HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Wilson
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the resumption of the estimates for the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: This is the first time I am standing here with regard to estimates for ERDT and I want to follow up from the other day when a colleague of mine was asking about the ferry and with advertising in the New England States area. Because I missed some of the answers yesterday, because I was in the Red Chamber with Environment, I'm just wondering if you could first give us an approximate estimate of the economic spinoff from the ferry being put back into service and how it will impact hotel accommodations within the province.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: We don't have a specific number to provide you with today. What I can tell you, and what I'm sure the member will appreciate, is that we certainly saw the financial impact with the loss of the ferry service - one doesn't need to look very far to identify the devastation that it had in many communities along Yarmouth, the South Shore, and the Valley, as well as throughout the province. But I do believe there may be some numbers that we can provide to the member and we will certainly be happy to forward that to the member for her review and any follow-up questions.
MS. MACFARLANE: I agree. We definitely saw the impact in the last number of years. I know two summers ago I travelled right from Yarmouth all the way to Cape North and discussed with many small business owners, and large ones, that are impacted in the tourism industry, especially with the ferry, and traffic was definitely down. I do hope that we will see an increase in traffic flow this coming season.
I am wondering if perhaps the minister can indicate how many bus companies have been able to reroute their tours for this season or if we have the number of how many bus tours are already booked for the season, as well, there have been many issues with changing bus tours schedules with the ferry coming back so close to the tourism season, so if we have any relevant information on bus tours yet - are we seeing an increase of bookings to come across the ferry to Nova Scotia?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member's questions, obviously I just want to make it clear that Nova Star is being privately operated. It is not the Province of Nova Scotia that operates it; it is not the Province of Nova Scotia that does the bookings; and it is not the Province of Nova Scotia that is responsible to keep track of that information. We have agreed, as a province, to offer financial assistance to re-establish this important link between Yarmouth and Portland, in the United States, but at the end of the day, when it comes to how many bookings there have been and will be, those are in the purview of the company and it is their responsibility on that.
As the member indicated in her earlier question, the Province of Nova Scotia has committed an additional $1.5 million in this budget for tourism marketing in the eastern United States. It is our hope that it will bring more people to the province but a byproduct of that is our hope that people will use the ferry to come visit the Province of Nova Scotia. At the same time, STM Quest Inc., which is the operator of the Nova Star, has undertaken their own advertising that they are doing along the northern U.S. - obviously their advertising is very specific in recommending that people do take the ferry to visit Nova Scotia. So we are hoping all those monies invested in the northeastern U.S. are going to bring the numbers up for our province and, as a result, will bring the numbers up for the ferry as well.
Nova Star, through STM Quest Inc., as the vessel, is still predicting approximately 100,000 passengers for this cruise season. As well, it is my understanding that the number of hits from the Boston area on the Nova Scotia website is up significantly from what we've seen in the last four years. There is certainly cause for optimism, but as far as the specific numbers the member is asking for the company would be better positioned to provide that answer than our department.
MS. MACFARLANE: I understand that they are going to be looking after all those stats. As an investor who is giving a substantial amount of money to ensure that they are successful, and we definitely want them to be, do we have any legal right to request those numbers to find out the demographic - how many children, how many 18-wheelers came across, just the overall general demographics that we would want in order to understand our own tourism industry better here in the province? Could he elaborate more if he is able to tap into those numbers at the end of this season and, as well, perhaps he can tell me when the date is they will finish - is it in the Fall, and what date?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member, obviously we work very closely with the company. As I said earlier, they are responsible for the actual day-to-day operations for the bookings and everything else. But there is no question, we see the Nova Star and STM Quest as a partner when it comes to the tourism industry here in this province. As a partner, there is no question that we will be asking to see the information from the bookings that they have this summer so that we can keep track, as she mentioned, about how many bus tours were coming through the Nova Star, how many passengers have come through, and where those passengers were from. As I'm sure the member knows, the tourism agency uses various methods to obtain information. I'm sure, if she has flown recently, she has probably met some of them at the airport who often will ask people where they are from, where they are going - those are all stats.
I remember during one of our briefings, I believe we had someone for many years at the tourism bureau in Cumberland County whose job it was to keep track of the vehicles coming in and where the vehicles were coming from. So we obviously use various means to track data to better understand where tourists are coming from, where our marketing is obviously having an effect, where there may be a need to do a bit more effort - that is all information that we will want.
At the same time, we will be working closely with STM Quest to share some of the information that we have obtained as a province as to where visitors are coming from, which may, at the end of the day, assist in their own marketing efforts as well. There is a sense of working together because if the Nova Star is successful, the province is successful. And so we want to be able to obtain all the information they can provide to assist us, while at the same time certainly being prepared to share with them information that we have that may be of assistance in their own marketing and overall success of the venture.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm just wondering if you know approximately how many Nova Scotian employees the Nova Star has hired and, as well, if the Visitor Information Centre is now open or when it will be.
MR. SAMSON: We are getting the information regarding the Visitor Information Centre. What I can advise is when I was in Yarmouth I did have the opportunity to tour the Nova Star with my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources and to meet with the operators. It is very clear that currently, on the vessel itself, as far as the crew that is operating the vessel, there are no Nova Scotians employed right now.
This is a new vessel. It is the hope of the operators that before long there will be Nova Scotians hired. Right now it was a matter of bringing in an experienced crew that knew how to operate the vessel and similar types of vessels and who had experience. They made it very clear in my discussions with them that they did want to see Nova Scotians employed on the vessel and that there will be a transition period that will take place, but that the crew that brought the vessel over will still be employed for the season as they are experienced and have knowledge of these types of vessels.
I can advise that the Visitor Information Centre in Yarmouth will be opening up in May of this year.
MS. MACFARLANE: Going back towards - I believe it was $1.5 million that's being invested into the New England States for advertising and marketing. A question would be: Is this going to be an annual investment? Possibly the minister could elaborate a little bit more on where that money is going into marketing - are we actually maintaining a tourist bureau? I know that when the Scotia Prince ran we had a tourist bureau for the Province of Nova Scotia right on Commercial Street in Portland; we also had an information centre at the terminal in Portland.
I know there are a couple of questions there and I don't know if the minister is okay with me asking a couple of questions at a time - it just seems like the dialogue here is much different than being in the Red Room, and being able to go back and forth more easily. So I hope he's okay with me asking a few questions at a time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm sure asking more than one question, as long as he is okay with it, is fine.
MR. SAMSON: My only caveat is that if I happen to forget any of them, just remind me when the member gets up the next time, but obviously I'm more than happy to do my best to answer those.
I believe there was a question about how long the vessel will be operating this season. It will be operating until November 2nd - that is the sailing schedule set for this year.
I believe the other question was what type of marketing. As I mentioned in my previous answer, just some of the success we have had from the increased amount of marketing we've been doing is that novascotia.com is the website that we direct visitors to,
ones who are interested in our province and learning more of our province.
Last year there were approximately 8,000 hits to that site. As of now there is currently, this year, 100,000 hits to that site, and those are from the Boston area, I should advise. There were 8,000 hits from the Boston area last year; this year we are up to over 100,000. So something is working. We have gotten the attention and I certainly want to give credit to Pat Sullivan and the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency which, while they do report to our department, are in many ways an independent agency and they've been doing a tremendous job in the marketing - very focused in some of the newspaper ads that have been put out; some of the television ads, obviously; and some of the web-based ads as well. It is certainly having an impact.
What I should advise as well is that, as the member may be aware, the Nova Star came into Yarmouth but then left Yarmouth after a couple of days and headed off to Boston where it is going to be equipped with some different infrastructure there. Then there are going to be a couple of stops along the way as it makes it way to Portland. While in Boston there are going to be a number of activities around that; in fact, we are going to have a Nova Scotia Day over at the Fenway Park - I was going to call it the Green Monster but that's within the field - so it's Fenway Park.
I see my colleague from Kings South didn't catch that because I would probably have something thrown at me right now - but there is going to be a Nova Scotia Day at Fenway Park as part of the celebrations. They've done this in the past. As well, there is going to a replica of the Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, I believe, almost a life-size version that is going to be on display in the main park there in Boston, I want to say. . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Faneuil Hall.
MR. SAMSON: Faneuil Hall, that's it, there you go, I thank the member for her assistance there. That is going to be on display there which obviously draws a lot of attention. Most of the advertising - the member asked - has been media-related. There has been some TV, billboard, but I do believe that during these festivities there will be some ads in the local Boson papers as well. So, needless to say, we're trying to create as much excitement as possible, as much awareness as possible that the ferry is back. It's a new, beautiful vessel and one which we hope is going to encourage many of our friends from the northeastern United Sates to come visit our beautiful province.
MS. MACFARLANE: I am a Boston fan, by the way. One question that I did ask that the minister forgot to answer was if the $1.5million is annually, so that will be one question and perhaps I can go to my next one as well because it ties in. I know that the tourist bureau in Portland, one of their biggest job descriptions or what they would do there would be to mail out travel guides. So that was going to be my next question - how many travel guides has the province mailed out? I know you may not have all the answers for me today but I would like to know the demographics of where those travel guides are going - so what age groups and where?
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I knew I would be forgetting a question so I'm glad the honourable member reminded me. At this point in time it is a one-year commitment, the $1.5 million. Obviously at the end of the year we're going to review with the Nova Star, with SCM Quest and with all of our tourism partners to see what impact did it have - did it make a significant difference to the amount of visitors to our province? I think that's the way government should work - if you are going to make an investment, look at the end of the day and see if it had its intended impact. If it didn't, then obviously you have to review and ask yourself, should you be making the investment again if you did not get the desired results?
If we do get the desired results, I can assure the honourable member that it is an issue I will take to the Cabinet Table and argue for again next year, because if it's showing success, it's very clear, as the Ivany commission pointed out, tourism does remain a staple of our economy. It has tremendous potential for us and I believe this is the type of investment that Nova Scotians would support. At the end of the day we need to be accountable and be able to tell them if this investment did bring real, tangible results to the Province of Nova Scotia.
I have no doubt that next year my colleague will possibly ask me that exact question - what did we get for our $1.5 million in additional advertising, which is complementary to the advertising that Nova Star is doing as well? It is my understanding that they do have some billboards set up in and around the major routes, around the New England Seaboard, to advertise the ferry, so that is already being done by them. Obviously it is not just a question of our investment, there is significant investment being made by the company, but we'll obviously want to see results of that.
The member asked me about the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide. We have printed 320,000 copies in both French and English and we have 700,000 calendars that we have printed as well. We can certainly get the exact information to the member as to how many have been sent down to the northeastern United States.
What I can advise as well is that we've been trying our best to have the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide being provided online. As we know now, fewer and fewer people rely on an actual hard copy when it comes to tourism-related information; people are doing their research on the web. With the use of smart phones, they can basically access the information on the web from wherever they are.
While the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide is a beautiful document with lots of great information, like so many other things, we're seeing that consumers are looking for an online product rather than an actual hard copy, so there is a bit of a transition taking place, but we have not forgotten the fact that many still enjoy having the actual document in front of them and we want to make sure that's available to them and that it continues to promote our province.
I'm pleased to advise that this year's Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide is available online, to be downloaded from wherever in the world you may find yourself that you have access to the Internet.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, I'm just wondering if you can give me some specifics about how you will gauge those desirable results that you want from the ferry. Also, with the travel guide and going more to electronics I'm just wondering, has there been any discussion around having actual physical bodies in Portland? Have you discussed in your department yet, perhaps having some people there to speak to the tourists before they actually get on the ferry, or if that was talked about - is there any money there to do something like that?
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, through you to my honourable colleague, obviously there are a number of different ways that we keep track of those who do come to the province and where they stay. That's all information that we gather through the tourism agency, to have that statistical information. There are exit surveys that are done in some cases; in other cases, as I mentioned earlier, there is manual tracking that takes place of visitors to our province, but as far as it relates to what will be done in Portland on behalf of Nova Scotia and on the vessel itself, I can certainly obtain that information for the member.
MS. MACFARLANE: So I'm assuming from that answer that we are not discussing having actual physical bodies there in Portland to sell our province, like we have been known to do before, when actually it has proved that the tourism industry was quite successful back in the 1980s and 1990s when we had people there.
I just want a yes or no answer if we're discussing having physical bodies there, and then I want to know what the upgrade and staff at the Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre is. I think their budget is $461,000. How much has that actually increased from previous years?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member, there are monies in the budget for upgrades to the Visitor Information Centre in Yarmouth. There is one-year funding of $340,000 that will go into the upgrade of the terminal. As well, the member asked about staffing at the Visitor Information Centre. I can advise that there is an additional $121,000 that is going to be an ongoing investment for the Visitor Information Centre. It's marked down as three full-time equivalents, which in reality will be more likely six new employees for that area working part-time, but for accounting purposes they would be counted as three full-time equivalent positions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to note that the time is up but we will continue with the questioning for another hour, for your Party, starting now.
MS. MACFARLANE: That answer leads into my next question - the $350,000 extra going into the VIC in Yarmouth, and I can agree that probably there would be some new maintenance and upkeep to make sure it's most presentable to the travellers entering the province, but could we break down that $350,000 to let me know if it's just the physical building that has to be upgraded, is it additional people, is it marketing - what does that extra $350,000 include?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member, I can advise that the $340,000 is an actual infrastructure upgrade to the Visitor Information Centre. In fact, I'm pleased to advise, and I'm sure my colleague the Minister of Natural Resources will be happy to know, that with this investment the Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre will be the most advanced modern Visitor Information Centre in the Province of Nova Scotia.
The intention with the new investment is that there will be tablets in the Visitor Information Centre so that people can access information; as well, there will be very large tables that will actually have touch computers and large video screens on them to make it easier for people to obtain information and to be interactive in getting information about the Province of Nova Scotia. It is actual infrastructure within the Visitor Information Centre itself.
We certainly see this as an important gateway to the Province of Nova Scotia. I believe anyone who has been in the Visitor Information Centre in the last few years will have seen that it has become a bit dated, therefore I believe this investment will certainly make it a more modern user-friendly facility and, as indicated, we'll certainly make it our most advanced Visitor Information Centre in the Province of Nova Scotia, following these upgrades.
MS. MACFARLANE: I couldn't agree more, it is a gateway to the province and we certainly want to make sure that it's beautified and very welcoming. I also come from an area that is somewhat of a gateway into the province, being in Pictou West and having the ferry come from Prince Edward Island to Caribou, and we also have a VIC there. I'm just wondering if we can share what their budget is, if it has increased or decreased this year, please.
MR. SAMSON: As far as the Pictou Visitor Information Centre, its budget is $277,000, which in this year's budget represents an increase of $15,000. So I'm happy to report there has been no decrease, no reduction, but what I can advise to the honourable member, and to all members of the House, is that the tourism agency is looking at all of our Visitor Information Centres throughout the province.
In light of the new technologies, in light of people's travel patterns, their travel preferences, it's a question of are we using these Visitor Information Centres to the best of their capabilities. I think that's an important discussion for us to have, certainly one that I'm hoping to hear the suggestions and concerns from all members of the House, especially those who represent areas who do have these Visitor Information Centres. If there are specific suggestions they have, I welcome them to share those either with me or with Pat Sullivan through the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. Again, we want to make sure that when visitors do stop at these Visitor Information Centres, they are getting the best experience, the best quality service, and that the infrastructure around them and everything else is one that is a reflection of the modern reality.
Those are issues that we're asking ourselves through the Tourism Agency: How do we modernize the visitor information centres that we have? What improvements can possibly be made? What technology is most reflective of the needs of tourists who come visit our province? Certainly I believe the upgrades to the Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre will certainly be a good template for us to judge the reaction from visitors once they see those upgrades, and whether that is a practice that we should be extending to the Visitor Information Centres around the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going to ask about DEANS, Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores Nova Scotia Association. I know that for the last almost two years, I believe, they have been trying to put together a levy on accommodations, somewhat like Cape Breton and Halifax has. I know the minister is aware of their struggle to move forward with this levy. I had been told previously that possibly legislation would be put forth this Spring for that levy, but I understand now that perhaps they're at a standstill. I'm just wondering if the minister could elaborate a little bit on where his department is with this group. We know that they would receive approximately $320,000 to $330,000 in extra marketing dollars, and I would hope that he would be in favour of this and give me an update on it plea
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, to my honourable colleague, we've had the opportunity to speak directly on this subject. I know she has been advocating on their behalf, and I commend her for that, and she has asked previously what our position was.
