and invested in. I think it is a right thing to do, to be looking at those innovations, to be able to keep up with the pace of our technology, the way the society is going. We need to be on top of that.
The other company, as I mentioned, was PROJEX. That's an engineering firm. In fact it was a little bit ironic, because there was a story that was told by our previous Premier how out in Alberta there was a sign about coming east, my friend, instead of going west because of a company like PROJEX coming into Nova Scotia and setting up and, once again, good high-paying jobs.
If you take those two projects together, the province stands to gain more than $13 million in tax revenues. So, once again, the importance was to be able to change the way that we did business by making sure that there was a connect between creating jobs and to put criteria around that for a company that was looking for public tax dollars. I know that the minster does understand that in order for a province to be attractive to large business or medium business that there is often a need of some support from the provincial government. But, you also are utilizing taxpayers' dollars, and hard-working Nova Scotians want to make sure that they know what those dollars are being used for. I think it was really an important step to have a government that came into place and looked at the fact that we must tie them into jobs, because each job creates more money for our economy and then, when we do the math, what we see is that that investment brings back more dollars.
I'm glad to hear that the new government is also looking at that in terms of, are there other areas that we can be more accountable and we can make sure that people have a better understanding of how the investment works? I think, once again, that is a good thing.
The importance of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is critical in any province because we need to attract those businesses to come here and we have great competition around the world. Some of the ones that I mentioned - of course, they did not have to come to Nova Scotia, but we have a beautiful province and it's a place where many desire to come and live and bring up their families. If they can do that and move here and be part of a business, that is wonderful.
That means for even small businesses - I have a small business that's a wine company just outside of New Ross, Muwin winery. They do a great deal of shipping around the world - and more so than even in the province. My experience with them over the last number of years is that they've had a little bit of a battle with the regulations that we have with the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission. That's one area that we started to take a look at, and I do hope, and I believe the minister will do that - look at those regulations that actually stifle the opportunity for businesses to either expand or to get their product out in the community.
As we know, the Buy Local program is extremely important. I hope to see that this government supports and works with that program to expand it more and maybe come up with some incentives that actually encourage Nova Scotia businesses to buy from Nova Scotia businesses. There might be some type of incentive that could be available to do that. I've heard that as I travelled through the province, that some of these businesses would like to really support their colleagues or other businesses that will help their business in the province but, unfortunately too often, they can find the product or service that they need outside the province at a lesser cost to them.
If there was some tax incentive for them to actually purchase within the province, that would be a great motivation for them to do that. I think that those types of little changes could make a big difference, especially when we're talking about the Ivany report and stimulating the rural Nova Scotia economy. I think that's where you will find that.
The other issue that I have discovered through my travels is the cost of shipping for businesses. That is a huge challenge that often we don't have a lot of control over because of the gas and oil prices, and we don't have the train system that was unfortunately taken away from all of Canada - that could have made a real difference in that. I think it is an area worthy of discussion and looking at that because it lessens the competitiveness of our Nova Scotia companies, because they have to incur those costs and put them back in their product. If there is any means of having a review or to look at opportunities or options for Nova Scotia businesses in terms of shipping costs, that would be a great avenue to explore.
We know that the dollars that come back to us from our investments - and when I say "investments," I'm not talking just large corporations, I'm talking large, medium and small - do come back to us in terms of giving us the opportunity, if you do the math formulas correct, puts more revenue in the government's coffers in terms of tax dollars that can then be utilized on hospitals and collaborative emergency centres or schools and roads.
I think that there needs to be an educational - part of the encouragement that I would give the department is to create and look at an educational component for the people of Nova Scotia to understand the relationship that you deal with when it comes to investments. I think that's really important for any government, because any government faces the same problem when they invest in large companies. I know that trying to move things around in a shell game to make it look like you're not investing when you really are - I think the important part is to actually be looking at the educational component and can we educate through our school system and some of the programs that are there, business, economics - can we educate the general public in a better understanding of what these investments actually mean to them and their family and how it supports them?
I don't know if it's a role that the minister wants to explore in his department, but I think it is critical. I think knowledge is powerful and the more knowledge that people of Nova Scotia have on how government operates and what it means to them, I think that is the key element. We live in a society that there are so many stresses, that people are looking at what has been done to help me and my family? So I think that to take that approach, to be able to educate people that these particular decisions and the way that government needs to invest is something that actually helps them. You cannot look across Canada or other parts of the world and see governments not investing in business. It's just a critical part of the economy and part of balancing the economy.
Madam Chairman, I know that one thing that we were also pleased of is that economists agree that our economy has grown and will grow, and from the work that we have done as a previous government. I find it a shame sometimes that the credit doesn't go where credit is due. I know there will be a lot of projects that the new government will do that will be wonderful, and if they carry on another mandate, or if they don't, they will want their legacy to be recognized. That's the way it is. I mean, you do not come in for four years or four and half years and make sweeping changes. It takes time and vision.
That's what economic development and tourism is all about. It's about vision, strategy, developing a pathway for the future, and it touches every area of our province and it really touches everybody's lives even if they don't realize it. I think that is important, that rather than fighting for who actually created this, I think that it's important that when succeeding governments come in, if they agree with a program or a project that was initiated by the previous government, that they recognize them for doing that good work, and that they are going to carry on that work and that they are going to bring in their own initiatives also.