Representing a riding in Cape Breton I witnessed what happened when the levy was brought into Cape Breton and I'm sure my colleague from Gabarus - I can never remember his riding so saying Gabarus is going to be a lot easier, in fact I believe Gabarus Lake is the proper community - will remember as well and the fact that you had Inverness County, which was not in support of the levy and it made for a very difficult situation for the tourist operators in Cape Breton. It was a divisive matter in Inverness itself, where some were in favour, others were not, and it made for a divided municipal council.
When this proposal was brought forward to me, what I can advise the member is that the Tourism Association of Nova Scotia has been working on a province-wide standard of having levies in place to assist with marketing. While that work was taking place, I was approached by the honourable member and others, even within our own caucus, on behalf of DEANS to see if they were able to move forward with the levy.
I made it very clear that I was certainly not going to stand in the way of that coming forward, but the one caveat that I did put in place, as minister, is that I expected to get a letter of support from all municipal units indicating they were in favour of this levy, and the minute we had that we would bring legislation to the floor of this House.
I think the member has already indicated that there is not unanimous support for that right now. I would urge the municipal units within the DEANS catchment area to continue to work together and to iron out any issues they have, so that if this legislation is going to come forward and the levy is going to be put in place it is one that is going to have the full support of all the municipal units. There will not be any confusion among tourism operators, depending on which county they happen to find themselves in, and that this can be seen as a positive measure for promoting marketing and marketing developments within that catchment area.
So I remain open to the idea; the fact that the Legislature is still in session, I would say there is still time. I would hope that if there's going to be unanimous support that it be conveyed to me as quickly as possible and we would certainly look to bring that legislation in.
If, for some reason, that cannot be done before the House rises to conclude the Spring session, I would certainly be happy to revisit the issue in the Fall and would hope that the municipal units will work together to get consensus on this. Again, I give my commitment that we will be more than happy to bring legislation for the favourable consideration of the House as quickly as possible once I do receive that consent from the municipal units.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, I understand the struggle of this group because they are losing out on the opportunity, with those extra dollars, to market their area, while we have Halifax, while we have Cape Breton tapping into this type of levy. It's totally not because I am against a province-wide levy; in fact I could probably stand here today and say that I'm all in favour of that and I wish we could just do that right now.
Once again, as the minister indicated, Cape Breton, Inverness, was not onside, but a year later they did come because they realized they were losing out. So I would hope that he would change his mind, that because one area is not totally in agreement of doing it but they are considering doing it province-wide anyway, why not let this group that is so active, let them go for it and consider, once again, going ahead with this levy and this legislation this Spring session while they still have time to start putting their efforts forth. Thank you.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, what I can advise is that our department is currently providing $149,000 to DEANS to assist them with the work they do carry out. I have no question that they are doing tremendous work and are very committed and dedicated. Again, having lived through the divisiveness that a tax levy can bring, even when it was brought in in Halifax, it was the same issue. I was a member in the House at the time and recall that the debate was not always favourable amongst members representing various communities in Halifax because, depending on the size of the operators, you had some who were in favour, others who were less supportive of it.
But the government of the day did implement it, as it did in Cape Breton, over the objections of Inverness. I believe that we have learned from that experience. This is a positive tool, but one that needs to be embraced by the operators within the catchment area and with the municipal units. I don't believe this will have the success that it should have if you have municipal units that are offside and there is some confusion as to which operators should be charging the levy, which shouldn't, and who gets the benefit from the marketing when some are collecting the levy and others are not.
I don't believe it is a system that works the way it should work. At the end of the day, I still believe it is a reasonable request to ask for the municipal units to be onside, prior to government implementing such a levy, and I believe there is still time for them to do so. Our department remains available, through the Tourism Agency, to discuss with them any concerns that they have.
There is a province-wide strategy being worked on as well, so I wouldn't say that nothing is being done. We have certainly left the door open and I've clearly explained what needs to be done in order to get this process expedited. It is now in the hands of the municipal units and the tourism operators from that catchment area to get that support in place. As I've committed, we are more than happy to bring in that legislation once we have that.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going back to the travel guide for a moment. I do believe that it's a worthy and useful tool, even though we're evolving more into the technical realm of planning our vacations.
Can the minister tell me if his department actually reached out to - I think it's the first travel guide that I have seen in years that doesn't have the Bluenose in it. Being our iconic vessel, and hope springs eternal that we're going to get it to sail this summer (Interruption) I think the minister has a fan club up there. I will continue on - I want to know if his department sought out trying to get the Bluenose in this year - why wasn't it in, even if they didn't have an agenda set as to where it was going to sail, and why wasn't there just an advertisement in there showcasing the Bluenose?
MR. SAMSON: I would never suggest that the people up in the gallery are my fan club; instead I would say that they are hard-working, underpaid civil servants who work hard for the province and, unfortunately, don't have a say in who happens to be their minister. I have no illusions as to why they are here. They are here because they have no choice, not because they wanted to watch their minister's performance - and they have been providing valuable information to me, on behalf of the members of this House, in trying to respond to their questions as best as possible.
It's always interesting - and I spoke about this last week when we were talking about the travel guide, and I am sure Pat Sullivan, who is here from the Tourism Agency, will have the same opinion - depending on which group you meet with or which individual you meet with and where they from in the province, they are going to ask a different question about our tourism strategy. I'm sure Pat will recall the first meeting that we had when we saw the ad that was done for the province. My first question was: Where's Cape Breton and why is Cape Breton not featured more in the tourism strategy? Only then to see that there were specific ads referencing Cape Breton.
As I mentioned last week, we're a province that's blessed with so many attractions, so much natural beauty, festivals that are recognized throughout the world, and when it comes to marketing it is always a question of which do you pick, and you try not to leave any of them out. I've just been assured that there is a significant ad in the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide featuring our beloved Bluenose, and so I'm not sure why the member was of the belief that we didn't have it in there. But we can certainly try to run a copy down to the floor and would be happy to share that with her. Our government and our Tourism Agency have not in any way forgotten the Bluenose II; in fact, I can be even more specific in stating that there is a two-page spread on the Bluenose II located at Pages 22 and 23 of the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide.
MS. MACFARLANE: I am so pleased to hear that. The reason that I indicated that is because in estimates last week with the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, I asked the question, and his department, and they said they did not put an advertisement in, that there was none in. So that's the reason why. I'll be honest - I didn't go through it myself. I asked the question in estimates and I was told that there was no advertisement. So the department that is looking after the Bluenose II does not know if there is an advertisement in the travel guide for Nova Scotia?
So maybe my next question - I wasn't intending to ask this question - but I'm wondering if maybe the Bluenose II, since it is supposed to be such an active file and an important one for all Nova Scotians, if perhaps - has there ever been any discussion that maybe it be moved into the Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Department?
MR. SAMSON: The Bluenose II has always been attached with the Heritage Division of Tourism for many years - for the last 15 years, I'm told, and then when the previous government created the new Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, the Heritage Division was brought in with that department. So while the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism maintained Tourism, the Heritage section of that went with the new department. It still does fall under the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
But when the Tourism Agency is putting together the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide, obviously they are looking to promote the province as best as possible. I will certainly check for confirmation of that, but it is possible that the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage did not specifically put an ad in the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide, but obviously there is still the work being done by our Tourism Agency in promoting our province. As I said, I'm pleased to advise the member that there is a two-page spread that does highlight the Bluenose II, which is something that we all look forward to seeing.
In fact, I am advised again by my hard-working staff that the spread that is in the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide is not, in fact, an ad - so the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage were correct in stating they did not put in an ad - but it is an editorial, which does highlight the Bluenose II and its importance to Nova Scotians. That was something that was put together by our Tourism Agency.
So in defence of my colleague, the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, and the staff, they did respond to your question correctly. They did not put an ad in, but we're happy to report that the Tourism Agency does have a two-page spread with an editorial of the Bluenose II. As I stated last week in my capacity as the Acting Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage for a day - it was long enough - I'm happy to say that we are certainly looking forward to having the Bluenose II, in its restored glory, sailing again very soon as an ambassador for Nova Scotia. It remains a major attraction for many Canadians and visitors from all over the world to come see our iconic schooner.
MS. MACFARLANE: I apologize that I missed your opening remarks the other day because I was in the Red Chamber with the Department of Environment. So I'm going to ask you - and perhaps you've already put it out there - if you can describe the overarching direction you are trying to take with tourism and what your strategy is and, as well, what you feel is holding back the tourism industry, which we also know has been failing us the last number of years in the province.
MR. SAMSON: Having spent quite a bit of time in Opposition, I certainly know the challenges of trying to be in two places at the same time, especially when you have different critic portfolios. I fully appreciate that the member had responsibilities in the Red Room when I did give my opening statement, so that is more than understandable.
What we've been trying to do as a province - and the focus of the Tourism Agency - has been on trying to sell some of the icons we have in Nova Scotia. It's clearly marketing what we have. In fact, I spoke at length with your colleague about the Bay of Fundy tides and the fact that so much attention has been given to those.
We look, for example last year, where tourism was a challenge in many parts, but was up in Cape Breton, and many of the reasons for that were the celebrations at Louisbourg, the 300th Anniversary celebrations, so that's where we've had some success.
One of the challenges we face is we need more of the 300th Anniversary of the Fortress Louisbourg, we need more of those types of events that are going to bring people in for a specific experience that they want to be part of. That's one of the things that the Tourism Agency and our department have been working very closely on. We've been in receipt of various proposals to try to continue to have, almost on a yearly basis, these types of major events that are going to be used to market our province and to bring people here.
Marketing remains one of our main areas of focus in ensuring that what we're presenting is an attractive product, that it's eye-catching, that people take an interest in it and want to visit Nova Scotia. We're working as well on product development. To that end, I certainly did speak at the Tourism Industry Association's annual general meeting. My message to them is that while as a province we're prepared to help make investments in marketing and promotion, we also need our tourism operators to start looking within as to what kind of upgrades they can make to their own facilities to ensure that when people do come here and they are looking for accommodation that they leave with a favourable experience, that we have modern facilities with modern equipment, with modern amenities, with high-speed Internet, all of the things that visitors would expect to have.
I certainly heard a lot of positive feedback from many operators saying that they agree that they do have to make some investments, and we're certainly looking at working with them and assisting in that regard.
The other big thing that the Tourism Agency has been working on and, I know, many operators are focusing on, is selling an experience. Whether it's mountain climbing, trail experiences, biking, motorcycle events, when you look at the major event they have down in Digby, the Wharf Rat Rally - those are experiences that, more and more, we're able to promote as a province that are having incredible results.
In speaking with your colleague last week, I talked about some of the trail development taking place in my own riding with all-terrain vehicles. In the wintertime, they've started having these Poker Rallies. They had one this winter, and I believe there were between 300 and 500 bikes that participated. In many cases, on these ATVs there are two people - it doesn't take long to figure out the economic impact that can have on a community in the downtime of the season. It has certainly become something that is gaining popularity all around this province. So those are some of the things we're trying to do.
The other statistic that I want to share with the member is that while there have been challenges, obviously, in tourism, the U.S. tourism to Canada in the last 10 years is down 18 per cent, but in Nova Scotia over that same period of time, it's only down 9 per cent. So actually Nova Scotia has weathered the storm a bit better than many of our counterparts throughout the country.
One of the main challenges, obviously, when we look at why is the amount of tourism down from the United States, the high Canadian dollar for the last number of years has served as a disincentive for many visitors from the United States. As well, the passport requirements that now exist in the United States have discouraged some people from travelling out of the country; the amount of cheap flights that used to be available has become limited, which has discouraged some visitors; and the fact that when we talk about Americans coming here to shop, especially now with the Canadian dollar that is lower than what it has been, we can never forget that with the advent of the Internet people can shop, from home, anywhere in the world.
That all put together has combined to make some challenges for us. But what I wanted to advise the member as well is that the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency is basically working on five main pillars: Number one is leadership and collaboration; number two is evidence-based decision making; number three is higher quality products/experience; number four is better access to Nova Scotia from water, air and road; and, number five, inspirational marketing.
When you look at the Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide, it is a good example of exactly the efforts that are being undertaken by the Tourism Agency to promote Nova Scotia, to encourage visitors to our province and, hopefully with a little bit of help from Mother Nature, we're going to have great weather this summer and we'll be able to welcome many new visitors to the province.
I would be remiss in talking about some of the experiences - I do believe that it's fair to say that the Pictou Lobster Carnival has certainly become one of the major experiences here in our province and has attracted many visitors. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that the waterfront in New Glasgow also hosted Great Big Sea, I think last summer or just in the Fall. I know many of my constituents went up for that concert and walked away with a very positive experience from that, so I certainly commend the organizers for that, the Town of New Glasgow and everyone who played a role in making that event a success.
Again, those are the types of experiences. I mentioned Louisbourg earlier. There are so many more. Our challenge is to try to continually, on a yearly basis, identify those types of major events because Louisbourg certainly was proof that it can be successful and it certainly played a big role in the economy of Cape Breton last year. Merci.
MS. MACFARLANE: I appreciate the latter part of the answer with the five pillars - I couldn't agree more with those - and also for the mention of the Pictou Lobster Carnival. We are celebrating our 80th year. It started in 1934, so we're very proud. We welcome everyone to join us July 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th this year. We welcome everyone to Pictou and to our beautiful waterfront which showcases the great Ship Hector as well.
This leads me into the fact that basically most of my livelihood has been centred around the tourism industry. I am still lucky enough to own the Ship Hector Company Store, but I have seen many small business owners who depended on the tourism industry struggle and fail. In fact, last Fall - and not that all of them were tourism-related - but Pictou County saw 53 businesses close. When you come up Water Street now, in Pictou, there are literally 15, 16 vacant places. I actually have a commercial space as well that I've been trying to lease out for the last four years and it's been most difficult. We keep clinging on and we keeping trying to find ways as small business owners to cut back just in hopes that things are going to turn around and things will get better. I think we're all putting a lot of faith into the ferry service, hoping to see a trickle of improvement and making sure that we continue on with our businesses.
I guess this leads me into getting a little bit away from tourism, but heading now into just jobs. I know the minister is aware - and he paid a visit after our request to Pictou County with regard to Michelin, knowing that 500 jobs would be lost there over the next 18 months. At the time, the minister had appointed Mr. Sean Murray, a local businessman, to spearhead or take leadership in forming a team to see how we're going to move forward in Pictou County to create more jobs and bring more businesses here. I know the task is most difficult.
I did give Mr. Murray a number of weeks, almost a month I believe, to try and comprehend his role and digest some of what was going on. Then I reached out by email and requested - can we meet? What can I do now that you've been able to somewhat understand the scope of what's going on? I haven't heard back from him, so I'm hoping the minister can update me on this lead and indicate where we are with Mr. Murray and his leadership in helping to see Pictou County move forward and create more jobs there.
MR. SAMSON: I thank my colleague for the question. In fact, I had the opportunity to discuss this a little bit last week when we spoke with one of her colleagues on this very matter. She is correct. Once we received the news regarding the reduction of employment at the Michelin plant at Granton, we as a government, within a couple of days, were down in Pictou County at the Museum of Industry - myself, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, the Minister of Environment as well as our caucus chairman, the member for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie.
Obviously our government took it very seriously, the situation that was there. We had a number of people at the meeting; the member for Pictou West was there as well. At that time we discussed, prior to the meeting, what would be the best way to address the concerns in Pictou County, not just with the Michelin plant but some of the economic concerns she has raised in her preamble to this question.
Right off the bat, I made it very clear - certainly in discussions with my department as we talked about what was the best way to approach this - that we wanted to see solutions and ideas as to how to best address the economic challenges facing Pictou County, that those would come from Pictou County, that it would not be someone from Halifax or someone from elsewhere who would be sent in to figure out what could best be done. I have no doubt, nor does our government, that the talent, the knowledge and the wisdom and leadership necessary to turn the economy of Pictou County around rests in Pictou County, which is why I was so pleased when Sean Murray agreed to head up this initiative for us.
Sean also sits on the board of Nova Scotia Business Inc. and has been a valuable member of that board. Sean has already met with numerous individuals, a number of businesses and organizations and - as I'm sure the member will appreciate - while we first met to talk about the job reduction at Michelin, this has become so much more.
From the municipal leaders who were there who, all of a sudden, started talking about issues with municipal governance in Pictou County, to others who have told us that the situation at Michelin was a wake-up call for Pictou County. It was a wake-up call for some of the challenges that exist with different businesses that are still in operation - some of which are not in operation unfortunately - and the fact that this was an opportunity to have a much larger discussion as to what were the best ways to address the economic challenges facing Pictou County.
What I can tell the member is that Sean continues his work. I wanted to provide him with a very broad mandate; I did not want to attach time frames to it because of the fact we want to get this done right. We want to make sure that there is a team put in place that's very reflective of the challenges facing Pictou County, with the people who want to see the economy turn around and take the bold steps to assist us in doing that.
I do appreciate the member's interest, which is why when we did have the meeting at the Museum of Industry, and I made sure that invitations were sent out to the three members from Pictou County, who are all members of the Official Opposition, as well as the office of Peter MacKay. As I stated there at the meeting, the old-style politics would have been that the Liberal Government would have sent down ministers and not told the Opposition and then gone in to their backyard and held these types of meetings.
I think those days are gone. We're going to do our best to make sure that those days are gone because of the fact that the people of Pictou County voted in a free democratic election and chose who was going to represent them. They were chosen in the same fashion that I was chosen to represent my riding. I have no doubt, at the end of the day, that they have a clear vested interest in the future of their ridings and the future of their communities. I believe that Nova Scotians want to see government working with the Opposition for the best interests of this province.
So I commend the member for her continued interest in the work that Sean Murray is undertaking. We certainly look forward to any suggestions or comments that she has or her colleagues from Pictou County. As I'm sure they are well aware, our Premier certainly has a close working relationship with Minister MacKay, who is the federal representative from that area. Certainly we will continue to give whatever support we can to both Sean and to the residents of Pictou County and anything that we can do. Obviously, our goal is to improve diversification of the economy in Pictou County and not have it so dependent on a couple of large employers, but to see diversification. We certainly want to improve co-operation for economic development for that area.
As the member is probably aware, in this budget we have provided more funding under the Student Career Skills Development Program, which will provide more opportunities for non-profit organizations to hire students to work in Pictou County and in many other areas around the province. As well, we have expanded the co-op program, which is a program that links up students who are in co-op education programs with employers, which can be non-profit, private, or even provincial or municipal governments as well to provide them with opportunities.
As well, I'm sure the member is probably aware that with the Graduate to Opportunities program, we will be working directly with private business and other employers to try to provide incentives for them to hire new graduates and provide them with work experience, and provide them with a job going forward. I can advise the member as well that we continue to work on the regional enterprise networks and having those set up so that we can work collaboratively with our municipal partners when it comes to economic development issues.
I'm pleased that we have our first one up and running in the Valley; as well, I'm pleased with the progress that is being made in Cape Breton, which will hopefully soon have a formal structure in place for a regional enterprise network. I'm hoping that our colleagues in and around the Pictou County area are going to be working towards the establishment of their own regional enterprise network there so that we can clearly have a structure in place and all working together to do economic development.
In fact, the board for the regional enterprise network in southwestern Nova was announced recently and, as I mentioned, Cape Breton is proceeding well. In fact, an agreement of co-operation has been signed by the municipal partners in Cape Breton for the creation of that new regional enterprise network.
I do hope that that has provided the member with some of the initiatives that we are undertaking to address the concerns that were raised as a result of the job reductions at Michelin in Pictou County, and the work that our department and our government is doing to address the issues not only in Pictou County, but in communities throughout the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for that answer. I do just want to go back to Mr. Sean Murray. I can appreciate he's a very busy businessman. Is the minister expecting or has he received a report back on his findings or where he is moving forward with his leadership role in this? If he hasn't received any type of report, will he request a report be given? In my area of Pictou West, I have a number of people coming through the door who have tried to meet with Mr. Murray and haven't been successful in meeting with him. Will there be a report? If not, will he request a report and possibly even hold a public meeting so that the average taxpayer will have an opportunity to go and express their views and opinions and suggestions of how Pictou County can move forward in creating jobs?
MR. SAMSON: What I can advise to the honourable member is that we were very careful in providing Mr. Murray with a very broad mandate. The last thing I wanted to do was to put together strict time frames and strict guidelines to produce a report just to say we got a report. We've done that enough times over the years as a province and we know where those reports go - they go on a shelf somewhere in the library and that's where they stay.
I did not want to see that in this instance. I don't think anyone in Pictou County wants to see that happen either, which is why we left the broad mandate there so there weren't specific time frames, that it was rushed to get this done, that we were saying here's the type of report we want, here's how many pages, here's what it needs to look like. Those were all things that have been done in the past that, frankly, I don't believe are what we should be doing in this case.
It is a broad mandate. We are going to leave it to Mr. Murray, once he is finished doing the discussions that he's having with various individuals and organizations, as to what is best.
Let me make it clear, whatever final form of communication they provide us as a result of this exercise is not only communication to the Province of Nova Scotia, it is communication to the people of Pictou County. At the end of the day, as I have said, I believe there is the talent, the intelligence, the integrity, the hard work, the determination, and the ingenuity in Pictou County to figure out what is the best path forward for Pictou County. I don't want to rush that, I want to make sure people have their say, that there's an ability to explore various options. Again, what will come out of this is not just for the purposes of the Province of Nova Scotia as a government, it will be a guideline and a type of map as to what best ways to address the issues facing Pictou County.
We can certainly keep the member informed. I believe there was indication by the member that there may be some individuals who have asked for meetings that have been unsuccessful. I would urge her to communicate that to me and I will certainly bring that to Mr. Murray's attention. As she has pointed out, Mr. Murray is a successful businessman, but to be successful requires a lot of hard work and I have no doubt that his schedule is quite charged. He does continue to sit on the board of Nova Scotia Business Inc. Our province is blessed to have people like Sean Murray who, on very short notice, accepted this challenge with grace and determination. I certainly want to publicly acknowledge my gratitude and the gratitude of our government and the Province of Nova Scotia for his acceptance to do this on our behalf and on behalf of the people of Pictou County.
Whatever final decision is made as to how the results of their efforts will be communicated to us, we certainly will share that with the member and, again, the goal would be certainly not only to share with government, but to share it with the people of Pictou County.
MS. MACFARLANE: Once again, I hope that whatever Mr. Murray's findings are, they are put into action and the people of Pictou County can move forward with some of his findings and suggestions. I mentioned earlier that last Fall when I counted, there were 53 businesses - small businesses mostly - in the area that closed. My astute observation, and after many discussions with many of them, was that taxes were definitely one of the reasons why they had to fold.
I'm wondering if the minister can comment on how do income tax levels, personal and corporate, impact the process of attracting new businesses to start here in Nova Scotia? I can tell him that it is most difficult to open up a small business just in a small town like mine where I think we pay the third-highest tax in the province - if he could elaborate a little bit on that question, thank you.
MR. SAMSON: What I can advise the member, as she is probably aware, is that the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board has undertaken a comprehensive tax review in light of the very reasons that she has identified. The fact is that in Nova Scotia we have user fees and taxes that have been in place for many years. Oftentimes we're left to ask, do those user fees and taxes still serve a useful purpose today? The fact that our government did campaign on a commitment to undertake such a review, and the fact that the minister is carrying through on that commitment, I think, is proof that we are looking forward to seeing what recommendations come out of that.
Clearly, as a province, we want to make ourselves the most competitive environment that we can. What we are hearing from business is that it's not just an issue of the corporate taxes that they are required to pay, they also look at the personal income taxes that Nova Scotians are required to pay.
At the same time, one of the things that many governments have struggled with, and there has been various attempts at, is addressing the issue of red tape within the regulatory framework. I actually remember - I believe it was under the government of Dr. John Hamm that we did have a Red Tape Reduction Task Force, which at the time was made up completely of members of the government backbench. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Brooke Taylor may have chaired that committee. It met during the summer and I believe they became affectionately known in the House as the "Boys of Summer" because not only were they all from the government side, they were all males on that committee.
They produced a report, to their credit, and it's just an example of how this has been a struggle throughout the various administrations. We all want to see red tape reduced; there is no question. But, at the same time, we're under a system that we have an Auditor General who comes occasionally to the various departments and is looking to make sure processes are followed. It's a matter of striking that balance of trying to ensure that businesses have access to government permits and various other tools that they require but, at the same time, ensuring that there is proper accountability, proper transparency, proper paperwork, and that the process has been followed.
We are certainly hoping with the comprehensive tax review that that will come back with some recommendations as to how best to make us a more competitive environment as a province. Some of the other issues that the member may be curious of knowing, of what we're hearing from business, are that they want to see us work with our other provinces and other jurisdictions to take down some of the trade barriers that exist in the province.
I had an opportunity to discuss with the member for Pictou West - her colleagues - about the whole issue of DSME, which is the company that took over the old TrentonWorks railcar plant. When they initially came to the province with a significant investment made by the previous administration, it was on a business plan to build wind turbines that they would sell throughout Canada, certainly within Ontario and Quebec. Lo and behold, Ontario and Quebec turned around and put up trade barriers, that any companies or organizations that were looking to put up wind turbines, they had to be manufactured in that province. Obviously, that had a negative effect on our province.
Too often, from what I'm seeing, the Province of Nova Scotia follows all of these trade rules - oftentimes, we seem to be the only ones who are doing so because other provinces continue to put up trade barriers that are benefiting their companies at the detriment of Nova Scotia companies while, at the same time, we allow outside companies to come and compete for work in our province.
As the member is aware, with some of the discussions going on with the new European trade agreement, we have a lot of work to do here in our country because soon enough, with that new trade agreement, European countries will have free access to bid on projects and to bid on work here in the Canadian provinces, yet we have trade barriers from one province to the next. So it will be easier in some cases for European countries to bid on work in Canadian provinces than it will be for other Canadian provinces.
We have been in discussions with our federal colleagues regarding some of the issues of internal trade that still exist, some of those barriers throughout the country. Certainly, I'm hoping that there is going to be some effort there to address some of those challenges.
The other message that we're hearing from business is that they want regulatory certainty - that it's very clear as to what's required for them to do to set up their business and for ongoing operations.
As well, they're telling us they want a skilled workforce. I believe there have been significant strides made, especially through the Nova Scotia Community College system, at identifying specific programs that employers are looking for in order to have graduates being matched up with those employers. The Premier and I, as I mentioned last week, had the opportunity to visit one of the leading technology and hedge fund firms here in the province and to learn about some of the programs being offered at local universities to match the needs of that specific company. So work is being done there as well.
The other message we're hearing is that business wants quick service from government. Many businesses are small or medium-size and they just simply don't have time to wait and to have to continually be chasing down for information or permits or other documents they may need from government. That is a challenge for all of us, not only in government but, I believe, as legislators, to make sure we make that process as easy as possible.
My understanding, I should point out to the member as well, is that Laurel Broten, who is undertaking the tax review, is also meeting with tourism industry representatives to hear their concerns as well. So this tax review is really a very wide and far-encompassing review which, hopefully, will bring some tangible recommendations for the province to adopt. It's my understanding that Ms. Broten will also be meeting with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, as well as the Restaurant Association and other groups.
This really is a major review and we do look forward to some of the recommendations that are going to come forward, which will hopefully create a more competitive economic climate in our province. Merci.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, thank you to the minister for his answers. I'm going to stick to taxes right now. I'm just wondering if he feels the HST has had an impact on our economic growth here in Nova Scotia, as well as maybe elaborating a little bit more on the personal and corporate tax levels and how they've had an impact, too, on our stagnant economic growth here in Nova Scotia.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, to my colleague, obviously that is a question best put to my colleague, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, regarding the financial implications of our system of taxation. Again, the issue she raises is one that will be part of the comprehensive tax review that is taking place and that will come back with recommendations for our government.
As we indicated, obviously we'd like to see the HST lower, but the fact is that we still have significant economic challenges facing our province. We have many services that Nova Scotians expect us to be able to deliver and maintain those programs. At the same time, we do hear conflicting messages because in one sense, the Official Opposition tells us we should balance the budget, but then condemns us for cutting a program in an effort to try to rein in our finances. It is never easy when you're in government because not only are you trying to do the right thing, but sometimes one can easily get confused by some of the messages that we hear from the opposing Parties as to how best to address the financial challenges facing the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: I know, being a small business owner, my power rates have almost doubled, making it very difficult at the end of the day and affecting my net profit. I'm just wondering if the minister can let us know - how does this impact of the Nova Scotia Power here in Nova Scotia affect attracting manufacturing and industrial sector companies to our province?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The time has lapsed. There are no questions apparently coming from the New Democratic Party, so we will revert back to the Progressive Conservative Party.
MR. SAMSON: What I can tell the honourable member is there are a number of factors that affect the economic climate here in our province. I know that as we speak the Minister of Energy is defending his budget. He has recently been able to announce changes to Efficiency Nova Scotia which we believe will make the environment more competitive here in our province. We were pleased that Nova Scotia Power has already indicated that they will not be seeking a rate increase for next year, which I believe is good news for business in this province.
As I indicated to the member for Inverness when we spoke last week about the challenges facing Port Hawkesbury Paper, we do have to, at some point, have an adult discussion amongst all Parties in this Legislature and amongst Nova Scotians to best address the regulatory framework that we have around energy in this province, to see if it is meeting the needs of our province, meeting the needs of our environment, and producing the best competitive environment that is there.
We do look forward to hearing some of the comments from the Opposition on that very issue. We continue to work with the Department of Energy on the issue. I can indicate to the honourable member that we have provided support to natural gas distribution companies in the province to try to provide that to more Nova Scotians and more businesses in our province, which they inform us is providing them with a cost-saving alternative to the power that they were consuming from Nova Scotia Power.
Those are some of the initiatives that continue to take place, but I agree with the honourable member that there is more work to be done. I do look forward to some of those discussions that will take place in the coming days and weeks.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going to switch over to the Jobs Fund. I'm wondering, can the minister explain the programs, as well as obligations, that have been passed along by the previous government to his department, and how long these obligations will impact the budget on the Jobs Fund?
MR. SAMSON: As I had previously indicated during Question Period to my honourable colleague, the fact is that the funding that has been slated this year - the increase and the base funding - that is in the budget for the Jobs Fund strictly due to commitments made by the previous government. Because of the fact that many of these deals were structured over a period of time, we had no choice but to budget in what we felt was the necessary amount of money that companies were able to draw down on based on commitments made by the previous administration.
I believe I've made it very clear that our government intends to move in a different direction, which we'll be presenting to this Legislature in the near future, when I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to discuss that further. I'm certainly remaining optimistic that the member and her colleagues will support the new direction that will be taken by our government. But just to make it clear, again, the monies in the budget are due to liabilities put in place through agreements reached by the previous government.
MS. MACFARLANE: My first question to that answer is: Are those commitments going to extend over the next four years? As well, are you confident that these obligations that were committed with the previous government - will they see a return to taxpayers that they were initially expecting?
MR. SAMSON: We can all remain hopeful that we will see the returns that were intended by the previous administration in the deals that were reached; only time will tell. Our department does continue to keep track, because throughout many of these deals there are milestones that were anticipated. We work closely with the companies to ensure that those are met prior to the disbursement of additional funding.
But I believe the question was around are there any deals that will extend beyond our administration and I can tell you that there is at least one deal that I can only hope that we will be here as long as that deal is in place - and that is the Irving deal, which is anticipated to be in place for the next 30 years.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm just wondering - who currently decides whether a project is approved for funding in the Jobs Fund? At the end of the day, who has the final decision?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member, what I can advise is that the system put in place was put in place by the previous administration, whereas there is an advisory board to the Jobs Fund. The membership of that remains the individuals who were appointed by the previous administration - we have not put any new individuals on that advisory board. The way it was set up by the previous administration is that they would provide advice to the minister and then the decision was made by Cabinet.
What I can advise is that since the October 8th election, the only time that we have made use of the Jobs Fund is with the recently announced expansion of the Credit Union Small Business Loan Guarantee Program, which was funded under the Jobs Fund. So we made an amendment to that to increase their amount of borrowing and to increase the guarantee from 75 per cent to 90 per cent. Other than that, the ferry deal, the parameters had already been in place that those monies would come out of the Jobs Fund. We're still within that same envelope of money
So, as I've said to the honourable member during Question Period, actions speak louder than words. In our case, we have not provided any new deals since the campaign to any companies under the Jobs Fund.