I think that another important work that we did as government was how quickly we moved to save the Pork Hawkesbury plant. The fact is that we could be standing here today talking about the high unemployment in that community due to the fact that the plant doors closed. We do know by saving the Port Hawkesbury plant that it not only saved the jobs that are related to the plant, but those in the community that service those people who work at the plant, like the little shop that sells TVs and does appliance repairs, or the little pharmacy. All of that is tied in with the local economy and so I believe that we were able to save that community. I'm proud to say that and wish them the best of luck. I do understand that the plant is doing really well, that they have innovative leaders there, and that's a good thing for all of Nova Scotia.
If you look back over our record, our government clearly showed support on all levels of business from small, medium size - we invested tens of millions dollars to help hundreds of Nova Scotia businesses to become more productive, train employees, and bolster their competitiveness. The NDP also made capital investments in more than 200 small businesses, and that often was not recognized because the small businesses are quiet business owners who go along their way and they're working very hard to keep their doors open every day - it doesn't get the same type of media coverage than if you have one huge company whose doors may be closing and needs support.
I think it is important to recognize those 200 small businesses. Some businesses like Allendale Electronics would be one, Billdidit, and Eden Valley Poultry, and they are improving, improving their competitiveness, and they are becoming more stable. We are looking at a better economy now. I think that is a really important point. Things happen and decisions are made based on the information you have that particular day and time in history. When we did come in as a government in 2009, we were facing a downturn in the world's economy and we saw that. You don't have to have any more proof than what we saw in Greece; you don't need any more proof than what we saw, even by our neighbours in Detroit.
It is a reality that a province can go bankrupt. I know that we don't think that way. We do not realize or understand that certainly can happen, but we have seen it throughout the world. It was during that period of time of our mandate and so we had challenges, there is no question, and you try to do the best work you can. I think that legacy will show in history that there were very many good decisions that kept us above water in terms of what was happening around the world. It could have certainly gone the other way.
It is also worth noting that three years in a row as a government as we came in, we supported small businesses by lowering their small business tax rate for the first time. We did that right from day one and kept lowering it each and every year - and that also equates to millions of dollars that were kept with the small business.
Was there more to do? There is always more to do, and I know that the department probably has a very long to-do list and tries to put them in priority. I'm sure that the minister could be the minister of that department for 20 years and still would have a to-do list because our economy is ever-evolving. We have to look at the fact that once again, when we came in as government, you have to look at the reality of what we were dealing with and that was in terms of the dollar. The Canadian dollar was peaking, which made a big difference in terms of Nova Scotians and Canadians going and spending their hard- earned money in the U.S. versus in our own economy. Tourism is challenged at that time because of the fact it reduces the number of visitors from the U.S. to our province and it increases our own people going outside and spending those dollars.
You do need to look at what the circumstances were. It is easy to criticize, but it's harder to take action and make those hard decisions, and to realize the good work that was done. I feel responsible as a representative of the people of Nova Scotia that the information gets out. That is not to take anything away from the new government; it is just to be able to say good things were done by the NDP Government. We faced a very difficult time in the world, yet we were able to create a pathway to jobs. We were able to create a situation for the new government to be able to continue on the path with the shipbuilding contract, which now they are very supportive of - and also with Muskrat Falls, and other things I mentioned.
I would like to ask the minister a few questions, and I'm going to focus on the tourism aspect because we know how vital tourism is in the Province of Nova Scotia. There are many opportunities that we can explore as a province now that we are seeing a difference in the dollar. Where the Canadian dollar is going down somewhat, there are going to be more opportunities to entice the U.S. travel, and I understand from the minister that there are some focused projects in the New England States. I think that is a good way to go with the difference in the dollar now. When we were in and the Canadian dollar was $1.03 and $1.02, the efforts would not have been of value to Nova Scotia taxpayers for us to focus on that market, as much as now the new government is going to do.
I remember years ago when I had the opportunity to work with the Lunenburg Economic Development Commission that we went on a project - some of the people who have been here for long term in the department, and maybe the minister remembers, too - it was a project called SeaSell. We actually went on one of the cruise-type ferries; I think it was the ferry from Yarmouth that the federal government had cut the funding to. I'm not recalling the name right now, but we went down along the New England States and we basically brought Nova Scotia to the New England States, on a ship. It was fabulous. We had entertainers like the Barra MacNeils and a lot of the Gaelic-type groups that were well known in the province.
We actually had tourism operators who were actually able to set up where the cars came on the ferry. That was the area that we were able to use as a display. It generated a lot of media attention in the New England States. I don't know if it is something feasible to do now - times have changed - but it certainly was a huge draw to do SeaSell. I did it on several occasions and I know it was an innovate program for the Department of Tourism and Culture.
I do have several questions, because I will be passing this along to my colleague here in probably less than ten minutes. One of my first questions is more related to the constituency of Chester-St. Margaret's. As the minister knows, Peggy's Cove is an icon for our province. It draws many tourists, especially with the cruise ships coming in. I've been down there when the cruise ships have been at Peggy's Cove; in fact, a number of years ago, for fun, I also did some of the cruise ship tours, where you took the bus. I was sort of like the tour director and that was a lot of fun to meet the Americans coming here and also see how little knowledge they have of Canada and expected to see snow in July.
It was a lot of fun to be involved with, but one of the things that I took note of then - and that is many, many years ago, and still exists today - is the fact that there is no public transportation system from our great capital here of Halifax to Peggy's Cove. So unless you are on a bus tour, or you have means to rent a vehicle, you can't access Peggy's Cove.