MS. MACFARLANE: Why did you have to use the Jobs Fund for the credit union? Who decided that - was it the advisory board that you speak about or was it Cabinet that decided?
MR. SAMSON: Two reasons - first of all, as I mentioned earlier, the Credit Union Small Business Loan Guarantee Program was established under the Jobs Fund. What I should advise the member is that any time that government looks to spend money, it needs legislative authority to do so. That legislative authority came under the Jobs Fund. So for our department, to be able to make those types of investments you need a legislated fund to be able to do that. That is what the previous government used with the Jobs Fund.
Right now, as of today, there are no other funds that our department would have access to in order to approve such funding. Because it was already being funded under the Jobs Fund, we basically made an amendment to an existing agreement rather than creating something new. That is why the Jobs Fund continues to exist.
Again, I should advise the member that soon she will see that our government is moving in a different direction, which will be laid before the House for consideration.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, I somewhat feel a little ignorant - it's foreign to me - and I feel like I'm belabouring the Jobs Fund issue, but I'm just wondering if the minister foresees any other amendments that have to be made. As well, is he telling me, at the end of the day, that it's still going to be Cabinet that will decide on who gets what?
MR. SAMSON: What I would say to the honourable member is, stay tuned. There is going to be legislation coming forward, as I indicated in this House. I think it's safe to say that some of the assumptions that have been made by the member and some of her colleagues as to how our government will be operating, I would say it's safe to say that the legislation will show have been false assumptions. I believe that it will be a reflection of what we have heard, not only from Nova Scotians, but what we have heard from some of the reviews that have taken place.
I am confident and I believe that Nova Scotians will be in agreement that the new path that we will be establishing when it comes to the issue of economic development is one that will be supported by Nova Scotians. I certainly remain optimistic that it may actually be supported by the Opposition as well as the appropriate means of doing economic development and ensuring accountability and transparency for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for his answers. At this point in time, I'm going to pass it on to my colleague, the member for Pictou East.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: Thank you, Madam Chairman. The first thing I would like to do is offer the minister, if he would like, a short break.
MR. SAMSON: Depending on your questions, we'll see. I reserve the right to request that later.
MR. HOUSTON: We'll see. I'm sure you'll do just fine.
I want to move on to some questions about the Ivany report and some of the goals that came out of the Ivany report. There were 19 goals for Nova Scotia there. I just want to talk about those goals a little bit and see how the minister views those goals and maybe what the department is doing, or has done, to try and get towards some of those goals.
The first goal of the Ivany report talked about getting Nova Scotia to a place where we'll be averaging a net gain of 1,000 working-age persons per year. Over the last 10 years, the province has lost an average of 800 persons a year because of outmigration. Mr. Ivany is quite rightly saying we need to flip that around and go from a loss of 800 to a gain - and he and his panel had 1,000. I'm just wondering how the minister views that goal - is it obtainable? What action is the department taking to try and stem the outflow and turn it around?
MR. SAMSON: I thank my colleague for the question. Ray Ivany's report, along with the other commissioners, certainly got Nova Scotians talking. It was meant to be a wake-up call and I think it served its purpose in doing so. The true judgment will be, what do we do with it as a province - which direction do we move forward in?
The member is correct. I'm sure he sees it in his community. I see it in my community. We have a lot of rural depopulation that's taking place; in fact, even here in metro, we're starting to see some of the impacts of that. I can tell you as the member for 16 years in this House, especially in the last few years, I've been certainly writing many more obituaries than congratulations on the birth of your child. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that right now our death rate is surpassing our birth rate, which is certainly never a good thing for a province.
We have two options; two big options. One, somehow we can encourage Nova Scotians to have more children, or, we can look outside our province and try to attract people to our province. The Minister of Justice has been working very diligently with her federal counterparts and with the Office of Immigration in order to attract more new Canadians to our province, and even residents from other provinces who wish to move here.
We see many success stories in Nova Scotia of immigrants who have come here, who have made a life for themselves and their family, have been welcomed into their communities and are now leaders in our province. But we need to do more of that. If we look at Manitoba for example, they are bringing in approximately 5,000 new immigrants a year - a success story all around. It's a province with a similar-size population as ours.
We're bringing in 500. Efforts to increase that cap, I know, were raised by the previous administration, the previous Premier, and our Premier has made it very clear as well that we need to see the cap lifted so that we can attract more immigrants to our province. I believe there is a willingness to do that from one end of our province to the other, to open our doors, welcome new cultures, people from various countries to Nova Scotia to become part of the wonderful life that we have here in our province.
The other thing that we are doing immediately - those are some of the long-term goals we are working towards, short-term and long-term - but one of the other programs we're hoping will help keep Nova Scotians here that our department is working on is the Graduate to Opportunities program. The goal of that program is to work with private business in hiring new graduates.
One of the things we hear from businesses throughout the province is that they're reluctant to hire new graduates because of the fact they have no work experience. Many businesses see that it could take six months or more to provide them with the necessary training to be able to become productive employees, and many of them see that as a loss for the first number of months by taking on a new graduate.
We are hoping that this program will provide the financial incentive for business to be able to take on new graduates because once they are in the door, with the excellent education system that we have here in our province, we have no doubt that those new graduates will become long-term employees. If this program can help get them in the door with private business, we hope it will keep more of our young people here, our young graduates, and that it will help grow our economy by working directly with private business to achieve success. I would say that those are a couple of the items that we are focusing on as a result of that recommendation.
MR. HOUSTON: I think the reluctance of employers to hire people, whether they are new graduates or not, is more a symptom of a wider problem, a bigger problem, to do with business confidence. The Graduate to Opportunities program is one that the government seems to be quite proud of; I guess only the passage of time will tell us whether or not that pride is well placed or not.
But we certainly need to do things that increase the business confidence of businesses owners because business owners do want to hire people. New people in your company, whether they're new graduates or whether they're experienced, are always good because new people bring new ideas; they bring new ways of looking at things.
I think it's maybe a little bit naive to suggest that employers aren't hiring new grads simply because they're afraid they'll be unproductive for that first time that it takes to ramp up any employee. If you say that employers are reluctant to hire because of the ramp-up period, then employers just won't hire. It doesn't matter if they're young, old, or whatever the case may be.
We do have a bigger problem. I certainly appreciate the government's efforts to try to address a part of that problem and maybe encourage people to hire new graduates through this particular program. I think I look forward to seeing the details of that, and I'm hopeful that that program works, because we do want new graduates to feel like they have a future. There is nothing worse than talking to a young person who is about to graduate right now and saying, what are you going to do? Well, I don't know, maybe I'll go back to school or maybe I'll move away.
That is pretty discouraging to me but, if it's discouraging to me, imagine how it is to that person and their families. So these are all things that just kind of multiply themselves and create bad feelings, and that we need to reverse. So maybe that program will be one.
One of the goals of the Ivany report was around retention of international students. The minister has spoken a little bit - and I appreciate his comments on increasing immigration in general, but I'm just wondering if the Graduate to Opportunities program is a program that the minister feels will help us retain some of the international students who are graduating from our universities and colleges, or is that a program that is designed more for Nova Scotians?
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, what I can advise is that the goal of the graduate retention program will be to work directly with employers to identify what their needs are and how we can support that. Whom they then choose to go out and hire will be their decision. As far as any foreign students who are studying here and their ability to get hired on, those are questions that will have to be worked out through not only the Office of Immigration, but with the federal government, and any restrictions that may exist on that front.
For us, as far as the program, we are not looking at what types of graduates; more importantly, it will be focusing on what are the needs of employers and how can we use that program to encourage them to hire the graduates. That decision as to who they hire, whether they are foreign students or they are Nova Scotians, or from out of province, that will be the decision of the employers.
Once again, I think it sends the message that we think private industry is best suited to grow this economy, not the government. We want to be a partner, we want to set the winning conditions, but at the end of the day we need private industry to hire more people, to put more people to work, and that's how we're going to grow our economy. That's how this program will be structured, to help achieve that result.
MR. HOUSTON: Madam Chairman, I have to confess that I like the sounds of that. I think there's maybe a little bit of a reason to be optimistic about that program. I don't know if maybe the minister can shed some light on how many times he thinks that program will be used, maybe in the coming year and in the coming two or three years - how he sees it ramping up. I don't really have an idea of the scope of it. Is it something that would be used 50 times in the run of a year or is it kind of - what's the budget? What's the related, kind of, people impact on that?
MR. SAMSON: I want to thank the honourable member for the question. Because of the fact that when we start into the budget year and that this program is under development, what we did as a government was try to predict as to how quickly the program could be up and running, and then how quickly employers would be aware of the program and would take advantage of it.
In this year's budget, the funding for that program is $1.625 million. Based on the commitment in our platform and what we anticipated, I can advise the honourable member - and one always has to be careful when talking about what one's budget will be next year, especially if the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board hears that we're trying to predict what our budgets will be - we would expect that it would be significantly more next year, once the program is fully up and running. We expect that it would be a higher cost than that. Again, it will depend on the success of the program, how quickly we can get it out.
I am able to share with you that our campaign platform which, as you know, we costed out our commitments and the full cost of the graduate retention program is expected to be in the range of - Graduate to Opportunities, sorry, too many programs - the commitment made in the platform has been costed out to be approximately $6.5 million, so we're certainly hoping that with the success of the program and my good friend, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, we will have that additional funding for the program next year.
It is our hope, I can tell the member, that by the time the program is fully up and running during this year, that we expect to have approximately 100 positions funded. The next year's goal, with the program fully in place, it is a goal to have up to between 400 and 500 positions funded through this program, working directly with private industry.
MR. HOUSTON: The Ivany report recognized that we need more business start-ups in this province. We need more Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians are creative people and they are innovative people, but they're also conservative people. I know myself from being in business - I worked for many years at a venture capital company, and I know when you take the step to start a business, it is a nerve-racking step, and rightfully so because it should be well-thought-out and stuff.
The Ivany report suggested that his goal was that the Nova Scotia economy will be generating 4,200 new business start-ups per year; that's an increase of over 50 per cent over the 10-year average. So that's a pretty dramatic thing. I would just be curious to the minister's thoughts on that - is that obtainable?
MR. SAMSON: I'm sure my honourable colleague would agree that the goals set out in the Ivany report are very ambitious. Obviously, it's a challenge to us as government and everyone in the Legislature and as a province to try to meet those goals. We are going to work towards them and time will tell as to how much success that we are able to achieve as a province.
The member is correct; many times, people will find it intimidating to try to start up a new business or don't feel that they have the necessary tools or the knowledge to be able to do so. That's one of the things that we've heard repeatedly.
When the Premier announced the review of the whole education curriculum, one of the things I've heard since I've come into this department I've heard before is why are we not teaching entrepreneurship in our school system? Why are we graduating people without sense of what it is to be an entrepreneur? What it's like to run a small business, what it's like to - if you have an idea, how to go forward, how to develop it. That's something that I'm certainly hoping, as part of that curriculum review, that we will have some interesting initiatives that will come out of that.
I'm sure the member is aware of some of the work that has been done by Innovacorp, which is working very closely with small businesses that come up with new technologies. I'm sure the member is aware of the I-3 Competition and some of the other competitions. When one looks year over year the amount of participants and the amount of submissions, it is extremely impressive to see the ideas that are coming out from all corners of this province. When one looks at some of the award winners, the fact that they are granted regionally and then there is a global winner - these are people that started their business in their basement, in their back shed, who came up with ideas. Some of them, I think it's safe to say, and they would probably agree, are the last people anyone would ever think would be an entrepreneur. But it's proof that there is no cookie-cutter approach to who can be an entrepreneur and who can't.
I often think of Joe Shannon, whom many Nova Scotians would know. Joe Shannon started off driving an oil truck in Port Hawkesbury. That's how he started his empire to now having hundreds of businesses under his control. When he was recently given the Order of Canada, I believe Joe's comments to the media were " I'm just a trucker from Cape Breton." That's still how he sees himself. But I can tell you that our economy in Nova Scotia and in many other provinces have certainly benefited from Joe Shannon's entrepreneurship. It's something that he has passed down to his children, who are very active partners in his global business empire that he has been able to build.
We want to continue to work with some of the existing programs that we have. NSBI has different initiatives where they try to partner up businesses with some mentors, well-known business leaders throughout the province, to be able to work with them and try to work through how they want to grow their business.
Just two weeks ago, I attended an announcement regarding the Global Business Accelerator Program, which works with existing entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia who want to go to the next level, who want to identify markets outside of Nova Scotia because, as the Ivany commission pointed out, our success and our economic growth rely on us exporting more of our products. To do that, we need to identify markets.
The Global Business Accelerator Program is an interesting one because it actually uses Nova Scotians who have experience in global markets and marketing and identifying opportunities; it uses existing Nova Scotians with experience in this as mentors to work with business.
I had the opportunity to visit the 4Deep imaging company just off of Connaught Avenue and to see the business they have there with this underwater microscope that they've been able to develop. As well, we had a business from the Valley which is producing blueberry juice and a number of other products, and the fact that they are now shipping to overseas markets and some of the opportunities that that has been able to create for them.
Those are some of the success stories; there are many more. We want to be able to continue to work with them, but obviously as a province we have to do everything possible that when people have an idea that they know where they can go to talk about it, what resources are available to them, and how as a province we can be a partner.
The Premier has made it very clear - we do not want to be a bank; we want to be the lender of last resort. But we believe that we have some of the expertise and some of the programming, which is a low cost to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, but of tremendous benefit to entrepreneurs in our province.
We have seen some of that success; we are seeing it almost on a daily basis. But the member is absolutely correct - we need more of that. We need to see more innovation taking place. Some of the raw products that we are shipping out - and I give one example on that: Nova Scotia in the last number of years has benefited from the significant expansion in the snow crab industry. What has traditionally been done with snow crab, unlike lobster, which in many markets is sold as a live product, snow crab traditionally has been brought to the wharf, brought to a processing plant, cooked, frozen and then shipped out.
There have been recent efforts to try to find a way of how snow crab can be kept alive, which is a bit more of a challenge than lobster because they're in so much deeper water that it becomes a pressure issue in the stress that it places on the snow crab. If people go out to their local grocery stores, some of the larger ones here in the city and throughout the province, not only are you now seeing live lobster in the tanks, but you're also seeing live snow crab. The price per pound for that live product is significantly higher than what you would get from the traditional cooked product.
Now that has developed not only in expanding markets here in Canada and the United States, but now the challenge is - in working with different entrepreneurs and innovators - how do we get that live snow crab to overseas markets? That is some of the innovation that is taking place and it's an example of how we've taken a natural product, a natural resource, and taken it from some of the traditional processing that was being done to try to identify new markets.
I can tell the honourable member, for example, while I was at the Boston Seafood Show - and I know his colleague from Kings North joined us there and the former minister, now the member for Queens-Shelburne, was there as well - it was interesting meeting some of the different business owners and different entrepreneurs. I know one of the companies was actually talking about - right now when we ship live lobster, for the most part, we've been doing it by air. They pack them and they bring them to the airport and then they're shipped out by airplane.
One of the companies which was quite interesting - it was two gentlemen from Cape Breton. They're looking at a way of trying to store live lobster in a container, similar to a container you'd see that's shipped out of here in Halifax that's taken on a truck and then shipped. The concept that they were going with was to use a spray type of system within the container that would continually be sending a spray out on the lobster. The difference is that the thousands of pounds of lobster that could be put in that container and the cost of shipping it, compared to having to send it by air, was remarkably lower.
They were also of the belief that there would be less stress on the lobster, meaning it could last longer once it arrived to an overseas market. The cost of shipping it by boat was much less than by air, and you can get much more product in that container.
That's an example of where Nova Scotians themselves are turning their minds to how they can do things differently. As the Ivany commission's report pointed out, our natural resources - whether it be our fisheries, whether it be our agriculture, whether it be our forestry - remain as staples for our province. We must find ways of being responsible, sustainable but, at the same time, getting the highest value possible out of that product.
We talk about small businesses and some of the ideas that they have when it comes to entrepreneurship, but even some of our larger companies here are showing the same thing. Last week, I had the opportunity of speaking with the member for Inverness on the subject of Port Hawkesbury Paper, which is producing a high-quality supercalendered paper, but has now been working closely with the Minister of Natural Resources and his department to try to identify alternative uses for some of the wood fibre. In fact, they're looking at a process that would extract an industrial-grade sugar out of the wood fibre. From that, there are various opportunities of what could be done with that sugar. Even this large company, which is a major exporter for our province producing supercalendered paper, even they are looking at ways of diversifying their business, of identifying new products, new processes to achieve that product.
So from the very small entrepreneurs to the very large existing businesses, I think the message is being heard. The question is what can we do as a province to assist them with that - how can we create some of the winning conditions and the proper environment to foster that growth? That is the challenge we face and I believe we will be bringing forward a number of initiatives and some legislation which will clearly show our government's path towards achieving those goals. Merci.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. CHUCK PORTER: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I look forward to just a couple of questions with the minister.
Something I have spoken about probably since 2009 on a regular basis is high-speed Internet access in rural Nova Scotia. I know that the minister is certainly well aware of this project. He's probably had calls in his area, as well as every other member in this House who represents a rural area, knowing the importance of businesses and the number of businesses now that depend on that high-speed access.
This has been going on now since 2009. It was supposed to be completed by the end of 2009. Certainly it wasn't. I asked the former Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism numerous questions on the issue, and I think it's probably fair to say I never got too much of an answer by way of any real clarity. I wrote numerous pieces of correspondence and I can say that I also probably never got anything more than passing it to this minister or that minister, or maybe some new department. Perhaps we could create a high-speed Internet access department, just to deal with this issue, because it's gone on and it continues to go on and on and on.
Having said that, we have had small successes, one-offs where we have been able to do some work and actually get people connected, and that's a good thing. Given all of the issues we've had around this very topic, I'm kind of curious, where is this right now and are we awaiting something new yet again? I know technology changes by the week. Is there something new whereby we'll actually ever complete all of rural Nova Scotia as was promised when it was announced for high-speed Internet access for those who wish it?
MR. SAMSON: I thank my colleague for the question. I believe I sat in this House and listened to him ask those questions of the previous minister. Needless to say, when I arrived in the department, I could anticipate some of the issues that may be raised by my colleagues - not only in Opposition, I can tell you, from my own colleagues within our own government.
Right now - just to share this with the member, he's probably already aware, but for those who may not be - the commitment was made in 2006. It was under the previous government of Premier Rodney MacDonald. It was a very ambitious commitment - and I think it was made with the most honest intentions possible - to provide 100 per cent connectivity for Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the next. I have no question that it was an honest commitment that was made. When the previous government came into office, they maintained the same ambition of being able to provide that 100 per cent. What I can tell you is that right now, of those who have identified a desire to have high-speed Internet in Nova Scotia, 99 per cent have been provided with that service.
Unfortunately, it leaves one per cent. That one per cent, for the most part, is geographically located in southwestern Nova Scotia, up the Valley, and right into the riding that the honourable member represents and, if I'm not mistaken, probably Madam Chairman's riding as well.
As the member knows, we do have a legal contract with Eastlink, which has been the provider of the service. Unfortunately, many of the one per cent find themselves in geographic locations which have proven to be a challenge with the technology that has been used to date by Eastlink.
As has already been reported in the media, Eastlink did try a cellular type of service for high-speed. It was felt at the time, following a pilot project, that it was not providing anywhere near adequate speed; basically, it was described as a bit better than dial-up. Nobody would believe that that is high-speed service. To simply accept the technology that we didn't feel was adequate to be able to say the 100 per cent has been achieved I don't think would have been fair to the residents of those areas.
But I can tell you - and I've said this to my department and I've said it to representatives from the various companies who have worked on this - as far as I'm concerned, high-speed Internet is the modern-day version of electricity. To not have that puts you at a competitive disadvantage as even just for recreational purposes, it puts you at a disadvantage from your neighbours, children who are going to school. I know when they were working in my own area to set up high-speed, I would get emails from elementary students and high school students saying, I have an assignment to do that is going to take me two and a half hours, yet my friend who lives next door, a couple of hundred feet down the road, will get it done in 20 minutes because they have high-speed and I am on dial-up. How does one answer that and not see that that as being a significant concern?
What I can tell you is that it is not a dormant file; it continues to be a priority for myself as minister. As I'm sure the member is aware, a number of my colleagues represent ridings that have been identified as still having numerous residents that do not have high-speed service. We are working closely with the company, along with others, and hoping that with those discussions we will be able to see some movement on that.
The contract with Eastlink is until the end of December 2014, so that date is approaching. We do hope that there are going to be some solutions identified prior to that. We want to work collaboratively with Nova Scotia companies to achieve the results that were intended.
The member should be aware, and is probably aware, the federal government has recently announced an intention to see the high-speed become faster and to establish new goals for high-speed service throughout the country. I know that my deputy has been in talks with the federal government. We wait to see exactly how that is going to work out but, by all means, if that gives us an avenue to try to fix this problem we're certainly going to do everything possible to address it.
I can only hope that my response today has been more pleasant for my honourable friend and his earlier complaints of previous responses that he was not impressed with; hopefully I've provided him with something a bit more useful and a bit more favourable. But I'll just say that any movement there is going to be on this, we'll certainly be communicating it to the members in all of the affected areas, because I want to see this resolved. I'm certainly hoping that we'll identify the technology and the means of being able to make it a reality.
MR. PORTER: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and through you I thank the minister for that answer. You answered a number of things that I sort of had in the back of my mind with regard to the contract knowing that it was coming close to the end. I'm just kind of curious as well - you talked about the new regulations through the federal government trying to determine what high-speed really is, because depending on who you talk to and which day, you'll get a different answer each time what that really represents. You've already stressed - and I appreciate that - that it still remains a priority for the areas that are challenged. It's strange how in some of those geographical areas their neighbours can have it and they can't, for whatever reason, just the difference in the levels and so on.
The renewal of the contract, I think, is something that will be on the minds of many people. Certainly they'll be happy to hear you say, minister, that it is a priority for you and I appreciate that. I'm not sure if we'll ever have 100 per cent. I know 99 per cent, as you've already stated, and it's always that 1 per cent that keeps coming back around that we try to make better.
In finishing my last piece here, are you in talks already or is it still too early even though you know that the end of 2014 will be - for example, Eastlink's contract will be up. Maybe if you could just speak to what the plan might be, how that will go - will it be tendered again? There were many people in my area that had challenges who were also upset that Eastlink, for example - and you may recall this as well - I asked questions of the former minister around penalties. They felt where there were taxpayer dollars - their dollars - being invested in this program and service not available to them, were there penalties to the contractor, in this case Eastlink?
Upon trying to FOIPOP anything, it was very typical - everything was blacked out. Very little information was ever really provided. I will say that you've provided more in the last few minutes than I have gotten in some time. I do appreciate that, but maybe just in finishing, minister, if you could touch on a bit about the renewal of the contract and that process for us? Following that, I will hand it off to my colleague from Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
MR. SAMSON: I had indicated earlier that the pilot that was put by Eastlink was cellular type of service. It was actually satellite type of service for Internet and high-speed. It certainly wasn't achieving the outcomes that were anticipated.
The challenge in government in these cases is that when the Opposition does ask you questions, you always want to try to provide as much information as possible while at the same time not jeopardizing any discussions taking place. What I would say to the member is this - it is a priority for me. It is a priority for our government. There are discussions that have taken place. I suspect more discussions will take place. We want to see a solution to this. I hope the member will appreciate the limitations that places on exposing the nature of the discussions, but our goal is to find a solution to this. The way to finding a solution is to be talking and I can assure you that that is taking place.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for taking a few questions. I see he's drinking lots of water, so he's getting dry. One of the questions I'd like to bring to the minister's attention is - I'm just wondering if he could give us an update. The previous government had invested a lot of money into keeping the mill in Port Hawkesbury alive and going. I'm just wondering if you have any update as to how that is proceeding now and where we are in retention of jobs compared to where we were and how the economy has been affected in Port Hawkesbury. I understand that over the weekend we lost one of the stores there and a few other things haven't seemed to recover the way we would have hoped. I was just wondering if your department has any update on that.
MR. SAMSON: I thank my honourable colleague for the question. I've had the opportunity to meet with the management at Port Hawkesbury Paper on a number of occasions both prior to the election and since the election. I'm happy to report that right now, their order book is full. As I mentioned to the member for Inverness last week, they are producing an even higher-quality supercalendered paper than what was done under previous operators.
A lot of that credit goes to the workforce. The workers had been telling us, I had heard over the years, that they felt they could produce a better quality product but that there were some competitive issues within the previous operator's chain in that by producing a better quality product, they may actually be knocking out some of the orders for other mills within the same company structure.
Now that there is a new operator that came in, the operators worked closely with the workers and have been trying out new products. It's my understanding right now that the reaction they are getting from customers is that this is some of the best quality supercalendered paper they've ever seen. As a result of that, the order books are full. They seem to be achieving what they set out to achieve when they purchased the mill.
They were very up front in saying that the workforce would be approximately half of what was previously there, which they've maintained, so there was not much of a surprise in the fact that there is half the workforce that was lost. That is the reality and many of those have gone on to either find employment locally, or, as I'm sure the member was aware, when the indication was that the plant was going to close, it didn't take long for recruiters from out West to show up in the Strait area to try and encourage some of those employees to go work on some of the projects there.
A number of them did. I'm happy to report many have come back home. We'd love to see more. As I mentioned earlier, I gave the example of the company being one of the businesses that is looking to diversify into new products with the sugar extraction initiative, which our government has funded, through Natural Resources, $1.5 million to a number of companies in the forestry sector that are looking at new, innovative ways of using wood fibre for various products and procedures.
The company is very active in that regard. Obviously, in speaking with management, great product, great supply, great markets, great order books, great workforce - power remains the number one concern. That has been the case for a number of years now with previous owners. When they're competing with mills in other jurisdictions, a number of them rely on hydro, which is significantly at a lower cost than what is being charged here. I believe in questioning from one of your colleagues, I mentioned earlier - and I know that the management at the mill has been aggressive in talking to various elected officials about looking at our energy framework that we have here in our province, some of the restrictions, some of the goals that have been set out and asking ourselves, are those goals achieving the results that were anticipated? Are they helping out our environment as we were told they would? Are they allowing our economy to be able to grow in a sustainable fashion?
That is an adult conversation that I think all members of this House need to have along with Nova Scotians. Ask ourselves, are we on the right path? Are there amendments that need to be made? If so, how should they look? At the end of the day, if we want to see this employer stay in our area, they've made significant investments - I believe there's approximately $150 million spent into the local economy by the company - but I'm sure that the member will be aware that on several occasions this winter, they had to shut down because of power supply issues and because of power costs.
Having been through their facility, it's impressive because they basically have workers at various stages of the production line that can tell you their cost of electricity almost down to the second. That is how closely the company watches the cost of its power because of the impact it has on their overall operations. This winter was a particularly difficult winter for Nova Scotia Power, which had significant impacts on Port Hawkesbury Paper.
Those are discussions we have to continue to have if we're going to continue to support those types of large industries in our province. I have no doubt, I know that the honourable member certainly has enough constituents that would be employed either directly at the mill or indirectly in the woodlands with a lot of the harvesting and silviculture that takes place. There's no question that it's in our best interest as a province that Port Hawkesbury Paper continues to be a successful operation.
My message that I would say to the member, the same message I delivered to the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, is that we do have more work to do. When the previous administration saw the closure of the Bowater mill in Liverpool, there was a transition team that was sent down that worked with the local community to identify investment opportunities, transition to employment, opportunities in that. I do believe there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the Strait area because I don't believe we have fully recovered from the fact that half the workforce was lost at Port Hawkesbury Paper. I can tell you once upon a time finding retail space in the Port Hawkesbury shopping centre was next to impossible because all the space was filled. I have to say that during the last campaign, one of our headquarters was in that facility. Unfortunately, it wasn't hard to find space in it because of the amount of businesses that have closed.
We have more work to do. I've had the opportunity to meet with the mayor and councillors in the Town of Port Hawkesbury. They themselves as a municipal unit face challenges because of the loss of half the workforce at Port Hawkesbury Paper, because of the outmigration that is taking place naturally even outside of that. There are many challenges that remain, but certainly representing the area and knowing the economic impact that it has all around Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia and the entire province.
I remember at one point we had received a presentation, I believe it was from the previous owners, and they had actually broken down how much supplies they buy here in HRM. It was in the millions of dollars. When we talk about the impact that that business has on the Strait area, let's not forget that it has an economic impact throughout the entire province and that even here in HRM, especially out in the Burnside Industrial Park, they are a significant economic generator for the businesses in that area who rely on Port Hawkesbury Paper to purchase their products.
Hopefully that has given the member a bit of a sense of where they're at. At this point, it remains a good news story. The major concern still does remain the energy supply and the cost to that facility.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The hour has lapsed. At this time, I would like to give the opportunity to the New Democratic Party if you have any more questions. No? Then we will revert to the Progressive Conservative Party.
Before I recognize the honourable member, I would like to mention that on Thursday, April 17th during deliberations of Committee of the Whole on Supply, the honourable member for Yarmouth rose on a point of order alleging unparliamentary language had been used. I undertook to review Hansard and deal with the point of order. I have been advised that the Hansard of this committee will not be transcribed until after the Spring sitting. I've requested a copy of the ambient audio recording of our proceedings to see if the comments allegedly made are audible and will continue to take the matter under advisement. You'll hear back at some point.
The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that answer that he gave on the mill because I think, as he mentioned in his answer, that it is a very important industry on the Island and for all of eastern Nova Scotia.
I was wondering if the minister might be able to give us some information and insight. There has been some speculation of the possibility of a cement plant being developed in the Strait area. Is there anything he can share with the House as to whether it's real or is it just a pipe dream? I know there are certain things he probably can't talk about if it is real, but I would just like to get a sense because our area, his area, that whole end of Nova Scotia desperately needs to find ways to create new jobs. If this is something that's real, it could have a big impact on the economy there. I'm wondering if he has any sense of what he can share with us on that.
MR. SAMSON: I want to thank my colleague for the question. I do believe there was a story on allNovaScotia.com, so I'm not sharing any secrets here in speaking about this and the fact the member is asking about it. It is topical and being discussed.
I can say that I did meet with some of the proponents of the project. It is very much in the infancy stage at this point. There was a report that had been done by the Strait-Highlands RDA. At one point in time, there was a big focus on some of the mining prospects in and around the Strait area and in Cape Breton. That report was one that the potential investors were anxious to get their hands on to see exactly what options were there.
They are very excited. They are looking at seeing this go forward. The goal would be to use some of the natural resources there and mix it to make a cement powder. When the project was first brought to my attention and they said they would sell it in the U.S., I was still trying to turn my head to how you're going to make cement in Cape Breton and send it down to the U.S. without it hardening. They were quick to point out that it is powder, not the actual cement that we would think of being poured into a foundation, but it was the powder they would be producing.
It would be to a commercial scale. It wouldn't be putting bags like we would see in our hardware stores and that, but this would be more on a commercial scale. More than likely, it would be shipped out from somewhere in the Strait area. What I can tell the member is that we'll continue to work closely with the proponents of this project along with my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources. This is one of those projects that does fit into the Ray Ivany commission report of working more closely with the mining sector and developing potential opportunities for mining.
It's my understanding that the area in question, where the mining would take place, is not that far off from where some of the gypsum mines are located. Hopefully there should not be an issue with local residents because of the fact that mining has been taking place there. What I would say, and what I did mention when asked by allNovaScotia.com, is that it is very much in the infancy stage. Before we would see any real development take place on this, it could be as long as 2017.
I'm sure the honourable member has been around long enough, not only in this House, but in Cape Breton - if there's one thing we've learned, certainly in the Strait area, is to manage expectations. Over the years, we have heard of a lot of major projects coming to the Strait area. They've been as varied as you can possibly imagine. Unfortunately, very few have actually come to fruition.
The last thing we want to do is once again create expectations that people will suddenly believe there are economic opportunities that are going to start tomorrow. This is not one of those. This is very much in the infancy stage. But if everything works out as has been suggested, there is a significant amount of natural product that can be mined. It's my understanding from the proponents that they do believe there is a strong business case that will be developed for this and that it could have a very long and prosperous future in the Strait area. But there's a lot of work that needs to be done before they get there, so it's important that we be aware of such projects, but that we be careful in not giving the impression that this is going to happen in the very immediate future. I hope that does provide the member with an update.