For example, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with the convention centre - we're going to have people come to the convention centre, and I know there was a lot of work on creating a transportation link from our airport because that was one of the biggest issues, that there wasn't a transportation link from Halifax to Stanfield International Airport. That has been worked on, and I believe there is a transportation link now, but what is not there is the next link and that is the capacity to take people from Halifax - especially those who are coming in to a convention who would not rent their own vehicle or have means to access a vehicle - to Peggy's Cove, which is, as I said and we know, a huge icon for the province.
I know that is part of the responsibilities for the minister in terms of tourism, and probably involves a couple of other departments, and I'm just wondering if that is something that the minister would look at and see if there might be a resolution to this long-standing transportation issue for the people of Peggy's Cove and the surrounding areas.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I believe it was this past weekend we heard the current Interim Leader of the NDP tell the crowd gathered that we get it. Well I can tell you that after what I've just listened to for the last half hour, I can tell Nova Scotians that the NDP still don't get it in the Province of Nova Scotia.
The people in Nova Scotia spoke loud and clear on October 8th. When you go from thirty-one members down to seven, I can't think of a stronger message that the people of this province can possibly send you, but apparently it wasn't strong enough.
Madam Chairman, I've listened to some of the projects and different proposals that the member claimed credit for and how it would benefit our province. Just for her own information, I should advise that one of the ones she mentions was a company named PROJEX, which is an engineering firm which - as she rightly pointed out - drew criticism from our Leader at the time, who is now Premier. I wish to advise the honourable member and this House that PROJEX has withdrawn its application to Nova Scotia Business Inc. and has decided not to proceed with the payroll rebate previously approved by the former government.
More importantly, Madam Chairman, in order to show leadership on this issue and make it clear, I have instructed Nova Scotia Business Inc. that they are not - I repeat not - to provide payroll rebates to engineering firms in Nova Scotia because the Association of Professional Engineers made it clear that they were opposed to this and they were tired of the days of picking winners and losers.
So I would highly recommend that if the member for Chester-St. Margaret's is going to repeat those accomplishments, she may wish to delete PROJEX from that list as it clearly has decided, like all other engineering firms, to compete independently of any funding from government.
Madam Chairman, this gives me an opportunity to address another issue as well. As the member went on to talk about some of the decisions made by the previous government, and you'll recall that not long ago we had the Auditor General who undertook a review of the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund and of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, again, I can't express enough my disappointment in the Acting Leader of the NDP - rather than accept responsibility for the decisions made by her government, instead she chose to tell the media that they went with what was presented to them by the staff of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and left the staff out to hang and indicated that somehow they were to blame for the proposals brought forward and adopted by her government.
Madam Chairman, let me explain to you and to those who may not be aware, exactly how government works in the Province of Nova Scotia and under the British parliamentary system. We have departments and we have staff; we have civil servants who work hard for the people of Nova Scotia . . .
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: On a point of order, Madam Chairman.
I have no difficulty if the member wants to use his time in a political manner in this Chamber, but let me say that I do mind if the member stands up and attributes quotes to me that definitely were never made and I would never make about the staff in Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
I'm not sure where he's getting this notion and I would ask him to table these statements that he alleges I've made, because I certainly did not make them. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MR. SAMSON: As I was stating earlier, instead of accepting responsibility, it was suggested that somehow the government of the day took what staff presented to them and that's how they made decisions. Graham Steele, a former member of this House, made the same statement; the former minister made the same statement.
So the way our system works is we have staff working throughout government - they work for the Province of Nova Scotia. They don't work for the government of the day; they're not affiliated to any political Party - they work for the Province of Nova Scotia and they assist the government of the day.
When there are projects and proposals that come forward, they are presented to a minister for consideration. If it requires Cabinet approval, the minister needs to sign off on the document, which is then submitted to Executive Council. Before it makes its way to Cabinet, it goes through a process which is called Treasury Board. The Treasury Board is made up of civil servants, again, independent of any political Party, who work for the Province of Nova Scotia.
I should back up - because when a minister sends it to Executive Council, the minister is making a recommendation; the minister is giving their approval. But once it gets to Treasury, the Treasury Board staff then undertake an independent analysis of what is being submitted. What they do is they provide advice to Executive Council. Many times, that advice is contrary to the recommendations submitted by the minister. It is meant to be an independent, impartial review of what is being submitted - it looks at the pros, it looks at the cons, and it makes a recommendation.
Oftentimes that recommendation may be contrary to what the minister has recommended but, ultimately, under the British parliamentary system, which we have in this province, the Executive Council has the right to accept or reject the advice from Treasury Board. When it was suggested by former ministers of the NDP Government that somehow they were duped by staff in Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, or any other department, our system has protections in it to ensure that the Executive Council has all advice prior to making a decision. But, at the end of the day, it has to make a decision - and governments and former ministers should be prepared to defend the decisions that they have made at Executive Council and not stand and accuse civil servants for decisions they have made.
We heard earlier, in a speech last night, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's suggest that the decision to cancel the Yarmouth ferry was based on the advice that they received from civil servants.
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: I didn't say that.
MR. SAMSON: That is exactly what she said and a review of Hansard will show it. That is what has been suggested by other ministers, that somehow it was civil servants to blame for the decision to cancel the Yarmouth ferry, that somehow they came up with a proposal and government was duped at the time into making that decision.
That again is an example of how the NDP just doesn't get it. The fact is they made a decision that had a devastating impact on the economy of southwestern Nova Scotia. I was in Yarmouth on Tuesday to see the arrival of the Nova Star, and to see the young kids who were there and, once the vessel arrived in port, to see minivans coming and families taking the kids out and lining them up on the wharf in front, with the Nova Star behind, to take pictures - it was an absolute example of the pride that existed in that community and the excitement.
I have to tell you, Madam Chairman, what a dominant vessel on the Yarmouth waterfront. From wherever you were along that waterfront in Yarmouth, the one thing that stood out was the Nova Star. While we were standing on the wharf with my good colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, and we watched it come from behind the island, and the fact that you could see the top of the vessel from behind with the island in front of it, it showed just how large a vessel it was. And to see the excitement - I had one lady come up to me and she said, I have prayed for this day to come.
Now it's not everywhere you can go that people pray for a boat, but in Yarmouth, they were praying for a boat, and I'm happy to say that on Tuesday their prayers were answered, because the boat arrived.
I've already acknowledged that there was work done by the previous administration on this - sadly, four years after the devastation had been done. Our government has worked very closely on this file and we've had to work closely with the proponents and try to adjust to some of the challenges they have faced. That is just one example of the challenges as we go forward, but we will continue to work in the best interests of Nova Scotians. But, at the end of the day, the decisions our government makes and the decisions that come to the Executive Council will be our decisions. At no point do I ever expect to turn around and try to blame anyone within the civil service of Nova Scotia for decisions made by our government.
As I've said, and when the Auditor General's Report came out, I reassured my staff that I had tremendous confidence in their abilities. Because having been in this House since 1998, having been in a previous government from 1998 to 1999, having watched Progressive Conservative Administrations, and having watched the previous administration the last four years, government wasn't done the way government had been previously done in this province. When I was a minister in 1998 to 1999, at the time the Premier told me: You are in charge of your department. Run your department and work with us in government, but you are responsible for your department.
That was not the case under the last government in this province. It became very clear that decisions were being made out of One Government Place by a number of unelected individuals who were, in essence, running departments rather than the ministers. When decisions were made and projects were pushed forward and projects were rushed, it was not being done at the suggestion or at the recommendation of civil servants - it was being done by political staff and it was being done out of the Premier's Office.
I can tell you that when I had the joy of being informed by the Premier and when he asked me to accept Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, he made it very clear, and he has made it clear to each one of his ministers, go run your departments, make sure you are responsible for what happens in your department because there's no one else to blame - you bear responsibility for what is done and you need to show leadership.
One of the things, just to show you an example of how things were different under the NDP - under each government, ministers can have executive assistants. It has been the case for as long as I can remember. When I became a minister under the Russell MacLellan Government, I picked who was going to be my executive assistant, who was going to work closely with me, had ties to my community, ties to my riding and who would be able to work effectively as a liaison between myself, my department, and my riding. Under the NDP it was different; the Premier's Office picked who would be the executive assistants and they reported to the Premier, not to their ministers - just an example of the control that came out of the Premier's Office and how government was run under the previous administration.
HON. DAVID WILSON: That's not true. I picked mine.
MR. SAMSON: The member for Sackville-Cobequid says he picks his. Well, I can tell you there are certainly ministers who I don't believe picked theirs when one looks at who they had working for them as executive assistants.
But regardless, the other thing our Premier told us is that you pick your own executive assistant; your own executive assistant reports to you. I can tell you that is another example of leadership that our Premier has shown in putting faith in his ministers, putting faith in their ability to work within their departments and being able to move their departments forward but, ultimately, being accountable for the decisions that come out of their department. (Applause)
Madam Chairman, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's chose to spend a half hour justifying the past four years. As I said, the current Interim Leader says we get it. Well, I think it's very clear that they still don't, and apparently they will need more time for Nova Scotians to explain to them exactly what went wrong.
We are working very hard in the department to try to create an environment where we can work with business. As the Premier has said, we are not a bank. Business must go and get its own financing through traditional means, but if there are opportunities where we can work, where we can look at what was suggested in the Ivany report, the review that was done by Dr. Tom Traves and, as well, the venture capital report that we are doing.
Nova Scotians clearly told us they do not like the way economic development was being done under the previous administration. They want accountability, they want transparency, and they want to see exactly why, how, and where, their tax dollars are being spent. I touched briefly earlier about our new Accountability in Economic Development Assistance Act, the first of its kind in Canada, where rather than having to have Nova Scotians or the press file Freedom of Information requests to get information on deals that were approved by the government, it is now up on the website. So whether you live in Yarmouth, near Cape Forchu, or you live all the way down the other end of Cape Breton, or up in Amherst, or even down in Spryfield, a simple click of the mouse can get you the information regarding the deals that we have done. I believe that is the transparency and that is the accountability that Nova Scotians asked for when they voted on October 8th. (Applause)
We continue to work closely with Nova Scotia Business Inc. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the staff under the leadership of the interim CEO Ron Smith, who has been doing a tremendous job, and the entire team there. The level of enthusiasm that I've seen from them when it comes from wanting to do economic development in this province - because it's important to note that any time deals are announced, it is just a fraction of the amount of companies the NSBI staff talk with on a regular basis.
One thing I will say in order not to seem to be too negative - I do want to say that I believe the goal or the direction of the previous government in trying to establish the financial services sector here in the province, and especially here in Halifax, was positive for the province. It's proving to have created jobs here and we are determined to see that grow even more. So there are areas that I would say the previous government, in working with NSBI, was able to achieve some success and we continue to build upon that.
I can tell you, Madam Chairman, when you go to New York and you hear companies there telling you how much they love being in Nova Scotia - I even had one tell me that if it were up to him, he would move all of the offices in New York to Halifax - that's how impressed they are with the city; that's how impressed with the province. When it was first suggested that a financial services sector could be established in Halifax and Nova Scotia, the big question was: Do we have the talent to be able to supply that industry?