Madam Chairman, if I could take up my colleague's previous offer to take a five-minute break, I would certainly appreciate that on behalf of myself and my staff that are here and we'd be more than happy to resume around 4:25 p.m. if that's agreeable to the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will now recess until 4:25 p.m.
[4:20 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[4:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will resume.
The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
MR. MACLEOD: It's good to see the minister back and refreshed and relaxed. When he spoke earlier, when he was answering some questions, I know he talked about how tourism numbers were up in Cape Breton, and one of the things that took place was the Louisbourg 300 celebrations. I'm just wondering if his department has ever thought about looking at partnering with Louisbourg for a signature event - something like an encampment every second year or something like that. These encampment people travel the world around and they like to come to the Fortress of Louisbourg because it is such a natural site for what they like to do.
I'm just wondering if his department has given any thought to making it a signature series event because if they knew in advance every second year or something there was going to be an encampment, then they would plan their trips and vacations around that and it would help to keep those numbers up that he was talking about before.
MR. SAMSON: That is exactly what we're trying to work towards with the Tourism Agency in this province - how we can have regular signature events. Obviously the Louisbourg 300 celebrations, hopefully we're not waiting another 300 years to do that one again. So what can we do? Because what we're seeing in many instances is that people are coming specifically for those signature events, whether it be the Tall Ships Festival that we have, whether it was Lousibourg 300, and as was mentioned by your colleagues from Pictou I think it's one of the anniversaries of the lobster carnival that is coming up.
Those are tremendous opportunities, but we can't wait every five or 10 years to have them. It's a question of what can we have. It's not just a question in different parts of Nova Scotia, even here in HRM with our waterfront and that, what can we have on a regular basis, our signature type of events that we know on a yearly basis are going to be held here so that we can do the marketing of that and the promotion of that.
When you talk about the Fortress of Louisbourg, it's one near and dear to my heart. I've visited numerous times. I think the bread gets harder each time I go, but it's certainly a great reflection of what life was like back then. My sister worked there as an interpreter for a number of summers and I know many of my constituents, because of the fact that they could speak French, were employed at Louisbourg. Some of the animators who actually worked there on a seasonal basis are from the Isle Madame area as well. So the fortress is something that's very close.
One of the elements about the fortress as well, which I think we need to do more promotion around, is the kids program that they have. I know that many families in Cape Breton - and I've even heard from my associate deputy minister as well who had his children participate in the program there at the fortress. I know that my sister and her three daughters spent a couple of summers camping in the Louisbourg area so that the kids could participate in the program where they get to wear period clothing and are there as part of the animators at the fortress.
I think that's a wonderful way of attracting families to the fortress, the fact that you can almost mark it as an experience for them. Not only do they get to see what life was like at the fortress, but it gets the kids directly involved in it and gives them an interest, while allowing families to spend some quality time together at the same time.
I think there are tremendous opportunities there. I know that a lot of the success of the marketing that we have in Quebec are people who do come to do the Cabot Trail and to make their way down to the fortress. Many of them are very impressed by the way that it has been restored, what's offered there, the fact that services are available in French, and many are aware of the historic significance to the developing of our country and certainly our province.
Those are some of the examples of what we are doing. It is my understanding that there is a major motorcycle rally that takes place in Louisbourg as well and I can advise the member that the department invested last year, just for the 300th Anniversary, $350,000 into marketing and promotion for the 300th Anniversary and I think that in that case, I'm sure the honourable member will agree, it was money well spent because the numbers clearly show that Cape Breton did see a significant boost in its tourism numbers and much of that can be linked to the success of the event at the Louisbourg fortress.
MR. MACLEOD: Madam Chairman, can I make an introduction before I continue.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Absolutely.
MR. MACLEOD: In the gallery opposite I would like to point out that we have a visitor here, her name is Erica Porter and she is the daughter of the MLA for Hants West. If she would stand and get a warm welcome from the House that would be great. (Applause)
I wanted to say that I agree with the minister when it comes to talking about the Fortress of Louisbourg. As a matter of fact I spent a summer there. I was a solider at the Fortress of Louisbourg. It was my first encounter with a tricorne. It was a great summer and certainly there were a lot of people coming from a lot of different communities. I think what it does for our economy on Cape Breton Island, and certainly for Nova Scotia, people come there and they're really surprised at the size of it. Actually the recreation of the fortress is only one-fifth of what was actually there in the times of its heyday, so it's a big place to come to and it's a very important part of our economy.
Louisbourg needs the fortress because when you go out to Louisbourg now, this time of the year, you'd be hard pressed to be able to buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee because everything closes down around the fortress. Any signature events, anything that we can do in the shoulder seasons would be a big help, and anything the department can do in that regard would be welcomed by the community as well as by the superintendent there.
The last thing I would like to get some information on from the minister, if I could, is if he has any update on what's going on with the Donkin Mine and the development of the Donkin mine. I know that, again, in his role of Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism he is always working on different files and I'm just wondering if he has an ability to give us an update on what might be going on there because again, going back to the Ivany report and the jobs that have the potential of being created there, as well as the impact it could have on the electricity rates for the Province of Nova Scotia would be, I think, something that the report was planning towards.
If I could ask that and before I sit down I just want to thank the minster for his time and his answers.
MR. SAMSON: I want to thank my colleague and certainly all the colleagues from the Progressive Conservative caucus today for the questions. They have certainly been very topical and were fair questions and I've done my best to try to give fair answers. Hopefully they will have reached that conclusion.
Just before answering the member's questions, what I want to advise as well is that the department has funded $15,000 to the Fortress of Louisbourg volunteers for LouisRocks, which is a concert series that will take place this summer as a bit of a legacy following the 300th Anniversary. I'm happy to report that we funded that one and we funded another concert series. I'm trying to remember what the name of it is, it's that NorWest or something; it is a concert series. I'm trying to remember the name of it but anyway, I know we've provided funding. (Interruption) Nashville Nor'east, I appreciate the member's assistance with that, which is a new series that is up and running, which again is an example of what we hope can become a regular event and that is going to bring visitors to our province. My understanding is they have a very exciting lineup of talent that is going to be playing in their first year and those are the types of investments that we are happy to make and I think Nova Scotians are supportive of and hopefully can continue to grow and become some of the signature events.
On the Donkin Mine file, it is not one that I have been involved with very closely. My colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, has been the lead on that file. While I have seen some of the briefing notes on the issue, I would not be in a position to be able to give the member specifics on that. My colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources would be in a better position to provide that. He is absolutely right; we would love to see that mine fully developed. We recognize the economic potential that it would have, not only in employment, possibly in the exporting, or as the member has suggested, possibly even in use by Nova Scotia Power at their generating facilities.
Any of the above would be good news for the Province of Nova Scotia and for Cape Breton. We'll continue to work closely with the Minister of Natural Resources and with the government but he would certainly be in a better position to provide specifics on that project. I thank the honourable member again for the questions that he has posed here today. Merci.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I'm just going to go back to tourism for a moment before we finish up and I just want to know, what is the status of the Tourist Accommodations Act? I know as it stands right now the Act is in place but it's not being enforced nor are inspections being carried out on existing properties. I know with hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue each year, why is it that the Tourist Accommodations Act is currently not being enforced and why is an advocacy group such as TIANS involved in marketing and involved in inspections of accommodations and campgrounds in Nova Scotia?
MR. SAMSON: To the honourable member's question, there has been an ongoing discussion as to the effectiveness of the department carrying out inspections on the tourism accommodations and whether that's having the desired result.
What I'm sure the honourable member would be aware of, and many members in this House, is that there seems to be a new type of policing that started when it comes to tourism accommodations, with the expansion of the Internet and sites such as TripAdvisor where it is consumers who are passing judgment on the quality of the facilities that they are staying in, the quality of the experience, and in many ways that has helped police the types of accommodations that we have in the province. It has in many ways encouraged operators to address any shortcomings that are identified on TripAdvisor, along with others, and it would appear that when people are looking to go visit or stay at a specific accommodation, they will make use of these online tools to determine the quality of the facility and the type of experience that they can expect.
Again, we are asking ourselves, how much value is there in still sending out inspectors to these facilities or are the online tools that are there helping to achieve some of the same results? What I should advise is that outside of that, some of the safety issues with the tourism accommodations are covered by other regulations such as fire, safety, water - those fall under the responsibilities of other departments. Even if inspectors are not going out from the Tourism Agency, there are still other types of inspectors that go into these accommodations that are governed by different legislation.
What I can tell the honourable member is that prior to a licence being issued, an inspection does take place by inspectors within the Tourism Agency.
I think one of the concerns she may be raising, which we have heard, is unlicensed facilities and who is governing those. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but if that is what she is referring to, that is a different topic. As far as the licensing, they are inspected prior to being given their licence.
MS. MACFARLANE: Yes, I was referencing that, as well as to the quality visitor services - the contract was cancelled with TIANS. I'm not sure if you're aware that they're not doing the assessments anymore because it was broken and they've hired people from their board. I think it's fairly fresh so you may not know or be aware of it all.
My last question is with regard to policy and planning. Within the Policy and Portfolio Management's budget there has been a large increase. I'm wondering what is included in that and if you can just elaborate as well on - I believe the full-time employees, the count for that has increased quite a bit compared to last year. Operating with close to 20 per cent vacancy last year must have been difficult. I'm just wondering, when do you expect to hire for those vacant positions and is that part of the reason why there is such an increase in that budget and elaborate a little bit on if some of that money is going into new policies as well.
MR. SAMSON: I can advise that part of the increase there, the bulk of it, is $4.25 million, which goes to the Waterfront Development Corporation Ltd., which is earmarked for the Queens Landing Seawall Construction. That is a specific project that is being done by the Waterfront Development Corporation that has been in the works for some time. As well, I can advise that another major chunk of that added funding is the increase in lease costs, where the department is located at Centennial Building just down the street here - an extra $202,000 when there was consolidation of the staff within that building.
MS. MACFARLANE: So the executive director's office budget has increased by 3.5 per cent from last year. Can you explain where that is going?
MR. SAMSON: That 3 per cent increase would be a reflection of the wage adjustment that was given to civil servants as part of the funding increase provided in their collective agreement negotiated by the previous administration.
MS. MACFARLANE: At this point in time, I think I've exhausted all my questions and I've asked my colleagues if they had any so I think we are possibly finished. I want to thank the minister as well for giving us all his answers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MR. ALLAN ROWE: I rise now and I'm pleasantly surprised that members from the NDP felt that they didn't have any questions so I'd like to thank them for this opportunity to rise and ask some questions. There have been some great discussions so far and it's always a great opportunity to be able to rise in the House and ask questions on behalf of our constituents and see if we can get some answers there.
I want to go back for a couple of moments, and I'll also mention comments a few moments ago with regard to the Louisbourg festival and the motorcycle ride in. Mr. Chairman, I know you are also a motorcycle enthusiast and it was good to hear, good things for Louisbourg and of course your own riding of Digby, the Wharf Rat Rally every year, a great event there as well.
I point out to all the members of the House that you know when we talk about tourism that the motorcycle enthusiast, the motorcycle industry in tourism is huge. The Cape Breton trail, as I know you are aware and many others are aware, is actually listed as one of the 10 best rides in the world. I think what we all need to recognize is the huge opportunity that is there to welcome motorcyclists not just from around our province and the rest of the Maritimes but from across Canada and the New England States as well, to attract them here to our great province, which they love to ride and tour in, and I think there are good opportunities there so thank you for those great comments.
I did want to go back to a few moments ago we were talking about entrepreneurship and we were discussing entrepreneurship in the province. We have been focusing a lot and there was a lot of discussion about current jobs and industries and positions that are out there and the need to try to create jobs for our graduates. I know all of us in this House certainly agree that we have some of the finest post-secondary schools in all of the country. We have a number of universities throughout the HRM region and in the Valley, of course, and elsewhere. We also have, of course, in my own riding of Dartmouth South the Nova Scotia Community College, probably one of the best in the country when it comes to community colleges, graduates of all sorts.
I was fortunate enough just a couple of weeks ago to attend a fair there, a skills fair, and a skills competition at the NSCC and to watch many of the students there performing their skills, practising their skills, showing what they have to offer and looking for opportunities as they graduate. Of course graduates from all of our universities are looking for opportunities as well.
I think the opportunities aren't necessarily just in jobs that already exist, already existing companies, or already existing industries. What a lot of our students and a lot of our young people are telling us all the time is we already have the entrepreneurial spirit. We have the skills, the ideas, the inventiveness, the creativeness, the creativity; all of those are in place. What we need are the opportunities to try and expand on that once we've graduated.
If I could I'd like to ask the minister to perhaps just go back and look again at some of the things that we're looking at, some of the things that are already in place, some of the plans that we have with regard to our entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging entrepreneurs not just to look at existing opportunities but to look at brand new opportunities in our province as well.
MR. SAMSON: I certainly want to thank my colleague for the question. I know he has spent a long career in the media and has had many roles in promoting and encouraging young people over the years. I think that was certainly reflected in the election night results that he achieved in bringing him to the Legislature.
Obviously the department and what we heard from the Ivany commission is that creating the environment does encourage entrepreneurship and does encourage our existing businesses to look outside the province, look outside their traditional markets and see what's available out there.
For us to be able to grow we have to have more exports from our province to markets. Here in Nova Scotia we're under a million people so selling to each other is going to have limited benefits. We have to find ways of getting our products not only in other provinces and in the United States but overseas as well and I did speak about some of the trade concerns that existed in Canada and in other jurisdictions.
As I mentioned, the European Trade Agreement presents a tremendous opportunity because, for us here in Nova Scotia, some of the items that will see the greatest benefit are certainly in our natural productions, natural resources such as the fisheries. Right now in Europe a number of countries have significant tariffs that they charge against lobster, against shrimp, against scallops, against groundfish. There is actually quite a complicated formula, depending on the species and depending on what the tariff is going to be. With this free trade agreement, it's going to remove those over time, which is going to be of economic benefit to our producers here.
For us, as I mentioned and as the honourable member asked, how do we encourage young people, older people, all Nova Scotians who have ideas to come up with those types of ways of starting up their own business and putting their idea into action? As I mentioned Innovacorp has a number of programs where they do provide some venture capital to assist start-up companies that are having a hard time achieving financing. As well, one of the programs we mentioned earlier is the Small Business Loan program, which is administered by the credit union system in Nova Scotia with the support of Nova Scotia Co-operative Council as well.
I spent many years in the Legislature talking about the challenges faced by small business in accessing capital and as we saw the larger banks moving more and more away from riskier start-up companies, it became almost impossible for small business owners to access capital to either start up their business or grow their business. When one looks at the amount of companies and entrepreneurs that have taken advantage of that credit union program, one of the main redeeming features of it is that it's not necessarily administered out of Halifax. Instead we have participating credit unions all over the province - some small, some larger - that are taking on these loans, that are helping small businesses access capital knowing that there are significant guarantees by the Province of Nova Scotia in order to help secure those loans.
Without those types of guarantees and without this program, I doubt many of the credit unions would be in a financial position to accept these loans. This has had tremendous success and, as has been indicated by the Premier and by others, the default rate under this program is comparable to some of the major financial institutions. So it is working and is putting money into the hands of small entrepreneurs, small businesses and allowing them to be able to start up their companies and be able to grow their companies. I'm extremely pleased that the Premier announced last week that we are going to provide more funding into that program because we were hearing from the Co-op Council and others that they're inundated with applications and had run out of funding.
I am pleased that our government did agree to provide more funding so that we can see more of these businesses being provided with support and the fact is, we can be very proud that our credit union movement is part of this. I've been a member of the credit union since being a young child and I can tell you I'm very proud to say I remain a member of St. Joseph's Credit Union in Petit-de-Grat, which I believe is the only independent credit union left in Cape Breton. Most have merged with East Coast Credit Union now but St. Joseph's remains mighty and continues to operate on its own and continues to play a major role in the social, cultural and economic growth of our community in and around the Isle Madame area.
Small business is another example, and as I mentioned and I'm sure my colleague is aware, with the growth of competition that we see, you can't turn your TV on without seeing American Idol, Canadian Idol and other competition shows. I give credit to Innovacorp in some of the competitions it was able to create in having a prize awarded to the winners in the various categories and in various regions of the province because when one looks at the amount of companies that are now registering for this competition, it tells you how there is a renewed spirit of entrepreneurship in this province. People are coming forward with ideas that one may never have thought of before.