I believe the companies that have come here have clearly seen that with the universities that we have, the fact that we've been able to adapt some of our programing within the universities and the community college to specifically adapt to some of the business needs that we have here, it has been a success.
The Premier and I, just last week, had the opportunity to go and tour one of the financial services operations here in Halifax - and how impressive it was. Mostly, the staff working there were very young, and what jumps out at you is their diversity. You have people from all corners of the world who are working here in Halifax in those offices. It has created an employment opportunity for many students who come to study here from other countries and other cultures and find an opportunity to stay here and to work. That is just one example of some of the success that we have had.
I know that in her final comments, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's was asking about tourism. Tourism is one of the areas that the Ivany report identified as one of our core businesses as a province that we need to continue to grow. People come to Nova Scotia because of what we have to offer - our culture, our scenery, our people, our institutions, our festivals, the various different languages we speak here, and our cultural traditions. People come to our province because they enjoy that.
We need to be able to work, as a government, with our federal partners and with our operators to ensure that when people are coming to Nova Scotia they are getting a top-quality experience. I had the opportunity of addressing the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia and putting the challenge to them - that we have to make sure that the accommodations we have here in this province are modern and that we do the necessary upgrades and make the necessary investments, because the last thing we want is for visitors to come to our province and say, I enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed the people, I enjoyed the experience, but the accommodations were lacking.
That is a challenge for all of us, to work in all of our communities to ensure - and as a province we are working as a partner to help out the many accommodations we have around this province that rely on the tourism industry to ensure that those accommodations are up to par, that they have Wi-Fi access, that they have what's being expected by visitors to our province, and that they provide a top-quality experience.
I will say this - I encourage all members of this House, and I'm sure my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources would as well, to take the Nova Star this summer. (Applause) Throughout my life, I've had the opportunity to be on various ferries. I can tell you the Nova Star is a brand new vessel - as we'd say back home "brand spanking new." Well, it is brand spanking new - it has never been used. It is a top-quality, well-designed, well laid out vessel that is going to provide users with a top-quality experience - from the cabins that are there, which are laid out very strategically but offer a washroom with shower, as well as the accommodations downstairs which have a buffet-style restaurant, there will be an entertainment area, a lounge-type area, and there are other areas that would be a snack bar-type area.
Not only is there ample seating, but the views and the size of the portholes are larger than I've ever seen on most vessels. The view that will be provided to the users will be incredible - whether you're in the bow of the vessel with the large windows there or you're at the stern of the vessel, it will provide people with a great view. I would suggest this - if you are taking the ferry and you're looking for seating, get up as quick as you can either to the stern or the bow, because that is going to be the prime seating with the greatest view that you're going to have, whether you're leaving Yarmouth Harbour or leaving Portland.
It's going to be a tremendous experience and one I would encourage all of our members to take advantage of. The success of the Nova Star will rely not only on our ability to attract American visitors here, but for Nova Scotians as well to use the ferry to go visit the United States. On that I would say, as I mentioned earlier, that our government has invested $1.5 million in additional advertising in the northeastern U.S. knowing the importance of that market, knowing the potential that that has to bring more tourists to our province, and hoping that, while it's not direct advertising for the ferry, they will take the opportunity to visit our province and will look at the ferry as one of those options.
It is an impressive vessel. I can't thank enough, all of my staff who have worked so closely on that, from my deputy minister to my executive directors. It was probably one of the more challenging files they have ever had to tackle, but I can tell you, I think Mayor Mood said it herself - there were a lot of non-believers, and I think she said on Tuesday: "Welcome to the believers group." Well we can now believe, because the ship has come to port and we look forward to a very successful future for the Nova Star and ensure that the wrong that was done four years ago can, hopefully, be undone and we can see new, ambitious economic activity taking place not only in southwestern Nova Scotia, but throughout our entire province.
HON. ZACH CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, I rise on a point of order. The member for Chester-St. Margaret's levelled an unparliamentary accusation against our minister while he was responding to her comments. I'll quote specifically - she said, "keep lying." As you know, Madam Chairman, that is unparliamentary language to be used here and I would ask that that member be asked to retract those comments and apologize to the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Unfortunately, I was so intent on the minister and his words, I didn't hear the comment. We will review Hansard and make a ruling on that at a later date.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I would like to just begin my remarks by saying I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Thank you to the minister and his staff for being here. I would like to echo your sentiment regarding the Nova Star. I don't imagine there would be a constituent in Kings North of any political stripe who would be disappointed to see that Nova Star there. I realize that two governments made that happen, but congratulate you on that. We would like to echo your sentiments that we are delighted to see that ferry back in place and realize that it had an impact in - I would venture to guess - every single constituency in the province, the lack of that ferry. So congratulations.
I just want to pick up on one point. You mentioned that there was an extra $1.5 million that you were spending in the northeast. I was wondering if that was reflected in the current budget, or was that extra spending that you just mentioned?
MR. SAMSON: I thank the member for his kind comments. You're right; I believe one of my colleagues mentioned earlier that when the ferry stopped four years ago the amount of bus tour traffic in Cape Breton dropped by almost 40 per cent, which was an eye-opener for us that the ferry all the way down in Yarmouth was having that kind of impact on Cape Breton Island. So I fully agree with you; I don't think there's any riding that did not feel the impact of that loss of service.