I could go into various examples. I went to tour the facility of Billdidit in Cape Breton where they came up with the idea of creating a new contraption basically for symbols as part of a drum set. Here's a small company in Cape Breton, which is manufacturing on site this product that is being used by musicians around the world. Who would have thought? But that is just an example of how a small idea can suddenly grow into a successful business. They now have a number of employees. They are investing more money into being able to do more of the manufacturing on-site, requiring fewer outside parts to be ordered and it is a wonderful example of some of the innovation that takes place.
In my own area Blair Gotell came up with the idea of being able to create a buoy used by lobster fishermen that could be stacked one on top of the other. Many of us who grew up around fishing communities would know that oftentimes the buoys are stacked all over the place and take up quite a bit of space. Blair was able to come up with the idea and with some funding from Innovacorp and with some private investors was able to manufacture his own prototype that can be used. It's not an industry that's easy to break into because lobster fishermen tend to be very traditional and are often reluctant to change their ways but there are a number that have been trying his product. He has been having success and is now looking at markets outside of just the fishing industry for opportunities there as well. That is another example of someone who had an idea, was able to access various government programs to make it into a success and that is an example of what we want to be able to continue doing.
I can also inform my honourable colleague that we discussed a bit earlier about the review of the curriculum that's taking place in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and one of the questions that has often come when talking about what we are doing in our school system is, why are we not teaching entrepreneurialism and entrepreneurship within our school system? Why are we not focusing more on finances and the ability for people to develop their own ideas and what it's like to run a business?
Certainly I'm hoping that this part of the review taking place, which hasn't been done in over 20 years I'm told, that there might be some opportunities there as well. Our department continues to work with a number of chambers of commerce and other organizations which are meant to promote entrepreneurship and it is our goal as a province, and I think our duty, to do everything we can to encourage that because if we are going to grow our economy and be able to address some of the challenges identified in the Ivany report, having more people starting up businesses and having the private industry putting people to work is the major way that we are going to turn our economy around.
MR. ROWE: I'm sure I share the opinion of all my colleagues in this House that we look forward to the initiatives that are down the road and the opportunities to provide jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to our young people who are graduating, and as the minister pointed out not just our young people who are graduating but those who are already established and have brave new ideas and want to take their business in a new direction or perhaps have an entirely new idea as well. So we look forward to those things.
If I can I'd like to just shift directions ever so slightly and the minister referred to - and it has been talked about a number of times - about rural Nova Scotia and the development of rural Nova Scotia and developing our economy there.
All too often in the past I believe there has been a history in this province, in many provinces but particularly in Atlantic Canada, there is a history of centralization, of the city getting it all, that it's important that the city get everything and the outlying areas have to struggle on their own, or at least a sense of competition. I know I spent over 18 years in Newfoundland and Labrador and there was a huge sense of competition in Newfoundland and Labrador between the major cities of St. John's and Corner Brook, and to a certain extent Gander and the rest of the outlying areas, that St. John's gets everything and the outposts get virtually nothing and they are left to fend for themselves.
In a similar way I saw much the same sort of an attitude when I first came to Nova Scotia but I believe that is something that has been changing over the years and I think it's something that we really have to change. What's good for Halifax, as we've heard many times over the past weeks, months, and years, what's good for Halifax is good for all of the province and by exchange what's good for the rest of the province is good for Halifax as well.
What I believe we have to try to do is move our economy forward as a province, looking at what's good for the city, or the HRM, and for our larger municipalities but also good for the outlying areas. The minister has mentioned a number of times looking at our traditional industries, forestry, mining, and the fishery certainly, but I was wondering if he might be able to take just a few minutes to review or to take a look or enlighten us a bit on what the plans are, how we intend to move forward with developing the economies of rural parts of the province.
The city seems to be doing well. The municipalities, I believe, are holding their own. We see good things happening; we see good things about to happen and we know we're working towards improving all of our municipalities, but in order for our province to grow and move forward as a whole, I believe we need to have the buy-in and the co-operation between our municipalities and the smaller townships and smaller outlying areas. So if we could get a look at what's happening there, I'd appreciate that.
MR. SAMSON: I thank my colleague for the question. He raises a good point. Part of the purpose for having the Ivany commission do its work is due to addressing what we can do to revitalize rural Nova Scotia. We are seeing that HRM is continuing its level of growth, which is a good thing for all of the province. I do believe that those stereotypes are starting to come down in that I think there is more and more recognition now that a strong Halifax means a strong Nova Scotia. At the same time, a strong rural Nova Scotia means a strong Halifax as well.
Clearly what the Ivany commission told us is that we need to refocus on our natural resources. For many years we haven't been doing as much mining as what possibly could have been done. We haven't been looking at alternative uses of our forestry products. We haven't been doing as much value-added to our fishery products as we have. Those are all things that we need to refocus on, which in many ways benefits rural Nova Scotia.
As a department, we continue to have presence in communities throughout the province with field staff there that are working directly with business and with organizations to address any of the ideas they have, helping them put forward applications and helping them to develop the ideas that they have. As well, I can advise that there is a committee of deputy ministers that coordinates all the department's activities when it comes to developing our natural resources with the Deputy Ministers of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and Nova Scotia Business Inc. with a main focus on our natural resources and developing the rural economy.
One of the things that we have to do as a province as well is be able to identify areas of our province that are a natural fit for certain types of industries. Earlier today in Question Period I was pleased that my colleague from Guysborough-Sheet Harbour-Tracadie asked for an update on the Maher Melford Terminal. That's a prime example of where, as a province, we need to be more strategic and more direct when it comes to businesses that are looking to locate in this province. That container terminal, for example, is being welcomed as a potential project for the Strait area. Now, would that container terminal be welcomed in Chester? Possibly not. Would it be welcomed in the Valley? Possibly not. The Strait area, for example, is used to heavy industry; it has embraced that. The community accepts it and so we need to be a bit smarter as a province that we make sure that businesses that wants to locate here are going into areas that are suitable for the type of business they wish to carry out.
That's something that I think we need to have a bit more of a focus on in identifying where there are potential areas where a business works and where it doesn't work. The last thing we want is for someone to want to come to our province to develop a business only to see that there is opposition because of the location they wish to put it in. Those are some of the discussions that we need to have.
At the same time, depending on the employers that want to come here, obviously if you look at the financial services sector, which has seen growth over the years, many of their concerns were to be able to have access to graduates coming out of our university system. As a result of that, they have told us they want to be here in the city where they have ready access to that, where the graduates are coming out of university, they want to live in a metropolitan-type city atmosphere. So certain businesses are a fit within the city but we need to find ways that if there are businesses that are prepared to look outside the city, we can work with them, that we can work with our existing businesses in rural Nova Scotia that are looking to invest in new equipment, upgrade their facilities, start a new product line - those are all items that we have programming within the department that we're open to have those discussions.
I'm pleased to see that pretty much everywhere I go I'm hearing different proposals that are out there, different ideas that people have, which is very encouraging. But there is no question that we need to find ways to continue to grow our rural economy. One of the challenges, because of the fact of the out-migration that is taking place, we know and I believe my colleagues from Pictou would probably be aware of this, that some of the lobster canneries that are in Pictou County are having a terrible time finding workers. It has become a challenge and a number of them have turned to temporary foreign workers to try to address their labour shortage.
We do have significant issues facing our province. Many of the challenges in dealing with natural resources are in many cases they tend to be seasonal, which makes it an additional challenge. We are certainly hoping that the federal government will reconsider some of the changes they're proposing to the Employment Insurance system because it really will be a devastating blow to the rural economy that relies on traditional industries, which are seasonal by nature.
For example, the lobster season only lasts as long as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the season will last. The federal government controls the season yet tells people who work in that industry that they should continue working beyond the limits of the season. There are challenges that come with that and I believe there is a responsibility of the federal government for certain industries which it regulates. It needs to keep in mind that if we are going to keep employees in the lobster industry and other fisheries, in other natural resources, there has to be some consideration given to the fact that they are seasonal in nature. The challenge for many captains on their boats is that if they can't keep their workers and they go out and look for other work, there's a strong chance they will never return.
It's becoming more and more of a challenge. I have no doubt you're hearing the same thing in your own riding, finding deckhands who are prepared to only work for a portion of the year is becoming more and more difficult. It's the same throughout the province; many of our captains are getting older. There is a question of succession planning and in many communities there is a question of who's left to buy the licences and who's left to work on the vessels.
Those are some of the added challenges that we have facing rural Nova Scotia but I can tell you there seems to be a renewed interest in mining, for example, but again that is another one that we have to be smart about and there are certain communities that would welcome mining; there are certain areas that don't welcome it at all. Let's focus on the areas that are open to it, that there's potential there and let's make that our focus - where there are opportunities rather than where we know there is going to be opposition.
There are a number of initiatives that we're working on, as I mentioned earlier. I can advise my colleague we will have some legislation coming forward which will create opportunities for our government when it comes to economic development, which we believe will help grow many sectors of our economy and will help grow many communities and at the end of the day, in doing so, will as well maintain the most important elements of transparency and accountability to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
MR. ROWE: I thank the minister again for his answers. I look forward to what is down the road and what's ahead for all of us and I look forward with optimism. I want to remind the minister and his staff and everyone in this House that one of our key priorities needs to be to keep our young people in this province. Our young minds and our young talents who are graduating with everything in front of them and with all the best of intentions and with all the creativity and the preparedness and readiness to take on this world with its challenges, they want to stay here. They don't want to leave; they want to stay; they want to work here; they want to establish their businesses here and they want to raise their families here. So I'm optimistic and I'm encouraged to hear the minister's comments and that his department is working with that in mind and I think that has to be at the back of everything that we do going forward as a government and as a province as well.
Mr. Chairman, I have a couple of other questions that I could ask but as I said at the outset, this is a welcomed opportunity; it is one that we often don't see, for whatever reasons. I know that there are several of my other colleagues that I understand would like to take an opportunity to rise and ask a question or two on behalf of their constituents as well. So with that, at this point in time I will pass along to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie.
MR. LLOYD HINES: The question I have is staying in the natural resources area and to talk about a very strong, important piece of the minister's responsibility, Mr. Chairman, and that is of course tourism. In that regard I would like to pass on my congratulations to a large part of his constituency for their excellent work in establishing a tourism strategy in the Municipality of the County of Richmond, recently, which I think is leading edge, great leadership by that municipality and something I think will go a long way to reviving the tourism industry in our province, which is apropos.
I think perhaps, Mr. Chairman, the minister could be on a roll because I know that every tourism operator in Nova Scotia and many in Newfoundland and Labrador are ecstatic that we now have re-established our link with our American cousins with the advent of the new replacement ferry for that great service. I think that is something that is very important for tourism in Nova Scotia and as a tourism practitioner for almost 30 years, I know the value of that access to our American cousins in New York, Boston, and the entire eastern seaboard. There are over 100 million people along that shore that love Nova Scotia and love coming here.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Chairman, one could say that early tourism in Cape Breton owes its beginning to Alexander Graham Bell who of course, in Baddeck, one of Nova Scotia's greatest tourism towns, there is a fabulous museum dedicated to his history. Mr. Bell was responsible for being an early person to travel on the Cabot Trail and establish that iconic piece of tourism infrastructure in our province.
I know that as a Cape Bretoner, the minister would be appreciative of the value of this natural resource to our province, so perhaps I could ask the minister to talk about the tourism industry, his responsibly as minister, and some of the programs and strategies that are vital to this longstanding Nova Scotia industry.
MR. SAMSON: I appreciate the question from my colleague from Guysborough-Sheet Harbour-Tracadie. It's interesting when he talks about the tourism strategy in Richmond County, I would say tongue-in-cheek that Richmond is trying to catch up to Guysborough Municipal Council with the innovative ways that they have been able to undertake numerous initiatives that have been to the benefit of their constituents and to the economy of Nova Scotia at the same time. I've had the opportunity to meet with the CAO and some of the councillors, more in social settings, to hear about some of the initiatives and I look forward to visiting with municipal council, hopefully once the Legislature wraps up for the Spring sitting and certainly have my colleague join me for that visit to learn more about some of the exciting things they are doing in Guysborough County.
As he mentioned last Monday, I joined Minister Rob Moore, the Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, where we did hear that the federal government would be providing almost $2.3 million in funding towards a $6.7 million tourism strategy put forward by the province.
I can tell you, when you see a small municipal unit that has less than 10,000 residents putting up $2 million towards a project, it gets the attention of government partners because it's quite rare that we see that type of investment from a small rural municipality. Richmond County certainly recognized the fact that the numbers state that of the tourism revenue coming to Cape Breton - which is substantial - Richmond was getting approximately 3 per cent.
Needless to say, that is nowhere near the amount of economic benefit that we would like to see Richmond County enjoying, as a result of the growth of the tourism industry in Cape Breton. The initiative they put forward, which will see developments taking place around the Isle Madame area, around St. Peter's and L'Ardoise are going to be a tremendous benefit to our county and to Cape Breton because it was a recognition by Richmond that if we expect tourists to come, they need to have something to do and they need to have a place to stay. Right now in Richmond County, outside of Battery Park, which is a provincial park in St. Peter's, a wonderful facility, it is, for all intents and purposes, the only campground available in Richmond County.
Once upon a time Richmond had various places where you could go camping and bring your RV; we are now down to one. The county realizes those challenges because that park is operated by the Department of Natural Resources. It is open for a limited season and so we need to find ways of providing more accommodations but at the same time being able to provide some of the experiences that I spoke about earlier.
When you look at Isle Madame, for example, with all the different inlets that exist all along the coast, a few years ago I was approached by a gentleman here in Halifax who was writing a book about kayaking throughout Isle Madame and other parts of Richmond County. It surprised me that we almost take for granted, when you live there and you look at it every day, what someone coming for the first time takes away from the beauty that we have along our coast and the many different inlets that we have that they can explore.
That's one example. When my colleague talks about the tourism industry, it's important to realize that there is so much more involved in just the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. One of the biggest detriments to the growth of the tourism industry in Richmond County has been Route 4, which is a highway between St. Peter's and Sydney. Those of us who have travelled on it, who live along it, know that what has been happening in Cape Breton is that tourists cross the causeway; they head up Highway No. 105 going to Inverness County and through Victoria; they come down through CBRM, will usually do the Cabot Trail, stop at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, go through Baddeck, go through Sydney, make their way down to Louisbourg to the fortress and turn around and go right back out the same way.
By doing so, they have missed the whole lower part of Cape Breton. The reason for that is in many cases no one wanted to travel on that No. 4 highway due to the terrible state it was in. Various governments, starting with the Progressive Conservative Governments in the early 2000s did start plugging away at doing work on Route 4. That was continued under the previous government, other than a one-year interruption, which was never fully explained, which set us back one year. So be it.
I'm pleased to see our government will be doing another 6 kilometres of work on this road; the upgrades are now right into Richmond County. The whole goal, what we'd like to see, is that when tourists come to Cape Breton and cross that causeway that they do the entire loop all around Cape Breton. You can almost do a complete circle, come in, do the whole loop and come right back out. Hopefully before they come out, they stay long and they spend lots of money.
That's one of the options. When we talk about tourism we also have to look at the fact that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has a role to play in making sure we have proper roads and a positive experience for people who are coming here to our province.
For example, in Cape Breton, which has been identified as the number one island to visit, a tremendous distinction that speaks not only to our natural beauty but speaks to our residents, our accommodations, our festivals, our culture, the various cultures we have in Cape Breton. On Cape Breton Island alone the tourism revenue is about $3.2 million. That is a significant amount of money and I can tell you I have had the opportunity to be heavily involved over the years with the French Parliamentary Association, which has taken me to many countries around the world. It never ceases to amaze me how many tell me that they have come to Nova Scotia, have come to Cape Breton and they have done the Cabot Trail. Whether it be in Paris, in Belgium, in Luxembourg, even in some African countries, it never ceases to amaze me, people from all over the world come to Cape Breton and come to enjoy the beauty we have there, which is just one small part of Nova Scotia when one looks at the natural beauty we do have.