The $1.5 million I did reference is in our budget for this fiscal year, 2014-15. Over the last two years, our total spending in the northeastern U.S. market has been $4.7 million.
MR. LOHR: Does that show up in the increase in the estimates for 2014-15 of the increase in the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency - is that where that shows up?
MR. SAMSON: I'm not sure if my colleague has the Estimates Book there, but if he does, on Page 6.6 of the Estimates and Supplementary Detail, Supplementary Information for the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, if you look under Marketing, you will see that the estimate is $8.599 million for 2013-14. The estimate for 2014-15 is $10.096 million. That would be where the $1.5 million increase in marketing for the northeastern U.S. would show up in this year's budget.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Honourable member for Kings North, I would please ask that the honourable member remember to direct his questions towards the chairman.
MR. LOHR: Sorry. I'm accustomed to the Red Room, my apologies. Thank you, Madam Chairman. That did answer that question.
I would like to ask the minister about the Destinations. I know there are several and maybe he could outline the Destinations. I know there was a Destination Southwest Nova and a number of others of those. I just wonder, could the minister outline those agencies and where they fit in to their plan going forward?
MR. SAMSON: If you look on Page 6.6, the same page that we were just talking about, under Nova Scotia Tourism Agency, under Sales and Partnerships, you will see the 2013-2014 estimate of $4.8 million; 2014-2015 is at $4.825 million. I will get you the list of all the different agencies around the province - I don't have that with me right now, but I will be more than happy to provide that to you.
There is no question; as we spoke earlier with your colleague from Inverness, having people in the communities and the communities themselves being able to tell us what kind of projects they want to see go forward, what kind of investments they want to see done when it comes to promoting tourism, that has been invaluable for the department. We cherish the relationship that we have with those organizations throughout the province. We do have specific funding to assist them in their efforts, but as far as the actual list, I'd be more than happy to provide you with that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would like to remind the honourable minister to also address his comments to the chairman.
MR. LOHR: Yes, I am interested in that list, and I have to admit that I'm mostly interested in western Nova Scotia. I know there has been a Destination Southwest Nova. I don't know if the minister is aware, but there are a number of people working through the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce and one of their goals would be to have a Destination Annapolis Valley. My question to the minister would be: Is that possible? How open is the minister to taking something like Destination Southwest Nova and breaking it off maybe into different segments where there is a sense that maybe that's too big an area for one Destination?
There is too many conflicting goals in Destination Southwest Nova and there are people in our area who would like to have a focus on the Annapolis Valley, on the food experience, the wine experience, Cape Split, the Minas Basin, all of the things that we have going, all the agriculture, all of that in the Annapolis Valley. I'm just wondering if the minister could comment on that.
MR. SAMSON: I do have the list of associations. They are Destination Halifax, Central Nova Tourist Association, Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores, Destination Cape Breton and, as you mentioned, Destination Southwest Nova Association, which the member may be aware is winding down. We do now realize that the vast geographic area that was being covered by Destination Southwest Nova was just too much. So when you ask how open would our department be on the issue of the Valley and having one which better reflects the unique experience of the Valley, my response would be to say we are very open on having that discussion.
MR. LOHR: I would like to thank the minister for that answer because that would reflect the opinion in the Annapolis Valley, too, that we need to be more focused. I would like to ask the minister - I noticed when I looked through this budget, there are a lot of changes in personnel. I wanted to ask the minister about that. I notice that Regional Planning and Development has a pretty big loss in personnel, and I am wondering if he would comment on that and where he sees Regional Planning and Development going.
MR. SAMSON: I think it's the Valley board of trade or the Valley Chamber of Commerce, we made an investment of $100,000 recently to assist them with promotion on that. I wasn't sure if the member was aware of that or not, but in recognizing the concerns being raised by the Valley, I guess that would be proof that we're listening and we realize that there were some unique challenges in that area.
On your question regarding the field staff, we did move the staff from the Visitor Information Centres that were previously under that heading, and they are now under the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency.
MR. LOHR: Yes, I was aware of that funding, Mr. Minister. I understand that with the Destination program, the funding was multi-year funding - I wonder could you confirm that that is multi-year funding, the funding that has been offered recently?
MR. SAMSON: At this point in time, it was a one-time investment with the idea that they will be putting in place a plan going forward, which at that point would see more sustainable funding. It is our hope that with that investment they will come forward with a plan to the department of how best to carry out tourism-related activities in the Valley. Over the summer months, that will be evaluated with the hope that there will be a more long-term plan going forward that is both funded, that is sustainable and, more importantly, that is going to bring positive results for the Annapolis Valley.
MR. LOHR: I'd like to thank the minister for that answer. I guess I would like the minister to know that this is a very grassroots organization and these are volunteers who are pushing this vision. I know that they have a long-term plan in mind already and will be bringing that forward to you.
Just to say a few comments in defence of their vision, I think that one of the things we know about tourism in our time is that tourism is about experience and experiencing the food and the wine is a big part of tourism going forward. I know that I can assure you that they will be coming forward with multi-year funding and want to be working through the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce to do that, which represents a very broad swath of the Annapolis Valley. So thank you for that answer.
I would like to ask another question specifically about the Annapolis Valley. The minister may well be aware that the old Dominion Atlantic Railway runs right through the middle of the Annapolis Valley and is no longer used. You may well be aware also that in Quebec they've had something called the Green Route - Route Verte, I believe is what it is called, and it has been considered the most successful bicycle trail in North America. National Geographic, I believe, called it one of the most successful bicycle trails in the world, active transportation trail.
I'm just wondering if you would comment, if you were open to having that type of active transportation trail. I'm not sure if you know what I mean by "active transportation," but that would be cycling - transportation where you are doing it yourself, so non-motorized essentially. It has been very successful in Quebec.
I wonder if the minister is aware of the Route Verte in Quebec and is he open to that type of trail in Nova Scotia?
MR. SAMSON: I am not overly familiar with that specific project in Quebec but, obviously, as I'm sure he is probably aware, the province has various funding available for trail development in the province. We are seeing more and more of our tourist operators who are marketing an experience when people come here. I know that cycling is one and nature adventures is another, so I have no doubt that if this proposal is brought forward - and working with my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, whose department will probably have to be involved - we'd be more than happy to review such a proposal. Anything that makes the experience better for visitors in the province and for Nova Scotians themselves, we're certainly open to hearing that. (Interruption) My understanding is that our department is reviewing such a proposal right now and working on that as we speak.
MR. LOHR: I guess my question would be, can the minister shed any more light on that proposal that you are reviewing right now?
MR. SAMSON: What I can advise to the member is that we are working with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, which is leading the Blue Route cycling initiative. That is being done through Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. As well, we funded Bicycle Nova Scotia for trail route maps and info, which they make available to let people know where they can bicycle. So whether the exact proposal you are referring to falls under these two matters or not, I'm not sure, but we can certainly look into it further. I would always, through you, Madam Chairman, invite the member to send us off any correspondence and we'd be more than happy to respond to that.
MR. LOHR: I'd not sure if it does either, but if you can get back to me, minister, maybe we can communicate further on that issue.
Another trail that has been very, very successful, Mr. Minister, is the rails to trails program in Newfoundland and Labrador, which I believe has been mainly an ATV trail. I had the privilege of meeting an old high school friend just by chance on the steps of Province House just a few weeks ago. He said to me that the very best vacation he and his wife had ever taken was taking that ATV trip from Port aux Basques to St. John's and he spoke very highly of the trip. I'm just wondering if the development of ATV trails - where does that fit in your priorities, Mr. Minister?
MR. SAMSON: We have various partners we work with on the rails to trails. In fact, I believe the member for Inverness could advise you of some of the work that is being done in his area through the Trans Canada Trail, where they have been working closely in trying to connect trails.
I know there are even requests from my area where we have various islands that are trying to connect to the trail as well. There is some funding through the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency that works with trail development and new products, so we are always open to new experiences and new means of providing experiences to visitors to our province, and we are working on the Wolfville to Annapolis Royal route to develop that trail and to brand it.
MR. LOHR: I guess I would just like to follow up on that last comment. I understand that essentially these two types of trails don't mix. The ones that are developed for cycling aren't successful if they're also motorized, but there's certainly a big need for both types of trail systems. Going back to the example of Quebec, Quebec has developed both trail systems at the same time.
Your last comment about working on that rail bed, which I think I'd asked about first, could you clarify if that's an active transportation trail or a motorized trail?
MR. SAMSON: I'm not sure if a final decision has been made on that as to exactly the users of that trail. I believe it's safe to say that that's a debate that takes place in many of our communities when it comes to trail development - as to whether it should allow for motorized access or not allow for motorized access.
For this specific trail that we're referring to, I'm not sure if they've made that final decision. If they have, I'd have to check into it because I am not in a position to be able to confirm for you one way or the other whether motorized access would be permitted on that trail.
MR. LOHR: Again, going back to the example of Quebec, I would suggest to the minister that what happened in Quebec was that the active transportation trails, which would be cycling and hiking, were put in populated areas and the trails for motorized transportation were put through what we would call back country. I would suggest to the minister that down through the old Dominion Atlantic Railway line through the Annapolis Valley, that was put through the heart of every single little community, so it probably - maybe 50 to 60 per cent of the population in the Annapolis Valley would live within 500 metres one way or the other of that railway line. So maybe that one - and I realize that that's not our decision to make right here - I would suggest to you that that would make a good active transportation trail.
I believe you mentioned that there was funding available in the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism a few seconds ago - would you clarify how much funding is available for these initiatives?
MR. SAMSON: The funding is available in the product development for the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. I guess I want to make it clear that that funding is not actually for trail development - the funding is for the promotion of the trail as an experience through tourism.
So just to make it clear, this is not infrastructure funding. It's not meant to actually go develop the trail, but it's working with groups once the trail has been put into place - promoting that trail and making it part of the tourism experience. I know that other departments in government do provide infrastructure funding for trail development, but in this case, through Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, it is strictly on the promotion and marketing of the actual trail rather than construction.
MR. LOHR: I'd like to thank the minister for that answer. I guess I would like to drill down into that. You say you know other departments - could you maybe enlighten me on what other departments and what is being done there?
MR. SAMSON: I'm always reluctant to advise members to go see other departments for money but, in this case, allow me to be of assistance. I do believe that the Department of Health and Wellness - we used to call it the Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission budget, which I'm sure the member for Pictou Centre is very familiar with - I believe they do provide some funding for actual trail development and I believe my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, may have some funding as well for trail development.
What I can say to the honourable member is I know in my riding, in Richmond County, I have at least three very active ATV groups and they have been working very closely with landowners and with the provincial government at developing ATV trails throughout Richmond County. They have been successful in obtaining funding from both the province and the federal government on that. I can tell you in the wintertime, they do what they call these Poker Rallies. It's amazing the amount - it has become a tourism attraction for us in the wintertime because I think one of the last ones they had had almost 500 bikes, which is incredible because they usually have breakfast at a community hall and have lunch and have supper. The amount of money that that generates at a time of the year where there's little to no activity going on for tourism operators, it's becoming a great attraction. The trails themselves were built for ATVs, so everyone recognizes that.