We are working very closely with our municipal partners, as my honourable friend has indicated. Richmond County has taken a tremendous leadership role on this issue. We continue to work closely with our municipal partners, with many of the tourism associations that exist throughout the province. I'm sure my colleague for Guysborough is very familiar with Mary Tulle from Destination Cape Breton, a greater ambassador for Cape Breton I cannot imagine. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Everyone who meets her wants to come to Cape Breton because of the enthusiasm and dedication that she brings to Destination Cape Breton and her efforts to grow our tourism market there and grow our economy.
As well, when one talks about our municipal partners, I certainly want to recognize Mayor Cecil Clarke and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which has seen a significant growth in the cruise ship business in Cape Breton, which benefits all the Island. In fact, part of the tourism strategy for Richmond County is to benefit from the visitors that will come on cruise ships. It's only a one and half hour drive away from Sydney to make it down to the canal in St. Peter's or even over to Isle Madame. There are tremendous opportunities there but we have to make sure there's an experience for them when they get there, there's something for them to do and that they can walk away with a positive impression of their time visiting.
I know that the mayor and council are working on the facility at the waterfront, the Joan Harriss Pavilion, which is the greeting point for the cruise ships. Right now they have the positive issue of having cruise ships coming in at once, which is a good problem to have in one sense but does create some logistical issues. We are going to continue to work very closely with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality on that issue. They as well have been great supporters of the tourism industry. I can say the same for Victoria, Baddeck and for Port Hawkesbury. We are truly blessed with strong municipal partners throughout Cape Breton who recognize the importance of our tourism industry and are working hand in hand with our government and it's with that partnership that we expect to see our tourism industry growing and providing more economic benefit for those regions and for Nova Scotia as a whole.
MR. HINES: I thank the minister for his answer. I just want to follow up on that by saying that I'd like to mention the excellent ambassadors that we have in Nova Scotia for the tourism industry in our three provincial resorts, one of which, and probably the flagship might be said to be Keltic Lodge. I might be a bit biased in saying that, Madam Chairman, since I grew up in Ingonish and lobster fished in the shadow of Middle Head but those are very big contributors to our tourism product in Nova Scotia and I'm sure are equally happy - New Castle Hotel and Resorts, which I believe is the operator of those facilities - to see the ferry service restored. I think New Castle is doing a very commendable job and it should be noted that they recently spent many millions of dollars revitalizing the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrew's, New Brunswick, and bringing back that iconic Atlantic Canadian facility.
Madam Chairman, just shifting a little from the tourism side and looking at an industry that is very prevalent in the minister's riding and also in the riding of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, and that is the fishing industry. I would also like to mention the great presence that Richmond County has in the fishing industry. I believe it is Premium Sea Foods, which is a major force in the fishing business in Eastern Nova Scotia and the tenacity that has been shown with the rebuilding of the facility that unfortunately was lost to fire recently and the fact that yesterday in Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, and I believe quite soon in the minister's own riding, the lobster fishermen will be heading out; the traps were set yesterday,
I'm anxious to hear the reports of the first catch later this evening and how important that industry is to all our ridings and in my riding, Madam Chairman, that stretches from the Norththumberland Strait all the way up to East Ship Harbour in Halifax Regional Municipality. I believe they have close to 300 lobster fishermen.
If we look at that industry in terms of the minister's responsibility for economic development I would like to explore with him the possibilities that he would see in the enhancement of that industry and also to improve, perhaps, the value added when it comes to that very vital flagship industry for all of Nova Scotia, Madam Chairman.
MR. SAMSON: Obviously the fishery plays a tremendous role and for our province it is not just a matter of bringing the raw product into the wharf but it is what's done with it after that and what value-added work can be done to that. For example, if you go into stores now, more and more you will see lobster tails available. They're frozen; they're fresh, they can be bought, and you are seeing that more and more now, when you go into restaurants, lobster tails are there as something that you can buy, unique to itself.
That is just one example of some of the diversification taking place because in some cases I've travelled to, buying a lobster tail, you are paying more than what you would pay for a whole lobster down here. It shows that there are opportunities there to do some value-added work to the product.
If I'm not mistaken, for our lobster fishing area, I believe dumping day is on Tuesday of next week, the 29th, and the first haul will be on the 30th of April, on the basis that the ice doesn't come back, which was in our harbours just last week.
The fishery plays a major role but one of the issues and one of the challenges that we face is that the regulation of the fishery falls under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the federal agency, whereas the processing side, the licensing and everything else, falls to the province and too often there has been a disconnect between the federal government and the Province of Nova Scotia and that has been through successive governments, both provincially and federally, so it is not a political suggestion when I say that.
Last year, I believe, for example, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided to move the crab season from what was traditionally a May start-up date to April. In doing so, at no time did the Department of Fisheries and Oceans even think of reaching out to the processors in Nova Scotia to ask them, are you ready for an earlier start to the season?
So it's one thing to say we are dealing with the harvesters who are going out and bringing the crab to shore, but as a province, if we bring that crab to shore and there are no plants ready to process it, that is lost opportunity. That happened. I believe it was either last year or the year before where a significant amount of crab was landed early and was shipped off to New Brunswick or other provinces for processing because their seasons had started before and they were already ready to go, whereas our plants were still waiting for the traditional start-up season to take place.
We obviously need to have better coordination with the federal government when it comes to our fisheries so that if they are going to change the seasons, for whatever reasons, that there is some communication that takes place because any crab that leaves our province unprocessed here is opportunity lost. It's very clear in the Ivany commission report that we can't have that happen; we have to maximize our opportunities.
I spoke a bit earlier about some of the initiatives to try to find new ways of being able to keep snow crab alive. If you go to - I believe, Sobeys is the chain where I've seen them - if you go now here in Halifax, for example, within a few weeks, because the season is about to start, not only will you see live lobster in the tanks, you'll see live snow crab. It's getting a much higher price. Not only is it bringing in more revenue, which helps our economy, but now I know there are efforts to try to find ways of shipping that product overseas as a live product and finding means to do that.
The traditional ways of shipping over lobster doesn't seem to work as well for crab because for crab there is much more significant death. Because of that there are many pressure issues and stress that's placed on the crab once it's taken out of the water, which need to be addressed if it's going to continue to be a strong, live product after shipping.
One of the other industries in the fishery that I'm sure my colleague is very familiar with is the shrimp trap fishery, which when it was first started was a great initiative because it provided opportunity for fishermen, especially those who may have just been fishing lobster, it provided them with work throughout the winter months. There have been challenges with that industry as well because of the fact that the policies of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is that if there is an increase in quota, it tends to go to the large seiners and draggers rather than helping put more licences in for these shrimp trap fishermen.
At the end of the day, the shrimp trap fishery is a much more environmentally friendly type of fishery because for those who don't know what it looks like, in many ways the shrimp traps are very similar to lobster traps. There is a cone on the top of a wire mesh square trap, which once baited inside, the shrimp will swim directly into the trap and will remain there. Unfortunately for them, they can't figure out how to get out back through the cone they came in, but that's the way it works, because there is a certain size mesh on the traps, the smaller shrimp can swim out. Whereas when you look at the traditional dragging method of shrimp, once shrimp get caught up into that drag and the boat is dragging it along, it doesn't matter what size shrimp you are, for all intents and purposes, you're not getting out. You get caught in there and the means of escape are quite difficult and the quality of the product is certainly not the same either.
There are tremendous opportunities there. I know that the fishermen in Canso and Guysborough have been working with local restaurants and that, to try to promote their product. I believe there are opportunities there, but again, it's another example of where federal fisheries policy has a significant impact on our province and we would hope that there would be better communication, not only when it comes to establishing seasons, but I know that there is some desire from fishermen throughout Nova Scotia about some under-utilized species.
I know that the former Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture has spoken several times about some species in his area that lobster fishermen are interested in harvesting. I think those are discussions that need to take place. Again, we want to be sustainable, we want to be responsible, but we also have to try to explore whatever means we can of growing the economy in rural Nova Scotia by using the natural resources that are right off of our coastline. Merci.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare-Digby.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I also, as my colleagues - I don't know who to thank actually for this privilege of getting up. I could actually thank both Parties at this point. But it's very rare that we do get a chance to reflect on our positions in the floor of the Legislature and it is an opportunity, I think, that all of us relish when we get the chance.
This is an education, I think, not only a chance to speak, but it's more of a chance to listen. I think I've found these sessions on budgets to be, if you really want to learn the pulse of a lot of things that are going on in not only the departments with the ministers, but also in the ridings, it's a missed opportunity for those that don't pick up on some of the good points.
I think that's what I'd like to just refer to here for a few minutes, if you don't mind, Madam Chairman, reflections that I've had over my years. My history goes back a long while. I was an innovative person at one time. I actually had an elk farm and I was one of the first people that raised elk in Nova Scotia. I thought there was a real opportunity. There was, until the Russians flooded the market with velvet and I lost my opportunity to sell.
Things like that I think are probably the key to successes that we see. I'll only say that what helped me the most at that point in time was the resourcefulness and assistance of the agricultural technicians in the Department of Agriculture to not only encourage me, but they helped me an awful lot with my ability to navigate through the bureaucracy and get established. These are some of the key things that we need to keep in mind.
To start with, I'd like to just sort of also make the comment that I don't envy the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I think economic development in this province is probably the most complicated. They talk about health, they talk about education and they talk about transportation, but regardless, I think every one of those areas has an impact on economic development in our province.
I think that what we do in Health and Wellness, what we do in Education and Early Childhood Development, what we do in Community Services, what we do in Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, what we do in the Department of Energy - every single one of those, the successes that we see in those sectors and in those departments, weigh very heavily on the Department of Environment and the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. They are all tied together very intricately and I think that our successes are built on the strength of every one of those departments.
I just wanted to start off mentioning that because I'm going to touch on several of those sectors that we have in my riding. My riding is one that has seen years and years and years of wealth. I actually watched a video last night of an 82-year-old friend of mine that I played golf with up until every year but this year. He used to work at the ferry terminal down when it used to be at the wharf in Digby and he reflected on what used to come through the Town of Digby at that time.
It's hard to believe that the majority of shipping in this province at one time went through the Port of Digby. It came in by train and it was offloaded by hand onto ships and it was shipped to everywhere in the world out of that small town of ours. At that time, probably 40 years ago, it employed about 150 to 200 people directly; indirectly, I don't know how many that would have been, but in today's numbers, that's huge.
We've seen that go down a long ways. I think some of the reasons for that are probably strategic. Certainly, Halifax bears to be a better place for those things to happen. In Guysborough, we're seeing there is going to be an opportunity for development there for shipping.
What it means is we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses in our communities. I think when we think of that, rural Nova Scotia has one major strength and that one major strength is its resources. Halifax area has its strength, the metro area has its strength in specific to where it is located and its ability to tap in on many different partners in its area. It has a great harbour, it's centrally located and it has a lot of hub opportunities there with the airport and with what can be shipped in and out.
In my riding, our strength is a few different things, but I'll focus mainly on resources - resources and the people. We have seen a number of declines in rural Nova Scotia. The biggest cause of it is the fact that our resources leave rural Nova Scotia and they go to other places to be processed. Our communities are shrinking because of it. We're seeing several different opportunities for places to do value-added processing, and I'm very proud that in our community we do have innovative people who are working there who are supported by government - some of them by themselves.
As an excellent example, a new company that started two years ago in the lobster industry and has gone forward and put their own money into developing a value-added lobster opportunity that, from my perspective, is going to actually stabilize and help with the economic climate in the lobster industry in allowing the pounds to have a place to actually take their product to on a regular basis and have it processed, which is unique in southwest Nova Scotia. They've been in operation for two years and they're currently looking at expanding from 25,000 pounds per day to 40,000 pounds per day.
These are the kinds of people - these are the kinds of investments that we need to see and we need to support in rural Nova Scotia. You talk about innovation and opportunities - we need to encourage these people.
The other area that I'd like to just talk on briefly, if you don't mind, is the fact that we haven't touched on one part of our community that as far as economic development goes - I'm remiss to hear any one person during the whole deliberations here on economic development talk about the importance of our volunteer sector in ensuring that a lot of the programs and a lot of the things that happen continue to happen.
Why I say that is one of the biggest sustainers that we have in my community are four major festivals that go on. It started many, many years ago with Scallop Days, which is an icon in our area. It moved from there into what we're now known for even more so and that's the Wharf Rat Rally. I'm talking about serious economic generators in our communities. We've expanded that into another area where we now have a third festival that we're celebrating with the fire trucks and the fire associations getting together, and then we've added a fourth one with the lobster industry where we have Lobster Bash. We now have four opportunities going on in our communities to not only celebrate our community, but bring a lot of money into our area. These are things that have been supported by volunteers, driven by volunteers and the value of that is hard to imagine, hard to put a price on.
But in some cases, we don't really do enough to support these volunteers. I was a little bit interested in the fact that we didn't hear anything in regard to them and what they mean to economic development in our communities because truly if we lost our volunteers in our communities - and I missed the opportunity to get up a couple of weeks ago and speak when it was National Volunteer Week - but the numbers they bring as far as dollar values to our communities can't be missed. I felt it very important to mention that here to my colleagues today.
Another area that's emerging - and I really need to have mention on this - when I touched on the fact that our resources come in and out of my riding and mainly they go out of my riding, and I'm talking about forestry, I'm talking about things in our agricultural sector, certainly in our fishing sector, but tidal is the next one. With economic development, we have a tremendous opportunity in our resource. When I say it's our resource, I mean the Bay of Fundy and tidal energy tapping in the Bay of Fundy . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has lapsed for the Liberal Party, sorry. If there are no further questions at this time, I'll ask the minister to make any closing remarks.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Chairman, you just saw, I think, a good reflection of the economic realities in Nova Scotia and the tremendous potential, when you have my colleague from Dartmouth South talk about entrepreneurship from the perspective of being an HRM member to then my colleague from Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie talking about tremendous opportunities in the Strait area and in Cape Breton and then finishing it off with my colleague from Clare-Digby talking about the great potential that exists down in the whole Acadian Shore area through the fisheries, through the Wharf Rat Rally and other economic opportunities there.
I think what we've seen during the estimates - and I want to thank my colleagues in the Opposition for the questions that they have posed - I think what we are seeing here is a recognition that our province does face significant economic challenges, but at the same time, we have tremendous economic opportunities here in our province. When looking at our department through Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, we have icons here in the province that make us who we are, that we are proud of, that we brag about when we leave our province and that we use to tell people about as to why they should come visit our province.
Regardless of the economic challenges we face, the fact is that Nova Scotians remain a resilient people. We have a variety of cultures here that we celebrate, that we are proud of and that people from throughout the world keep wanting to come to Nova Scotia to be a part of it and to witness what we have here. Regardless of the government of the day, that does not change. But what we have to do as the government of the day is to build upon that, to seize that opportunity and to create economic opportunities for our province to be able to grow.
I enjoyed the opportunity to be able to discuss some of the programs that we have in our department as well as address some of the budget questions that we have put forward. As I indicated, there is more that we will be sharing with the Legislature in the days and weeks ahead as to what our department will be undertaking in the future to address some of the concerns raised in the Ivany commission and the Traves report and the venture capital report as well.
As I said, I had a 14-year break since the last time I had the opportunity to defend estimates in this House back in 1999. It was a pleasure to be back here, but I would be remiss if I did not give my personal thanks to my hardworking staff. Whenever we stand here as ministers and we're asked various questions, we are blessed to have staff not only sitting here on the floor with us, and in my case my deputy minister and my director of finance, but as well, many of our staff who are in the gallery. I am told they truly did appreciate my comments earlier when I said that they were overworked and underpaid, so I do expect I'll have smiling faces next time I drop major projects and work on them that they will remember my comments here in the Chamber.
As ministers, we are all blessed with hardworking staff that work regardless of the government of the day that provide a quality service to the people of Nova Scotia. The fact that I've been able to give the answers that I have in the last couple of days is because of that hardworking staff. I truly want to express my appreciation for not only preparing me for these Budget Estimates, but the work and support that they have provided me since entering the department following the October 8th election.
Madam Chairman, with that, I will close my remarks.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E4 stand?
Resolution E4 stands.
Resolution E27 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $20,946,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Nova Scotia Business Inc., pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of Nova Scotia Business Inc. be approved.
Resolution E30 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,970,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E44 - Resolved, that the business plans of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Innovation Corporation (Innovacorp), the Trade Centre Limited and the Waterfront Development Corporation Limited be approved.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress to the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 5:56 p.m.]