I certainly see the benefit of it. I think it has worked well. It ha brought landowners together with users, where agreements are put into place. In many cases they have built bridges - actual bridges, not just the term "bridges," but physical bridges. They're very respectful towards the environment and the areas they are travelling in, whether it is soft land or swampland or everything else.
It's been a positive experience and I know hopefully that will assist the member in identifying where there is funding available for it. I certainly have seen first-hand the benefits of those trails.
MR. LOHR: I would like to thank the minister for those answers and I would like to state that I think that we need to develop both types of trail systems and see it go forward. In order to promote, we need to have concrete things to promote, so there is a role for infrastructure. I thank him for the answers.
I would like to maybe switch the subject a little bit and ask about - I know he would be aware of how good a job New Brunswick has done promoting the Bay of Fundy. If you were to look at New Brunswick's tourist promotion, you might well believe that they are the only ones who have the Bay of Fundy. You know, we know, the highest tides in fact are on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy. It was one, as you well know, of 14 finalists for the New7Wonders of Nature and failed to make that cut as one of the seven natural wonders of the world unfortunately - should have made it, but not enough of us voted online for that.
I would like to ask the minister what his department is doing to promote the Bay of Fundy.
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member, you're right. The Bay of Fundy, the highest tides are on the Nova Scotia side and it's something that we're extremely proud of. One of the challenges we face as a province is that we have so many wonderful attractions that whenever the Tourism Agency or others make promotional videos about the province, regardless of how long the video is, someone's going to sit there and say, why is this community not in the video and why is this attraction not in the video and what about this one? It's a good problem to have in that we have so many.
But what I can tell you is my understanding is the new promotional videos that are being used have a specific focus on the Bay of Fundy tides, identifying them with the Nova Scotia brand. We also work with local groups and organizations when it comes to doing promotion and marketing of a specific project. I can advise as well that Cape Split is on our outdoor billboards and is promoted in our TV advertising as well.
I do take note of the member's comments. I can tell you one of the first questions I asked when I arrived in the department and met with the Tourism Agency was: What's being done to promote Cape Breton, one of the best islands to visit in the world? So it's a fair question.
I expect all members are very proud of the areas they represent and some of the natural beauties that come with it. I think one of the things to keep in mind is that while we focus on so many experiences here in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick has really focused on the Bay of Fundy tides in its tourism campaign - I would argue to the detriment of many other attractions they have in the province - because they have made that such a primary focus, it would probably be why you are seeing so much attention being paid specifically to that, whereas in this province we certainly try to have our advertising highlight many of the wonderful attractions that we have here.
MR. LOHR: I'd like to thank the minister for that answer. I would agree with his sentiment that we have a number of very beautiful areas in the province to promote; however, there was only one Canadian finalist in those final 14 of the 7Wonders of Nature and that is getting into pretty rarified territory there. I think it would be good for us to consider that.
My question would be - and again, you anticipate the direction we are going on that with Cape Split, the amount of hiking traffic in Cape Split is astounding, I know on Remembrance Day, November 11th, which was a dull, rainy, cold day, there were 27 cars in the parking lot of Cape Split, hiking out to Cape Split. It gets year-round traffic. I know the previous government did get some work done there but I'm wondering, what are your plans for Cape Split?
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, through you to the member, we're certainly well aware of the attraction that Cape Split is. I am hearing figures of up to 35,000 people a year go visit Cape Split. One of the main attractions to it, not just its natural beauty, is the fact that it is undeveloped, that it remains very much a natural piece of land.
My understanding is that there is some discussion regarding having some type of development there at Cape Split to attract hikers and other people who visit the area. It appears to still be very much in the discussion phase at this point, but we are certainly very interested because it is a great natural asset. There's not that much marketing or promotion that goes into it; it seems that word of mouth has certainly helped made that one of the main attractions.
It is my understanding that the parking lot did have some work done to it last year and, as well, we're working with the Department of Natural Resources regarding developing some specific trails along the Cape Split area.
MR. LOHR: Madam Chairman, I would say - and I realize this comment would apply to a different department - but Highway No. 359 from Hubbard Mountain down to Cape Split is in shocking condition and, if you were to drive there, you would see that. I realize that doesn't apply to your department, but I would like to get that in.
I would like to ask this question of the minister: At some point in the future would you foresee Cape Split becoming a provincial park?
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, what I would say to the honourable member is I am more than happy to work with him to lobby the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal regarding that road. In return, I would hope he would work with me to lobby for a couple of roads in Cape Breton-Richmond as well that could use some work from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
But no, we do recognize that road is in need of some upgrades, especially in light of the attraction at Cape Split. Any decision on making it into a provincial park would come through the Department of Natural Resources. Obviously we are interested in ensuring that it continues to be a major attraction and if there is anything that we can do in working with our colleagues in Natural Resources, obviously we would be very happy to do that.
I am always happy to work with the member regarding any sort of projects or recommendations for either Cape Split or any other areas . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The time allotted for consideration of Supply today has elapsed. We'll wait a few minutes for the subcommittee to finish, so we'll call a short recess. Thank you.
[2:25 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:31p.m.The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will resume.
The honourable Deputy House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise, repot progress, and beg leave to sit again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 2:32 p.m.]